Carry a big stick…

…or to paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt “Tread carefully and carry a big stick“…two concepts directly related to my summit of Mt Ngauruhoe yesterday…


This is Stick. Stick is a little miffed that it missed out on going up Mt Tongariro last week, but that’s kinda what happens when you hide away in a dark corner of the garage. Stick is way more useful than lightweight aluminium walking poles which are too flimsy to brace your weight against. Stick is also really good as a counter-balance and a brace when descending scree slopes…


Tuesday and yesterday offered the best weather windows for another go at Ngauruhoe; yesterday had the least wind and Tuesday was off the list when I remembered that I had to speak to a visiting Duke of Edinburgh group from Karamu School. The day opening with a beautifully clear sunset that boded well for the day’s adventure.

Mt Ngauruhoe (thrower of rocks) is technically ‘only’ a vent on Mt Tongariro but because it is now higher than its parent and such a prominent feature, it is counted as a mountain in its own right. Don’t be fooled however, it is still an active volcano and carries with it, its own unique hazards: it is very steep (a consistent 30 degrees), very smooth and covered in loose rock.


It was pretty brisk at Mangatepopo car park with the normal number of Alpine Crossing walkers milling around. The sky was clear, and the sun beaming down but the temperature was barely above zero…the best way to keep warm: get moving…

Many walkers were way over-dressed and already shedding layers in the first couple of kilometres…a number, by Soda Springs, were already quite oblivious of their surroundings and had to be asked to allow faster walkers past…I don’t really see the point of doing a walk like the Crossing if you are going to zone out before the end of the first leg…


A decent frost crisped up parts of the track lying in the shadow of Mt Tongariro, a good reminder that winter is drawing closer and with it, winter ground conditions. Although there was quite a bit of frost on the board-walks, they weren’t slippery but that won’t be too far away…DSCF9893

I made good time up to the top of the Devil’s Staircase, about 90 minutes. At this sign, turn right…in summer ground conditions, i.e. no snow on the ground, a trail has been worn from the sign towards the base of the volcano.


We’re not kidding!!

Because the sides of Ngauruhoe are so steep and smooth, any rocks knocked loose – and many of the surfaces aren’t that stable to start with – can roll hundreds of metres, picking up a lot of speed along the way. On my way up, I saw two torso-sized boulders crashing down the scree slopes: if they collected anyone on their way down, the results would be serious injury and a free helicopter ride…


As this peters out, a series of blue and orange track markers indicates the route to the beginning of the real climb…

The trick to a safe and successful ascent of Ngauruhoe is to work your way up the solid rock formations, avoiding the scree slopes as much as possible: they are really hard work going up and unstable to such a point that upwards motion, slipping and sliding, will generate lots of mini rock slides.

As a very young volcano, a lot of the rock on Ngauruhoe is very rough and sharp and this is more pronounced the closer to the summit that you get. Hard shell gloves are a good idea – your nice wool Icebreaker gloves will last about five minutes – and I’ll be digging out my leather shooting gloves before I come back up here.

Another incredibly highly recommended piece of kit for Ngauruhoe is a climbing helmet. Unless you are fortunate to strike a day when you have the mountain to yourself (unlikely to occur with decent weather conditions), there is a consistent trickle of small (and not so small) rocks coming down from climbers ahead of you. In addition some of the rock faces on the way up are quite steep with potential drops of a few metres: you may be the best rock scrambler in the world, the that mightn’t help you if you get wiped out by someone less experienced ahead of taking a tumble.

climbing helmet

Something like this…

…and, no, I didn’t wear a helmet myself…something that a. my school group from Karamu School called me on when I caught up with them at Soda Springs on my way back and b. that I intend to do something about before I return…I only saw one group up there with helmets but lots of near misses…

Stick was really useful as a brace on the ascent and there was only one time where I needed to use both hands for climbing…everybody that I saw with walking poles struggled with them: they are too flimsy to be used as a brace and, more often than not, tend to just get in the way: you do need at least one hand free for climbing. I carried a set of poles up for a young American lady who had come expecting a walk not a climb and who was reduced to throwing her poles ahead of her as she used both hands to climb…

This young lady had also been left behind by the rest of her group which is pretty untidy – if you start as a group, you go as a group and finish as a group – more so, when she did not have any water on her. I carry heaps and was happy to share, bolster her confidence and encourage her to the summit but she was not prepared for this sort of activity and was having a pretty miserable time – which defeats the whole point of doing things like this…


It took me about two hours to the summit: spectacular views!! But all that rock is very hard and very sharp with a some big potential drops of the unwary or unsteady of foot..


