After a month of tramping in an unusually dry Fiordland, Auckland University Tramping Club Captain, Seán Thomson, wrote to me saying he thought I might be entertained/bemused/concerned to hear that the AUTC runs an annual ‘swamping’ trip in the geologically young Whatipu swamp each year. It’s one of their most popular club tramps. The irony didn’t miss me.

Seán understands that much of the Whatipu swamp didn’t actually exist until recent decades, until the coast had advanced further out into the ocean. This doesn’t mean that the vegetation is particularly inviting, nor the footing particularly solid. In fact, he uses the description ‘somewhat fortifying’ and considers it ‘a quintessential part of learning to rough it in other scenarios’. Auckland was still to flood when he wrote, so I admire his prescience!

AUTC takes measures to minimise its ecological impact, and their 15 to 40 participants leave feeling ‘refreshed, more experienced and enriched with a greater appreciation for the wetland environ. And somewhat better at following pig trails’. While he says he doesn’t necessarily speak for AUTC as a whole, Seán says he wholeheartedly enjoys a good ‘swamping’ from time to time, and thoroughly recommends it to any conscientious tramper; all in good measure. He may say that, but I have lingering PTSD from a moonlit, midnight, mid-winter encounter with the swamp across from the Kiwi Burn Hut (Mavora) when the ice was almost thick enough to take my weight.


I had been using ibuprofen to ease the creaks, twinges and other age-related skeletal-muscular oddities that come to light when I go tramping these days. My guts were less than appreciative. Last year, Patunamu Tramping Club’s medical expert, Professor Dr Gaz (he’s recently been upgraded by the university), suggested that I may instead like to try using celecoxib, a ‘mild pain reliever NSAID and COX-2 inhibitor’ marketed as Celebrex. Celebrex, he said, would be much easier on my stomach and works just as well, if not better. He turned out to be right, but then on medical matters he always is. My guts are happy that I have swallowed my last ibuprofen.

Gaz explained that Celebrex enjoyed early notoriety when the inventors hid some research indicating that it likely increased your propensity to heart attacks. That research was later found to be flawed and it won’t give you heart attacks after all. Nonetheless, Celebrex is available only on prescription.

Be aware that different drugs affect people differently. A reasonable proportion of people, me included, won’t get any or much relief from codeine, for example. It pays to experiment with drugs! Before I get into trouble, I mean experiment with ibuprofen, paracetamol, diclofenac, aspirin and Celebrex. Make sure you don’t exceed the dose, or you may need a new liver or kidneys; and make sure you are hydrated and fed. You would be amazed how close to the wind you sail when you take some of these off-the-shelf drugs, so follow the instructions to the letter.

Mountain Radio Service

‘IB Base’ may be making some of its last ‘skeds’ by the time you read this UJCC. Canterbury Mountain Radio Service’s IB Base in Christchurch has been calling field parties on the shortwave radio bands every day – often three times a day – since 1968. Ian Gardiner reckons it has made between 50,000 and 60,000 broadcasts in that time.

The field radios have evolved over time, but many trampers and hunters of my vintage may well remember my favourite, the Codan Condor, more affectionately known as ‘The Pound of Butter’ or ‘Butter Box’, because of its shape and size, and bright yellow colour. Its insides were very innovative, involving some clever electronics from DSIR at Gracefield. It came out in 1981 and was much lighter and smaller than its predecessors. Stringing up the aerial was always fun and some trampers went to great lengths to erect it as high and straight as possible. Some of us were very competitive.

Once the weather forecast was broadcast and digested, it was time to listen to the other parties in the field to figure out where they were and what they were up to. Sometimes they included friends and more than once I arranged my next tramping trip with someone else after the radio schedule (or sked) had finished: ‘IB56, this is IB64. I’ll call you after the sked’. ‘Roger IB64. Standing by’.

Other times a certain amount of smugness could be caught on listeners’ faces as they learnt of some poor party parked up in clearly suboptimal conditions trying to arrange a helicopter to take them home where it was drier. Of course, it was reassuring to know that were you that party, you could use the radio to get you out of your predicament. After waiting for three days at Bradshaw Sound for a floatplane that never arrived, confirming via Mountain Radio that Hannibal Hayes was to instead take us out in his Squirrel was much appreciated – you’d be surprised how many pipis you need to eat to make a filling dinner, and how many coprosma berries equate to a Moro bar …

After 55 years, Canterbury Mountain Radio service has almost run out of volunteers to remotely key their transmitter and announce, ‘This is IB Base’. If they can’t find enough volunteers by 30 June, we will hear ‘This is IB Base going QRT (off the air). Good night’, and the rest will be silence. With the wonders of the internet, you should be able to operate IB Base from anywhere in New Zealand, so if you are interested in helping, contact them at www.mountainradio.co.nz.

Hut Shoes

After many years of toughing it out, I have finally conceded to comfort and bought some hut/camp shoes. How to choose them? I really hate buying anything, even tramping gear, which is a trait exacerbated by Covid-19. I don’t mind spending the money (well, sort of), or have a phobia about getting Covid-19, but I just hate shopping.

Sue gently accompanied me into the local sports shop last year and I now own some expensive lightweight blue Birkenstock sandal things. They work. Other members of the Patunamu Tramping Club have grey Crocs and knock-offs that also work. I would opt for jandals, but I don’t own any of those fancy socks with individual toes (Does anyone? Let me know.), so they aren’t a starter.

Arawhata Bill

There will have been more than one tramping trip into South Westland inspired by Denis Glover’s poem, “Arawhata Bill”. Indeed, if I think of poets who understood tramping best, it would be Denis Glover and James K. Baxter. While I enjoyed Glover’s autobiography, Hot Water Sailor, I can say that I have thoroughly enjoyed his letters in Letters of Denis Glover selected and edited by Sarah Shieff, and published by Otago University Press in 2020. Sarah has done a tremendous job, and Glover’s extraordinary power with words shines. Oh, that I could dash off words as effortlessly and wonderfully as he obviously could. Treat yourself to a copy of Sarah’s book.

Ka kite,

Robin McNeill, MNZM

This article was re-published from the March 2023 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.