Tramping – A New Zealand History, by Shaun Barnett and Chris Maclean (my thoughts)

Until now there’s been a major omission in publications about tramping. So far all we’ve seen are route guides, narratives or yarns, tourism guides, diaries, local histories, blogs and other websites, biographies and autobiographies, newspaper articles, safety manuals, fiction, club newsletters and journals, “best of” publications of journals, hut book rants about others leaving rubbish behind, histories of topics which are associated with tramping, collections of scenic photographs, dramatic re-creations for television, archived descriptions of accidents, poetry, commercial magazines, calendars, promotional material, and personal accounts illustrated with humorous comic imagery.


It’s no wonder that someone has finally attempted to exploit the seriously under-represented genre of comprehensive authoritative histories about tramping in the form of large coffee table books. The result is Chris Maclean’s and Shaun Barnett’s Tramping – A New Zealand History.

I first heard of this book shortly before a seminar given by the authors in September 2013. I attended the seminar, and left with optimism. A year later, the book was released. It displays a Mountain Mule and a pair of old boots on the cover. The book weighs 2.5 kg.

Below are my thoughts, and I’ve tried really hard to keep these thoughts shorter than the book itself. If you’re interested, some alternative sources of info are the book’s official Facebook page, an interview by Kim Hill with the authors that was broadcast on Radio NZ, a book extract published in the NZ Herald, or brief reviews on NZ Bush Adventures, Beatties Book Blog, the Otago Daily Times, and Wild Magazine.
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Trip: Tapokopoko Kotumu Loop

Alistair in typical surroundings.

It’s easy to overlook the Orongorongo Valley and surrounding Rimutaka Range, especially with additional tramping options so nearby, notably the Tararuas. That’s something I’ve often been guilty of. Until relatively recently, my most common perception of the range has been from the parts which are easy to reach without much commitment like Mount McKerrow, Cattle Ridge and Turere Stream. Generally that corner of the range, up and down the Orongorongo River with its lolly scramble of locked private huts and batches hidden in the trees. It’s great for accessibility, but comes with a feeling of being less remote.

Last November was a wake-up call, when (mostly on Alistair’s inspiration to re-live his childhood) we didn’t just walk across to the Wairarapa coast so much as found an interesting way to do it. That time we climbed to Tapokopoko, then headed north before dropping into a less visited valley of the Tapokopoko Stream. More recently, in the effort I’m about to describe, we ventured into chapter two of Alistair’s inspiration, following the ridge line south of Tapokopoko.

Our exact plan wasn’t clear until close to starting, but with no significant rain for weeks and with fully clear, sunny days in the forecast the potential for being ambitious was encouraging.

Dates: 23rd – 25th January, 2015
Location: Rimutaka Forest Park, Catchpool Valley Road-end.
People: Alistair, Maarten, Bernie, WeiMin, Jessie and me.
Huts visited: Paua Hut (2 nights outside)
Route: In to Paua Hut for Friday Night, nav up to Tapokopoko (.843), south to .703, up The Peak (.864), further south to sidle under Kotomu (.786), down Red Rocks Stream back to the Orongorongo, and Paua Hut again for Saturday night.
Also see: Maarten wrote a trip report for the WTMC newsletter.
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This post is a trip report. You can find other trip reports about other places linked from the Trip Reports Page, or by browsing the Trip Reports Category.

On a summer’s night, there was still plenty of daylight available when we began the easy walk at about 6.45pm on Friday evening, towards the club’s Paua Hut on the true left of the Orongorongo River. Along the way we kept an eye open for the junction with Browns Track, but I can never remember the details of where it begins. Expediency won out over attention to surroundings.
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What’s up with the Mountain Safety Council?

From this morning’s news, it sounds as if the Mountain Safety Council is going more professional, doing away with amateur instructors and, for the most part, even training people at all.

I’ve never been a direct member of the Mountain Safety Council, but I’ve attended some courses and read training material that’s published alongside those courses like the Bushcraft Manual, the Outdoor First Aid Manual, and the Alpine Skills Manual. I’ve also attended courses run through my local tramping club with MSC-accredited instructors and MSC course material.

