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Home for Christmas

   So, we are now home from three weeks of tramping in the bush and drawing huts. I have begun my collection of hut drawings with sketches of the ten huts we have stayed at so far. I have never done so much walking  in my life before! Half our time was spent in walking from hut to hut. And it’s not a stroll in the park, it’s up and it’s down and along for hours on end. So I got a lot fitter pretty quickly. As I predicted, after the first week or so I was quite exhausted, but I soon got used to it. In the end, though, it was my knee that gave out on me, so we came home a week early to rest, because walking was making it worse and worse. But I'm sure I shall be fine in a couple of weeks when we are going again.

    From the beginning we didn't take long to get into a routine of hut life. We would usually spend two nights and a day at each hut. On walking days we would leave one hut at about six in the morning and walk an average of 3 to 4 hours out to the car, Caleb's Toyota Starlit, which we christened the 'Moth'. We would pile into her and drive to the next car park for the next walk to the next hut. That was always an interesting part -- finding the car park and the track. Sometimes the land and the map wouldn’t agree. We would then walk into the next hut and get there in the evening, late or early depending on how long the walk turned out to be. In the Kaimais we would know averagely when we would get to the hut because there were DOC signs with walking times. But the Ureweras were a different thing altogether! There weren't even signs let alone times to the huts. We were pleased just to see orange DOC triangles if there were any‚Ķ But we only got lost once -- I’ll write about that on my blog.

   The best part of it all was getting to the huts. It was the best feeling to get the first sight of the hut after hours of walking, feeling tired and sore and not knowing exactly where or what to expect from our home for the next couple nights. The huts did become a home to us for three weeks, they were very unique and different but all had to some degree the same welcoming feeling to tampers in the bush.

   The hut books (visitor books) were interesting too, and one of the first things I did when we got to a hut was to read through the names and comments. They gave a sense of being welcomed and provided good company and amusement. The huts would feel a lot more lonely and desolate without the hut books. As a rule, the more remote the hut the more interesting the hut book was. At one hut we got quite familiar with one Don Anderson who regularly ‘dropped in for a cup of tea.’ He became something of a celebrity among us though we did not have the good fortune to meet him in person.

   The days we spent at a hut were made more enjoyable by the long walks in. For the boys it was a holiday, but for me my real work had just begun. I would spend the entire day drawing and writing. Thomas would spend his day gathering firewood and reading. He brought along a good supply of books to get through! Caleb spent most of his time hunting and fishing. He shot his first deer which gave us heaps of excitement and provided us with over a weeks’ worth of meat. We ate a lot of venison!

The Challenges of Drawing in the Bush

   Coming home and getting an overview of all my drawings I feel that they are not all quite as good as I would like them to be. I know I could have done better drawings had I spent more time on them. I did do a lot of drawing for the amount of time I had, but I wish I had spent more time on my main drawing of each hut rather than trying to get lots of sketches done. I'm learning that quality is better than quantity. But learning is all part of the experience and I’m glad I am learning more. It is really good to come back and get a bigger perspective on the drawing and to look at each drawing and see how I could have made it better. I am preparing myself to go in next month with a clearer idea of what I want to do.

   We were blessed with beautiful weather for the whole three weeks. At one hut we walked in and out in rain, but the day we spent there was fine so I was able to draw. Only at one hut was it too wet to draw outside, but that hut, called Roger's Hut, had more of interest to draw on the inside anyway. It was built in 1952 out of split beach planks and Totara beams and was one of the first huts built in the area.

    The corner of my drawing board cracked and broke within the first week of the trip. I couldn’t use my largest paper after that but the rest of it fit well, so it wasn’t too much of a problem. Dad is going to make me a fiberglass one for the next trip. I drew one main drawing of each hut which would take me most of the day to work on, then I would do several more sketches about the place and if the dunny was worth looking at I’d do a watercolour sketch of that. I’ve begun a little sketchbook full of dunny sketches -- surprisingly cute buildings!

   The biggest challenge in drawing huts was getting a good angle. Often they are built in a small clearing among the trees and I couldn't get far enough back from them to fit them well on my paper.  And if trees weren't in the way, grass was. At several of the huts tall grass surrounded it and as soon as I sat on the ground to draw everything would disappear but the grass and the sky. But there was always a way to find a view of the hut. At one hut Caleb found me a perch on a huge clump of tussock grass, and I perched up there for a few hours while I drew the hut. The boys tell me it was an amusing sight, I'm sure it was! At another hut, Te Totara hut, were the long grass was a problem, I crossed the river and climbed halfway up a cliff and drew the hut from a high angle. You can just see me in the photo from the hut, a small blue dot on the slip. Below is the view I got from up there of Te Totara Hut.

Te Totara Hut

Inspired by: Albert Handell

    When I've been working solidly at one thing for a few weeks I come out of it quite drained of creative energy. My last few drawings were beginning to look a bit weak, and I was beginning to repeat myself.  It is good to be home again to rest, reflect on what I’ve done so far, and become re inspired. While catching up on emails and blogs I came across an artist who has been an inspiration to me. His name is Albert Handell, he is a landscape pastel artist. I was suddenly struck again with the beauty of his work -- especially of his trees.

  I had intended to draw more trees while I was away, but while I was out there everything was a very new experience and, to keep myself focused, I concentrated just on the huts. We did see many amazing trees, but that was usually when we were walking and I had no time to dig out my sketchbook and stop to draw. Also, it is hard to see a complete tree because of the forest getting in the way! But I now am beginning to have ideas and pictures in my head of how to draw studies of parts of trees, rather than trying to draw a whole tree. Looking at and learning from Albert Handell’s work is inspiring me and I’m beginning to think about taking my pastels out there next month.

The Next Adventure

   In the first week of the New Year we are off again for another month of hut hopping. This time we will be working down the Kaweka and Ruahine Ranges. I’m already looking forward to going back, and I haven’t yet been a week at home! I’m glad of that, because when it got bad and my knee was very sore and we were walking for hours on end I was looking forward to get it over with and get home again. But the good times outweighed the bad and I’m actually ready for more! I’m getting more ideas for drawing and want to use my watercolours and charcoal more. And this time I want to take some time to draw a tree or two! I’ll be sending out my next newsletter a bit late because I probably will not get back again until early February.

   It has been an amazing adventure so far. I have enjoyed it all so much. On my blog I plan to write in more detail about our adventures so keep following that to hear more. Merry Christmas to you all!

My boots drying after a walk up the river to the hut.

Trying to draw water with my pens.

The last evening at a hut. And my last ginger biscuit. Though I'd better record it!