Wednesday, June 25, 2008


The above photo, courtesy of the New Zealand Deer Stalkers Association, is Top Maropea in 1959. I came across it and just sat staring at it. It seemed to speak to me, almost as if waiting for me to discover it. How many nights, or hut bound afternoons waiting out a storm, or even fine ones lazing about doing not much at all, have I wondered about this place, the men whom have spent time here culling deer, the storms this hut has withstood, the changes in the mountains it has been witness to observe. A few posts ago, Celebration, was in honour of my 25th night spent here, and in a very humble way I must believe no one person has interacted with this place more than I have in the last 15 years. So in a way I feel that I too have become part of the lore of Top Maropea, and the emotions this photo invoke in me are many.

The hut was only 3 years old when this photo above was taken. Though it has been refurbished, most of the structure today is the original hut seen above,the chimney, roof, guttering, interior lining, and fireplace all have been replaced, and the hut has been designated as an historical land mark, one of the original cullers huts in the north island, and certainly the Ruahine.
It was not, apparently, the most popular place amongst the cullers to pull duty in. It is relatively high at 1242 meters, burnable wood for a fire hard to come by for a night, much less to cook on and warm one's self morning and night day after day. Also observing the above photo and noticeable lack of a water tank to capture rain off the roof, getting a drink or boiling the billy would have been the best part of an hours journey to and from the stream far below the hut. In winter, after the fire dies, it is like sleeping in a refrigerator.

Still, this place calls to me and always will. I have seen it on the most sublime of days and nights, and got my stuff packed and dressed at 3:00a.m. when I thought the hut was going to be blown away. I have seen the snow glow translucent on the surrounding peaks on a full moon, and just sat in the hut contemplating, looking out the fly specked window, the rain beating down on the tin roof. Taylor has been here, Charlie's placenta buried here, I have howled at the full moon with Gustav, and alone, and with many other special people I have journeyed here with as well. I have had many wee drams in my tin cup, a candle illuminating from the hut window as I sit outside enjoying it's charms.

So this photo echoes strongly for me. As if I can sense those that perhaps even begrudgingly felt the beauty still have their spirits swirling about this place, these mountains.

The above photo was taken this past May, 2008. A photo of Adam sawing up some beech and leather wood on a plank dropped off by helicopter for the new loo - toilet. The old one had its roof blown off in a blizzard and storm I was witness to, and the rest of the disintegration was simply a matter of time. In any case, it can be seen not a lot has changed in the appearance of Top Maropea. The hut has retained its original appearance, the addition of the water tank a good one, as is the new chimney. The affects of deer control can be seen by the encroachment of the bush near the hut, and on the far off hill sides in comparison to the 1959 photo. The gouged out area in front of Adam is the helicopter pad, certainly not needed in 1959, and even now simply a nice place to pitch a tent if need be, on all but extremely rare occasions when a helicopter might land. There are times when I enter the hut, door creaking, the smell of old wood smoke filling my senses, I half expect an old culler to swing the billy over the temperamental fire and offer me a brew, and while a way the hours listening to stories and the history of these ranges.

Back in 2005 I did a 3 day solo trip into the Pohangina valley. It actually turned out to be 4 days as I was forced to spend an extra night at Ngamoko hut due to inclement weather on the tops, but that is another story. From the time I climbed down from the Ngamoko's to Leon Kinvig hut in the upper Pohangina valley, I was filled with the sense I was not alone on this journey. Not in a scary or threatening manner, just a gentle feeling of another presence there with me. I also knew that Leon Kinvig hut is named for a deer culler who drowned in this area back in the 1950's. Sitting outside the hut in the sun I began to read one of the more interesting hut books I have come across. What stood out to me was the number of entries in recent years from men who had spent much of their younger days living and working in the area as cullers, possum trappers, or for the New Zealand Forest Service in various capacities. Men who returned here now after so many years gone by perhaps to take a last look at a place that impacted them as younger men. They wrote with great clarity, perception, remembrance, humor, and dignity in their observations of then and now. It added to this feeling of not being alone, as if I should put the billy on for my fellow companions. The river rolls by still.


