A Short History of the North Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club.


An initial meeting to form a club took place in the Moeraki Room of the Brydone Hotel in Oamaru on Thursday October 20 1977. This group formed a committee with 13 people , Chairman was John Ryder and the Secretary was Miriam Ataya.

The first tramp was held on 6 November and went to the Herbert  Forest with Bruce Mackley as Leader. This was followed by a barbecue at the Waianakarua Scout Camp (currently  The Olives Backpackers). Participants were asked to pay $1.00 for individuals and $2.00 for families.

The first AGM took place shortly afterwards on 10 November at 7.30pm at the Deerstalkers Hall, subs were set at $2.00/person , $1.50 for school children and $3.00 for families.

Office bearers elected were President: Bruce Mackley, Vice President: Jack Ryder, Secretary: Miriam Ataya and Treasurer: Isabel Carter.

A monthly newsletter was produced and offered advise on tramping matters such as what to take and what was correct hut etiquette. The programmes were very full at this time with most weekends having some sort of trip on.

Some of the early trips went to Cape Wandbrow, Dansey Pass and Arthur’s Pass.

The following is an exert from the Newsletter from March 1978 and  a trip up the Huxley and up to the Broderick Pass:

The 11 members reached the Monument Hut after a three and a half hour drive from Oamaru, only to find a “House Full” sign up. However , the weather was fine and we all slept peacefully under the stars.

With a fine day dawning, we left for Broderick Hut and soon after some of us found out just how powerful the Huxley could be when we made our first river crossing. Just as well we had formed a chain, or somebody may have ended up in Lake Ohau. A short stop at the Forks Hut for lunch, then on to Broderick Hut- fantastic scenery. Oh, no!! “House Full” again, but we all felt revived after eating “A  La Chewy Stewy”- cooked by the girls. ( Recipe available on demand). Lucky the weather was fine, since we had to sleep out again. Ye gods! Bring your earmuffs if you’re ever sleeping near Gilbert Hayes or Charlie Sime.

In the morning, 5 of us tramped up to the Broderick Pass. It was well worth while, although the view was obscured by clouds. We tramped back on the other side of the Huxley which was much easier going, then met up with the others at Monument Hut. We left for home , had a short stop at Omarama.
Many thanks to the drivers, Gilbert and Isabel. If you see any gearbox cogs lying around up that way, please return them to Avis Rentals. John Pringle.
Those who were on this trip were Charlie Sime, June Ewing, Kathryn Dodd, Gibert Hayes, Elvie Brown, Don O’Brien, Isabel Carter, Cathy and Sue Powell Stephen and John Pringle.

Reading those early newsletters shows that those early editors struggled just the same as us getting people to write trip reports and any other article of interest and editor of the time David Houlihan pleads for people to contribute.

The club is now having monthly meetings at the Deerstalkers Hall, much the same as at present with members bringing slides to share with others. Instructions on bush and mountain craft was given at various venues depending on the activity. Some quite adventurous trips were undertaken, the weekend of 16/17 December 1978 saw the club on a trip up to the upper basin of Canyon Creek where 5 member then climbed Mt Barth.

The record shows that Dave Mellish still a member now was also a member in 1979 making him currently the only one from the early days.

June’s newsletter reports a club trip to Stewart Island amongst the many other trips. Eighteen members went there for five days.

August 1981 sees the club shifting its monthly meeting place to the Paraplegic Hall in Steward Street and in the next months Newsletter is a report from Bruce Mackley raising conservation concerns around the Trotters Gorge area specifically about forest loss as a result of farm burn-off of the native tussock. October’s Newsletter even has poetry and some facts and figures of the costs of transport at the time.

In July 1983 a trip report has the name of Ian Roger and family as members of a group of 23 from the club enjoying a summer weekend on the far side of Lake Benmore. Ian Roger would from that point make an ever bigger contribution to the club. Jane Naish and Betty Jenkins were also there on the committee with Dave Mellish as President and June Ewing as Secretary. Ian Roger wrote his first trip report for a trip up the Hopkins River May 21-22

April 1984 announces the AGM to be held in the Athenaeum, up stairs above the old library , regular meetings are still taking place at the Paraplegic Hall. A pot-luck evening meal was also on the Programme in that issue.Well written reports describe a variety of activities by the club at that time and it shows a remarkable level of activity by very enthusiastic members.

