Tramping Club

A short history of the CTC by Dave Henson. 


Part 1: In the beginning 

Was there life in the mountains before CTC? The short answer is yes.

When Samuel Butler arrived at his run at Mesopotamia in 1861, it was not long before curiosity compelled him to climb to Butler Saddle to see what was over the range.

What he saw contributed to his allegory "Erewhon". Later "Explorer" Douglas and "Arawata Bill" O'Leary and certainly others wandered extensively in the Alps. No doubt they hoped to find grazing or gold but simple love of exploration must have been a key motivation.

The N.Z. Alpine Club, formed in 1891, was the first organised mountain club. Several more were formed early last century, particularly after the First World War--the Tararua Tramping Club in 1919, The Otago Tramping & Mountaineering Club in 1923 and the Auckland Tramping Club in 1925. In Canterbury, a Christchurch Tramping & Mountaineering Club was formed in 1925. This was not our club. Later its male members formed the Canterbury Mountaineering Club. There used to be some confusion about this and many people thought that our CTC and the CMC had been a single club that had split.

When Federated Mountain Clubs was established in 1931, 12 clubs attended the exploratory meeting and there were 17 members clubs by the time of its first AGM.

Our club arrived on the mountain scene in 1932. It was formed by members of YMCA at a meeting on 9th June 1932 with an inaugural membership of about 25 people. Our original name was the Te Hapua Tramping Club.

Part 2: The 1930s

The Te Hapua Tramping Club was formed at a meeting on 9th June 1932. Its original members belonged to the YMCA gymnasium or were YMCA boarders. They ran holiday camps and day tramps for several years. The directors of YMCA became concerned that members of a Christian organisation went tramping on Sundays and did not attend church. It was decided to form a breakaway club. There is a photo of these members at their YMCA Easter 1932 camp in club records. Unlike the CMC, they were not misogynists. There are several ladies in the group who became their wives. Some of these people remained members for up to fifty years, notably Bert Cocks who was one of the movers for the new club and was club patron for many years.

The club began with about 25 members. The annual subscription was 2/6d (25 cents) with a 3 pence levy per tramp to cover club overheads. The club name is said to mean "The Happy Family". Interestingly our friendly rivals, the Peninsula Tramping Club was set up after an informal meeting on 20 May and a more formal meeting on 10 June 1932.

Club activities in the first decade were very social with dances and an annual combined tramping clubs ball. It was difficult to travel to back country areas because the average person did not own a car then and rail timetables made it impossible to visit Arthur's Pass for weekends. A lot of the tramping was on the Port Hills and Bank's Peninsula. Much of this was energetic. At Labour weekend 1933, a party walked from Diamond Harbour to Akaroa and back. This is approximately 100kms in three days. Strong links developed between the various tramping clubs and YHA, which was also founded in New Zealand in 1932 and began with a chain of farm hostels on the Peninsula. NZ Railways ran regular "mystery hikes" and the club frequently joined these.

Despite these difficulties, some members became interested in the Alps and club parties climbed several of the Arthur's Pass and outer range summits. Longer tramps began and 19 members walked the Heaphy at Christmas 1939. The outbreak of war in September 1939 had a big initial impact on the club. A large proportion of the male members joined the forces and went overseas. Despite this our records show much club activity during the war years and the later 1940s.

Part 3: The 1940s

Club records show that at least 25 male members of the Club joined the forces during the Second World War. Recruitment must have been gradual because at Easter 1940, we tramped the new track from Lake Taylor over Harper's Pass to Aickens with a party of 24 men and 16 women (eat your heart out, Sandi). A photo of a club party at Homer Tunnel at Christmas 1940 shows fewer men and by 1942, the club was almost devoid of young males. Several members were killed, wounded or made prisoner while overseas.

Tramps continued largely on the Port Hills or Peninsula. Bike trips were also featured until shortage of tyres made this difficult. Some long weekend trips were made to the West Coast by rail and a couple of carriages were detached from the train and put on a siding as a base camp for club use. There must have been a special effort to run Christmas trips and these went to the Marlborough Sounds in 1942, to the Mt Arthur Tableland and Cobb in 1943 and from Hanmer to Lake Tennyson and Lake Rotoiti in 1944. On the 1943 trip, a member went missing for 2 or 3 days and the Home Guard turned out for the search.

The end of the war in 1945 saw a gradual improvement. The programme still focused on the Peninsula and social activities expanded rapidly now there were sufficient dancing partners. Christmas trips became more adventurous. In 1945, 22 members visited Mt Ruapehu, Wanganui River and Mt Egmont. In 1946, 23 members tramped Hollyford Valley, Martin's Bay and Big Bay. The 1947 trip was a combination of the Heaphy Track and Pelorus Sound and in 1948 we returned to the Wanganui River and Mt Egmont. Northland was visited in 1949 by 28 people.

Club work parties helped repair the Packhorse Hut in 1940 and this was repeated in 1949, The Adams Memorial Hut was built in 1948/9 (see club newsletter July 03) and we worked on the first youth hostel at Arthur's Pass.

