Trip Reports

Trip Reports

Full Reports from Trips.
Burtton's Track, Manawatu.
5 June 2017

I've been trying to write this blog for over a week. I've started a couple of times and just couldn't form the words on the page. I've found this a hard trip report to write as although I got home safely not accomplishing "Plan A" has been bugging me; it's that "goal achiever" part of me raring it's head.

So here goes...

On Monday June 5 I loaded ADNZ Ben, our packs and myself into the car for my partner to drop me off for a 2-3 day hammock camping tramp through Burtton's Track. The track is around 17km, is a dual use mountain bike and walking track and part of Te Araroa. Posted as a 6 hr walk going south (downhill) I was planning on setting up the hammock at around the half-way mark and would see how I was feeling Tuesday. Tuesday morning, depending on how I was feeling; I'd either have a rest & chill out day and head out on Wednesday, or head out Tuesday if I felt up to it.

The first part of the trail is through the Gordon Kear forest along the forestry road, in which areas have been recently felled. Although I understand the need for this type of forestry and that it's simply farming on a bigger scale I find these kinds of "forest" somewhat depressing, especially after felling. And the kicker of this stretch of track is that not only are you trudging along hard gravel, you're also cranking up the main "climbs" before the track crosses into Tararua Forest Park and undulates southward.

We'd made pretty good time chatting with Anthony for a couple of hours before Anthony headed for home and left us to an early lunch break. We were just starting to get into the "proper" bush and nearing the top of the trudging up the hill, I was looking forward to heading into the "downhill" sections and then we hit the mud.

I'm known for my planning, and at times I've been called "a little over the top" but for me it's essential, due to having to account for my physical limitations. I'd put a "point of no return" into my plan at the first stream crossing of the track. A "point of no return" is a point that you're better off to keep going rather than turn around if things aren't quite going to plan.

We'd barely gotten into the forest park proper and the mud got thicker, then it got deeper. I couldn't see my foot placements and with my sensation not being so great I quickly found myself slipping and sliding around. After 3 significant slides, one almost resulting in a faceplant in the mud, I was tiring more quickly and getting somewhat annoyed. I'd heard that the track was muddy in my planning and I knew that I was headed downhill into the valley so it was only going to get worse.

It was time to stop and reassess where things were at, I've spent years teaching basic bushcraft skills and we always stress to people to know their limits both in fitness and skills. It took me 15 minutes of sitting in the middle of the track weighing up my options before I made the decision to turn around and go out the way I came. I figured that with the mud probably getting worse and a couple of stream crossing before camp that I just wasn't going to have "fun" and I'd end up just wrecking myself and not taking any of the journey in. Due needing to use 2 walking poles all the time when on the trail and the lack of sensation in my feet, well its just plan difficult to adjust and recover from a slip.

So I decided I'd rather be a example of making good decisions and sent out an InReach message to put "plan b" (come back to where you dropped me off and pick me up) into action. We hear so often of people trying to "push on through and she'll be right" and then getting themselves in trouble. Many LandSAR operations could be prevented if people actually stopped and made better decisions.
It was a stunning winter's day and I proved to myself that I can do a 10km day with 3 days of food and "down to zero" gear. 

As an instructor we often assess a trip to be a "success" when a trip has no incidents or near misses and teaching objectives were met. Personally I have had to redefine how I view success on personal trips as I am very "goal orientated" and I realized that I need to take the time to take in the journey instead of just focusing on the goal/s I am trying to achieve. Although I didn't "finish" my section of Te Araroa, we made it home safely and had a "good day out", which is a success in itself.

I want to thank Outdoor Training NZ, Manawatu for the ability to hire a InReach  to keep me safe and able to communicate with the outside world to put Plan B into action easily.


Donnelley Flats, Tararua Forest Park
10 - 12 March 2017 with
Outdoor Training NZ
Bronze Duke of Edinburgh's Hillary Award

On the 10th of March, I joined with Outdoor Training NZ, Manawatu Branch to help out with teaching basic bushcraft practical skills for the Bronze Duke of Edinburgh's Hillary Award. I'd only recently mentioned to the chairperson that I was thinking about doing some more bushcraft stuff now that ADNZ Ben and I had gone "solo" and I'd gained some confidence. In usual fashion I jumped on in. The Duke of Edinburgh Hillary Award is a youth development program and one of the components requires students to have an "Adventure".

At just after 7pm we met the participants at the Holdsworth area car park; just out of Masterton. We distributed the students and chaperones among us instructors, then distributed the group gear. We did a gear check, spoke a little about what we were doing for the evening and locational awareness and how that would look on the map. We hoisted on our packs and set out, as we passed Holdsworth Lodge we signed the logbook, and continued out to Donnelleys Flat camping area.

