The day starts early in the huts. We are sleeping twelve to a room, four to a platform, all lined up like little sardines in our sleeping bags. As you can imagine, once the first person starts to stir, getting back to sleep is pretty hopeless, so we are up bright and early.
We pack up our things and make breakfast before hitting the trail. The main topic of conversation in the dining room this morning is all the loud snoring in the bunkroom. It’s comforting to know that we weren’t the only ones with a less than stellar night of sleep. Misery loves company and all.
Last night we got in relatively late, so we didn’t have a chance to explore outside the hut at all. Port William Hut is small but adequate for a hiker’s needs. It sits on a bay, and there is a dock nearby. Some of the folks we met last night told us that they took a boat here from Oban and skipped the first segment of the hike. We go down to check out the dock and don’t see any boats, but we do find a cormorant enjoying some solitude.
Before we get started on today’s journey, we have to backtrack for about 40 minutes along yesterday’s trail. We check in at the beach, where we see that yesterday’s oystercatcher has attracted a friend. It appears that there will be some oystercatcher chicks sometime in the near future.
From there, it’s back into the rainforest where the abundant ferns and mosses continue to impress us.
Soon after picking up today’s trail, we come across some more historic log haulers from the old sawmill days on the island. Based on the size of the machinery, the trees the millers were cutting down must have been something else.
For the rest of the day, the trail is a roller coaster, and we are constantly doing short ups and downs over and over again as we make our way from east to west.
Even so, today’s hike is primarily a pretty relaxed bush walk, and we enjoy the lush green virgin forest that surrounds us. There are no coastal views on the trail today, and that’s just as well because our attention is pretty solidly focused at the ground.
The Rakiura Track is notorious for being muddy, and today we are getting a first-hand lesson on why it has earned its reputation. The farther inland we go, the muddier the trail becomes. It’s slow going as we encounter section after section of 10 foot-long mud troughs that we have to carefully pick our way across.
Not too long down the trail we run into the warden from the Port William Hut who is out with a shovel trying her best to improve the trail conditions by digging some drainage. She is shoveling the mud out of the wettest parts of the trail, but with the constant rainfall on the island and the lack of any materials to actually improve the trail, it’s a losing battle. She tells us that they have to helicopter gravel in from the South Island, and they are still waiting on their next shipment to arrive. Until then, this is the best she can do. She is clearly giving it her all, but the mud definitely has the upper hand.
Most of the time, we are able to negotiate the mud by jumping onto little rock islands and well-placed sticks and logs, but every now and then the only option is to walk straight through. The mud oozes and gurgles around our boots. All attempts to keep our boots and pants on the cleaner side are in vain. We have heard that hikers sometimes just throw away their boots after this trek because they are so hopelessly dirty!
Even so, the scenery is beautiful, and we try to focus on how lucky we are to be in New Zealand, hiking one of the Great Walks, when most of our family and friends are back home in the midst of the North American winter. Better mud than snow, right?
We take a break for lunch by a small stream. All the water we have seen on the island is a rich, dark brown color that is due to all of the tannins leached from the leaves and debris in the stream.
We finally reach North Arm Hut after our long and fairly uninspiring bush walk. Tonight we score two beds next to one another in this small, 24 bed hut. We chill out in the common room until one of our bunkmates casually mentions that she saw a Sacred kingfisher down at the bay below the hut. I think she is a little surprised by how quickly we spring out of our seats to go see if we can find it!
There is a long staircase behind the hut down to the water. The tide is going out, so we are able to walk around on the beach and the rocks that are getting more and more exposed with every minute that goes by.
At first, we don’t see any birds at all, but, when a White-faced heron flies in to feed, we are psyched. The heron comes surprisingly close to us, and we finally spot the kingfisher perched in the trees across the bay from us. If we only had a boat to get closer!
Back in the hut, we hang out with a friendly family of nine from Auckland who are doing the hike together. We chat with the mom and dad by candlelight for a long while before bed in what turns out to be a very fun social night. Tomorrow we are headed back to Oban and are curious how muddy the trail will be…
Trail Logistics, Day 2
Start Point: Port William Hut
End Point: North Arm Hut
Distance: 13 km
Walking Time: 5-7 hours (maybe less if you don’t have to negotiate so much mud!)
Date on Trail: 02 January 2017
Best Done: It is possible to tramp the Rakiura Track throughout the entire year.