Stars, and a thin sliver of the moon.

An early morning toilet run, just dawning, actually dark enough to need my headlamp, an amazing blue to the clear sky, some brighter stars still visible, an autumn crispness to the air, my toes tingling in my jandals.

There’s a roar to the creek that I’m gonna be spending the morning wandering down.

I’m up half an hour earlier than usual, no late start today. Lucky for that, this turns into one of my longest days on the trail. Four hours down the river to the Mid Wairoa Hut. With the river low and dry conditions it’s a lot of fun, eight crossings, jumping across the exposed rocks for all but the last when the boots finally came off to keep them dry.

There is some crazy drop-offs in the gorge but with these new boots I’m feeling entirely confident with the traction.

It’s a tight valley, gorgey down to the bedrock, no longer in the Red Hills. It’s standard issue Nelson forest, a variety of beech species, undergrowth, all attractive to this mind but it might just be the familiarity. There’s a helicopter buzzing overhead but the more constant drone is from the vast number of wasps that have taken over in the later summer months, many people report wasp stings, I’ve escaped those to date.

After the Mid Wairoa Hut there is a swing bridge for a final crossing of the Wairoa River, running absolutely clear but with a glass green tinge, then an 800m climb, mostly charging directly up a steep slope to the top of, err, Bushy Top. Despite the name, which is accurate, there’s a cliff view that looks around, I can see around to the start of Rintoul and, surprisingly, way in the distance is a dot of the bright Rescue Orange of Top Wairoa Hut. And an excellent view of the ridge I have just examined in intimate detail.

Hill climbing, now that’s a productive way to fill in a couple of hours.

The track down to the hut meanders for a good while, a lovely piece of track with not much in the way of traffic but it has been in sporadic use for more than 50 years since the hut network was established.

More cliffs to give a view up the Goulter River where I will be heading tomorrow, and the hut way down there on the other side of the river, it’s a 900m drop in total.

I’ve got my mind on keeping my boots dry these days, I wandered barefoot in the chilly water to the hut on the other side, and being off Te Araroa, and mid-week, uninhabited. Not that there are many trampers coming south on the main trail, it is getting late in the season to be venturing towards the deep south, and my ten-week Little Adventure is in the throes of winding up.

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A guide to the night’s accommodation: Lower Goulter Hut

coming down from Bushy Top you see the hut way below | Lower Goulter Hut, Mt Richmond Forest Park
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