Kauritatahi Hut to Motutapere Hut
The great thing about short tamping days is that you can sleep in. As winter approaches our hours of functional daylight were rapidly disappearing. Yesterday we’d needed to leave early because if we hadn’t, we’d have arrived at the hut in the dark.
This day was different. Five hours. Easy.
We had to walk out through the same bog we’d gone through the night before but most of the return journey was downhill. As we went past the DC3 sign we’d seen on our way in, we Googled it to find out more. It wasn’t pleasant reading.
In 1963, not far from where we stood, a DC3 crashed during a storm killing all of its 23 passengers and crew. It’s the worst aircraft crash on New Zealand soil.
It was in the days before helicopters and locator beacons. The recovery operation must have been a nightmare for all concerned. It’s tough country on a good day…in or after a storm it would be atrocious. We didn’t go up to visit it but apparently much of the wreckage is still visible and some bodies weren’t recovered. Perhaps a couple of curious tourists wasn’t appropriate. Then again visiting aircraft crash sites is a bit of a ‘thing’…perhaps we should’ve.
Anyway I complained a bit less than usual as we made our way back to the junction. The rest of the short day on the track passed as we’d expected. We walked through thick dark forest, up and down some steep and not-so-steep hills and eventually found ourselves at the hut.
Smoke rose from its chimney as we approached. Company!
A tramper? A hunter? A trapper.
As we took our wet boots and gaiters off Mike brought us out a cup of hot sweet coffee each. Soon after a well cooked sausage and a slice of bread made their way into our mouths.
For a man with very little, our host was most generous in his welcome. Mike and his dog Justice trap possums in the area and Mike knows the place like the back of his tattooed hands. Unusually, for a local, he has a broad Eastend-of-London accent.
He was the first person we’d met in the Kaimai and we were eager to listen as he filled us in on the area and his work. Mike uses leg hold traps to capture his possums and sets them out fifty at a time. Because the traps don’t kill the animal the law says they need to be cleared within 24 hours to minimize cruelty. That’s where Justice comes in. Justice has been trained to dispatch possums with a quick head chomp as the team come upon them. It took him a while to learn to go for the head but now that he’s got it he’s an efficient killer.
When Mike started coming into the Kaimai to do his good work he reckons 80% of his traps were full after a night out. Now, as he clears out the population, it’s down to 30%. Mike also reckons that since he’s been doing it -about six years- the bird song has increased markedly. He often checks the stomachs of his kills to see what they’ve been eating and it’s clear they’re not vegetarians.
Although his catch has gone down he doesn’t need much to live on. He doesn’t have a car and spends much of his time in the bush. He stays with friends when he has to resupply and sell his fur. 20 possums will give him a hundred bucks.
The hut has a nice pile of National Geographics sitting in the corner, courtesy of Mike and a trip he made to a Katikati opshop. It’s also clean, warm and dry.
He won’t be around for much longer as he’s thinking of heading down to the South Island for a bit. As far as we can tell there’s not really much predator or possum control going on in the Kaimai. We reckon he’ll be missed.
Over winter he doesn’t get many visitors but through the busy summer months he spends much of his time in bivvies away from the tourist ‘hotspots’. As the Kaimai Ridgeway project grows he’s expecting more visitors, but he’s happy to share the place and help out the Trust when he comes across them working on tracks.
‘Most of em are old…me father would’ve clipped me round the earhole if I didn’t give em a hand.’
Ás Mike goes to leave on a quick night round of his traps he calls Justice who’s snoring on their bed. The dog opens his eyes, looks at us, then goes back to sleep.
‘Justice! Come on boy.’
The response is the same and the snoring gets louder.
‘Justice! We’ve got work to do!’
‘He’s alright. He can stay here with us,’ I offer.
As Mike left, Justice watched him go and promptly went back to snoring. He has a good life but the occasional sleep-in is deserved.