Josie Harbutt, writer of our Ruapehu feature, has loved the mountains of the central North Island since she started tramping there as a teenager. The soles of her boots have crunched over and around Tongariro and Ngauruhoe dozens of times, but, she says, “I’ve always been a little in awe of Ruapehu, so have only climbed to the summit on three or four occasions.”

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Two years ago she met Wellington photographer Helen Mitchell, who was planning to compile a collection of images of the volcanic plateau, and Josie offered to help carry her equip­ment (right). In the last year Josie and Helen have rendezvoused in the shadow of Ruapehu several times, and trudged together around the Park capturing images of that stark land­scape. That was how they came to be atop Ruapehu on September 16; the last people to visit Dome Shelter before the eruption started two days later.

“I find hard to put into words the magnetism that draws me back so often to National Park,” Josie says. “It’s tied up with the fact that the ground is alive and bubbling somewhere down beneath my feet, and that a lot of human history has happened around here. And the exhausting rhythm of tramping mountains and wilderness provides a way of unburdening my mind that I find very therapeutic. I never tire of looking at the mountains in their ever-changing moods. Some people like the sea; I prefer the mountains. If I had to choose a church, this would be it.”

John Woods Last Wrote for this magazine on the Coast to Coast—the annual run/cycle/kayak race across the South Island. The three months it took the former New Zealand Adventure magazine editor to gather material for his Highway 35 story in this issue provided him with a different sort of adventure. Becoming familiar with Baby (right), the Ngati bush pony on which he is pictured, was one. Al­though she threw him off early in their relationship, he developed enough confidence after a week on her back to go mudsliding, in which the horse tucked her back legs under her and, front legs stretched out ahead, slid down mountainsides made slick by days of downpours.

Woods became a customer and good friend of Red Duigan and Grim Stanbridge of Hicks Bay, two outdoorsmen who spend half the year pig hunting and the other half running a horse trekking business. They barter wild pork for most of the necessities of life, and rarely need to drive to town. Last winter they bagged 80 boars. If their pack horses fail to perform, they eat them, too!

Having lived on the Coast for ten years, Woods describes himself as already addicted to all the traditional kai he encountered during his travels: kina, baked heart of cabbage tree, purple potatoes, seaweed, even chocolate-coated huhu grubs, consumed at the Tolaga Bay Wild Taste Festival.

His toughest challenge was trying to get past a pack of pit bull terriers to visit the workshop of a couple of  Rastafarians in Ruatoria. “Once I’d got past the dogs and slipped inside to introduce myself, both guys came at me (one was six-foot eight), grabbed me and vigorously hongied me. Since they weren’t smiling at all, I was a bit uncertain, but they were really just making me welcome. They were building a crib for a new baby.”

Perhaps Woods’ most insightful encounter was with a beach bum at Opotiki. The man owned a small backpackers’ hostel—little more than a shack on the beach. “He told me that one of his guests, a most beautiful blonde Swiss doctor, gave him a tip of 15,000 when she paid his very modest accommodation bill, and also a return air ticket to Europe. She’d fallen head over heels for him. He kept the money, went to Europe, but turned her down. I met her when she came back to plead with him the second summer But he was happy being a bachelor on the beach.”

What price contentment?

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