Two worlds collide when humans roam into the realm of nature, the world of predator and prey. Here, wild animals operate outside the constructions of human existence. We are out of touch with this pure, primitive code, hardwired into our DNA but lying dormant within the comforts of modern civilisation. We are surprised when nature chews up our rules and spits them out.
The Cobb Valley is crawling with creatures and they aren’t shy.
Location: Cobb Valley, Kahurangi National Park, South Island, NZ
Length: 3 days, 2 nights
Best moment: Mount Gibbs summit
Blunder of the trip: Food weight
Gear epiphany: Fuel usage
The Cobb Valley rivals Lake Waikaremoana in its beauty and tranquility. The trails wend their way through flourishing foliage, meandering rivers and sweeping valleys. Trampers step from bush scenery to mountain views in seconds; with mountain views everywhere you turn, it feels like you are living on the cover of the National Geographic.
I had a quick introduction to a curious and cheeky species of bird at the Cobb River Campsite: wekas! These greedy, gobbling birds have evidently been tamed by the presence of humans and attracted by the morsels of food they leave behind. They look like tiny dinosaurs with scaly legs protruding from their fat, feathered bodies. Fraser and I spent the morning chasing two wekas away from our breakfast. One bird seized our entire bag of oats and made its escape while the other took a beak-full of porridge straight from the stove. Our stunned faces said it all.
The Cobb River Campsite also accommodates the largest colony of bumble bees I have ever seen. Hundreds of bees swarm the air. My brightly coloured clothes were perpetually covered in bees and I was barely able to move. They followed me into the car, into the bathroom and down to the river. The only peace I received was when I submerged my body in the freezing cold river. Needless to say, we were both stung.
Our first night was spent in Chaffey Hut, a 7~km walk from the Cobb River Campsite. This 1950’s hut was crafted from rough, knotted beechwood and recently refurbished by the Deer Stalkers Association and the people of Golden Bay. The hut retains much of its original charm with endearing imperfections, a romantic fireplace and ancient-looking tools; at night the candlelight bounces off the assortment of copper pots and pans hanging from the ceiling. I loved it.
We shared the three-person hut with a hardcore female tramper: shout out to Mags, our inspiration of the trip! A park ranger living in the Auckland region, she was hitchhiking her way around the Kahurangi.
Fraser and I lumbered up like loaded donkeys with bulging packs and aching shoulders. Mags must’ve smelt the naivety emanating from us. We joined her at the table and settled in for an evening of trading food and stories. Mags nearly fell off her seat when we pulled out raw onions, carrots and rice; I didn’t dare show her the tinned chilli beans. She cooked her meal in five minutes flat, simply boiling noodles, dehydrated peas and cous cous in her pot and adding flavour with a ‘Cuppa soup’. Our rice boiled on while Mags cooked, ate and cleaned up.
Her comical tales of inexperienced hikers taught us lots but left us blushing. Mags recalled one friend who dared to pack deodorant and facewash for a hike. I later hid my deodorant and facewash deep in my bag… alongside my electric toothbrush. The Londoner in me was truly exposed when I asked if there was an electric light in the hut. Cover blown.
The hours spent with Mags were the most enlightening of our hiking career. We quickly learnt to value meals that are light, quick and sparingly packaged. Remember, you have to carry your fuel and rubbish as well as your food. Unfortunately, we had to learn about unnecessary pack weight the hard way.
We camped the following night beside a tarn in our most beautiful surroundings yet. Mounts Xenicus and Gibbs rose majestically to the west with views of the valley to the east. We arrived at the water’s edge after a long and sweaty day. Fraser jumped right in but I needed encouraging after my experience at Waikaremoana. I relaxed when Fraser wasn’t immediately devoured by underwater creatures. We swam as bare, natural humans emersed in the bare, natural environment. No sooner had we dried and dressed than an Australian couple strolled around the corner. Fortunate timing.
We awoke to the sound of kea circling our tent. These native parrots can be identified by their bright green and red plumage. Kea sadly hold the conservation status of ‘threatened’. Like wekas, they are cheeky. Unlike wekas, they are intelligent. Kea have been known to turn their inquisitive attention towards hiking gear; nothing is safe from their sharp beaks. Fraser and I kept a careful eye over our gear as we prepared breakfast. This included tying our bootlaces together to prevent boot theft. The kea weren’t put off by our presence and continued to play next to us so we were lucky to capture a few rare snapshots.
We had risen early to take on the might of Mount Gibbs which towers over the Cobb Valley at 1645m. The ascent was more arduous even than the tephra of Ngauruhoe as we made our route through an overgrown basin. Progress was slow as we forced our way through waist-high shrubs. The curving gradient of the basin was more challenging than the steep but sturdy terrain of the ridges flanking it. My grumpiness increased with my decision not to wear gaiters; my boots filled with spiky grass while spaniards poked my bare legs.
My grumbling trudge was broken by the sudden the call of an animal. A herd of mountain goats stood tentatively at the edge of the trees watching our progress. Their acute awareness of our presence amazed me as we would be oblivious to theirs without their warning bleet. Having rarely seen a goat outside a farm, I was transfixed. A huge billy goat stood at the head of the tribe. He was impressively stout and hairy, standing proudly like a lion. However, when we approached to capture a photo he bounded away, leaving the nannies and kids to stand their ground!
The views at the summit of Mount Gibbs made the basin trudge worthwhile. We stood upon a razorback ridge gazing into endless chains of mountains and valleys extending the length of the Kahurangi. The potential to explore appeared limitless and we regretted our restrictive food supply.
We descended via the ridges which was easy work after the basin. It was here that we crossed paths with a startled chamois. Again, we would’ve missed this fascinating creature if its wasn’t for its warning call. Chamois are a species of mountain goat imported from Europe for hunting. They thrive in the mountainous terrain of New Zealand. The three of us stood staring at each other, metres apart across a chasm. Sadly we were unable to take a photo as the creature fled, taking off down a vertical face with impossible speed and agility.
The Cobb Valley provided an insight into the world of the wild. Critters ran amok stealing our food, investigating our gear and buzzing after us. Unexpected encounters left us marvelling at the awareness and adaptations of animals. I felt like a blundering human in contrast, uncoordinated and unbalanced; it seems I have a way to go before my primitive code awakens.