At exactly this time last year, I was preparing to depart a rainy, wintery New Zealand to dive in the warm, northern waters of Australia.
Jono and I decided to make the most of my last weekend there. So we "tramped" (kiwi for hiked) Sunrise Track and stayed overnight at a mountain top hut during what turned into a violently windy rainstorm.
In this post, I finally tell the story of this trepid adventure and the ending that was so good, I couldn't resist returning to New Zealand some 3 weeks later.
Sunrise Track weaves its way up the Ruahine Ranges in Eastern Ruahine Forest park.
At 5 miles return, it's considered a fairly easy hike by New Zealand tramping standards. But you'll want some sturdy boots and be relatively fit to handle the constant incline. With the incline, it takes a good 4 hours or so to reach Sunrise Hut.
There are several offshoots to other huts from this track. We could have cut our trek short or broken it up into smaller pieces by staying at the Triple X Hut or the Waipawa Forks Hut along the way.
Our goal was a one night stay at Sunrise Hut.
At points, we had to climb over chunks of fallen trees from previous storms in the area. Lots of this wood was chopped up and strewn to the side by Department of Conservation workers who maintain the track.
But there were times when we had to maneuver over bits because storms had been in the area as recently as that morning.
The steep climb zig-zagged us upward.
As we neared the highest point, which is over 4800 feet, the forest changed from tall and canopied to short and exposed. There were signs pointing out how high up we would were—high enough to touch the clouds!
This must have been a warning because this was when we first faced the wind. Not only were we touching the clouds when we reached the top, we were inside of one!
The Storm and The Hut
As we reached the hut at the top of the mountain, the wind bum rushed us, nearly knocking us over. We had to lean our bodies into it to stay upright and balance out the weight of our packs.
That's when the rain started. We pushed our way through the wall of wind and the downpour to get inside the hut.
The hut was like most of the well maintained huts I've seen around New Zealand.
There was a large kitchen, table for eating and breakfast bar with stools. A wood stove sat at the wall near the center of the floor plan near the entrance to the bunks.
Several bunks lined the other room where a back door led outside to an enclosed drop toilet.
Sadly, the storm prevented us from fully taking in all of the views that were promised to be amazing from the hut. We did not get to see the sunset that night nor would we get to see the sunrise in the morning.
As soon as the sun went down, the storm hit full throttle. The wind shook the hut so violently I thought we might see the Wicked Witch of the West fly by a window.
With nightfall came the cold. New Zealand can have pretty mild to moderate temperatures even in the dead of winter. But at night it can get very cold. At elevated heights like this, frosts and snow are common.
We immediately set to lighting the wood stove when we arrived. After some effort (because most of the wood we found was wet), we managed to get it going.
Never were my toes more thankful for fire!
Despite not getting to see the views, it was really exciting staying at Sunrise Hut during a storm. Yes, I'm that weird person who stares in wonder at all aspects of nature, especially the dangerous parts. The sound of thunder and lightning, extreme flooding and strong winds, all of these elements give me an adrenaline rush!
Hurricane Sandy hit New York several years ago and I was as thrilled as a child on Christmas morning. Meanwhile, my roommate was burying her head into pillows.
So, all in all, it was a very fun time for me—a true "middle earth" adventure on the occasion of what I thought would be my last hobbity journey.
The next day, we made our way back down the mountainside. Again, we were pelted with rain and nearly blown over from the violent winds.
As we made our way to the bottom, the trail began to give us better coverage and eventually the weather calmed and the skies cleared.
We emerged from the thick forest with sun-soaked views of New Zealand farmscape.
Turning toward the car park, Aotearoa, "the land of the long white cloud," gave me the perfect display of its beauty.
A vibrantly-colored rainbow arched proudly over our path. After a 24-hour violent protest, it was as if New Zealand was showing off to me one last time. "Why leave, Rikka, when you can keep enjoying THIS?!?!"
So I Came Back
I did end up leaving New Zealand. But it was temporary. It took a few weeks of gallivanting around Australia to make me miss everything about New Zealand again. And so I returned for several more months.
I'm sure I will return to New Zealand many times in my lifetime. And it won't just be because of the people who live there even though that is a huge part. I will return because of the country's adventurous spirit and sheer natural beauty.
The Sunrise Track hike had it all.