It was around a campfire – not on a dark and stormy night, but on a pleasant evening at Lake Waikaremoana in January 1974 – that the idea of a Napier-based tramping group took firm root.
At that time, the Napier YMCA was very much to the fore during the heady days of fundraising walks. The thousands of dollars raised enabled the work of the Y to continue, especially “The Pub With No Beer” for teenagers. It had been during the Taupo-to-Napier walk that Pat Magill and the late Doug Fraser first started talking about the Ureweras and the possibility of organising a circuit of Lake Waikaremoana, with places reserved for kids who would benefit from such an experience.
As a result, with dozens of people forming the support team, 107 walkers of all ages took part in the organised Lake Walk. The concept of a Napier tramping club came alive. A management committee was formed. Doug Fraser was elected President, and the Napier YMCA Tramping Club was up and running – and heading for the hills.
On October 5, 1974, the club held its inaugural tramp: the climb up Kaweka J, at 1724m, the highest point in Hawke’s Bay. Our popular annual October Anniversary Climb to the J continues to celebrate that first foray. Though challenging in parts, the two to two-and-a-half hour ascent can be achieved by most trampers. There are several current members who could paper their walls with the certificates that are handed out to participants each year!
One of those on that first tramp was the good friend and Life Member, Ron Lee. Ron and photographer extraordinaire and long-time member John Marshall present three-monthly previews of upcoming tramps with commentary and slides. Their presentations, based on an uncanny knowledge of the region’s back country, are highlights of our fortnightly Thursday meetings in the Port Ahuriri School Hall, our venue since 1978. The Ron-John presentations embrace the scheduled fortnightly Saturday and Wednesday tramps, the four-weekly weekend ones and the extended trips. The club is fortunate to have had a great cross-section of guest speakers over the years, supplemented with excellent illustrated talks by some of our own well-travelled and experienced members.
In 1981, the affiliation with the YMCA ended, and our present name was adopted. A significant development occurred in 1989 with the formation of the ‘Wednesday’ group to cater not only for those members a little longer in the tooth and those not so committed to the pace of the “guns”, but also to provide flexibility of choice and timing. This has proved extremely successful, the large group having tackled some pretty challenging trips, but taking (more often than not) a little longer to do them. The crossover that occurs between the two groups is interesting and positive. A member on all expeditions writes a report that ends up in our regular magazine “The Bushbasher,” which has become a source of great memories.
Being within easy striking distance, the Kawekas and Ruahines are the most frequented ranges. But the Kaimanawas, Ureweras, Whirinaki Forest Park (a favourite!) and the Tararuas are regularly visited. We’ve also been to White Island, Stewart Island, Northland, the Coromandel and up the East Coast to Mt Hikurangi. The annual week-long trip to Mt Ruapehu is always popular, our stay in the Auckland Tramping Club’s wonderful lodge continuing the friendship we enjoy with the Aucklanders.
Over the years, we have supported Search and Rescue, have been involved in the seemingly never-ending pinus contorta elimination work, and with the Department of Conservation, some track clearing. We’re currently strengthening our link with DOC.
We have about 75 members and though some are unable to take part to the extent they once did, they nevertheless remain involved. One noticeable feature (not unlike many provincial sports-type clubs) is the difficulty in attracting and retaining younger people. This is a sign of the social changes that have occurred over the last couple of decades, not the least being the other exciting options now available. Work commitments also impact.
Former members who gained their first outdoor experience with the club have acted as guides to the summit of Mt Everest and have scaled Cho Oyu. One was Dean Staples, who was in mountaineer Mark Inglis’s support party.