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A tramp to remember

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December 2023 Issue

Most tramps in New Zealand are memorable for the spectacular scenery and marvellous flora and fauna. But sometimes trampers remember trips for other reasons.

Shaken and stirred

A hut isn’t the best place to get a good night’s sleep, but Sally Turnbull had a particularly restless night on the Old Ghost Road when the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake hit.  

“We were in Specimen Point Hut. It was full and we’d gone to bed as normal,” she says. “At about midnight, the hut started to shake.” 

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake, described as the ‘most complex earthquake ever studied’, lasted around two minutes.

“The hut was really rocking and rolling. All the pots and pans were rattling and everyone was waking up,” says Turnbull. “It was so huge we thought the alpine fault must have gone. It went on for a long time, with several aftershocks. Everyone was calm though, and nobody panicked.”

The hut sits on a high point with a view over the Mokihinui River, and the trampers were concerned about safety. “The hut had moved around a lot,” Turnbull says, “and given it’s on a cliff we thought it would be prudent to go and check if we were still attached to the piles.”

Turnbull’s husband is a builder and after checking underneath the hut, he reported back that everything was still well attached. “It’s testament to the quality of the building and it was reassuring that the hut was safe.”

Turnbull and her husband wanted to get out as soon as possible. “We didn’t know what was going on, and we wanted to check on our families. If it was the alpine fault, it would have affected everyone in the South Island.”

It was an anxious, speedy walk out for the couple. “We were worried about what damage might have been done to the track, and whether the swing bridges would still be attached or not. Luckily, everything was okay.”

The van Kruiningen family had a ‘big adventure’ on the Three Passes route. Photo: Nick van Kruiningen

Type two fun on the Three Passes

Nicki van Kruiningen was 11 when her father took the family on the Three Passes route in Canterbury, an expert route popular with experienced backcountry trampers.

“None of us had done any tramping at all, except for Dad,” she says. “He was an experienced mountaineer who’d attempted Aoraki / Mt Cook. Mum was the complete opposite and hadn’t done any training. We were just fit little kids with Bata Bullets on our feet.”

The trip for the two adults and four children aged 7, 9, 11 and 13 didn’t go to plan from the start. “On the first day Mum had a migraine and was sick the whole way,” says van Kruiningen. “In the end we left her pack halfway and Dad turned around and went back for it after getting us to the hut. It took us a lot longer than the time on the track sign.”

After a night at Carrington Hut, it was a long day getting over Harman and Whitehorn passes. “We were up into the snow on the Whitehorn and Dad decided that the way to get down the other side was to slide with us all sitting astride him, including Mum,” says van Kruiningen. “Within about 10m we were totally out of control. Mum and one of my brothers went flying down the slope and slammed into some rocks at the bottom. Luckily they weren’t badly hurt.”

They were trying to get to Park Morpeth Hut but were running out of time. “I think we’d been going around 12 hours by then; we were all shattered and being such young children there was no way we were going to make it.”

They stopped to create a makeshift shelter for the night. “It was a flimsy bit of plastic held up with a couple of sticks and some rocks. No one really got any sleep as it was pretty uncomfortable and cold.”

Browning Pass is the steepest section of the Three Passes route, and everyone was taken up one by one. “Mum had vertigo. Any scree slopes or swing bridges made her totally freeze and she’d be in tears.”

On the other side of the pass they missed the track to Harman Hut and ended up in the river valley. Van Kruiningen’s father realised they needed to be up higher and decided they’d go straight up the mountain to try and find the track rather than retrace their steps. “We were bashing our way through steep, hard bush. We thought we’d never get there, but luckily a couple of men from the hut could hear us and came to help us up the last part.”

It took seven days to reach Lake Kaniere, and the trip didn’t end restfully. “A huge storm, possibly a cyclone, was sweeping through,” says van Kruiningen. “A camper lent us a rope to help hold the makeshift tent down and we huddled under it through the storm.”

Nearly half a century later, the family still talks about the trip. “It was a hard trip, but we look back positively. As a kid it was a big adventure, and we learnt a lot. I did the tramp again with my husband 15 years ago, and I still wonder what my father was thinking,” she laughs.

A steamy night 

It was a memorable night in Rocks Hut while walking Te Araroa for Wellingtonian Rebecca – and for a most awkward reason.

