Days four and five of a week spent walking 100km around the North West Circuit, an epic mud and beach filled track on Stewart Island / Rakiura.
Thankfully after walking for five hours in the morning to reach Long Harry Hut, the following section was the (relatively) second easiest of the track so far, behind the flat and fairly mud free section from Freshwater Hut to Mason Bay Hut. To reach Yankee River Hut involved a hill, a stunning beach, and another hill. Hardly any of the exhaustingly undulating track that is frequent elsewhere on the circuit. It’s a nice feeling to know that once you’ve climbed a hill it is basically down again.
Coming out of the bush to Smoky Beach was a one of my favourite views of the whole hike.
I could have waded though the wonderfully reflective Smoky River but decided to take the bridge across instead. Less faff than removing shoes, which is always when you are at your most vulnerable to sandflies.
This was a quite stunning stretch of sand, completely empty other than for a pair of footprints which headed toward the hunters hut near the river.
At the nothern end the track goes up through impressive, if exhausting, sand dunes.
Which lead into the bush, and views back over the beach.
It was then up and over the last hill of the day, and a rather wobbly crossing of this bridge.
After nine hours of hiking I reached Yankee River Hut. This is at a lovely spot at the mouth of the river, which it was quite surreal to see the sea coming into when the tides turned. Even at high tide the river is shallow, low enough to require lying down in for a quick wash.
It had to be quick as this was by far the worst place for sandflies, which is saying something on this track. The hut is in a wonderful setting but is by far the smallest on the circuit (along with near identical Bungaree Hut), despite the twelve bunks. With six people it felt full, with all the seating taken and limited shelf space for cooking. It was the first hut I’ve ever visited that has a dart board though…
Thankfully I managed to sleep better than the night before, and set out just before 8am along the most boring section of track so far. I was somewhat over muddy bush walking by this point, and had discovered another cut on my right thigh, presumably from a tree branch the previous day.
Lucky Beach provided some variety for about ten minutes before returning to the bush.
And unexpected boardwalk, which had been an uncommon sight for most of the hike other than the first day, but become more common as I got closer to Oban.
After just over five hours I reached the wonderful Christmas Village Hut, which along with Big Hellfire Hut, was my favourite hut of the hike. Having both huts to myself, rather than sharing with 3-6 other people, probably helped but Christmas Village Hut was tidy and in a wonderful location, on the shores of a beach with various islands in the distance.
There was also a random ship, which appeared moored offshore, as it didn’t move much all day.
It was a blue sky afternoon, ideal for solar charging my phone, iPad and Kindle after five days hiking. If I’d been able to follow my original plan I may have spent two nights here, and attempted the 980m summit of Mt. Anglem / Hananui, the highest point on Stewart Island / Rakiura. It’s a six hour minimum trip though so I lacked the time to do it that day, and to honest my body, particularly my feet, needed a bit of a rest after yesterday’s double day.
It was calming listening to the crash of waves in an empty hut as the day turned to evening. I spotted a couple of red-billed gulls on a rock in front of the hut.