Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Art of a Hut Trip Four: Whanganui National Park

   I am home again from another hut drawing trip in the bush. This was another 'hut hop' and part of my project 'The Art of a Hut' in which I am gathering material for a collection of drawings and paintings illustrating New Zealand's North Island backcountry huts.

   The original plan was to be away for two weeks, but as things turned out we came home a little earlier, skipping the last two huts in the Pureora Forest Park. Here is a map of the original route planned which I drew up for my Mum's peace of mind.

     The yellow line is the route we actually walked. So ending up on the wrong side of the national park was part of the reason for not moving on to the last two huts planned.

    The most challenging part of this trip was that we hitch hiked all the way down and back out again. It made it all the more interesting and added several more hours of walking. The good thing about hitching was that it cost us nothing in travel except time, which we had. It also meant that we could come out of the bush at a different point and not have to end up back at the same car park.

    Hitching on lonely country roads heading away from civilization is not something to be undertaken without being prepared to camp under a tree or two along the way. Estimated times of arrival vary a little... Two days hitching got us (Guillaume, Jerusalem, and I)  to our arranged meeting point out the back of Eltham. Our last ride was with Mr and Mrs farmer Brown who were very kind and helpful to us. They didn't know of any DOC walking tracks at the end of the road, but we knew there was. They took us to their house while it was pouring with rain and let us use their computer to look at maps while they rang around the whole countryside to find out if there really was a track out there to Trains Hut. From  the information gathered we learnt that there was/had been a track out there but no one had walked it for a long time and it was more than likely overgrown. It would be a challenge and a bit of a bush bash. But there was a track and so we carried on. Mrs Brown gave us a lift a fair way down the road and from there we walked...

   Until it got dark and we made camp for the night under a hedge. Earlier, Jerusalem, who likes the idea of having only the very essentials for survival in the bush, had questioned Guillaume bringing a tarpaulin. But he soon was thankful for it! Next morning I woke up from what little sleep I had in a pool of water. That day was our longest day of walking. 13 hours of walking in hill country with a 20kg pack. Fun!... 

   We started at seven and walked for hours to the end of the road during which not one car passed us. We made good time and got to the end of the road at 11am. There was a house there and walking down the road we met a girl with pearls in her ears going to feed the ducks. We asked her for directions and she directed us up to the house to ask her parents. There we met one legged Billy. He was very friendly and willing to help. 'Hang on, I'll put a boot on and show you the way.' 
    He directed us to the beginning of the track which we would have struggled otherwise to have found. From there we walked on, found the beginning of the track, entered the bush, lost the track, found it again, and so on and so forth for the rest of the day. It was indeed a track of the lost variety. Most of the markers still remained which is all we had to go by. The rain that had been hanging about all morning began to dissipate and so that was something to be thankful for! 

   The walk took a lot longer than the 5h stated on the old sign at the beginning of the track. It actually took us 11 hours.  Most of the time was lost in navigating through thick undergrowth, over fallen trees, and finding the next marker. We walked until 9pm when I was beginning to think I might accidentally fall asleep on my feet. After two hours of marker hunting by torchlight we decided to sleep and carry on in daylight. We nibbled on brussel sprouts (courtesy of one of the rides we hitched), cheese, and chocolate, pulled ourselves into sleeping bags and tried to sleep.

   Next morning we walked down two hours and finally arrived at Trains Hut-- just after passing a sign that said 'this track is no longer maintained'! The joy of arriving! It was expressed very quietly as you can see in the videos I took. There were goats grazing around the hut when we arrived and Jerusalem didn't want us to scare them too far off as he wanted to go shoot one for meat. 

   It felt like we had arrived home. Water! Clean dry clothes, and food, in that order. Jerusalem being a qualified chef took on most of the cooking, and so we ate well. During the walk on day two he had shot a young goat and he curried it up for lunch. 

   So, first hut arrived at on day three. From then on it was much more simple. I would draw/paint the hut in the afternoon, in the morning we would walk to the next hut.

    Above, inside Train's Hut, my painting in the windowstill. Below, Jerusalem on the roof smoking goat meat in the chimney.

    We stayed one night each at Trains, Tahupo, and Puteore huts. The tracks were still not the smoothest but not as bad as coming into Trains. Those huts were very nice, cozy and well looked after. Though the stoves in Tahupo and Puteore were of the kind not helpful for cooking on.

