By Jacob Butler and Tyrone de Ardenne (Otamatea High School)

Our two Gold groups had been planning a tramp since June 2018. We live in Maungaturoto, Northland. We decided to tramp the Greenstone/Caples/Routeburn tracks:  92 km, 4 days, 3 nights. The purpose of our Gold qualifier was to observe the flora and fauna of the South Island tracks and to compare it to that of our pre-expedition track, the Tongariro Northern Circuit.

Some potential challenges that our group could face:  an alert on the DOC website about part of the Routeburn Track and suggested alternative routes, the weather, group fitness, daylight hours and medical issues.

Travel Day:  We left home at 3:30 a.m. to catch the 7 a.m. flight to Queenstown. Tracknet took us to the Te Anau DOC centre to check out the track conditions, weather and to collect our hut tickets. We stopped to buy gas canisters and were dropped off at the Divide. We discussed the first section of our tramp, numbered off and did a ten/ten mental/physical check before heading up the hill on the start of our journey in the heat of the afternoon.

At Lake Howden Hut, we had a rest and a bite to eat. The DOC ranger had a quick chat with us and we headed on to Mckellar Hut for our first night. We pitched our tent before night set in and cooked our communal dinners with our headlamps on. It was a long, cold night in the tent.

Day 1:  We were up at 5:30 a.m. ready for what was to be a long 30 km walk of  river flats down the Greenstone Valley and up to the Mid Caples Hut.

One of the group member’s pace was considerably slower then the rest of the group and we arrived at the hut in the dark. A lovely warm fire awaited us, our communal dinner was cooked and then we crashed into our sleeping bags. In the morning we cooked a quick breakfast to be ready  for the day.

Day 2:  The team headed up the Caples Valley on the true right of the Caples River for lunch on the Mckellar Saddle. It was a beautiful sunny day on the saddle with many interactions with friendly robins along the way. The track lead us down to Howden Hut for the night and the start of the Routeburn track. We listened to the hut warden’s talk and crashed into bed.

Day 3:  In the morning, we left early and headed up to the Mackenzie Hut past the 174 m Earland Falls. The morning’s highlight was a pair of Ruru sitting in the trees as we walked along. At morning tea by Lake Mackenzie we were treated to a visit from some kea. The hut warden later told us that they had been causing her “all sorts of problems” with their mischievous antics.

We enjoyed a session of skimming stones on water. To our surprise, several fellow trampers joined in with us and a competition developed! Up to the Harris Saddle shelter for a late lunch, the mountains were spectacular, and we soaked the views up.

Then it was along past Lake Harris and down to the Routeburn Falls Hut with it’s magical setting.  On the last part of our tramp, we saw lots of riflemen feeding on the track as we walked along. To cap it off, the hut warden gave us an interesting talk about geology of the area.

During our debrief at the hut, we compared what we saw in Tongariro with our experience of the last few days.  The Northern Circuit was full of loose volcanic rocks and not much greenery up high. We only heard birds in the patches of beech forest on the track. The South Island tracks provided us with lots of native bird sightings and there was a wider variety of tree species.

As a group we believe we worked well together and our leadership skills certainly increased throughout the expedition. The challenges we faced was the length of Day Two, taking much longer than it should have due to one person in the group not training before the trip.

The river valleys were deceptive. When we studied the route on our maps we thought they would be much faster and easier travel. However, the small up and downs caused a much slower pace and tested all of us both physically and mentally; hard yards to complete a 12-hour day where we arrived at the hut in the dark. It was fun tramping with our headlamps on through the trees though, which added another dimension to our tramp.

We would like to thank FMC and the Maerewhenua Trust very much for supporting us both with a grant towards our gold DOE qualifier. We both had an amazing journey — from planning to fundraising and then the satisfaction of completion. The DOE programme has fostered in us a love of the Great Outdoors and we are heading into our futures equipped with a great set of leadership skills for life.

We’re delighted to share another trip report from recent recipients of FMC’s Youth Award Grant. These grants are awarded four times a year, so if you’re inspired to get some financial support, head over to FMC’s website to apply.