One of the joys in life is finding new words and ideas. Not quite as long as Peter Cape’s famous song about a long Maori placename, Whakawhanaungatanga is a word that I recently learnt with real delight from an iwi member of the Southland Conservation Board on a field trip to Moturau Hut (yes, if you want good field trips, it is hard to beat being a member of that board). Its dictionary meaning understates the concept a little, but, in an outdoor sense, it’s perhaps best interpreted as working together, coming together and talking to solve the world’s problems in the process. In short, it formalises an informal concept that we all know to be true and useful. The closest equivalent English concept is stuffy and misses the point: social capital. You could use the word ‘team-building’, but that is inadequate and has corporate overtones for me that I can do without.

Actually, Whakawhanaungatanga comes from whanaungatanga, which has a central meaning and if I have simplified the explanation too much, well I guess that is the problem of being restricted to writing in English and from a European perspective with insufficient Maori understanding. Please, readers, correct me if I’m too far off the mark.

Why I love this word is that it encapsulates one of the reasons I enjoy tramping so much – for me, our public conservation lands provides a spectacular backdrop to argue ideas, concepts and politics with good friends. There, the rules can be different than in town. In the Hills, you can win on points scored other than on eloquence or logic – on uphill stretches, stamina and fitness can easily deal to clever logic, though if you are worked up enough, you can occasionally gasp a few rebuttals from the tail end of the party! With luck, you can stir up the conversation over the camp fire embers and win back ground lost earlier in the day.


If I had waited a month before writing my last column about calories, I could have referred you to an illuminating article by Rob Dun in the September 2013 edition of Scientific American: ‘Science Reveals Why Calorie Counts Are All Wrong’.

It turns out that not all calories are equal, digestive systems are messy and differ from person to person, and that the list of calories on the packet is only true if you burn the contents. Typical calorie counts ignore how we cook and process food, how our gut bacteria interact with food and the overall complexity of human digestion. With some frankness, Dun points out the obvious to prove his point about calorie absorption and non-absorption: corn. He also points out that peanuts and almonds don’t deliver the energy you were expecting.

More tellingly, he points out why seeds need processing unless you do a lot of processing with your teeth and internal chemicals: seeds evolved to be eaten and then dispersed to grow into plants, not provide fuel for mountain climbers. The conclusion is that highly processed food is going to give you more energy than whole-meal equivalents, so that is what you want to take tramping, unless you want to feel cold and lose weight on the trip. That said, I prefer to eat wholemeal potatoes on a tramping trip, rather than peel them, or settle for spud-dust.

The Dangerous Book for Grown-up Boys

The other day I had reason to look at the list of prohibited exports, which I downloaded from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website. Here indeed is the table of contents for ‘The Dangerous Book for Grown-up Boys’. I was interested to learn that the list of viruses and bacteria you can’t export is actually quite small considering the vast number of species that live on earth: only about 30 viruses and 20 bacteria are Presumably, the number of germs that will actually do me serious harm is quite small in the scheme of things. So, when I then thought about all the handwashes and soaps that claim to kill 99% of all germs, I wondered if this claim is on the basis of species or volume and either way concluded that this is nowhere near good enough to be useful. On one hand, if 990 grams of the one kilogram of bacteria inside me that help keep me alive were to be killed by the soap by treating all species equally, then my life was about to be curtailed. Alternatively, if the stuff killed 99% of species, then the odds are against them killing the germs that would kill me. Actually, I prefer to avoid these soaps as for most part the bugs aren’t doing me any harm and I have yet to contract a nasty disease in the Hills.

This doesn’t stop DOC from frightening the tripes out of overseas visitors with signs posted in the huts that hint of imminent dire consequences should you risk drinking the water. Yeah, right! Perhaps not quite: there is some risk to drinking water and I recall an occasion in the late 1970s when a lot of climbers up the Hooker Valley got a good run for their money after a kea drowned itself in the hut water tank and decomposed. I am not sure that one case is enough justification for all the signs, especially as about the same time I had a climbing mate who, at the end of a trip, found a putrid mouse at the bottom of his scroggin bag, which had caused him no harm.


I asked on Facebook what should be in the next UJCC and got quite a few responses. Unfortunately, none of the resulting suggestions came ready to incorporate in this month’s column. We recently polled members as to what they liked about FMC Bulletin, our website and other things. Clearly some of you read this column, others are oblivious and many would like more practical information, and hints and tips. Do let me know via Facebook or more ancient means what you would like to read. Better still, send me your war stories and tips.

Ka kite,

Robin McNeill
‘Altagore’, 85 Sunrise Drive, Seaward
Bush, Invercargill 9812.

This column was originally published in the November 2013 FMC Bulletin. We will be regularly re-publishing a number of stories from Uncle Jacko’s Cookery Column here on Wilderlife.