I opt to travel to the North Island and watch the Indian and New Zealand cricket sides playing test matches in Napier and Wellington. To my surprise my intentions draw interest from others. Firstly Chris Lusk, an occasional colleague from Mac Uni decides to go to the first test match in Hamilton. Brett Deutsche also takes an interest in the idea of travelling to New Zealand and several days before I’m due to fly out he confirms that he has booked for the same trip, albeit staying at a different hotel in Napier and catching a different flight to Wellington.
We are flying out at on the evening of the first day’s play and have already missed attractive hundreds by Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder. No matter, we should still be in time to see the Indians bat for the first time. At Sydney airport I locate Brett standing in the queue of another airline and drop by quickly to say hello before checking in. Brett hasn’t booked accommodation in Wellington so I agree to meet him at the airport as our flights arrive within twenty minutes of each other. After a routine tent inspection I pass through customs and after checking out the shuttle bus situation settle in for arrival of Brett’s plane. Eventually he walks through the corridor and we negotiate our transport into the city. The hostel I am staying at is open twenty four hours reception so it makes sense for Brett to stay here as well.
Check in is a curious affair as the concierge is near sighted and insists on inspection our passports with a small magnifying glass. When he provides a receipt slip for my credit card I accept it but fail to sign it and for the life of me cannot find it. Brett believes it has not been given to me at all and I cannot remember. After all it happened thirty seconds ago! The poor chap has to print out another receipt which is difficult to do in his blurry world.
We make our bus with five minutes to spare and begin the five hour trip to Napier. The sight of windmills on the hills out of Wellington provides an opportunity for jokes about the local hang gliding club being put out by the arrangement. An equally memorable image is provided by the imposing gorge through which we travel. On the other side of the steep drop is a railway track cut out of the side of the cliff leading to an impressive tunnel. At Palmerston North we pull in for a fifteen minute stop which Brett uses to locate breakfast. The second half of the trip drags a little as we know that the cricket has started and we are missing the action. We arrive at Napier at lunch time and begin the short walk into town.
As Howdy is staying on the ocean boulevard road called Marine Parade we head for the coast and immediately stumble upon his hostel. While Brett gets the introductory spiel I suggest we meet up at the cricket on the hill. I’m staying at Toad Hall which is at the other end of the main business area on Shakespeare Street. Though Napier’s main hold on an identity is the Art Deco architecture of its buildings following reconstruction after the 1931 earthquake there has been a prior attempt to distinguish the streets by naming them after famous British authors. Tennyson, Dickens, Thackeray, Carlyle, Browning, Burns, Milton and token American Emerson all share road space. Thackeray and Carlyle’s popularity and literary esteem did not live much beyond the 19th century so it would be interesting to know when these streets were named. Robert Browning’s reputation was predominantly established in the twentieth century so perhaps the street was named after his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning but would the good gentlemen of Napier have been progressive enough to name a public thoroughfare after a woman?
I’ve selected Toad Hall because it offers a cheap price, $27 per day, not bad when competition for accommodation is reasonably strong during an international event. Brett is paying closer to $50 per night so I’ve done well. The reasons for the cheaper price gradually accrete over the next few days but are there from the outset. To get service at the unattended front desk I have to ring a bell and wait for a woman to emerge from the housing area behind the front panel. As I’ve been using the map in the Rough guide she asks if Toad Hall features in the book. I reply that I don’t think so and she remarks that they used to. In other words they’ve been superseded by new backpackers with better services. What Toad Hall offers though is a sturdily constructed building with high ceilings, large rooms and an elegant ramshackle charm.
The proprietor is in her fifties and manages to match the tone of the building, elegant, otherworldly, somehow out of place. She mentions that she spent thirty years living in the Netherlands and I can’t help wondering if Napier might not be a bit of a letdown after this. She directs me to the photo of Toad Hall directly after the earthquake, still standing but in a state of disrepair with significant structural damage. The problem with managing such a stately building is constantly discovering faults needing renovation. There isn’t too much to say to that and I make my way up several flights of stairs and locate my room at the end of a dim hallway. My en suite is everything I need it to be and I’m keen to have the shower I missed earlier in the day. As I wait five minutes for even a hint of warm water the significance of the renovation comment begins to dawn.
