C. Hooker and I finished our Christmas break with our families in Christchurch and returned to the West Coast to more hunting. We had hunted in the Wanganui Valley, just north of Hari Hari, early in December 1972 and had bagged one good stag at dusk near the road where we were camped. We should have bagged the two of them but I was slow on the draw. The two stags took us by surprise because we hadn't been expecting to see any deer so close to the road. However, Charlie dropped one, making us happy enough.
Now we wanted a stimulating hunting trip including exploration, tramping, and recreation.
This trip was to be a long-distance recreational trip of a week or so into remote parts of Wanganui Valley hunting chamois and red deer, without worrying about trying to carry the meat to the road to sell. The Wanganui Valley is glacial, rugged, huge boulders, deep rivers, impassable gorges and cold wet rainforest typical of the valleys in that part of New Zealand.
The first day went well. We tramped up the valley along the track and the route on the river's true right bank, and arrived at the confluence of the Wanganui and Lambert rivers where we could see the Adams River flowing into the Lambert, and later that evening we walked up to where we could see one swingbridge in each river's gorge.
Now we were in country where you take care because you're eight hours from the road and among countless bluffs and sheer drops and slippery boulders all often concealed by bush to make deadly traps for those who trudge too confidently through the forest. The river there was low enough for us to cross on foot without having to tramp the extra mile and back upstream to the new swing bridge. I had been there on a previous trip and the river then had been too high to ford. My companion and I had crossed on the ancient flying fox, that looked as if it had been built during the 1800s.
C. Hooker and I spent the night in the old Hunter's Hut, a hand-hewn hut built many years earlier, and in need of renovation. Next to the hut we inspected a site that the New Zealand Forest Service had recently cleared for a new hut site.
With us in the hut that night was a noted Christchurch hunter who hunted alone and with whom I had crossed paths at Canterbury University, where we were both students. One of my good hunting friends, Derrick, had met this noted Christchurch hunter hunting in the Waitaha Valley and had dubbed him "Waitaha Bill". " Bill " had alone bagged two very good stags, and Derrick was justifiably impressed.
In the morning "Bill" told us he would follow us upstream, and we left him to his hunting. We continued upstream along the Wanganui's true left bank. There was no track to follow. We were heading for the confluence of the Smyth and Evans rivers; the two rivers that make up the Wanganui. We thrashed and crashed our way through tight scrub,making slow progress. In places we had to scale boulders the size of houses, deposited in the river course by glaciation.
As dusk approached we agreed that we were not going to arrive at the confluence that night, and probably never, due to the tightness of the scrub. (Since our trip a track has been cut up the route we followed.) We commenced a back-up plan. We backtracked to a rough creek called Devastation Creek, which we had passed on our way up, and in which we had read were chamois living at the higher altitudes, in the bluffs of the mighty Lord Range looming high above our campsite.
We had for our night's accommodation a simple tent. The tent was a nylon pup tent with no floor in it, and with barely enough room for the two of us. Above us the sun was shining its last of the day into the steep-sided gorge in which we were camped. We hoped for continuing fine weather.
We pitched our tent beside Devastation Creek on a tiny sandy patch among the boulders, and cooked a simple meal of potatoes and sausages over a tiny fire of dead scrub branches. The sky was clear, the stars twinkled, and we anticipated a good day's hunting next day.
We spread groundsheets on the sand floor in the tent, then drifted off to sleep in our sleeping bags in the tent with the smell of the alpine scrub in our nostrils, and with the sound of the thundering creek in our ears.
Then the sound changed.
At one o'clock in the morning we awoke to the dreaded sound of rain pit-patting against the nylon tent. We had no flysheet. We hoped the rain would go away. It did not go away. It steadily became worse. The shower became steady. Runoff water flowed along the ground, into the tent, so that by three a.m. I was lying in two inches of water and totally soaked along with my sleeping bag, and Charlie was almost as wet.
"Let's get out of here. We can't hunt in this weather. Let's go back to Hunter's Hut and dry out there and see if this weather clears up. Damn the rain," I said.
"Yes," said Charlie, "It' about all we can do. Damn."
"Yes, damn. All this way for nothing. Damn. I was looking forward to climbing and hunting."
In the dim light of dawn we hurriedly packed our damn wet things into our packs and began the trudge downstream to the hut. The rain poured. What had taken us four hours to climb the day before, took us two hours to descend. I call the mode "autotramp". In such conditions you switch your mind off to everything but getting to the hut or road as
soon as possible, and switch your body to the same mode. Autotramp.
No rest, no chat; you move it. Autotramp.
We were soon inside Hunter's Hut with a fire blazing, dry clothes on, and a hot cup of tea in hand. Heaven. Relative to our past six hours we were in heaven. Rain drummed on the hut roof.
We spent the next few days in Hunter's Hut reading, eating, drying wet sleeping bags and clothes, and hoping the rain would cease. It did not cease. In this part of New Zealand it can and often does rain torrents for weeks on end. We waited for three days but the rain continued to fall.
We returned to the road, and prepared to travel north to our familiar hunting grounds in the Paparoa Mountains.
Waitaha Bill was nowhere to be seen. We passed his parked car on our way out to the road. To increase his chances of survival we stopped at Hari Hari Forest Service Office and told the ranger in charge that "Bill" had been supposed to meet us at the Evans/Smyth confluence but hadn't caught up with us. My senses told me Bill was safe and happy; he was a superb hunter and outdoorsman. However, in that region of the Southern Alps one must not make assumptions, because Mother Nature there is unpredictable, sudden, and final. One must always cover all possibilities.
I heard that in 1974 the New Zealand Forest Service built a new hut beside Hunter's Hut, and a new hut at the Evans/Smyth confluence, and cut a track from Hunter's hut up to the Evans/Smyth confluence.