Our end of season weekend gets guides and partners and crew together for a bit of exercise and some great food and wine. Director Malcolm sums it up and muses on place names in the Alps while eating too many lunch wraps on a mountaintop.
The season is over and this year we congregated at a lovely high-country lodge near Lake Ohau for our end of season ‘hoolie’. In most work places it’s a constant revolve of staff; woes, accomplishments, dreams, loves and events all unfurling daily in front of the team. But for our Hiking New Zealand guides sometimes six months can pass without catching up with each other (unless waving across a highway at combined speed of 180 km/h counts). Many of our guides and crew have been around for a while – some as long as 15 years - but always there are some fresh faces, so the weekend brings a glorious mix of old friends that you can be cheeky to and wonderful new people you want to impress.
Rhona and I flew down from Auckland and lingered after the weekend to soak up the mountains of the ‘old country’ (we used to live in the South Island). Good to be back. The early winter sun hangs lower in the blue skies. Crisp air, flaming red autumn leaves and (once we finally got past the creeping green tide of dairy farm expansion in the once inviolable Mackenzie country) the big glinting Southern Alps greeted us.
Enroute to Lake Ohau we biked a 38km section of the Alps to Ocean cycle trail. No one seemed to care that the best hiking guides in New Zealand got completely lost trying to leave a flat town of 1200 people on a famous well marked cycleway. Eva is still in denial - she was in the front. An old guides trick is to quietly slip back a couple of places when you start losing your way.
Gliding along, a mix of asphalt and gravel single track, a perfect day, canals, grasslands, and turquoise lakes to cycle alongside. And a handy first aid kit ready for Rhona’s untidy cornering.
Roll on to the next day of hiking and after a stiff climb and a few scratches it got us all high above the valley floor to a wonderful lunch spot. With no wind to chill us we sunned ourselves in the tussock lands and looked northwards up the braided and shimmering Hopkins River to its confluence with the Huxley.
The names bestowed on our topography I often find evocative. Literature, science and colloquial words all contribute. Climbing with my Dad as a teenager we came across a section of the Haast Range with peaks named Moonraker, Stargazer, Skyscraper and the more modest Spike and Rolling Pin in between! And this helps me begin to understand the loss Maori must have felt at the interminable replacement of their place names in the nineteen and twentieth centuries. The associated history and stories became lost too (with no written language it is place names that can hold the key to oral histories). The Huxley River was once called Tairau.
I wonder what Maori stories and history of conquest have long left our narrative. So this river is renamed after Thomas Huxley an English biologist, and I’m very fond of one of his quotes:
“The great tragedy of science - the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact”
Huxley was a good mate of Charles Darwin and is in good company here in the Southern Alps. Geologists and mathematicians get a fair few spots (Haidinger, Hopkins, Murchison, Mueller and Hooker) but I see In Canada’s Sierras, Huxley and his old mate Darwin get peaks facing each other on the Evolution Range. Nice one.
Some of us led by Dan headed up the open ridgeline from here to try and find an alternate route sidling back to the cirque at the head of the Temple. Those less familiar with Dan’s famous ‘day’ trips looked puzzled as we showered them with extra rations and headlamps and did last rites before they headed off.
That evening we had the annual awards. The receiver of the best dressed New Zealand Hiking guide bow tie was of course Martin, and true to his brand he arrived beautifully presented. A rose among thorns at the dinner table. Chai hoped that Kath never told anyone he called her using his mobile phone when he was locked in the luggage area of the minibus (try the hidden flush handle Chai…), too good not to share that one. And Kath took out the technical language award for “nut look funny on black brace thingy”.
How lucky we are to get so many brilliant and happy minds in one place for a few days. I can’t think of anything I would rather do than head off into the outdoors with such wonderful company. I sincerely do think these guys are The Best New Zealand Hiking Guides. And they are true mates as well.