Stu and Ian returned to the South Island on Jan 1 after concluding that attempts to complete Stu's North Island "Te Araroa by packraft" wasn't feasible given the extreme weather events hitting the northern part of the country. Instead, they decided to finish off a different route down to Bluff, since Ian had also abandoned Stu during his South Island journey at Queenstown in 2019. The plan was to paddle the Mataura River from it's source to the sea and then follow a series of coastal lagoons to Bluff. They asked if I wanted to join them, but I declined, preferring to concentrate on getting tramping fit.
I picked them up from Queenstown Airport and we drove down to Athol to camp the night before driving up Cainard Rd to Robert Creek, where we left the car and continued upstream on foot. After about 20 minutes Stu decided it was time to put in, so I left the boys and continued up the Mataura solo.
The 4WD track leaves the river where it enters a gorge and climbs high above some bluffs, through a pine forest. Nice to be in the shade but not exactly pleasant scenery. It's not a huge detour and soon the track descends steeply back to the river for the first of a number of stream crossings.
From there the track follows the river to Cowshed Hut, passing the wonderfully named Bowels of the Earth. A couple of hunters were having a snooze at the hut after being up very early that morning. Over lunch and a cuppa it transpired that one of the fellows was the boyfriend of Ena, the Irish physiotherapist who had visited me at home for the first 2 months post injury. She'll be happy to know I'm back multi-day tramping again!
From Cowshed Hut the 4WD track continued a short way before finishing at a lovely grassy clearing beside the river which was obviously used as a campsite, judging from the woodpile neatly stacked. Another river crossing and then a faint but discernible footpad could be followed further upstream.
As the valley narrowed the trail deviated to stay high to avoid the swampy valley. There were lovely stands of beech and numerous small cascades to enjoy. After a couple of hours Beech Hut came into view, with one final river crossing to get to it.
Beech Hut is an old musterer's hut that was restored from dereliction back in the early 2000s. It's extremely basic and with no protection from sandflies I elected to pitch my tent rather than sleep in the hut.
The next morning I retraced my steps, but rather than follow the 4WD track through the forest I walked beside the river instead. Which meant I got to see the very pretty gorge. I kind of regretted not having my packraft with me to paddle it...
Another 45 minutes and I was back at the car. I'd successfully completed my first overnight tramping trip since my accident, and my body felt good.
Perhaps it was time to take it up a notch...