  At Tahupo Hut we made the decision to change our route and come out at Omaru Hut. This was mainly a result of our two biggest mistakes of the trip. Very silly ones and the result of some serious mismanagement which I must take responsibility for. First was not organizing soon enough how to cross the Whanganui River and then not being able to contact the Jet boat service once we had their number. That was no problem for the boys, of course we would swim across or make a raft, and we had a long rope... But we also didn't have a map of that area. Very bad idea, I don't know how we missed that one. We were supposed to buy one on the trip down, but with hitch hiking and a Saturday afternoon, we were not able to buy one... So, the track being uncertain, we decided not to add another mistake on top of others and planned to stay at extra huts on this side and come out another way.

   Jerusalem napping after arriving at Puteore Hut.

   Guillaume not liking the camera. We washed socks at most huts and there is always socks hanging around the chimney. Though on the first two hard days of walking Guillaume and I acquired some nasty blisters which caused us some grief. In this hut we had a feast. A recent DOC working team had just been in and left a whole lot of food with a note to help ourselves! Eggs, bread, butter, fizzy, and chutney, was very welcome.

   I managed to make the weather look amazing in all my photos. But even drawing this hut I had to dash inside with my drawing and wait for a shower to pass. It rained every day that we were out there.

   The view from Puteore Hut and the hut.

   The walk from Puteore Hut to Pouri Hut hut was again on a 'no longer maintained track'. But we did not see that sign until the end of the walk! It wasn't a track, just a series of markers nailed to random trees though the bush. We had to cross a river on this walk, which meant going down, down down, to the river and then straight up again. After seven hours walking in the steadily worsening rain we suddenly came out onto the Matemateaonga Route, a great highway bulldozed through the jungle which we had just felt as if we were getting lost in. It was like stepping into civilization, and looking back one could hardly tell that there was a track at all where we had just come out of. We laughed with relief, to us it was the most amazing, wonderful, ridiculous thing we'd come across in a long time. Half an hour later, and after walking the same distance we had covered that morning in two hours we arrived at Pouri hut wet to the skin and freezing cold but happy.

   We stayed a whole day and two nights at Pouri hut. Being a much more popular hut on a well frequented track, it was a much bigger hut, but not as nice as the smaller cozy basic huts. It rained-- it poured here, which my photos don't show! There were a couple of spells of sunshine during which I managed to do a few sketches of the hut, but most of the day was wet. There was an amazing view over the ranges which was hidden by a wall of white cloud most of the time. I managed to get a photo while the sun was shining.

    On the 8th day of the trip we walked to the last hut, Omaru Hut. The last huts on a trip always seem to be the worst for drawing. I'm always exhausted, it's always raining and my drawing often doesn't turn out well. I tried painting between showers and hail. Didn't turn out great, then I sat on the floor of the hut and did an angry drawing of the stove. And that turned out alright. The strong hard lines seemed to compliment the subject. So something good did happen and my mood improved!

   Guillaume and I decided we would press on and continue to Pureora Forest Park after getting out the next day. It would mean a long day hitching and possibly involve camping on the road somewhere. But the next day it became more and more obvious that we weren't up to that. We were hobbling along behind Jerusalem with sore feet and legs. It was only an hours walk out to the road, but after a few more hours walking down the very quiet road we decided that we'd head home. Our first ride was on the back of a farm ute which took us as far as 'the road' which was the Forgotten World Highway. There we split up with Jerusalem and after walking a fair way on the road towards Stratford we managed to get five rides to Hamilton where we stayed with Guillaume's sister and enjoyed hot showers and civilization again. 

   We didn't see anyone else while in the bush, I think most people are sensible and let the weather dictate when they will go tramping! Overall it was a good trip, and I got several good drawings and lots to continue working on at home. 

  In another post soon I wrote about our hunting adventures which were very minimal thanks to 1080. Horrible stuff. But it is effective judging from the numbers of dead possums and rats we found on the tracks.

Here is the video footage from the trip: Link to view on YouTube

   I'm glad to be home, but as soon as I'm rested I begin to think of more hut drawing trips. Still got the famous Tararuas to look forwards to. Also, this summer I hope to do a sailing trip and draw the few huts on the Northland coastline.


  1. What a trip!! Rain, rain, rain!....but you pressed on regardless!! And you got some lovely artwork done in the midst of it all; and some great video footage, and photographs! I think you're amazing, Felicity! Good on 'yer!

    1. Thank you! I'll be putting the videos together for YouTube soon.