Friday, September 30, 2011

Matariki Huna Nui

A Ruahine forest dripping with vibrant energy and force, glistening with Life as the filtering sunlight argues with the swirling cloud above, the forest floor simply sighing as the argument continues, the rich musty aroma of the earth intoxicates my senses. The light and moisture illuminate my path as if I were part of a painting. The pull gets stronger and I must return to this place. My pack and boots await. Soon.

For me, this very place is where a strong part of the soul of the Ruahine resides. This deep part of the forest which has tapped me gently upon the shoulder stronger each time until I finally stopped and Listened, and felt it inside, drank it all in with every part of my being. To implore me to let go of my humanness, and to rather just embrace being part of Everything. As close to any religion or of any God as I will ever get. I was just there with a cheap camera, an observer, yet part of, this incredible scene. The hand of Papatuanuku Herself is at work here. It is almost too much for the eye to take in and process without allowing our very selves to enter it as part of each tiny molecule. It is a place that now draws me closer each time I pass by and spend moments here. And in spite of the relative permanence of the forest itself, the mood and ambiance are forever fluid, much like the whole of this land called Aotearoa. In the Te Ika a Maui, Aotearoa ( the North Island of Aotearoa), the Ruahine was one of the first land masses to nudge her head above the safety of the sea. So the ancient, ethereal feel comes from those earliest moments. I feel like I belong to them.

(Kia ora and aroha to my wild kindred soul Robin Easton for suggesting I expand a mere observation into words about this Matariki huna nui that envelopes my being. She understands.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ripoinga (memoirs)

I am caught up in a busy period of work, and it will be at least 3 more weeks till I can get out into the mountains for a bit of Quiet Solitude. I found myself dreaming of the mountains on this rather cloudy and grey spring day, and dug out my little note books which has notes, poems (such as I interpet them :)), observations, and ramblings from every trip I have done in the Ruahine going back to 1998 when I started toting them along with me. So to connect me with a place I love so much I am using this exercise to share some of those moments here. Enjoy! Above John overlooks the headwaters of the Mangatera valley from the flanks of Te Atua Mahuru.

28 Sept. 2001 The Hikurangi's in the Ruahine. Somewhere along the ridge to McKinnon hut.
I am now snug in my tent on the open tops of the Hikurangi's, the only range in the Ruahine I have not been until now. A solo trip, and one I felt I needed to refresh my soul. I feel a bit battered with the recent attacks upon the Twin Towers and the inevitable places that will take the world, a few rough patches with work, and most of all trying to be a father and husband as best I can. So I took a few days off and headed up here on a rainy cold afternoon. My pack felt very heavy with 4 days supplies and my new tent attached as I began climbing the very steep spur up from the Kawhatau river to the open tops. I felt tired and sleepy and just wanted to quit and come home yet something in me just kept plugging away, step by step, and as I could see the forest changing to the higher alpine growth my confidence ebbed back slowly, and finally I arrived at the tops. Only to find them shrouded in cloud, mist and wind, and though the route is poled I had difficulty seeing anything beyond 20 metres or so. I carried on until it started to get too dark, and me too tired, and I found a spot in the lee side of the tussock and pitched my new tent. Everything seems nice and snug as I write this by headlamp, the wind rushes up in gusts but all seems secure. No hot meal this evening and I wish I would have brought more water. Feeling a bit better, a test of my mental toughness to get here. I am truly cloud hidden.

29 September 2001 Crow Hut.
Yesterday seems like a lifetime ago. I sit here now listening to the song of the Kawhatau river below the hut, the sky an amazing blue, the sun warm and comforting, and the doubts and worries I felt yesterday washed off like the grime of hard work when I dove into the bracingly ice cold pool below. I awoke to very gusty winds and driving rain just before daybreak. I quickly packed up and headed along the ridge towards McKinnon, picking my way through the cloud pole to pole up to the high point of 1645 metres. Then steeply down to McKinnon where I arrived to the empty hut just after 8:00a.m. Glad to to be there! It is in a very cool location sheltered below the Hikurangis and with the Kawhatau valley below and the Mokai patea to the north, and the main Ruahine range across to the east, the view is spectacular. Though I had refilled my water bottle in the lake size tarn I still drank deeply from the water tank, then set about cooking up a huge breakfast. 4 eggs, 2 potatoes, 3 rashers of bacon, 1 onion, garlic, and chunks of cheddar cheese - hopple popple, cook the onion and garlic, then the potatoes, then the bacon, then crack the eggs on top, and when just set, add the cheese and cover till melted. Salt and pepper to taste and Yum! I ate the lot. The big camp oven here at the hut worked a treat.
I then relaxed by crawling into my sleeping bag, reading my book, then feel asleep as the wind howled overhead and the rain beat upon the tin roof. I awoke just before noon to complete silence. And when I opened the door of the hut to look outside was almost blinded by the brilliant sunshine, blue sky, and stillness all around, not a breath of wind. Just an incredible turn of events from struggling across the tops a few hours earlier. I packed up while having a few strong coffees and then began the steep drop to the Kawhatau river and Crow hut. The forest just hummed and glowed with energy and the sunlight filtering through the trees and bush just astounded my senses with overwhelming shades of green everywhere. Soon the river came muttering into my descent and before I knew it I was sitting beside the crystal clear water slaking my thirst. So I have now spent a glorious afternoon at Crow hut, drying my gear, setting up my tent to dry out, and just standing and gazing out toward Rongotea which looms over the valley and watching the afternoon light play on her flanks and golden tops. I dove into the cold water and howled with joy, and I sat there shivering with joy and letting the sun warm me a whio flew by. A perfect day.