My footsteps are left here for the first time
The solo journey always adds to the remoteness
Yet I know deep inside I am not alone here
That for various reasons
this rugged mountain river
has touched many
The voices echo off the steep valley walls
their succinct memories etched briefly
yet beautifully and poignantly
As they return here after far too many
years gone by
As if knowing time grows short
and thus return to the places
which meant the most
to their Youth
Listen to the River!
Listen to the Wind!
Their voices Dance with mine
And though I have seen no one for days
Only Ranted and Raved
and spoken the Truth to myself
I have never felt alone
How could I?
The echoes are all around

written on the Pohangina river Novemeber 2005
Photo of rapid was taken and loaned by Pohangina Pete. Pete's photos and writings can be better viewed and read at:


Monday, June 16, 2008

Charlie Meets the Ruahines

This past weekend Charlie, age 5, took his first real walk in the mountains. As with Taylor, whom first traversed in the Ruahines at age 7, I was filled with pride and love at being able to share this place I love so much with my sons. It was a beautiful winters day, and as can be seen from the above photo, The Rim of Fire, Ruapehu, Ngarahoe, and Tongariro, all active volcanoes, glistened under their blankets of ice and snow in the distance.

It was also a day for me to apply my experience and growth as both a father and a lover of mountains. With my older son Taylor I simply threw him in the deep end of the Ruahines. His first tramp ever was to Top Maropea for the night, a 5 hour trip, his second to Parks Peak even longer. He has been many places in the Ruahines I would suggest boys of 7 years on have not seen. Yet looking back I realize how hard I pushed him, my expectations more paramount than the capability of his little legs, to the point where honestly looking back it probably was not a lot of fun for either of us at times. Nothing that warm clothes, chocolate, and a warm fire at the hut did not fix, but over the years walking solo over those same routes I realize how hard it must have been for him. Which makes me feel both pride and guilt, not to mention love for Taylor.

So with Charlie my intention has always been a much slower paced and easier introduction to the mountains. My thinking is a series of day walks, just for fun, with no agenda or plan other than the dictates of his little legs. To let him be in that environment and truly see it, feel it, and enjoy it through the eyes of a child. It may sound simple, but that is a far easier scenario than carrying a heavy pack with a 4 or 5 hour walk through mountain terrain to arrive at a distant hut with a young boy. The tendency to watch every step, to look ahead at any possible danger, to try and hurry the pace a bit, looking at the time, gauging the distance to the hut, keeping him fed and warm, trying to distract his attention from the sheer distance ahead, can really build up to exhausting levels. And from a selfish point of view I still want to enjoy the mountains as well. I suspect those feelings will not go away with Charlie no matter how careful and sensitive I am with his introduction - he is my son, and the very instincts of my being a father will always come first. Perhaps by starting slower, and more relaxed, we can learn together.

Charlie's interaction with the Ruahines actually extends beyond his "first" actual tramp amongst them. Back in 2003, when he was born I "connected" him to the Ruahines through the Maori custom of Whenua, (fhen oo ahh). Whenua is a word meaning both land, and placenta. The placenta is returned to the earth, or buried, in the land from which it came, thereby connecting that person to the land. I realize Charlie did not come from the Ruahine, but in a large sense I experienced a re-birth there of sorts. So I carried Charlie's placenta up to Top Maropea and returned it to the earth beneath a small beech tree near the hut. I placed a small pile of rocks on top to mark it, and interestingly over the years that pile has grown into a fairly large pile known as Charlie's Cairn. So inside me the spiritual side I feel here, hopes that something inside Charlie is stirred a bit through the years, that he feels, and honours, the bond that lies waiting for him.

