We were playing with the clouds, sometimes touching them. They turned at times our surroundings into a dichromatic world of fawn tussock and light grey mist. And at other times, they would suddenly lift up to unveil the undulating view of the distant mountains. The silhouette of thickets of trees appeared as diffuse shadows. We were hiking in a watercolor painting.
The rain was heavy at first, so we took the valley track. Our original plan had been to hike up Mt Arthur Route over Gordon's Pyramid, drop down to Salisbury Track and spend the night at the Dry Rock Shelter. We quickly decided it would have to wait for better conditions.
Balloon Hut became our destination. The forest was good shelter and the rain stopped shortly after we set out from Flora Car Park. The mild temperature allowed me to hike in shorts and light merino under my rain jacket. I had walked this track before, but the forest never ceased to enchant me. The beech trees grew taller and bigger the more we walked. The wet ground released a fresh, earthy smell mingling with the sweet fragrance of honeydew.
The Salisbury Track is a gentle climb in the forest, passing three Rock Shelters and Gridiron Hut. We took our time and halted often to observe the birds. Or rather, it was the birds observing us. A curious Robin pecked at my shoe, a tomtit fluttered from branch to branch, many wekas crossed the track in front us and the tiny riflemans won the price of ultimate cuteness. Tuis and bellbirds filled the air with their songs, answered high up above the canopy by a few keas with their much less melodious but none the less uplifting screech. Heard before he was seen, a kaka was foraging for food in the high beech branches, aware of our presence but seemingly undisturbed. Magic.
The track emerged out of the forest before Salisbury Hut. We were now in the tussocklands called the Salisbury's Open. The hut warden had written the weather forecast for the next day: heavy rain in the morning, clearing in the afternoon. We then opted to leave our packs here, so we'd have a shorter walk in the rain the next day, and to hike to Balloon Hut and back as a late afternoon mission.
This was where we reached the clouds. For around two and a half hours, I felt we existed outside time.
I slowed down and then stopped, letting my friend go ahead. I wanted to hear the silence. Suddenly it was just me and the Wilderness. The mountain daisies, the Drosera, the tussock, the trees, the mist, the hills behind the grey vail. The wind whispered a song of freedom.
I could listen to it forever.