The young German was up early and on his way before 7. I was up at 0640 and second one out at 0725 though the Belgium couple, Jolein and Willem, looked to only be a couple of minutes from being ready.
It was a cloudless day but thankfully I was still in the shade for the climb out of the Fern Burn valley. It was a 400m vertical climb which was a good way to wake up. The track started sidling up before settling into good honest straight up climbs. I was feeling really good and powered up to the saddle. From there it was a steep drop down a ridgeline to the stream then a climb up and sidle above some cliffs. At the start of this bit I met 3 northbounders. The track was a little overgrown on this part but with concentration it was fine.
After sidling for a while the track climbed up to a ridgeline and started down the ridge. I could see a track to my right on the other side of a gully and wondered where it went. Not long after I could see the hut to my right and realised the track headed down the hill back the way I had just come until reaching the gully and crossing onto the track I had seen. Now it was a climbing sidle to the hut. I took 2 hours to get there which was quicker than my 3 hour estimate and 4 hour DOC time.
At Highland Creek Hut I took a break, ate a muslea bar and filled in the hut book.
The next section was described in the track notes as the most demanding section due to two big 400+ meter climbs and descents. The first was straight up and I could imagine the americans looking at it saying 'you kiwis need to learn about switchbacks'. Personally I like the directness of the steep straight climbs.
After 30 minutes climbing I caught a Belgium couple just doing the Motatapu Trail. They had big packs with lots of things attached to the outside and were really struggling. I blew past at speed with a cheery 'Good morning' earning a look of disbelief. They didn't seem to have any breath left to talk so I kept going. I had spotted Jory in the distance so 'target aquired - go' and I kept up my fast pace and quickly caught and passed him though with a quick chat before continuing.
Once at the saddle the track sidled over to a ridgeline then headed down quickly. The landscape was dramatic with no smooth surface anywhere and lots of rocky slopes. It looked fantastic with the shadows caused by the sun. Part way down I passed an american who was also loving the textures and taking lots of photos.
At the bottom was a patch of bush and I stopped for a break by the stream loving the shade and the green again. The American joined shortly after and we had a good talk making it a longer break than I normally have. Jory also joined us. Finally I got going again and it took a while to get back into rhythm after the long break
Now was the second big climb and I needed a few breaks on the way up this time. At the top were 4 more northbounders so I stopped to chat. I am surprised how many people are going north and starting so late. These four are only doing the South Island so not an issue but those doing the whole thing will have a wet and cold finish.
Now the track descended down a ridgeline for 400 meters and then across some farmland to the hut. This section took me 3 hours 40 minutes. I had lunch in the hut as it was cooler than outside and protected from the wind which had picked up. I had a savoury scroll and was still hungry so I had my last scroll, marmite and cheese, which was meant to be tomorrow's but I can eat lunch in Arrowtown.
Now I had my last big climb of the day, another 400m vertical climb. Once again I needed a few rests to get up my fourth 400 meter climb of the day.
Then it was a long descent down a ridgeline to the Arrow Stream.
The last 5 km were in the streambed either in the stream, rockhopping at the edge or occasionally in the grass strips. There is a marked track but this is constantly up and down and steep sidles so the trail notes suggest make your own way down the river. With just over a km to go a vehicle track started which was easier walking but still constant river crossings. It took 3 hours 20 minutes to get to Macetown from Roses Hut.
Macetown used to be a mining town but it closed in the 1920s. There is not much left. You can see some of the ditches and tailings. If you want to walk you can see some of the mining construction (batteries) and two houses have been refurbished. Just as I was heading up the track I saw 4 people. One is the guy who offered me tea at Starveal Hut when it was misty. Two are northbounders. They had just had a wash in the river and were heading back to their campsite so I walked with them until I went to explore the refurbished General Store.
I then followed the 4wd track until it crossed the river and my shoes were drying nicely so I joined the mountain bike track that looks new and stays on the true right of the river so my shoes don't have to get wet again. It looks to have taken a lot of work to build this cut directly into the rock cliffs. It joined back with the 4wd track a couple of times until the 4wd track crossed the river again.
Just as I was starting to think I had missed the turnoff I spotted a stile next to a gate and written on it was Big Hill so I assumed that this was the track. There were a couple of stream crossings so my feet were wet again - ugh. I checked out the old Soho Homestead with a view to staying there but it is a mess with rubbish and beer bottles, such a shame as it would be a great hut with some tidying and new mattresses. I decided not to camp outside as I originally intended and climbed up to a small plateau to camp.
My legs were fine today so I suspect partly adjusted to the new inner soles and partly the track had lots of variation in it so not as much effect.