Stewart Island (continued)

Day 4:

We woke up at 6am and left at about 8 that day. This was a very difficult day, and it’s good we started early. At 16 kilometres and just over ten hours, it was an arduous day to say the least. We went up and down and up and down the mountains, along the peaks, and then finally back down to sea level. While I have fairly good endurance and can walk as fast or faster than Andrew and Tom on flat land, the uphills are particularly difficult for me. I fell behind quite often on the uphills but every once in a while Tom and Andrew would stop and wait for me to catch up.

We had some interesting crossings this day as well – in particular one stream about 6 feet wide. About 11am, we found this stream and there was no way across. The water was a solid 3 feet deep and none of us felt like wading through it. Nor did we fancy the 6 foot climb down into the stream and the 6 feet to claw ourselves up the other bank. Both banks were steep muddy slopes and we could see the marks of hikers who had less luck than us navigating this crossing.

Tom jumped first then Andrew threw each of our 3 heavy packs across to Tom who caught and threw each one further up the path in a single fluid motion. It worked nicely and we were on our way, having caught it all on video.

Just after 5pm, we reached the top of the last mountain of the day and stopped for a few minutes and some photos. What a beautiful place it was, looking down towards Doughboy Bay and all around us mountain peaks.

With high spirits, we began the long and mostly extremely steep descent to sea level. An hour later, nearing the bottom, we stopped for a minute to breathe and enjoy the view. Andrew realized at this point that he no longer had his camera – he apparently put it down at the top of the mountain and forgot to pick it up when we began our descent. He and Tom decided to try finding it while I continued on to start the rice cooking. They left their bags in the bushes and I went on alone down the remainder of the trail.

About 10 minutes after I had arrived at Doughboy Bay Hut, Andrew and Tom arrived. I had taken my sweet time once I was alone, stopping to take photos and enjoy the scenery and lack of rush. They had gone full tilt partway up and back down the mountain with no success in locating the camera.

Down at the hut, I walked up to my calves in water and did my best to clean the mud off, without much success. I cleaned my shoes and gaiters and returned to the hut where my legs began to itch crazily. I coated them in Andrew’s anti-itch powder but this didn’t help. About half an hour later they finally returned to normal. We made rice with broccoli and carrots for supper and went to bed after Andrew got ‘attacked’ by a possum. In reality Andrew’s screams sent the possum running, and possums are not dangerous or scary, but Andrew assures us that the possum ran at him. Sure Andrew, sure.

The hut was fairly full, as two people were there from the previous day and two others arrived after dark, making seven of us. The other four were all going the opposite direction on the track.

In the middle of the night I awoke as usual to relieve myself outside and there were two possums there this time. I scared them off just by looking at them :-) It’s nice knowing there are no predators in New Zealand (except the human type of course).

To be continued…

Stewart Island

[Photos in this entry ARE NOW WORKING (all 1 of them hehe) thanks to Mike who provided a link to which I can use to upload my files to my webspace now, getting around this annoying proxy deal at my university.]

Last week Andrew, Tom and I went to Stewart Island.

Day 1:

We awoke early (we were soon to discover that 8am would no longer be considered ‘early’ for us) in the morning and went to the local tramping (hiking is called tramping in New Zealand) store for some last minute purchases. We then returned to our flats and packed our bags. At 2pm, we drove to the grocery store and loaded up on food. By 3pm we were on the road in Tom’s car.

We drove to the Catlins, a really neat area of the south coast between Dunedin and Invercargill full of unique landscapes, wildlife, and very windy (often gravel) roads. We spent some time meandering around, then decided to drive down to the beach at Tautuku Bay where we found a spot to camp. While there were no signs banning camping there, I doubt many people do so. The car got stuck in the sand a couple times and Andrew and I had to get out and push. Being from snowy Minnesota, Andrew is well acquainted with pushing vehicles out of snow.

Our tent was the oddest one I’ve ever come across. A rental tent from the university’s rec services, it had no instructions. While this would usually be no problem, this tent was rather ‘unique’ to say the least. With many years experience of setting up different tents between the three of us, none of us could quite figure it out. It was not only an assymetrical design, but also had a seemingly mismatched rain fly. After about an hour of trying to get it right, we settled for something close to functional, cooked up some spaghetti with 400ml of sauce and 1kg of ground beef, and went to bed.

Day 2:

Our sleep had not been very good, as the 3 person tent seemed smaller than the 2 person tent I had rented a few weeks earlier in which we had 4 people. Andrew and Tom both snored and there were quite a few mosquitoes and sandflies in the tent. However, we rose early and in high spirits nonetheless. After eating a breakfast of leftover spaghetti, bread, and honey, we were once again on our way.

