HUNT FOR THE HAR­VARD MK II

What makes an ad­ven­ture a suc­cess? Bal­anc­ing on the edge of a rock in the mid­dle of no man's land, sur­rounded by breath­tak­ing 360-de­gree views made up of the Tas­man Sea, rugged farm­land and the Kaik­oura Ranges? It was a ques­tion we were now pon­der­ing. Our

Say Yes To Adventure - - Features - WORDS AND IMAGES: Hol­lie Woodhouse LO­CA­TION: New Zealand

Hol­lie Woodhouse

WHEN SCOTT MEN­TIONED a few weeks ear­lier while stand­ing on the top of Mt Ta­puae-o-Uenuku, that some­where way down to our left was an air­craft that had crashed some 75 years ear­lier, I was more than a lit­tle in­trigued. Af­ter do­ing some re­search, I dis­cov­ered that dur­ing WWII Bluff Sta­tion, lo­cated in­land from Kek­erengu on the Kaik­oura Coast, had been used as a train­ing ground for pi­lots be­fore they headed off to war. On March 22 1942, two air­crafts took off from the Blen­heim Air­port and headed south to Bluff Sta­tion. NZ989 was tail chas­ing NZ977 when they en­tered the Dee val­ley where they were un­able to out-climb the ris­ing ter­rain that quickly sur­rounded them. NZ989 stalled and crash-landed on an open slope while at­tempt­ing a steep turn to exit the val­ley, with LAC (Lead­ing Air­craft­man) J. Voss man­ag­ing to walk out and be res­cued three days later.

The lead­ing air­craft wasn't so lucky how­ever, crash­ing into a group of trees and killing its pi­lot LAC Brian Heaps in the process.

NZ989 was lo­cated in April 1983 by E. Bill­man and re­turned to Aerotech in Auck­land, and along with com­po­nents from NZ977 and NZ1038, was re­stored in 1988. So that left the first air­craft for us to find and to say I was ex­cited was a huge un­der­state­ment. Scott had spo­ken to a guy who is cur­rently work­ing at Bluff Sta­tion as a con­trac­tor, one of the few to have ever spot­ted the air­craft, to get an idea of where we needed to go. He even has images of him sit­ting in the cock­pit. But ‘some­where around here' can be hard to pin­point from so long ago, es­pe­cially when topo lines are ex­tremely close to­gether and thick scrub now cov­ers much of the area.

The AN­ZAC long week­end was cho­sen to at­tempt the mis­sion and af­ter telling Hamish Mur­ray, who owns and farms

Bluff Sta­tion (and who also hap­pens to be my cousin) of our plans, he de­cided that there was no way we were go­ing on this ad­ven­ture without him. He only had one day to spare, though, so he would walk in and out on the same day while Scott and I were tak­ing a tent and set­ting up camp overnight.

The weather fore­cast wasn't the best, with a southerly pre­dicted to ar­rive late on Satur­day af­ter­noon. An ex­tra layer of merino was stuffed into my al­ready bulging pack, as well as an ad­di­tional pair of warm woolly socks, and with enough food to keep us go­ing for a week, we set off in the 4WD for the hour-and-a-half trip out the back of the prop­erty to the start of the Dee. I was con­fi­dent. I had no rea­son not to be. Hamish is the clos­est any­one can get to a moun­tain goat while still only hav­ing two legs. His speed over rocks and up cliff faces left me won­der­ing how we were even re­lated. He would reach a spot and by the time I ar­rived, would al­ready have looked at the map and be scout­ing the best route to take go­ing for­ward. Scott and I were stoked that he was join­ing us, even if only for the day.

We wound our way up the riverbed for an hour or so, com­ing across goats that would stop and stare at us, some only ten me­tres away, most likely not hav­ing ever seen a hu­man be­fore. The rocks turned into boul­ders and the boul­ders turned into small cliffs and wa­ter­falls. Luck­ily Scott's gi­raffe-like limbs could boost us, and we were able to scram­ble and climb the rock faces and carry on up the river.

We ar­rived at the shin­gle scree, the main land­mark we had been di­rected to find, then headed up and over to reach the other arm of the Dee. We'd been told if we car­ried on we would come across a water­fall that was 27 me­tres high, and on the other side, which was where we were headed, sup­pos­edly there was a 30-me­tre one. Scram­bling up the scree be­hind the boys I was glad for my manuka walk­ing stick, en­sur­ing it wasn't one step for­ward, three steps back­ward. Reach­ing the ridge­line was enough to make the heart skip a few beats – it was steep! Look­ing at the map again we knew we were in roughly the right place, but how we got from where we were cur­rently stand­ing to down over the cliff face was a prob­lem we were now fac­ing. Send­ing Hamish off to have a look, he couldn't see an ob­vi­ous route down so it was time for a new plan. It was back down the scree we had just climbed, be­fore car­ry­ing up and around to try and get at it from be­hind. It sounded so sim­ple.

Ar­riv­ing at the head of the creek, the only op­tion left was up. While watch­ing two billy goats have it out to claim supremacy on the cliff above me (just for the record, the old boy stood his ground), Hamish headed off once again to scout out the best route for us to at­tempt. Short limbs def­i­nitely lucked here out as the boys pushed and pulled me up through the bush un­til

we popped out above the water­fall. Cruis­ing along the ridge, we came across an open­ing from which we could look around while still head­ing up. Stand­ing there and tak­ing in the views, it was no sur­prise that these air­crafts must have come to grief very quickly. The rugged cliffs and scrub cre­ated a stun­ning back­drop as I looked back down the val­ley, with the moody nor'west skies above en­sur­ing the land­scape took on ev­ery shade of blue. Hind­sight is a great thing, but we must have been so close to find­ing it. We knew it was yel­low and in an open area, but un­able to spot any­thing, we car­ried on our way.

