We have two trip reports for the Old Ghost Road this month. One from The Lyell end from John Maffey and the other from Jane Minto who started at the Seddonville .The last trip report is the tale of the Epic 17 day adventure around Stewart Island.The photo is sunset over Doughboy Bay
THE OLD GHOST ROAD
MAY 6 - 10 2017
The Lyell to Seddonville 5- Sue McKenzie, Sari Lewis, George Arnesen, Geoff Butcher, John Maffey
Day 1 Lyell Car Park to Lyell Saddle Hut 18 km
Our group departed Seymour Square at 6.55 am headed for Lyell car park in the Buller Gorge between Murchison and Inangahua. As it was a Saturday morning all was fairly quiet on the alternate SH 1 to Murchison so there were no delays this day. Sandflies at Lyell prompted us to get moving at 9.35 am on our way to Lyell Saddle hut. As the Old Ghost Road is both a walking and cycling track the gradient is fairly kind to walkers as we made our way through typical South Island beech forest. South Island robins and tomtits intermittently flitted amongst the branches close by along the track.
After a couple of hours we came to the first of many dramatic landscapes that we would discover over the next 5 days. The Big Slips need careful negotiation for about 200 metres, the more so if you are a biker, as you weave your way across the steep, bare slope that has resulted from a major land movement at one time.
We arrived at the hut at 2.30 pm after gaining 650m. Lyell Saddle is one of 4 huts built for the OGR and is situated on a clearing with views across to the bush covered range to the west. We were joined in the hut by 6 Blenheim mountain bikers whose evening meal was much more elaborate then our trampers’ fare!
Day 2 Lyell Saddle Hut to Ghost Lake Hut 12 km
While the distance this day is relatively short, the track took us higher and higher to the highest point on the OGR on the exposed ridge between Mt Montgomery (1332m) and RockyTor (1456m) and then down to Ghost Lake hut at1000m.
On the open tops the highlights were the views of the cloud and mist shrouded hills east and west below us, great views for miles at Heavens Door- the distant mountains and hills framed in a U shape by 2 huge rocky outcrops. This section contains an 800m stretch of narrow exposed track that needs to be treated with a lot of respect- wise bikers will follow the DISMOUNT warning signs!
We arrived at Ghost Lake hut in time for lunch. Ghost Lake- more of a mountain tarn than a lake- lies just below the superbly located hut atop a massive rocky precipice, with Murchison clearly visible in the distance.
Our early arrival gave us time to explore the area and enjoy a lazy afternoon in an idyllic spot. More bikers joined us that night- this time a loud but friendly bunch of North Islanders plus a Timaruvian. It was another full hut night.
Day 3 Ghost Lake Hut to Stern Hut 13km
Today’s tramp was nearly all downhill to Stern Hut at 500m. The day began over open ground along the spectacular Skyline Ridge with its grand views across the cloud filled valley, then re-entering the bush via the 60 vertical metres of the Skyline Steps, narrow, steep and winding wooden steps to the Stern Valley below. This was our third day of ideal autumn tramping weather- calm and a mixture of cloud in the distance with clear overhead conditions.
As expected, we met up with the other 5 MTC trampers who were heading for Ghost Lake hut. Following a series of group photos and exchanging stories of the trip so far we parted and for us it was onward and downward to Stern Creek and on to the hut situated on a grassy flat alongside Stern Creek at 350m. We arrived at 1.15 pm, allowing for another afternoon of hut rest and relaxation before being joined by more mountain bikers, fewer than the previous night but just as noisy!
