Duke of Edinburgh
On the first Monday of the school holidays a group of intrepid trampers left Invercargill for the golden shores of Masons Bay on Stewart Island. The goal was to tramp through to Rakeahua on the Southern Circuit.
This was a Duke of Edinburgh Gold qualifying tramp for Brianna Loan. She was accompanied on this tramp by Florence McKenzie, and Callum Stratford, Ella Dougherty and Natasha Lewis used this as Silver qualifying tramps. Tim Loan and Clint Brown also came on this epic adventure.
The flight into Masons was windy so instead of landing by the Masons Bay Hut as we intended we landed down at Kilbride. The pilot did a low fly past of the beach and then came back to land. Poor Mrs Brown is not a good flyer and found this manoeuvre a little scary to say the least. Landing at this end of the beach worked in our favour as we had organised to camp on the lawn of the Kilbride Homestead so we were almost there. We were really lucky that 2 very kind hunters were using Kilbride and allowed us to access the house to heat water etc. Being able to cook inside was a bit of a blessing.
We used this day to walk down to the Gutter. A few years ago a pod of Pilot Whales stranded on Masons so we saw a lot of whale bones scattered along the beach. It was a big reminder at the harshness and remoteness of the landscape we were in. The wind was pretty strong and walking to The Gutter felt like more of a sandblast. Potentially good for the skin, but hard on the eyes. Exploring this part of the Island was a highlight and even the wind and rain couldn’t put us off.
We had an early night in our tents as we wanted to leave early the next day to arrive in Doughboy so we could spend time exploring the area. We were lucky that we heard kiwi calling outside our tents however we were too lazy to get up and have a look.
Tuesday saw us backtrack along Masons Bay beach to the start of the Southern Circuit track to Doughboy Bay. This track started off beautifully meandering through beautiful native bush and over some sand dunes. Then we struck the mud. Stewart Island is notorious for mud and this track was no exception. Mud could be demoralising and soul destroying but when you are knee deep and stuck in it, it actually becomes quite funny. You knew when a good mud pile was coming because someone would be inevitably waiting patiently, often with a phone out, to capture and laugh at those behind them trying to navigate it. Many classic one liners came about because of the mud. They are only funny to those of us who were there, but many many hours of laughter came on the back of some of these mud puddles.
The track up to Adams Hill was a mixture of a track, a goat track, a river, a swamp and a river track mud swamp. The top of Adams Hill gave us extensive views over Masons Bay and beyond and just made us appreciate how vast Stewart Island is. The tops are another kind of swamp. The kind that you could disappear in and never be seen again. We skillfully navigated the Loan Pass and the 2nd Loan Pass (named by the Loans funnily enough) The tramp down into Doughboy was quite challenging. Again we weren’t sure whether it was a swamp, a track, a goat track or a river, or a combination of these all. It took a lot longer to get to Doughboy than we anticipated so we didn’t get to explore the way we wanted. We did, however, visit the cave that was home to a Japanese lady for a year or so as she was hiding from authorities. She must have been one tough lady to live there for that amount of time. We had the hut to ourselves that night and again were lulled to sleep by the call of the Kiwi that again we were too lazy to go and see.
We left early for our hike to Rakeahua and we knew it was going to be a long day. The first few hours was a gnarly up hill. We were often wading through mid calf deep water as we walked up the hill. The views of Doughboy were stunning. I’d like to go back one day and spend more time there. The tops were a mixture of mud and swamp you could disappear in. Walking through this definitely builds character.
As we walked down into Rakeahua Valley we were able to enjoy some stunning untouched Rimu forest. We all felt very blessed that we could enjoy this environment. We had seen no other trampers so far and very much felt alone in the world. There were several small river crossings that meant our boots would get clean, however, in true Island style within 10m we would be in knee deep mud. The last few km of this day was relentless swamp. On tired legs it was a huge energy suck so we were very very glad to see the hut at Rakeahua.
There were two other trampers in the hut that night so we arrived at a beautifully warm hut and company. The hut only has 6 beds so a few of us camped. Again we were lulled to sleep by Kiwi and again we were too lazy to get up and have a look.
The next day saw us attempt to summit Mt Rakeahua. Even though it’s not that high it is extremely dominated by the weather. Unfortunately for us we only got half way before we turned back. There was no visual on the top and the wind was picking up. Turning around is never fun, but not getting hypothermia and or lost is probably less fun. Do I need to mention that there was swamp and mud? Probably not.
We had a hut afternoon where we played cards, made wrap pizzas over the fire and just hung out. Again there were a lot of laughs and by now the nicknames and the track banter had really set in.
The next morning we had a water taxi pick us up at 10.30 to take us back to Oban. We had fish and chips for lunch and fish and chips for dinner. Well earned in my opinion. That night we did take the time to go Kiwi spotting and were rewarded with seeing 3 Kiwi. This was awesome for those who have never seen a Kiwi in the wild before. We camped at Stewart Island backpackers that night in the pouring rain but by then we were hardened intrepid trampers so took it in our stride.
Our adventure ended on Saturday when we caught the first boat back to Bluff. Our Southern Circuit adventure was epic. It was everything we wanted it to be and more. It was stunningly beautiful and challenging. The mud gave us a lot of laughs. The wildlife was fantastic and the students and the parents who came were exceptional. We loved this tramp. This was a worthy epic adventure that will stay with us forever.
Many thanks to Clint Brown and Tim Loan for giving up their time to come on this adventure with us.
2020 has been another fun year for the Duke of Edinburgh students.
The programme is a voluntary, non-competitive programme of leisure activities designed to offer a personal and individual challenge. It is student-led, that is students choose the activities they want to participate in and manage how they will complete the time requirements. Completion of each level requires commitment and perseverance - qualities that assist in all areas of life.
Duke of Edinburgh students participate in: Service activities, e.g. giving help in the local community; Skills, e.g. learning almost any non-physical hobby, skill or interest; Physical Recreation, e.g. playing sport; Adventurous Journey - training for, practising, planning and completing a journey on foot, horseback or by boat or cycle, and; Residential Project - for the Gold level only - spending 5 or more days on a purposeful project with new companions.
Unfortunately in 2020 the Adventurous Journey training camp was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, Bronze and Silver students were able to undertake an online version of the training where they learnt the theory around a range of essential bush survival skills. Gold students were given individual training by Mr Oliver.
We have over 50 students involved at varying levels of Bronze, Silver and Gold. We normally have a large number of students at Bronze level and it has been really exciting to see so many of them finish this level in 2020 and progress onto Silver. Eleven have managed this already. A number of students who chose to enter as Direct Entrants in the Silver Level (bypassing the Bronze Level) are still working their way through this extended programme. Three students are on track to complete the prestigious Gold Level by the end of next year. If successful, they have the option of receiving their award from the Governor General. Gaining this level requires commitment, perseverance and a high level of time management. Congratulations to both Emily Donaldson and Mary-Jane Grove who are receiving their Gold Awards this year. If you would like to try an activity that gets you into the great outdoors, creates useful links with the local community, builds teamwork skills, builds perseverance and commitment and of course gives you an enjoyable goal to work towards, then see Ms Spencer or Mr Oliver.