Three Butterfish

December 24, 2016

The day started around 2 or 3. I usually check the time when I wake but didn’t do so on this occasion. The hut is warm. Too warm and I am lying on my sleeping bag in a sweat. The boys and girls around me are sharing snoring duties. As one stops another starts, the baton handed back and forth as sleepers shift and stir. I am sure I was contributing to the chorus. In my half sleepy state the atmosphere is surreal. The hut is bathed in LED white light, reflected in off the water and beaming from the moon. Two nights ago a so called super moon happened but we were under cloud, rain and tree canopy and saw none of it. Tonight the moon is throwing enough light to make up for its earlier absence. I figure it was probably the light that woke me and once I was convinced it was a not daylight but this ethereal illumination I just lay there and enjoyed it until the snoring and bladder prodded me to get moving. I climb down off the bunk and seem to manage that without waking anyone. I let myself out of the hut and hobble down to the beach rather than climb all those stairs to the throne above the hut. Patersons Inlet is as flat, burnished and as bright as stainless steel. No water laps at the gravel or kisses the jetty pylons. No whistles or chirps from the bush behind me. Not a sound from the hut. Complete, deep, bright and overwhelming silence blankets me, stretching from horizon to horizon. It’s a magic all my own but I will surely pay for standing here being lost in admiration for so long. As silent as the moon that bathes me are the sandflies that suck my feet and ankles and which are just as light with their touch as they are silent. I feel nothing above the bites I received yesterday but know I will pay the price tomorrow. (I do indeed wake to red welts that intensify in their aggravation as the day wears on. A rookie mistake – its one thing that had slipped my memory over those 40 years).

I return to bed and drop off and next wake to hear the whispers of some at the table, but the whispers, intended for the benefit of those still sleeping, are all undone by the door which is allowed to slam by everyone who leaves or enters. The whisperers might as well have been shouting for all the good it did.
The tide is up but rapidly dropping so I ignore breakfast and get some lines in the water. We use fresh as well as cooked mussel but I quickly realise that the hooks are too large and resort to a lure that sports much smaller hooks. As the inlet bottom gets clearer and clearer we manage to catch three little butterfish. But by then the tide has left only a metre of water and any fish of any size, which we glimpsed earlier, have moved on. It’s been pleasant to get the lines in the water but we give it away once the tide lets us down.
Barry has discovered that he has some coverage for his phone so contacted the Rakiura Charter folk. I had passed a note to the English tramper that if we were not at Fred’s Camp due to rain we would be at Freshwater Hut. They had received a message to the effect that we were at Freshwater so were planning to pick us up from there at 4pm. The original plan was for an 1130 pickup so had we been at Freshwater we would have been left guessing. In any event Barry was able to get us scheduled back to the original plan. We had mostly packed and cleaned up and some were playing cards when the boat appeared around the headland. I was fortunate to spot it for, even though it was a spec in the distance it was only a matter of minutes before it was pulling into the jetty. We quickly close packs, lock windows, sweep floors as others scramble down to the jetty.

Chris has docked by the time I close the door and packs are being handed down to him by the time I get out to the jetty. Folk are keen to get out of here perhaps. In 1976 we did this leg of the trip very slowly in a fishing boat but today, as Chris opens up the throttles, he tells us it will take 15 minutes. Mum and Dad are with Chris which is fabulous. It’s an opportunity for dad to revisit Freds Camp without having to walk there. This, after all, is a walk of remembrance but it need not be a memory just for the walkers. We watch in silence the Freshwater Creek delta move past in the distance, framed by pyramid peaks on the horizon. I can see the long slope of that false crest and the high point traversed three nights ago in the rain. We peer up North Arm and wonder that we can track so quickly along a line which, in the reverse direction, encompasses so much foot slogging hard work.

Too soon we are off the jetty at Oban and heading back to the Rakiura Retreat where we quickly shower and turn around to ensure we are at the Kai Kart before it closes at 2pm. This is a fish and chip cart owned and operated by a couple of Germans who are clearly enjoying doing what they are doing. Half way through the feed of blue cod and kumera chips I divert to the local clinic – Dad has convinced the local nurse to return at 1.30 to check out an angry toe that is, after being smashed around in a wet boot, refusing to heal, despite best efforts to salt, heat and apply antiseptic solutions. I suspect an infection from the ache I can feel up my leg and my knee, and the swollen and red nature of the whole toe seems to confirm as much. The nurse takes a single glance, rings Invercargill Hospital and has antibiotics authorised straight away. So armed I returned to the blue cod.

We finish the day with some ice cream cake and a couple of candles, birthday celebrations for Anna and myself. We have come up here after having dinner at the local hotel which was a very pleasant communal event. This group is terrific company and I have enjoyed walking, talking and connecting with all of them.

18 November 2016


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