The top of the cloud was sitting around 1400 metres but all the good stuff was visible, looking here across Red Crater to Blue Lake; lower centre, you can see the Tongariro Alpine Crossing heading up towards its highest point of 1868 metres, and the trail to the summit of Mt Tongariro. climbing off to the left…


There are active vents (fumaroles) on Mt Ngauruhoe and steam was clearly visible from this one on the summit: you can just make it out at four o’clock from the left-hand figure on the skyline…


Without wanting to repeat myself, this volcanic rock is hard and sharp…about three steps into my descent, I slipped and slip a couple of metres and have some nice skin to grow back on my left wrist…slow and steady is the way…


The easiest and safest way to descend Mt Ngauruhoe is down the scree slopes to the west of the rock that you climbed up on. Avoid the rocky surfaces: they are not very stable and you WILL set off rock slides!! Stick to the channels of already disturbed scree where there are less rocks.


Stick was really useful for bracing myself on the scree…this is soft and loose…if you are wearing ankle boots or runners/trainers (really?), gaiters would be a good idea as you will be sinking into this stuff up to and over your ankles. Don’t be an idiot and leap your way down the scree slopes: not only are you kicking loose a lot of loose material that hazards those below you, but if you strike a fixed rock beneath the surface, you are likely to lose your balance and become your own rock slide…you can descend quickly and safely without being an idiot…

Be aware of your surroundings…I spent a lot of my descent time watching behind me for rocks knocked loose by other people…not everyone calls ‘rock’ when they set one loose…think a couple of steps ahead as to where you will go if a rock comes in your direction…

Mt Ngauruhoe Summit climb April 2016 -026

…and finally back on the trail just before the junction with the Alpine Crossing…I was tempted to carry on up to Red Crater, across to Mt Tongariro and come back down the way I went up last week but I didn’t fancy descending down through that cloud on an unmarked trail…

Mt Ngauruhoe Summit climb April 2016 -028

A final shot from just short of Mangatepopo car park…perversely the view was clear with that little cloud rolling in in the time it took me to get out my camera…

Total time was about 6 1/2 hours but that includes a decent break for lunch, assisting the young American lady and stopping to talk to groups along the way. My total walking time, with just breather breaks would have been in the region of 5 1/2 hours…


  • Gloves – a good set of well-fitting leather gloves will save you skin
  • Helmet – may save your life.
  • Decent sturdy footwear – not runners! Consider gaiters to keep the scree out of your boots/shoes.
  • If you must take walking poles: either take only one of have a backpack that will let you carry them if you don’t need them.
  • Tread carefully: be sure you are stepping onto firm ground before you transfer your weight…
  • Jeans make the climb – and it is a climb not a walk – hard work. I was comfortable in shorts and an Icebreaker T-shirt all day BUT I had good clothing for cold/wet weather on me if I needed it…


It was disappointing to observe the number of people who were physically and psychologically unprepared for Mt Ngauruhoe…many thought it was just a walk and struggled with the climb and the height – one loud American complained the whole way up about his fear of falling – others got up all right but had no idea how to get down…here’s a hint: it’s easy to climb UP the rock; climbing down the same way is not nearly as easy and you’re making people still coming up work around you…

This, I think, puts a lot of the responsibility back onto us locals to ensure that we are setting visitor expectations appropriately in all our contact with them, and through our websites, and social media engagement…Mt Ngauruhoe is not a place where ‘just do it’ is a good or safe philosophy…



Fog | The Daily Post

Today’s one-word prompt: Fog.

Source: Fog | The Daily Post

Clouds can form at many different altitudes. They can be as high as 12 miles above sea level or as low as the ground. Fog is a kind of cloud that touches the ground. ~ SciJinks

These one word prompts from WordPress always strike me as quite lazy: if the muses can’t be bothered putting any effort into the prompt, I feel less inspired to apply myself to any response…all too often my response is graphic (graphic imagery-wise, not graphic colourful in the semantic sense!) but while I am set-a-foot for the next week or so, I’m determined to write something once a day, even if it is not in response to that day’s prompt….