The weekend trips were by far the most popular trips as opposed to how the club operates now. There are also mutterings of finding a name for the Newsletter and most monthly club meetings seem to have a feature speaker.

Finally by July 1985 we see the first edition of Footprints the Newsletter of the North Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club appear with Key office bearers Ian Roger, Peter McIver, Margaret Mackley, Betty Jenkins and Dianne Mellish being the Editor. A new club badge is called for now that the club is called the North Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club. Announcement in July 1986 that the Waianakarua reserve has been acquired by the Lands and Survey Department and the club wastes no time in getting in there for exploration.

The programmes for this period are full with trips every weekend , April 1987 shows a wide range of trips including biking, skating, rock climbing as well as regular tramps and climbs like Rabbiters Peak. Trip reports include a report by Ian Roger for an attempt at Mt Ward( they didn’t get to the top). This edition also reports on the first club trip into the Waianakarua Reserve, the start of many many trips in that area and leading us to develop first routes and then eventually marked tracks all the way around a circuit including the Staircase Ridge and the Staircase Hut and Tabletop.

August 1987 sees mention of Barbara Simpson in a trip report of a trip to Dome Hills.

In 1988 the Wednesday Walkers made their debut initially calling their group the Mid-Week Strollers Group, Dorothy Rendel invites anyone interested to phone her. Moving on to April 1990 we see that Ian Roger is the organiser for a working bee in the Herbert Forest, namely the Hoods Creek Track. This must have the one of the last clean ups the track got before the forest was sold to Blakely-Pacific the current owner.

The edition of Footprints of March 1991 has an interesting article about GPS’s:

Maurice and Phyllis Gray, Dave Sinclair and Stewart Graham all make an appearance on the members list published November 1994

The year 2000 saw two club members Noel Pullan and Dianne Mellish carry out the Skyline Traverse. This trip involved traversing the Kakanui’s from the south to the north and raised $14000.00 for Child Cancer in North Otago.  See below for the full story.



After selling a pony and riding gear I found there was enough cash to equip myself and two family members with boots and pack to take up tramping!  An advertisement in the ODT for a Bushcraft course  initiated me into a life changing experience which I have never regretted.
The Bushcraft course was very well organised with two ‘lecture’ nights at the WGHS where we learned about gear, map reading, compass reading?, first aid etc.  After these two nights which were attended by about 30 people,  we felt well equipped for our weekend camp down in the south Waianakarua River.

Saturday morning we excitedly left Oamaru, drove to north of Hampden where we followed Findley’s road into the Hampden Forest and parked in the gravel pit on top of the ridge.  Then the exciting bit was following a hunter’s track, and wearing a very heavy pack on our backs down to the Waianakarua river.  Setting up camp was an adventure as most of us had not cooked on an open fire or slept in a tent and the squealing of wild pigs at 5am was memorable. Frances chose not  to camp over night but walked out to the cars (by herself) and went home to have a good sleep.  However, next morning when she was returning to our camp, she slipped on the stones in the river, fell and broke her arm.  Charlie volunteered to take her into the hospital for the necessary repair.  Hard to believe how dangerous tramping can be.

When we were walking out to the cars up the bridle track into the old Waianakarua Reserve, Ramsay pulled a hamstring as he was carrying the heaviest pack of us all.  He had included his gold pan – just in case we saw some gold!  Stewart helped him lighten his pack.
Now we were becoming experienced trampers!?

A week later about 25 of us left Oamaru at 6pm to travel to Monument Hut in the Hopkins Valley for the big Bushcraft weekend,  reaching the road end about 9-30pm when the people in cars transferred into the Minibus to drive over the riverbed to the Hut.  It was a very dark night and there was great difficulty finding the track without turning into the river.  After eventually reaching the hut most slept in tents while some of us quietly went into the hut where already there was a couple with an 18 month child with them.  After being in our bunks for 10 minutes we heard this couple muttering to each other so Charlie asked them if they had a problem.  He told us that his wife was 8 months pregnant and she was having pains! They had been at Red Hut earlier that day and while driving their vehicle across the river it got into a hole so that they had to leave it there while they walked to Monument Hut.  They were lucky that we turned up.