From my limited exposure I’ve been impressed with how the system works. Once you get into the Mountain Safety Council beyond the lowest levels, it doesn’t just aim to teach you stuff. It encourages you to get involved in a progressive programme towards becoming an expert in the field, remaining updated with the latest research and techniques, and ultimately becoming an instructor who can train others at an expert level.

It’s sad to read, therefore, that there’s apparently now a plan to flatten this structure: no longer allowing volunteers to have training accreditation, and at best using amateurs as vassals to help out with relatively simplistic tasks like “deliver safety messages” instead of being a serious part of the process. Waikato Branch executive member, John Greenwood, seems to have a good point in the above-linked article that volunteers would have little reason to stay involved with the Mountain Safety Council. After all, what’s in it for them?
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Not my preferred form of agony

Here’s a quick pointer towards the Tararua Fastest-Known-Times site, which has been spread around social media in the last few days. It caters to a mentality which doesn’t so much appeal to me, but which has a good following. My own preferred form of back-country turture would be one of pushing through leatherwood at 100 metres an hour. :)

There’s at least a loose history of running in the Tararuas, going back at least as far as the likes of Sam “Big Mac” McIntosh, Bill Gibbs and friends in the 1940s, as documented by Chris Maclean’s Tararua history. More recently there are certain people around who have always looking at challenges like running an SK, or a Southern Main Range loop as a day-trip, or otherwise. It’s grown in the range as a sport in the past few years, however, with the influence of local running groups and relatively recent events like the Tararua Mountain Race and the Jumbo Holdsworth Race, as well as a growing community in nearby centres.

The increased interest naturally comes with new challenges, particularly where safety and skills are concerned, but hopefully the protocols around what’s acceptable in a new activity will become well established over time. And yes, I know there are plenty of people out there who already think carefully about this.

On the off-chance that you enjoy this type of thing, you might also like Taranaki Speed Records, which documents the speed records for such enlightening achievements as the most times ascending (and descending) Mount Taranaki in a 24 hour period.

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Trip: Waiaua Gorge to North Egmont

The Stony River catchment.

I visit Taranaki often these days, but rarely have lengthy amounts of time between commitments to devote to lengthy tramping efforts. I’m gradually working on visiting the different sides of Egmont National Park between other commitments, though.

Between Christmas and New Year of 2014, I manage to visit another small section of the park where I’ve not previously managed to see. This time I’ll be generally around the western side. The plan? To be dropped off at the end of Ihaia Road and hop up towards Waiaua Gorge Hut for a night, then make my way clockwise around the western side ending at Holly Hut for a second night, before finally sliding out via North Egmont and being collected.

Being all on fairly highly used tracks it’s not a complicated navigation route, unless you count repeated climbing up ladders and down ladders on typical Egmont sidling tracks to be complicated. My main concern is the potential rain, and a possibility of being blocked by side creeks, or (most annoying case) trapped between them.

The forecast suggests a big drop of rain today (Monday), followed by a Tuesday without much happening, probably meaning the typical murky overcast sometimes-light-rain type of weather, and then a Wednesday with more rain and high winds starting to kick in. Also, the predictions have been changing lots over the last few days, which is often a sign that meteorologists aren’t very confident about what a system’s going to do, exactly where it’ll go and when it’ll go there. I’m arranging things so that the most uncertain and lengthiest part of the trip, with multiple big side creeks, will be on Tuesday. Hopefully that’ll work out.

Dates: 29th – 31st December, 2014
Location: Egmont National Park, Ihaia Road to North Egmont Visitor Centre.
People: Just me.
Huts visited: Waiaua Gorge Hut (1 night), Kahui Hut (0 nights), Holly Hut (1 night).
Route: Up from Ihaia Road to Waiaua Gorge Hut for the night. Then clockwise around Eggie, via Kahui Hut, ending at Holly Hut, then out via North Egmont.
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This post is a trip report. You can find other trip reports about other places linked from the Trip Reports Page, or by browsing the Trip Reports Category.


