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Sunday 22nd October: Port William to North Arm - THE EXPONENTS "Why Does Love Do This To Me?"

We woke early and got up soon after due to the early beginnings of pre-pubescent whispering. A quick breakfast of foul tasting reconstituted chocolate rice balls and fruit salad later, we wrapped ourselves up in jumpers and raincoats and set off for the arduous hill climb over to North Arm Hut.

The morning breaks at Port William, just as we are about to leave. The sun shone brightly for about the only time on our walk.

After taking 30 minutes or so to reach the track junction again, we realised that the full cold weather regalia we were outfitted in was more than a little excessive. The sun was shining, and whilst the heat wasn't exactly penetrating the thick bush, the evaporating water made the atmosphere stiflingly humid. After stripping down to t-shirts and trousers, we were back on the track.

Initially, the route was a pleasant, sturdy, flat tramp on wooden pallet boardwalk through thick podocarp forest. Then it started to climb.... And climb... And climb. All still on wooden boardwalk.

After an hour or so, we reached a very small clearing on a plateau with a fallen tree. The tree was soon pressed into service as a bench whilst we had a drink and cereal bar for morning tea. There we were off again, still ascending. Twice there were fairly significant, quick descents to river crossings made by rickety wire swing bridge - followed by the inevitable steep climb back up.

Another swingbridge on the Rakiura Track. At the far end of the bridge, a steep uphill climb awaits.

We reached the 'summit' at about 11am. A rather dangerous looking viewing tower marked the summit. A stepladder went up to a one-person sized platform offering marvellous panoramic views across the Eastern side of Stewart Island and beyond. After taking in the view, we took lunch and wondered what purpose a large bolt had being on the forest floor rather than taking its place on the viewing platform.

The view from the summit lookout. You could literally see for miles and miles.

The 'summit' marked the halfway point in the day's 12km route. The hard uphill yards had been completed and the remainder of the day would generally be downhill to the coast at Paterson Inlet's North Arm. Unfortunately, from this point on, the use of boardwalk became more sporadic. This inevitably caused large areas of mud that was cut through by large, slippery tree toots. This coupled with some extremely steep downhill sections meant that on at least on occasion, I ended up on my Sandi Toksvigs (coccyx).

Eventually, we reached the point where the North West Circuit Track from Freshwater Inlet rejoins the Rakiura Track (after 8 days and 100km travel from Port William). This meant we had only 45 minutes left to North Arm. This proved to be an annoying section as after 30 minutes or so, you expected the hut to be around every corner! We made it there by about one o'clock; well ahead of our scheduled finish of between 2 and 3pm.

Once again, we were the first arrivals. As we filled in the visitor book and attempted to light the fire, the family of eight turned up - probably about 30 minutes behind us. They were soon followed by the Dutch brothers who only stuck around for about 10 minutes before moving on to pitch a tent a further 4km up the track at Sawdust Bay.

The still waters of the North Arm of Patterson Inlet wash up gently on the shore a short walk downhill from North Arm Hut.

After that, another couple turned up. It happened that they had used Port William campsite the night before, so had completed the same section of walk as us. They lived in Invercargill, though had previously lived in the Wairarapa near Wellington. The man of the couple happened to be a bit of a motorcycle nut, so got on well with the Dunedin bike crowd.

The evening went on much like the night before. Chit chat over dinner of re-constituted dried food, small talk and pleasantries. The children twice brought back a haul of oysters from the beach that were mercilessly devoured by all and sundry. Tanya and Imogen also happened to see a Stewart Island Kiwi (Tokoeka) whilst out for an early evening constitutional.

As it got dark, thoughts turned to sleep and after the customary kiddie whispering, it was off to sleep to prepare for another day's walking. Once again, Isaac went to bed with a tune on his lips, this time the Exponents classic tune, "Why does love do this to me?"

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