North West Circuit – Big Hellfire Hut to Long Harry Hut

Days three and four of a week spent walking 100km around the North West Circuit, an epic mud and beach filled track on Stewart Island / Rakiura.

I had the wonderful Big Hellfire Hut to myself, and was treated to a colourful sunrise from the deck looking inland across the island.

Today’s section is known as the muddiest of an infamously muddy track. It was just about manageable but required concentration and care to navigate, and wearing gaiters definitely helped. I was glad it hadn’t really rained for a couple of weeks, unusual in a place where it rains 275 days a year. This was a fun amount of mud, if not really the authentic Stewart Island / Rakiura tramping experience.

The track didn’t last long on the beach at Waituna Bay, but it was a pleasant spot to wander along.

Before returning to the mud, and the unexpected remains of a plastic seat at least several hours walk from anywhere. I also managed to acquire a decent cut above my right knee on a broken branch while navigating the mud, not ideal but not deep thankfully.

West Ruggedy Beach was another impressive spot, though some sunshine would have helped the photos.

It was a bit of a slog getting up the dunes at the end of the beach, before a final section through the bush.

After another six and half hour hard day it was a relief to reach East Ruggedy Hut, a tidy if rather dark hut in the bush. I had the place to myself for a couple of hours before a Czech couple arrived, later a Kiwi / Hungarian couple, and close to 8pm a pair of Kiwi women. The Czech couple had a bad experience crossing the nearby river I’d need to cross in the morning. They were there at close to high tide and crossed at the narrowest, I.e. the deepest and fastest point, and got wet up to their chests when they hit quicksand…

I had one of the worst nights I’ve spent in a hut when someone accidentally left the door open returning from the toilet in the middle of the night. I was woken at 3am by a swarm of sandflies and mosquitoes biting my head and shoulders. I closed the door but they were persistent and putting a shirt over my head brought little relief.

By 4.45am I gave up trying to sleep, got up and left in the dark just after 6am. I had planned to get an early start as I had two huts to reach today, but not quite in this fashion.

It was atmospheric though crossing the river in three quarter moon light. Thankfully it was close to low tide and straightforward to cross, though I did sink into the sand up to the top of my calves.

Heading up the hillside as the sun started to take effect offered good views of East Ruggedly Beach.

After another hill, the track is basically ~15% epic beaches and ~85% muddy, hilly bush, I reached a stony beach. This required some concentration to navigate, with unusually smooth round boulders to rock hop across, speeding up toward the end once the sandflies found me…

Heading up the hillside again I saw my first and only kiwi on the hike, foraging around just off the track. This was one of the ~20,000 Stewart Island Brown Kiwis on the island, which unlike most kiwi are active during the day.

Then followed the worst part of the day, with seemingly half a dozen steep descents and ascents across gullies and streams, both physically and mentally exhausting.

After a solid five hours without a break it was a relief to reach the scenically located Long Harry Hut for a welcome lunch and rest.

I couldn’t enjoy it for long though, as I was only half way through walking for the day. My cancelled flight to Mason Bay put me a day behind schedule on the track so I had to do what I had tried to avoid and do a double hut day. This would be standard practice for me on most tracks, but not when starting with a 28kg pack, on a track where it is hard to beat the DOC times. These are 5-7 hours between huts so two of them make for a long day…

Author: jontycrane

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