Wild NZ: Winter Fly-Camping

Wild NZ: Winter Fly-Camping

It’s funny how food in the wild often tastes much better than it should! After scraping the last of the lunch onto their plates, my youngest made the enthusiastic comment, “Dad, these are the BEST eggs I’ve EVER had!” Now, to be fair, they did taste great – but there was also a fair sprinkling of ash, kanuka leaves, and probably a few insects!

Winter Fly-Camping

I’d been promising my boys a trip into the bush (and living under a cloud of guilt because I hadn’t yet made good on that promise) when my youngest son caught my attention with a look that would melt all but the hardest heart. He was about to turn eight, and was outlining what he’d love to do for his birthday – namely the pledged bush trip. The sharp pang in my conscience was bad enough; however the ‘melting moment’ came when he added: “But you’re too busy for that, eh Dad …”


It’s amazing what can be achieved when you’re motivated (and been figuratively smacked in the mouth by your son). And in less time than it takes to skin a possum, me and my boys had a plan: we were going fly-camping … in the middle of winter! This was something (strangely enough) their mother was quite happy not to be a part of, but that suited us fine. The idea of fishing for trout, hunting deer, cooking on campfires and sleeping under a fly with their mum didn’t have the same appeal. This was a 'boys only' trip!

I quickly made the arrangements and set aside a few days in the up-coming school holidays. Our destination? A beautiful and remote river valley in the Central Plateau. I had most of the gear sorted and just needed to grab some food, sight in a rifle, and make sure the boys packed more than boardshorts and a singlet. It was forecast to be fine, raining or snowing – depending on which weather website you observed. Anyway, as they say: hope for the best; plan for the worst …

Our departure day came round way too fast – and as usual, we were running late. The drive was pretty quick though, and around four hours later in the fading light, we pulled into my friends’ farm to say g’day, and grab keys to a locked access gate. We still faced a 30-minute drive along a rough-as-guts 4x4 track, so I decided to spend the night in a woolshed. It was raining lightly and the thought of setting up camp in the dark and rain wasn’t high on the ‘to-do’ list. Although, neither was sharing a woolshed with rats …

The following morning dawned with more drizzle, but the boys weren’t too keen on my idea of a lie-in, so we found some dry wood and got a fire going. The plan for the next couple of days was to do all our cooking on open fires – a great skill to teach the kids, and especially challenging in the rain! It’s also a good way to learn patience, because there’s nothing ‘instant’ about this type of cooking. A good fire takes time, and while porridge might only need five minutes to prepare at home, it’ll need 45 on an open fire – and even longer in the wet!

After breakfast, we started the half-hour steep and muddy drive to our campsite – the boys thought it was great fun as we slipped and slid through mud-bogs and waterways. We eventually reached the river (plus our destination), and found a nice clearing amongst the kanuka to set up camp and get a fire going.

The boys were keen to do a bit of trout fishing, so I got them sorted and left them to it while I organised lunch. Bacon and eggs were on the menu – and the boys’ hungry stomachs soon had them forgetting the fish as the smell of cooking bacon lured them in.

It’s funny how food in the wild often tastes much better than it should! After scraping the last of the lunch onto their plates, my youngest made the enthusiastic comment, “Dad, these are the BEST eggs I’ve EVER had!” Now, to be fair, they did taste great – but there was also a fair sprinkling of ash, kanuka leaves, and probably a few insects!

We had another flick on the river after lunch, hooking up (and losing!) a couple of good fish. But we did manage to land one nice brown trout which we released to fight another day, so the boys were stoked. After untangling a couple of massive birds-nests in their fishing lines (which taught me some patience!), it was time to call it quits and go for a hunt.

Our plan for the evening was to head up-river and check out a couple of grassy clearings for deer. The boys were hoping to take home some venison for Mum, but there wasn’t much sign around (or grass) … and it had started raining. Thankfully our wet-weather gear kept most of it on the outside, so we crept along quietly, hoping a deer would wander out of the bush for a nibble. It wasn’t to be, and under the lights from our headlamps, three tired and wet hunters made their way back to camp in the dark.

We got the fire cranking and feasted on ‘boil-in-the-bag’ curried chicken and rice – helped down by vast quantities of hot chocolate and bikkies. Then after a quick check of the fly’s water-tightness, we settled into our sleeping bags, shared a few yarns, and let the sound of the river drift us off to sleep.

The boys were on fire-lighting duties next morning, and to their credit, they soon had it roaring with a nice bed of embers to cook on. The weather hadn't improved too much, so we spent the rest of the day hanging out and doing a bit of fishing. Then another hunt later that evening saw us come across a small group of young fallow bucks. Picking out the fattest one, I squeezed off a shot and dropped it. We now had venison for the freezer (Mum would be happy!) – and for the boys? Well, this was the icing on the cake.

The last couple of days were spent looking after things on the farm while our friends were away – which made a nice change from the wet bush. Although if you're up for the challenge, winter fly-camping can be a lot of fun – and a magic time between a dad and his sons. We all had great fun: the boys learnt a thing or two, I'd finally sorted my priorities, and most importantly, I was living guilt-free!

At least for now …



One of the things I try to do each time I’m out on some adventure is take plenty of photos – especially when the kids are involved. But on this particular trip I blew it – I forgot my camera! But, thankfully, I did have my phone.

If you’d told me a few years ago that I had to take some photos for a magazine article … using my cell phone?? … I would’ve told you to get real! Horrible, fuzzy, pixelated photos in our mag? No way!

Wow, how things have changed!

Smartphones are great (and they have some amazing outdoor apps!), but even if you can’t be bothered with all that, they’re worth it for the camera. Sure, they’re not as good as a DSLR, but used correctly they can record some great photos. And, just because I’m a nice guy, here are my top five tips for using them in the outdoors:
1. Always have your phone with you
As the old saying goes, “The best camera to have is the one that’s with you all the time.” Try doing that with a big DSLR …
2. Hold the phone with two hands!
Unless you like blurry images …
3. Keep the subject well lit
Otherwise the photo will be grainy and crapola …
4. Use a tripod in low light
Low light is the camera phone’s enemy – it must be kept still! (I use a tiny tripod that fits in my pocket.)
5. Keep the settings on the highest resolution – and take lots of photos!
Self explanatory?

Bonus tip: Get a good case for your phone. The above tips are meaningless if you’ve dropped and smashed it …

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Issue 3 2013 Wild NZ Issue 3 2013 Wild NZ (1188 KB)