Sunday, November 1, 2020

Sixty in the Ruahine and other Thoughts

It has been a long time since I have written words and shared moments here in his place. Almost two years. Though I have posted of my Ruahine travels on the sound byte-oriented Facebook. A place where anything over a few paragraphs seems long winded and even as I write words there can envision the rapid scroll through and ubiquitous and highly unsatisfactory “Likes”.

It feels calming to be here in a way I would not have imagined. Like having a cup of tea, or a beer with an old friend whose company I really missed. The unhurried moments that I do so often feel in the mountains, as if somehow even as they pass by us that moment remains and we are connected to it. This place too brings such feelings. A place to write slowly, reflect on the words or bring the moment I am trying to wake up those sleeping moments within me and talk to them again. That feels freeing to me somehow.

Social media has had its place. It enabled me, in particular, to remain in contact and share with my now 93 year old mother, and to re-establish contact with a few people in which our worlds through the years have grown and expanded in ways we can still connect through and find a balance between remembering the past, but celebrating the present. There is another side to that equation, however, which can be far less satisfying. It is a lesson I have been thumped hard with.

So here I am with an old friend. If you have found this place then Haere Mai - Welcome. If you have visited here before then Nau Mai, Hoki Mai – Welcome Back! And if no one finds it and no one reads and looks, well that’s fine too. It’s just good to be back in a place I love.

Ruahine Winter Day with promise!

28 July 2020

Top Maropea 



The steam rolls off my breath and I wear pretty much every bit of gear I have in the frozen confines of Top Maropea hut. Yet writing these words in my notebook fills me with unbridled joy and warmth in spite of the cold. 


It has been exactly one year since my feet have been placed in the Ruahine. A new left hip and observing my 60th birthday in a few days time. It feels good to have set a goal and met it. And another tomorrow in getting down to Maropea Forks lies ahead. Tonite I will just stay in the glow of arriving here. I won’t write I walked any faster than when with my painful worn out hip, but what I can state is not feeling sore and exhausted now when done walking. So in a way more balance is restored and my experiences here can be measured both in the journey and the destination once again. Which makes for a far more enjoyable day. 


It was a wind free crossing of the saddle today and with the snow covered peaks all around both John and I walked with carefree smiles. Though the snow was hard and icy so we had to take care. Especially on the final gruelling steep descent through the forest to here. We were both glad to shed our heavy packs and get into warm dry gear. 


As I was putting my gear on my mattress I noticed what looked like a furry pillow poking up under it. I reached over and felt very soft fur and realized it was actually a possum! I wasn’t sure if it was alive or dead and even after pulling the mattress away he lied curled up unmoving. I prodded him with a gentle nudge of the broomstick and nothing. Then I gave him a real poke and he jumped up, big and fat with his little claws in the air! He must have been really out to it, or had little intention of giving up his bunk to me. He bolted out the door and we saw his chubby furry rump heading up into the forest. It must be cold if the possums are looking for a warmer place to nap. 


John and I are debating as to going to the trouble and effort to even start a fire. There isn’t much wood and it is getting dark now. A wee dram helps and I am about to prepare fillet steak with mushrooms and gnocchi. We might have dinner then crawl into our down bags and get a good nights rest. We have a long day ahead in the cold river tomorrow. 


And though it’s cold I don’t feel cold. I can’t stop smiling. David and James have both been through as evidenced by their entries in the hut book. So a gathering awaits as do 4 more days here in a place I had doubts about ever returning to again. So this icy hut feels like home. An old friend. 


When I walked out of here last year and got to my car I knew I was done in here until I fixed the problem. Hard to fathom what a completely different world that was. In so many ways.

A fine winters day of the Maropea, Not far from Puketaramea and Maropea Forks.

Robb seated. David Dodge, John Nash, James Jordan.

I have spent many birthday’s in the Ruahine over the last 28 years. Significantly my fortieth, fiftieth, and now sixtieth have been marked in the depths of its beauty. Along with many other less marked years. Some with friends, and many with the solitude of only my own company.

When I turned 50 I had only months before had my right hip replaced and climbed on my own into the wintry Hikurangi range, and then at 60, this year, shortly after my left hip was replaced I climbed up into the winter mist and beyond with my tramping mate of over 25 years, John, and onto Maropea Forks.

Out of all the above-mentioned days the one that offered the most eclectic celebration, and certainly the most party like was this past year. When I turned the final bend on the western fork of the Maropea river I saw on the hut porch John talking to a couple of guys there with him. Now normally the sight of other people already at the hut makes the heart drop and spirit sag, at least for bit. Over the years I have found that on the rare occasions when I do share a back-country hut with other people they are almost invariably like-minded people, and also probably feel that exact same heart drop as I do. Indeed in a few cases I have developed excellent friendships and bond through mutual interest and love of these mountains with people I have met and shared huts with.

And on this occasion the sight of the people on the porch brought a smile to my face and a final burst of energy in my tired legs and body after dragging my heavy pack there for the last 6 hours or so. For these people I knew and expected to see and was glad to see all had arrived safe and sound.

