“My Mummy just fell backwards in the creek and bruised her bum!” my six-year-old announced loudly to the bearded French Te Araroa walker who had just stumbled into our small hut.
I smiled weakly, moving to cover my saggy grey merino underwear, which were strung up over the fire along with the rest of my wet clothes. I was pretty proud of how well I’d got the fire cranking in the ancient wood burner and quickly transformed the damp old hut into a cosy wee home, complete with all our gear strewn over the three hammock-style bunks.
But now there was a large and hairy Frenchman in our darkening doorway, asking very nicely if he could claim the third bunk for the night. I did briefly wonder how anyone in their right mind would want to be part of the circus that was rapidly unfolding in here, but still recovering from my embarrassment, all I could do was smile and nod.
Not that I had the opportunity to do much talking anyway, as Miss Six took up most of the air space. Clearly delighted to have a new victim, I mean person, to talk to, she was chatting away and laying on the charm.
“Ooh what a large boots you have! Take them off before you come inside!” she burbled, and he smiled and complied, as most people seem to do when confronted by a three-foot-tall Bush Baby in the wilderness.
“You can sleep on this bunk! My mummy is sleeping on that bunk! She just got nudie because all her clothes are wet!” she continued, as I searched desperately for a rock to crawl under.
“Ahaha, Emilie, leave the nice man alone and come and sit down,” I said brightly, giving him my “Don’t kids say the darndest things,” smile and hoping his grasp on Kiwi kid English was limited.
It turns out the TA walker had just completed a 40 km day and was ravenous (yet not enough to eat young children) and keen for a chat. As the floor space of the small Rokeby Hut (emphasis on small) was around one metre squared, I sat on my saggy hammock bunk to give him some space at the rugged bench, while Emilie returned to her drawing, with running commentary.
It was around 5pm and already growing dark. While the morning had started out sunny, yet bone-numbingly cold, the wind and rain had eventually won over and the beech trees were now strewing their leaves and twigs around the small clearing. We’d been on the track since 7am that morning, covering the 15 kilometres from Anne Hut to Rokeby Hut in around six hours.
It was day four of our adventure along the 66-kilometre St James Walkway, winding our way through sub-alpine scenery, stumbling through muddy sections of marsh grass and gazing dreamily at the mountains.
There had been a sense of urgency in the wee hours of the morning, as I awoke to my fellow hut-mates rustling in the darkness as they brewed breakfast and packed up their gear.
Since Anne Hut boasted a comfortable 20 bunks, and Boyle Flat Hut only 14, it was clear there would be stiff competition to avoid being on the floor or outside in a tent. As our little legs weren’t built for racing, my hopes were pinned on the rustic wee Rokeby Hut, close enough to Boyle Flat Hut to be overlooked by the larger groups who might be seeking a more spacious and salubrious establishment, complete with modern amenities such as a sink and toilet.
The weather was closing in by the time we pushed through the Manuka and beech grove to discover the tiny little red and cream hut, humble and tidy and empty, apparently just waiting to be transformed into a home away from home for two little girls.
I grabbed the plastic bucket which I assumed had been left for water and staggered down the steep bank to the small, swiftly flowing creek some 30 metres from the hut. Crouching on a rock in the middle of the stream, I filled the bucket from the cleanest water, but as I hefted it and stepped towards the shore, a slender branch poked me in the chest and I toppled gracefully backwards in what felt like slow motion, landing on my bum right on top of a submerged rock.
Exhausted and in pain, and clutching the bucket the entire time, I lay in the creek and stared stupidly up at Emilie, who, bless her, actually did look rather concerned. “Poor Mummy!” she exclaimed, and together we scrambled back up the bank, dragging the accursed bucket between us.
To his credit, the Frenchman didn’t seem to care about my soggy knickers, and the fire quickly dried everything out again. And over the next few days, my butt cheek displayed a rainbow of interesting colours, from dark blue to purple, then to greenish-yellow until it returned to its usual pink self.
We finished the St James Walkway two days later, in fine spirits and with lots of wonderful memories, but somehow, at least in Emilie’s mind, Mummy’s bruised bum and the giant Frenchman seem to have become the highlights of this 67km, six-day adventure.
Victoria and Emilie are walking the Te Araroa over the 21/22 summer season. They are raising funds and telling stories about the mental health benefits of time spent in the wild places of NZ, as well as the importance of protecting those areas for future generations to enjoy. To see all their stories, visit wilderlife.nz/adventures_with_emilie/
90% of the funds raised are donated evenly between the Mental Health Foundation, the FMC Mountain & Forest Charitable Trust with 10% going towards some of the expenses of walking the trail.
If you’d like to help them out, please donate via their give a little page.