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October 2013 Issue
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It’s time to meet the muppets

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is known to attract its fair share of 'muppets'.
On the trail, stupid is as stupid does, writes Hazel Phillips

He was drinking Drambuie, the 40 per cent alcohol liqueur produced in Scotland and used in drinks with colourful names such as the Rusty Nail. It’s best served on the rocks, but given he was between huts and not in the vicinity of a freezer, he probably took it straight.

The last time he was seen was somewhere on the path up to Sutherland Falls; his son had left him there, imbibing the sweet, sweet nectar, and ambled on alone to the final hut on the Milford Track.

That night, when it became clear his dad wouldn’t be making an appearance, search parties were dispatched to hunt along the tracks. His son, worried out of his mind, went to bed thinking he might never see his father again.

The next morning they found him, still a little bit sozzled but snug as a bug wrapped up in his sleeping bag on the track not five minutes from the hut. Using his pack as a pillow, he’d drifted off to bye-byes with the empty bottle clutched tightly in his sweaty palm.

The nameless, faceless man has become part of Milford Track legend. Ask any warden about the biggest muppets they’ve encountered and you’ll get this sort of fodder – and more.

This particular tale, told to me by a hut warden, was later verified by a friend who had actually been there and taken part in one of the searches.

There’s also the one about the lady with the shopping cart, convinced she’d get it over MacKinnon Pass. Not your average cart, but one of the small, usually tartan jobs that your grandma used to trundle down to the Four Square to transport the daily groceries. The warden stopped her at the first hut and marched her – and her trolley – back out again the next day.

There’s the one about the man who was so large they had to put a couple of mattresses out on the deck because he couldn’t fit into the bunks.

There are umpteen ones about people bringing umbrellas, hairdryers and high-heeled shoes – and you only need to stand at the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in high summer to witness stupidity with your own two eyes.

But my absolute favourite Milford Track muppet legend is the one about the lady who decided to tackle the track as a weight-loss project. She decided to couple it with an eating regime called the Special K diet, which consists of replacing two meals a day with a bowl of the low-calorie cereal.

Of course, it requires several litres of milk to go with it over the course of a four-day tramp. But not for this lady the common filth of powdered milk. Oh no, she opted to carry several litres of UHT milk.

Somehow she managed to elude the warden on the first night and make it to the next hut for the second night, where the lack of both nutrition and fitness prompted her to drive the porcelain bus.

I’d wondered why the warden at the first hut sat by the window watching people arrive with curious eyes; now I realise they’re scouring the incoming punters for shopping trolleys, Drambuie and diet cereal, intent on stamping out muppetry at the first opportunity.

I’ve witnessed a few mad things on multi-day trips myself – a gas-powered hair straightener, a plastic bag full of glass jars of face creams and perfume, multiple hardcover books “just in case” there was a bit of down time.

Sometimes you just can’t see it coming though. On one (relatively easy) overnight trip I organised, several folk reassured me they’d done overnighters before and were well-equipped with everything on the list – then it turned out two had just been camping next to the car and another was intending to carry a duffel bag rather than wear a pack.

While on a bushcraft course, my mum was advised by the instructor to always ‘squeeze the lemons’. In other words, be vigilant against muppets on your own tramping trips.

Its advice worth heeding: be your own warden at the first hut. Be vigilant at all times.