Quite a few years back I came across a book somewhere, somehow, called “At Home in the Hills” by a man named James Jordan. I recall opening it and seeing pictures of the Ruahine and immediately bought it. James grew up in the shadow of the Ruahine and it wasn’t long before he was in them, and their sister range the Tararua, and quickly became an experienced and accomplished deer hunter and eventually making his living as a deer culler in them. Living for weeks at a time in tent camps and then huts thinning out the massive deer herds, then making money by carrying out the venison when that market exploded by exporting the meat to Germany. But aside from that was the overwhelming love and connection James felt to the hills, streams and rivers of the mountains and expressed in his writing. I felt a bond to his words and to James as a kindred spirit. I can’t quite recall how it was we connected but at one stage we began exchanging correspondence which eventually led to smiling at the sight of him sitting on the porch there at Maropea Forks in that moment. A man, in his early 70’s now, had tramped deep into the Ruahine to meet and celebrate my birthday. It seemed a bit like a destined moment in a way.

The other man talking to John I had met in the Ruahine nearly 20 years ago when he was just a teenager. David was in the valley fly fishing when I came through on a tramp. We shared a few huts over the next several days and he was excellent company. Ten years later I was walking down the Maropea river on a hot summer day when I saw a couple guys come staggering towards me under the strain of obviously heavy loads and a stag perched on top of one their packs. As I approached them one stopped and shouted “I know you! You’re Ruahine Robb! I read your blog! We met in here years ago”. His name was David Dodge and we stood in the river recalling our time in the Ruahine when I noticed they were tired and sweating. We hoofed it back up to Top Maropea where I was staying, and we caught up some more along with several cups of tea from the billy. Being as it was summer and very hot the two lads had to get their massive loads of venison out to the road end where they were being picked up. So off they staggered. David and I have stayed in touch since then. He and the guy he was with, Tyson, both helped carry the benches we had made at Community Work to replace the ones at Top Maropea which had been burnt. David stops by my house occasionally for a cup of tea and to drop off some very welcome venison through the years and we would leave greetings for one another in the hut books. So to see him as well here at a place we both love and have spent a lot of time at was also widened the smile on my weary face.

30 July…early morning

On the porch at Maropea Forks

Dressed warmly in the early morning chill and enjoying another strong coffee. The river runs by with its endless song. I am 60 years old!

David has already packed up and headed back up the river towards Top Maropea, Armstrong saddle and Sunrise. And James is packing up and heading up the steep spur and Puketaramea before heading northwest and to Iron Bark for the night.

I revel in the glow of a fine afternoon yesterday, and an even better evening, spent in the company of such fine gentlemen here at an amazing place deep in the Ruahine to celebrate my birthday. Here I am, a manuhuri, visitor, to New Zealand, yet feel so at home here in this place and honoured by the company of these guys who travelled in here by foot to share a bit time with me. A mark of acceptance and belonging and sending waves of emotions and warmth that roll through me from the feeling of both the company and the place. Particularly John, whom I have tramped with in here for over 25 years now and shared countless trips memories, but also David and James. The common bond being the Ruahine. And once again the lump rises in my throat. The echoes of so many friends, and both my sons, whom I have shared this place with, seem to drift lazily in the air like the melting frost off the toi toi and grass in front of me.

At dusk yesterday David went off for a hunt upriver and John, James and I meandered about the hut, flats and river until heading into the hut when darkness rolled in. We lit the fire and when David came back, we settled into a fine evening.

With over 150 years of Ruahine experience in that small hut there were a few tales to share and tell. David supplied us with venison steak and sausage cooked on top of the wood stove and cut up and shared on a common plate, and out of nowhere appeared a fair bit of very good whiskey and scotch. There wasn’t much room left in the hut by the end of the evening as besides us it was full of deer, trout, old cullers and friends, poems and books, steep ridges, snowed in tops, flooded rivers, and skies so blue they take your breath away.

Sitting here now on the porch of Maropea Forks and watching a perfectly amazing day unfold I can write that even though an evening ahead of my actual birthday it would have been the finest birthday I have spent in the Ruahine, or anywhere else for that matter. That must mark something special.


30 July -afternoon

Outside Maropea Forks hut 

I am in the warmth of the sun next to the river, absorbing its energy and soothing rays. The gentle lullaby of the river song had me drift off to sleep for a bit. I lie upon my bush shirt while John in a more industrious mood earlier dragged a mattress from the hut to rest upon. Only a few feet away from me I can hear him snoring softly as he enjoys his own afternoon nap. I came back from my walk down river towards Otukota to find him lazing in the sun at the most perfectly chosen spot to enjoy the afternoon. All too soon the winter sun will pass over this valley. 

Scribbling words in my notebook on my 60th birthday in the Ruahine. As I did in another notebook 20 years ago here on my 40th birthday and many others since then.

