Not long after I first took up hunting I ventured out on my own one weekend to a spot called Cannonball Flats. It was named for the round boulders that covered the river flats, rough to walk over but fast to warm up when the sun hit them. A perfect place to look for a deer in spring, when they might stay out on the clearings into daylight, feeding on the new grass. Only, it wasn’t spring. It was early winter and the flats had stayed frozen all day.
Edited version originally published in Rod & Rifle magazine.
The bush around me was quiet. Peering down the game trail into the dusk I knew I wouldn’t see anything. By the river I sat to watch the light fade. I laid back in the gloom of the bush edge and looked up at beech leaves falling silently like snowflakes. A grey robin joined me. I had seen them throughout the day, until I had the feeling it was the same bird each time. The sky purpled and then darkened as I glassed the flats. Over the valley the moon rose, nearly full.
I sighed, standing on aching knees, cold now from sitting in damp clothes, frustrated at the last three days. It was too early for roaring in the Kiwi Burn. The blood rushed to my feet and I was momentarily light-headed. As I walked back to the hut the feeling returned to my legs and the moon illuminated the tussock as if by streetlight. In the morning we would walk out. We were going to Fiordland next.
A wedding had been the reason to return, its timing at the end of March the deciding factor. For two years overseas I had missed the bush. An old friend from home was keen to hunt the South Island with me while I was back. Then, shortly before leaving Cairo, a serendipitous phone call; we were offered a wapiti block after another party pulled out.
…sidle the headwater waterfall on the TR. The gorge just above the hut is sidled high on the TL into the sidestream. – Merv Rodgers, Tararua Footprints
“Mate, we need to think about setting off the PLBs,” I say. “I’m totally fucked.”
It’s getting dark. We’re standing in a gorge in waist deep water. Below us waterfalls block our way. Behind us another prevents retreat. After trying for 10 hours to make our way out of the headwaters of the Arete Stream, we’re out of options. This wasn’t part of the plan. That morning, stuffing our packs outside the biv in typical Tararua weather, Andrew proposes something else.