The weather had us forecast for rain overnight on Friday and into both Saturday and Sunday so getting camp established Friday night was going to be a pretty big priority. We took a few moments along the track to talk about some locational awareness and group awareness on the way into the campsite. When we arrived at Donnelleys Flats we had a quick scout around talking about campsite selection; which is slightly harder when losing daylight rapidly.

I left my group to set their campsites and instructed them to set up the group shelter at the posts recently added to the campground (Thanks Dept of Conservation, they were great!). I left them to it and went to sling my hammock a couple of minutes further up the track.  Once I'd quickly done a quick hammock set I went back to my group to check in with how they were doing. We talked over some of the safety issues in the area, including taking about only going to the river if water was needed and to let their group chaperone know they were going down there.  Some of my group had cooked breakfasts planned for the next mornings breakfast, so we went through what cookers they had and how to operate them safely. It was about 9pm by the time I got back to my hammock to do some final tweaks and hang for the night.

I lay back hoping the kids would shut up soon and drifted off to sleep while listening to a Ruru call. Now anyone that knows me, knows that you don't disrupt my sleep; so when at 11pm I was awoken to the sound of some of the students yelling and playing down in the river bed. Not impressed and knowing that there was probably rain already in the catchment area; I crawled out of my hammock and proceeded to call the students out of the river bed, told them that rivers aren't to be messed with and let them know that there had been rain forecast for the catchment area. The rain started at some stage during the night.

The rain had well and truly set in by Saturday morning and an early start to our teaching session meant I had to haul my butt out of my hammock to teach. Some of the students had learned during the night that their tents weren't quite as waterproof as they thought; and why it is recommended that they test their gear before these trips out. This was the day that I also found out that my "old faithful" jacket was no longer waterproof. I'm glad I had packed the appropriate wicking, warm clothing so although I was wet most of the day, I was at least warm. We were all thankful for the shelters we had set up the night before and we spent as much time as possible teaching the skills before putting them into use in the rain. For some reason ADNZ Ben didn't seem to understand how shelter works and ended up drenched.

I was annoyed with my body and didn't think that I'd handle the hike up the hill we had on Sunday, and my other instructor wasn't able to stay Saturday night or Sunday.  After speaking to the on-site director we made the plan of splitting my group across the other groups for the Sunday hike. It was frustrating but the best call for the students, if I was too focused on just getting up the hill, I wouldn't have been teaching or supervising them to the highest quality possible. Maybe jumping straight into teaching on a 2 night course was a little ambitious!

One of the groups during the day had set up the antenna for the Mountain Radio, and we gathered to hear the "sched" (scheduled broadcast & check in) and the forecast for Sunday.  Although we could hear the sched and other base units calling in, we could not make contact; so we decided to check the radio and get up in time for the morning informal sched. By this stage the students were starting to get a little shorter with each other, it was also at this time we were making sure that the students had a dry place to sleep for the night.

We had been thinking on taking the students on a "night walk" but decided against it, besides it was pretty much a night walk the night before. Before we let the students just "chill" for the evening I reminded them that they shouldn't be down at the river bed, especially considering the change in height and speed of the river; and that they didn't want to have me being a "grumpy instructor" two nights in a row. It was good to sit around with the other instructors and chaperones and just relax a bit, even if it was wet; at this stage we also decided that it may be a good idea to make Sunday a slightly shorter day considering the weather and morale of the participants. 

I didn't get woken by the students during Saturday night, but there were definitely a couple of possums causing a racket in the trees around us. I had a pretty good sleep, even if I was gently rocked by the breeze at times and I managed to dry some of my gear by hanging it over the ridgeline in my hammock. I slept in slightly but still managed to get myself going in time to make the morning radio sched; where we confirmed that it was going to be another wet day, that confirmed that cutting the day slightly short was probably a wise idea. 

On the Sunday walk the students area asked to carry everything but their tent, to get used to the feeling of carrying a heavier pack. The students packed up their gear and stowed their tents under the group shelters that we had left up. While everyone else was out on the hike, I took my time breaking down my camp and resting. Everyone arrived back at camp at around lunchtime. We all had some lunch, some groups broke camp and went straight to the car-park for their group debrief. My group did our debrief, then broke down our group shelter. We signed the log book on the way to the car-park and my group returned the group gear and waited for the other groups to finish their debrief.

Everyone enjoyed the course apart from the weather, but they learned a heap. I did have to remind the students that it was a good weekend to find out what gear did and didn't work; and if they could survive a miserable, wet weekend training then they could deal with most things on their expeditions.