All this delays the walk to the cricket ground which is located about a kilometre away from the main shopping area. The stroll to the stadium allows me to appreciate the understated prosperity of Napier, the well maintained houses, the active streets, the energy that goes into maintaining the architectural integrity of the business district. At the cricket Jesse Ryder is approaching 200 and as I close in on the arena I will him to play carefully in order to give me the time to witness the event for myself. Unfortunately he rushes to the landmark and I must make do with listening to applause for the milestone from the other side of the fence. To make matters worse Ryder gets out next ball and I feel like chastising him just as much as he does himself.
By now I’m at the front gates assessing the entry fee and my memories of match passes for $40 have been swept away by an inflationary tide. The match pass is still a bargain at $80 but as daily tickets are $17 it makes sense to buy per day. Tickets to the grand stand overlooking the ground from square leg are set at $27 but as there is little security presence it is a simple thing to wander in and sit where you like. Initially I take the opportunity to sit in the stand, simply for the pleasure of doing so. New Zealand’s most accomplished batsman Ross Taylor wanders by and sits with his family nearby. Although he has scored an elegant 150 the day before he is left alone for the half hour he is present before returning to the dressing room underneath the stand. This is also my cue to leave the stand and look for Howdy on the hill. We compare notes on what we’ve been doing and Brett reports that he’s been to the supermarket and also just missed out on seeing the Jesse Ryder 200.
For the next hour we watch as McCullum and Vettori pile on 90 runs against the insipid spin of Singh and Sehwag. It is hard to fathom the tactics of a deep set field that leaks singles and boundaries. The Indians appear to have written the match off and to be waiting for the declaration. The problem with such a lackadaisical attitude whilst in the field is that it is often difficult to regain intensity once it is your turn to bat. McCullum notches up his hundred before tea while Vettori’s main decision appears to be the timing of the closure. Brett has been looking forward to something called the Dilmah Tea Party where two cricket commentators interview a guest whilst sharing a Dilmah tea. We’ve identified that the interview will be taking place at the other end of the ground and begin to make our way around before eagerly watching proceedings from the fence. It takes several days to work out that the interviews are Simon Doull and Mark Richardson and we never do work out who is being interviewed. He is important enough to inform one small boy that he doesn’t have time to sign autographs.
There is a small stand just behind where the interview has taken place and as it looks directly down the ground and will soon be out of the sun we elect to sit here. This requires sitting on concrete but there is plenty of room to stretch out and plenty to keep us entertained. It turns out this is the commentary area and a steady stream of former test cricketers wanders by, most of whom we struggle to identify. We both have our radios tuned to the radio commentators who provide an enjoyable mix of banter and insight while never managing to be slick.
Fortunately the cricket after the tea break is more like what is expected of test cricket. The New Zealanders lose three wickets in four overs and promptly declare, depriving the crowd of the opportunity of watching Chris Martin bat. It is the correct decision. The Indian openers begin in a blazing fashion against the innocuous bowling of Martin and Franklin. Martin pitches up and Sehwag plays a series of punishing drives and slashes. Vettori brings himself on and has immediate success, getting Sehwag caught behind. A little later he brings on Jaetan Patel who dismisses Gautin Gambhir in his first over. Though the Indians have been scoring at five an over they have stumbled badly and this is reinforced late in the day when Vettori traps the nightwatchman Ishant Sharma in front for a duck. The New Zealanders are surprise front runners and the day ends with batting maestros Tendulkar and Dravid tensely defending their wickets. Vettori’s captaincy is impressive, regularly mixing the bowlers up and trying out some imaginative field placements which are indicative of intent and forethought, everything the Indians lacked. Given the limitations of the New Zealand attack and the placidity of the pitch it is cheering to see the Kiwis defy expectations.
Late in the day we are joined by an Indian gent who cannot help but join our conversation when he realises we are discussing the Indian team of the 1970’s, including the legendary spinning quartet of Chandresakar, Bedi, Prasanna and Venkat. Ujal has been travelling around the North Island watching the Indian side. He particularly enjoyed the one day matches and skipped the First Test match to visit Rotorua instead. Though unaccompanied in his wayfaring Ujal has no trouble meeting people. He and Brett recognise each other as fellow travellers, their affability providing a passport into any social situation. Ujal disappears into the crowd before stumps but we bump into him again as we walk towards town and vaguely mention that we might see him the following day.
