Day 140 to 145 – Back on trail after a false alarm

Tuesday 5th March – Sunday 10th March
Te Anau to Colac Bay
Day: 140 to 145
Km’s: 155
Cumulative Km’s: 2,918 / 3,000km

This post is a little overdue, being written a month after events, from our home base of Sydney. We have been home for 3 weeks now and have been off the TA for almost 5 weeks. A little distracted by the pleasures of travel during the last couple of weeks we spent in New Zealand and catching up with friends and family on our return to Sydney, we thought that our last couple of TA posts were better off being written late than never being written at all.

We last wrote to you from Te Anau where we spent a few days off trail. During the long road walk into Te Anau I had some intense pain flare up across the top of my foot. I hadn’t experienced anything like it on the trail to date and it flared up quickly. A diagnosis from Dr Google had left me fearing the worst, tendinitis. Being so close to the end of our TA journey we didn’t want to risk further injury so reluctantly we adjusted our plans. We were originally meant to be having some time off trail to walk the Kepler Track but planning it safe we decided to stay put in Te Anau, rest and visit a physio.

After a couple of days rest, ice and Voltaren I nervously headed off to my physio appointment. Luckily the pain was caused by a tight tendon running from my calf down to my toes, no inflammation and no tendinitis. After an intense massage treatment I hobbled back to the hostel a little bruised but happy that we had the all clear to head back out on trail the next day.

Over the next week we would make our way through the final forest stretches of the TA including the notoriously muddy Longwood Forest. It felt like a week long recap of the North Island where we enjoyed stretches of forest, farm and beach. So close to the end of the trail it was nice to experience a walk down memory lane, thinking about all we had done and seen and how incredibly far we had come since beginning our TA journey, both literally and figuratively.

Thank you for sticking with us as we prepare for our final push to Bluff!

Day 140 – Tuesday 5th March, 22km
Te Anau (Princhester Road) to Aparima Hut

It was our first day back on trail after our rest in Te Anau. We ate breakfast at the hostel, cleaning out the remaining fresh food from our nearly week long stay. I ate a huge amount of fruit and yogurt and prepared an obscene amount of fresh food for the day ahead, fruit, salad wraps, boiled eggs. When I finally packed my bag it was the heaviest it had been since our 10 day stretch through the Richmond Ranges and this time we were only packing for 7 days.

It seems that the longer we have been on trail the seemingly less worried I am about pack weight. Unable to eat oats for yet another week I packed bread and butter for breakfast and for lunch, bagels, dip, cheese and boiled eggs. All of this food is very exciting and delicious when you are out on trail but it is also very bulky and heavy.

It was 10 am before we checked out of the hostel and made our way to the main road to catch a hitch out of town. It look nearly half an hour to get a ride but in the end a lovely English couple pulled over and gave us a lift. They were in New Zealand on a month long holiday. They were lovely people and we enjoyed exchanging travel stories as we drove. They were on their way to Christchurch with only a week of their holiday left. After 20 minutes or so we reached the Princhester Road turn off and said our goodbyes as we headed back onto the trail.

We had about 5 km of gravel road walking through a farm before hitting forest. Along the farm road we passed the farmers who presumably owned the property. We gave them a wave and said hi, they gave us a thumbs up and a ‘not long now, well done!’ They were very nice people, letting us come through their property and being supportive and friendly to boot.The farmers were right, as of today we only have 9 days left on the trail. After so long on trail it is strange to think about this long journey coming to an end. Throughout our morning I repeatedly thought about what it will feel like to reach Bluff, what it will be like to go home, eat normal food from a refrigerator, shower every day and wear something other than my hiking clothes. The more I thought about it the more I thought that I was ready for a break from trail life for just a little while.After an hour or so of walking along the gravel farm road we arrived at Princhester Hut. It was around midday so we had lunch at the hut before continuing on. I still wasn’t hungry from my huge breakfast but my wraps were heavy and I wanted them out of my bag before we started climbing so I forced myself to eat them.After lunch we headed into the bush, the trail was through a pretty beech forest, as the trail climbed up the hillside it wasn’t far before we hit patches of bog and mud. It felt like the track deteriorated as the day wore on. Our afternoon was spent between walking though sections of forest and bashing our way through sections of tall, thick tussock. It was an incredibly slow going section of trail. Our trail notes had indicated the section would take 5 or 6 hours to walk but in the end it took us about 7 hours.We moved through some beautiful valleys and the weather was perfect for hiking but the ground underfoot was frustrating to walk though. The tussock was chest high, when it’s gets that long you can’t see what you are stepping on and often the ground is rutted and uneven underfoot.At one point I fell knee deep into thick mud and was so badly submerged that I needed Adam to pull me out. It was in these such moments that I thought, ‘nope, I won’t feel sad about finishing. Bring on the dry feet and daily showers!’. But only a few hours later when we had climbed to a really beautiful knoll looking out over the valley I thought, ‘yep I will miss this’.It was a busy day on the trail and by the time we arrived at Aparima hut there were already 8 people already spread between the two huts. We knew there would be 2 more people coming so we decided to tent outside instead. Adam was undergoing a bout of hanger (which wasn’t helped when he accidentally spilled half his dinner on the deck of the hut), so it was a speedy dinner before heading to bed for a well earned and sound night’s rest.

