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September 2014 Issue
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Pigeon Post, September 2014

Letter of the month

Protect unspoilt wilderness

I was delighted to read the article ‘Seeing the benefits of a widlerness unseen’ (July, 2014) by Paul Quinlan in which he spoke out against the proposed Haast-Hollyford Highway.

With friends Phil Houghton and Mike Gill I tramped the Hollyford, Pyke, Forgotten, Barrier and Kaipo valleys in the 1950s and helped explore and map the Skippers mountains and visited Cleft Creek. I have visited the Hollyford area a number of times since, the last being in 2013.

Fiordland National Park should remain untouched as a World Heritage Park and I applaud Nick Smith in his decision to cancel both the monorail and the tunnel to Milford.

Apart from our wonderful national parks and wilderness areas, New Zealand has little to offer the rest of the world.  We are a small, isolated country but visitors from afar choose to visit just to see our unspoilt wilderness.

We must be custodians for future generations and not follow the rest of the world by desecrating these areas with roads, motels and fast food outlets.

– John Kent, Christchurch

A shocking idea

I am totally shocked by Stephen Conn (‘Alone, totally’, Pigeon Post, April 2014).

I agree with him that being alone in the mountains can be a special experience. But I cannot agree that the experience of going alone into the wilderness can be enhanced by not telling anyone where you are heading.
This is a crazy idea for three reasons:

  1. A broken ankle or leg totally disables even the hardiest tramper. Any river or slippery rock in a remote gully could become a death trap. With no prospect of being rescued, it will be a slow and painful end.
  2. You’d get a short terse reply from any park ranger or LandSAR member on this idea. Every year, untold hours are wasted by searchers combing rough bush and steep mountainsides looking for lost trampers.
  3. It breaks a fundamental rule of bush craft. Anyone going into the wilderness must always leave plans of their trip with someone who can raise the alarm if they don’t come back.

It’s a nice idea Stephen, but after 40 years of tramping in our mountains, I advise you to think again about the worry, the time and trouble it would cause others when something goes wrong.

– Denis Shuker, Cambridge

Conductive gloves

Yes, you could spend $50 on special gloves with a ‘conductive touch screen compatible index finger’ (Gear News, July, 2014).

However, I’ve found that moistening a fingertip of my $5 polypro gloves provides enough conductivity to operate a smart phone.

– Alastair Smith, Wellington

See ya later Cathy-gaiter

I just wanted to say thank you very much for my new gaiters! (Ed’s note: Catherine was one of 10 subscribers who won a pair of One Planet gaiters in our April subscriber prize draw). The timing was perfect. I’ve been contemplating stitching up my old faithful ones (yet again), but really they were past it. The arrival of these lovely new ones means I can go back to splashing through shallow rivers and snow without the risk of an unwanted and unexpected foot soaking.

– Cath Watson, email

Closure of Upper Caples Hut

In response to your correspondent Mike Nankivell (Letter of the month, July, 2014) about the new hut in the Caples Valley, I would like to make the following comments.

I agree the Upper Caples Valley is fantastic country; DOC wants more folk to enjoy it, hence the hut and track improvements. This is why Mid Caples Hut has been replaced with increased bunk numbers, better kitchen/common area and large verandahs. I was there in early July and the hut was nearly full with a large group of students from Western Australia. They thought it was fantastic.

Upper Caples Hut, now decommissioned, was very flood prone and the clearing was swampy, leading to dampness and mildew in the hut in the off-season. It was a difficult hut to maintain and its closure has freed up resources for maintaining other backcountry assets.

When we were planning the upgrade of the McKellar Saddle section of this circuit (which links the Caples with the Greenstone Valley), we determined walking times between the huts would be substantially reduced. For that reason, it was our view that Upper Caples Hut could be removed while still maintaining the overall walking times.

Judging by comments made to our hut warden by trampers over the last season, the walking times in our track information and signs are correct. While everyone enjoys walking at a different pace, the ‘official’ 6-7hr time from the new Mid Caples Hut to McKellar Hut appears to be appropriate.

