Comparing notes over breakfast

Waitewaewae Hut to Nichols Hut

The best way to get over a hangover, according to legend, is to start drinking again the next morning.

We had gone to sleep the night before absolutely broken, anticipating the massive climb to Nichols would finish us off. It would be the end of a two day bender. Unexpectedly we felt good.

An article in an old National Geographic in the hut. ‘A Walk Across America’, National Geographic, April 1977.

Yep…Peter walked with his dog, Cooper. Spoiler alert: It didn’t end well…

We said a proper farewell to Adam and promised him that we’d stop at Junction Knob or Mount Crawford, where we knew we’d have data on our phone. He planned a huge walk to Pukematawai.  

Waitewaewae Hut


The track from Waitewaewae up to Mount Crawford is as perfect as the previous day’s track was imperfect. It made its way along a gentle and often emerald green Otaki River before crossing it and going up…straight up through delicious mixed forest.

Part of the gloom we’d suffered from the day before was because of a lack of bird call. On the worst days of a tramp a forest full of Riroriro or Tui can make a big difference. The previous day had been almost silent. We’ve spent a lot of time in and around 1080 zones and have seen the benefits the Battle for our Birds will bring to an area. We were in a battlefield called Project Kaka.

It’s really hard to judge birdlife in a forest by just walking through it once, but the day before just seemed wrong. Especially for an area of well-established 1080 management like Otaki Forks. Birds aren’t stupid and big birds will fly off to where the food is, so it’s understandable that the ever present Tui were absent. Just down the road was a pine plantation with a billion cicadas in it.

Arguably the best contribution to the ecosystem our current Minister of Conservation, Maggie Barry, has ever been involved in was Maggie’s Garden Show about 25 years ago. The programme helped make our cities the haven for some native species that they are today. In the seventies, my home town was an ecological desert. It’s now covered in trees that feed hundreds of Tui. Our garden is a play ground for fantails, Riroriro, waxeyes and the occasional bellbird. A native falcon hunts doves in the neighbourhood and those damn Tui wake us at four in the morning.

We hear more native bird song at home than we did that day in the Tararuas. There’s possibly something not quite right with the Battle for our Birds around here. Other 1080 zones like Taranaki and Kahurangi are full of birdsong.

In the Oroua River valley where we help maintain a large stoat and rat trapping programme it’s hard to hear the birds too. But that’s because of the noisy Oroua River bubbling away nearby. But if we stop for a break it’s often not long before we’re joined by Riflemen, Tomtits or Whiteheads. Small birds that don’t migrate long distances for food. The day before as we rested many times along the track we had no peeping Titipounamu to distract us from our pain. The bush was worryingly silent.

Would today’s trip up through the changing strata of bush to the tussocky tops be any different? Deer seemed to be absent as the lush forest floor of saplings attested. Fruiting and food-bearing trees were starting to refill the forest nicely. In areas ravaged by deer the dominant undergrowth is the unpalatable Pepper Tree and Crown Ferns. Here all sorts of food producing broadleaf and podocarp were plentiful. Perhaps Maggie’s native city birds will have something to come back to some day.

We made steady progress that surprised us. When we came to the first Goblin Forest, a pre-alpine layer of moss, fern and lichen-covered Beach Trees that this part of the Tararua Range is famous for, we rested. As we stopped for a rest a small flock of Riflemen joined us.

It was turning out to be a good day.

Through Goblin Forest and a thin layer of Leatherwood to the tussock, we climbed. It was windy, cold and drizzly. But we’d finally made it. We were actually on the ‘Spine of the Fish’. Late summer flowers greeted us cheerily through the cloud.

Leaving the bushline

Sending out a message from the slopes of Mount Crawford

Going up to Mount Crawford

Then Fiona have me the day’s ear worm…

Eidelweiss is one of the alpine flowers we walked through, but it’s also an incredibly catchy tune. Like all good earworms I only know about three words, but unlike my usual earworms I ‘sing’ this with the voice of a five year old girl. It used to be one of my sister’s favourite songs when she was little…Jane sang to me as I walked over Mount Crawford to the sanctuary of Nichols Hut.

Strange but true.

Dedicated to Jane. Thanks for keeping us company.