Day 165-166: For Whom the Isobel Toils

Day 165, January 20th
We piled into the van this morning and drove on to the South Island’s famous hot springs resort town “Hanmer Springs”. Unfortunately, the weather was dreadfully hot! Some people love getting in hot springs even while the weather is actively trying to boil your blood, but we do not share the same Venn Diagram as those people. We enjoy hot springs when it is cold outside. Well, what else is there to do in a small hot springs town besides sit around and eat? Nothing. At least nothing IN town. There are several hikes around town. Only a two days prior we had a nice grueling hike up Mt. Guy, so we are probably ready for another one by now! How about Mt. Isobel? Another long hike up a mountainside! After only a few moments in the extremely busy town we hop back into the van and drove up the king of New Zealand back roads. Why is it the king? It is the single longest gravel road connecting two major highways in all of New Zealand. When we eventually reached the small car park we noticed a myriad of large vehicles, trailers, lorries, and small cars all plowing their way through this tiny road. Yet another lousy corrugated gravel road that is entirely overused by New Zealand locals.
We had been forewarned that the tramp was steep and regularly required hiking up over bald-faced, loose gravel. Our hike began muddy and wet, there has been a smattering of rain through the region and obviously this path had gotten enough to create a nice layer of mud. We were worried that it would continue, but within about thirty minutes all the mud had disappeared and we were left with a well-graded upward path. The path soon plateaued as we walked along the ridge-line of the series of mountains we’d hike along. We looked ahead of ourselves and soon located what we thought to be the top. As a few hikers were headed down we inquired and were informed that the top was actually two steep ascents away! Oh wow! We misjudged that one a bit. Oh well, at least the trail conditions were still easy and in good condition. We plodded forward and soon reached the steepest part of the hike which just happened to also be one of the baldest, gravelly patches of the path. There’s no way we are turning back now! Up we go… and partially down… and up again! We avoided sliding as much as possible by searching for the patches of large rocks and the rare clusters of grass. It was a tremendous effort, but a short distance. We had reached our originally assumed “end of trail”.
 Turns out what we had thought to be the marker for the top was actually just a marker for the fork in the trail. One way drops steeply down the mountainside to a different carpark and the other way continued to the top of Mt. Isobel! After a short break to catch our breath following the intense uphill we continue along. There are occasional patches of gravel and lots of bald areas on the remaining bits of the walk. Nothing to make the trail hard to follow, but the bald mountainside did act as a massive funnel for the wind. The constant gusts tried to knock us off our feet whenever we entered a bald patch, but we made it safe and sound. We’d soon reached the top of Mt. Isobel and the view was breathtaking!
  The hike downhill took half the time and a fraction of the effort. The patch of bald gravel that was tough to climb uphill on turned out to be an incredible strain to get down on. Every time one of us would slip on the gravel the other’s head would whip around to make sure the first was okay. The whipping around meant our eyes were off the trail and then the “safe” one would also skid. We decided that it was prudent to take turns walking the worst stretches of gravel instead. Like a weird game of leap frog. No injuries occurred during this hike! Woohoo!
Back at the carpark we headed back into Hanmer Springs to try and find somewhere to collapse for the evening. We ended up in an overtly crowded holiday park with only two toilets each for the men and the women! Lines formed everywhere, but the shade of the trees kept us cool and that turned out to be far more important than a line for the bathroom. We decided to treat ourselves and eventually worked up a little bit of energy to walk to a nearby restaurant and get some ice cream to top it off! Now how about some well-earned sleep?
Day 166, January 21st
Our morning started late, we wanted to sleep in longer, but knew we had to clear out of the holiday park or risk getting charged a second night. We quickly rolled out of the park as we woke up just past the checkout time. We turned the corner to a local park and drove the van out onto the grass up to a picnic table in the shade of a great tree. We weren’t in any rush with our sore bones, so we had a luxurious and long breakfast before eventually deciding we ought to get moving. Our next location required a few hours of driving before calling it a day, so we hopped back on our saddles and rode off into the sunset. The route was a peculiar one that took us up Lewis Pass to the northwest then took a sharp turn to the northeast toward Nelson. We ended up driving right by Maruia Falls, which was one of our first South Island stops! It seems like so long ago that we took this route as our entry to the west coast. Instead of retracing our first route up to Abel Tasman we stayed true on the southerly course toward Nelson Lakes National Park. We parked up for the night in a DoC site on Lake Rotoiti, ready to tackle our hike in the morning on Mt. Robert!

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