Lunch was spent perched amongst the tus­socks and spa­niards, care­ful not to get one con­fused with the other, be­fore head­ing up and over the an­other ridge and down into the next basin. Hamish had a cut-off of 2.30pm, which al­lowed him enough time to re­trace his steps back down the riverbed to his ve­hi­cle be­fore dark. Not that this moun­tain goat needed that much time without me hold­ing him back! When we fi­nally made our way up to the ridge he had al­ready climbed up, along, down and around be­fore we spot­ted him (well, he spot­ted us!) in the next val­ley over. We had a fi­nal look at the map, to check, check and triple check our lo­ca­tion again be­fore Hamish took Scott's PLB (Per­sonal Lo­ca­tor Bea­con) and made his way back down to the truck.

Scott and I headed down to­wards the river in search of flat­ter ground to pitch our tent for the night, just as the skies were turn­ing grey with the pre­dicted southerly rolling in. I stopped and looked around; we were well and truly in the mid­dle of nowhere. And it was in­cred­i­ble! Find­ing a spot on the edge of the manuka, Scott's boy scout skills were al­most sec­ond to none. Al­most. That was un­til we dis­cov­ered he had for­got­ten the matches! Surely not, but yes, af­ter emp­ty­ing both our packs there were no matches or lighter to be found. I thought it was quite amus­ing. Scott, how­ever, didn't find it the least bit funny. How was this Pom go­ing to sur­vive without his evening brew?

With day­light hours still up our sleeve (and no hot wa­ter to boil) we headed off again for an­other search, en­joy­ing not hav­ing the weight of our packs on our backs. We knew the air­craft had taken out the tops of two trees, which were ap­par­ently quite ob­vi­ous, so we stum­bled around try­ing to find them. But with 75 years now passed, we had trou­ble fig­ur­ing out if the branches had just rot­ted, or in fact, had their tops swiped off. It was now start­ing to get late, and if we were out for too much longer we would be cut­ting into some very pre­cious evening hunt­ing time. Scott hadn't car­ried his gun all this way to not at least have a look.

So while Scott spot­ted chamois on the hill far away, I too spot­ted them, the only dif­fer­ence be­ing mine never moved (yes, they were rocks), but I did see the stag! No shots were fired, and as the heavy driz­zle turned to rain, we de­cided to call it a day and head for the tent to eat our de­li­cious, cold, de­hy­drated meals. I drew the line at

cold cof­fee though! With the gen­tle pat­ter­ing of rain on the tent, I nes­tled into my sleep­ing bag and had one of the best night's sleep in a long time. We woke to the sun­light peek­ing through the trees, and quickly ate our cold por­ridge be­fore pack­ing up the tent and get­ting on our way. We had de­cided not to re­trace our steps and keep search­ing for the air­craft, in­stead opt­ing to mix it up a lit­tle and head a dif­fer­ent way out. It wasn't long be­fore we were down to one layer, with a bead of sweat form­ing nicely on our fore­heads from the morn­ing sun. The views were breath­tak­ing; more than once we took the op­por­tu­nity to stop and soak up the scenery.

Spot­ting a fal­con perched on a rock about 30 me­tres above us, we stopped to watch it. But it had no in­ter­est in us, and af­ter a few min­utes it took off, wings tight by its side as it dive-bombed a charm of finches hid­den in the grass not even ten feet from us. Miss­ing them on the ground, it then pro­ceeded to put on a spec­tac­u­lar dis­play as it chased them high in the sky. The finches man­aged to live an­other day, but for us to wit­ness some­thing like that in such a re­mote and in­cred­i­ble land­scape was some­thing I won't for­get in a hurry. We stayed high and si­dled our way around the edge of the grass line, just be­low the rocky face of Mt Ta­puae-o-Uenuku, cross­ing crys­tal-clear streams and com­ing across plenty of an­i­mal sign. How any­thing sur­vives up this high is be­yond me. We were in the mid­dle of au­tumn; the sun was shin­ing but still I kept my merino layer on the whole time, with just enough of a cool breeze to make us aware we were in god's own coun­try.

We had planned on head­ing along a ridge, which had cre­ated our hori­zon for the most of the day, how­ever with time against us, we de­cided to walk down a route we knew would get us safely out on dusk. But not be­fore I made Scott take a pic­ture of me with noth­ing but moun­tains as a back­drop. We were so high, in fact, that I could get re­cep­tion on my iPhone, so we checked in with the home­stead and in­formed them that we would be back in time for din­ner, and a hot cuppa!

The fi­nal cou­ple of hours were spent trad­ing sto­ries as we snaked our way down the val­ley, oc­ca­sion­ally stop­ping for Scott to spot the elu­sive chamois, but to­day was not his day. We cov­ered al­most 20 kilo­me­tres over the two days, in­clud­ing 2,000 me­tres of el­e­va­tion, and while some would ar­gue that our mis­sion was un­suc­cess­ful due to not lo­cat­ing the air­craft, it was up there with one of my best ad­ven­tures to date. But don't worry, this mis­sion is def­i­nitely ‘to be con­tin­ued…!'

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