Easier today, no big climbs, actually no climbs much at all, unless you called walking along the gravel road and that’s discounted entirely.

Hard to leave that great view, still more or less cloudless, a huge wind behind not so warm, just that easy stroll back down the Hawdon valley, keeping the feet dry, well, until the bitter end where the river changed its course, the route as stated on the map now through the main river flow, up against the steep bank, washed out, no way around except through the river a couple of times, so once again the feet acquired a rinse.

From the Hawdon Shelter it’s another 5 km, starting as a grassy track until you hit a gravel road and slog up the slight incline to the shelter.

Just as I was arriving I encountered the first humans for a while, a final year primary school class on mountain bikes, that means the girls being taller were out in front of the boys, much to my amusement in pointing it out, Too easy sitting down, Where is your packs?, etc. They swarmed into the shelter with their own questions, all trying on my pack for weight, me not mentioning I’ve already unloaded seven night’s food as their matchstick legs came close to buckling.

Plenty of questions, What do you eat?

I just grab a possum from a tree, light a big fire, leave the fur on, and then, when it’s ready, just peal it like a banana. (Man, where did that idea come from?)

Really? (They are just at that age where they still almost believe what older people say.)

No, of course not, I’m a vegetarian. (Just as baffling, although that part is true, at least out here.)

I’m here early despite the latish start, by early I mean long before 5 pm, so it’s great to sit out in the sun and look up the broad Waimak Valley, the route to Lagoon Saddle obvious in the distance, and looking right along Bealey Spur.

I may have to come back this way if the weather really turns foul, kinda predicted for two day’s time, but if the sunshine keeps up I’d love to make it over Minchin Pass and zip out the Taramakau. Fingers crossed.

Tonight’s accommodation was always going to be the awkward one. No hut near, just the two national park shelters. The first, Hawdon, that’s shelter, not hut, is three-sided with an open fire, there’s wide benches possible for sleeping but I kinda decided if the weather was going to be similar to previous nights I might just sleep outside under the mature mountain beech forest, in a deep pile of fallen leaves wrapped in my bloke-sized survival plastic bag you use to keep the insides of your pack dry, should it ever rain again.

But with a big day tomorrow to Casey Hut over to the Poulter it makes sense to be round here at Andrews Shelter. There’s no similar thick forest for a comfy bed so it looks like I’ll be up on a wooden bench, plenty of choice there. There are always my over-trou, raincoat, and my softshell coat to turn into a makeshift mattress. At least this shelter does have the four walls, but ain’t no fireplace.

If I can sleep lying on my back, not my side, I might just make it through the night.

Comfortable? I think not.

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