Day 4 Stern Hut to Specimen Point 25 km
The ‘longest day’ began in drizzle, then light rain and finally in steady but gentle rain. Oh well, this is the West Coast after all. Today’s walk covered 3 valleys- the Stern, Ernest and Mohikinui. Early in the day we were again out in the open and were intrigued to pass 2 small lakes named Lakes Grim ( sheltered, in the shade perhaps ) and Cheerful ( in a more sunny location ). Then it was climbing again up and through the Boneyard- a rocky and raw landscape covered in large boulders. This took us back into West Coast rain forest- in the rain- following Goat Creek, which feeds the mighty Mohikinui, for some distance. Now the going was fairly flat and we were on the move. Lunch was at Goat Creek hut, a 4 bunk DOC facility. John then went ahead to Mohikinui Forks hut ( 22 km ) and finally Specimen Point hut to get the fire going and a warm arrival for the rest of us. Specimen Point hut, perfectly located on a ledge providing spectacular views of the rollicking Mohikinui, was a very welcome sight for 5 drenched rats. However, a roaring fire and drying rack soon got put to use so all was well. As the afternoon wore on and no one else arrived we began to think we may have this hut to ourselves… whoopee!!..... and so it proved. Only snoring amongst us- no names of course- could be blamed for any broken sleep!
Day 5 Specimen Point Hut to Seddonville, the end of the track 17 km
Today began a little earlier than other days, at 8 am. We had a good weather window to walk in after the rain of yesterday and last night. It did not last though with much of the drive home being in steady rain. The track now mostly followed the dirty and wild Mohikinui River to Seddonville. There are several minor climbs around bluffs along the river but over all today was quite relaxed with the sun trying to break through the canopy of native forest that crowds in along the track. We got to the car park in good time, around 12 noon, batted away sand flies, took our final photos and then headed to the Seddonville Hotel for a welcome pub lunch. It was then time to head for home with stops in Westport and Murchison where our driver George spotted his car parked in a café car park! The other group had stopped there so we did too. Gear and vehicles were switched and we were back in Blenheim around 6 pm.
This trip lived up to all of its promise. Excellent company, very well equipped and comfortable huts, a varied and awesome landscape and a wonderful track. Who could ask for more?
Thanks to Paul Shipley for arranging this trip, to our driver George for getting us to and from the track safely and to the Lyell- Mohikinui Backcountry Trust for creating this world class wilderness experience. If you have plans to do it then do it!
The Old Ghost Road: Seddonville to Lyell 6 May to 10 May 2017
Team: Tizzy Pollard, Jane Robinson, Paul Shipley, Murray Chapman, Jane Minto (scribe)
Day 1: Rough and Tumble Lodge to Specimen Point Hut (17km)
We departed from Paul’s home at 5.30am and at 10.00am were at the Seddonville end of the track where we met a group of five young cyclists who were elated at having just completed the track. Jane R. had walked the track before it was finished when it still had rough sections with steep ascents and descents. I had done it in the opposite direction with Linda and Rachel almost exactly one year before. It was all new to Paul and Murray. It was wonderful to be back by the Mokihinui, a stunningly beautiful river, with many small waterfalls, moss covered rocks and attractive ferns, as well as lots of robins and fantails. At first the track keeps close to the river and then is about 100 metres above it, with almost sheer drops below. We crossed Johnny Cake Creek on the second of many brilliantly engineered bridges on the track and saw the mouth of Rough and Tumble Creek on the other side of the river.
We had a short climb up above the river to Specimen Point Hut, our base for the night. All the huts are well equipped with gas cookers, pots and pans, cutlery and crockery, so pack weights can be kept down.
Day 2: Specimen Point Hut to Stern Valley Hut (25 km)
We had good weather for our longest day’s walk, with high cloud to start and patches of blue sky – good conditions for photos of the bush. (The river was much lower than the year before when we had had two nights of dramatic thunderstorms.) After three kilometers beside the river, we reached the Mokihinui Forks DOC hut near where the north and south branches of the Mokihinui River join, before flowing west to the coast. Then we had 8km of flat, easy walking before crossing the bridge to the east side of the Mokihinui and on to Goat Creek Hut, a small DOC hut. Murray and Paul crossed the stream to the hut with dry feet but the rest of us didn’t risk it. (From that point a pattern developed where Jane and Tizzy went on ahead, and Murray, Paul and I were usually well behind. Murray was probably covering twice the distance as me at times, as he went forwards and backwards to take photos of us or to go off on side tracks.) The climb up through lovely forest to a 730m saddle was very enjoyable. The higher section called the ‘Bone Yard’ is rocky, with thousands of large boulders, having being shaken up in the 1968 Inangahua earthquake. We went down to Lakes Grim and Cheerful – one lake in the shade and the other more in the open. It was then an easy walk down to Stern Valley Hut, situated at 400m and close to the river. The 25km hadn’t seemed that far as we had the interesting climb and descent at the end of the day. A couple of cyclists with extra wide bike tyres shared a hut with us for the second night. (All the other cyclists we met were going the opposite way to us, making it easier for us to spot them in time to get out of their way.) That night three father and son pairs were also at the hut with us and were pleasant company.
