Things have changed. As kids heading off into the bush we knew we had to take a torch as part of our gear. We thought they had to be powerful so we chose 2 cell D size eveready. They worked fine. The most absurd incident I recall of this era was when a would-be hunter turned up at Ngahirimai with a 6D maglite intending to hunt at night along the Whakatane flats therefore eliminating all the hard work of hunting through the bush. His scheme was dismally ineffective so he didn’t last long. Then we found that 2 C plastic torches worked just as well.
While guiding people through the remote Nile River caves for the department over the Christmas period I found that the 2 C torches were all I needed. We got along fine with these torches for camp use and the occasional trip back to camp after waiting for a deer to come out onto a remote clearing. Then came the major advance. We were very familiar with the rabbit board 6 volt head mounted spotlights which we used for possum and rabbit jobs but they were not used in the deep bush. I recall my first headlight, a Petzal, which a cobber gave me at a shooting competition, he said all the mountain climbers used them for night ascents. It was brilliant.
Then came a succession of single AA or double AAA headlamps which worked in all the scenarios we put them in. Very easy to travel along tracks at night and useful when cooking at night. This sort of light was a key in one of the finest examples of bushcraft that I’ve seen. Ian, Simon , Jim and I were hunting in the Mangaturutu. Ian and Simon had headed down to the Mohaka to try for a fish. Jim headed upstream then cut South. I decided to try a long leading ridge heading back south of where Ian and Simon were, it was a dismal hard day of crashing through thick Manuka but I finally arrived at the Mohaka with a bit of light to spare. It started to pour with rain and I was a sorry hunter who got back to the camp well after dark. I was the first one back so got the fire going and got out of my wet clothes. Maybe an hour later saw the two headlamps of Ian and Simon bobbing back to camp, they were soaked. They stood in front of the fire for a moment. No Jim. Then we heard a shot. We all got the direction of the shot. He must be up in the saddle of the Mangaturutu and the Mangatainoka. I don’t know the exact distance to where we knew the shot had come from but the trip involved heading upriver to where there was a change in vegetation from Manuka to beech then a climb up through the beech to the saddle area. Ian and Simon said to me as you are changed and dry I should stay in camp and keep a good fire going. With that they headed out into untracked bush in the pitch black in the pouring rain with their headlamps lighting their way to see if they could locate Jim. I just don’t know how long it was till I saw their lights appear. They had Jim in tow. He said he’d dropped into the Mangatainoka by mistake then made his way up into the saddle where he ran out of light. He crouched under a leaning tree to get some shelter from the rain and eventually fired a shot to let us know where he was.I was so thankful. We got everyone changed and got the big feed I’d prepared into them. We were picked up the next day in the chopper. About a week later Jim had a major heart attack coming out of the bush in the Hunuas. So pleased he recovered but even more pleased it hadn’t happened while we were in the Mangaturutu.
The headlamp is now one of the essential items both for hunting and tramping. The huts along the Heaphy Track were alive with headlamps at dinner preparation time. My daughter showed me a new to me trick with the headlamps the other day when we were taking her Labrador for an early morning walk. She had a light shining at waist level which gave good illumination of the track we were on. I wondered how she clipped it on. She showed me that by extending the band of her headlamp she could put it round her waist thus giving good light. I tried it, it works. A headlamp is an essential piece of kit and the ones we have now are excellent.