“Planning and preparation prevent piss-poor performance”
For many NSTC members, the Christmas tramp is the highlight of the year. Let me describe this for the benefit of newer members. The trip normally begins on 27 December and we return to Auckland on 4 January, give or take a day. The destination is a tramping area in the South Island; participants arrange their own travel to and from a nearby airport, e.g. for the Arthurs Pass trip we were advised to assemble in the arrivals area of Christchurch Airport by noon on the 27th. There are two or three out parties of 4 to 8 people each, who will be tramping for most or all of the following week. The Home party, about 12, is based at a motel or similar and carries out day walks, with perhaps an overnight excursion. The organiser hires vans to carry the Out parties from the airport to the beginning of their track, and the Home party to their motel. All out parties return to the motel on the second-to-last day and we enjoy a meal together in a restaurant before dispersing.
The first step is deciding on the area to visit. Perhaps a club member is keen to tramp in a particular area and is told that if he wants this place to be our Christmas destination, he should volunteer to organise the trip himself. The area should offer a variety of tracks including a long, challenging route for our fittest and boldest members. There should also be a suitable motel and a number of day walks for the Home party; if there is nothing suitable in the vicinity you might have to go further away. For example, two years ago the out parties were tramping on Stewart Island, the home party was based in the Catlins area on the mainland. By long tradition our Christmas tramps have been held in the South Island. From time to time, however, one hears suggestions that we should consider the central or lower North Island, eg Kaimanawas, Kaweka range, Tararuas, which are really too far away for long weekends and have been largely neglected by our club. Once the area has been chosen and a rough outline of the routes prepared, the organiser should submit the project to the Planning Committee for approval.
Next the organiser needs to identify and book accommodation. This should be done at an early stage – February or March is not too soon. The internet is probably the best place to start. It is not possible to know exactly how many rooms/beds we will need on each of the eight nights until bookings have been received; there will probably be one or two couples who are happy to share a double bed, some of the out parties might return to base for a day before going out again. It is best to explain the situation to the hotel manager and overbook, as it is easier to cancel bookings for one or two units than find more accommodation if we have under-estimated our requirements.
The organiser also needs to book the transport at an early stage. With 25 to 30 participants, we require three minivans each with a capacity for up to 12 passengers, to be collected and returned at the airport. It is club policy to take out zero excess insurance on them, even though this greatly increases the cost. Once suitable vehicles have been identified, it is essential to secure our booking by paying a deposit immediately. Even if the company does not ask for a deposit, the organiser should request an invoice, forward it to the Treasurer and personally check that a deposit has been paid; otherwise he may find, weeks or months later, that our booking has been cancelled and no more suitable vehicles are available. 12-seater minivans can be driven by anyone with a drivers licence for private cars, no passenger endorsement or heavy vehicle licence is required. Remember that the vehicles should be refueled before returning them; this could be paid for by the driver, the group leader or anyone else, but should be agreed in advance.
Once accommodation and minivans have been booked the organiser should draw up the budget and calculate cost per head. Accommodation is the main component of the final price and will naturally be higher for members of the home party. This should be submitted to the Treasurer for confirmation and approval.
At the same time, the organiser should be preparing a more detailed, day-to-day itinerary for the out parties. Finding sufficient information should not be a problem; DOC track notes are available on the internet, also articles from the back numbers of Wilderness magazine, other websites related to tramping and other club members, some of whom have tramped all over the country.
The organiser should then prepare a prospectus to be published on the club website (preferably in April or May). This would include the dates, an outline of the different routes proposed and the cost, and the date and time when bookings will open. This is normally at 9 am on a Saturday, a week or two after the trip has first been advertised. Our Christmas trips are deservedly popular and all places are usually booked within the first ten minutes.
Being amongst the first to make a booking does not guarantee you a place on the expedition of your choice, however. The organizer, club president, Health & Safety Officer and other senior members of the club will assess whether applicants have the required fitness and experience. After all, if you are three days into a tramp and it turns out that a member is unfit and cannot continue then this will spoil the trip for everyone. If nobody knows the person then he or she will probably be turned down. Therefore, if you would like to take part in the Christmas tramp, it is advisable to join as many as possible of the shorter trips held throughout the year, so that other club members will be able to assess your suitability for a longer tramp. Leaders for the different groups will be selected.
The organiser might then hold a meeting for all participants. In past years, people registered to take part in the Christmas tramp, but not for any particular out party or home party; the organiser then gave a briefing, explaining the different options, and people then signed up at the meeting. Even if participants now register for their preferred option, a meeting would still be worthwhile so that participants can see who else is going and ask questions. Party leaders would probably also hold a meeting for their own group.
Over the following months, it is likely that a few participants will withdraw for one reason or another, and will be replaced by those on the waitlist. The organiser must arrange for someone to collect the club’s personal locator beacons and ensure that at least one is distributed to each party, with a record made of which PLB goes to each group. (This record will be left with someone who is not taking part). All club members use camping gas stoves; as it is not permitted to carry gas canisters on an aircraft, we must arrange for someone to purchase the required number of canisters and bring them to the airport where we arrive (fortunately we have a couple of members who now live in the South Island). Our end-of-tramp feast will probably be held in a small country pub or restaurant with only one chef; it would make things much easier for the staff, and save our members a long, hungry wait, if we check the menu beforehand and notify the restaurant in advance of everyone’s main course choice.
Finally, on Christmas Eve the organiser must check the weather forecast for the area and, if necessary, modify the plan if bad weather is predicted. On the 2021 Christmas Tramp, for example, both the out parties had routes which required fording substantial rivers on the first two days; heavy rain was forecast and the routes were changed.
In conclusion, a successful and enjoyable tramp is the outcome of a good deal of organisation behind the scenes.
Five hopeful trekkers (plus the one behind the camera) at the beginning of their Christmas tramp (Richmond Range, 2020). Many hours of work have taken place to make this happen.