Interestingly, prior to the McKellar Saddle upgrade (2011-13) the track time from the Mid Caples Hut to McKellar Hut was 6.5-10.5hr. The Saddle upgrade has made that section of the circuit far easier and quicker.

We do get comments suggesting the times are underestimated, but walk times are only guides and the hut book at Mid Caples also records those who simply stop there for lunch on the way to the car park – each to their own!

I hope this letter demonstrates DOC does not close ‘huts on a whim’ as suggested by Nankivell. The intent is to ensure the Caples/Greenstone Trail is a pleasurable and safe journey attracting a wide range of trampers.

– Greg Lind, DOC conservation partnerships manager, Queenstown

Gear on the cheap is easy

At first glance, Pete Lusk’s article ‘Gear on the cheap’ (June, 2014) provided some amusement, a recipe on how to live rough. (Pete, you forgot to mention the waterproof cardboard from real estate signs to make a portable tent!)

On a more serious side it provided some good advice. One does not need to spend a fortune on obtaining good suitable tramping gear. Work out what you really need and check genuine sales. Real bargains can be had from ‘end of line’ reductions or ‘last year’s models’.

If you’re a man, put your pride in your pocket and check the fairer sex’s gear. There’s generally a bigger range, and better discounts. Women’s tops and jackets can be shorter, so check, however some are even longer than men’s sizes. A good example is trying to find men’s tramping shorts that don’t hang below the knee or have rows of cargo. Women’s shorts are generally shorter and without all the pockets.

– Peter Vella, email

Pest free New Zealand

Braydon Moloney’s optimism over pests and predators is laudable (Wild People, July 2014), but his comments about Fiordland’s ‘predator free’ islands made me smile: earlier this year I snapped a karearea (New Zealand falcon) on Anchor Island, the predator free island adjoining Resolution Island in Fiordland. Possibly it was waiting for a spot of predation on local kakariki or tieke on Anchor Island.

Karearea are extremely effective predators, as are many other endemic and native species including moreporks, bats, most reptiles, fish, and even some snails.

Perhaps a better distinction would be between pests and pest/predators.

As for extermination, though we may be approaching the technical ability needed – traps, poisoning, hunting and perhaps biological control – the problems are complex. Exterminate cats or stoats and there’s a rat problem. Exterminate deer and there’s a hunter/farmer problem. Popular support for predator/pest control outside reserves is essential. Stoats and rats would have few defenders, but with powerful lobbies supporting domestic and recreational populations of, for instance, cats, deer, pigs, goats, possums and trout, it seems unlikely we will rid mainland New Zealand of any of these species.

So let’s put maximum effort into the species we can agree on; give backcountry users easy access to effective traps to be taken into the bush; let’s fund DOC properly to maintain sanctuaries and keep pest/predator numbers down in  remote areas where the rest of us are not having enough impact.

– Richmond Atkinson, Wellington

Reality versus marketing

The death of a young foreign female tramper on the Milford Track in May is obviously a tragedy. In an article in the Southland Times on June 13, DOC asked ‘what changes can be made?’ I think one of the answers lies in the sentences attributed to the DOC officer in the article, where the Milford Track is described as a ‘back country tramping track’ and a ‘Great Walk’ in almost the same sentence.

DOC’s marketing people need to realise they are selling two products here, not one: the Milford Track in summer is not the same as the Milford Track in winter.

Some suggestions for out-of-season bookings:

  • The online booking system needs to force the user to individually tick a series of statements/questions that provide specific information on likely off-season conditions
  • Ages and country information are already collected – the website should automatically alert DOC to parties consisting only of people who are likely to be inexperienced, and these parties should be personally called by DOC to elicit further information and provide advice as deemed necessary.
  • Most importantly, perhaps the marketing people need to look more carefully at their target market and the language used on its website. Are these tracks in fact ‘great walks’ in the normal usage of those words, or does the Great Walks brand lead to real-world confusion?

– Ray Willows, Wellington