This photo has nothing to do with this post but I came across it when I was looking for pictures and couldn’t resist putting it in!
Well, here I am in Singapore airport, having just finished the first leg of the journey to the UK for Stephie’s wedding. It is 6.30pm local time – about 10.30pm NZ time and 11am UK time. I’ve been on a plane for 10 and a half hours and have 4 hours to wait for my connecting flight to London. So, I thought I’d drop you all a line. A lot has happened since I last posted, not the least of which is getting to grips with the NZ education system and actually working again!
Having worked almost 4 weeks now teaching French I have got to know my classes – a jolly nice bunch of kids, on the whole! I’ve sussed out the characters, know which ones to rely on to make the rest of them laugh or sigh with despair! Already got on the backs of the ones who prefer to sit and chat rather than work, and delighted in those who are just the “perfect” students! Since most of them are willing volunteers rather than conscripts life is pretty easy as far as discipline goes, but there are always the lazy ones who will do the minimum to get by who need cajoling along. The main thing is keeping them on task and not letting myself get diverted when they ask questions about what it’s like in France, and if I’ve ever lived there, and what the French eat and what sort of music they listen to …… And you know me – I can talk for ever and they’ve sussed that already!!
Most of this last week has been spent getting together all the cover work to leave for the Reliever whilst I am away. But I also had a hectic week two weeks before that as I had to leave work for two days whilst I was out on Bush Camp! Hans, who is the Head of Phys Ed also runs the Outdoor Ed course for the Sixth Form, asked me if I would help out as an instructor on the two day navigation camp in the bush. Yes, said I – not really knowing what I was letting myself in for! We set off on the Wednesday evening, a minibus each full of kit and kids, though mine had more kit, less kids and a trailer! There was me, following in Hans’ wake as he headed off cross country on a “short cut” that avoided the main roads. I was quickly lost as he sped away in his newer, more lightly laden minibus; but I had the benefit of a couple of eagle eyed students who kept him in their sights and he did stop/slow down at junctions to give us chance to catch up before he was off again.
We were driving up to Thames and then along the Kaueranga Valley (an unmade road – bit bouncy towing a trailer – in fact the kids hadn’t locked the trailer and it came open on the way though fortunately only one tent fell out on the road!!) to an Education camp where we spent the night camped on the veranda. Before that though, tea was cooked and then a night navigation exercise just to keep them on their toes. In the morning Vern arrived – our third instructor and after a good campers’ breakfast of porridge, bacon, egg and sausages (I have to say I was very well looked after as far as food was concerned!) we set off through the bush. Just follow the trail, he said – let the kids find the way, that’s what they’re here for! The route roughly relates to the map – 7 river crossings in reality where the map shows 2 so we all had wet feet within 10 minutes of setting off! The first part is well marked though and so we had no real route finding problems. Later on when we left the main tourist trail and were in a wilder area the route was more difficult to find despite the fluorescent spray paint on the trees.
The recent storms had brought down lots of trees so we had to make diversions, the Supple Jack was so thick in places we had to crawl on hands and knees to get through it, and there were some entertaining moments trying to get 9 people and full expedition packs over the fallen trees and through the branches! At times I did find myself slightly outside my comfort zone – on my own in the bush with 8 students, sketchy maps and little bush navigation experience! Navigating through the bush is really weird because you can never really see where you are going. Occasionally on the ridges the trees thin and you get a view of the skyline, I suppose it’s a bit like navigating in the Lake District in mist – a bit claustrophobic in a way! You need to look at the vegetation to get a handle on how high you are – all new to me but I learnt a lot in a short time and thoroughly enjoyed myself.
It took us 5 hours to walk what on the map in a straight line was about 4 km! We did stop frequently to do grid references and triangulation etc which takes a while, as does all the gymnastics through the bush! High points were two huge Kauri trees – this whole area was originally Kauri forest but it was all chopped down to ship to the States at the turn of the century so little remains. We made it down to our bivvy spot with about an hour and a half of daylight left for the kids to rig up their bivvies, collect firewood, make fires, cook tea and make their radio calls! There were some ingenious bivvies but the group who built theirs using a hollow fallen down tree had the biggest surprise when the possum who used it has a home came to visit and nicked food out of their rucksacks! He even managed to open the zip on one and reach in to get an orange! Hans set a snare to try and catch him but with no luck. One girl in another bivvy woke up in the middle of the night to see a possum sitting on the chest of the girl next to her – she just snuggled deeper into her sleeping bag and hid! Apparently they are quite tame and not afraid – but can be quite vicious if cornered!
After the radio call – a check in call to the NZ Mountain rescue to let them know where we were and that all was well – the kids were given half an hour to come up with a bush poem to perform at our bivvy site! We had a more permanent bivvy – a corrugated iron shelter with iron bedsteads, a fireplace and a table – luxury! Actually it was a really neat place, right by the river in a little clearing in the bush. Very reminiscent of Swiss caving camps. The daylight goes quickly though as it is in the bottom of the valley and it was pretty cold during the night! I think I need a better sleeping bag if I’m going to spend any more time bivvying in winter in the bush! We were lucky that we had fantastic weather for the two days, clear blue skies and no wind – pretty much what we have had since we arrived in NZ really! Well the poems and songs were pretty impressive and very entertaining which rounded off an excellent day out.
Next day was pretty much more of the same – lots of bushwacking; the route my group took was less obvious than the day before so they had to concentrate hard to keep to the track and we had more clambering and crawling to do before getting to the tourist track at the other end of the ridge. Well worth it all for the stunning views through the trees though and the birdsong and variety of vegetation was fascinating. Apparently they were Bellbirds and Tuis though we didn’t actually see them. Only the Fantails showed themselves – they are really cheeky little birds that hop and twitter along by your side. I love them! Tired, footsore, shouldersore but happy we arrived at the minibus, packed up and headed home! What a fantastic place – will definitely go back with the family!