Fog here, just is…it is more common than not in the morning, often beautifully so, filling in the low ground and giving rise to impressions of great inland lakes, around which the road skirts – or sometimes descends into…


On the mountains, it is common for fog to form rapidly, catching out the unwary walker or climber. Often visibility will deteriorate to a point where the next marker pole on a track is no longer visible; or the landmark you are using as a point of reference of exploring off-trail just disappears…


It is actually quite cool to be sitting up high and watching clouds and fog form in front of you, or below you…often around mid-morning as the sun burns off dew on the rocks from the previous night, the water vapour created will only rise a few metres and then drift off, slowly (sometimes not too slowly) thickening into a thick mist…


Sometimes it is only a matter of minutes before clear skies are obscured, and navigation is hindered + it is cold in the cloud as well: another trap for the unwary…


…and from there to here, on the summit of Mount Tongariro, where walkers are wisely waiting for the fog to clear enough for the poles marking the trail back to Red Crater to be visible again…it normally doesn’t take too long…best to wait than to wander off and find you cannot see any sign of civilisation when the fog clears..!


To sugar tax or not to sugar tax…

stuff pick your drink

To sugar tax or not to sugar tax…is that the question..?

In a recent post, Masterchef judge Ray McVinnie supported the call for a tax on sugary drinks…

I couldn’t agree more with Niki Bezzant who in her Herald column this morning called for a tax on sugary drinks. Her petition is a great idea and the beginning of a social change movement to curb the processed food industry’s use of ingredients and technology that is simply bad for our biology.
The test for the harm such food does to humans is the fact that any population that abandons a traditional diet for one made up of western processed foods becomes sick and in the words of American chef, Alice Waters, dies a long slow death. She also says that there is no such thing as cheap food, you either pay now or pay later!
The processed food industry is in a similar position to the tobacco industry thirty years or so ago. No one could quite believe that smoking was harmful and industry resistance was strong. Think about attitudes to tobacco today.
As for worrying about the effect on low income people, this type of processed food is unnecessary, there is still lots of good food that people can afford, no matter your income.
But one thing that is never mentioned is cooking. Teaching people to cook is like giving a hungry person the fishing rod not the fish. It gives people power over their diet, teaches people about food and expands their food choices.
There is no point forbidding everything if you don’t give people an alternative. Once people know how to create their own food, the toxic products of the processed food industry become irrelevant because you don’t need them.
It also reinforces the important socialising effect of home cooked food because it is generally served at the shared table, the place where you learn to behave.
I am not advocating trying to turn the clock back as that is impossible and ridiculous, as are naive ideas like using other things to make food sweet.
Face it, any food that is sweet is made with sugar in some form or a chemical sweetener (stevia is perhaps an exception, but sweetness is still an addictive flavour wherever it comes from).
Well done Ms Bezzant, more please.

I think that Ray somewhat looses the plot about halfway through his post. He starts and finishes by applauding the call for a ‘sugar tax’ but wanders in between to advocating for better education in preparing food.

He compares the processed food industry today with the tobacco industry of thirty years ago but misses the connection that increasing the tax on tobacco has not been the big nudge to drive smokers to drop their habit. If anything, the biggest motivation for smokers to give up has been the banning of smoking in bars, especially in winter when the attractions of a smoke are outweighed by the unpleasantness of the weather.

Increasing the tax on tobacco has not caused a massive reduction in the numbers of smokers in New Zealand and it is unlikely that a tax on sugary drinks will drive any great improvement in national health statistics. Considering statistics on the consumption of tobacco and alcohol, it is more than likely that consumption will remain much the same.

It would be nice to think that an increase in the tax on sugary drinks might be accompanied by a reduction in the tax on fruit and vegetables. While I would personally support this, as I consume far more fresh fruit and vegetables than I do sugary drinks, I don’t think that it would create the desired effect: healthy people would get healthy, unhealthy people would continue with their unhealthy habits….just look at the smoking lobby or those who drink to excess and/or by habit…

Sugary drinks and fresh fruit and veg are chalk and cheese and cannot be managed in a tit for tat manner: those who prefer one over the other will continue to do so regardless of cost. Those less affluent will always find money for those perceived needs over the staples of life and wellness. Thus, faux comparisons like cauliflowers v Happy Meals do not help the cause for an effective information and education programme. Try buying your kids a head of cauli as a treat and see how far you get…everything has its place…