Brett and I make arrangements to meet in about an hour at Toad Hall and then make our way into town for a meal. In the meantime I settle down for a nap and am only woken when Brett knocks on the door. I show him the outdoor socialising area with the views of the waveless ocean with the deep undercurrents. Several Irish pubs dominate the main street with the crowd spilling out onto the footpath. Across the road is a sports bar that is appended to a backpackers. We present ourselves as entitled to the backpacker’s discount for which we get dinner and a drink for $10. I’m surprised that our ruse is accepted at face value and I explain to Howdy this is one of the things I really like about this country. As is to be expected there is a Rugby Union game on the large screen, Auckland vs the Waratahs. To my surprise the Australian team wins, not that I’m going for them. I have the fish and chips while Brett gets a lasagne. It is surprising how few people are in the bar, the Irish pub across the road has captured 90% of the punters. We discuss how critical mass tends to play a part in how one venue can capture most of the market, humans very much being herd animals.
After testing the waters at a few seedy establishments on the main street we head across to Marine Parade and do well to find Balmain playing Eastern Suburbs. Despite never being confident when watching the Tigers play they not only come back from a deficit but go on to a convincing win. As it is nearing midnight and it has been an eventful day we agree to call it quits. Howdy has a straightforward walk to his hostel while I must run the gamut of the main street in order to get back to Toad Hall.
Sleeping in later than I should means the morning is slightly more rushed than it need be, particularly as it takes time to search out the best place to buy bread, a newspaper, drinks and assorted other distractions required to get through a full day’s play. We have agreed to meet in the stand but our interpretation of this is different and while I’m in the main stand Brett is back on the concrete where we watched the final session of yesterday’s play. As I’m quite happy with the excellent view from side of the wicket I don’t join up with him until drinks. Brett had been scanning for me in the stands while I’d been able to spot him easily amidst the four or five people sitting on the concrete. The first session contains many elegant shots from Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman but New Zealand stay on top courtesy of the dismissal of Tendulkar for 47. Patel is again the bowler to make the breakthrough and he appears to have the knack for getting top class batsmen out.
At lunch we take the opportunity to venture onto the ground and check out the pitch. We’re able to walk in the actual footsteps of Chris Martin as he lopes to the crease and observe the grassless edifice that is the pitch. It looks like it wouldn’t break up in ten days, let alone the five that are available. The other feature of the lunchtime break is that some of the Indian players are practising their batting, including Harbajan Singh, the player for whom the Australians have such an antipathy. Not long after the lunch break a spectator runs onto the ground wearing a poncy orange tassled coat. I’d notice this dill arrive at the ground only an hour before so it is hard to work out what his mentality was. Laxman and Dravid continue to bat with elegant authority, putting on another 35 runs in the hour after lunch. A few balls before the second new ball is due Vettori belatedly gives Jesse Ryder a bowl. Ryder immediately tempts Dravid to waft outside off and edge to the keeper. The dismissal is a complete surprise and it provides an opportunity to attack unsettled batters with the new ball. Chris Martin produces a couple of fine leg cutters to get the edges into the slips cordon and then does the same to get rid of Laxman. It is impressive bowling and quite cheering to see such a modest performer play such a significant role. Iain O’Brien gets in on the act and cleans up the tail and in a flash India has been dismissed for 305 in 93 overs. Though it is hard to imagine India playing so loosely a second time around New Zealand have little option other than to enforce the follow on. The validity of the decision is reinforced when Patel makes another breakthrough, trapping a thrashing Sehwag leg before wicket. Vettori continues to place imaginative fields in the late afternoon but the kiwis are unable to secure a second breakthrough.
It has been a most surprising day, the third in a row in which New Zealand has overachieved. The Dilmah Tea Party, another visit from Ujal, the commentary from the radio crew and the never ending stream of ex cricketers moving back and forth to the broadcasting area ensure that the low key entertainment is constant. On the way back to town we make plans for the evening, although this mainly consists of following the pattern established the previous night. We meet at the backpacker’s bar and order dinner. There is more of a crowd in attendance as the Warriors are playing the Broncos. It is surprising that this match is being shown on the big screen in preference to a significant local Rugby Union game, something that pleases me no end. The Warriors are never in it, outmuscled and outgunned. Brett is keen to move on to other pubs and start engaging with the locals. Instead I suggest we go for a walk and this takes us along Marine Parade and then to an amazing grotto that is lit up with underwater lights. A waterfall tumbles off the hill that dominates the northern end of the town.