Day 141 – Wednesday 6th March, 21km
Aparima Hut to Telford campsite

Departing Aparima Hut it wasn’t long before we reached the Aparima River, crossing via a swing bridge. As I crossed the bridge I wondered if it would be our final swing bridge of the trail. I will miss the swing bridges, they add a little bit of excitement to our days.After crossing the river we had another stretch of tussock filled bog to walk through before we entered the Takitimu Forest. I had given up trying to keep my legs clean after yesterday but ended up covered in mud up to my knees. I hoped the trail would improve once we entered the forest, as our luck would have it the trail did just that. It became much easier walking through the beech forest. The ground was soft but stable under foot and the forest was pretty, dripping in moss and greenery. It was an absolute pleasure to walk through after the tussock and bog.We crossed a couple of descent sized streams during the morning so I took the opportunity to rinse off my legs and feet the best I could. The forest mud has a distinctive, unpleasant smell about it and once it has been in contact with your wet feet and socks for a couple of days the smell becomes putrid. I will definitely not miss the mud once we have finished the TA.My favorite part of the Takitimu Forest was the large stretches of ferns carpeting the forest floor. It felt like we were walking through a glen where goblins and fairies live. By 12pm Adam and I were both pretty hungry so we found a perch for lunch off the damp forest floor and enjoyed our picnic lunches.It was only another 4 km’s or so to Lower Wairaki Hut. We stopped in and used the facilities but didn’t stay long before continuing on. Ahead of us was a climb to the high point of this section of trail at just over 1,000m.After reaching the peak the trail undulated, we walked up and down another couple of hills before we popped out of the forest for good. Upon exiting the forest we were unexpectedly met with stunning views.We could see over the farmland we would be walk through over the next couple of days and right out to the sea. There was a little bit of haze in the sky from a nearby wildfire but despite this we could make out the mountain tops on Stewart Island. I felt emotional seeing the ocean. It sunk it that we are close to the end of the trail. We started this epic journey at the ocean almost 5 months ago and in just over a week will finish at the ocean, almost 3,000km away.We spent some time admiring the evening light over the mountains surrounding us and the view below us before we slowly made our way down hill.About 1 km from the top, just before the final descent into Telford camp we stopped to enjoy dinner with a view. We had heard that although beautiful, Telford camp was plagued by sandflies so we decided to enjoy an early sandfly free dinner. When we finally made it down to camp all we needed to do was put up the tent and crawl into bed, after a hot chocolate of course.

Day 142 – Thursday 7th March, 27km
Telford campsite to Birchwood Cabin

We woke up tired this morning, after strong winds blew through the camp all night we didn’t sleep well. Our sleep was constantly interrupted by the tent fly flapping and poles straining against the wind. After a few hours of sleeplessly worrying about whether the tent was going to withstand the wind I gave up and put my earplugs in so I could get a couple of hours sleep. I figured that if things went really wrong I’d be woken up but in the meantime there wasn’t much I could do.

In the early hours the winds whipped even more fiercely and we resorted to taking the fly off to reduce the risk of it tearing. Once awake and fussing with the tent we quickly learnt that we weren’t the only ones struggling with wild winds, there were about half a dozen tents at the campsite that night and we could see the headlamps of other worried campers flashing about in the dark. Despite the stress induced by the winds it was a beautiful starry night and taking the fly off allowed us to enjoy it.In our tired state we packed up camp quickly in the morning, doing our best to avoid the hungry sandflies trying to breakfast on our blood. Today we would be walking through Mt Linton station which, according to the TA trip notes is one of New Zealand’s largest working cattle stations.

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After climbing over a stile and crossing a large stream we began our climb up a steep 4wd road which we would spend a large portion of our day walking along. For a large cattle farm we didn’t encounter many cattle during the day. We passed two small heards, the latter of which appeared to be unwell, simultaneously coughing and expelling diarrhea. Needless to say we made our way out of that paddock quickly.

