For three days we stuck it out in the little blue tent. Rain drummed on the large tent fly, as the easterly marched in from the Pacific Ocean. If it’s not raining, it is about to – an easterly weather system is the bane of the sika hunter. In the meantime, heavy mist wraps around everything, soaking sleeping bags to socks, with nothing spared. Great, dark blankets of cloud blot out the sun, turning the landscape grey.
It was about the third day of cooking on damp ground that a giant cog turned over in my soggy head, providing enough power to the brain to spark an idea! Why couldn’t we build a simple little structure from beech poles wrapped in tarpaulin? That way, we could stand up and cook! “Bloody simple!” A stand-up kitchen to make these trips a little more enjoyable when the weather turns average.
The idea continued to fester away the next day while I quietly stalked through the dripping beech forest. The morning sun finally broke through – surely there must be a deer desperate to enjoy these perfect conditions? I slowly worked my way downhill, quiet as a mouse, on the damp moss underfoot. It was around 9am that the roar of Emma’s unsuppressed 243 bought me back to my senses.
The single rifle shot that boomed out from the gullies below camp, was followed by silence. Buck and I abandoned our hunt to go and see what ‘Little Red’ was shooting at. We crossed a couple of guts and a creek before the dog raced ahead. We found our girl stripped down to her bra and up to her armpits in animal guts, dragging out intestines and all the other bits from a nice, healthy looking sika stag.
The beaming smile confirmed she was in her happy place!
“What are you doing half-naked?” I asked. The reply was, “I don’t want to get my shirt messy.” Girls sure think differently to guys.
The Roar of 1998 was a major evolution in Little Reds hunting journey. She had now broken the shackles, successfully stalking and harvesting her own stag. A collective shudder went through the sika stags of the central north island, as Little Red was about to be unleashed upon them.
I pencilled in December to get back to camp and start work on our kitchen. The long, warm summer days would be perfect to start construction. I filled my pack with supplies, and with Buck by my side, we left the truck for the tramp in. Three hours later we had the tent back up, and with a cup of tea in hand, we poked around under the beech canopy. Things felt right in here, shelter from the wind, proximity to the creek, with an endless supply of wood for building materials.
Over a second cup of tea and a biscuit, the dog and I had a site meeting, because two heads are better than one. Buck pointed out two major problems. Firstly, there wasn’t a flat spot and we would need to bring in a digger for earthworks. The second problem he could see was we didn’t have a builder. The butcher we had couldn’t even swing a hammer! That was our last site meeting with free biscuits, after that, he could bring his own…
I wasn’t a builder’s bootlace and would have to wing it. I started to cut beech poles and strip them of branches. I got one hole dug and a pole rammed into the earth before the tape measure came out to start figuring shit out. As the day progressed a very basic frame went up and I retired to the tent that night a happy man. Every trip more tools, nails and building supplies were carted in on our backs during the grind in from the truck.
In January I got the ‘digger’ in and Emma shifted half a ton of dirt from the bank to improve our platform. It was now we realized we could do better than a kitchen, and could add a couple of bunks to the project. Soon enough, we would spend one of our last nights in the tent. Shovelling away, Emma levelled out the back bunk while building up dirt at the front, that we successfully held with a small retaining wall. We compacted it all down to level off our floor, while I continued to add bracing to the walls.
In the evenings we could still wander off for a hunt not far from camp to harvest meat for home. Emma now had her own foxy pup, called Maxine. (From Latin meaning, “greatest”). Bred on the family farm, she proved to be as hard as nails and soon joined us on many of our adventures.
Buck fully disgraced himself that evening, sneaking off while I wasn’t watching and chasing a sika down into the bush! I could hear his barks getting further away as he trailed the deer, before one of those strange things happened… for some reason, the deer turned around and started coming back up the hill.
We could hear the barks getting closer! I loaded the rifle and, blow me down, a minute or two later a sika hind exploded from the beech line into the tussock below me. She kept looking back for the annoying little dog, trailing and barking about two hundred yards back.
I dispatched the easiest deer I had shot for a long time, and waited for the puffing dog to turn up. I carried this one back to the camp whole – Maxine didn’t know what to make of the first dead deer she had seen.
Uncle Blue turned up one Saturday morning for a council inspection, and, I suspect a roof shout. I think the roof nearly floored him, as he stood back rolling a smoke and not saying much. Shaking his head he finally muttered a few words about bloody butchers and grabbed my hammer, before proceeding to pull my not so flash roof off.
The rest of the day was spent cutting & measuring fresh lengths of beech pole for the trusses which he carefully notched together. Watching a real craftsman at work was amazing and soon enough, after a full day of hammering, the construction was complete. We had a new roof that should withstand a heavy dump of winter snow.
The cold beer from the creek never tasted so good, as we stood back and toasted the project. Wire netting was added for extra strength and finally, in late February, the Biv was fully encased with a plastic raincoat that was nailed on with beer bottle caps to stop the nails pulling through.
In March, my Dad got enthusiastically involved with the project, building us a 35kg stand-alone wood burner from stainless steel. The whole fireplace bolted together so we were able to carry it in, in small parts at a time.
The Gotman stepped up in April, carrying the main wood burner for a gruelling five hours, while we also brought in the chimney, and a sheet of corrugated iron to stop the outside wall from melting and catching fire!
The massive step from a tent to a Biv was amazing – being able to stand up, sleep better and keep gear dry, all added up to a great experience. All the hard work was about to pay off, because in late April during the middle of the sika rut, we had our first decent snowfall!
I was hut bound with the dog for 24 hours as the snowdrifts were too deep for hunting, so we just kept the coffee pot ticking over and the little fire burning. As snug as a little bug, Buck didn’t leave my sleeping bag unless driven outside for a toilet stop, or his rumbling stomach needed food.
When Emma finished her shift work at the police station, and was able to join us for a couple more nights, we both scored stags while enjoying our new comforts.
Eventually, I carried in pre-cut wooden pallets and upgraded the dirt floor, with the digs getting seriously flash as we learnt how to hunt the surrounding bush and harvest the odd deer for home.
With million-dollar views into the western side of the main Kaweka range, life was seriously good for a couple of keen young sika hunters.
Time doesn’t stand still and we just kept rolling from one hunting adventure to the next from our happy little mountain Biv, tucked away in the back of beyond. The years seemed to pass too quickly, and soon enough there were two more little sets of boots marching over the tops to squeeze into our lodgings.
First Isabella joined us, followed by Jonty…twelve years on since we started the kitchen, soon it would be time for an upgrade!