Day 3: Stern Valley Hut to Ghost Lake Hut (13km)
An excellent day’s walk! From the hut we crossed a long bridge and soon came to a wide rocky waterfall. After about 2km we began climbing steadily through the bush until reaching small clearings with views out over the bush. Here we had the excitement of meeting the Lyell to Seddonville group – Sue, Sari, George, John and Geoff. Photos were taken to record the occasion and, more importantly, car keys were exchanged! We carried on up to a high point on a particularly impressive part of the track. We were also impressed by the skill and confidence of three young cyclists who came down a tricky looking part of the track with sharp bends at speed. We only just jumped out of the way in time! Before long we came to the Skyline Steps. To enable cyclists to get down a 60 metre drop, 302 wooden steps were put in - a real feature of the track, especially for cyclists who have to carry their bikes up or down them. We then came out into the open, on the Skyline Ridge, an amazing section of track, where even more photos than usual were taken! Murray and Paul went off to explore a side ridge and I ambled down through the bush to the aptly named ‘Dragon’s Creek,’ in a magical, enchanted area of moss covered rocks and trees. A deeper than usual, water filled hole in the track, had surprised two young cyclists the day before when their front wheels stopped but they carried on over their handlebars! From there it was a short climb up to Ghost Lake Hut which is in a superb position above the bush on a high rocky bluff with fantastic views. The hut was cozy as Tizzy and Jane had arrived two hours earlier. That night the hut was full. Most cyclists doing the track in two days stay there. We had entertaining company. Five men from the Wanaka area were cycling the track for their annual ‘boys’ outing’. They obviously didn’t believe in roughing it as their gourmet dinner, with an ample supply of beer and wine, had been flown in for them by helicopter. The benefit to us of their lifestyle was that we were given a bag of apples and slices of the most delicious chocolate tart! An unexpected luxury at the huts is hot showers. Yes, really! A bucket of hot water is poured into a small tank at shower head level and Bob’s your uncle. Cyclists do arrive at huts well splattered with mud so it’s probably more for their benefit. This hut also boasted the squeakiest toilet door ever!
Day 4: Ghost Lake Hut to Lyell Saddle Hut (12 km)
We woke to a misty day. A kea was ‘investigating’ the roof and a falcon was spotted early on. Murray tried going up the hill behind the hut but soon gave up as the bush was too wet. We walked along an exposed ridge on one of the most dramatic parts of the track, with the impressive ‘Tombstone’ rock and ‘Heaven’s Door’ gap. Mist turned to light rain and waterproofs went on as we went down through the bush on a well benched track. The exact moment that Paul, Murray and I walked into the hut the rain came down in earnest. A card school was set up to while away the time. A young couple shared the hut with us. He was from Tauranga and she came from Seattle. They were the only other trampers we met on the track. A spread out group of eleven male cyclists, all ages, popped into the hut for water and a quick warm up, before continuing up to Ghost Lake. Murray was seen stalking a resident black goat who didn’t want his photo taken.
