By Esther Pothuis (November 2016)

Tramping, known elsewhere as backpacking, rambling, hill walking or bushwalking, is a popular activity in New Zealand. Wikipedia describes tramping as a recreational activity involving walking over rough country.

Trampers often carry a backpack and wet- weather gear, and may also carry equipment for cooking and sleeping. Wikipedia is quite right about tramping being popular and recreational. The rest is a bit wrong: we do not just carry equipment or food for the fun of it. We actually use it.

On 4–6 November 2016 club members Janet Wilson, Warren Wheeler and I spent our time walking over rough country not only in pursuit of recreation but also with the intention of doing some applied tramping (which is the activity of tramping in combination with making yourself useful – can somebody edit Wikipedia?) in order to protect blue ducks.

Janet Wilson relocating a double-set trap; Photo credit: Esther Pothuis.

From Ngamoko Road we took the Apiti Track to Leon Kinvig Hut, but on the way stopped to make ourselves useful. Wearing our wet-weather gear to protect us from wind and rain, we relocated the last traps on the stoat trap line from Longview Hut to the Apiti Track intersection. That line is now almost ready to kill many stoats and rats. We spared no effort to celebrate this memorable moment and at the hut enjoyed dry clothing, Peking Duck chips, chocolate and dinner. A male whio joined in the celebrations and whistled a thank you to us.

More wind and rain the next day proved demotivating at first. Our mood changed after a female whio showed her appreciation by making a weird sound and having a grateful swim in the Pohangina River, right next to the hut. So, after lunch, encouraged by her presence, we braved river and rain to re-bait the self-resetting traps downstream.

When we were almost back at the hut, we were delighted to see the happy whio couple together. They gracefully swam downstream, catching insects along the way, sitting on rocks, often just gently floating. It was cool to see them do what river ducks do. They demonstrated awesome river skills, blended in very nicely with the environment, and clearly belong to the river. After a while, the male duck lost his beloved female and whistled dramatically, awaiting her reply. She totally ignored him. He frantically looked and called for her, swam a long way down river until giving up and flying away. That was the last we saw of the (perhaps) not-so-happy couple.

On Sunday we made our way back to the car. I hoped to impress Janet and Warren by saving my orange-chocolate muffin for the last leg of our long journey, but Janet outdid me by pulling out a perfect avocado from her pack. Warren lost; he only had boring sandwiches.

This article was originally published in the Palmerston North Tramping & Mountaineering Club newsletter, December 2016. Several club members are active in the Ruahine Whio Protectors Trust (, of which Janet Wilson is the chair.

It was later published in the June 2017 issue of Backcountry magazine and has been republished here on Wilderlife as part of FMC’s 2021/22 focus on Volunteering for Biodiversity. To learn more, visit