My husband is not one for “traditional” holidays, especially the “hallmark” ones like Valentine’s Day. He’s also not the best about being on time with dates like birthdays and anniversaries. So it was a true surprise when Jason announced a Valentine’s gift for me at the beginning of March.
He had booked two huts on the Welcome Rock trail – with the promise of romance, adventure and education for ourselves and the boys. The trail traverses some rugged landscape in the Eyre mountains and was handbuilt with pick and shovel over the course of 4 years. Best of all, the trial is a mountain bike-able loop complete with huts, amazing views, outdoor baths and old relics from the past. While my confidence level had gone up quite a bit after our last bike packing trip, I was not ready to take the chariot on a ride like this. Rather than letting this deter us, Jason, like he does, already had hatched a plan.
“You will hike Revel in to the hut by hiking over the mountain which is shorter, while Max and I ride the longer way in. Then that afternoon you and I will take turns riding the whole trail while the other one of us plays in the bath and surrounding nature with the boys.”
And this is exactly why I love co-parenting this man. His ability to transform and turn a basic trip into a grand adventure that will suit the whole family makes me fall in love with him over and over again. It inspires me to challenge my patterned perspective.
The previous week had been full of manual labor with my Dad who came over to help with our landscaping project. Long days in the dirt and not much sleep because of a fussy/teething Revel, made anything with the word “baths” immediately exciting. And the boys had been taking all their baths in the kitchen sink the entire time they’d been in New Zealand. Adequate for cleaning – but not a bath that inspires play and contemplation.
For our first night Jason had booked us the “Red Shed”- an old retired wool shed on Tom and Kates farm that had been turned into a cute little airbnb. We pulled up after an exhaustingly full day of dropping off my Dad at the airport and climbing in Queenstown. We were dirty, tired and hungry. With in 5 minutes of being there, the boys and I were in a hot bath surrounded by mountain views and farm life. Max’s excited run towards the baths and Revel’s squeals alone made the trip for me. We stayed in until our entire bodies were wrinkled. After a simple dinner of sausages and salad Revel went to sleep and Max, Jason and I all got in once more until the stars came out. While Max drove his cars around the edge of the bath, we sipped our wine and started talking about how we could make this same set up at our house.
The next morning, we woke up early ate breakfast and packed up our back packs amongst two wild boys. Our goal was the old Mud hut, about 10 km of trail deep into the mountains. As we drove up to the trailhead the wind was getting increasing stronger and stronger. By the time we got everyone out of the car and ready to go, it was howling something fierce. Max had fallen asleep and was not excited about getting woken up. Jason and I, seasoned to his temper tantrums before our adventures, calmly coaxed him on the bike and with in a minute of being on the trail I could already hear him starting to embrace the adventure.
A bundled up Revel and I set off shortly behind them and with in a few minutes of hiking, I could hear his cute little snorts and snores in my ear. A 2.5 km climb took us to our first objective – Welcome Rock. It was a huge diving board of a rock outcrop overlooking the farms below and surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides.
The areas history has to do with the New Zealand gold rush in the 1890s, and the building of “water races”. These were hand-built canals to bring a consistent water into remote valleys to help with sluicing operations. At the time of its construction the 47km Roaring Lion Water Race was the longest and one of the engineering feats of New Zealand. It took 30 men 3 years to dig. And our trail went right along a lot of it. The hut we’d be staying in was also handbuilt from sod over 100 years ago, lodging for one of the solitary “racemen” who lived out here to maintain the water flow. Legend has it that two of the original racemen would meet at the rock every few days to check in on each other and share a dram of homemade whiskey. And after they passed, the whiskey bottle remained as an offering to weary travelers needing a bit of extra warmth at that cold and exposed spot. We’d heard that if you look in the right place, that there is still a whiskey bottle waiting – keeping the tradition alive.
Jason and Max beat us up there. A cold and brutal wind had driven them to seek shelter on the exposed feature forcing them to try to tuck into a tiny cave right toward the cap of the outcrop, and there Jason had found the famous whiskey bottle! We both took a sip, warming our insides, but Max was was out of luck. We gave him a finger lick though just so he could share in the experience. Then we headed down…as the promise of a cool hut and warm bath was what was really keeping him going. I was going to hike straight down the mountain to the hut 1300’ below while Jason and Max cycled down the technical switchbacks and a more bike able grade.
As I watched them head off leaning and carving into the turns with Max squealing in excitement, I wanted nothing more but to stop time right in its tracks.
Because of a little short cut, Revel and I had beat Jason and Max to the hut. While it was an amazing little hut, I was not too excited about sleeping there as I could see some obvious and plentiful signs of mice. My fear of mice, is I admit a little out of hand. I thought to myself: “It’s ok, tonight is Jason’s Valentines gift”. And sure enough, he was stoked beyond words when he got there. “This is awesome! Max- we get to sleep here, isn’t it amazing!??” “Yeah!!” screamed Max.
With in a few minutes of them arriving, we had filled the bath with spring water, but it would take a few hours to heat with the old propane burner set underneath. I set off on the bike trying to beat Jason’s estimated time for me. The trail was beautiful, really rugged and full of fascinating history. Much of the trail was actually on the old water race – where they used it to bring a steady flow of water to the miners. It traversed dramatic terrain with dramatic drop offs. Along the whole track, you could see remnants in the form of an old wagon, shovels and broken pick-axes.
After hiking Revel and our over night gear in, it felt amazing to be light and on a bike by myself. With in 2 hours, just 3 minutes under Jason’s time estimate, I pulled up to the hut to the cutest scene ever: Jason and the boys playing in old metal tub surrounded by the most beautiful mountains. It is an image I hope to never forget.
Shortly after I arrived, I jumped into the bath and Jason took off excited to try and beat my time on the bike and more importantly the coming rain and wind.
After two hours of playing in the bath, building a fire, cooking dinner and having dance parties with Max and Revel Jason arrived just as the first heavy rain was about to hit. He had beaten me by 2 minutes.
That night, we lit the hut by a roaring fire and a dozen candles. A serious storm roared outside. It felt cozy, safe and magical, despite the mouse squeaking somewhere hidden in the corner.
“You have to admit, this is pretty awesome.” Jason said – while looking at our two sweet boys sleeping away.
“Yes, babe. It very much it is.”