The morning was perfect again. Blue skies with a wind that gently hissed in the beech trees above us.
We ate, packed and were on the trail by 8.00 - just wearing our river shoes as there was a stream crossing just below the hut. Our dry-foot policy is really helping with the dodgy toes so why stuff it up now.
The ford could only be reached through a maze of massive bull shits. It's amazing how far up into the wild the country's biggest pollution problem starts.
The day's work was going to be pretty gentle. We were to sidle around the foothills of the Takitimus over the floor of crunchy, soft beech forest.
Up and over small spurs and through bubbling mountain streams that often had small fish in them.
On the surface it seemed kind of idyllic, but there was something not quite right with this forest.
It was almost a monoculture. Beech trees and moss, with the occasional patch of ground fern.
The forest floor was covered in windfall and nothing much else. Not only were there none of the usual small plants covering the ground - lancewood, pepper trees, grasses and a wide variety of ferns - but there was no beech regrowth either. Nothing.
It could be something cyclical. But taking windfall into account, this forest seems to be in deficit.
There was plenty of deer sign though. Perhaps it's time to send in the cullers.
Across the next stream we heard voices.
Loic and Sandrine, French South Island Sobos, came down the path towards us. They had that deep tan and look of contentment that the other Sobos we'd met had. They'd started in November.
We got some good advice from them and heard about the people they'd started the trail with who'd been overwhelmed by it.
A guy from Hong Kong who'd never seen snow and had given up after having to spend a day thigh deep in the stuff.
A Swedish woman who quit after doing a chest-deep crossing of a swollen river. She'd done Sweden's biggest trail but was taken by surprise by our one.
As they left for the Telford Burn campsite they let us know there were a couple of really nice Americans about an hour behind.
After an initial headstart from Germany the Sobo lead was about to be shared, two all, by three TeA superpowers - France, the US and Deutschland.
The forest started to change.
The monoculture slowly gave way to almost proper beech forest. Beech seedlings popped up in clearings. There were actually other types of plants.
The bird life improved.
Fern and Thor were also only doing Sobo South. They looked a bit more weary than the other ones we'd met...fair enough. They'd also walked the Pacific Crest Trail and the Apalation Trail before they got to New Zealand.
Once they finish at Bluff they were planning to cycle around the North Island a bit. Then get on with their lives.
"We're window shopping for a place to settle down," said Fern.
Like Whiona they were gear nuts. We compared packs, eyed each others' footwear and parted ways.
As we leave the bush 3ks before Aparima Hut the sky is it's usual blue. But the wind is up.
If you start plodding in the bush and worrying about your discomfort you're probably just bored.
At least that's what I realised today.
I was dawdling. Feeling uncomfortable...until...
Cold, heavy drops of rain hit our backs. Behind us storm cloud had cloaked the mountains.
The dawdling stopped. The pain evaporated. We motored.
The sky above was still blue when we hit the hut. But the rain was a heavy chilly sun shower.
The rain had really set in when Willy and Dave arrived. A couple of kiwis. They were on day 98 of their Reinga to Bluff odyssey.
"75 percent TeA. 25 percent our own trail."
They had sworn off cars and had managed to keep to their promise for the whole country.
We had heaps in common. Age. Attitudes to life. Interests. We can go stay at their place on the way through Marlborough. They told us where the key is off they're away working.
Willy (Wilhelmina) had been a DoC pest and weed control officer. Stoat traps had been one of her things.
They reported huge numbers of rats up in the northern South Island and mice running rampant around Arthur's Pass.
It sounds like the beech mast is having the predicted effects.
"You know there's something bad going on when you see them running round in daylight."
Willy had comforted a French hiker who had freaked out when the floor of his tent started to move. He had mice and obviously missed his maman. (mum.)
It's the rats and mice that bring in the stoats. That eat the birds. That make New Zealand a special place.
"It's time to drop more 1080," one of them said. It takes a brave person to say that in a DoC hut. You pick your moment.
We talk on into the night. Finding connections and learning about what and who we're about to meet on the trail.
We can't wait to the meet the "legendary" French Bear Grills.