I’m writing this the day before I fly to Dunedin to tramp the Catlins River-Wisp Loop Track, a new two-day walk near Owaka and am feeling a bit glum – or I should say, was feeling a bit glum.
The forecast is terrible. Rain. Wind. Rain. Temperatures will be hovering around a high of 13°C and a low of 5°C. Oh joy, the long dry summer has finally come to an end. I guess it was too much to hope that it would see me through the coming weekend.
But then I flicked through the colour proofs of this issue and became transfixed by the stories and photographs in our annual ‘Snow’ feature and perversely, found myself wishing it was colder. There should be snow on the ground!
No such luck, but I was – am – feeling much better about the upcoming wet-weather tramp.
As we prove this issue, tramping is not just a summer pursuit. When it rains, we don’t walk off the field. When the ground is sun-baked to granite, we don’t pack our bags and head for home in fear of grazing our knees. A little snow on the ground is not a reason to park yourself next to a roaring pub fire, it is celebrated for making the ordinary extraordinary.
That’s the beauty of tramping in small New Zealand. Everywhere is practically local and the seasons change the landscape, and the experience. What we find familiar in summer becomes utterly unfamiliar, new and untrodden in winter. Take Shaun Barnett’s winter walk over the Kepler Track for example. Thousands have walked its length in summer, but only a few have taken on the challenge of doing it in spectacular winter.
My own experiences of winter tramping have mainly been around Tongariro National Park. It’s the best time to visit – the hoardes of visitors are not on the tracks or in the huts, they’re skiing on the upper slopes of Ruapehu. But the best part for me is that a normally dry, brown and barren-looking landscape is hidden beneath a coat of luxurious white, transforming the area into a stunning tramper’s playground the equal of anything I’ve seen or experienced in the South Island. It’s not often North Island trampers can say things like that.
The more I think about the hills in winter, the less I’m dreading my upcoming cold and wet tramp. I’m more anxious than ever to get on the plane, to wear my wet weather gear and get out there to experience autumn in nature in the Catlins.