Cloud and mist shroud the Kawhatau valley. On the Mokai Patea climbing out of Crow hut.

28 December 2005 - Waterfall hut
What an amazing day, full of fun, adventure, woe, decisions,validation, and as always in the Ruahine, great beauty. John and I left McKinnon hut in very good conditions early this morning, climbed up to Huikurangi (1701m), then onto Mangaweka, the highest point in the entire Rauhine range. It all involves a bit of route finding, tussock bashing, and climbing, but on a clear still day such as this it presents no real issues. John and I have seen no one for three days and we stood alone upon Mangaweka and relished the views in all directions. We decided to descend via what we thought was Iron Peg creek, and the day being fine and feeling good we happily scampered down the steep tussock and slid down into the creek. Only to soon find we had picked the wrong creek, one between Trig and Iron Peg, and there was nothing for it now but to follow it down. We spent over two hours climbing out onto sheer tupare and Spaniard covered cliffs and bluffs to avoid waterfalls, other times simply climbing down through falls and down through the slippery steep creek, removing our packs and lowering them with the rope. It was dicey nerve wracking stuff, a place where one wrong step could have meant real trouble. When the creek finally leveled out a bit then met with the real Iron Peg creek I flopped down beside John and we didn't say anything, just sat there. We didn't have to, we both knew we had been very fortunate to extract ourselves from a dangerous situation. More lessons learned. Glad to be at Waterfall hut, wee dram in hand for a quiet celebration.

23 April 2004 Pourangaki hut
 I am feeling very content in this moment in the Ruahine. Quite happy with a solo day traversing these mountains off the beaten track, across two ranges, to arrive here safely. For me, that is a big deal, to find a level of confidence to do that, and today it all clicked, it all felt right, made sense. It has taken me 10 years to feel that here in the mountains, so I feel like it was a big breakthrough. I needed to expand my boundaries. Since Nigel has moved to Korea it is either find other people to tramp with, don't tramp, or go by myself. I am learning to enjoy being on my own in the mountains very much, and I am not so sure that I take more risk on my own than with someone else. With others, such as Nigel and John, I can rely on their experience, or get a false sense of security in numbers, where as on my own it is all on me. In the mountains that is a big deal. I have seen no one for 3 days, which surprises me as a few deer are still roaring, but that suits me well. When I arrived here there was a hind in back of the clearing by the hut and she quietly disappeared into the thick forest, and shortly after a Karearea, or native New Zealand falcon flew over. Good signs.

One of the pleasures of winter travel in the Ruahine!!

"The wind plays notes on every branch, and flutters each leaf
she misses not one
water adds a chorous, the unrelenting droplets of rain like shiny baubles
from the sky
Splattering, Hissing, Dripping
onto the forest floor
joined by the quiet plops from off the lush green bush
Then the crescendo of the raging river deafens me
brown, dirty, angry, dominating
until I climb away from her again
The symphony of the stormy mountain forest
overwhelms my senses and fills me with joy
with the sheer wildness of it all
remote responsibility for myself
The mountain hut lies ahead
sanctuary, warmth, dry clothes, billy to boil
Yet the rain will still bounce upon the roof
and outside the river will still sing".

Nigel, John, Robb, somewhere between Longview and Howlett's on the main range.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I am not from this place. I came from elsewhere, drawn to some vague definition of "responsibility", but also an unexplained deep urge within that called to me. As a young boy my grandfather gave me a huge hard covered book of Life Magazine photos and snippets of the world from the 1950's. There was one photo that always stirred something within me, it was a photo of New Zealand, so beautiful and so calling. The place that photo was "taken" is not so very far from where I write these words. There was also a comfort in the photo and accompanying caption that this was a very English world, so they spoke, more or less, like me, and thought, more or less, like me. I was only 8.
When I came here, I discovered a place, in the above photo, that held true all the things I felt as a kid back in Green Bay, Wisconsin. But what has become also true, is that this is not my place. The land, the earth herself (Papatuanuku) has a hold on me and an ancient connection I am still struggling to understand, but the place, the original human inhabitants of this place, were not me, or of me. The mountains above which I love and honour were traversed and used by Maori, the original people, and most peaks, features, and rivers reflect that truth. It does not demean or lessen what I am finding in these mountains, the Ruahine, it only enhances us all. Why is that so difficult for so many people to acknowledge? So for me, a white immigrant to a far away land which I love, New Zealand has become Aotearoa.

"On the porch at Maropea Forks" - July 2002
The rain patters on the tin roof
drumming her song, the endless symphony
of the river joins the chorous
These echoes have called me often
So I Listen
to this ancient music once again
not lonely
Intensely fullfilled
The fear I have felt in my solitude is real
This is a Path filled with potentail woe
Yet here I am in the bosom
of this place
I am Home