Day 5: Lyell Saddle Hut to Lyell campground (18km)
In light drizzle we set off down through the bush, eventually coming to the ‘Big Slips’ area. The main slip is a deep, sheer drop and building the track across it was both risky and technically challenging. The next section of the track is a haven for birds. We saw heaps of robins, but also tomtits, riflemen and bellbirds. Eventually we reached the historically interesting area where Zala Town and Gibbs Town once existed. There are remnants of mine artifacts and an old cottage. (At places of interest all along the track there are information boards about the history of the area and the building of the track.) We went past the aptly named Deep Creek, a sheer narrow drop, and then across the last bridge to the campsite where Tizzy and Jane had been relaxing for two hours.
The track is an amazing achievement, in a beautiful area, with a fascinating history. The walking gradient is easy and I would happily sign up to do it a third time. A huge thank you to Paul for organizing it all for us!
Dear Diary...Day One
Three ageing trampers trying to recapture their youth met in the departure lounge of Wellington airport dressed in the appropriate apparel to hit the track running later this afternoon. This of course attracted a certain amount of attention but there was method to our madness as we were restricted to 23 kgs of baggage and so as much clothing and boots were worn to accommodate seventeen days food and gear in the packs. At the weigh in Paul’s was considerably lighter than Johns and mine...we concluded he was going to be very hungry towards the end of the trip.
On arrival at Oban we checked in with DOC and the young ranger promptly put the fear of god in us as he mentioned the Southern circuit was no longer maintained and gleefully spoke of thigh deep mud although after sizing up Paul and I suggested it would only be knee deep. Bad luck John!!
Two thirty and we were striding out for Port William Hut in bright sunshine on the highly manicured Rakiura great walk track with way to heavy packs arriving at the hut a couple of hours later. As is expected with all great walk huts it was bursting at the seams upon our arrival late afternoon.
Dear Diary...Day Two.
We left the very congested Port William hut for the business end of the trip leaving the manicured Rakiura track for the North Western circuit striking out for Bungaree hut. It appeared that the first k had perhaps not been maintained just to put the pretenders off from going any further. It was very pleasant bush walking but every stream had a very steep descent into and an equally steep ascent back out until we spilled out onto Big Bungaree Beach. There atop a bench three quarters of a k along the beach was Bungaree hut. It was occupied by a group of hunters that going by the stack of beer were in here for the long haul. They would be Gareth Morgans mates for life as there was a wee pile of feral cats and as John put it a dead Aussie or for you and me a possum.
It was always our intention to bypass this hut and forge on to Christmas Village hut to give us a chance to knock off the mountain in tomorrows good weather window. A very quick lunch was consumed at the eastern end of Murray Beach as hoards of the swarming little buggers tried to lunch on us before chasing us for one and a half ks along the beach giving up when we headed back inland again. Packs were dumped for a wee detour to check out the Old Christmas Village hut down in Christmas Village Bay before returning for the couple of remaining ks between us and the new Christmas Village hut.
Dear Diary...Day three
It was with a little trepidation that we departed Christmas Village hut for the summit of Mt Anglem, Stuart Islands highest peak at 980 meters.
A couple of young local lads burst into the hut the previous evening scratched and a little worse for wear informing us the track was a hell hole. Great stuff guys, that’s all the encouragement we needed!!Expecting the worst we set off but I guess with age comes a little wisdom for we didn’t find the going too bad. The only excitement was when my boot neatly slipped through a tree root loop and the laws of relativity kicked in. I had mentioned to John and Paul that at some stage on the trip I was going to have to make a snap decision, me or the camera. That moment had come sooner than I expected and as it was only day three I couldn’t afford to smash the camera so I took a reasonable face plant with the resultant crimson. Paul gleefully whipped out his black roll of insulation tape to do an All Black prop forward dressing but I wasn’t having a bar of that.
We summited to a 360 degree vista, Tiwi Point and the smoke stack to the north, The Ruggedy Mounts to the west, the swamps and lowlands to the south and Paterson inlets to the east. Magic!!
Dear Diary...Day Four
It was gloomy and overcast, our good weather window was fading as we set off on what we thought would be a fairly effortless eleven or twelve ks through to Yankee River hut. Wrong yet again!
