It comes along every winter, when daylight is in short supply and I become smothered in the season’s claustrophobic embrace.
I’m talking about winter’s bedfellow, cabin fever, aptly described as “being stuck in confined quarters for an extended period, usually accompanied by extreme irritability and restlessness”.
I knew something had to be done.
Fast forward a few texts and very little convincing and a trio of similar-minded trampers was assembled.
* Wooden stag now Āpiti’s trademark icon
* Manawatū Gorge replacement route investigations include hunting for bats
* Councils continue to monitor river levels as rough weather batters Manawatū and Tararua
Gathering on a frosty Saturday morning, packs loaded with the essentials and items not vital to our survival, such as Aunt Betty’s chocolate steamed puddings.
Music blaring, we set off on our adventure.
As we left the car park, sitting on a plateau overlooking the Ōroua River in the Ruahine Range, about an hour from Palmerston North, there was definitely a feeling of excitement and plenty of puns.
We felt that sense of freedom, of throwing yourself into nature’s embrace, to explore and discover – a youthful exuberance that emerges when we are released from our everyday duties.
We grabbed a quick group photo before descending into the forest canopy.
After an hour or so of sidling, dropping down to creek beds and scaling slippery hills, rarely deviating from a 60-degree pitch, expletives were exchanged as often as traction was lost.
The Herculean task complete, we took a break to let our lungs catch up.
Every now and then as the cloud broke, shafts of light would pierce the canopy, illuminating a moss-laden spot on the forest floor.
As we came up to the top of the saddle before our final descent to our river-flat campsite, we took a moment to gaze up the valley, mesmerised by the thick mist draping itself like a fluid white coat over the distant hills.
After wading through the Ōroua River we arrived at our campsite in the late afternoon, nestled by the river and surrounded by a stand of beech trees.
Undoing the laces of our waterlogged boots with ice-cold fingers numbed by hours of exposure to the elements was harder than we thought.
We started setting up hammocks and a tarpaulin to shelter from the impending rain.
The next mission was to start a fire to stave off the night chill – no mean feat, with no dry wood anywhere near us.
But with perseverance and a lot of blowing, we managed to get the damp wood alight. By now darkness had set in and so had our hunger.
Food, clothes and shelter are the most important basics in life and for me food leads the way.
It’s amusing how something as mundane as a boil-in-the-bag butter chicken can taste like its been prepared on an episode of Masterchef.
We sat around the fire, chatting and sipping port, among the orange glow and the cracking river stones as they heated up.
The allure of flickering flames harks back to prehistoric times.
The relaxing effect of warmth reached a point where a horizontal position was inevitable.
Ten minutes later I was lying in my hammock, rocking like a metronome in the breeze, ensconced in a warm sleeping bag as the moonlight shone through the trees creating giants swaying silhouettes lulling us to sleep.
The following morning we were awakened about 5 by a chorus of birdsong, accompanied by the muffled rush of the river. What a great start to the day.
Getting out of the sleeping bag into the icy morning was difficult, but nature was calling and she wasn’t taking no for an answer.
After having a bowl of porridge down by the river we started packing our gear for the journey back.
I was feeling a certain amount of apprehension, mainly because we had to wade across the icy river again, which meant soggy cold feet for the next few hours – and there was also the thought of returning to “the real world”.
After a brief climb, we found the track and once again were swallowed by the forest.
There is always less chatter on the way back, as we paused occasionally to absorb the surroundings of this prehistoric world.
I find walking in nature is the perfect time for pensive thought while slipping into nature’s rhythm.
I’m always wary of roots pushing through the forest floor, there to trip the unsuspecting outsider or outstretched at just the right place, as if lending a helping hand.
We passed trees gnarled and distorted by decades of weathering, the air was thick with the damp smell of moss-laden wood, and the epiphytes, nestling into the ageing arms of a centuries-old rimu, its host and woodland companion.
Going back down over the saddle we climbed on the way in was just as difficult, as we struggled between huge boulders standing like sentries, their slippery surfaces doing their best to slow the urban intruder.
We briefly droppedto the river to take in the vista and built cairns from the stones, always a bit of fun, and a little bit competitive to see who can go the highest.
Arriving back at the car park just as the sun was setting made for a stunning finish to the day. We removed our wet boots and opened a few beers, cooled by nature, which went down a treat.
After a debrief we were on our way, fuelled by the thought of an Hawaiian burger and chips at the Cheltenham store.
Driving home with the car heater cranking, we sat in the warm afterglow of another adventure completed.
We always say each time we return from a tramp: “We don’t do this often enough.”
As Albert Einstein once said: “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.”
It’s not a bad mantra.
❑ Tell someone your plans and leave a date so they can raise the alarm if you haven’t returned
❑ New Zealand’s weather can be highly changeable. Check the forecast and expect changes, especially if you are doing river crossings.
❑ Always take a first aid kit
❑ Take a map and compass
❑ Take extra food just in case you have to stay another night.