It was a relief to get the instructor debriefing done and to get changed into a dry set of clothes to head home in.  I think I was feeling similar to ADNZ Ben on the trip home. Although I had some setbacks during the weekend, it was good to get out and hang the hammock. I also realized I have missed teaching bushcraft a little.  I find these courses a good way for me to keep my own skills relevant and a good way to find what I need to work on some more.


Rangiwahia Hut, Tararua Forest Park
9th to 11th February 2017

Sunset on Feb 9, 2017; Rangiwahia Hut

After talking for months about wanting to head up to "Rangi Hut", just outside Rangiwahia and posted as a 2 - 3 hour walking, I finally got to do it. I hadn't done a "solo" for around 12 years and the mountains were calling my name; so this was an exciting trip to finally be going on.

Only about an hours drive out from Palmerston North, I hit the track just before 11am on Feb 9, 2017. I was a bundle of nerves, wondering if I had all the gear I needed; did I have too much stuff? How was I going to handle the distance and elevation gain; How was ADNZ Ben going to handle it all? As I shrugged into my pack it felt like I had too much stuff, and I was wondering just how much this experience was going to wreck me. Although I was confident in my outdoors skills, my knowing my body and that ADNZ Ben was indeed trained for this; I hadn't done the physical training that I would have liked to do so the plan was to take my time and a lot of photo (read rest) breaks on the way up to the hut. I'd deliberately planned a full day of rest at the hut so knew I had a rest day before I had to walk back out so I really wasn't too stressed, I knew I could veg out for a day before stressing out my body again.

It was good to be out on the track again and to get away from it all, by myself. The only worries for the next few days was to take in the journey and to look after myself the best the conditions allowed. Having a nice warm hut to call home for a day was a definite bonus. The track was quiet, which to be honest was one of the reasons I went mid-week; I wanted the quite solitude.

The Karaka berries were heavy on the ground in the lower forest so it was time to muzzle ADNZ Ben for awhile.  We also had to work out the kinks of walking along a narrow trail. The track was well maintained, and although I expected to be climbing all day I felt like I was not making the time I would to have liked and then we came across the following sign...

And I am sure this "zig-zag" added about 1km of walking to the track. I definitely had moments of "why do I do this to myself" and "I wish I had trained more" moments. I had to make sure I deliberately stopped to turn around to take in the view and my surroundings, to try and "enjoy" the slog uphill. Between the beauty of the forest and the breathtaking views out across towards the horizon I am definitely glad I "made the time" to take it in; to actually focus on what was around me and not just making sure my footing was good and missing the views.

One of my biggest fears about "going solo" has been "what happens when I do a turtle impersonation" which ironically happened at the tops of a couple of climbs. With ADNZ Ben's help we worked out the system of getting back up and going again. As it was coming up to lunchtime I felt like I was never going to get to the bridge which I had designated as my pack down, lunch stop. Just when I felt like I was never going to make it to the bridge I crested a ridge to see the iconic Rangiwahia bridge in the "near" distance.

It seemed to take forever to actually get to the bridge from here and the slight downhill to the bridge was a much needed reprieve and I very much appreciated a rest and something to eat. It was almost demoralizing to know that I was probably only half way there, but also a good feeling to have made it to the bridge.


The last 45 minutes of walking to the hut was pretty grueling as I could see the high point that the hut was behind but it just did not seem to be getting any closer. It was at this time that 2 parties of 2 passed me. One group gave me an odd look as I was adjusting the harness on my pack; I'd lent my pack to someone and just hadn't found that "sweet spot" for comfort, and I'd been slowly adjusting the harness for most of the trip. I think this last adjustment finally found that sweet spot! Shortly after this group had passed I spied the top of the woodshed of the hut over the ridge, I don't think I have ever been so relieved to see a woodshed.  Popped the muzzle back on ADNZ Ben as I rang Department of Conservation before the trip to see what pest control was in the area and was informed that there is "probably" rat poison at the hut. At about 3.15pm I did a search of the hut and the immediate surrounds of the hut looking for poison and bird sign, when I was satisfied that the area was safe for ADNZ Ben I took off the muzzle and started to settle in. The view was definitely worth the effort of the day.

The parties that had passed me were both at the hut, a couple from Waikane and a couple of tourists. The couple from Waikane was due to stay the night and the tourists decided that with the weather reports that they were going to try and make Turangi that night to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing the following day so they headed back out. It was time to check out the woodshed. When I rang the local DoC office to check the pest control I was told that there was plenty of firewood but I may need to take fire starting gear. So I had bundled up enough dry kindling to start 2 fires and hauled it up the hill. My heart sunk as I put my head into the woodshed, there were bags and bags of wood-chips. Yes it was a good thing that there was plenty of wood and dry wood-chips to start fires with, but I could have saved myself some pack weight on the hike up the hill.