We went to the western side of the ranges, to an area called Rangiwahia. It is a track that sidles up the Mangahuia stream valley, to the open tops of the Whanahuia ranges, one of the 5 sub ranges comprising the Ruahine. When I first came this way in 1994 it was a very simple and fast way to the bottom of the open tops of the Whanahuia's and where is located Rangiwahia hut. While steep, it was an excellent track and when fit and carrying a large pack I have made it to Rangiwahia in a little over 90 minutes. Rangiwahia hut was a popular destination for large school groups and such, with the excellent track it offered little difficulty beyond the required upward exertion. 0ver the years gravity has come into play, and particularly around a certain section of the track. As it sidles high above the stream, and is very steep, the very nature of it dictates it being prone to slips. A period from 2001 to 2004 saw a series of massive slips, with the track being first rebuilt, then diverted higher and higher up the side of the valley. The last time I came through with John in early 2005 the track had been detoured and reopened only days before. And it was a nightmarish tangle of bush bashing, muddy pools, and a steep climb up from the detour and back down to the track. The detour covers perhaps 800 metres in total distance of the old track, maybe a 5-10 minute walk, but the detour adds over an hour onto the walk by the time it meets the old track. So what was a fairly easy 2 hour walk to the tops is now 3 plus hours with a fairly difficult 1 hour section included. Needless to say, the formerly popular Rangiwahia walk has dwindled to a small trickle. So my plan was to get Charlie up to the point of the detour, enjoy the day, have some lunch, and see what happened. And even in that first 30 minutes I thought when we reached the detour he was done, as he wanted nothing more than to sit and eat chocolate and rest. And that was actually fine with me. It was a beautiful day, and though the mountains were calling to me I was content to enjoy Charlie, the sun, the valley, and the sound of the stream below.

The first photo above is Charlie standing just beyond the detour and where the old benched track remnants can be clearly seen in the top portion of the photo. The drop from here to the stream is 100 metres or so, and pretty much straight down.

The second photo is a wider view of the slip area, some of which is regenerating but still very unstable. The detour climbs straight up to the top of the ridge, then undulates along it before dropping down near the sky line and meets up with the track once again.

As I sat in the sun enjoying the view, Charlie quickly regained his energy with the help of chocolate, cashews, and Pringle's chips. He was soon climbing up the start of the detour, and then decided he wanted to carry on. I thought okay, we can just see how far he gets, then turn around. The detour track has been much improved since 2005, though still very steep and with tricky footing in places. To my surprise, with him climbing ahead of me, and us chatting away practicing his spelling, stopping to look at the view and rest, we got to the top. Then with me descending in front with Charlie close behind we made our way down to the track. He fell a couple of times in the thick bush, but with me right in front preventing any major mishaps, he came right very quickly. Soon we were back on the track and made it to the distinctive wooden arch bridge which spans Mangahuia stream. The bridge spans the stream some 50 feet across and perhaps 150 straight down, and I must confess I felt a very sickly feeling in my stomach as Charlie looked over the edge, seemingly undaunted by the big drop. I was glad when we retreated back to the sun and a well deserved rest. Even though Rangiwahia hut was now only an hour away it was too far to go up to and return on this day. Plus we had still had to climb back up, over, and down the big slip. I knew though that if we rested long enough then pushed on to the hut to stay the night
Charlie would make it fine. Maybe one day this winter. He was quite keen to see some snow, and up there not too far away, in the right conditions, we would find a winter wonderland.

Charlie and I learned a lot this day. I learned my approach with him based on experience is the right one, to introduce him slowly to his Whenua and let it find him, and he it, on their own terms. Charlie learned that what he imagined the mountains to be in his mind is perhaps very different to what he found it to be, and in a very good way. I saw the way he carried himself, watched him observe his surroundings, finding beauty in the view, maybe even pondering a few deeper thoughts, maybe not. And he reminded me of the joy of seeing through the eyes of a child, of the vast difference between being a father and a parent, and how fortunate I am to share a place I love so much, with this child I love even more.