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May 2022 Issue
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Memorable nights reader feedback

Sarah White with Chris, the last of the shiners, at Sayer Hut. Photo: Paul McCredie

After publishing Nights to Remember in the March issue, we asked readers to share some of their own memorable nights in the backcountry.

Mice in the walls

A howling wind chased me through goblin forest, buffeting scattered rain; my only company along the desolate 4WD road that leads to Waiotauru Hut; a hut described in Jonathan Kennett’s Tararua Adventure guide as a bulldozer shed that is famous for being UG-LY. 

Kennett is generous. Inside, an old table carved with phallic symbology and two haphazardly-cut pieces of foam stained black with dog paws and fur. The foam bares tell-tale nibbles that suggest I won’t be spending the night here alone. 

A lone ruru calls as night falls and the thought of bright headlights and gangs of men wielding axes suddenly enters my head. Don’t be silly. But I look out at the darkening 4WD road waiting for the roar of quad bikes. Almost as I zip up my sleeping bag the mice start up in the walls, right by my head. I pound the wall with my fist, “Shoo!” 

This goes on for several hours, my headlamp wildly moving from spot to spot on the shed’s ply innards. Suddenly, the light catches a white corner of the roof gable, building paper whipping with gusts of wind that I suddenly realise have been travelling through the walls.

No mice, just my own wild imagination. 

– Michelle Campbell

A real character

We headed to Sayer Hut on an impromptu overnighter to escape a dreary Wellington weekend. We had hoped to have the evening to ourselves but the wood smoke smell as we approached warned we wouldn’t. 

Sayer is an impossibly picturesque and rustic example of a Tararua backcountry hut with a collection of random signs nailed to its front, a dirt floor, open fireplace for cooking and a good collection of pots, pans and kettles. 

Chris greeted us with the news he was cooking us stew for dinner. He described himself as “the last of the shiners”, an itinerant wanderer holing up here for the winter. The evening progressed with stories galore and a tasty wild pork goulash. He had been a deer culler back in the 1970s and toured New Zealand by foot and bike from one end to the other. He was also a talented artist and writer and showed us carefully curated scrapbooks of his work. He was excited it was Saturday night as he loved the RNZ Saturday night request show. We dozed off on the sackcloth bunks as Chris sat in front of the fire enjoying the hits of days gone by.

– Sarah White

Dangerous night-time hunting

My father and I climbed the steep track to Carrol Hut in Arthur’s Pass. The hut was in a bit of a mess, due to a lot of food items having been left behind by previous occupants. We tidied up and settled in. Towards nightfall, two deer hunters arrived along with a thick fog. It got dark and visibility reduced to near zero. 

Suddenly, a deer coughed near the hut. The hunters grabbed their rifles and rushed outside, heading in different directions. Then, volleys of shots crashed out from both sides. Dad and I lay on the floor of the hut until the shooting stopped. 

Fortunately, everyone survived, including the deer – at least that time.

– David Mountfort

A perfect day

I will always remember the evening that produced in me a love of tramping.

I was 22 and on a post-university trip with a friend in Patagonia. I didn’t know anything about hiking or camping, but my friend, Oli, had been an enthusiastic Scout and told me we “have to go to    Torres del Paine”. 

We camped in the snow at Vallés Frances with hardly anyone else around and celebrated Oli’s birthday with pancakes made with flour and eggs, which I had secretly carried, and presented to Oli with a video collection of his friends and family wishing him a happy birthday.

We then walked to the famed  Mirador Britanico viewpoint and a spectacular vista of the surrounding peaks. It was here we met Jorge, a park ranger, who crouched behind a big rock with us to escape the howling winds.

We were thrilled when Jorge produced a flask of yerba maté, a local tea that is traditionally enjoyed communally. Then, on discovering it was Oli’s birthday, Jorge invited us to his hut for dinner. A few hours later, we were enjoying slices of rustic pizza and sipping merlot. Oli and I speak Spanish and Jorge was keen to practise his English, so we danced in and out of both languages for hours. 

It was a perfect day; the kind dreamed of when travelling. 

– Huw Morgan

A night under the stars

The most unusual night for my girlfriend and me was at Granity Pass Hut. 

We departed late from the car park, trusting what another returning group had told us about the time it should take. 

My girlfriend started having some knee pain, which slowed us down, and I’m a slow walker anyway. 

It was completely dark when we eventually arrived at the hut and everybody was in bed. There were no tent spaces available so we kept on past the hut to stop on top of the hill, a few hundred metres further up. 

We decided to spend the night under the stars, without pitching the tent. It was a bit humid and cold, and we slid around on the tarp during the night because we were on an incline, but it is a great memory. 

– Harvey Mint