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Backcountry Family Trip to the Kawekas, New Zealand

My Grandad spent most of his life in the backcountry, and while he wasn’t a hunter, he was an avid tramper (hiker/backpacker) and would spend days on end in the hills. I dabbled in a small amount of tramping under my Grandad’s influence growing up, but it wasn’t until I got into hunting in my mid-twenties that I started to properly explore the New Zealand backcountry. This opened up a whole new world for me, and the more time I spent regaling my hunting stories with my family, the more time I was spending with my Grandad. He would love hearing about where I went hunting, what huts I stayed at, listening to me complain about the steep climbs and rocky traverses. We would even share stories about some of the same valleys that we had both explored, albeit a significant number of years apart. It was cool to hear Grandad’s stories too, and learn about the food, packs and gear used back then. He hadn’t been into the bush in quite some time, and having just had his 90th birthday, I could see why! When my 30th rolled around a few weeks later, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it than in the bush with my Grandad.

After a bit of organizing and planning which hut would have the best access, and least risk of bumping into other trampers or hunters (I didn’t want to have to chuck my 90 year old Grandad in a bivvy or a tent!), we decided on the Ngaawapurua hut in the Kawekas. We also bought along my Mum and Dad, as well as my partner, Scotty, and dog, Yuki. Soon enough, we arrived at Heli-sika, and loaded up our gear into the squirrel, ready to get Grandad back into the hills for the first time in years!

The flight in was stunning, and we had amazing views over the Ngaruroro and through the Harkness, before spotting the hut and coming in to land. Even at 90 years old, Grandad was able to easily climb out of the chopper, and wouldn’t even let us help with his pack. We set up in the hut, and good size 6 bunker with a nice flat grassy clearing in front. The Ngaruroro runs not far in front of the hut, and the track runs up a little side stream up towards the Harkness Valley. It’s a stunning little spot! Scotty and I claimed top bunks, while the oldies set up on the bottom three. Grandad still had his old sleeping back from way back as well as a couple of other relics – we had a good laugh comparing gear, and marveled at how far technology has come to make getting around in the backcountry easier. The weather was perfect, and we enjoyed lunch together out the front of the hut before Grandad settled into a camp chair with a good book. Mum and Dad decided to explore out the front of the hut, and Scotty and I decided to head up the valley in search of a Sika.

We headed up the valley towards Harkness hut. With the wind not particularly in our favour, we decided to walk quite far up the track before climbing up high and sidling around into the wind back towards camp. The wind was a bit swirly, but we kept walking along the ridge line, and soon enough, Yuki was onto a scent and started leading us down and around. After about 150 metres, she started ground tracking, and we thought for a moment she may have lost the scent, but was back onto it again quickly. We sidled even further around, Yuki keen the whole time, walking bout 5 meters in front, winding and stopping to wait for us. We dropped over a small ridge, and Yuki suddenly changed her demeanor – we knew she was close! We both went to complete bush-stalk mode – as quiet as humanly possible, small quiet steps, the accidental break of a twig causing us both to wince and hold still for a few seconds. Yuki peered over the ridge and locked up on point. We knew she could see a deer, as her tail shot out straight and she started gently shaking. Her eyes wide as she slowly looked down towards the deer and then back to us, not moving a whisker the whole time. The ground was a bit crunchy, so I held back while Scotty closed the gap. He got to Yuki and turned to me, giving me a thumbs up. He indicated that he could see two, and I watch as he set up the rifle on a tree rest.

Breath in, breath out… and I heard the rifle go off. It sounded good and Scotty is stoked! I heard noise as the other animal scampered off through the bushes, and I ran down to meet Scotty and Yuki. A nice wee spiker, and a clean shot! Scotty said there were two spikers feeding slowly along the gut, and they had no idea we were even there. We packed out the meat, and made out way back along the track towards the hut. Along the way, and only about 200 meters from the hut, Yuki started indicating up the opposite side of the gully. She was pretty sure that there was an animal close by, and was very keen to go in, so we decided to drop our pack and follow her nose. She led us straight up the gully on the side of the track, and within 15 minutes she had locked up on point. She was so sure there was an animal right there, but Scotty and I both couldn’t see a thing! The bush was so tight, and we hadn’t any binos, but were looking to see any movement or flicker of an eye. We started to move forward, and Yuki was reluctant to move even a front paw. We stood looking for a good few minutes, before we heard the rustle of a bush and saw a young stag run off! He would have been standing looking at us not even 20 meters away!! Shows how amazing they can be hidden, and how many deer we must walk straight past without the help of the dog!!

A bit cross with ourselves, we headed back to camp. Our frustration was soon dispelled when my Mum bought out the good wine that she had bought in, as well as cheese and crackers and an amazing platter! We had a good catch up, there is something so special about being in the middle of the bush with family, with no phones, power, technology or anything getting in the way. Mum had also made butter chicken and so we then had the best meal I have ever had in the bush, followed up by birthday cake! A few more wines, a bit more chatting, and we all settled in to bed.

The morning bought another fine day, and we were due a mid morning pick up. Scotty went out for another hunt with no luck, while the rest of us made the most of the stunning surrounds, peace and quiet, and of the small slice of paradise we are lucky enough to call home.

Chloe is from New Zealand and enjoys hunting the backcountry with partner, Scotty and Hungarian Vizsla, Yuki. Follow her adventures at @chloe_hunts.

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