A couple of guys overtook me yesterday afternoon and we shared the hut. Good company, we found plenty to talk about.

It’s a crazy hut, all steps, even steps between the main room and the uninsulated back bunk room, extremely limited bench space, rickety furniture with rough sawn, clunky benches, the windows not really sized or positioned to take in the view.

I’m thinking after 60 years of the New Zealand Forest Service/DOC working out how huts work efficiently, they have thrown away the book and made every mistake imaginable.

There’s two separate places where it’s likely someone will break a hip or collarbone getting into or out of the hut some rainy evening.

Today I’m the last to leave.

It’s a slow climb, in a switchback kind of way, up to the tops and I notice a few things: there’s limited birdlife, tom tits, weka, after the intensively protected area to the north; the rock looks like granite, but it seems to be chunky granite sand bound together by pumice: and there’s a stretch of pure silver beech forest just under the bush line. No mountain beech to be seen.

Rocky Tor, 1456 m, is entirely dramatic, that’s really granite on a big slope and the track that’s hacked into the west face is crazy spectacular, cliffs, drop-offs, I’m not sure I’d be riding along there.

Then it’s back into the bush for a while to the super dramatic Ghost Lake Hut, perched on top of the granite cliff. Somehow this hut has it entirely right, all on one level, about five times as much bench space, the bunks in three alcoves.

That works, maybe they learned from the first effort. Except this is such a dramatic location, and the obvious point for bike riders to spend the night, it just is way too small. I sense it might need three times as many bunks in years to come as the track gains popularity.

But I’m onto the Stern Valley Hut for the night, 25 km today with a fair amount of climbing and a much more significant amount of descent.

The track gets somewhat gnarlier, there’s around 320 timber steps to descend and it turns into the best stretch of walking, through mature red beech forest that up until five years ago had seldom seen hunters/trampers. It has been just too awkward to crash through the forest and the more used route used to be on the opposite side of the ridge alongside the south branch of the Mohikinui River.

Three mountain bikers speed on past, shouldn’t you be peddling, from me, cheekily.

And, I don’t think you’re supposed to use your brakes, to the laggard who squealed on by. I could hear his arrival.

It’s after 7 pm when I get into the hut, with six of us resident for the night and an unseen couple of trampers in one of the sleepouts. There’s the three buzzing riders and the two chatty blokes from last night around the table exchanging tales from the day.

The bike riders are overly prepared with lashings of gourmet food, they offer some hazelnut crackers with real dripping French cheese. To me with my standard trampers bland diet it’s right up there in the deliciousness department.

All this company is a bit different from last week.

I’m catching up on socialisation big-time.

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

A guide to the night’s accommodation: Stern Valley Hut

The hut is in serious danger of being washed away in a flood. | Stern Valley Hut, Lyell Range/Radiant Range Conservation Area
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