5. Oban – North Arm – Freshwater River

Wednesday, February 15: Sunny with variable cloud, light rain showers towards evening

Tramping: 22.9 km

Freshwater Hut (Doc)

Rippled clouds at dawn, Oban
Rippled clouds at dawn, Oban

Today was the day to try to redeem the tramp on Stewart Island. I had slept four hours in one go for the first time on this trip, and was up soon after 7:00. With the first of the hiking breakfasts out of the way – the egg was well cooked, yolk was not dried out, but one or two pieces of shell were a bit tenacious – I pushed what I could into the pack, and everything else went into the small sports bag. Unfortunately my key didn’t open the room labelled “Storage” so I put a note on the bag and left it on the bed. Then it was off to the track.

"Mud" on the Rakiura Track
“Mud” on the Rakiura Track
Sealed road gives way to unsealed, and then the big shock: The darkness of the rain forest. This first part of the track to Kaipipi was certainly muddier than in memory. From that point onwards, however, the gravelled sections reappeared, although some of them had become quite degraded in the meantime so that detours were necessary. Met a couple of small groups of trampers on their way back to Oban and exchanged greetings. Closer towards the hut there were some Doc staff working on track improvements, and a helicopter was quite busy ferrying stuff in.

Reached North Arm just after 11:00 and elected for lunch – just the crackers, margarine and salami; I left the sultanas for later on. I had a look at the campsite but the ground in the shelter was just mud, so this was not really an option for spending a night, should I have to return.

Just before the climb at Thomson’s Ridge, the last bridge has been removed. Not difficult to cross, though
Now the big decision to go on to Freshwater which was given as 6-7 hours. I think my diary from 2013 records that this section was arguably the worst for mud, and right at the track beginning that is indeed what was on offer. I kept reminding myself of the need to overcome the resistance to continue. The major uncertainty was the bridge that had been removed and which there were prominent warning signs about. Bumped my head a couple of times due to the hat being in the way, so I put the hat on the outside of the pack. Up to that point the track had been mainly clambering in and out of pericoastal valleys and was pretty muddy. The unbridged stream (“River Kwai”) was easily fordable and I took the opportunity to wash my boots. Then the climb up Thomson’s Ridge came into view.

Google Map of the day’s hike. GPS quality: 30/30, coverage: 100%, download: Oban - North Arm - Freshwater GPX (1020 downloads)
Can’t see map? Click here!

This was pretty sustained tree root staircase and very steep. My legs had been holding out fairly well, although I could see that the water would have to be rationed. Then a muscle in the inner right thigh started to threaten to cramp. I made two major stops, one to munch away at a portion of sultanas; the other for some salt, and by this time the water was running low, and would have to be reserved for emergencies.

The board walk or what was left of it appeared and gave more value for dead reckoning. Then the descent. First down a tree root staircase with a stream running through, followed by a horizontal section which was very muddy. Finally a descent section that was quite decent and allowed an arrival at the valley floor at around 4:15.

I thought that now I might only have an hour to go but was sorely mistaken, and had swapped reaching the valley floor with reaching the river. Had two aspirin. The last two hours were a nightmare of mud, and at this point it started to rain as well, so everything got wet.

Arrived at the hut to find two women, Helen ‘H’, an OE teacher, and Moira. Stripped off my wet and dirty stuff and put on the spiderman suit together with some dry sox and this was deemed acceptable. Discovered that the tripod had lost the orientation plate, so that removing the QR plate and putting it in a safe place was rendered moot & the whole construction useless. Looks like I’ve lost the hat as well, which is probably not too bad, as it was blinding me to the branches that I was hitting my head against. The hut here seems to have been extended in a minor fashion; kitchen is larger as are the dorms; eight beds a room instead of six. Was given the left hand dorm as the men’s room, unpacked what was left and cooked a meal – first the long spaghetti (~125 g) and when they were done added a cup of water and threw in a packet of instant noodles; poured off the supernatant to drink as a soup (a bit watered down), and then ate the noodle/noodle mix which was a bit too much. Should try 1. normal noodles with margarine & salt sprinkled on top; 2. instant noodles with less water than recommended. Anyhow, it was very filling. Set the spot up & quickly had a signal sent. Then a guy, on IT person, Søren, from Copenhagen arrived, having done the same track as me, in about the same time. By now I was boiling water for regular consumption; had left a cup of boiled water to cool after filling the sturdy bottled with freshly boiled water, and then used it when it was cool enough to drink for the fizzy vitamin solution.

The ladies had withdrawn to read their books/kindles & Søren & I conversed about cognition and machine translation without me becoming too negative about it. Søren cooked and ate one of those in-the-bag camping meals (although he cooked it in a saucepan) and around 9:30 it was dark enough for everyone to go to bed. I had a cramp in the lower left arm and right toe and it was some time before I was relaxed and warm enough for them to dissipate.