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Our route through the farm took us through many creek crossings, some more pleasant than others. One murky bog we crossed was knee deep and stunk of something putrid, I was worried about catching something from the dirty water after seeing a decaying goose carcass sitting on the bank.

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We were prepared for bad weather today, it was forecast and as the day progressed we could see the rain closing in on us. We preemptively took an early lunch break so we could eat in the dry before the rain hit. It was only 15 minutes after we finished lunch that it started bucking down. We walked for hours through the torrential downpour expecting it to cease or at least slow for a little while but it didn’t, it kept coming and coming. The rain was so heavy that we couldn’t see more than a couple of meters in front of us. The clay soil meant water pooled under our feet. We were soaked through and uncomfortable.

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We walked through soaked paddock after soaked paddock until we eventually reached the road. We were thankful that the rain finally started to slow and we could walk the final stretch to Birchwood Station cabin without our rain hoods on.

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We were soaked through when we arrived at the hut, we were so happy to have a dry roof over our heads. When we arrived the hut was already full, 15 people spread all over the two room little house but at that point it didn’t matter. We were super lucky that we had sent a text message to the owner ahead of time who had reserved a bunk bed for each of us. The fire was going and it was toasty warm inside. There was even a hot shower and an inside toilet, pure bliss after a long cold day in the rain.

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Day 143 – Friday 8th March, 27km
Birchwood Cabin to Merriview Hut

After the misery that was yesterday afternoon, today turned out to be a lovely day of hiking. It felt like a walk through memory lane, little snippets of trail reminding us of the places we walked through on the north Island.

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It was a lazy start to the day and we were the last to leave the hut, heading back out on the road just after 9am. I think we are starting later and later the further we progress on the trail.

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We had a few km’s of country road walking ahead of us before we ventured back onto private farmland. It was pleasant road walking, at that perfect time of day where the sun had just come up and was starting to melt away the morning frost.

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The first stretch of farmland we walked through was half forestry. The first paddock had recently been felled and as we continued our way along the fence line we came to see that they were in the process of felling another big section of eucalyptus. It was incredible to see. One man in a machine, sawing down the trees in seconds and taking less than a minute to completely strip a tree of all its bark, branches and leaves. It was barbaric but fascinating. The man in his tree slaying machine paused to let us pass and we walked by briskly for fear of falling trees and flying wood chips.

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Past the decimated fields of trees it was into paddocks of what looked like kohlrabi which we later found out were actually turnips, grown to feed livestock. Who would have thunk it. The trail was a little ambiguous and it was difficult to tell which route going to make for the easiest walking so we jumped the fence between two paddocks a couple of times, from the kholrabi to the sheep and back again. I crossed back into the Kholrabi paddock for the final time after walking upon two dead sheep carcasses laying in the sheep paddock. The smell was intense to say the least.

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We had a steep climb ahead of us but had comfort knowing it would be our only steep climb of the day! And on a 4wd track no less, so the going was made a little easier.

It was a pleasant afternoon of walking through pine forest which reminded me a lot of the day we walked from KeriKeri to Pahia on the North Island. One of the roads was even the same name as a forestry road we had walked on that day! We stopped for a pleasant trail side lunch in warm sunshine.

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After lunch we entered a forest reserve, it was beautiful, carpeted with ferns, dripping in moss and greenery with plenty of bird song overhead. It was so lovely we had to stop to take it all in. We exited the forest reserve through yet another farm. We had arrived at Scotts Gap and from here had some more road walking through county roads flanked by pretty farm land. We were reminded of the lush green clover pasture we walked through in Northland. We didn’t feel like we were on the South Island.

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During our road walk we passed a big flock of very hairy sheep which we figured must have been Merino with all of those luscious locks. After admiring the sheep it was back into pine forest.

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We walked through a stretch of forest where cute mushrooms had sprung up from the forest floor. They looked as if they should have smurf living in them, like something imagined into life from a child’s picture book. The trail then lead us to a section of single track through a pretty rainforest before we found ourselves on a diary farm.20190308_143420.jpg

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It felt like we were experiencing a day in the life of a dairy cow as we exited the paddock, heading for the highway underpass the cows use to move to and from the milking sheds.

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With all of the different sections we moved through during the day it felt like a long day hiking. We exited the paddock and joined the highway with sore feet but only 2km to walk until Merriview Hut, our home for the evening. Merriview Hut is a private hut built by local farmers who live beside the trail. They sell fresh eggs and have an honesty box for camping and hut fees. When we arrived Abbey and Nick, another couple we had been hiking the trail with, had hitched into town to resupply and come back again. We were met with an offer of ANZAC biscuits and corn chips. It was amazing!