Today the track chose a more inland route and every stream involved one of those steep descents followed by just as steep a climb up the other side and there was a multitude of streams. Our only relief was a short walk along Lucky Beach but there was nothing lucky about this beach as it was a boulder strewn rubble requiring agility that sadly we didn’t possess any more.
The hut arrived and so too did the sand flies as we stood in the tidal estuary scrubbing mud off boots and gaiters in between tidal surges. We had the company of a young American couple who on arriving at Bluff having just completed the Te Araroa trail over the last four months found there was still another island to go.
Dear Diary...Day five
Heavy mist being driven by a very stiff south easterly bode for a reluctant but necessary departure as we headed inland to avoid a peninsular eventually breaking out of the coastal forest onto some spectacular sand dunes leading down onto Smokey Beach. Fast time was made along the beach propelled by the strong south easterly at our backs. Interestingly the sand although saturated by the rain was still rolling across the surface in front of us in rippling waves.
After a late smoko sheltering from the rain in a hunters hut at the western end of the beach we trudged back off inland eventually breaking back out onto the rugged coastline just below Long Harry hut in the early afternoon. Smoke was billowing from its chimney....Yaaahooo a hot cup of tea. A furious effort was put in gathering firewood so we could have a guilt free afternoon stocking up the fire to dry ourselves off.
We had the company of three seasoned hunters who made the pilgrimage each year for ten days of the roar. Having choppered in they had all the comforts of home as well as a wicked brew probably distilled in the Hokonui Hills during the days of prohibition.
John kept them company well into the evening for pumpkin time for Paul and I was generally around seven pm. The story goes that by midnight they were a mess and completely incoherent.
Dear Diary... Day Six
All three were still dead to the world when we departed the next morning, well hopefully just literally dead. It was still misty but the wind that had rocked the hut during the night had eased up just a little, smashing the waves up onto the rocky coastline well below us.
These dull misty conditions had a kiwi fooled into thinking it was still night time as we had the luxury of being entertained for a full five minutes as it fossicked around probing the soft soil with its massively long beak, a mere couple of meters from us.
By the time we descended back onto the bouldery coastline the mist had evaporated and the wind abated. Even though our packs were lighter we still lacked the agility to make travel on this terrain truly enjoyable and so welcomed the two hundred meter bush climb up over and down to East Ruggedy Beach, wading across the Ruggedy Stream estuary before a kilometre trek through the sand dunes to East Ruggedy hut.
We had the luxury of spending the remainder of the afternoon exploring East Ruggedy Beach in warm sunshine with the dramatic backdrop of the Ruggedy Islands just beyond.
Dear Diary...Day Seven
Low misty cloud shrouded the tops as we departed East Ruggedy hut following a muddy track through a low saddle descending down through sand dunes to West Ruggedy Beach.
A light plane flew in low under the cloud landing at the southern end of the beach. The plane had long departed as we arrived at the southern end of the beach to greet four young hunters setting up camp just up off the beach.
[[PASTING TABLES IS NOT SUPPORTED]]
Again beer seemed to be the main choice of sustenance for these guys but for me I’m sold on beef pasta hotpot!!!
From here it was back inland following a gently climbing and in places very muddy track culminating in Ruggedy Pass before descending to a lunch spot just above a bouldery beach in Waituna Bay. We had come to avoid the beaches for breaks as dark clouds of the little buggers tended to swarm all over us where as they were absent in the bush. Obviously a breed of sand flies that spend all their leisure time sunbathing on beaches!
The day was yet again deteriorating as we made our way inland again slowly ascending a small range following the coast with the swamps of the Ruggedy Flats on its eastern flank. At over 200 meters above sea level we were amazed to cross a huge sand pit atop that stretched a kilometre all the way back down to the coast. Nestled in the bush on the far side of this sand pit was Big Hellfire hut.
