I set my alarm for 0600 as I thought the sunrise would be nice and it was. I sat up, unzipped the tent, took a photo and then went back to sleep.
I was on my way at 0730 and thankfully the wind had gone away. The track stayed easy and I made good time to the first junction. From here it was a vehicle track and I kept a good pace. There was a junction that had a DOC sign only giving the carpark I had come from, not where the two options (both poled) were going. I looked at my map and chose the left track. Now the vehicle track was a little rougher but still ok. I was now travelling in some ruggard country between two rocky hills. This was great as unlike yesterday I had a sense of progress.
The first plateau dropped to another and then there was another junction with marker poles going in two directions but no sign. Once again I chose left.
Not long after was a junction by a dried up lake and it was back to single track for the steep descent to another junction. Coming down I could see Lake Clearwater. The track followed the Te Araroa signpost and was lovely single track for the descent down to the flat above the lake and then on an old vehicle track. It was back to distant scenery and lack of indicators to show progress. It was neat to see the snow covered mountains but after an hour of looking the excitement faded.
Now I left the farm track and it was single track through some little hills to Potts River which was nice. The track then stayed above the river for a couple of km before dropping to the river. I was watching in the distance a camper van going down the hill very slowly being held up by a big mob of sheep. I was hoping to arrive at the road ahead as it would be a great photo. Once in the river bed the track was on grass and then the last few hundred metres was on river stones. Just before getting to the road the camper van went past so the sheep must have pulled into a paddock.
At the carpark were Fred, Nev and their friend who was going to fly them over the river in his helicopter but there was a big fog in Christchurch so no flying. He drove out to let them know but forgot to bring the beer so was being hassled.
After a short rest I carried on. The next section is the Rangitata River which is another hazard zone where are encouraged to go around without affecting the integrity of the trail but I had received several reports that the river was crossable and there hadn't been rain for a while so I decided to give it a go.
I crossed the Potts River on the bridge and then started across. The Rangitata River is a wide braided river. I got lucky and stumbled across a vehicle track which was heading towards the river though not at the angle I wanted. I decided I would take the quicker and easier travel that the track offered and do the extra distance. The track took me to within a few hundred metres of the first crossing. In preparation I put my Personal Locator Beacon around my neck and moved everything from my pockets to the main compartment of my pack. I walked 20 meters upstream to a better crossing spot and crossed. The current was strong but the water was only knee deep. The most difficult thing was that the rocks were covered in something and were really slippery. Once across I continued the Rangitata River crossing. Sometimes on gravel, sometimes short plants, sometimes long grass and some swampy bits. There were several braids to cross and none of them were over knee deep though I did have to walk upstream a little to get to good crossing points.
In 2 hours I was across and now had a wide floodplain of rocks to climb to the track start. I found a walking pole so picked it up thinking of Nev who tends to break his. As I was walking I saw what looked like a large orange triangle so conditioned as I am I veered across to it. Looking on my map I could take this vehicle track 600 meters to the track start and then follow a marked track or I could continue walking a shorter more direct route on the rocks. I choose the track option. At the marker I put the trekking pole in an obvious place. I didn't know if Fred and Nev were in front or behind my as they took a more direct route across the river and I didn't want to carry the pole all the way to the hut. I had a leisurely late lunch and then continued.
As I reached where the two route options met I saw Fred and Nev. I am not sure if I was faster across the river or the road/track option was better or if they also took a long break . Either way I am happy with my choices.
Now we were following the river up the narrow valley. We started on a overgrown track with lots of Matagauri so I put my long gaiters back on. The going was slow as most of the time it was river rock travel. I stopped for my 2300 km photo and to filter some water which let the others get ahead.
After 2.5 hours I went through a rare patch of trees and once back at the river my track spidy sense started ringing alarm bells. I thought I saw a marker in the hill above on the left so stood there looking for a trail. As I was looking I heard some yelling and it was the guys on the hill telling me I had missed the turnoff. I looked back and saw the marker. Their yelling saved me some time figuring out why something felt off and then getting back on track.
I thought this was the climb to the hut and not being 100% sure there would be water at the hut given the lack of rain I decided to get enough water for the night. It was then a steep climb and sidle before descending down again. Though disappointed it wasn't the hut climb I did remember that the notes mentioned a climb over some bluffs so was not concerned.
At the bottom the markers lead up again on the other side of the Creek and I thought this must be to the hut. It was a very steep 30 minute climb to the hut. There were two hunters in the hut as well as Fred and Nev so I was stuck with a top bunk for the first time.
There was a stream nearby so I filled up 2 litres as I was still really thirsty despite drinking so much. The hunters were polite and easygoing.
After dinner which I had to force down as I still have no appetite we chatted until bed.