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Merriview Hut only sleeps 4 but has a fantastic outdoor kitchen area where we sat, ate dinner and watched the sheep and chickens in the paddock next door. The chickens were super friendly, one kept coming through the fence to check for crumbs on the deck of the hut. The sheep provided endless entertainment, trying to eat dirty hiker socks and other clothes hung drying on the fence. We quickly figured out the sheep preferred the long grass growing just out of their reach. We were breaking off handfuls for them, feeding it through the fence. It was all fun and games at the start, the sheep were like puppies, pawing at the fence every time we stopped so we would feed them more and more. The fun abruptly came to an end when jealously over the ‘better grass’ caused a battle between the two sheep.

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After an entertaining afternoon we fell asleep to the sound of amorous deer in the surrounding paddocks. It was fitting because it is deer roar season (mating season which runs from March through April) and tomorrow we enter the Longwood Forest, prime Red Deer hunting territory.

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Day 144 – Saturday 9th March, 28km
Merriview Hut to Martins Hut

We had planned for today to be a big day, we had heard the Longwood forest was tough going, muddy and steep so we got up early to make sure we had enough time to get through it before sun down. Its deer roar season at the moment which means there are a lot of hunters out in Longwood forest (according to the TA notes). The TA advises all hikers wear a high viz vest to make sure hunters don’t mistake you for a dear. Adam got chatting to a local in the outdoor store in Te Anau who advised us that it would be fine to walk without a vest but we should avoid walking at night because our headlamps could be mistaken for the reflective glint of a deers eye 😬.

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So, in the dark we woke at 6am, instantly remembering why we no longer get up early. Packing up in the dark and cold is not fun. We were out on the road at 7.30, we had 7km’s of road before we hit the notoriously muddy, Longwood Forest. We walked past 6 foot high deer fences, holding large herds of deer who moved liked huge schools of fish, dashing to get away from us as we walked by the roadside. We continued into forestry lands walking through towering eucalypts. As the morning warmed and the sun began to appear a refreshing eucalyptus smell was released from the trees as we walked.

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After an hour or so we had a short break on the forest road, pausing so Adam could change. I did my foot stretches (as advised by the physio) and finger combed my hair, two important morning rituals I had forgotten about in our early departure that morning. Two guys we had been hiking with through this section walked past us. We had a quick friendly chat before they continued on. Then we took off ourselves, up the steady climb of the four wheel drive track.

After nearly 2 hours of road walking we reached the road end. We had a quick snack break before entering the forest. The Longwood forest was definitely muddy as we had been warned but it was also extremely beautiful. It felt like we were walking through an animation or fairytale, everything dripping in green, moss growing on every possible surface, trees, rocks, the ground. Some sections looked like an underwater garden, the moss different shades of green like different types of coral in a tropical ocean garden.

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The thick rainforest was broken by open grasslands of tussock. It was through one of these grasslands where I made the mistake of not thoroughly checking the depth of a mud bog before stepping into it. I had tested the depth with my hiking pole for the first couple of steps and assumed I was fine to keep moving forward. I was wrong, so very very wrong. In practicing leave no trace principles it is best to walk through muddy patches of trail, not around them. Walking around them simply turns them into wide stretches of bog rather than narrow but muddy trails. Sometimes however, it is not practical nor safe to do so. This was one of those such instances.

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As I took my second step across the mud patch I instantly slipped knee deep into the bog. The mud was thick and heavy and I couldn’t move my leg. I had tried and tried to pull my leg out but it felt horribly straining on my ankle. I was feeling those joins move in a way that I shouldn’t have felt them move so all I could do was call out to Adam to hurry up and help me. Luckily he wasn’t too far behind so I got him to take my pack from me to take some of the weight off my body. It still felt impossible. Adam then had the ingenious idea that I should try putting my free leg down beside the sunken leg, creating space for the sunken leg to move. Who would have thought physics would actually work!! The trouble was, my savior leg was now stuck in the mud. It took a couple more backwards moves like this before I could free myself of the mud completely. I was so relieved to be free. For the rest of the day I made sure I checked the mud properly before wading in.

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After being freed from the mud it felt like we moved relatively quickly. We were climbing up to a high point but it didn’t feel like we were climbing at all. The mud distracted us. Before we knew it the forest opened out into a wide open field of alpine flowers and grasses. At the peak of the hill was a picturesque telephone tower! Not wanting to fry our internal organs we briefly enjoyed the views before descending a little way from the tower to stop for lunch. From our lunch spot we had views to the coast. It was a good feeling to see out to the coast and all the way to Bluff.