In 1947 our name was changed to the Christchurch Tramping Club. We became incorporated and affiliated with FMC. About this time, some people who are still with us joined the club. These include Noel Tweedie (who joined in 1944 and is our longest serving member), Don Roberts, Jim & Val McKie and Merv. & Stella Woodham. Stella's excellent and detailed publication for our fiftieth anniversary (1982) is the source of much of the information in these articles.

Part 4: The 1950s

During this decade, the Club's programme began to look like the pattern familiar to us today. More weekend trips, sometimes of an exploratory nature, became common with a greater emphasis on alpine areas such as Arthurs Pass and Lewis Pass. Transport was still a problem. There was a Friday night train to the West Coast but no return service on Sunday evening except on the occasional weekends when there was a Sunday excursion train to the Pass. Some trips were run using trucks hired from transport companies and more members became car owners. The transport problem to Arthurs Pass was finally solved with the introduction of an evening railcar service to and from Greymouth in 1956. Trampers from various clubs used this frequently for the next 25 years and it was possible to arrange set down at the Mt White Bridge or the Waimak. Corner.

Typical weekend trips were Cass--Lagoon Saddles, Walker Pass and Tarn Col, Minchin Pass, the Three Pass Trip and others, which are still favourites.

There were many fewer huts in those days and trampers expected to camp. The present network of tracks, with bridges over difficult rivers, did not exist. For example tramping Andrews--Casey necessarily meant walking up the Andrews Gorge and down the Casey Gorge. River crossing on most trips was routine. Cooking fires were the order of the day and meals were prepared communally.

Our links with YHA remained and the Club worked on converting the old school house at Kukupa (Pigeon Bay) to a hostel in 1952. This was used by us for base camps and family weekends for the next 30 years. Social activity remained strong with dances, picnics and inter-club football matches. There were special celebrations for our 21st anniversary in 1953 and 25th anniversary in 1957.

Some notable Christmas trips were to the Ureweras in 1950/1 and Paringa to Wanaka via Haast Pass in 1956/7. This was prior to construction of the highway. Several members, who are still around today, began tramping in this decade.

Part 5: The 1960s

I joined the Club in early 1960 after transferring from Auckland. Colin McCallum whom we buried last year joined at the same time. This was a transitional period in membership. A number of members active during the 50s were getting married (often to each other) and becoming less active. Several of these couples remain members today. Joop and Adrie Byleveld were club stalwarts. Tony McCullough was a popular club captain before his departure for Canada. New members in this decade included the "jockey boys" noted for tramping without shorts.

At that time the programme alternated between a day trip and a weekend trip. Day trips were always on Sunday and because this was still the era of six o'clock closing, Saturday night parties at member's homes were a common event on day trip weekends.

Apart from the Arthur's Pass railcar, transport was usually by W & H Motors of Lincoln.

This company ran school buses and a couple of their owners were keen fishermen who were happy to drive us for the weekend and fish while we were tramping.

There were a couple close calls when our parties got out late and buses nearly missed the Monday school run.

Christmas trips tended to become more adventurous including venues such as Whitcombe Pass, The Spensers the Landsborough and the Olivines. Another notable tramp was the Easter trip over Mungo Pass in 1963, which evolved into a seven day outing for climatic reasons. Some new tramps were pioneered such as Pell Stream, which remained a regular event for two decades.

A senior social group of the club was formed in 1957 and became a feature of club life in the 60s. These were early members who had raised families and were returning to tramping albeit of an easy standard.

In 1967, the club leased its first "hut" at Arthur's Pass. This was an old railway house, which became our home away from home till the purchase of the current hut 13 years later. The rent was $4 per week and I think hut fees were 25 cents. Another event in 1967 was the cutting of the track over Binser Saddle by club working parties. The Andrew--Casey--Poulter tramp was popular then as now. However it used to end with a bush crash over the saddle, which caused a couple of slow parties to spend an extra night out. The Vinks, Colin Mc., Anne Henderson and Trevor Saul decided to fix it by blazing the pilot line.

Part 6: The 1970s

Club life became significantly more complex in this decade. Apart from our regular programme we began to take part in several linked activities. These include:

  • The Canterbury Mountain Radio Service which provides portable radios for parties tramping in remote areas. Development of the necessary equipment began in the 60s but the system became established in the 70s. Long term member, Paul White, remains involved today in running this service.

  • The High Country Fire Fighting Team was established in 1971 by NZ Forest Service to respond to fires in mountain areas. Several club members, led by David Jenkinson have remained part of this team for over 30 years.

  • Some of our members also worked for the local Mountain Safety Committee (a subset of the NZ Mountain Safety Council) which provided instruction courses for novice trampers and safety literature for all types of mountain recreation. We have also taken part in Search and Rescue but because our involvement has varied over several decades, I will discuss this later.

Mountain recreation became recognised as a mainstream part of national leisure activity and the relevant government departments became much more active in building tracks and huts. This led to the establishment of advisory bodies such as Forest Park and Walkway Committees. Several club members served on these bodies during the next two decades until they were rationalised into the present one size fits all Conservation Boards by DOC.

