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October 2021 Issue
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Fast deals and bankrupt trampers

Ready for action, the author’s personalised Tararua Tramping Monopoly board. Photo: Ricky French

To mark Wilderness magazine’s 30th anniversary, current and past editors and contributors scoured the archives for the 30 best trips we’ve published over the decades. This story, original published in December 2014, was included. You can find all 30 of the greatest Wilderness trips in the October 2021 issue.

Which hut would be Mayfair and which would be Old Kent Road? Ricky French plays the inaugural game of Tararua Tramping Monopoly and it’s a true nail biter

To casual observers we are a close-knit, un-materialistic Wellington tramping family. We live and tramp modestly, save for the occasional skinny-dip in a tarn. But the time has come to reveal my family’s secret capitalist obsession.

When not huddled around a campfire you’ll more than likely find us huddled around the kitchen table at my grandma’s place, buying and selling our way to an imagined fortune in a game of Monopoly. It’s a game we’ve played for years. We usually start after dinner, and before anyone notices, it’s midnight and there’s still no winner. It’s a chaotic experience. Not for the meek. Tears are shed, dreams shattered. To the victor goes ultimate bragging rights, to the loser goes the kettle to make the next cup of tea.

I’d always thought I’d like to make a personalised Monopoly board, and after discovering that Hasbro, the makers of Monopoly, for a short time allowed you to design your own board (which they would manufacture and send to you), I experienced a rare ‘lightbulb’ moment. Yes, I would design Tararua Tramping Monopoly. No, it wouldn’t be easy.

The research and development phase commenced. I had to decide what the properties would be. I knew I wanted them to be Tararua huts, but I had a problem. It would require players to build houses and hotels on the huts, which didn’t make sense. Luckily, my Monopoly-honed capitalist side provided an answer. Yes, the aim would be to establish intensive development in the Tararuas. Stack apartments and resorts in the bush, upon every hut-site. Bankrupt the casual tramper and send them out into the cold. Think of the benefit to the country in tourism dollars and attracting a better class of tramper. Imagine the reward of hauling yourself over the Tararua Peaks and seeing Maungahuka Hut surrounded with holiday homes, casinos and luxury spa pools….

Logistical problem solved, next task was to rank and price the huts: the fun part. Which hut would end up on the prized ‘Mayfair’ spot? Which would hang its head in shame as the cheapest and nastiest?

The answer to the latter was easy: Waiotauru Hut. Cursed by its road end-accessible location, it has been treated as a rubbish dump by four-wheel driving hoons. This rundown, cheerless shelter seems overpriced at $2 rent a visit. Ancient, humble Cone Hut may justifiably feel aggrieved at being paired with Waiotauru.

Playing God was fun, but I needed some structure to my rankings. Yes, the newer, flasher huts would generally rank higher, but I would also consider location, views, character, notoriety and personal connections. I got back to work.

Kerriann and Bruce battle it out. Photo: Ricky French

Penn Creek Hut, Parawai Lodge and Nichols Hut make up the affordable light blue strip. Parawai Lodge may seem an odd choice for inclusion, but it has been home to us on many stays, especially when indoctrinating young children to tramping. The purple huts were Arete, Te Matawai and Field. I situated Arete near jail, as we had once used it as a get-out-of-jail-free card when caught in a blizzard during a Northern Crossing attempt.

Imagine the reward of hauling yourself over the Tararua Peaks and seeing
Maungahuka Hut surrounded with holiday homes, casinos and luxury spa pools

Monopoly veterans will know that the shrewdest properties to buy are the orange. They get landed on more than any others, due to their position one roll from jail, the most commonly landed-on square. So which huts deserve to be landed on?

Sayer Hut certainly does. We were there not long ago and our previous entry from three years back was still in the hut book, just a few pages earlier. Lift your game, trampers. It has everything a hut needs, which is very little, except an environment for trampers to feel at home in and create their own memories. A hut really does feel like your own once you’ve swept the rat droppings from the sink and stacked the kindling. On the Monopoly board it sat there awaiting hotels. Dreams are free.

North and South Ohau huts round off the orange, the only geographical pairing on the board. North Ohau Hut would play a historic part in the inaugural game, which we’ll learn about soon.

I felt it was important that Elder Hut was on the board. It’s a young hut, but we saw it when it was a mere embryo. Unable to reach our destination of Renata Hut after a trip over the tops we stumbled upon Elder Hut under construction, with only its deck having been completed. Improvising with saw horses and a tarp, we made a shelter and bivvied the night away. Like the real thing, the Monopoly version of Elder Hut has a fantastic location just round the corner from Free Parking. Popular Jumbo Hut and the remote Mid Waiohine Hut complete the red team. Mid Waiohine gets the only spelling mistake on the board (Wiohine!); making it a rare and prized collector’s item.

Yellow sees things getting swanky. Roaring Stag Lodge gets the call-up, the sole representative from the north-eastern side of the range. Tarn Ridge and Dorset Ridge Hut are both prized for their views. They rank higher than other similar tops huts like Jumbo and Elder due to their location in the thick of the ranges. A worthy addition to any player’s property portfolio.

The Tararuas’ best and biggest riverside huts come together in lush, native green: Totara Flats and Waitewaewae. These are seriously popular destinations, offering front door access to the Waiohine and Otaki Rivers. Expect to pay around $300 for freehold.

From the best of the river huts to the best of the tops huts: Maungahuka. There’s no easy way to reach Maungahuka, and no easy way out. We got trapped there once by gale winds, unable to continue along the tops and eventually forced down to Neil Forks Hut, which failed to make the board due to it being inconveniently fully occupied the last time we visited in January. Yes, the selection process was cruel.