Bruce & Gilbert volunteered to drive them out to Weatheralls (the first house ¾hour down the road).  After the difficulty we had had finding the road up the riverbed this was certainly a big ask but none of us was a midwife.  June stayed awake to keep a camp fire burning so that they knew where the hut was when they were driving back at 2am.  They didn’t get much sleep so were a bit tired the next day.

The Bushcraft group was divided  into six groups with a leader each.  The really experienced group were to camp outside Broderick hut while a novice group were to sleep in the hut.  One group with Pam went to Huxley Forks hut while the group I was in went  to Elcho Hut.  Gilbert’s group crossed the Hopkins to go to Culler’s Bivy while yet another group were to camp in the slightly swampy flat above the Huxley swing bridge.

The plans were good but we did not take enough notice of the weather forecast or what was happening when we started off from Monument Hut.  We started walking into a rather strong Nor’Wester which became stronger by lunch time.  My group were the lucky ones when it started to rain as we reached Elco Hut at 2pm.  The group camping in the swamp above the Huxley swing bridge decamped late  in the day as the water rose, and went back to Monument Hut.  The Huxley Forks group were dry but were surprised to see torch light coming toward the hut  in pouring rain about 9pm.  On arrival, they were a family from Maheno with children, not much food, not enough clothing,  little tramping experience  but a carton of wine!

While I was enjoying Elcho Hut,  little did I know that my daughter was being lead up the wrong side of the North Huxley to Broderick Hut in pouring rain and a rising river.  As they got further up the valley the river rose and it became increasing difficult to cross.  However they did cross, got very wet but not swept away, and arrived at Broderick Hut to find it already occupied by the party who were supposed to be camping outside.  The leader was on  the verge of hypothermia and the rest of the group were wet and exhausted.  I’m not sure how they sorted out the hut but I think there was some double bunking.

By the next morning the rain had eased off but there was a rather cold  wind.  All the rivers were up and by the time we had all arrived back at Monument Hut there were a lot stories to be told.  The Culler’s Biv group had to cross the Hopkins River and were very cold when they arrived.  Coming back from Elcho Hut the side streams were high and challenging.  As most of us were new to tramping we did not all have sufficient wet weather gear for such extreme conditions.  It wasn’t hard to make a list of what was needed for another weekend trip.

In spite of of such an eventful weekend most of us were hooked on tramping and have since spent many enjoyable weekends up the Hopkins.  Thompson Stream was always a trip I would have liked to repeat along  with the Broderick Pass, but this Bushcraft weekend was the most memorable of all trips.






Wednesday 4th October 2000

Standing on the watershed of the Kakanui Mountains, foothills folding gently down to the North Otago coast on the eastern side, while the western side dropped abruptly onto the expansive Maniototo landscapes celebrated in Grahame Sydney’s paintings, we saw it coming.
Ominous. Obliterating. A dark grey curtain advancing towards us. Not to worry; we were fully kitted out in our storm gear, ready for anything. We would just keep plodding along through it when it struck, trying to keep to schedule.

We were already a day behind. Once our objective for the day, Mt.Pisgah, was reached we would drop off the ridge to find a more sheltered place for the night. This was only the Kakanuis. Having survived a full-blown Mt. Cook storm in a tent, this shouldn’t be too much of a worry.
The south-west front assaulted us with major force. Undeterred we forged on through snow and wind. Within minutes our world was reduced to a meagre metre of shrieking, buffeting, snow-filled space. Heads down we kept placing one foot in front of the other, the 4wd track guiding us along towards Mt. Pisgah. We felt rather than saw the gradient of the road changing from level to uphill. Very soon I could see neither the road nor Noel nor anything else. We were really flying blind and struggling to remain upright.

Several months earlier
The whole adventure started on a wet Queens Birthday weekend in Oamaru. I was getting frustrated. The weather had held us in town Saturday and Sunday, and I was on the phone to find four people to go to Wainak for a tramp up Staircase Ridge next day.

By mid-day Monday the cloud was clearing from the tops. While sitting around at our lunch stop near the hut, I brought up the idea of traversing the Kakanuis from one end to the other.
The looks on every ones faces showed lots of interest and enthusiasm. I made the suggestion that we could organise sponsorship and do it for a charity. I thought it had never been done before, and could arouse a lot of public interest.

