Both thighs. Man, I had not drunk enough, or any water during the day. No fire in the evening as we sat for a few hours talking so I was a little cold. And, of course, spending nine hours getting to the hut carrying that lumpy pack didn’t help.

Chris came to my rescue with some magnesium powder that fixed it in 30 seconds. I can confirm that it’s not good to get cramps while lying flat in your sleeping bag.

Maybe I should start drinking more in my travels.

I packed up quickly when I heard a water taxi arriving. Chris seemed to think hunters might be coming in, but it was only two trampers about our age, and we spoke across the river.

Then they were gone to Masons Bay Hut and we went back to our lackadaisical chat. After all, Freds Camp Hut was only four hours away. No worries.

Eventually, I slung my pack on my shoulders, now with half a venison backstrap aboard, and ambled off.

Yes, I should have left earlier as the sign on the other side of the Freshwater River stated the time as 5 hours, not the 4 of my imagination. Lugging my load certainly slowed me down.

The swingbridge was slippery but safely negotiated, then I was in the swamp. Actually, you follow along a series of low sand ridges, but need to cross the low swampy bit between them.

Once upon a time, back in the Forest Service days, greasy manuka saplings provided a direct route just straight over the brown sludge, but I’m cautious these days and while those rough bridges may still be down there, somewhere, I don’t wish to risk slipping off as it would be a task to avoid drowning. The safer way is to skirt the worst of the bog and find a route that has a solid substrate.

Having done this section at least half a dozen times previously, I had worked out the vegetation for determining the depth I was likely to sink. The common sedge grass is okay, recognised as it’s pretty orange and short, the fat green rushes are solid enough, but you get your calves wet, and the finer rushes were not rigorously tested.

Sphagnum is definitely a no-go, and any river of brown sludge will ensure you never get out of that bottomless porridge.

My funniest moment was taking my pack off and slinging it across a gap only to find my momentum had me following. Water rushed into my boots when I didn’t quite make it to more solid ground, and I realised I left my walking pole behind. So three crossings were required.

Once through the swamp and the eight major impediments to progress that require considerable meanderings, crossing the Tolson River swingbridge marked some respite to the bog.

Near the top of the 250 m climb a very fine hail started and it went for the next hour. Much colder than when I departed Oban. Actually snow was visible down to about 400 m from Freshwater Hut in the morning, although it didn’t really stick around.

That was new.

I had never encountered any hunter on the Southern Circuit but I was wondering if someone might be occupying Freds Camp Hut. It’s pretty easy to access by boat.

Nope. Solo once again.

Not long before dark I got the fire going to dry my things out and warm me up.

No hurry now, so I’m sticking around for a second night.

Not many New Zealand huts are right on the water’s edge, but this one has the gentle sound of lapping water clearly audible.

I was certain to sleep well.

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

A guide to the night’s accommodation: Freds Camp Hut

Freds Camp Hut, Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island
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