For logistic reasons we leave New Plymouth much earlier than I’d planned. Before lunch. The end of Ihaia Road is not much, but a couple of other cars are still crunched up against the grass-covered ditch. From here it’s a short walk over farm land, along a marked fence-line, then a surprisingly gentle walk up the 240 or so vertical metres towards Waiaua Gorge Hut, named after the nearby Waiaua Gorge and River.
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Trespassing from public land

A story hit the news not long ago, based on a DOC media release (alternative Stuff rendition), where a group of people (labelled ‘hunters’ but better described as a group of dope smoking idiots with guns) have been trespassed from Kaweka Forest Park. It sounds as if they’ve been going in, acting like obnoxious morons and between that breaking a variety of laws and rules in ways that ruin other people’s experience, such as discharging weapons after dark, burying caches of illegal stuff (weapons, cannabis), and so on.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to deal with people like this, and the behaviour described isn’t something I want anyone to have to put up with, but one thing that confused me was the reference to Trespass Law.

The Conservation Act and the National Parks Act essentially guarantee public access to public land, unless it’s closed or access is restricted for a variety of specific reasons that are specified in law. I won’t get into the detail, but a couple of years back I wrote about it all. The result is that DOC can’t simply tell you to get out, at least without certain paperwork which isn’t common: its role is typically one of a caretaker and not a gatekeeper or an owner.
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Condensing the back-country into Wellington

2014-12-06 14.50.09
Steve checks out Robin Hut, battered by
wind on Wellington’s South Coast.

Earlier today, Eamonn and Steve and I checked out some of the Miniature Hikes huts that have popped up around Wellington, and which should be around until the end of March, with a parallel display in the Courtenay Place Light Boxes. It’s a very cool idea.

The project has recently received some media attention, both in mainstream publications and also in some tramping and outdoor channels. The exhibition’s main website gives a better idea of what it’s about, as does a short YouTube clip in which the artists explain what they’re on about.

The idea is to “shrink the back-country into just Wellington”, giving people excuses to get out and find parts of Wellington’s back-yard away from the roads (but not too far away) which they might not otherwise have seen.

Personally I hope that March won’t be the last we see of it.
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Trip: Rimutaka Mukamuka Runaway

The mighty Mukamuka River trickles through the lower parts of its catchment.

It’s Friday evening, and seven of us arrived at Catchpool Valley carpark at about 6.30pm. It’s quite a nice change to visit a place so near to Wellington, and getting into summer it’s quite light. After some brief orientation at the car-park, we’re walking towards the Orongoronga River: destination Paua Hut…. but outside, because nobody’s bothered to collect a key. Conditions are calm, but from the forecast I’m anticipating rain.

Dates: 14th – 16th November, 2014
Location: Rimutaka Forest Park, Catchpool Valley Road-end.
People: Alistair, Maarten, Bernie, Dan, WeiMin, Mister X and me. (I’m obscuring the name of Mister X for reasons that’ll become apparent.)
Huts visited: Paua Hut (1 night outside)
Planned route: In to Paua Hut for Friday Night, nav up to .797, then 1km NE to sidle across slip and SSE down ridge to west of Mukamuka, over .385 and down to confluence. Out to coast via Mukamuka, turn east and Corner Creek Campsite for Saturday night. Out via Mukamuka and South Saddle, main route to Orongorongo River and Catchpool Valley carpark on Sunday.
Actual route: From Paua Hut up to .843, then 800m NE and down scree gut into Tapokopoko Stream, then to confluence with Mukamuka.
Also see: Alistair wrote a trip report for the WTMC newsletter.
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This post is a trip report. You can find other trip reports about other places linked from the Trip Reports Page, or by browsing the Trip Reports Category.

Dan and WeiMin on Friday night.

We reach the Turere Bridge at about 7.50pm, then continue south-west along the main river bed in low flow to reach Paua Hut, looking for places to fly-camp outside. I hate trying to identify good places for fly-camping, but Dan and I eventually settle on a spot further down from the hut in the trees. In the end we have three 2-person flies, while Mister X sets up a tent some distance away.

It was soon dark, and with nothing much to do we drift off to sleep, listening to nearby Moreporks hooting. I’m anticipating rain to begin, and not really stop until midday Saturday, but that never happens. Instead there were some big gusts of wind overnight, showering leaves on the fly, but the structure itself barely rippled. It turns out not everyone’s been so lucky, though. Apparently the other guys have been up fixing tent pegs all night. I guess we got lucky…. I don’t even think ours was pitched very well.
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Thoughts about a Pouakai Crossing route

Recently my attention was caught by Radio NZ briefly publishing an idea about a “Pouakai Crossing” track in Egmont National Park, supposedly to “rival the Tongariro Crossing” according to the headline. On seeing that headline, my first thoughts were admittedly “why” and “how”?