Two key truisms about taxes are that they are usually unfair to someone and people will always find a way around. It would be as effective to create a tax that targets those with an adverse BMI figure…

The body mass index (BMI) or Quetelet index is a value derived from the mass (weight) and height of an individual. The BMI is defined as the body mass divided by the square of the body height, and is universally expressed in units of kg/m2, resulting from mass in kilograms and height in metres.

wiki bmi table

Source: Wikipedia

That way, would we not be targeting only those adversely affecting by an over-sugared diet? Of course we wouldn’t! Any tax-based attempt to change people’s habits is doomed to failure. Similarly we would require all couches to trigger a minor electrical shock every 30 minutes to ‘encourage’ their occupants to get up and do something. Do you think Dunedin would the only place in New Zealand where couch burning is a recognised sport..?

dunners couch burning

The key is not nanny state tax manipulation but, as Ray points out – kind of – information and education.Even with the best information and education programmes, though, we do need to accept that not everyone will get the message and climb aboard…we can only save those want to get aboard the lifeboat…

Don’t get me wrong…I am concerned about the average health of our people, to the extent that I have tagged this post under ‘countering irregular threats’: not only this is a greater threat to New Zealand than more commonly accepted irregular threats like terrorism or crime but the solutions (yes, plural!) also lie in similar approaches i.e. the changes necessary to create a positive effect will be drive by culture not by mandate or coercion…

AS I SEE IT(24 March)

nanny state

By Terry O’Neill.

Are we becoming the world’s“cotton wool country” an extension of the old “nanny state”? Before we begin to leap in the air in an over indignant protest against what too many will claim are “ infringements of our rights” let’s take a good look at the first health and safety reform in a couple of decades.As you land back on your feet for the first time, the new reforms refer only to paid employees not volunteers. So any person who owns and/ or is a paid organiser of an event ,comes under the new rules. Thus if anything goes wrong the owner is liable for prosecution but the new compliance requirements are bigger and prosecution is higher.So does this mean that organisers of  the Coast to Coast,Christmas parades,school activities, multi sport races, bike races and marathons may  become things of the past as the owners/organisers fear personal liability prosecutions.Many such people are calling in auditors to check their events against the new reforms.

Locally this mean that any event which is run by a paid organiser comes under the new reform?It’s just not limited to workplaces which have paid staff, but the law does not apply to a group of volunteers where nobody is paid as an employee.

It is believed by many that the reforms are really the product of the Pike River mine disaster where twenty nine people are killed, but government denies this stating that its concern is about the high level of deaths and serious injuries in the workplace. So why place paid individuals such as school teachers responsible for the health and safety of students placed  in the same basket as national industry?And why are ordinary New Zealanders being asked to bear the brunt of the increase in workplace deaths.

With fines of up to $600,000 some principals have considered putting their personal homes into trusts so that they will not have to sell homes to pay fines or maybe to avoid gaol times in extreme cases.But others say its simply a case of the more detail being released to assist clarification.

Will this mean that clarification will create a more sensible application of the reforms? Apparently not as such reforms will apply to sports clubs who employ staff.Examples from one bowling club would suggest the opposite.It’s been informed that any steps must be painted so players and visitors could see that they were steps, and signs had to be put up in the shelters warning against sitting on the top rail,in case someone falls off.And the coat racks had to be taken down in case someone impaled themselves upon them ,while any pointed edges had to be wrapped with rubber so that people will not be injured.So if you have a club that runs tournaments more dollars will be required to get your facilities up to scratch.

George Orwell of 1984 fame will be smiling wryly I’m sure.



AS I SEE IT (11 March)

ancient mariner

By Terry O’Neill.

Hot arid conditions may push humans into out-of-character behaviour.

This is well-documented in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s graphic 18th century poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in which the albatross which guided the ship out of stormy waters was blamed for the it’s  becalming. The ancient mariner shot the albatross, his crew died all around him, and he paid the penalty by the albatross being hung around his neck. A situation, one would think is a long way from a dry and dusty Weston Park sports ground.

To the ancient mariner in the doldrums all he could see was “water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink”.