By the time we got back to the cars we had formed an organising committee, and “The Skyline Traverse” was under way.  Di Mellish and me,Noel Pullan, were to be the two climbers.
We enlisted the help of the Tramping Club, and one of the local Lions Clubs. Months of hard work organising fun-raising and publicity followed.

On Sunday October 1st 2000 we left for Siberia Hill, accompanied for the afternoon by other organisers.
We were met on the hill by Gerry and Margaret Wing and Richard, where we erected a cross in memory of James, aged 21, who had died from cancer a few weeks earlier. It was a moving ceremony.We had chosen Child Cancer in North Otago as the charity we would fund-raise for.
With Sunday running out we climbed Mt. Dasher with a group of trampers, then they left us and we set up camp near Mt. Cattothyrst. I was cook for the first evening meal.

Monday 2nd October
Monday morning was quintessential spring: glowing pink sunrise, breakfast al fresco and skylarks trilling above the tussocky uplands.

“I suppose you just gape and let your gaspings

Rip in and out through your voicebox

O Lark

And sing inwards as well as outwards

Like a breaker of ocean milling the shingle

O Lark

O song, incomprehensibly both ways

Joy!  Help!  Joy!  Help!

O Lark              (Ted Hughes)

We clambered over a jumble of hexagonal basalt blocks and up through the truncated columns that had fallen from the summit of Mt. Kattothyrst. This end of the Kakanuis is a collection of idiosyncratic volcanic peaks. The symmetrical blade of Dasher and the almost frivolous little crooked cone of Kattothyrst are flanked by the broad substantial solidity of Siberia Hill and Mt. Obi.

Traversing the high plains of tussock connecting them in the spring sunshine was bliss, heavy loads and all. Luminous green mosses cushioned our morning tea stop, and pig rooting let us know who the local residents were, though we didn’t meet any that morning. Stretched along the skyline we could see the snowy tops of almost every one of the fourteen peaks on our agenda. We hoped to reach Mt Domet and Te Kohurau at the end of the traverse in about five days time.

We were heading up the north-east slope of Obi through patchy snow, soft wet moss and patches of thin ice over swampy ground. Walking some distance away from Di I got the call “Over here Noel, I’ve found a good track through!” Before looking up I heard a splash and “Oh shit, I’m all wet!” Looking over I saw Di sitting in a sitting in a small pool of water, ice and snow. Shaking my head, I smiled and kept to my own track.

A few minutes earlier I had happened to notice a cold front coming over Mt. Obi and the wind picking up. I called out to Di to put her wet weather gear on. Minutes later we were in rain driven by a very strong wind. Carrying on to the top, we made our on air call to the local radio station. By now the rain had turned to hail and visibility was very poor. We headed down the ridge and into the murk. Unbeknown to us it was the wrong ridge.

The hail was bruising our faces and knocking us about so we turned down a gully to get out of the worst of it. By now it was snowing heavily. We pitched our tent and crawled in to wait out the storm. Several hours later the storm had blown through and the sun had returned. We had lost all of our height so followed the north branch of the Kakanui  to a campsite on grassy river flats where Diane cooked up dinner. We didn’t know this but this would be our last proper meal for several days.

Tuesday 3rd October

Tuesday dawned clear and bright and we enjoyed the long slog back up to the ridge, and on up Kakanui Peak. Our coordinator, Ian Rodger, was relieved to get our phone call as he had not heard from us since the storm struck. It was a straightforward traverse down across a steep gully, and back up to Mt. Evelyn.

Now a nor’west gale was ready to get us. We struggled back up to Kakanui Peak, barely able to stand in the wind. Di had to support herself with her Leki poles to stay upright.

It was time to camp but there was nowhere to get any shelter from that tearing wind. So we just pitched my little yellow tent right in it, anchoring it as best we could with an old post , our ice axes and a couple of bent waratahs found abandoned by a nearby fence.

Cooking was impossible so it was cold water and dry biscuits for dinner, then nothing to do but huddle in our bags and wait for conditions to improve. Next morning was not much better and no chance of a cup of tea either.
Keenie, the local radio host had warned us of a south-west change forecast to come through later in the morning. We decided to make haste along the ridge line track towards Mt. Pisgah. Not for long though. The storm I described in the first section soon overtook us.