Dear Diary... Day Eight
The weather was still deteriorating... as if it could get any worse... we left the hut for a traverse of the remainder of this coastal range before a gentle descent onto Little Hellfire Beach. A huge surf was rolling in to greet us as we scooted to its southern end. Time was of the essence as we desperately wanted to take the low tide route at the northern end of Mason Bay. We decided to skip lunch and get up from Waituna Bay and over into Mason Bay as quickly as possible. All was going well until we hit the descent into Mason Bay when it all turned to custard. It was a seemingly near vertical mud slide with tree roots interwoven and self preservation took over. Consequently we found ourselves standing at the foot of the high tide route dejectedly watching huge rollers smashing up onto the point we were hoping to sneak around.
This was probably the low point of the whole trip as we stood huddled with the freezing rain being driven horizontally into us, then running down our legs into the boots while trying to eat some lunch. Our only consolation was once the point had been turned via the high tide route we were fair propelled down Mason Beach by a wicked tail wind to a roaring fire at Mason Bay Hut.
Dear Diary... Day Nine
Even though it rained steadily for most of the night the day dawned relatively fine and we had high hopes of nice views from the summit of Rocky Mountain.
We had to get there first and were a little sceptical of John’s recollection of it being just a quick hour and a half along board walk to Freshwater Hut on the other side of the island and our awaiting rendezvous with the water taxi and food drop.
True to form Johns memory was lacking in the finer details as there was bugger all board-walk and what was there had fifty centimetres of water flowing over it courtesy of yesterdays and last night deluge.
We still made it to Freshwater hut by midday and a welcome fire thanks to a young French couple who had turned back from there venture to Fred’s Camp after failing to negotiate waste deep bog.
After a quick lunch we departed for Rocky Mountain which still enjoyed a clear top. We knew time was against us but were still hopeful
l of a view but alas as we broke from the forest into the alpine scrub scuds of mist engulfed us from the west. We had to settle for fleeting glimpses of Patersons Inlet before beating a hasty retreat for our rendezvous around six pm with the water taxi.
Dear Diary... Day Ten
We awoke yet again to mist and ever hopeful did a second ascent of Rocky Mountain for that all elusive view. Whilst yesterday we had glimpses of Paterson Inlet, today we had very brief glimpses through to Mason Bay and the multitude of instant lakes that had swelled across Freshwater plain but disappointingly bugger all else. With no reason to hang around a very quick descent followed with a mid morning departure from Freshwater Hut for Mason Bay in by now steady rain. The board-walks were by now free of water but that couldn’t be said for the rest of the track.
Mid afternoon and we were back at Mason Bay Hut enjoying afternoon sun and the welcome relief of being able to jettison our friends, again bulging at the seams with another weeks food.
Dear Diary...Day Eleven
We were awoken by a very excited young American whose sole mission for the past five days was to photograph Kiwi around Mason Bay and his time was coming to an end. Until now he hadn’t seen one of the elusive creatures where as every other man woman and child at the hut had.....sometimes you can try just a little too hard!!
For us today was equally exciting as it was the start of our journey around the notorious Southern circuit. Good progress was made along the beach in watery sunshine as line after line of breakers rolled in to greet us
[[PASTING TABLES IS NOT SUPPORTED]]
All that ended when John’s vague memory and his GPS with yesteryear tracks overlayed foolishly swayed us into a supposedly faster and easier alternative. A vertical sand bank climb followed by three quarters of an hour grovelling through jungle like scrub trying to intersect the proper track culminated in an undignified retreat back down to the beach and a rendezvous with the official track. Needless to say we vowed never to be swayed by Johns GPS again on the trip.
It was our understanding that DOC was no longer maintaining the Southern circuit and it was a little indistinguishable in places along the beach terraces but once we headed inland towards Adams Hill it improved with an enjoyable gradient to boot. Bogs over the last k to Adams Hill summit put paid to a summit lunch. The premature lunch halt was called for after I inadvertently disappeared up over my knees in bog while trying to bypass a particularly nasty section, then having to be physically dragged out as the weight of the pack coupled with suction was too great.
