Maori Beach to Bungaree Hut
I woke up last night, not sure if by the rustling noise outside or my need to pee, but I woke up all the same. I thought someone must have shown up after I went to bed and set up their tent by mine. Needing to pee, I had no choice but get out of bed. As I crawled out, my light shining ahead, I saw the fat back end of a sea lion! It was rousting about in the bushes by my tent. As it waddled off I wasn’t sure if I was concerned or amused.
It was a lucky thing that I woke in the night because I was next roused awake around 5:30AM by the start of a downpour. Briefly followed by the start of some intense wind. I was able to sleep in until 9AM when there was a brief sunny spell. I packed up and briefly chatted with the family at the camp while I dried out my tent. I finished stuffing my tent into pack just as a new spell of rain began. It rained on and off the whole day.
Since the weather was relentless, I knew my agenda was to merely hike to Bungaree Hut. I tried to take my time. I stopped at Port William Hut and checked out the wharf. I hiked really slow, which wasn’t a challenge since the rain turned the trail into a massive slippery mud path. I have never felt more childlike than tiptoeing through a multi-kilometer mud puddle, trying not to get my feet wet or muddy. The inevitable eventually happened, and both feet were soaked in wet, sloshy mud. Then all bets were off and I had mud up my legs by the time I arrived to the hut. In all honesty, it was almost dangerous. The mud was so incredibly slippery. There are parts where the route takes you straight up a tree root series. In dry conditions that would mean about forty feet of climbing up through thick roots, making pseudo-steps up from dirt-filled crevice to dirt-filled crevice. In the rain it was more like a vertical slip-n-slide with mud and hard plant parts. The result of which was me grabbing desperately at roots to pull myself up, my feet slipping everywhere, and my knees in the muddy slope. The down sections were the scariest though. It is easy to get up a muddy surface, eventually. But safely down a muddy section is not as easy or sure-footed. Not enough to dissuade my excitement to be out hiking though!
Despite the muddy travel, I arrived around 2PM to Bungaree Hut. On my arrival a man walked out of the hut, excited to see me. No, we did not know each other. About halfway back on the trail he had dropped his bag of steak. I had picked it up and was carrying it in my hand as I walked up. He and his wife were delighted that I had saved their fancy meal. This is their 9th wedding anniversary hike on the North West Curcuit. I chatted with them awhile. They were very nice.
After I had eaten, rested, and dried off, I decided it was a good time to go wash up. I went out on the beach and washed my socks and shoes. I have never seen so much mud come out of my Altra shoes. With the rain still coming in patches I suspect my clothes will be wet still tomorrow.
The hut is full tonight. 16 bunk spaces. I am amazed by this posh hiking setup on Stewart Island. The trail system is set up so you can hike hut to hut. The distances between are anywhere from 8-16 km. I was told that the North West Curcuit isn’t maintained like the Rakiura Track, so the distances are short but harder. I thought the trail was fairly challenging to Bungaree, but I still arrived just under the faster end of the expected travel time. I will admit that compared to the hikers I saw, I am traveling incredibly light. The ranger woman saw my pack and thought I was a dayhiker. For traveling such short distances to sleep at a hut where clean rain water is available, I don’t know how I could have packed more. I am always amazed by how large of packs I see out hiking, but I was particularly surprised here. If I had realized how short my days were going to be, I would have booked further sites. C’est la vie!
Moving on, the huts are incredible. The two huts on the Rakiura are bigger and fancier and have a person stationed at them. Bungaree Hut is considered a standard hut, unmanned, 16 bunks, sink and kitchen counter, table and benches, drying lines, and picnic table outside. Then there are also hunter huts, which are supposed to be more basic. When I thought about what the huts would be like, I imagined barren wood huts similar to those I have seen on US trails. Usually drafty, likely rodent-inhabited, open-floor planned, vacant building for floor sleeping. These are not that. They are quite nice. I would genuinely leave my tent behind if I knew I could stay in a hut each night. Technically, you wouldn’t even need a ground mat. The bunks have mattresses. Though you might risk a night on the floor if you happen on a really full hut. The downside of course being that you are with people, so no privacy. It was pretty nice though. They even have fire stoves and open-sided sheds to dry wood for fires. A ranger at the DOC visitor center told me that all the Stewart Island huts are deep cleaned once a year. And people like Carol, the Port William attendant, travels between the first few huts on this side of the island to check on general hut conditions throughout the season.
Another early night to bed.