Image of the August 2015 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
August 2015 Issue
Home / Articles / Pigeon Post

Pigeon Post, August 2015

Silence or noise, it’s all OK

I would like further information about correspondent David Cregan’s encounter with 13 ‘revellers’ flown in with chef, food and wine to the Siberia Hut (Pigeon Post, June 2015) before I sympathise with him entirely.

Were the revellers deliberately rowdy or offensive? Cregan admits they limited themselves to ‘one living area’. Did they invite Cregan’s party to join them? (Etiquette does, I think, require some offer of generosity.) Cregan mentions no particular failure of courtesy or hospitality, and he sounds as though he would make such complaints if he could. He acknowledges that some, anyway, of the other hut occupants were planning on staying there the whole weekend, and presumably not requiring an early start for a big day.  

The hills have a glorious tradition of rowdiness, and not a little drunkenness. Deer cullers, miners, shepherds, famous old characters, just plain trampers – bush balls have been great nights of glamour and happy inebriation, and I’ve shared huts, as co-host or guest, with some other very jolly groups, large and small, over the years. I hope we all have.

Huts are not just sleeping quarters, but arenas for social intercourse. Even without serious partying, a drop of ardent spirits and a pipe can be very helpful in meeting new friends and deepening our understanding of the universe.

We keep on saying that we want more people to experience the joy of the hills. There are many paths to that experience, and when other people come it may be that the ways they follow are sometimes foreign to us. We should hesitate before we erect barricades. I share Cregan’s love of quiet, but if we do want our countrymen to enter our enchanted world, we will, to a considerable extent, have to take them as they are before we are able to initiate them into the higher mysteries and chilly ecstasy of the great silence.

– David Round, Port Levy


Hard questions needed

I read with frustration the ‘survival’ story about Greg Ross and his fall near Frisco Hut on the West Coast (‘A dislocated tale’, June 2015). It seems that your story and the media coverage in general has been toothless in questioning this man on the poor decisions he obviously made both before the trip and after his fall.

Firstly, where was his beacon? Surely on a solo trip, in country that is renowned for its challenging terrain, Ross would consider a beacon an essential piece of equipment.

Secondly, after sustaining an isolated upper limb injury, why did Ross risk exposure and stay where he fell despite a hut being near and on the track he was travelling. Then when he did move, he left the track and left all his gear behind. He survived by luck alone, not good decision-making.

Thirdly, why did Wilderness publish this story without adequate discussion of the errors that were made and subsequent key learning points?

– David Short, email

– Greg Ross admitted he made mistakes, including not carrying a PLB – hence his desire to speak to the media. Ross’ decision-making is explained in the article. Any key learning points are for the reader to determine. – AH


Doughboy Bay treasure trove

It was a most excellent article about the challenging Southern Circuit (‘Pure Gold on Stewart Island’, June 2015).

What was intriguing for me, was that I know Jessyca and funnily enough I met the Swiss family mentioned in the article at the Lake Rotoroa DOC campsite in Nelson Lakes National Park before they headed to Rakiura. It was great to hear they made it to Doughboy Bay. I have their email address so will forward a copy of the article to them.

I have tramped the Southern Circuit on three occasions and always enjoyed the remoteness of the place. Doughboy Bay has a fascinating history, not only for the Japanese woman who lived in the cave there. An old Bluff fisherman, Harold Ashwell, who died in his 90s, told me of his recollections when fishing with his father as a young man. He spoke of finding the wooden hull  (no planking left on it) of a sailing ship resting on the sands there back in the 1930s. Harold speculated that it was a sailing ship that caught fire further south in the 1890s, carrying a load of native timber from Southland. It was abandoned and the hull had drifted into Doughboy Bay. He suggested the hull had sunk in the quicksand there and surfaced occasionally. By Harold’s next trip it had disappeared. There might be some truth to this as Doughboy Creek cut into the sand dunes during the 1990s and uncovered a load of sawn timber. Some locals learned of this and recovered some of it and the bar in the South Seas Hotel in Halfmoon Bay is made from this timber.

Harold also told me of finding what he said was a smuggler’s hoard in Doughboy Cave, also around the 1930s. It consisted of some wooden cases of willow pattern crockery which also disappeared before their next overnighter in the bay.

There are many tales about the Doughboy Cave, most involving rats so Doughboy Hut must certainly be a welcome relief from that experience. Interestingly, the hut came from Long Harry on Rakiura’s North West Circuit.

– Greg Lind, Department of Conservation


I thoroughly enjoyed Alistair Hall’s article on Stewart Island’s Southern Circuit. A group of us walked it in January, and like the author were immersed in mud on more than one occasion. We also intended to climb Rakeahua, but were prevented from doing so by the weather and weariness. However, we did not end our trip at Fred’s Camp, but carried on to Freshwater Hut and climbed Rocky Mountain instead. The views were awesome and the Hall missed out in not walking that stretch, as it’s a total contrast to the rest of the circuit in terms of environment and landforms – a refreshing change.

There’s nothing for it; Hall will have to go back and do that section!  

I also recommend the North West Circuit, which is an absolute gem and eminently worth walking. We did it three years ago and would walk it again in a heartbeat.

But Stewart Island is like that – once it gets under your skin, it’s there for life.