Back to the storm of 4th October again
We realised there was no sense in going forward and we couldn’t go back into the wind, so we dropped over onto the leeward side and out with the tent. I was taking the orders from Diane who was concentrating on holding onto the pieces of fabric. I fixed the back of the tent into the snow with our two ice axes. The door was impossible to hold down as the pegs kept on popping out with the force of the wind. We had great difficulty clipping the fly on because the snap on buckles had filled with snow and frozen. I had to remove an axe anchor and use the pick to clear the problem ice out, while Di stood on the back corner of the tent.

By this time our polypro gloves were frozen and our hands extremely cold. We threw the two packs and Di inside, as there seemed to be a high chance of the anchors failing and everything blowing away.  I tried to tie the edges of the tent down but it was hopeless, so I crawled in too. It was now   10-30am. We phoned to say we were safe and settled in to a lunch of dry biscuits and freezing water.
Ice was forming in the drink bottle as we watched, and spindrift was blowing in and settling on everything.

The wind gusts were flattening the hoop poles right down to the floor every few seconds, and the door end of the tent which we had been unable to secure flapped and cracked alarmingly.

It was uncomfortably cold, -4 degrees, but at least the spindrift wasn’t melting and making our feathers soggy.  I was concerned that the continual extreme deformation of the poles would cause breakages and ripped fabric, ( a scenario I had lived through once before and did not want to revisit) so Noel manfully sat “ with his shoulder to the pole” and endured the cold and constant buffeting hour after wearying hour.

I huddled in my sleeping bag trying to keep warm, and tried to make intelligent conversation to pass the hours. Food and water were rationed due to the fact we had been unable to cook or brew for days, and were running out of ready – to – eat snacks. Sleep was not an option.
The wind kept howling and gusting and beating us up. It just went on and on and on.

About 1am the next morning I felt certain the poles and fabric wouldn’t hold out much longer, and we had better be prepared for finding ourselves in an unprotected blizzard. I suggested to Noel that we don full storm kit just in case. So it was on with Parkas, boots, gaiters overpants…….. the LOT……..
And back to waiting for time to go by.
We phoned our support crew to let them know we would attempt to get down off the ridge at first light, and could they meet us with food and a hot drink?

Eventually morning came and we decamped in still shocking conditions, though the visibility was somewhat better. We managed to get all but one buried snow peg stuffed into our packs.
Once down into the gully with the wind no longer battering us, we cheered up a lot. By the time we met the support party down at Crumb hut, we were quite chirpy and quite appreciative of the hot soup and corned beef sandwiches.
Later the team admitted they were shocked at our haggard appearance after our 17 hour ordeal.

We headed back to Oamaru for a shower and a nights sleep. Keen to continue we travelled to the Maniototo side of Mt. Pisgah on Friday evening and camped out.

Saturday 7th October
We climbed steeply for several hours through snow and mist to the tent site, and retrieved the missing peg. We looked at each other and said “what are we doing back up here?”

It was still very cold, but at least the wind wasn’t so strong and we could see. We cramponed up the track to Mt.Pisgah on hard ice. The sun almost appeared but it turned quickly to a foggy white-out, and the map and compass had to come out. As usual it was too cold for a proper lunch stop.

Eventually the sun chased the fog away. Thick blades of ice weighing down all the strands of  tussock, sparkling snow with fence posts only just sticking out, and a big moss-field with a tiny creek snaking through it, made for a very pleasant afternoon. After 14 hours almost non-stop we were glad to untie our snow shoes and set up camp just over Mt. Nobler. About 4-30am the next morning a serious nor-wester was threatening, so we hightailed it across to Mt. Alexander in the dark, and on down to Dansey Pass.
This completed the southern section of the Traverse. Because we both had to get back to work the next day, the remaining section was postponed to Labour Weekend.

Saturday 28th October
By then the weather had really settled and we had three glorious days to climb the six more alpine snowy peaks at the Kurow end. Noel was a bit burnt out from a 24 hour multi sport event in Dunedin the previous weekend, so it was rather slow progress up Mt Kyburn. We were rewarded with expansive alpine views of the whole spread of the Southern Alps, with Mts. Cook and Aspiring visible a long way off.

