Back in early (10 – 12) March I got out to Donnelleys’ Flats, Tararua Forest Park with Outdoor Training NZ, Manawatu Branch. I was helping out with teaching on a Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Hillary Award outdoor training. Below is my trip report.
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.