Adams Hill finally arrived and the coastal views were stunning in stark contrast to the inland ranges being lost to passing showers. We met a party on top of the hill and given it had taken them half a day to cover three odd ski should have forewarned us for what lay ahead on the descent into Doughboy Bay. Our horizontal bog on the top turned into a vertical bog laced with roots and with every step the friends on our backs took control leaving us in a state of only semi control. Apparently there used to be hawser ropes on this section to aid the descent but DOC removed them.
Late afternoon we welcomed the sight of Doughboy Hut which at only six bunks can have an overcrowding problem with planes landing tourists and hunters on the beach at its front door. Luckily for us it was only occupied by two ladies who had been flown in that morning..Rather unluckily for them the smell of all our gear drying in front of the roaring fire was possibly a little too much for they abandoned the hut for a tent on the beach. They assured us it was simply done so they could fall asleep to the soothing sound of rain on the tent.
Dear Diary... Day Twelve
The overnight rain had cleared but it was still a dark and very stormy sky to the west as we attacked the slopes leading up onto Doughboy Hill at 411 meters asl. At least the track wasn’t too badly cut up as it appeared most flew into Doughboy hut and walked back out to Mason Bay rather than continuing around the southern circuit.
In saying this we still had to endure five or so ks of bog along the alpine tops before gradually descending into the rainforest of the Rakeahua River valley. Once the bridge over the Rakeahua River was crossed all that remained was a few ks of bog before the front door of Rakeahua hut.
As with every evening for the last week a frenzied effort was put in to gather firewood as we had become a little concerned at the state of our perpetually wet feet. We had managed to dry socks and boots each evening so as to at least start off with dry feet each day.
Dear Diary...Day Thirteen
Hopefully we weren’t being too ambitious a we departed the hut for an ascent of Mt Rakeahua (681 asl) just before seven am. It was still dark as we picked our way towards Rakeahua with the aid of headlamps. A necessary evil as we hoped to return and descend all the way out to Fred’s Camp this afternoon. Once it was light and the headlamps dispensed with, progress was quick. Upon exiting the bush around the alpine tarn we were dismayed to see squalls swallowing up everything to the west and within ten minutes we had been swallowed up. It had now just become a case of knocking the bastard off as the driving misty rain consumed us dashing any hopes of panoramic views. Needless to say we didn’t dally on the summit as the wind chill created by the stiff sou wester had us scampering back down for the forested shelter of the mid slopes.
Reunited with our three friends at Rakeahua hut we set off to deal with some serious bogs along the banks of the Rakeahua River before reaching the South Arm of Paterson Inlet.
The track wound its way around a multitude of mini coves. With the tide receding I wondered if it was a better option down there but it was all pretty slimy and slick and as we were starting to feel the effects of a long day scrambling up around windfall seemed the safer option even though it felt like the final nail in the coffin.
It was late afternoon when on turning a corner into another cove a jetty was spied and just beyond sat perched Fred Camp hut.
The evening ritual of firewood gathering and splitting lacked our normal enthusiasm but as always, was worth the effort as the fire was soon roaring, the hut reaching shorts and singlet temperature in no time.
Dear Diary...Day Fourteen
Very light misty rain just added to our trepidation as we departed Fred’s Camp Hut for a short day across to Freshwater Hut. We had always seen this as the crux section of the trip, having heard so many horror stories of thigh deep bog, and even worse after the French couples account, abandoning their attempt after waste deep bog last week.
On studying the map we reckoned it would be pretty good going until we crossed the Tolson River and to all intents it was. A pair of Kaka captured our attention and proved to be a great distraction from the forth coming bog.
Having just crossed the Tolson the business end of today had well and truly arrived with only about three or so ks between us and Freshwater hut. Looking across it was not a pretty picture. We had fashioned some Manuka sticks to act as probing poles to test the ground in front and if you tried to follow the track you were going to disappear. With a little thought we were able to bypass the worst bits, the trick being to work out all your steps well in advance for the ground was continually sinking and if you stopped to work out your next move the next stop was going to be China!!
We were pleasantly surprised when Freshwater Jetty appeared in front of us just on Midday.... we had made it and with relatively dry feet to boot.