I’m not sure how it comes about but we go for a walk along Shakespeare street following an undulating valley through a remarkably steep gorge. From above we can hear the musical chatter from several house parties which sound like they might be worth joining. We speculate about how the water must teem onto the street during a heavy storm. The houses are modest but attractive, well maintained and possessing character. Several times we are joined by house cats who insist on accompanying us for long stretches of the walk. When we get to the end of the street we embark on climbing a series of steep steps which take us to a high point with a superb view of the extended Hawke Bay. There are lights spaced out at regular intervals of the other side of the Bay and it produces a sense of wonder about what is out there. Closer by we spot a small fishing boat making its way in from out to sea and following the flashing buoys in the bay. It is a pleasant autumnal evening and we continue on to the more lavish area of inner Napier. Clearly those with money have chosen to locate themselves on the heights from where they can take in the views of the flat sea. We observe the occasional dinner party while Brett wonders if it might be worth considering a move to New Zealand. It is the kind of place that can have that effect on you but I suggest that there are more interesting towns than Napier. Who would live in a coastal town with no surf?
We never do locate the various parties taking place somewhere on the hill but we locate byways providing more impressive views over the town not to mind too much. Discussions about jumping fences and taking the most direct route back to sea level are superseded by a more sensible decision to follow the roads and pathways. It involves a long descent into darkness but a hand rail provides reassurance and we soon emerge back on Shakespeare street and quickly discover that there is a nightclub next door to my hostel. Brett is keen to find further sources of entertainment and we make our way to the local RSL but it is a depressing venue with a sole dancing couple and not the place to have a drink. It is late enough to call it a night and fortunately the music from the club next door does not continue into the early hours.
The fourth day of the test is much less interesting than those that preceded it, mainly because it follows the most predictable path. Dravid and Gambhir set about batting all day and the New Zealanders simply don’t have the bowlers capable of disrupting their plans. To make matters worse the pitch shows no signs of wearing and is consistent to a fault. Most disastrously the batteries in my radio die and I’m forced to get through the tepid day’s play without commentary. The Dilmah Tea Party provides some relief and Ujal arrives to provide an entertaining account of his socialising the night before. He has spent much of his time at the Irish pubs but also mentions that he has been to a hotel located in the hills. He will be back at the Irish pub this evening and we are invited to join him.
I spend the earlier part of the evening researching the possibility of travelling north to the Urewara National Park to undertake the Lake Waikeremoana Great Walk. I need to establish that it is possible to pick up transport is Wairoa and get to the park in the one day. If not than it won’t be worth doing and I might as well book into Toad Hall for one more evening and spend another day at the cricket. As the match is petering out to a draw from a long way out this is very much a second best option.
We vary our routine for dinner as the backpacker’s pub is closed. We make it to Subway just before it closes and I appreciate the opportunity to enjoy fresh food. Our plan for the rest of the night is to find the hotel on the hill that Ujal had located but we aren’t sure where it is and we end up retracing our steps in reverse from the night before. We walk back via the road following the bay and discover a huge loading port and impressive clay cliff faces marking the edge of the hill. When we get to back into town Brett is keen to meet up with Ujal at the Irish pub. True to his word Ujal is in attendance, introducing himself to people and not minding that he is the oldest person in the room by twenty years. Brett and Ujal discuss their experiences travelling the world and we learn that Ujal runs an importing business and it the member of numerous prestigious clubs which appear to afford him access to other elitist institutions. He follows this up by providing a critique of Australia’s history as a penal colony, presenting the information in a way that suggested he thought he was enlightening us. Brett becomes progressively more sardonic throughout the evening as we realise we might not have as much in common with Ujal as we originally assumed.
As I’m not certain what I’m doing the following day I take down Brett’s mobile number, promising to call him if I’m not going to go to the cricket. It doesn’t quite work out like that. Between visits to the DOC centre and the Information site I’m able to work out that I can get to the start of the track by the end of the day. The bus leaves from Napier at 1pm and gets to Wairoa at 3pm. From there I’ll be picked up and dropped off by about 4pm. The plan comes together so quickly that I still have to do my shopping for the trip and I have no chance to get to ground. Unfortunately I discover that I’m unable to call Brett’s mobile phone from a public phone which means I don’t get the opportunity say goodbye. Instead I send an email which is a poor substitute. Brett’s plans for the evening had been to travel to Hastings to visit an old friend.
