It’s a tiny black and white bird that drops onto the track and peers up at us in some sort of weird avian challenge to our right to be on the track. He seems not at all perturbed by our size and proximity but soon flits off, joins another of his type and starts a chase through the fern and moss draped branches that close in this part of the track. We stop and watch them for a moment or two and before we know it the group has vanished into the bush. This is thick scrub and its capacity to swallow up fellow walkers and sound is not unlike the tropical forests of Papua New Guinea. We departed Rakiura Retreat at 0834 this morning amid birdsong – tui’s chatting and chortling like possessed things. We reach the head of the track at 0937 at which point the bird chatter vanished altogether. It’s a strange thing but the bush is dark and silent. But welcoming and embracing as well. I had dropped Kathryn at the head of the track with all our packs at 0815 then returned the car and joined the others to walk back to the head of the track. That means we walk 5km to the start line without our packs. It’s a nice way to start.
We are finally under way and our 40 Year revisit is happening for real. The track head is well and truly overgrown from our earlier visit and the road up here is no longer a tractor only approach, and is now paved. Of course it is. But there is a perverse sense of surprise that anything might have ever changed at all. I guess part of me wants the walk to revisit what we walked in 1976. In every sense we are. But I have to remind myself it’s not actually 1976!
The group starts off at the ‘day one regret gallop’ but we drag along at the back looking at Wood Pigeons looking at us in their fat, sleepy way, and say hello to that New Zealand Robin that peers up at us from out of the leaves at our feet. My pack is a comfortable 21kg or so and the track is flat and graded with gravel so I feel good. And feel no compunction to fly up the track after the others. The usual benefits of leading from the back soon become visible. Our robin challenges us on the track. We stop and watch a bellbird hang off the underside of a branch beside the track. He is an olive coloured bird not unlike the Australian bellbird. But it’s a very different song that he has in his throat to the tinging of his Australian cousin. We stop and admire him for as long as he hangs of his branch. We stop and marvel, on numerous occasions, at the variety of undergrowth and foliage. Endless types of ferns. Moss beyond counting, though I am sure some enthusiast has catalogued them all.
We tab down to Kaipipi Bay and as we do so Richard wanders past us. He is in sneakers, carries no pack and is clearly out for a day walk. We catch up with him at the end of the Kaipipi track spur. He is on a trip down memory lane too and to our surprise he was here in 1976 as well. January. He was here with three families as an eleven year old and to our additional surprise the tide has revealed a cairn of rocks out in the inlet. As a small boy he built that with his mates and 40 years later there it stands. I suspect Richard has flown in here today (he flies out tonight) to see if that cairn was still in place and secretly suspecting it had long gone. He is a still man, of few words. We leave him to his reminiscing and as we walk back up the track I look back and see him, hands in pockets, staring out over the water at a pile of rocks that couldn’t mean anything to anyone else. I’m sure he is chatting with his eleven year old self and wondering where the last 40 years have gone. He is no doubt glad we have moved off to leave him in the sacred solitude of his shrine of remembrances. My heart resonates with his worship.
The track lifts away from Richard and then drops onto a solid bridge across a narrow neck that channels water into a large inlet of sorts. We marvel at the rush of water surging through the channel at maybe 4 or 5 knots, which is to say, quite fast and very unusual. Later in the evening at North Arm Hut we meet with some volunteers who are cleaning and maintaining various huts around the island. They have just come up from Freds Camp by boat. They reflected on the unusual tidal movement that crossed Patersons Inlet at about 1030. They wonder if they were witnessing a tsunami surge from the earthquake that cracked Kaikoura earlier in the day. These are local folk who know the water and it’s the only explanation they can come up with. It seems to explain the unusual surge of water that we saw at about the same time.
The track lifts again and we move a long a ridge with open bush and the sun attempts to break through. It’s been a fabulous walking day – overcast mainly, but with no rain. We stop for lunch as we come off that ridge and start into Sawdust Bay. We have only another hour of walking before we get to the hut but we are not on any schedule and some were hungry so we pause rather than rush on. We sit on the side of the track and heat up some soup, warm up some bread and are refreshed.
We drop down through the ferns and wet bush just as a light rain sets in and arrive at North Arm Hut at 1410. It’s a new hut. At least new compared with the old green A Frame that used to be here. There is a team here cleaning and trimming and mowing and cutting firewood which is a surprise. A pleasant one. They are full of local stories and we learn a lot from them through various and many conversations. A handful of other trekkers come in but there are really very few on the track at all. Some of them camp further up the hill and use the hut to warm up and dry clothes near the fire. I am pleased that we are here at 4 hours and 40 minutes, less than the five hours forecast and with plenty of time in the afternoon to play cards, cook meals and hot drinks, explore the mud flats at low tide and chat. It’s a respectable walking time and a good way to ease into the week. We do have a longer and tougher walk to Freshwater tomorrow. I have deep memories of tomorrows track, memories of a never ending false crest to beat all false crests. We shall see.
As the day fades a juvenile white tail deer steps out of the bush, cautiously high steps across newly cut grass, pays us careful attention, then steps back into the bush. 40 years ago it would not have survived such an indiscretion.
Its 2116 and the light is fading fast. A German tourist is chatting with the volunteers. The rest of the team have gone to bed. If walking is not your thing a day like today is a big day and will put you into bed pretty quickly. But we have an even bigger day tomorrow so an early night is probably a prudent investment. The rain has eased off a little but it is still constant so we will see what tomorrow brings. The long range forecast suggested we would have rain all day tomorrow. This light shower this evening has lifted the little creek below us so quickly, something I watched with more than casual interest when I went for a walk this evening. I keep my thoughts to myself but wonder if this rain might make things interesting tomorrow. 2121 – it’s time for bed.
Stewart Island Journal
14 November 2016
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