Our family group lucked in to the most perfect weather to go bush as Wellington’s run of perfect weather weekends continued in March for the Bushcraft 1.0 lead by the inimitable Bazza C, a super-organised, patient, knowledgeable guide.
Our task was to i) pack, ii) get to the designated meeting point at iii) a particular time. Our family scored 2 out of 3 – cue some of Barry’s legendary patience. Us arriving late didn’t phase him a bit and we also improved our score by handing out Easter eggs on arrival.
After a group photo (of course!) we were off along the Orongorongo River Valley track – an easy grade track, beginning at a car park with good parking, toilet and picnic facilities. The track has lots of information – tree guides, and some self-powered audio stations with bird calls, provided by the volunteers at the Remutaka Trust, who have done this and so much more . (Check out their website)
Our destination – the club’s own 14 bed hut – was 2.5-3 hrs away (or, for our younger readers, approximately one pack of lollies walking distance), and our first bushcraft lessons commenced en route as we looked at maps and discussed what they can do for you. A supported river crossing was undertaken as we braved life and limb in the inch-deep water…
We were already fairly impressed by Bazza’s organisation, but he took it to the next level. Not only had the hut been freshly painted for us, but there was even a welcome BBQ awaiting. Turns out the hut is on the bush equivalent of the SH1 expressway, and we’re a handy little junction for Meetups. A few folk had loaded up their 4WDs with sausages & Lion Brown and converged on our front doorstep to consume them with gusto after doing a bit of track maintenance work. The more the merrier!
After we’d checked out our hut and scoffed our lunches, we headed up Paua ridge, where we had a lesson when to STOP. That’s the acronym to remember if you’re lost. Sit down, Think, Observe, Plan. We talked those through and Barry gave us lots of practical tips and examples. Time then to get our hands dirty. We had to build our survival bivouacs for the night ahead … in an hour. As Barry pointed out – if you’ve got a few hours then maybe your plan is to get out instead of stay put. So, if you need a bivvy you probably need it quickly. Quite a few folk had prepared for this by bringing their own tarps, which on a dry night could be converted on the fly to … flies!
Our family – partially failing at the earlier ‘pack for the weekend’ test – went organic, making bivvys entirely from wood and emergency blankets. Thirteen year old Toby created an ‘H’, which was the entry. He used the bar of the middle of the H to support two sloping lengths of wood forming the ‘roof’, and placed his foil blankets over the ‘roof’ and weighted down the edges. You had to crawl into it so it was like being in a small low tunnel but he reported the next morning it was warm and snug.
Construction success achieved, we hit the hut for some great camp cooking. What do you feed everyone that is gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian & tasty? Homemade chicken/tofu satay on rice! Cooking is fairly easy in the hut with two gas cookers connected to a portable gas bottle and a tap connected to our own water tank. In winter you could also use the firebox top surface. We had brought club billies, but the hut has accumulated some pans, and the ever important cheese grater & can-opener which all helped. We were amazed to hear that club volunteers, primarily former club president Tony G, hiked in carrying the extremely heavy gas bottles, which seemed about the same weight to us as our heaviest pack! No 4WD easy option used here! We were very appreciative – and sparing with the gas.
With full tummies, and hyped up on the obligatory marshmallow toasting s’more-making exercise, the kids enjoyed exploring around the hut that soon evolved into hide & seek, or playing on our superb tree swing. Then before night fell, it was time to hike back up the ridge to sleep under a very clear sky with a half-moon shining brightly. First light saw heads pop up, and camp broken down and packs re-packed. Everyone had slept well under the stars, thankful there was no rain to contend with.
Breakfast was a get-your-own back at the hut where pancakes were a popular breakfast option, and then we had a map reading and compass using session. Then, time to get lost! A series of four markers had been hidden and we had to use the map grid reference to find them. Also on offer were a scavenger hunt and some bush first aid skills, but we ended up having so much fun with the first activity that by the time we finished, it was time for lunch, pack up, clean up & head out. We split into two parties to return, with the adventurous taking Brown’s Track and the sedate ambling back along the Orongorongo track.
My take-aways from the weekend were several, not only the bushcraft but:
– how a group of club members always find things in common and conversations abound with connections;
– even today, our digital natives can make their own fun in the bush, and
– that experiences like this would not exist without the past, present and future legacy of volunteers, including those at the Remutaka Trust and at WTMC.
Emerging from the bush was a weird experience as we realised the world had changed in 48 hours as Covid-19 had hit Wellington and border restrictions were being imposed. We did a quick poll of our kids to see who wanted to resupply and head back into the hut, but ultimately hot showers and own beds won out over avoiding Covid-19. But if we start going into lockdown again, I know where my quarantine spot will be! I’d say come join me, but I suspect that’s missing the point ….
Once again, thanks to Barry for his preparation and leadership, to the club for the fantastic resource we have in the hut and club gear, and to everyone who made it a great weekend.