This is the longest track in the world. Those were the words of my younger brother, David, one time when we were teenagers on one of our weekend tramping (New Zealand word for hiking and camping) trips with our best mates Theren and Brin, to Smith Creek Shelter in the Tararua Ranges. This was actually one of the shortest tramps in the whole of the ranges. But he wasn’t feeling it that day and I will never forget his over stated complaint that made me laugh so hard knowing how big the area was.
We used to do this trip a lot to Smith Creek and these tramps were the ultimate adventure for boys from the city camping in the wild. The starting point for the track took you from an exposed car park up through wide views over the hills with scrubby open trees and shrubs along the ridge line, along a worn in smooth path, that led down into the valley towards the main river into lush dense forest where massive hard beech trees, ferns, moss, and every shade of green grew along side streams and an untouched land, leading to the legendary Smith Creek Shelter. Nothing fancy or Airbnb about this accommodation at all – just the bare essentials – but the bare essentials that you needed for a memorable stay!
The shelter had no closing door just a big open entrance. Along one wall it had a kitchen worktop with sink and occasional running water and on the opposite side two massive flat surfaces serving as bunks with no mattresses, but with enough room for at least 25 people to sleep. It was the ‘inside’ option if the rains were too heavy or we didn’t feel like putting tents up. We actually used to camp mostly in the grassy areas just off the main track on the flat open areas safely hedged in by manuka trees and long grassy toetoe plants, with the sound of the wide Tauherenikau river nearby that snakes its way through the ranges.
I was looking for something the other day in one of my storage boxes and came across a topographic map for these ranges. Looking at the tracks, rivers, and hut names for the first time in over eight years I had a flood of memories from our tramping days.
Like the time we stayed at one of the oldest and smallest huts built in 1946, that still stands, Cone Hut, with probably more going for it than Smith Creek Shelter. On the one and only times we ever stayed here, David and Brin brought Lynx – yes deodorant for camping – and they being the young pyromaniacs they were, and we being short-sighted older brothers put them on fire duty. To get the fire started they got out their Lynx and excessively sprayed the fire so much that firstly it was a miracle that the tiny hut didn’t burn down and then when some other weary trampers came to stay, moved on shortly after. The smell was unbearable. They would have had to walk another hour to get to the next place but they definitely made the right decision in order to have a decent night sleep.
We used to plan our trips with map stretched out in the living room working out which routes we would take, how many days it would take, the huts we could stay at or tent at nearby, the food we would need – which included this amazing boxed instant cheesecake that would only need an addition of milk and butter to make it, and then we would balance it on rocks in a nearby stream to set.
Sleeping on a perfectly tent sized piece of soft as a feather moss. Tramping through the snow to get to the next hut which no doubt would have a warm fire going from other trampers escaping the blizzard. Making fires under the open night sky to keep warm, cook food, and boil water to make hot cups of sickly sweet orange juice from packets of sugary powdered juice. Walking across steal wire swing bridges in gusty winds one at a time, over the ferocious rapids to connect with the track on the other side. River crossing down in the same direction as the track on a hot summers day with the stellar advantage of jumping into deep blue water holes to cool off.
Too many memories for a blog post to fully expand on but I’m going to frame this large old map and hang it, as it’s too rich to just store in a box.