Dan Elderkamp, Waipukurau


Training definitely worthwhile

Whatever the method of educating people about outdoor safety (‘Who will train our trampers’, June 2015), a key question is whether the approach alters behaviour. Will the people exposed to the intervention make safer choices in the outdoors?  

My experience of Mountain Safety Council courses is an emphatic ‘Yes!’. As John Greenwood and others point out in the article, there is nothing like being out there practising the theory. I vividly recall launching myself off a snow slope to practise self-arresting from a range of positions; making and sleeping in a snow cave; walking with crampons minutes after discussing the theory. This type of kinaesthetic learning cannot be delivered by mass media.

It seems ironic that MSC cites variation in courses as a reason to move away from them, yet would like to see clubs and other organisations offer them. At least with one organisation running the courses there was central control over the content, which, in MSC CEO’s Mike Daisley’s words, meant each course would be delivered only “slightly differently”. I would be proud of only slight variation.

What felt sadly lacking from Daisley was the evidence for effectiveness of marketing to the masses. Current debate around road safety is certainly questioning such an approach. I would rather see 1800 people undertake a course that affects the rest of their outdoor days than a million people exposed to information that may or may not change the decisions they make. We have just had the coroner’s hearing into the drowning on the Milford Track last year. I suspect if the group involved had been on a river crossing course and could recall the feel of the force of water on their legs as they practised crossing, they would have made a different choice that day.

I also tend to side with John Greenwood about the knock-on effect of courses. People who have done courses can then lead whole groups on safer trips. They can train others. Sure, they won’t recall 100 per cent of the course content and no-one claims that the ripple didn’t dilute as it reached more and more people. Even if only one or two tips are passed on at the edge of the ripple, they may still result in life-saving decisions and will be delivered personally by someone with whom the recipient has a relationship – in contrast to mass media.

Time will tell if the decision to stop courses was the right one. My hope now is that data is collected to help determine which approach is most effective. It is a shame MSC have had to take an either/or approach, but that is the reality of funding constraints. My other main hope is that Outdoor Training New Zealand is successful in getting established so people can continue to learn in, and not just about, the great outdoors.

– Stephen Hoskin, Te Anau


The New Zealand Outdoor Instructors Association (NZOIA) has worked closely with MSC throughout the changes mentioned in the article, to develop a pathway for MSC qualified instructors and trainees to transition their qualifications or training to NZOIA.

NZOIA qualifications are recognised throughout New Zealand as the industry standard. Those MSC instructors who transfer their qualifications to NZOIA will join our membership of more than 900 qualified instructors already offering training in abseiling, alpine, bush, canoe, cave, canyon, kayak, rock climbing, sea kayak and indoor wall climbing for schools, clubs, volunteer organisations and adventure activity operators. This includes courses for tramping clubs around New Zealand.

I strongly believe outdoor safety training will continue to be an important component in keeping people safe in the outdoors. Alongside the MSC’s changing focus, NZOIA is well placed and keen to continue to play a significant role in this area.

– Gillian Wratt, Chair NZOIA


Onwards anyway

The warning scratched into the green paint of an official DOC sign said ‘Go Back (Track = Bulls**t)’. But a challenging valley walk was precisely what we were looking for at this time of year. We decided to observe the riposte scratched below: ‘Don’t be a P**sy’.

Ultimately, we made it to Lake Adelaide and back, revelling in the spectacle that was man versus nature. We could see how the track might seem impassable, but the problem, we supposed, had more to do with expectations than maintenance.

DOC does an excellent job of maintaining a huge network of tracks and, while this one would have benefitted from a tidy up, its existence meant the difference between a two day and two week round trip.

I want to take a moment to thank all those who share reliable information about our backcountry. In this end of the country, Moirs Guide, Southern Alps Photography and Wilderness are the top sources which I know of. This community of knowledge helps trampers to select trips for our own aims, avoid disappointment and obey the old scout’s motto, Be Prepared. So thanks, and keep up the good work!

Benedict Armitage, email

Hut rubbish

I agree with Eef de Boeck (‘Foreign walkers not to blame’, July 2015), regarding the state of huts with easy access.

Almost without exception, the grubbiest huts with the most rubbish, wine bottles and discarded gas canisters that our group have ever found have been the ones close to road ends or the sea. Huts that particularly spring to mind are Martins Bay Hut (with easy access by either boat or plane) and some in the Ohau area that are easily accessed by 4WD.

Fortunately, when we walked the Hollyford, we had a flight arranged to take us back to Gunns Camp and were able to take out a substantial bag of rubbish that others had unkindly left behind.

– Chris Green, Lake Tekapo


Plantar fasciitis treatment

In the NZ Trail Runner supplement (January 2015), Vera Alves wrote about the sometimes painful condition Plantar Fasciitis, which is basically an inflammatory injury to the tissues on the underside of the foot.

I developed this condition two years ago. All the conventional treatment methods described by Alves failed to alleviate my condition. What did work was a golf ball. This was placed under the tender site underfoot, and some of my weight was applied while rolling the golf ball back and forth with enough pressure to induce acceptable pain. This was continued for a minute or so. The foot was rested and massaged by hand for another minute and then I repeated the process two more times. This treatment was repeated morning, noon and night for one month. Around 70 per cent of the swelling and pain was gone by the first week and the foot completely OK by the end of the month.

My podiatrist was most impressed and I hope this may help others with similar foot injuries.

– Mike Jasper, email