We trudged along a fairly level ridge for quite a while, feeling excited to see the bigger peaks getting closer, but Noel was still struggling. Jelly beans must have magical properties I haven’t discovered yet: Noel surreptitiously scoffed a whole packet at our lunch stop without offering me a single one. He confessed his sins when I was marvelling at his sudden increase in energy levels as we headed over to Mt. Cone!  We enjoyed sitting on a large rock cairn on the top of Cone soaking up the sun and the wonderful views. It was quite hot scrambling back along the rocky ridges.

Camping that evening was a most salubrious affair with warm sunshine, a big cooking rock, a creek gurgling down from the snows of Mt. Grayson to wash in and even a visit from the Three Little Pigs. They wandered past at quite close range seemingly oblivious to our presence. Noels cooking can’t have smelt overly inviting.

Next day we were both charging. Away to a pre dawn start, we ticked off three more peaks on a day that just flowed from one joyful experience to the next. We cruised up the snowy ramp of Mt.Grayson at sunrise, around noon Noel topped his favourite mountain, Domett for the 9th time, and we slogged through the midday heat and rapidly softening snow to Little Domett.

It was a bit of a thirsty grovel through the big boulder fields after that, but nothing could dampen our spirits that lovely day. The dry spell ended when we happened upon sinuous rivulets of musical melt water on the scree slopes. Pragmatic Noel thought I was loosing my marbles when he saw me apparently trying to get a drink from the mossy bank, missing the water trickle by a good metre.

“The water’s a bit further over here Di,” he called out helpfully, “you’re in the wrong place”.
I’d suddenly forgotten my instant thirst. My nose had been hijacked by the most heavenly exotic perfume, and I dropped to my knees on a velvet green carpet sprinkled with hundreds of tiny, fragrant, waxy yellow flowers. The Psychrophylla obtusa were in full bloom, and the afternoon heat was causing the fragrance to fill the air.

It was a good decision to cook dinner at about 4pm as I was flagging a bit and badly in need of a major food input to fuel my motor. A rest was most welcome also. We set off again an hour later and it took till about 8pm to negotiate the roller coaster section of ridge to our final camp, but my spirit was light and so happy. Up there with my mountain buddy, the ridge drawing my footsteps along in the evening light, snow diamonds glinting in the slanting rays, clouds luminous with promise, a sense of enormous space and freedom, my soul seemed to be resonating with the song of the Universe. Life doesn’t come any more real or precious than this.

Sunday 30th October.
Another good day with a very early start. We sauntered down the track which led us through a gentle saddle then ascended Te Kohurau, our final and highest peak, in a bitterly cold wind. The final summit photos were taken and live radio links made as quickly as possible and we thankfully dropped down into sheltered basins on the north side where it was incredibly warm by comparison. Ian Roger was striding up the snowfields in his shorts to meet us!

Back down at the Awakino skifield hut we were met by members of the organising groups and enjoyed a champagne lunch picnic. We both felt very satisfied that we had brought this big project to a successful conclusion, and it had been a wonderful experience for both of us. The physical and mental challenges brought forth the usual range of human emotions, as climbing usually does: joy, frustration, tiredness, love, fear, jubilation.

A cheque for $14000 was handed over to the North Otago Child Cancer Foundation to help local families in need of support. We were delighted with the way the public supported the cause.

That storm was a godsend really because it generated so much interest and talk around the town. Not only did it have a very beneficial effect on the fund-raising, but it also raised people’s awareness of our local mountains and mountaineering as a sport.

While talking at various slide evening presentations, we discovered that many people have lived in the shadow of the Kakanuis all their lives without knowing the names of any peaks, or realising how serious conditions can be out there. Our traverse had changed that for a number of them.

          Finally we were both invited to attend the North Otago Child Cancer Christmas Party and were humbled by the welcome we received. We were greeted by the committee and invited to take part in an open air Church Service to remember the children who had lost their battle with cancer. After the minister had said a few words, the parents came forward one at a time to write a name and message on a balloon. The minister then said a prayer and cut the string releasing all the balloons to float away into the heavens above. All eyes followed the balloons until they were out of sight.

I found this a very emotional experience. Diane and I were presented with a certificate “In Appreciation” from the Child Cancer Foundation. We were both very touched by the accolades that we received from the parents of these children and from the public of North Otago, as what we had done for the children was no big deal to us, we only wanted to help the families financially.

Noel Pullan and Diane Mellish