Our club became active in broader conservation/recreation issues. In 1972, we formed a working group with Forest & Bird to oppose a proposed road along the Bank's Peninsula summit ridge between Hilltop and Gebbie's Pass. This remains a walking route. This led on to joining a national group opposing a similar scheme for a road along the route of the Heaphy Track. A by-product of the Bank's Peninsula controversy was a closer working relationship with the Summit Road Society which handles amenity issues on the Port Hills. Anne Henderson who was CTC secretary for a number of years also became their secretary for a long time and some of our members have worked on tracks and bush restoration on the hills since then.

Despite all this high minded activity, we continued normal tramping and social events. We celebrated our 40th anniversary in 1972 with a slide evening and dinner dance. We "discovered" North West Nelson (now Kahurangi) about this time and several club parties completed epic long tramps in this delightful region. Small groups of members undertook overseas tramps including Tasmania in 1974 and N.S.W in 1977.

At Easter 1974, Brian and Sharon Manson and Phillip Nicholls were killed by a landslide which destroyed the small fishing hut near Lake Daniels. The CTC, in conjunction with the local fishing club, built a larger memorial hut on the shore of the lake. This was opened at Easter 1976 and remains a popular destination for easy tramping.

Part 7: The 1980s

A major event in this decade was the Club buying its own hut at Arthurs Pass. Prior to this we had rented an old railway house since 1967. Our 'new' building was a private cottage built originally in 1953. The purchase was completed in July 1979, but much work had to be undertaken to make it suitable for club use. The official opening was on 1st November 1980. The original hut fees were $2 for members and $4 for non-members.

Tramping continued with the usual selection of weekend tramps. Notable tramps were to the two Thumb Range at Queen's Birthday 1982 and the continuing longer trips to North West Nelson including Christmas 1980 when Dave Jenkinson and party tramped from the Cobb Valley to Karamea and back again. Other parts of the country were not forgotten and next year the Xmas trip was to the Wilkin and Matukituki Valleys.

Our 50th Anniversary celebrations were held in October 1982. Old and present members came from far and wide for a weekend including reminiscences supported by slides, a dinner-dance and a picnic. Stella Woodham edited and wrote an impressive anniversary history, which is the source of much of my past narrative.

At Christmas/New Year 1983, we ran the first of our mega-tramps led by the writer to the Cobb Valley and Karamea River with about 23 people. Part of the party reached the Karamea via the Roaring Lion Stream while others went the easy way over the Tableland.

In 1984, we won the regional "Club of the Year" award and we changed our rules to reduce the number of vice-presidents from 4 to 2. I cannot remember how we kept four vice presidents gainfully employed.

Looking through the club programme for this period, it is notable that more tramps visited the West Coast and there was an increase in trips being run. The normal pattern was now a weekend and a day trip each weekend.

On a less happy note, some of our founding members began to pass away.

Una Cocks (wife of our main founder, Bert Cocks) died in February 1985. Bert passed on in November 1990.

Part 8: The 1990s

The Club's 1990 annual report noted that wasps were becoming a problem each summer in beech forest areas. Things have not changed greatly since although it is possible they are not quite so prevalent now.

A major event in 1992 was the purchase of the freehold of the club hut land at Arthur's Pass. Prior to that time most property in the township was on land leased from the then Department of Lands and Survey which had been restructured in 1987. The new landlord became Landcorp and they invited lessees to purchase their land in 1990. There were protracted negotiations by us and other tenants about a fair price and we eventually bought the land for $12,000. At the end of this decade, we decided to replace the hut's rustic toilets with a new megaloo. The writer opposed this at the time on the grounds that if members were pampered at the Pass they would be less fit to meet the rigours of real back country ablutions.

The other big 1992 event was our 60th anniversary celebrations in October. This was a dinner and social at the Mt Pleasant community hall followed by a picnic at Living Springs next day. A good time was had by all except the lad who fell off the Crater Rim Walkway and broke his wrist.

It became apparent in the early 1990s that DOC was not adequately funded and the direct effect on mountain recreation was a run down in the overall quality of track and hut maintenance. Hut fees were raised and clubs began occasional work parties particularly on re-cutting tracks.

Search and Rescue became a significant club activity during this decade. The CTC had been involved in searches for much of its existence but these had tended to be ad hoc and fairly shambolic in that a dozen or more people were called out at short notice to look for misplaced trampers. In the 1990s the Police moved towards using well trained teams which were called out fairly frequently. CTC ran one of the best of these teams for several years but they are called out less often now because the Police rely more on their own personnel.

The club's social life continued unabated with outbreaks of fancy dressing and cross dressing. The latter should not be taken as a major change in members' sexual orientation. There are some club photos from the 1940s and 1950s where the same perverse behaviour is apparent. Needless to say we still went tramping when we had sufficient energy to spare from the above pastimes.

This is the end of my narrative. It is too early to comment on the present decade. This history has been episodic and idiosyncratic by definition. My apologies if I failed to mention you or your most memorable tramp.

David Henson