Last night, after dark, a hunter and his dog turned up and made their home out on the veranda.

I responded by getting up just after 5 am, as it was a full day marching out to the car park. Black Mountain Hut was the halfway point.

Anyways, I got talking with the hunter, and sunrise happened. He was going to look up one of the creeks, and not knowing the area was taking the advice of someone who said Alma Creek was a good choice.

That sounded familiar, and in consultation with the map, it proved to be close to Black Mountain.

I asked for a ride, and we continued our conversation. He had been working on high country stations, so I learned something about the Mackenzie country, hunting tahr, etc.

He clearly had plenty of experience in driving up these big bouldery rivers and had a muscular four-wheel drive that could deal with some rough stuff. It helped the tire pressures were way down, but it was like being in a washing machine.

Driving so as to pick your way without destroying the undercarriage is surprisingly slow, but I was thankful I wasn’t retracing my steps along the old cattle trail on the Slim grassy river terraces.

And that was how I ended up standing on a grassy four-wheel-drive track, looking down to Black Mountain Hut before 9 am.

I stayed on the newly upgraded DOC four-wheel-drive track they have upgraded to help construct a new fence after tenure review, and provide safer upstream access now the Rangitata River has changed course and one of the bigger braids is cutting into the bluffs.

When the hunter went through the river on the way up he said it was quite high over the four-wheel-drive bonnet. He was a little surprised, but the truck had a snorkel.

The track climbed quite a bit to get over the big slip I climbed up on Day 2, and offered a great view at the Clyde River.

Trudging along for four hours gave me time for contemplation about this trip, and the summer generally.

After the first wet week and my stuttering start due to the prospect of gnarly river crossings after rain, the 13 days in behind Kaikoura had great weather. That gave me 11 days without seeing other humans. I switched off from the rush of civilisation and got into a groove at what was closer at hand. I was on my lonesome, so the company was great even if overly familiar. My mind was able to stop racing and find some tranquillity.

With the prospect of continuing a bad week weather-wise, I abandoned my North Canterbury plans and went south to Central Otago. More good weather, mostly on four-wheel drive tracks. My brief interlude around Queenstown, the Ahuriri River, and Aoraki, as a finale up the Rangitata River, actually the Havelock River, for another nine days.

It’s quite a wrench to go from struggling or at least energetically clambering up Murphy Stream the day before, to driving back to civilisation today.

I had a taste of the outside world when a guy about my age cruised past in a four-wheel drive. He politely turned off the engine and stopped for a chat. He had been the guy flown in to replace the Murphys Bivvy chimney last year. I express my appreciation for that hut and how it was still in reasonable nick, mostly as few visit.

We chatted for 10 minutes or so. In the passenger seat was a 20-something guy, two weeks unshaven, who looked out the window and never acknowledged engaged.

I’d been listening to Johann Hari’s book Stolen Focus and the young guy seemed to exemplify a few of the points made: detached, disconnected from the world. Sad.

Welcome back to the real world.

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