A third go for that elusive view from Rocky Mountain was again briefly considered before being unanimously rejected for firewood gathering and an afternoon cosying up to the fire watching light misty rain outside. That fire was the saviour for a young and very keen party of six who had undertaken a massive day from Hellfire Hut through to Freshwater, arriving just on nine pm sodden and with some feet a little worse for wear.
Dear Diary... Day fifteen.
The morning dawned relatively fine prompting another brief discussion as to whether to have another go at Rocky Mountain for that elusive view. Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately depending on how you wanted to look at it, through the gloom of the early morning half light we could still see a little clag around her tops that would probably remain all day.
It was seven hours to North arm hut so we probably didn’t need another couple chucked in.
Johns by now very questionable memory was disputing this time but Paul and I had long since concluded that the projected track times correlated to our maximum speed!!
After an easy but boggy two or so ks along the Freshwater River we began the last serious climb of the trip, up through a 380 meter saddle on the south eastern flank of Rocky Mountain.
[[PASTING TABLES IS NOT SUPPORTED]]
We were progressing quite nicely up through the rainforest until we hit the thick alpine scrub and it’s all too familiar bog laced with roots. We were back down to a snail’s pace and eventually halted for lunch just over the saddle, a teasing glimpse of Paterson inlet far in the distance. As we had become accustomed to, the descent was steep and slow but we were continually lured on by the odd glimpse of the North Arm.
Finally we were within a stone’s throw of the water’s edge, the track sidling above ground falling steeply before ending abruptly with little rocky drops into the rippling water. We thought that only being four or so ks from the North Arm Hut and the Rakioura great walk track that conditions would improve. Wrong yet again!!!
As a consequence we were pretty bloody pleased to eventually spot North Arm Hut on the far side of a little cove and finally we would be on the groomed surface of the Rakioura great walk track.
It also heralded the wind down to the day as we were residing in a private hut a k or so down the track for the night. A couple of ks down the track alarm bells started ringing when John said he didn’t know exactly where the hut was as it had been roughly pointed out to him many years ago from a boat out at sea. What the F....k!!!!
The ks were slowly ticking over as one by one the coves saw our heels and with only one cove left before the track dived off inland we had resigned ourselves to the fact we must have passed it and it was going to be a long walk all the way out to Oban in the dark.
With hope all but gone we suddenly came across the huts signature, a board-walk courtesy from DOC running from the track all the way to the front door. Profound Relief!
Dear Diary... Day Sixteen
We allowed John the luxury of a little sleep in at Kaipipi Hut as he had been pointing out for the last couple of weeks that we were on holiday and needn’t be getting up at six every morning.
After a leisurely departure we headed off inland following a cobbled track that was the remnants of a tram line servicing the sawmill in Kaipipi bay from Oban.
Within spitting distance of Oban we came across an intersection in the track.. twenty minutes to Oban or a couple of hours following the coastal Ryans Creek Track. Paul and I decided we probably wouldn’t be back this way again and so John reluctantly followed.
We eventually came out a mere five hundred meters from Oban with still more track to go so decided to nip into Oban for some shark and tatties. The most expensive shark and tatties I’ve ever had but they were mouth wateringly delicious.
Once back on the track it was out to Ackers Point and the awaiting lighthouse which we witnessed around five pm in the by now obligatory light rain before returning around the coast of Half Moon Bay to the bright lights of Oban. After 247 ks we felt it was time to put the feet up!
Dear Diary... Day Seventeen
The Stuart Island Air light plane powered down the runway as I took a selfie of Paul and Myself, John photo bombing from the seat behind. The plane did a lazy loop as we fare welled Oban heading out north towards the mainland.
Our journey as all do had come a full circle and we were left to reflect on whether we were able to recapture our youth. I guess it’s all very subjective for had we ever lost it... sure it all takes a little longer and it’s fair to say the bodies are a little more sensitive to the rigours but the thrill of the unknown and unexpected coupled with the sheer beauty of our wilderness has certainly not diminished with the passing of time.
Paul Shipley, John Cavill and Murray Chapman.
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