A cool breeze came over the tops as we sat down to have dinner and time to relax. The sun slowly sank below the far horizon, lighting up the sky and although the breeze was cold we elected not to start the fire.

During the night ADNZ Ben wouldn't settle and I must admit I also appreciated his extra warmth when I finally allowed him to bunk with me rather than his mat on the ground. When we awoke to a pretty good frost on the ground I figured out that I had indeed gotten cold overnight.

The couple from Waikane were heading down the hill via "Dead Mans Track" pretty early on and ADNZ Ben and I settled in for a day relaxing and resting at the hut. I had tucked a packet of Sweet Chilli Relish chips into my pack for the day and I discovered that the change in altitude had made the bag "swell" and I chomped into those while sitting back reading. I spent the day exploring around the hut, taking photos; including some of the best decorated loos in the Ruahines.

The weather blew in and out, and I enjoyed the time just watching the landscape change throughout the day. The wind was still cold and by mid afternoon I made the decision to light the fire, not because I was "cold" as such, but I was sick of being not warm. In the late afternoon the cloud gathered and settled and I had pretty much given up on seeing much of a sunset.  As I was gathering my bits and pieces for dinner I noticed a slight pink light out of the corner of my eye. I dashed outside to take some photos before I tucked into my "Roast Lamb" dehydrated dinner.

I'm glad I lit the fire as the temperature dropped pretty rapidly once the sun had gone down. For doing nothing all day I was pretty beat, and crawled into my sleeping bag pretty "early". At about 9.30pm the door to the hut swung open and a male voice called out; a party of 2 had made it to the hut and were going to be camping at the clearing near the hut for the night. I had the whole hut to myself. I'd heard the party of 2 setting up camp and was just starting to doze off when I heard a weird whistling sound. I thought I was hearing things, but when ADNZ Ben reacted with a "hey what was that sound" reaction I knew I was hearing a kiwi. I lightly debated going to find the source of the sound but decided against it; between my bad balance, which is even worse in the dark and the fact that I would have a 32 kg dog, it would have been a comedy of errors. So we snuggled down in our bunk and I drifted off to sleep feeling privileged to be listening to NZs iconic bird.

 We woke to a cool, but clear morning, with just a hint of a breeze blowing across the tops, I'd woken up on mountain time as I forgot to set an alarm, so I was a bit late in getting going from the hut. The spectacular views out to the mountains and horizon was not helping me do anything quickly. Luckily there is some mobile reception at the hut so I was able to let my pick up driver know I was going to be a little late.

As we left the hut I managed to snap a couple of shots of ADNZ Ben and I at the hut and we head "down" the hill. I'd given my driver a bit of extra time so I could give myself some stops along the way to catch my breath and take in the views. It was easier take in the views on the way down, and it seemed to be slightly easier going, although I swear that my pack felt no lighter than on the way up.

With being a Saturday there was far more traffic on the track, mostly day walkers. I was glad to be headed out as I passed a family group with several small children that were going for the night! Thankfully things timed out that there was a group at the bridge when we were and I was able to get the "bridge shot" (I hate to say it, but I think I need a selfie stick).

As I plodded down the hill I had a few chats with the day walkers as I stepped aside to let them pass. It was during a conversation about "my dogs backpacks" that I realized that I was about to finish a pretty big personal accomplishment. The last solo I did was back when I was doing my Diploma, back in about 2004. I was much younger and a little more stupid back then. I've always been in some form of group while travelling around since then to make sure I was safe. I've always needed help in righting myself when I fall, and part of ADNZ Ben's role is to help me up in this situation. We worked out the kinks of getting me righted on this trip and I'd just about finished my first independent trip in many years. So between this trip and the development of communications over the last few years I am much more confident heading out for more independent trips over the next few months.

The stretch from the bridge down to the car park felt much longer than on the way up and it was slightly disheartening when I was passed by a group who I had crossed paths with earlier in the day. I had to remind myself that a) I was carrying a full kit and they seemed to have a "bit of water, lunch and a jacket" type backpacks; and b) I'm a wobbly walker, I'm going to take a bit longer, and that I need to stop measuring my successes by other people's "normal". From then on the track almost seemed never ending, and "get-home-itis" had well and truly set in and I was just putting one foot in front of the other. I picked up a little speed as I realized the track had evened out, so I was probably getting close, then I passed the sign, I must admit I got a little bit emotional as I opened the gate to the track at the car-park. I'd done it, proven I could safely get out there independently again. I am quickly building a list of "want to do" trips! This time is definitely one I will remember for a long time.

Thanks to all those who support me behind the scenes!


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