1/19 Inland

Totaranui to Awapoto Hut

27 k

It’s a crisp, clear morning, and we are hiking in the soft glow of early light.

The Totaranui estuary is empty as we cross. Perfect timing. The trail leads up and up into the headland.

We touch down at the ocean briefly at Apati Bay and again at Mutton Cove. We walk the long curving beach and forsake the trail to climb around a rocky point. The coastline is so inviting to the imagination. The trail alternates from beach to forest and back.

A sign announces the turn to Separation Point, which is the more scenic route to our destination, and we take the fork. The ridge is inexplicably on our right, and the cliffs below the trail drop sheerly to the sea. Unsettled, I pull out the map- we somehow missed the first turnoff and are at the apex of the long way to our destination, much farther along than we thought. It’s always nice when that’s the case, rather than coming up shorter than you thought. Separation point is a flat rocky head sticking into the sea. There is supposedly an established colony of fur seals, but we see neither fur nor flipper of them.

Another hour brings us to the last hut on the coastal track, and we fill up on water before beginning the ascent that will last the rest of the day. The trail climbs an exposed old two track, and the heat begins compounding. We squeeze into a barely adequate sliver of shade for lunch, and then cross the last short spur that joins the coastal track. The abrupt change from sidewalk to good ole standard tramping track is comical. There are several long strips of grassland, tussocky stuff that covers the tread completely, and several forest parcels that have many tangly blowdowns. We inch along. One of our rewards is easing past some old-growth trees, silent giants, tops disappearing into the canopy and limbs draped in hanging gardens.

We cross a beach access road, and register at the Inland trailhead kiosk. The hut is now only a five k away, but the sign warns this will take 3-3.5 hours. I’ve seen enough of these now to properly translate as: steep, roots, and mud. This proves correct. Up and up and up, often each step above knee-high, often the tree roots providing a precarious hopscotch. And up and up and up.

There are several beautiful grassy strips along the ridges, between barreling up and plunging down, that allow spectacular views of the coast and of the mountain range we are in. There are more active fantails here than anywhere I have seen before, their friendly fluttering a perfect excuse to take a break and watch.

The last long rise is through mossy beeches with clear pools of water cupped in their roots. I’ve lost my sense of place in the undulations of the ridge, but I take it as a good sign when I notice tendrils of cloud blowing by: we must be high enough now to be close. We reach the hut turnoff at exactly three hours from our departure. The top of this hill seems to have experienced bad wind or some other kind of tree-killing and -knocking-over event, something that left lots of young trees tumbled like a pile of pencils. The hut itself is an inviting one: lots of windows, clean, spacious.

We take a few minutes to read a NZ backcountry newsletter, then set about moving in. Dry shirts on, stove lit, solar charger in the window.

Not too long after us a girl arrives in what look like fashion boots. We are both concentrating on our respective projects, and she seems to sense this. We exchange no words for several hours, and it is a pleasant silence. At dinner we learn she is from Sweden, and she pulls an array of cans and fresh produce from her bag to elaborately prepare a beverage of some kind and a bean stew. The cloud clears and for the first time we can see the marvelous view all the way down to the coast. The three of us quietly go about our individual business until the peaceful dark settles over the world.

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