Te Namu

I am sure no one needs reminding that killing sandflies in a national park is an offence under S60(1)(h) of the National Parks Act 1980 and anyone so doing risks imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months; what is the hapless tramper to do?

Stoicism goes a long way – never once does Bill Grave complain about sandflies in his diaries, but not all of us have that degree of fortitude. Some recent technological advances may help in the form of cheap insect bite relief pens. In short, you apply the pen to a very recent insect bite before you scratch it and some sort of scientific magic stops the itching. In the same manner as a piezoelectric gas igniter works, one type of pen passes a high voltage spark through the bite area with a quick zap! You zap the itch between five and 20 times.

The other type of pen is battery powered and actively heats the itch up until you are just about to pull it away because of the discomfort, when it stops heating. The idea behind both pens is that bee stings and sandfly bite venoms are heat intolerant and so break down before your body produces too much histamine to itch in any meaningful manner. I found I did get some relief from itching with both. You are meant to use the devices before you start scratching, but I found that once you have had a jolly good scratch, you can get a bit of temporary relief.

I look forward to hearing from other trampers as to their experiences. That said, if you are trying to eat your lunch on the South Coast of Fiordland, I can guarantee that neither device will keep up with the resupply of bites.


Late last year my good friend and FMC Patron Arnold Heine passed away. Metaphors seldom do full justice and always risk becoming hackneyed. For me, Arnold was not so much a mighty tōtara, but a wiry Halls Tōtara (Podocarpus laetus) resolutely and comfortably at home in the mountains. One outcome of our friendship is this column – Arnold was the editor of FMC Bulletin when I floated the idea of it to him back in 1995 and his enthusiastic support sustained it. His patience saw to it that those of my early columns written in remote parts of the Pacific could very circuitously find their way into FMC Bulletin. For sound reasons, my edition of Safety in the Mountains harkens back to Arnold’s seminal 1965 Mountaincraft Manual in many ways. Indeed, I think I own the only signed copy of his Mountaincraft Manual for he had never considered that it merited signing before I asked, not so many years ago. Thank you for sharing your life with us, Arnold.

The Great Unknown

I could have started my assessment of Geoff Spearpoint’s latest book, The Great Unknown, with howls of dismay that, once again, what could have been a great book isn’t because Geoff has overlooked including the Takitimu Mountains. But that would be churlish as he also omitted his beloved Tararua Ranges.

I have always loved Geoff’s photography. He is in the very good company of Rob Brown, who also manages to take the photo that I wanted to capture had I any of their technical and artistic abilities. Geoff’s surfeit of energy, at the end of a long day, still enables him to head off up a hill to take a picture when everyone else is summonsing enough energy to merely lift their cup of tea, which means he also gets the pictures I would have taken had I been there and had his ability.

You could just buy the book for the pictures and get yourself a bargain, but Geoff’s laconic writing effortlessly describing fifty years of bashing around the hills could happily survive without the truly beautiful photos. But why listen to me? Just do yourself a favour and buy a copy.

Aerial 1080

Early in the New Year supernumerary members of the Occasional Patunamu Tramping Club, minding their own business trogging down the Bloodyslow Gorge, heard the pitter patter of falling 1080 pre-feed baits gently raining upon them. Were they upset that they hadn’t found, or read a notice on Rabbit Pass warning of imminent peril? No. Did they fear for their lives? No. Did they see dozens of stunned fauna, reeling from baits landing on their heads? No. Did they see any undesirable outcomes?

Actually, yes – earlier the day before, seven juvenile kea had visited their camp below Pearson Saddle, undoubtedly the result of the previous year’s aerial 1080 drop (no one could remember seeing so many kea in one place in the mountains this century). It will not be long at this rate until there are sufficient kea to again wreak real havoc on trampers’ tents on a regular basis! On second thoughts, that’s not the end of the world; indeed, far from it.


On that trip, Gaz had brought along his Escapist 15D Tarp, made by Sea to Summit. At 440g for three square metres, it would appear to be the lightest, but not cheapest fly on the market at present. Personally, I think this is the smallest size fly you would want unless you only go tramping in places where the wind doesn’t blow and the rain doesn’t fall. It is also one of the largest lightweight flies around. Occasional rain drips blowing under the fly all night can accumulate to surprisingly large amounts of water soaking into your sleeping bag, so you have to compromise between weight and dryness.

For another 800g giving four and half by four metres, my ancient nylon fly is about right. But until I get under it, I don’t appreciate the bulk, or weight. Three by three is a pretty good size for a party of four to sit under while munching on their lunches as the skies fall in on them, or to cook under and so complement low headroom tents.

Also on that trip, I discovered that my lightweight ice-axe is not made of aluminium alloy: I had been using it for a billy crane over the lunchtime brew fire and found the head to be cool when dismantling the crane. I soon discovered that this was not true at the other end of the shaft, which had got unpleasantly hot. Clearly the shaft is made of some metal that is a poor heat conductor. I suspect titanium is the culprit.

Above the bushline where dead turpentine wood and tussock provide the only fuel sources and there is nothing to be used as a billy crane, all-metal ice-axes are invaluable as the basis for billy cranes. Positioning an ice-axe with rocks from the streambed makes for somewhat clumsy placement though. For this purpose Gaz carries around a billy hook, much improving the billy positioning accuracy as well as making lifting the billy off the fire much easier when it comes to swing the billy. Geoff Spearpoint’s book features Gaz swinging the billy, as well as reiterating a cautionary tale about ensuring that billy handles are fit for purpose when swinging the billy.

To Fa Ni,

Robin McNeill

This article was re-published from the March 2020 issue of FMC’s Backcountry magazine. To subscribe to the print version, please visit www.fmc.org.nz/aboutbackcountryWe will be regularly re-publishing a number of stories from Uncle Jacko’s Cookery Column here on Wilderlife.