The Valley cricketers and rugby players would agree whole heartedly, although it’s not the potability of the water that’s worrying them, it is its availability. The extremes of dry weather created a playing surface almost resembling concrete. It is ironic to note that the main oval also has drainage difficulties and is about to have its drainage system restructured.

The problem facing the Valley Sports Club as it caters for a multitude of players in summer and winter, is its inability to irrigate the surfaces which have reached the stage of being unofficially classified as “dangerous”, especially for contact sport.

Apparently local illegal water users, recently identified, have contributed to the problem and now must use the water registers or measures to monitor the flow to their properties.

To some the Waitaki District Council has become the ogre because this sports ground is under its umbrella. The WDC has demonstrated its willingness to cooperate with sports groups. This was illustrated in practice, particularly in the recent Hawke Cup cricket challenge between North Otago and Hawkes Bay, when it came to the party prior to the game and poured an estimated 650,000 litres of water onto Milner Park, cricket’s temporary main ground while a new ground and block is being developed at Centennial Park.

Hopefully Weston Park, which will be out for the next three weeks, will be able to benefit from a satisfactory solution to its predicament.

The worst scenario for the club, or the WDC, would be for OSH to step in and close the grounds because of this condition.

Doses of aqua pura. That’s all.

Bic Runga, Tim Finn and Dave Dobbyn have the solution in their song, “YOU JUST ADD WATER”.

Another magnificent cause for celebration in North Otago! An amazing array of talented young sportspeople was on display as the sporting awards were announced on Monday   evening.New Zealand under 19 cricketer Nathan Smith took the major award,Supreme Sportsperson of the Year.At the other end of the age spectrum Bruce”Bruiser” Rowland was deservedly awarded the Denis Birtles Memorial Award for his forty years of rugby refereeing. A great night amidst a galaxy of talent.




By Terry O’Neill.

Gradual improvements in practice continue on concussion issues with the horizon a far distant mirage. It sounds simple: “a temporary unconsciousness or confusion caused by a blow on the head” (Concise Oxford English Dictionary), and from the Latin concutere: to dash together or shake.

The issue’s always with me. Fifteen years ago our younger daughter was squashed and bashed in a vehicle collision and the devastating effects of her serious head injury will be with her, and the family, for the rest of her life. There’s no outward sign of disability, and her good looks mask her debilitating injuries within. She married and gave birth to two sons and fatigue dictates absolute rest daily after lunch with demanding tasks sometimes rescheduled next morning, and also she has to accept outside help with children and housekeeping – for a “normal” life that will never be normal again. Nevertheless, magnificent therapies, and all that love can do, means her confidence still improves and she “has a life”.

Concussion in sport may have additional dimensions.

In an earlier “As I See It” column I quoted Ireland’s Dr Barry O’Driscoll whose strong opinions lead to his resignation as a leading IRB medical advisor because the IRB introduced the controversial brief concussion bin, and this five minutes Pitch Side Concussion Assessment (PSCA) was later extended

Rugby players’ collisions vary in impact and severity but former All Black James Broadhurst has suffered a nagging headache for six weeks, and consequently, is ruled out of the remainder of the 2015 ITM competition. Broadhurst, a one test All Black, copped a couple of head knocks against Wellington in August and played until halftime. Broadhurst’s plea to players: “Don’t try to tough it out. I took a knock and thought I’d be all right. Two minutes later I copped another one that cost me my ITM season.” Now he wonders if his rugby career is in limbo.

While research continues on concussion after effects, it’s essential to also focus on causes of head knocks. Tackling in rugby needs to be redefined. The growing number of former rugby league players employed as defence coaches introduced the chest high tackle to control or slow ball distribution. This technique increases head to head clashes. Should rugby encourage the redevelopment of “around the legs tackling” with the head safely behind the opponents knees? Should we not examine the style of rugby whereby there are too many mismatches with bigger and heavier forwards consistently used as first receivers against lighter tacklers? Should supervision be more intense at the breakdown where players individually throw themselves head first into the fray?

Tentative moves are afoot whereby rugby tackling above the shoulder can earn a penalty. But wheels of change turn too slow.

Barry O’Driscoll insists the power of television, and the huge commercial influence, highlights the glory of the club, or the team, and not player welfare. Will only a fatality accelerate those wheels of change?

Parents won’t encourage their children to participate in any sport where the well-being of each player is not the paramount concern.