Day 16: Helena Bay to Sandy Beach

Day 16: Helena Bay to Sandy Beach

Distance Covered: 24 km
Date: 2016-11-14

The big news today in New Zealand is the powerful earthquake that struck the South Island in the middle of the night. The first indication that something was wrong is that we were woken up in the early hours of the morning by the Tsunami alarm. It went on for an hour or so, blaring loudly. We were up in the hills so we were safe and we far enough north that we didn't feel anything either. We met people later today who were camping on the beach. Some had to evacuate up the hill due to caution, others just rolled over and ignored it. In the end, there was no noticeable water movement so all was well. Of course, we are all talking about it and following the news as best as we are able. In the meantime, it's onwards and forwards for us.

Our most pressing need was water since all the sources yesterday were behind fences. The upside was that no water meant no cereal (almond or coconut milk powder) so we got out early. It took a couple of km, but we found a little thread of a stream and managed to get enough water by collecting it from the pipe that emerged from under the road. Delicious! We each chugged quite a bit of it (after filtering it).


The gravel road wound around until leading us to a bush track. The track was quite nice, I thought. You can never be sure what they mean when they say 'bush track' in the notes... There was one part that descended steeply 150 meters or so into a gully and then immediately climbed steeply for 200 meters or so. New Zealand doesn't often use switchbacks, preferring the direct route when possible. This means 45 to 75 degree slopes where you sometimes lift your foot higher than your knee on the other foot to make progress or you grasp at trees to keep from tumbling down. It can be slow going. I do great on uphills while Emily slows down. However, Emily does better on downhills while I slow down. It averages out.


After the big climb, we went through pine forest and pastures. Quite nice. And nice views occasionally too. Along the way we met a guy going north on the trail. He started from the bottom of the trail, but ran out of money and had to work for a while to keep going. Now he's almost done. He said he had passed about 140 hikers in front of us over the last couple of weeks.

Next up was road walking. Not much to say about it other than it's hard on the feet and legs and can be boring, but people usually give us lots of room. I've been listening to Journey to the Center of the Earth and that helps.

There was a brief estuary walk and footbridge along the way, sandwiched between road walks. That was a pretty neat diversion.


The end of it brought us back to the beach for a beautiful trail. We walked along the ocean, past private, secluded bays and well-manicured lawns and gardens. Up and around pine forests with views back to the beach and white sands against greens and pops of flower color. The only downside was that it was past 6 and we (with our Cyprus friend now) were getting quite tired.


She decided to camp on the side of the road/trail in a cow paddock. It worked with her small one person tent. There was a little bay we could camp at, but there was a little hesitation because of last night's earthquake. Emily and I moved on. We finally found something halfway decent a km or so later. It also had cows staring us down and we were by the dirt road, but the late hour and general fatigue made it seem doable. We set up the tent, inflated mattresses, and settled in for the evening.

Just before cooking I decided to take a pee break. I went over the little ridge in front of us and found... a house. Hmm... we were clearly on their land. Emily and I consulted and decided the best thing to do would be move. So we packed everything up, put our packs back on and started walking again. Our spirits were quite high and we laughed about our situation. Then, as we walked away, a car drove by that must have belonged to the house owner. We were glad we moved!

But where to go? It was just about sunset, the town was ahead, and there were no options we were aware of. As we were wondering what to do, we came across a middle-aged couple on the side of the road over the ocean, waiting for the super moon. We asked for places to camp and they mentioned the beach just down the road. One said there was no camping allowed, the other said people do it all the time and no one cares. For our part, it was so late that the Tsunami threat was a lower consideration.

We thanked them and walked down the hill a km or so to find Sandy Beach. No camping said he sign. Hmm... we walked onwards. A hundred meters or so later, we found a park. Green grass, a restroom, tables, and a sign about no fires. Nothing about camping, though, and we made an honest attempt at looking around. Just in case, we decided to cook dinner and wait until dark. Then we pitched the tent against the curve of trees and settled in. It's a dark, stormy night with clouds blocking the moon so we feel relatively safe. We are also going to get up at the crack of dawn and take it all down. Not only just to be safe, but also to not ruin it for future hikers. Adventure!