We woke up as usual at 6am and after a breakfast of instant oats we left Doughboy Bay Hut for what would be a very taxing day. After five minutes of walking along the beach, the trail left the shoreline and shot straight up a mountain. Climbing being my weakness, I fell far behind Tom and Andrew fairly soon. A neverending and bloody steep ascent, my legs were burning like mad as I tried to keep a good pace. Eventually I gave up keeping a good pace and took my time, sweat still pouring off my face.
Unfortunately for me, as I stepped on a root while climbing, my boot slipped and I couldn’t keep my balance; I fell backward into a large pool of mud, reinjuring my knee in the process. I had badly stretched several knee ligaments last June and my kneecap had slipped quite painfully in February, which is what happened again this time on the mountain. Luckily, I had remembered to grab my knee brace right before getting into the car in Dunedin. While I lay on my back in the mud grimacing in pain and trying to relax, I managed to get my pack off and find the knee brace. After strapping it on I found a can of V, an energy drink I had brought along in case I needed a boost. After sculling that, I got up and continued on in pain.
About half an hour later, I finally caught up to Tom and Andrew. I had been hoping to find them cooking lunch, but I only had a couple minutes to breathe and drink juice before we continued. Soon we reached the top of the mountain and I regained my energy as we walked along the gentler slopes along the peak, through marshes reminiscent of Lord of the Rings.
Never before coming to New Zealand would I have thought it possible to find marshes on the peaks of mountains – then again, it isn’t every day that I walk along the tops of mountain ranges.
We walked along the top of the range of mountains for some time before finally starting the descent. The descent was definitely as steep as advertised. After a couple hours of constant downhill walking, interspersed for brief periods of time with relatively flat but muddy track, the mud gave way to sand. we had reached the shoreline, and after crossing a few dunes, we were walking parallel to the shore but on a track slightly inland.
Andrew had been going quickly and Tom waited up for me as I had lagged to take photos of the guys ascending one of the sand dunes.
When Tom and I began walking, Andrew was nowhere to be seen. After a minute of walking we heard him shout for joy and assumed he had found the beach. We then reached a fork in the track and chose to follow the track that was labelled rather than the one that apparently led to the beach. Wrong decision.
Andrew had taken the beach-bound path, and after realizing we were not catching up, came back to the fork, then decided to go back and continue on the beach rather than try and find us on the inland track.
After a few minutes on our track, Tom and I decided we didn’t want to walk on this inland path for two hours when the beach was so close. I suggested we cut directly through the bush to the beach and Tom led the way. Good decision.
Those five or ten minutes of bushwhacking were the most fun five or ten minutes of tramping on the entire trip for us. Imagine walking through a cement wall thirty metres deep, but the cement was not quite set. The bush was crazily dense and in many places very prickly as well. We were walking along the tops of fern trees (these things grow quite tall so, walking along the tops of them – literally stepping on the very top of each one like stones across a river – we couldn’t tell where the ground was) and using full body weight to push giant plants out of our way. Looking around, it was as if we were ants in a world full of dinosaurs, a scene straight out of Honey I Shrunk the Kids. Grass twice as tall as us and other giant plants surrounded us on all sides. At one point, Tom sank into a pit nearly as deep as he is tall and as I followed, I barely managed to leap over it and land on another fern tree. I cautioned Tom not to fall off a cliff, as I had a suspicion we’d reach one when the jungle met the beach, and soonafter he rolled out of the jungle onto the edge of the small cliff.
The ‘cliff’ was really only about ten feet high, and we both slid down it and began our walk along the beach, spotting Andrew several hundred metres ahead of us. We took our time walking along the beach, playing with shells and dead animals, and generally enjoying our amazing surroundings.
The walk along the beach did not appear particularly long, but turned into about two hours, which was what we were told to expect. What a bloody long beach, and we only covered a bit under half its length.
We finally found an inlet that ran inland and decided to take that route, as we saw some footprints in the sand leading that way. All three of us were in agonizing pain from the day’s hike, and all we could think about was reaching Mason Bay hut and eating and sleeping. These last few minutes of the day seemed like an eternity. We finally reached the hut and after lying down on the porch for a while, cleaned ourselves up a little and began cooking.
That evening, we decided to go searching for Kiwis, an endangered flightless bird native only to New Zealand and the namesake of this country’s inhabitants (Kiwi fruit were also named after the bird, as the fruit have a similar appearance to the bird, albeit much smaller in size). After unsuccessfully waiting and watching for the usually nocturnal bird to appear (the only place they ever venture out in the daytime is on Stewart Island), we gave up and headed back to the hut.
Along the way, Andrew and I decided we would make some soup before bed, as we were starving again. When we arrived at the hut we discovered that no one had the soup. And with the soup, the remaining rice and several other soups were no longer with us. It turns out that one of the guys (couldn’t have been me, I never took care of that bag of food – really) accidentally left the bag behind at the last hut. With two more days of hiking ahead of us I was not pleased at this new development – afterall, I was already starving every day with the amount of food we had.
