Definition of ‘Young Man’s Country’ – a term that may have been overused by rural real estate agents back in the 1980’s when trying to sell a particularly rugged, remote and most probably uneconomic farm - ‘Ideal first farm’ often meant the same thing.
Toast to another reunion hike
The Double Brown (beer) couldn’t have tasted better, amazing how company, location and general atmosphere can make up for crap beer. It’s just another one of the peculiar hallmarks of these reunion hikes that we always toast the start of the expedition by drinking the terrible beer we used to drink as teenagers. It could be worse – Lion Red, Tui, Waikato...
Assembled around the Manson Hut, at 1280 meters in altitude with the last rays of light fast disappearing and the mercury plummeting, we are a contented bunch of old mates who catch up once a year and head for the hills for a few days of hiking, yarning and laughter. We have arrived like rock stars – by helicopter. It’s not really our style, just a luxury we treat ourselves to on these trips in an effort to get further into the backcountry and maybe take a few more treats.
Perfect hiking weather
As usual the excitement had built to barely containable levels leading up to this year’s annual expedition. Not only were we boasting a record turnout at serven, (including a new recruit, Dan Power, who had his last hike with us as a lanky 17-year-old - 25 years ago), the weather was looking nothing short of perfect. A big anti-cyclone was working its way towards the country in what looked like ideal timing for our arrival in the Kawekas, Central North Island.
The helicopter journey means there is not too much hiking today, apart from a steep descent to check out the Old Manson Hut. Years ago this area was part of Ngamatea Station and sheep grazed these high tussock tops. The hut is constructed from timber slabs milled on site back in the 1940’s, a dirt floor and malthoid roof. Sitting in the old windowless hut it’s not hard to picture the type of characters that would have slept in the old sacking bunks here years ago. Chook (Andrew) mutters something about this being real ‘Young Man’s Country’ as we scramble back up the ridge to the relative comfort of the New Manson Hut.
Savour the moment
The next day sees us wandering north through Manson country over the 1448m hummock of Mt Manson itself. The day is glorious with not a breath of wind. The mighty volcanoes of Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe stand proud out to the west and keep us under their constant gaze. Frost heave and ridge tops swept bare of vegetation remind us that this could be an utterly miserable place in different weather conditions. Winching each other across the Ngaruroro River on the old cableway provides a novel and pleasant alternative to plunging through the icy water. We had counted the contours on the map and were psyched for the climb to Venison Top. It’s an altitude gain of 800 meters and it takes a couple of hours before we emerge above the last of the stunted alpine shrubland to catch a sublime vista of Ruapehu and Nguaruhoe, not to mention Tongariro brooding away in the background. The distant volcanoes turn pink and we become silhouettes against this breathtaking backdrop of vast forests and deep dark valleys. Nothing needs to be said, a bottle of single malt appears from somewhere and we savour the dram and the moment.
Tira Lodge, Venison Tops Hut, Kelvinator Lodge - tonight’s accommodation goes under a few names but we settle on Kelvinator as being the most appropriate. It’s another brilliantly clear but freezing night and the wood stove fed only soggy or frozen beech logs struggles to warm us. However, we have plenty of food and single malt to warm us from the inside.
We wake in the morning to see that the hut has a bit of a ventilation problem and the walls are literally running with condensation, my sleeping bag is wet from being dripped on all night. JK (John) thinks we should get out of here before we all come down with pneumonia! Our moods brighten as the sun starts to appear and warm this wintry hollow. The long drop (compost pit toilet) seems best situated for morning sun, making the morning ablutions more pleasant.
It’s more roaming of the ridges this morning crunching across the frozen scree. We hunker down in the tussock out of the biting wind for a bit of lunch before the climb to Whetu; at 1650 meters this is our summit, we won’t get any higher than this and it’s all downhill from here. We amble down off the golden tops into the Manuka and Beech forests and head towards Makino hut, tonight’s accommodation. We run into a hunter who is staying at the hut and who informs us that the wee six bunker hut is already full. We discuss our options as the weather is on our side and it feels like another fine clear night is on the way. Instead of going all the way to the hut, we stop at the most suitable campsite we find and lay out the bedrolls and sleeping bags. Before long there’s a crackling fire, strategically placed logs for seating and the smell of another great meal wafting through our camp.
Annual General Meeting
As it’s the final night of our hike we run through our Annual General Meeting and future adventures are discussed. Fiordland gets mentioned as a possibility and an excited murmur ripples through the camp. The outgoing President and Secretary are commended for their sterling job of organizing another great Young Man’s Country expedition and next year’s President and Secretary are sworn in.
The final day dawns and it is a pleasant but straightforward amble down into the Mohaka Valley and out the Te Puia track. We naturally split into two groups with the advanced party having to route march their way out to meet flights departing from Napier. Fortunately I am in the group where we take our time to enjoy and savour the last few hours of being in the mountains. Soaking in the Mangatutu hot springs at the road end caps off our adventure just perfectly. Thanks guys for another great trip – stay tuned for next year’s epic!
Thanks Jon for your photos too!