I am not sure what will become of these near 30 notebooks I have filled in the mountains. Even now they tend to gather dust upon our bookshelf and probably will till they become dust themselves. Still, for me they are a treasure, a place where my trips here remain alive. And there are always evenings in front of the fire I might reach over from my old chair and grab one to reminisce on words scribbled that perhaps only I can decipher but soon come to life. 

And now today here I jot down thoughts once again in the Ruahine. Only a few feet from where the old hut was until 5 years ago. The echoes still dance around me. 20 years ago I had more hair, less weight, and my two original hips still working in fine order. A few years prior to that I had run my last marathon up in Rotorua. The guy lying here now looks far different, has two new titanium hips, has not run for many years, but is still here in the mountains. And to have walked in here after having my left hip replaced less than 5 months ago has moved me bringing forth emotions and realisations when I least expect it. It has made me feel connected to something I don’t quite understand and am simply content to appreciate. Like I can roll back the last sixty years of my life like a tape and feel it all at once. And know that I am exactly where I should be. 

In that sense I am changed only as is the rivers song that I listened to here 20 years ago is different than the tune which plays for me today. Still the same river but different. Only those whom have spent time here would have observed those changes. Not so much different than flesh, bone and blood. Yet my spirit feels whole. Like this place.

And this beautiful river, the sun shining and glistening upon her, the graceful curve just beyond where I lie leading down river and eventually to the sea where this sparkling water will be lifted up to fall back upon the Earth and begin again. When the time comes I am ready to flow with her.

Maropea Forks hut: Evening 30 July 2020

“If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

 30 July


Maropea Forks hut

 The hut warms slowly and glows softly with the cherry red coals in the wood stove, a few candles and our tiny lantern which has been a very pleasant discovery on this trip. John reads by his head lamp as I scribble a few words and think about getting tea started. No hurry. Last night we had a far more lively atmosphere with David and James here. We cooked up venison, drank a few drams of nice whiskey, and filled the hut with our combined Ruahine stories, memories, and observations over the last 50 years. I guess that was the real birthday celebration.

 Though John and I have just returned from out by the river enjoying a quiet dram it is far more sedate this evening as we return to patterns established over the past 25 years in the Ruahine. A transition that is never difficult. I was here twenty years ago at 40. Still here at 60. I’m good with that.

David leaving in the morning to head back up river

30 July 2020

In the sun outside the hut

Maropea Forks...


When I turned 20

the days ahead seemed endless 

and plenty

The hair was long

my body fit and strong 

When I turned 30 

I felt I was drifting

the sands kept shifting

I felt unease

nothing was clear

I could not have known

that changes were near

When I turned 40 

those changes had come

A new country with mountains

A new wife

A new son 

The unease was less

something new had begun

When I turned 50 

I had a new hip

The old one was done

Also in that time

I had a new son 

Now I am 60

with another new hip

Pieces of me gone

like a rusty old ship

The days of my past like 

a long winding road

Hitting the straight away

to my final abode

All I can do is trust

things aren’t ill fated

And live in love and peace

with what I’ve created. 

Kia ora!

Birthday Stroll on the Maropea

Morning tea

River Walking

Top Maropea

31 July Afternoon

John and I arrived here a while ago after a very pleasurable meander up the Maropea river. Though climbing out of the side stream was a real grunt as a new slip has come down. It was a gruellingly steep effort. And when we arrived and were changing into some dry gear we saw out the hut door a pair of legs coming down the rough track. It was our friend Pete! What a cool development. I have shared this small abode with so many special people. Both my sons, Tara, and a handful of friends who get places like this. We are in for a fine evening. And far from the first in this lovely little spot as wll. Tihei Mauri Ora!

Robb, John and Pete. Many trips under the belt now.

“Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,

For I would ride with you upon the wind,

Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,

And dance upon the mountains like a flame.”

― William Butler Yeats

1 August

Sunrise hut - mid morning

I sit in this spacious but rather dull hut alone. The view is world class but the ambiance of a 24 bunk hut lacks the charm, even dignity, of the more remote huts that lie beyond here. Two hours beyond here lies the rather more quaint abode of Top Maropea from which I have come here this morning. Few that arrive here venture much further. I am glad I am one that does. And thankful.

John is making his way over. With him our good friend Pete who arrived at Top Maropea yesterday shortly after we did. Pete is another page of richness added to this story of my return to the Ruahine. He and John are much similar in their pace over the mountain terrain and the thought of those two very capable friends out there enjoying the place and the company keeps the smile that has been upon my face for 5 days now firmly set.

I have been travelling in these hills now for over 25 years. The men I shared time with these past 5 days in here brings that total to well over 150 years of Ruahine wandering. A mere fragment of a moment, a mere breath drawn, in the life and significance to these beautiful mountains.

This return has been heightened by the echoes of those who love the Ruahine as much as I. Who were, are, as exhilarated by the sight and distinct call of the whio on those sparkling pristine rivers that lie far below. And the symmetry of those far off peaks and leading spurs beckoning always.

So I wait for my friends and happy to do so. I can linger for awhile in the foolishness of things.

Kia ora John Nash, David Dodge, James Jordan, Pete McGregor, my whanau, and the Ruahine...