Mike and Lockie were up early to spot deer for “hunting” and Aparima Hut was only a five hour walk away, so we decided to leave a bit later than the crack of dawn. What do you mean that we never leave at the crack of dawn? How dare you! To be fair you’d be right, but it was even later than what we’d normally leave at. Mike and Lockie had returned, unfortunately without spotting anything. I said “hunting” because Mike had no intention of shooting a deer he hadn’t even got a gun, he just wanted to give his son Lockie a taste for the outdoors and tracking a live animal. Heading down to the stream to wash his hands Lockie was telling Lauren about his morning adventure and lamenting the fact that they didn’t see anything. Lauren, who wholly disagrees with kids going hunting (even if they don’t have guns) shook the water off the pot she had just washed and suggested to poor Lockie that “the deer had run away to protect their babies”. A sly piece of reverse psychology from Ms O’Toole towards the very likely Disney fan, especially since she thought no one was around to hear her manipulate the poor boy. While Lauren was playing mind games with a four year old, his father was telling us that he had bumped into an older tramper also heading to Aparima. This older tramper fitted the description of a guy that we’d heard about from other walkers, and from his musings in the hut books also. I won’t use his real name, for this exercise we’ll call him…eh…Solomon McRablin. One of our hiking buddies had walked with Solomon and found him relatively unpleasant, that’s fair enough some people just don’t get on, but avid hut book readers that we are, found nasty comments written about said hiking buddy by Solomon as well as further homophobic and frankly immature comments about another hiker that we met. Needless to say our impression of this man wasn’t overly high, so when we thought that we would be sharing a hut with him for the night we weren’t exactly thrilled. Not wanting to let a chance encounter with a possibly unpleasant person ruin our day we got on with it. Donning our rain jackets through the late morning mist we climbed over the fence and started our march upwards into the forest. Raw trails covered in mud and recent footprints quickly remind us of the north island, the end was coming near though, you could feel it, why else would we grasp at memories from the start of our trail, it’s not as if we hadn’t walked through mud since, if you can get Stockholm Syndrome from a trail, we surely had it. We caught up with our older hiker, he had stopped for lunch as we were passing him, nothing seemed too out of sorts, we didn’t stop to chat anyway, the rain was still drizzling after all, some polite exchanges would do until we would meet at the hut. After our encounter with Solomon we were greeted with great big plains of tussock, difficult to see markers in and pretty rocky underfoot. As I’m writing this after we hiked through here, I can tell you that a TA tramper broke his ankle here a few days later. We passed the older hiker and he overtook us a couple of times before we eventually ended up in Aparima together. In the hut the inevitable introductions meant that we found out his name was Richard Peters, not Solomon whats his face. Well, didn’t we feel stupid, and guilty to boot, we only hoped that we weren’t rude to this guy, we would always stop to chat to other hikers, especially if we knew they were on the TA, and we’d definitely tell them about the party we were organising in Queenstown. Feeling ashamed of ourselves we stuck our noses into our dinner to hide our hungry faces. That was until the larger than life character of Moritz came through the door shortly followed by Thore and Katrin, a German trio also walking the trail. Moritz was a big guy, with a big personality, he was almost like a TV persona with his catchphrase It’s Alriiiight. Discussing the trail Thore told us that Moritz stood in the middle of the Rangitata and took pictures of the other trampers struggling to cross while he laughed, as I said he was a big guy. Similar to ourselves, Moritz had no experience before he started Te Araroa, apparently much bigger back then too, he now had the walking bug. The next few years of his life had been planned out, based on the trails the world over, El Camino next year and the PCT the year after. Fair play. I like to think that I’ve got good dental hygiene and Lauren would often slag me for the length of time I brush my teeth but I ain’t got nothin’ on the Germans. Anytime I been in the presence of a German brushing their teeth I am in absolute awe of their brushing stamina. As I said I don’t shirk from giving my teeth a good brush, but watching these guys you’d wonder what they’ve been eating. Maybe we’ve gotten accustomed to having fluoride in our water, making dental care that bit easier? Who knows, but I’d say that the recently invented word of halitosis doesn’t have a direct German translation. I digress, that night we had a good chat about the trail, our highs, our lows and of course our plans for the rest of the trail. By the time we had prepared for sleep pretty much everyone’s belongings were hanging up. The hut was like a meat factory, if Rocky had to fight a man made out of merino wool and covered in Gore-tex, he would have trained here. Although we lay in our sleeping bags, we had planned to take the next day off, so finishing our blog pieces and catching up on our reading were a higher priority than getting enough sleep before we set off in the morning. The sun woke us simultaneously with the Germans and Richard’s morning routine. Nipping out to the toilet lets you take in your surroundings with less urgency. The eyes pick out the less vital details compared to when to you’re navigating the trail on a rest day in a hut, I don’t know why we didn’t catch on to this a lot earlier. There’s an element of the grass being greener on the other side I suppose, taking our rest days in areas of what we considered civilisation, showers, food and wifi tempting us out of the woods. A day of reading, collecting firewood and whatever card games we could remember seemed to go on forever, but it gave us the much needed rest that we needed in surroundings that would be tough to improve. An earlyish night would prepare us for a long day tomorrow.