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Saturday 21st October: Oban to Port William - SINITTA "Boys"

Yet again, we had a very early start in order to get our breakfast in before the scheduled start of our walk at 9am. We rose at 7am to pack and check our bags, and have a good shower, as we'd be unlikely to be getting a shower on the walk.

By about 8am, we were up and out. We walked to the Oban waterfront and went into the South Sea Hotel for a full cooked breakfast. Poached eggs, bacon, toast and coffee. Delicious.

Next, it was off to the local DoC to register for our outdoor long trek on the remote Rakiura Track. Our three-day walk would take us North-West along the coast on day one, South across the bush-lined hills on day two and then North-East along the Paterson Inlet on day three. The Rakiura Track is one of New Zealand's Great Walks - with supposedly better quality tracks and huts.

In the DoC, an old lady served us with the pace of a snail. We had to purchase hut passes for the two nights sleep; we had to fill out an intentions form to indicate when we'd get back. She did serve us in the end, and we were off. Just as we were leaving, another pair of trampers were on their way into the DoC. After photographs outside the DoC to symbolise the start of our walk, we were off on the track.

Departing from the Stewart Island Department of Conservation office in Oban town.

The first part of our walk took us along the 'main road' on Stewart Island to take us 4 kilometres from Oban to Lee Bay via Horseshoe Bay. This included some sections along what should have been pleasant beached, but which were actually covered in a thick green sheet of seaweed, which made it both slippery and slimy. But we pressed on, past a strangely placed telephone-in-a-tree with an attached yellow pages, but no dial tone.

The strange wind-up telephone near Horseshoe Bay, complete with a new good old Yellow Pages. Bizarre.

At this stage, the weather started to turn and a fine drizzle started falling. At Lee Bay, a large stylised chain marked both the entrance to the Rakiura National Park and the anchor chain of Maui's canoe in Maori legend. By this time, the rain was properly pouring and had set in for the day.

After navigating through the chain and passing through a kissing gate, we were on firm gravel track passing through thick native forest. The occasionally toot and parp from a singing Tui could be heard, but other than that, the only sounds were the rain falling on the trees and our heavy footfall.

The path undulated wildly for an hour or so following the line of the coast, but a few dozen yards inland. Eventually, the track descended to Maori Beach where a stream of tidal water prevents passing at high tides. An alternative route was marked for such occasions. Being the intrepid due we are, we stage-jumped across the rising stream and found ourselves on the long golden sounds of Maori Beach. A few yards later and in a small covering of bush was Maori Beach campsite.

From left to right: Heading from Lee Bay to Maori Beach. Firstly, a small rivulet needs to be crossed at high tide and secondly a windfallen tree blocks our path.

At the campsite, a single tramper heading in the opposite direction to us chatter with a hunter under a small canopy shelter. Hanging in white linen sacks were some non-descript kills the hunter had made on his trip so far. Apparently, the pickings were fairly slim and the weather wasn't convincing him to do much. We had a quick drinks break before heading off again. Just before leaving, a second hunter arrived who had enjoyed no success at all!

Then we were walking on the long, golden sands. The wind blew firmly and constantly at us as the rain fell in sheets. A lone pair of Oystercatchers battled gamely for foods in the sand. We kept on walking.

From left to right: Two Oystercatchers patrol the lapping waves on Maori Beach and the windswept swingbridge from Maori Beach towards Port William.

At the end of Maori Beach, a rickety wire swing bridge spanned a small river estuary. The wind blew in gusts down the river valley, making crossing treacherous. The fifty-yard span was only capable of taking one person at a time, so traversing the bridge took a while.

After the bridge, the track veered uphill steeply back into the bush. The climb reached a track junction after about fifty minutes. This would take us on the last section of the day's walk to Port William hut whereas the other turning at the junction was for the six hour tramp to North Arm Hut - the next day's walk.

We turned right towards Port William. We expected the track to slowly descend to the beach, but it continued to undulate significantly. By one o'clock, however, we had reached the hut, taken our shoes off and claimed our bunks. We were the day's first arrivals. 12 kilometres travelled in just under four hours. We settled down to make some lunch. One by one, or sometimes in groups, other trampers arrived.

A picture taken on the approach to Port William Hut. The jetty can be seen in the middle distance.

The first arrival was a lone girl of about 25 from the Czech Republic. She was only stopping for lunch before heading onto the Bungeree Hut on the much more demanding ten day North West Circuit Track.

Just before she left, two brothers, also in their mid-twenties from Holland turned up. One brother, a hirsute well spoken man had been living in Wanaka for a year. His younger brother had turned up only two days earlier for a three-week holiday and tended to speak Dutch more than English.

The third arrivals were a worn out older couple - probably in their fifties from a town called Gore in Southland. They were planning on doing the North West Circuit Track, though my feeling was that they might struggle as the Czech girl had overtaken and commented that she thought they were struggling. They opted to stay the night at Port William.

As myself and the hirsute Dutch guy (Robbie) tried to get the fire going, the last group turned up - 4 adults and 4 children from Dunedin. Tanya and Dave were the younger of the two couples and their child was John. The other couple were the eccentric Isobel and her long-suffering husband Shaun, with their child Cameron. They had also brought two additional kids (as if their own weren't enough!) - the wiry 13-year-old Imogen and the young Maori, Isaac. The two couples were all motorbike fanatics and talked a lot about biking and bike events.

A picture taken from Port William Hut showing the jetty. During our visit, the jetty was closed as it required repairs. I guess that its hardly used these days, but when Port William was a little settlement rather than a remote hut, it was probably better used.

Everyone was soaked through and before long, a stack of wet clothes were drying in front of the struggling fire like so many curtains. Infrequent visits were made out to the woodshed to chop wood for the fire.

As time passed, it became clear that no one else was turning up. Day slowly passed to night, though daylight seemed to go on forever that far South. Around 6pm, dinners were prepared and eaten. As soon as dinner was over, the two couples started drinking. Bourbon-in-a-can for Isobel and Shaun, vodka and orange from a pump bottle for Dave and water for t-total Tanya. When darkness finally settled in, the children all had to do two-minute presentations on topics such as "Why do we need to rehydrate whilst tramping?" or "Why do you need to ensure your shoes fit well?” Eventually, all of the adults were roped in too. I had to compare Wellington with tramping whilst Robbie had to consider the differences between Holland and New Zealand.

After that, the kids sloped off to bed, the disturbingly camp Isaac singing Sinitta classic 80s hit, "Boys". How he even knows that song - don't ask me!

The rest of us stayed up chatting for a while about the usual topics - home, work, tramping. At a little after nine o'clock, Jenny and I decided we needed a good amount of rest for the next day's walk and went for a night's sleep interrupted by pre-pubescent whispering and adult snoring.

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