For some reason I mistook the 5 30 am news headlines for the 6 am news and had plenty of time waiting for some daylight.

The early morning routine is sorted after a couple of nights unbothered by others: making and eating breakfast while I pack up and swop warm clothes for those of the cold and wet variety before racing out the door.

The refurbished Mole Hut is a delight but it would be a tight squeeze at capacity, ie, four lunking bodies and their gear.

It was still gloomy when I departed and for half an hour as I headed down through mountain beech forest I needed my LED headlamp on, that cloud cover was dense and the canopy and black trunks to the trees doesn’t aid visibility.

The first hour was fun, that’s the forest bit, then you take to the steep creek bed for the next hour, boulder hopping at the top, easier as you descend towards where you turn off. Luckily the start of the track made it’s appearance known, not quite as visible as you would hope, there’s a fair amount of flood damage as you go, much faster time out of the creek, but after a while I decided to take a short cut, maybe half an hour saving, by crashing through the bush then getting into electric fence territory. A new farming track led me down past the Mataki milking sheds, the green poultice smearing the road getting deeper as I approached, ankle deep at the shed, cows vaguely wandering past, not every day a tall shaven headed bloke in full tramping regalia walks on by.

The afternoon was spent plodding up the wide valley on a quad bike track much of the way. It starts to get a little less farm-like when I reach the site of the old Mataki Base Hut, removed in 1995. I crossed the waist deep river one wintery morning when on a school trip back in the day, up to Nardoo Bivvy, plenty of river crossings in the snow, the door to the bivvy iced up and took some getting open then the five of us almost suffocated with the kero stove fumes let alone the carbon monoxide, just the kind of Little Adventure a 16 year old requires. I note that Nardoo is claimed as 7 hours away on a new looking sign.

It also states 4.5 hours to Downie, it’s going to take quite an effort to get there by 5 pm and in the end I do stagger in about that time.

The track past Mackellar Stream has been washed out by the encroaching river, the Mataki is as big as the Sabine and D’Urville combined, there’s trees plonked horizontally in the river, slips, cliffs of gravel and boulders and in the end I cross to the open grass on the other side and then follow an old 4WD track, the second crossing ensues no vestige of cattle clag remains, the river is knee deep and flowing at some pace.

I’ve been to Downie a couple of times in the past but never stayed, it’s one of the oldest huts around, 1904, there’s plenty of graffiti from the 1930s on the walls, but it’s sort of been refurbished and it has the standard issue plastic covered mattresses.

My bones sure appreciate that level of comfort.

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

A guide to the night’s accommodation: Downie Hut

Downie Hut, Nelson Lakes National Park
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