We woke up extra early at 530am, hoping to beat the other trampers who were at the hut and heading the same direction as us that day. We left Mason Bay hut before 7, our earliest start on the trek. The day had two sections: the first was a supposedly 3-4 hour stretch of flatland covering 14km. Andrew’s ankle, which he rolled many times (as we all did) in the previous days and on this first stretch several times, was really bothering him on this easiest part of our trek, and I had no energy at all. This was the first time it actually rained on our trip – amazing, as Stewart Island is renowned for the constant rain (much more rain than in Vancouver for instance). It took us three and a half hours to reach Freshwater Inlet hut, the place where we were dropped off by the water taxi on Day 2 of our trip to begin our 6 days of tramping.
Soon after arriving, an older gentleman who had been there since the day before came by and told us there was a kiwi nearby. We immed
iately got up, tired as we were, and walked the two minutes to where he said we might find it. Shortly thereafter, we did indeed spot it, just after 11am in broad daylight. After foraging around in the underbrush, mainly ferns, looking for food in the ground (hence the Kiwi’s long thin beak), it began approaching the trail from which we were watching it.
It came right onto the path where Andrew was, just on the other side of him from where I was standing with my camera. I told him to move one way and, distracted by this strange bird looking up at him not two feet away, he moved the other way instead, blocking the PERFECT shot of the kiwi on the middle of the path with a clear and contrasting background. I got a few photos of the bird in the bush, but only good enough to prove we saw it.
In this one, you can see it in the centre – the brown round thing that could be mistaken for a porcupine perhaps. A very dumb bird in our estimation, but very interesting indeed. If the animal had a voice, it surely would have been saying “dum dee dum dum” as it walked along, in all honesty appearing like something out of a cartoon.
The rest of the day’s hike was long and tiring. We went up and down and up and down as usual, and eventually reached the point in the track where it met up with a Great Walk. Great Walks are designed for tourists with no tramping experience, and for much of the remainder of the walk the mud was avoided as nice modern boardwalks were in place.
We reached the large North Arm hut in the evening, ahead of suggested times, and promptly set to work cooking some food. I got the powdered milk going, and drank 7 cups of it myself. We made instant noodles which added 2 cups more liquid to my system, and I finally topped that off with a cup of green tea. 10 cups (2.5 Litres) of liquid was good for my tired body, but I had to get up twice in the middle of the night and climb off my bunk to go out into the bushes and relieve myself. The possum right at the door when I left was hard to scare off as I didn’t have my headlamp with me, but a few feigned kicks did the trick. While Andrew was outside in the middle of the night taking a leak in the bushes, he nearly had a heart attack when a sudden explosion of noise hit him – he turned just quick enough to see the tail end of a deer sprinting off into the dark.
We cut a lot of time off the suggested time for this day, our last on Stewart Island. As it was a Great Walk section of track, nearly the entire thing was boardwalk. This made hills much easier; where we previously dealt with mud and roots we now had nice steps to ease the effort. I still fell behind for most of the day, as I had little energy left, my high metabolism unable to deal with the rationed food supply. Despite this, we arrived in Halfmoon Bay, the town of Oban, in good time to relax. We changed our ferry time to an earlier one, ate some chocolate from the corner store, and then walked into the nice looking restaurant attached to the hotel.
Covered in mud and still wearing our gaiters, stinking of sweat and breath reeking from reduced frequency brushing, we put our bags down and sat down in the nice restaurant. Andrew and I each ordered an $18.50 pizza, and I also ordered a $4 plate of bread and we all got the orange juice we had been craving for days.
When some wealthy-looking people left the restaurant with their food unfinished, Tom kindly grabbed their child’s half finished coke and gave it to me (turned out to be a raspberry and coke, delicious). I poured it from his glass into mine and Tom put the glass back. The waitresses weren’t looking, but seemed to notice later when they came by, as none of us had ordered any soft drinks, and coke differs greatly in appearance from orange juice or water. They probably thought I had pulled out some rum and poured myself a drink.
After stuffing ourselves, talking for ages and generally trying to waste time in the warm comfort of the restaurant, we paid our bill and went back outside.
A while later we boarded the ferry. Andrew got seasick (but didn’t really puke – the photo was a joke) so he and I went to the outside deck and stayed there a while til he felt better.
The three of us discussed entrepeneurship and ideas for making money, as well as our philosophies behind wanting to earn loads of money. We all have the same goal – get rich so we can give it away – interesting.
Arriving at the ferry terminal in Bluff, we waited for the crates with our bags to be unloaded. Lucky for us, the first crate to be opened contained our bags – right on top! We returned to the car, still parked with no ticket in a 5 minute parking zone, 6 days later, and changed into clean clothes for the drive home.
We drove into Invercargill and stopped at The Warehouse, a big box store akin to K-Mart or Zellers, where we loaded up on candy. I spent about $15 on candy, including chocolate and gummy candies of all sorts. On the drive home we gorged on candy until we all felt a bit sick, and played great roadtrip music from Andrew’s iPod at high volume. We even stopped at one point to take photos of really cool sunrays poking through a hole in the clouds.
Finally, we reached home. I took off my mud-covered clothes and took a shower. It took about 45 minutes to get all the mud off me, as the layer closest to my skin had hardened and welded itself to my skin.
It was an amazing trip. Sorry for the long drawn-out posts, but it’s really difficult for me not to add so many details to what was, for the three of us, one of the most interesting and adventurous weeks of our lives.