The Hastings-based Heretaunga Tramping Club celebrated its 80th anniversary last year. This article, written by long-term member Alan Berry, first appeared in the club’s newsletter, Pohokura, in August 2015.

The club was born in adversity, a response to a need. Southern Hawke’s Bay farmer Hamish Armstrong had an interest in flying, but he became lost while piloting his De Havilland Gypsy Moth from his Akitio farm to the Hastings aerodrome on 21 July 1935. A huge search followed, both on land and from the air. Nothing was found.

But a fortnight after Armstrong disappeared, Ian Powell and two mates were traversing the tops of the Ruahine Range near the present Sunrise Hut looking for potential areas for skiing, when – there it was: the Gypsy Moth at rest in what we now know as Armstrong Saddle, an area that had been flown over several times during the air search. An extensive land search followed, involving a number of former members of Wellington area tramping clubs, as well as police, local farmers and hunters. But again, no trace of the pilot was found. It appears most likely that Armstrong had mistakenly headed west into the vast wilderness of the Ruahine Range. He was never seen again. That tragedy brought home to local trampers the need for some form of organisation to mount searches and rescues in the mountains of Hawke’s Bay. And so the Heretaunga Tramping Club was born. On 30 September 1935, 16 trampers assembled in Doctor David Bathgate’s rooms in Hastings and made the decision to form a tramping club, the objective of which was ‘to familiarise members with the back country of Hawke’s Bay’.

The club became an incorporated society in 1937 and I note that the application to incorporate was signed by five civil servants and six clerks, out of the total of 15 signatures. Tramping appeals to those who live a more sedentary life during the week and in that regard, I doubt that much has changed. In the 80 years since the club was formed, members have tramped far and wide, to every corner of New Zealand and from Mt Everest to the Antarctic.

Back in 1935, however, their focus was closer to home and the immediate task was to build huts to provide shelter for club members and for other mountain users in the backcountry of Hawke’s Bay. The first was Kaweka Hut, on the eastern flanks of the Kaweka Range. This beech timber, malthoid and corrugated iron hut was sited near a tributary of the Tutaekuri River, at a sufficient distance from the Napier– Taihape Road to be reached after Saturday mid-day closing. The Waikamaka Hut followed, completed during the first year of the war on the western side of the Waipawa Saddle.

Kiwi Saddle Hut was built in 1948 and in the 1970s the club assumed ownership of Howletts Hut from the Manawatu Tramping and Skiing Club. The Kaweka Hut burned down 20 years ago, but the others have been continually maintained and upgraded. Over the years they  have provided very welcome shelter to thousands of weary trampers and hunters.

Photograph: Howletts Hut in winter, 1954.

It was the need for a rapid response search organisation that prompted the very formation of the club and land search and rescue has been one of our primary roles during the club’s 80-year history. Working in conjunction with the police, members have taken part in countless searches and recovery incidents in the Hawke’s Bay hills. In the days before helicopters and effective radio communications a search and rescue operation was an extremely arduous physical operation demanding the ultimate in fitness and experience. Since that fateful day Hamish Armstrong disappeared, only two people lost in the Hawke’s Bay bush have not been found.

But the availability of cell-phones and personal locator beacons has greatly reduced the need for this role and SAR no longer figures large in the club’s activities.

Mapping has also been one of the club’s functions. Norman Elder, in particular, was responsible for surveying and drawing many of the maps that the club and other mountain users relied on for navigation through the relatively unknown ranges of Hawke’s Bay before the Department of Lands & Survey published their own series of maps.

But it has not only been deeds, adventures and community service that have provided the club’s story of 80 years. It has also been the people who have woven the tapestry that depicts the club’s colourful history. There have been true legends such as Norman Elder, tramper, botanist, map-maker and pioneer; Doc Bathgate, historian and author; George Lowe, mountaineer extraordinary; Nancy Tanner, who held the club together as club captain in the 1960s; Wally Romanes, hard man club captain and Himalayan adventurer.

Photograph: Pohangina Saddle Camp, 1961.

And characters such as Angus Russell, whose preferred way of keeping his tramping clothes dry was to take them off and put them in his pack; or Dave Williams, who used to carry his huge full plate camera everywhere and was allegedly not beyond slipping under the camera’s curtain on the Marine Parade to view the scenery on the beach through his telephoto lens. Perhaps we trampers have now become totally boring and conformist, as they don’t seem to make them like that anymore.

(This article, written by Alan Berry, first appeared in the club’s newsletter, Pohokura, in August 2015)