Mount Taranaki, spectacularly reflected in the famous Pouakai Tarn nearby this fabulous proposed new route.

It’s Taranaki, so it’s usually raining. I don’t mind this, myself. I think that getting out and tramping in the rain helps me to appreciate an environment in ways which many people often don’t see it. Unless it’s Taranaki, in which case getting out and tramping in the sunshine helps me to appreciate an environment in ways which many people often don’t see it. To be fair, I have once completed a slightly modified Pouakai Circuit walk, during which I recorded not a drop of rain at all. I wrote it up to preserve the memento.

There was little in Radio NZ’s actual article consistent with the headline’s claim of “rivaling the Tongariro Crossing”, so maybe it was artistic journalism in that case. Looking further, the Taranaki Daily News had also printed this more detailed article a week earlier. The more I think about it, it doesn’t seem as crazy an idea to me.

It sounds as if it’s mostly a marketing push, to promote the managed track which is already there and improve facilities at the ends, thereby providing something which appeals to tourists. This could result in it being at least as much of a local council thing as a DOC thing, because many of the initial adjustments mightn’t be on DOC-administered land. You can already easily walk one proposed variant of the route on existing managed tracks in the park right now. In fact, one of the main advocates, the Kiwi Outdoors Centre, already promotes a self-guided trip for which they’ll provide a transport service at each end. The Park’s Management Plan is due to be up for revision soon, so the idea will probably get some consideration as part of that process.

The route being described is the most obvious interesting route for a crossing of the Pouakai Range at present. It starts at the North Egmont visitor centre, up the Razorback, around past Holly Hut, across the Ahukawakawa Swamp to Pouakai Hut, and then down a relatively steep track to the end of Mangorei Road. From a tourist perspective it makes most sense to walk it in this direction, if only to avoid a steep grind of a walk up the hill from Mangorei Road to Pouakai Hut.

The idea is that it can be done in a day, which is probably where the comparison with the Tongariro Crossing has been derived.

The problem? Mangorei Road is basically a dead-end farm road. For the insanely fit locals in various Harrier Clubs of Taranaki, it’s feasible to park a car there, run up and around the side of the mountain (in the rain), swapping keys in the middle with a friend who’s running the opposite direction (in the rain), all between morning and afternoon milking sessions (which will also occur in the rain). But Mangorei Road’s current state is less enticing for someone on a one-way trip if it entails waiting for transport out of there, or needing to arrange transport once you arrive. Especially when it’s raining.

It’s usually raining.
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Recap on the recent Milford Track accident – DOC’s Review

Kathryn Ryan interviewed Allan Munn this morning on Nine to Noon (Radio NZ National). Allan Munn is the Department of Conservation’s Southern Region Services Director. The interview regards changes being made following the death, in May 2014, of a person who was swept away from the Milford Track.

This morning’s 20 minute interview can be listened to here. It’s also been reported on in The Press, and by Wilderness Magazine.

The incident which sparked this review occurred when the group were on the Milford Track out of the main tourist season, after many of the standard “Great Walk” style facilities are removed. It’s not uncommon for people to visit outside the booking season, whether to avoid higher hut fees or after having been too late to book at an earlier time. It remains public land with open access, and can be relatively safe with good preparation and advice, and an ability to assess conditions. The group didn’t seem to have been be prepared for the reduced facilities, nor properly aware of it. This combined with other factors probably led to bad decisions and eventually resulted in the accident.

I wrote down some of my own thoughts about this a few months ago.

DOC has now completed an internal review. It’s decided that safety processes are fundamentally sound, but certain things could still be improved upon. During the interview Mr Munn noted that DOC had “a range of contacts with that party” prior to the event. The party members either didn’t hear the available advice, or chose to ignore it and take their chances. In the face of this, there’s probably little that could have reasonably and immediately been done in that specific case.

More generally, though, DOC’s review has acknowledged that there are problems with getting key messages across to the masses in the face of modern forms of media, much of which is out of DOC’s control. It’s also noting higher numbers of visitors of limited skills and experience aiming to walk the Milford Track during the buffer zone between the end of the tourist season and when the most dangerous winter conditions set in.
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