Which only leaves dark blue, the prime Monopoly real estate. Powell justifiably claims top spot. It’s the most popular hut in the ranges; the Mayfair of huts, the go-to hut for tourism brochures, should tourism brochures for the Tararuas ever be made.

Houses and hotels look great on the Tararuas. Photo: Ricky French

Kime’s exceptional ranking is more controversial. Certainly the old Kime would slip further down the board; its frigid temperature keeping demand lukewarm at best. The new Kime Hut though must surely take pride of place alongside Powell. It’s the main Southern Crossing hut, highest in the ranges, destination for so many weekend tramps, launchpad to Mt Hector, vault of Tararua history. It also very probably saved my life once.

What about the railway stations? Which train lines serve the Tararuas? The answer is none. So railway stations became road ends. Kaitoke, Holdsworth Lodge, Poads Road and Otaki Forks. Easy.

Hasbro wouldn’t personalise Community Chest and Chance cards, but I felt we needed to create our own luck, so to speak. So I chucked out the standard cards and made some tramping-related ones, such as, Your torch doesn’t work, stumble blindly to nearest hut. And: You over-pack: pay each player $40 to carry your food.

We gathered for the inaugural game in Waikanae on a typically rainy January night. First hut to be bought in the history of Tararua Tramping Monopoly was North Ohau. Bruce, ably supported by my son, Dorian, snapped it up. It proved a popular spot, too. Players tramped into North Ohau all night. Probably because it gets the sun till late.

Kerry tramped light and quick, buying up the light blue and staying out of trouble. Our family is notoriously reluctant to do ‘deals’ and allow others to gain a set of colours, but after a couple of hours, much shouting and badgering, monopolies were established and houses went up. My young partner Finley and I negotiated our way to acquiring the purple set, while Bruce and Dorian traded red for orange, but were cash-poor and couldn’t build houses quickly enough. North Ohau’s steady but paltry rent-only return couldn’t save them and they were the first bankrupted.

Kerry was bringing in the bucks from light blue, but would it be enough for her to land the killer blow? Karen controlled yellow, but had few visitors and succumbed during a stay at Penn Creek, a hut not normally noted with bankruptcy. Nina, as is her wont, frustrated the game by refusing to deal, and by intentionally knocking houses over with each roll of the dice. No one was sad to see her bowl out shortly after 11pm. That left two: Kerry against Finley and I. Kerry’s hotels on light blue were providing a steady income. She also owned most other huts on the board and had a mountain of cash the size of Girdlestone. But I wasn’t worried. I surveyed the situation and whispered to Finley, “We’re going to win this game.”

Hasbro wouldn’t personalise Community Chest and Chance cards,
so I made my own: You over-pack: pay each player $40 to carry your food.

It was simply a matter of time. We owned purple and orange, having bankrupted Bruce and Dorian and inheriting their huts. Both colours were higher-returning than light blue, and I knew if the game kept going long enough Kerry would land on us more than we would land on her, and her cash would dwindle away, slow at first, then faster as we consolidated with more houses. She would go down like the Titanic. Her only hope was to build on green, which she had recently taken over from the ousted Nina. But it didn’t look like she was interested in sullying the unspoiled environs of the Otaki River, Main Range or Waiohine River Valley with tacky development. Her quest to uphold the conservation values of the Tararuas was noble, but it could just cost her the game.

Start saving your hut tickets for these beauties. Photo: Ricky French

Unaware of her impending doom, she calmly did laps of the board, paying frequent and welcome visits to Arete Hut, Sayer, and of course the ever-popular North Ohau. Her overconfidence extended to paying to get out of jail rather than rolling the dice and staying safely behind bars. It was all going to plan. Until Bruce dropped a bombshell.

The game would end at midnight, a mere 20 minutes away. We had to act fast. We established four houses on each of the orange, and hotels on all the purple. Kerry must have had tired legs, as she called in at one of our huts on every trip round the board. Her pile of cash was fast vanishing as ours was mounting and for the first time she looked worried.

She acted. One house each went up on her green block. That was ok: one house wouldn’t be enough to hurt us. Again she landed on orange and I estimated we were about even on money now. Ten minutes to go. We stumbled into Nichols Hut. Damn! $550 handed over. Kerry back in front. It was set up for a classic Monopoly finish.

Immediately we hit back, snaring Kerry on Elder Hut. Kerry was feeling the heat, sweating a little and struggling to add up the numbers on the dice. Our pile of cash was now significantly higher than hers. The smart money was with us. Two minutes to go, and our roll. We hit Chance and prayed for luck. We didn’t get any.

Make general repairs to your huts: pay $47 for each house and $97 for each hotel. It was the worst card to get – a game changer. Bruce did the sums. We were hit for $855, enough to bring Kerry back into the game, and time was up. Looking over at Kerry’s cash I judged she was now probably winning. I was shattered. But the game was to deliver one final twist. Bruce announced Kerry must take her final turn. Seven heads preened over the board as her sweaty hands cupped the dice. Her counter was on Parawai Lodge. Six of our huts had their doors open, just round the corner. I liked those odds. She threw a seven, and tapped out her final, fatal paces to the front steps of none other than North Ohau Hut. Kerry was ruined; her fatal mistake was failing to diversify her hut portfolio until it was too late. A lesson for all trampers. Victory in the world’s first game of Tararua Tramping Monopoly was ours. And it was sweet.

More Tararua Tramping Monopoly photos…