We reached Invercargill fairly early, then drove down to Bluff, from where the ferry to Stewart Island departs. After driving around looking for parking, we were told we could park in the 5 minute parking. We had 2 hours left before check-in, so we drove to a nearby coastal trail and spent an hour and a half walking down and back. On our return we parked in the 5 minute parking and got ready to board the ferry.

The 1230pm ferry left at 1245pm, and arrived exactly an hour later in Halfmoon Bay, Stewart Island. As we disembarked ahead of most of the crowd, a man from the ferry company standing on the wharf asked us if we were looking for Barry (or maybe it was Kevin? I don’t remember his name) and we had no clue. He said we were though, so we followed him around the corner and there was a stout mariner in knee high rubber boots yelling to us to run and jump in his car. We ran, threw our big backpacks in the back and leapt into the 4×4 with speed. He drove as fast as he could to a different little cove where his water taxi was waiting and we jumped in.

In a matter of seconds, the engine was started and we were speeding through the water. We were barely on time, and with the water only at 1-2 metres deep the mariner and his boat would become grounded if the tide caught him. We sped up a waterway that reminded me of the mangrove inlets on Langkawi, and got dropped off at a Dept of Conservation (DoC, pronounced ‘dock,’ not D.O.C.) hut, “Freshwater Inlet Hut.”

We put our gaiters on, and began our trek.

Within literally 2 minutes on this first day, we jumped over our first stream. Four hours and ten minutes later, we had completed our first day of tramping, a tramp suggested to take five hours. We had crossed small streams, larger creeks, bogs, marshes, one or two mountains, and in total 10 kilometres.

I never knew walking could be such a mental exercise. We had to watch every step we took to avoid tripping or sinking waist deep into mud, both of which would happen regardless on occasion. In the marshes, we constantly had to make our own detours from the path as waist deep cold muddy water separated one floe of land from another. It felt like jumping from one piece of floating ice to another, except with grass instead of ice. We’d often sink up to the knees on landing a jump, and several times one of us needed another person to pull us out of the mud.

We ended the day’s walk in the dark on a steep downhill track covered in slippery roots. We had our headlamps on and arrived successfully at Fred’s Camp Hut, where we met a pair of hunters. They were quite rough around the edges but great characters nonetheless for a night’s conversation. Their two younger friends came in after we had arrived. They had spent the day fishing and shellfish hunting and had brought back many huge mussels and abalone. Outside the hut there was a deer carcass hanging in the trees for the blood to drain. We cooked some rice and vegetables and they offered us mussels and abalone, which Andrew and Tom enjoyed thoroughly. I’m not a fan of seafood, especially shellfish, so I declined the offer. They also offered us a leg of venison which we accepted, but we left in the morning before they had really prepared themselves for the day, so we didn’t end up taking them up on the offer. It was raining in the morning, so we waited until 1130am to leave when the weather improved.

Day 3:

The day’s walk was filled with mud, mud, and more mud. The photo of me thigh deep, stuck and fallen over in the mud with my backpack on, was lost as it was on Andrew’s camera. More on that later. We definitely got tired this day and were relieved to arrive at Rakeahua Hut after five and a half hours of walking. We had covered 12 kilometres of marshes, rainforest, mountains, and many a creek once again.

At some of the larger creeks, which could even be called rivers, there were no ways to cross with dry feet without great feats of balance. On one particular crossing, we had to walk along a wet log, swing around a smaller tree that was sticking up diagonally over it (this is not so easy with a large backpack weighing 40+ pounds), then slowly lower ourselves to a sitting position, straddling the log, and shimmy along the log in this position to where one section had broken off. This ‘splinter’ was lower, and we had to lower ourselves into a standing position on this splinter, then walk along it for a couple steps, and then step onto a small but living tree and pull ourselves up onto the other riverbank. It was an interesting process for me, and I was happy to go last, so that Andrew and Tom could advise me. This was one of many examples of clever thinking and entertaining crossings.

The log, looking from the start toward the other side:

The hut was not unoccupied as we had hoped; there were four people already there, and only six bunks. Tom volunteered to sleep on the floor with our three ground mats stacked as a makeshift mattress. However, it turned out that two of the people were actually sleeping in a tent outside to hear the birds at night, so we each got a bunk. The four people were in their sixties I’d say, two from Kaikoura who slept in the tent and two from Tasmania who had come to visit their friends. The gentleman from Kaikoura was quite arrogant it seemed, and his wife was one of those people who has to offer her advice on how to do everything to every stranger she meets. Luckily, the two Tasmanian friends of theirs who slept in the hut were quite nice people and I had a lengthy conversation with them as they had spent a few years in BC (Queen Charlotte Islands and Kimberley) and the Yukon in the seventies.

To be continued…