Fair dinkum in spades

A walk in the Takitimu Mountains

Venerable grocery items in food cupboard at Upper Wairaki Hut, Takitimu Mountains / Kennedy Warne

New Zealand Geographic has just published my story on the hut restoration movement in New Zealand. Lack of space prevented the inclusion of an episode in which I visited several tramping huts in the Takitumu Mountains with former Federated Mountain Clubs president and current author of Moir’s Guide South Robin McNeill. We were reflecting on the fact that huts are the museums of the hills, preserving the memories of many lives over many years, both in the written entries (and occasional poems and sketches) that trampers leave in hut books and in the ephemera that is left behind in a hut after the visit.

We stepped in to Aparima Hut in February to find on the table a fresh kiwifruit, a thriller, a book of Hindu mantras and a bag of scroggin. This hut is on the Te Araroa trail, so receives regular visits—a stream of SOBOs (south-bounds) and a few contrarian NOBOs (north-bound). The hut book showed that 180 “TAs” had passed through since November.

The next hut on our route—Spence—had deer bones on the mantelpiece, a collection of metalworker’s files and a copy of Reading Lolita in Tehran on the bookshelf.

The jackpot was our overnight destination: Upper Wairaki Hut. When something is commendably genuine, McNeill likes to call it “fair dinkum,” and Upper Wairaki Hut was fair dinkum in spades. In the food cupboard I found tins of decades-old golden syrup and milk powder, three kilogram-sized canisters of Sifta salt (deer cullers must have liked their condiments), a giant tea caddy and a vintage box of Edmonds custard powder that evoked memories of childhood steamed puddings.

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