Some talkative company for the evening, English their first language, a story laden fishing guide and his two Australian charges, a father/son combo.

They had a successful day with the inexperienced son hooking and landing a decent sized trout.

The guide explained the lure of the New Zealand trout experience: because of the super clear rivers, gin clear apparently, rather than fishing murky water as you often do in other countries, with the clarity you spot the fish and it’s then a one-on-one contest, you see your prey and if you are good enough, or lucky, you land and then release that fish.

If you want one to eat you only take a young male that won’t be missed from the fishery.

The client is on his 44th fishing trip to New Zealand in 38 years and filled with enthusiasm for his hobby, still loving it. The son is picking up information that comes fast: cast a few feet in front of the fish, let the fly drift past its nose . . .

They have an excess of venison sausage pasta and hand the pot over, I’ve already eaten but man, there is some flavour there, and a finger of scotch in my plastic mug, then three fingers more. No third round though because they have demolished the 40 oz bottle, they poured the full mug.

Not long before the dad is snoring quietly on his bunk, with the guide continuing with tales of moose shooting in Alaska, not him but as a gopher for a guide, skinning the head for the client and having to rig up a way of turning the car-sized animal over by himself, lugging the huge packs of moose meat out in seven hefty pack loads kilometres over the marshmallow tundra as required by the state law, then not being paid for his four month’s work.

The stories kept coming in an entertaining fashion for a few hours as those remaining awake all mellowed out.

But they had a hectic schedule, up before dawn to fish the Leslie a second time, picked up by helicopter at lunchtime and whisked out, a touch of civilisation tonight, then off to another river tomorrow.

I’m considerably more leisurely, aiming to get to the usually well busy Salisbury Lodge, that’s a big hut behind Mount Arthur that dominates the western skyline from Nelson, by 6 pm. I am intending just enough time to have a shave and have my last dinner for the trip before bed.

My pack is pretty empty, if it didn’t have the tent and closed cell mat I’ve been lugging it would rattle, well, if everything wasn’t soft or padded.

Just the long steady cruise up to the Tablelands, a 1000 m climb on a steady gradient I might just be able to power up.

If I had been missing human companionship in the early days of this trip, well sort of, the previous 30 hours has seen me meet 11 people. The four-person family yesterday, three fishermen last night and four separate blokes on their own journeys this afternoon.

The first was struggling down to the Leslie with the largest pack ever seen, kinda like mine except a fishing rod tube, his tent and sleeping bag not internally contained. He had started with 20 days’ food he said. Once he gets it up on his shoulders he could stagger on. A fisherman, come specifically to have a look at the Karamea and tributaries, camping where possible.

He had tried to get into the Roaring Lion River from Chaffey Hut in the Cobb valley, and had gone down Breakfast Creek with his load and had become bluffed. Not so easy manoeuvring with his luggage when the undergrowth closed in. In general it’s more sensible to travel the ridges than rivers with gorges from my experience.

We finally peeled off after an hour and a half. I enjoyed his attitude, the only guy I’ve met travelling slower and with a more bulky pack than myself.

Shortly thereafter there was an ambitious guy who thought that Splugeons to Thor was achievable the next day, 10.5 hours walking by DOC’s reckoning. I mentioned that the track wouldn’t always be so well groomed. I guess he would find out soon enough.

Then up around the Tablelands there was another cheery and enthusiastic guy, this time American, up from the Cobb, carrying what every tramper on the 91 km Leslie-Karamea needs, a long board, the big version of the skateboard. I did mention there were a few places where it may prove useful but he was unconcerned. He clearly enjoyed a laugh.

At the hut a Belgian guy was surprised to have another person staggering into the hut at such a late hour. It might have been before 8 o’clock, but barely.

I’d had a fair level of conversation during the day but he was way more sociable than his fellow country people of Venus Hut, and he picked my brain about various walks. The Alpine Route in the Richmond Ranges sounded like the kind of vigorous experience he was hoping for.

Yeah, it was quite the social time and after 1250 m of climbing for the day I could scarcely clamber up onto the sleeping platform.

+++++horizontal rule+++++

A guide to the night’s accommodation: Salisbury Lodge

Salisbury Lodge, Kahurangi National Park 4
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