By Ellen Thompson & Shefaa Swailam
Over the April school holidays, six students set off to complete their Silver Duke of Edinburgh Qualifying Adventurous Journey in Tongariro National Park. Two of the participants, Ellen Thompson and Shefaa Swailam, received support from the Federated Mountain Clubs of NZ and the Maerewhenua Trust as recipients of a Youth Award Grant. Their written account of the trip is as follows.
In preparation for our adventurous journey, we did a huge amount of planning. We made route cards to help us navigate, and completed outdoor intentions forms, transport plans, and risk assessment and management forms. The route cards were an incredibly important part of our planning as they allowed us to assess the environment in advance to ensure that we were well aware of what conditions we would be facing and to enable us to accurately estimate how long each part of our journey would take.
We also designated a lot of time towards packing to ensure we had the correct equipment and necessary survival gear. In fact, we actually decided to rent a personal locator beacon (PLB) a few days prior to the trip in case of an emergency, as we would be hiking in an unknown region near an active volcano.
Over the course of the trip, we all alternated roles so that everyone had a chance to develop their skills. These roles included the group leader, navigator, path finder, communicator, note taker, and tailing Charlie. In order to ensure that everyone was being fully supported and no one was being pushed too hard, we had the weaker members of the group walking at the front so that they could set a slower group pace. We also set up a back-up plan for days where we thought we might risk taking too long on the walk and losing the light. Fortunately, we actually traveled slightly faster than expected and we were able to complete all of our walks well before nightfall.
Assessing our abilities as a group was one of the major things we focused on when planning each of our days, as we were all of various levels of experience and fitness, with some of us not having done much tramping prior to our Bronze award level journeys. This proved to be very important for our third and final day when we completed the Tama Lakes walk, as the final section proved to be very strenuous. It was very steep and we had to keep a careful eye on the weather to make sure that the wind didn’t pick up too much, given we were very exposed up by the crater lake.
On the first day of our qualifying journey, we hiked from the start of the Whakapapaiti Track to the Whakapapaiti Hut for the night. This walk took us just over three hours. So in order to reach our seven hours of purposeful activity, we hiked up the nearby river all the way to a huge waterfall at the top in search of a swimming hole we had been told about by some other trampers.
We spent several hours scrambling up loose rocks along the river and exploring some of the small caves near the waterfall; but unfortunately, we were unable to find the watering hole. It would certainly have been too cold to swim in. We then returned to the hut, cooked dinner and went to bed. We were all exhausted from the long fun day of hiking and exploring.
On the second day, we departed from the hut at 8:00am after a quick breakfast of instant oatmeal and granola bars. We had to cross a very fast flowing river at the start of our hike. After assessing the crossing and watching another hiker slip whilst trying to rock hop, we voted to wade through the river in pairs and deal with soggy shoes for the rest of the walk.
The rest of the Silica Rapids walk was mostly on a lifted wooden platform or through some of the marshy areas. We also had several more river crossings over suspended bridges. The track was in fantastic condition, which meant we were able to travel faster than expected and we arrived back an hour short of our required seven hours. This meant that although we were fairly tired, we had to hike back to Waitomo Ski Lodge (where we would be staying the night) up a steep, dry river bed before arriving at the lodge.
On the third day, we started our final day of our qualifier by completing the Tama Lakes walk. We drove down to the start of the trail and set off at 9:00am, taking the Lower Tama Lakes track to the viewing area before stopping for lunch and to practice some emergency procedures. In order to complete our qualifier, we had to set up several tents, present a cooked meal, and show how we would help an injured member of our group in an emergency.
After a short lunch break, we started the strenuous hike up the Upper Tama Lakes track. This proved to be difficult terrain as the path was very steep and there were lots of loose rocks. We also had to stop to assess the path at several points, as it was pretty windy and we were very exposed on top of the ridge. Fortunately, we made it to the top without a problem and hiked back down to the chateau, feeling the reward of successfully completing our journey.
Overall, it was an incredibly successful trip. We were all pushed to face our fears and to work outside of our comfort zone. We also developed our abilities to work together and made many friendships over the course of our trip, as the Duke of Edinburgh Award attracts such a fantastic group of like-minded people.
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.