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Day by day Bluff gets closer and closer and I get more and more excited and emotional about our finish. It is similar to the feelings I had leading up to the start of the TA. I would say to Adam, ‘can you believe we are actually going to do this?!’ Now I am saying, ‘can you believe we are actually going to finish this?!’

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From the phone tower at Bald Hill we had a few km’s relief from the forest thanks to an access road. The trail eventually took us back into the forest, climbing steeply up towards the Longwood trig point. Once we reached height at 760m we again passed through a large open tussock and grassed area where we walked for a few km’s up to the trig. Unfortunately for us by the time we reached the trig we were completely whited out, walking inside a cloud with no views to speak of. The forecast had told us it was going to rain that afternoon, the threat of another soaking was encouragement to make it to the hut before the rain started.

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From the trig we descended through more grass lands before we re-entered the forest. It was more muddy beauty in all its glory but it was short. Only a few km to the hut and it passed quickly.

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I was so happy to arrive at Martins hut, astonishingly Adam and I managed to get a bed in the tiny 4 bunk hut. We are normally among the last to arrive into camp and miss out, it was especially nice to have a bed and roof on a rainy night. We immediately headed down to the stream to rinse out the mud. We were filthy up to the knees. It was a downhill bush bash to get to the stream but to be clean and free of the filthy thick mud was worth it.

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A very kind local who walked the trail a few years back set up a trail magic at Martins hut for the TA season. Every week he would fill his backpack full of treats and hike hours through the forest to deliver the load to hungry TA walkers coming through the area. Unfortunately for us we arrived at a point in the week where stocks had not been replenished and found 2 sad zucchini which, with the amount of dried vegies I had been carrying around in my pack, we politely declined. Adam was devastated. He was really hanging out for a soft drink and some chips. He even did the incredibly self destructive thing of looking in the rubbish bin to see what he had missed out on eating. He was bummed having missing out on potential Powerade, Coke and chocolate. I raised the point that he never consumed those things when we are in towns anyway but he said that wasn’t the point.

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We had a fun night sitting around chatting and eating dinner with our hut companions and fellow hikers. I felt bad for Abby and Nick who arrived shortly after us and had to set their tent up in the rain. Its a shame the old hut wasn’t bigger or didn’t have a porch, the camping options were limited and they were forced to pitch their tent on the trail.

Day 145 – Sunday 10th March, 23km
Martins Hut to Colac Bay Tavern

After a cozy sleep in Martins Hut we had our final stretch of forest walking ahead of us today. It was meant to be the best part of a 30km walk but after finding out about a short cut whilst chatting to our fellow hikers last night we decided to take it, making our day shorter and detouring around a good deal of mud.

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From Martins Hut the trail was in better condition than it had been the day before and the forest more spectacular! Somehow it was more beautiful and more green than the previous few days. We were walking through old gold mining territory and the trail followed a historic water race.

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To get onto Ports water race track we had to walk a short stretch of well formed four wheel drive track. After yesterdays adventure through the mud the four wheel drive track was pleasant to walk. It was such pleasant walking that we overshot the track turn off. Adam realised half a kilometer down the trail and we back tracked, feeling relieved that we hadn’t walked too far down the hill before realising. When we got back to the turn off Abby and Nick were just arriving at the junction, saying they probably would have missed it too if we hadn’t been walking back up the trail.

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On Ports water race track we enjoyed beautiful forest and a decent walking track (compared to yesterday). We walked past historic mining equipment, a glimpse into the past.

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We enjoyed lunch in a small clearing by a stream. Just enough space for the two of us to sit and eat. The stream water was a dirty brown colour, I wasn’t overly happy with it but was low on water so I filtered it and drank it anyhow, hoping for the best.

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We came across two potential short cut tracks along Ports water race, the first through Martins farm, we hadn’t previously heard of that one and it looked indirect so we opted to continue on and take the second short cut, McKay exit. By this point on the trail we could already see and smell the farm through a sparse corridor of trees separating the trail from the paddock.

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From McKays exit it was a quick dash through a paddock, down a driveway and onto the main road. As soon as we exited the forest and entered the paddock we could see the ocean stretching out in front of us and Bluff out to our left on the horizon. It was a good feeling to be back near the ocean, a comforting feeling.

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Once we hit the tarmac it was a short couple of km’s walk into town where we had hot showers and burgers awaiting us at Colac Bay Tavern.

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