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August 2013 Issue
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To tent or not to tent

Hazel – not wearing her grumpy pants – at the hunters' fly camp en route to Duckville Hut

When dealing with mongrel bush country, be like a good Boy Scout: prepared

We were looking for a hut to tramp into over Queen’s Birthday weekend and came across Duckville Hut on the topo maps. At the same time, a couple of ducks quacked outside, so we figured it was fate; Duckville it was.

Duckies – as we came to refer to it – is in the Ikawhenua Range, just out of Murupara on the Galatea side. We could find little information about the hut or track times. I suppose we should’ve realised it was a long shot in winter hours after calling the DOC office for some local intel.

“Duckville Hut… Duckville… hmm,” came the reply. “Yes, well, the track is … I guess it’s okay.”

That’s DOC-speak for ‘Half of the track markers are gone and there’s a lot of bush-bashing, but have fun, won’t you?’ Sadists.

The track winds its way up the Ohutu Stream for a couple of hours to a hunters’ fly camp, before leaving the waterway and climbing up and along a ridge. After a few more hours of cutting grass and arse-over-teapot mishaps, you slide off the end of the ridge and go up another stream to the hut.

That’s all fine in theory. After nine hours, darkness fell and we were still on the ridge without enough water to comfortably see us through the night. In spite of head torches, we lost the track (though I’m not convinced we wouldn’t have done the same in daylight) and crashed our way off the end of the ridge, inventing new swear words to describe the terror and delight of losing one’s grip, fingers digging into mud and legs flailing in absolute desperation.

After a brief spell trying to pick our way through endless ongaonga and up the stream bed in the dark, we decided to call it quits and camp out on the next flat spot we could find. An hour later, with the campfire doing a modest roar, a makeshift Thai red curry in hand and more port than should reasonably be consumed in one sitting, we were happy campers.

But it did get me thinking about where to call it quits. Walking along the ridge, I’d been absolutely determined that we were going to make it to Duckies; the hut was the goal and the track was not going to win. Deciding to camp out rather than push on to the hut felt like abject failure. (Although after the first half-mug of port, I began to appreciate our wee campsite.)

By the time we set up camp, we’d been walking for close to 10 hours. I reckon it would’ve taken us at least another hour in the dark to get there, by which point I would’ve likely been very cold, hungry and wet. I would’ve had my Angry Pants on, and boy, they are a snug fit.

We’d elected to take a tent on this trip, mostly due to the dearth of information about the hut and the DOC ranger’s hesitancy about track times. It paid off, but I still might not necessarily take a tent on every trip – particularly not the easier ones.

But some time ago, I got into the habit of always carrying a second survival bag (one for my pack, one for me) after a mate told me a similar story that started with leaving the tent in the car for a quick trip into the Kaimanawas (“she’ll be right”) and ended with him camping out in the bag. Now, even on the quickest, easiest tramps, I chuck in a second bag, just in case. Paranoid? Maybe. Regardless, I’d be interested to know other readers’ habits and where your thresholds lie for calling it quits when you’re so close to the hut.

The next day, we discovered – handily – we were camped out right by the track. The return trip was just as nutty; our valiant effort at following track markers saw us take a different route, which wasn’t marked on the topo at all, dropping off the ridge and down into a valley full off ongaonga. It took several hours to battle the bugger out to the hunters’ fly camp again.

A friend calls it “mongrel North Island bush country”. Can’t say I disagree.