After the walk there is no avoiding what comes next, a day of tedium as eight hours is required in getting back to Wellington. The bus fills up and empties, picks up more passengers and then finally arrives at Wellington train station. It takes about half an hour to walk to the backpackers and when I arrive I’m just about done for the day. The receptionist can't find me on the books and then realises I’m the person who didn’t show up the previous day. I’ve got the day wrong! I’m barely cognisant of how I could have made such a mistake. As I passively take it all in the girl finds me another room amongst the long term residents. It turns out alright after all, I’m surprised and very thankful.
Sheepishly moving off I dump my bag in my allocated room and head out for the evening. First port of call is a large record shop where I have a quick look for 1980’s CDs by legendary New Zealand bands. No luck. On the main mall area of Wellington I briefly consider an invitation to attend a night of stand up comedy before opting for finding somewhere to eat. Who should I spot but Ujal, deeply involved in conversation with an Englishman in a jacket with leather patches. I decide I’ll probably be bumping into him constantly over the next few days so continue to wander down the street. An Asian eatery offers tasty food, a secluded upstairs location and access across the hall to an internet cafe. Here I’m able to get an account of the day’s play at the cricket and I’m annoyed to discover that I’ve missed a good one, Indian having made nearly 400 runs for the loss of 9 wickets. At least this sets the match up for a result and the outcome is still in the balance. The day had started with the Indian batters dominating but the bowlers had all combined to get New Zealand back into the contest before the Indian tail dominated the final session and put on 160 runs. Yeah, wouldn’t have wanted to see that.
Saturday morning and I’m up early for the walk to the other end of the CBD and the dining area of the backpackers Brett and I had stayed at a week ago. The food is tasty and puts me in a good mood looking forward to the day’s play. On the walk back I locate a supermarket, stock up on fruit pulp drink, grapes and biscuits. There is a considerable line at the small gates which provide access to the Basin Reserve. It is hopelessly outdated as an entry point and would have been pulled down twenty years ago in Australia. Here it is a tolerable anachronism and by the time play starts I’m able to peer into the ground and watch play proceed. As I said, the anachronisms are tolerable.
Once inside the ground I take up a spot looking down the ground and close to the players’ entrance. It is a pleasant morning and the crowd rolls in and flocks to the sunshine available on the hill. Chris Martin quickly wraps up the Indian innings with an edge through to the keeper. During the changeover India elect to have their tour photo taken as if the cricket will take care of itself. And for the rest of the day it does. Zaheer Khan is gaining prodigious outswing to the left handers and the New Zealand top order don’t have the techniques to handle this. In a short order of time it is 2-31 with both wickets falling to Khan. Taylor and McIntosh consolidate the innings but the batting is streaky and it feels like a matter of time before the Indians make further inroads. Dhoni sets attacking fields and it is apparent that he is the driving force in getting the Indians to play at their best.
After lunch Khan returns for his second spell and gets another double breakthrough. It is the deathknell of the Kiwi batting and their chances of winning the match have disintegrated on the second day. When Taylor gets a poor decision to be given out caught behind off Singh it looks like the Black Caps won’t make the follow on. The prospect of a three day test looms and it seems like I won’t get to see the Indians bat. Fortunately the locals scramble and do just enough to ensure that the Indians have to bat again. Ian O’Brien makes his highest test score and even Chris Martin manages to hit a four back over the bowlers head, gaining the approval of Sachin Tendulkar.
The Indian second innings has a familiar feel to it. Sehwag plays a few combative shots before getting an edge off another excellent Chris Martin outswinger and Gambhir and Dravid consolidate to have the Indians well positioned by the close of play. The Indians are nearly 250 runs ahead with three days to play. Their position is not as strong as it seems however as daylight savings starts overnight and with play not being brought forward it seems inevitable that time will be lost. There is talk that rain will have reached Wellington by the scheduled fifth day and this seems more plausible a forecast than five rainless days.
