I’d softened. After basking in the Australian sun for the last two years and next to no opportunity to climb hills, I was a tad anxious about my ability to cope with a fashion statement involving boots, let alone for a whole weekend. As part of my easing back into the back-country life, I had welcomed an invitation by friends a few weeks prior, for heading into the Kawekas. A major drawcard was that there were hotpools at the beginning, middle and end of the tramp. My training complete, I then found an Easy-grade trip with WTMC and braved the Wellington traffic to put my name down for Ironbark Hut. Fate was against me that day, the trip having been cancelled because of a lack of interest and/or leader. The only Easy-grade on offer for the same weekend was now into Crow Hut.
At some point during the week, I received a rather odd email from my leader (John Hickey) all about a trip headed in to Purity Hut which was also sent to strange names including Alistair and Gareth and the chief guide, none of whom were on my trip. I ignored it. I did, however, ring John to ascertain dinner requirements and pick-up/drop off in Levin. All went well on the Friday until we got to the start point of the track where we slept in a nearby clearing. “Crow Hut, 5 hrs” stated the highly informative notice. My heart sank as I knew that I had no show of keeping up with my 3 male companions. I decided that it would simply take longer than they had anticipated. After all, Easy-grade punters weren’t expected to be superhuman and (I thought ) any challenges would be left until morning.
Having just got the hang of putting up those blue flies, it was completely dark and we had to try and work out those new two-man green thingies. Fortunately, Daniel had brought some spare string or shoelace as a replacement guy-rope and we made a reasonable job of things, my side being completely dry and Daniel’s only a little wet by morning.
We went to sleep to the dulcet sounds of a nearby generator. (Mr. Sandman visited me almost immediately.) The morning brought photo opportunities, a calm relaxed breakfast, wishing goodbye to Alistair’s group and we drove PAST the track to Crow Hut! I was immediately on full alert with a polite but very puzzled query to my honourable trip leader re navigation. His response was definitely reassuring. Somehow, everyone already knew of certain changes of plan (that weird email) and that Crow Hut was not an Easy-grade in John Hickey’s universe and that WTMC had another category; not just Fitness-essential, but Easyessential too! We were headed for Purity Hut, only a couple of hours in. A huge but silent wave of relief passed over me as we drove through classic Mangaweka farmland. Finally, the moment of truth and we started walking.
The first 20 mins is through flat farmland. The four of us got into the swing of things and were following the orange markers faithfully, relaxing and chatting and putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually, we realised that we hadn’t seen an orange marker for a while and there was a ute bearing down on us, beeping like an angry hornet. We had dropped our packs, I had wandered on a bit to see if there were any obvious signs of a track and John immediately whipped out a map and looked as inept as possible. (He claims that this was a deliberate move!) The farmer had spotted us going the wrong way on his security cameras, but John was a natural at appearing the incompetent townie and the farmer’s demeanour changed quickly from slightly irate, to incredibly helpful. The track had taken a rather embarrassingly obvious 90 degree turn, and the markers had changed to white posts. We crossed a stream and headed uphill.
Easy-essential involves taking (a breather) in the view every 50 metres, and it was well worth it. An artistic uprooted tree-stump provided me a moment’s practise with my Trade-me camera. My welcome back to tramping also included a vista that was typical Lord of the Rings countryside. Apart from being unable to get enough oxygen (I maintain it was the height we had reached rather than lack of fitness levels), it was absolute heaven.
Climbing the fence, the transition to bush was immediate and our views disappeared as we undulated upwards. Ascending steadily, we eventually came upon a clearing which ought to have had a hut in it. There had been one in years past, but has since been replaced slightly further uphill. What I thought to be a sighting of the hut, turned out to be the dunny! I feel that it was an understandable mistake as the dunny had a double-glazed tinted window. If reading material had been left in there, I would have lost the blokes for days!
Part of the excuse for taking our time to reach the hut had been that there would be little to do on arrival. However, this was not an issue as we were all asleep within 15 mins of unpacking. The weather had been a little inclement and we calculated that Alistair’s group would not be braving the tops to meet us. We felt for them, but secretly were rather pleased as we would have had to share our beds. Wellington Tramping & Matrimonial Club may be the unofficial moniker, but I take up all the bed. And I nick the blankets. I’m actually doing people a favour if I offer them a space on the floor inside the hut. AND I expect gratitude…
After a snooze, came dinner. John had organised a curry. Fortunately, he only put in about a third of the spices he’d brought which was just as well as it was just this side of blowing off my head. Edgy, but nice. I still recall one of the first tramps I did with the club, when I and one other simply couldn’t eat our dinner at all, despite being rather hungry!
After dinner was a compulsory hand or two of 500 and sharing of stories. At 18 or so, Karl completely blew me away with his lack of cynicism and has forced me to review my outlook on life. Daniel and John also had stories to share and the evening quickly passed until it was time for bed again.
The morning was uneventful and, as my camera has a timer, I took a beautiful shot of the four of us in front of Purity Hut. The only glitch was that I had managed to decapitate us all. I hadn’t done my hair, so I wasn’t too disappointed. The photo got my best side.
Heading downhill in the rain saw most of us slipping over at one time or another. We descended a lot quicker than going up, and just before the bush-edge, we had a stop. John showed me an utter abomination. Chocolate coated ginger! I love chocolate, but this was true sacrilege and is one of the few ways I know to utterly destroy one of the real pleasures in life. Shortly thereafter, God meted out justice, and John took the final fall of the trip. Initially, he seemed quite injured, but after a pause, fortunately managed to continue for the final stint through the farmland unaided. Most exciting of all was the stream. It was now high enough to require us to link up! This was truly an experience for me as I’ve only ever practised the technique as an exercise rather than for reality.
We then drove the van to pick up Alistair’s group and we all lived happily ever after.