“I had the luxury of having Rocks Hut to myself,” she says. “At about 8pm I assumed no one else was going to turn up and got ready for bed.”

An hour later she heard voices, and from her bed greeted a couple who had biked to the hut. “Rocks Hut is designed so the bunks are in two sections. You can’t see the other bunks, but they’re not separate rooms.”

After the couple went to bed, Rebecca started to hear things. “I could hear sleeping bags rustling and a bit of kissing. Then I started hearing other sounds,” she says. “At first I thought they were just saying goodnight and going to bed, but then there was more noise.”

She didn’t know whether she was imagining it. “I didn’t want to make a fuss if it was nothing, but there was definitely a, shall we say, ‘rhythmic movement’. It was so awkward, especially as I was on my own.”

Rebecca didn’t know what to do. “A couple of times I tried to say something and they’d stop briefly, but they’d carry on so I don’t think they understood. I didn’t want to approach them or make things potentially confrontational.”

After a sleepless night, she spoke to the couple in the morning. “They were mortified and surprised, but also tried to laugh it off. I was pretty upset for the rest of the day,” she says. “It was incredibly uncomfortable.”

Alyssa, Rosie and Sylvie witnessed drunken shenanigans and a rafting accident on their Rees–Dart trip

A boozy New Year at Dart Hut

Friends Alyssa Jones, Rosie Stoney, and Sylvie Myers experienced the best and worst among fellow trampers on the Rees–Dart Track.

“We were staying at Dart Hut on New Year’s Eve and there was a group from Dunedin who were clearly there for a good time,” says Myers. “They each had a litre bottle of spirits and spent the day building a bonfire. One member was walking around in a bath towel bragging about how he’d got hypothermia after spending too long in the river.”

The friends were sharing a bunk room with the group. “They came back in the early hours loud and very drunk,” says Stoney. “But eventually they settled down and went to sleep.”

A few hours later Stoney and Jones woke to a disturbance. Stoney says: “We heard shuffling around and the sound of water running. But I realised – because I could smell it – that this guy was urinating in the bunk room.”

Jones adds: “He was peeing into a metal water bottle – that’s why we could hear it. But he didn’t realise when it was full.”

There was overflow onto the mattress and the floor, centimetres from Myers’s food bag. “The ironic thing is that his bunk was right next to the door,” says Jones.

At the next hut, the friends saw trampers coming together to help people in a crisis. “Three injured rafters turned up at the hut after flipping their raft a few kilometres away,” says Myers. “They only had one sleeping bag between them and their gear was either wet or lost. The entire hut swung into action and looked after them, contributing clothing and food.”

One tramper was a nurse and used everyone’s first aid kits to patch up the injured people, including her son. “He had a blood phobia,” says Stoney, “and fainted at the sight of one of the injured rafters, hitting his head on the bench.”

“It all ended well though,” says Myers, “and we actually all look back on the trip quite fondly.”

Teresa Moreno made it to Cascade Saddle, but heavy rain flooded the valley and washed out the road. Photo: Teresa Moreno

Trapped in their car

Teresa Moreno from Wellington had a night to remember after spending a night in her car at Raspberry Creek at the entrance to Mt Aspiring National Park.

“I can laugh about it now but I wasn’t happy at the time,” she says. “We’d been to Cascade Saddle and decided to stay at Aspiring Hut before heading back early the next morning. We knew rain was coming but it wasn’t due until later in the day.”

However, the rain came early. “It started pouring down and we realised we’d made a mistake not leaving that afternoon,” says Moreno. “But there was nothing we could do by then, and it rained all night.”

Moreno and her husband left early in the morning but soon realised it would be tricky. “There were rivers up to our hips where there weren’t any two days before,” she says.

Eventually, the couple got to their car but the road had been washed out and they were stuck. “It was early, around 8am, and we didn’t know how long it would be before it got fixed,” says Moreno. “Luckily we had lots of food and dry clothes in the car as we were doing the Kepler a few days later, and there were toilets in the car park.”

The couple settled down for a night in the car. “We had a PLB but we didn’t want to set it off because we were okay,” says Moreno. “It was a pretty boring day and night.”

The next morning, a local farmer temporarily fixed the road. “The water was still quite high but somehow we managed to get out. More rain was due and if we hadn’t got out we’d have been stranded for days.”