What has been most enjoyable about the day however has been the atmosphere. The Wellington Basin is close to capacity with a good natured and knowledgeable crowd. The big surprise is how many Indian supporters are present. Tourists from the sub continent is something of a recent phenomenon and given that the New Zealand cricket culture isn’t very dynamic it is a welcome development. Though drums and chants do not add to my enjoyment of the cricket the conga lines drift around the ground so that the annoyance is evenly distributed. Sunshine helps, ensuring that the ground is bathed in warmth and well being.
After another fine breakfast at the backpackers near the train station I gather supplies at the supermarket and arrive a little earlier at the Wellington Basin. It isn’t quite as sunny as yesterday and the crowd has not swollen to the same proportion. Nor does the cricket have the same edge. The Indian batsmen provide an elegant exhibition of stroke play but their occupation of the crease is not bothering an opposition intent solely on drawing the match. Only Martin is able to genuinely test the batters and he is kept out of the attack for long periods. Gambhir compiles another large century although his strike rate for this one is twice that of his defensive Hamilton epic.
The crowd provides most of the entertainment on offer, the Indians adding drums, flags, conga lines, and boy princes riding on shoulders, the New Zealanders adding some bizarre body paint costumes and the engaging banter of the radio commentary team. The lack of urgency from the Indians is surprising, they seem intent on securing the series before making a bid for victory. Most perplexing is their decision to accept an offer of bad light late in the day, lost time that they may well wish to have available to them when they set about bowling out the New Zealanders.
Day four dawns gloomier than the previous days but this does not alter the Indian plan to produce a massive target for the New Zealanders to chase. Singh and Dhoni add another 80 runs but use up another hour’s bowling time. Khan comes up with the early breakthroughs before and after lunch and Harbhajan Singh has a hold over the middle order. At lunch-time the Kiwis have batting practice and while Vettori looks solid enough from close range James Franklin struggles, being dismissed by throw downs. When Franklin is in by the 30th of the innings it seems certain that the game will be wrapped up this evening. But then something extraordinary happens. The Indians bring Munaf Patel on to bowl a foot outside off stump and proceed to mock Franklin for letting these balls go. The more balls that are let go the more histrionic is the Indian performance. The cricket commentators are beside themselves over what appears to be poor sportsmanship. Usually the crowd is oblivious to insults and abuse that apparently are required to unsettle batters. The Indians however deliver a pantomime of patronising poses and follow this up by calling on the innocuous off breaks of Sehwag. To add to the oddity it is the Indians who are most at fault when it comes to delays in play, with Singh electing to employ silly walks when moving from off to leg and back again. This allows Franklin and Taylor to settle into their work and when the light fails due to the cloud cover and late hour they are able to escape to the sanctuary of the dressing room. Daniel Vettori is waiting for them at the players entrance and is clearly pleased with how events have unfolded.
The most amusing entertainment to be had from the day is tuning into the direct radio feed from the ground. This means that instead of getting the advertisements and live crosses to the studio I’m privy to the private remarks of the off-air commentators. Brett had found this most diverting in Napier and I’m treated to a series of bawdy remarks that would be considered beyond the pale if delivered to a broader audience. These include “ I said to him, get your hand off it"; "I don't want to hear your Auckland filth"; "Notice how I said the fielders are rubbing their hands between deliveries? I was once doing commentary on TV and I made the mistake of saying the fielders were rubbing their hands between balls. Anyway, the whole crew just cracked up"; "Well shit, I'm telling this isn't going to go much beyond five because of the light so you're just going to have to find another cricket match, that's just the way it is"; "It's pathetic, just pathetic".
While attempting to leave the ground I’m forced to wait by the rope as the players leave the ground. As the Indians are in a completely relaxed frame of mind they spend a long time sign autographs meaning I’m caught up in the crush to have balls, bats and casts signed. Harbhijan Singh, the alleged bad boy of Indian cricket is noticeable for spending the most time signing. I don’t mind lingering as I know this is the last test cricket I will see until I next return to this country to watch the game. The Australians haven’t been here for a number of years so must be due to tour but so lowly do New Zealand rate in their planning it would probably be for a two match series only.
Back in town I put the finishing touches of the logistics for the rest of my trip. I will be spending four nights in Tararua Forest Park and the plan is to enter via taxi from Upper Hut and then do a partial crossing through to Maungahuka Hut before dropping down to the Totara Flats. Adding to the uncertainty is the poor weather forecast for the next week and the imminence of Easter when I imagine great hordes of Wellington trampers will descend on the park.