Day 145: Woodlaw Forest and Island Bush
Tuesday, April 2, 2024 9:14 pm
Location: Merriview Hut (2950.5 km)

A series of road, forest, and forest road walks brought me over some mountains and to a private hut near the entrance to the Longwood Forest.

Although Paul — the hiker that came in late last night — and I agreed on an 8 am shuttle back to the trail, it was almost 8:45 when we actually left. The two of us and his partner, “First Class”, got into a long discussion over breakfast about the TA and how it compared (generally unfavorably) to the long-distance trails in the US. (Only Paul and I returned to the trail; First Class had already finished the trail.)

In comparison to mostly cloudy and dreary skies the past few days have been, it was bright and clear, with barely any clouds. Although a bit cold out when I continued walking down the road, it was much nicer out, and the beauty of the area very much was on display.

Following paved, and then gravel, roads brought me to the Woodlaw Track, which crossed a farm on its way to the Woodlaw Forest. After an initially gentle (though occasionally wet and soggy) approach towards the forest, the trail climbed straight up the side of a steep, exposed, grassy hill, the last long, very steep hill for the rest of the trail. In the bright sun, and humidity from the rain from the past few days, it was a bit of a slog getting up the hill. But, as I got higher up, I was able to get a great view of the surrounding farms, including back towards Mount Linton Station.

View north towards Mount Linton Station and other nearby farms.

By the time I got to the top of the hill, I was ridiculously sweaty. After that, the trail leveled out for a while, making the rest of the morning and early afternoon much easier.

Going through a stile brought me to a gravel road. A short detour took me to the summit of Twinlaw, mostly covered with radio towers. Then, I followed the road south, through an exotic pine plantation, for about 45 minutes, stopping for a break where the trail turned off the road and onto dirt trail.

The trail became incredibly muddy, and not much fun to walk through, though fortunately, that didn’t last very long. A long downhill, not quite as steep as the climb, but this time through forest, took me to the southern edge of the Woodlaw Forest and to a dirt road. The road took me through a farm and out to a larger gravel road, ending that section of trail and beginning another roadwalk that took me towards Island Bush, another exotic pine plantation.

Island Bush
Island BushView south towards Island Bush.
A herd of cows graze in the farm adjacent to Island Bush.

Initially, the trail followed a dirt forestry road into the forest, with views of the farms to the east.

View east towards farms on the plains that make up much of the Southlands.

After a few kilometers, the road ended, and became a somewhat faint trail through the forest. Initially, it was easy to follow, and then the trail dissipated. Several times, I had to use my map to figure out where the trail was supposed to be, and head in that direction.

That eventually brought me out of the forest, over a stile, and onto a dirt farm road, with cows on it. After taking my time to allow for the cows to get out of the way, the dirt road brought me out of the farm, and onto a paved road. If I’d still planned on going into Otautau, this is where I’d do it, though my resupply yesterday in Nightcaps meant that going into Otautau was unnecessary.

Of particular note here was the incredible lushness of the grass in the nearby fields. This was some of the greenest farmland I’ve seen since I was in the Northlands at the start of the trail.

The road brought me to Merrivale, a small farming community, and Merrivale Road. Just off the road was Merriview Hut, a private, family-owned hut. I was a bit surprised to find that only Paul was there. I knew there were a few other hikers nearby, between seeing some this morning, and knowing that there were others that camped at the Telford Campsite that I hadn’t seen yet. Most likely, everyone else had gone into Otautau for resupply, since they didn’t come into Nightcaps.

The hut was nice, though a bit small. It had five bunks, but the bunk platforms were a bit narrow, and the mattresses overhung the platform, which made it a bit awkward when sitting down on the edge of the bunks. But there was (clean) water, a trash can, and a very nice table and benches to cook and eat at, as well as a pit toilet. It was simple, yet important accommodation, since there was almost nowhere to camp today, and won’t be for a while tomorrow, since the trail continues down Merrivale Road, along farms to Longwood Forest.

The family that owns the hut charges a small fee for staying. They also sell eggs, which Paul took advantage of. When Chantel, one of the owners, arrived to deliver the eggs, she also had beer available, which we both gladly took advantage of.

Sunset at Merrivale Hut
Sunset at Merrivale Hut

As the sun set, I started looking for campsites tomorrow. It’s supposed to be nine hours (through muddy trail) to the next hut. With the mud, I expect to be slow, and there’s now less than 11.5 hours of daylight, so there’s not a whole lot of leeway. Also, I feel like I’m coming down with a cold (or allergies; it’s possible there’s something in the hut that I’m reacting to), which is not going to do wonders for my speed tomorrow.