Lower Wairaki hut (km2842.5) – Struan Flat Rd. (km2878)
We left reasonably early to get in a long day. The days are so short now, it’s barely light enough to walk until 07:30 am. It was also a bit chilly but I warmed up fast on a 1500′ climb to the Telford tops. Just as I was getting a bit peeved about all that effort and no views, we walked onto a barren ridge. There were views all the way to Bluff, where we will be finishing the TA. It’s not often that you can see the finish line 5 or 6 days ahead. The forecast called for rain in the late morning, but so far it had held off. The incoming clouds made for a dramatic landscape. The wind was howling, though. I had to lean 5 to 10 degrees into it to counteract the force. I read that WhyNot couldn’t even cross the ridge 2 years ago, it was so windy. She had to turn around and go back to the hut. We were able to safely press on but it was a challenge. I had to pull my jacket hood all the way up and don my gloves, it was so chilling. We descended down to Mt Linton station, the largest farm station in all of NZ. There have been problems with TA walkers breaking into farm buildings in the past, so this year the TA was rerouted to meander all throughout the hills of the station and not just simply follow the most direct road. We knew we had a long 26 km traverse through the station, made all the more difficult thanks to some idiots before us. At least we made sure to stick to the route, even though it took a few dog-legs that could throw you for a loop.
It was also surprisingly scenic, if a bit hard on the feet. Most of the route followed old farm track, which is often pretty lumpy from years of tractors and livestock pounding it. There were also the fields of sweed to navigate. This is a crop similar to rutabagas or turnips that is grown by most farmers and only fed to livestock. It stinks a bit, but we were tempted to try eating a small piece. The taste was familiar, almost like a radish, and not entirely unpleasant. Would it come back to haunt me, though? The rain continued to hold off and it turned out to be quite a pleasant day. I was really over the farm traverse by the end but it wasn’t too bad. The route spit us out on a road, where there is a backpacker accommodation at Birchwood station. Phil was already there, along with Kiwi Kate and a French girl, sorry I forgot her name. Phil and Kate are ironically from the same town (Cambridge) and work for the same employer, yet they had never met until today.
We all went in on the $15 additional meal and it was good to have this to supplement our food stores. Ruslan and I only carried 3-4 days worth of food from Te Anau, thinking we would hitch into a small town near Birchwood. Then we changed our minds and are trying to stretch our meager food supply all the way to Riverton, 3 more days. A big, hot meal of mince beef, vegetables and spaghetti went down well; plus, it started raining just as we got in. The place sleeps 10 and has a separate kitchen, toilet, and hot shower. Not bad for $20 a night. The facilities double as the farm workers (sheep shearers) accommodation. Really this is the reason the facilities exist but it’s nice that these farms are able to make a little extra income off us hikers…a win-win.