Memories of hunting – Te Urewera and Hawkes Bay

The earlier post on Hunting in New Zealand prompted one of our regular contributors, Paul Knight (now 74), to reminisce about his own hunting days:

When I was a child, my father used to take me fishing in Whangaroa Harbour and hunting for rabbits and hares, ducks and swans.  By my early teens I had graduated to hunting deer.  The purpose of both the fishing and the hunting was to keep an old freezer stocked for the family of 6. By the time I was a university student in the 1950s, I went hunting for deer by myself, traveling by motorbike with sidecar (Triumph 500 Speed Twin), mostly to Minginui Forest, west of Te Urewera National Park.

Hunting at Minginui was always successful.  There was no need to get up at dawn.  Even in the middle of the day you could creep up on clearings in the kanuka scrub or forest with a good chance of finding a herd of anything up to about 20 deer resting in the sun.  They would make off in panic and not infrequently ran straight at me in the confusion.

There was also the odd occasion on narrow tracks through dense scrub when, hearing the rumble of galloping trotters, I pressed myself backwards into the vegetation.  Wild pig approaching at speed! Whew! Missed!!! Happened more than once but never could work out why they were running towards me, rather than away.

When I moved to Napier to begin teaching in 1960, I appreciated the relative closeness and variety of places to hunt. Compared with Minginui, deer in Hawkes Bay did not seem to be present in large herds, but nevertheless it was rare to come home without meat.  Not infrequently, wild pigs also were late to discover my presence and contributed to many delicious meals. Until 1965 when I moved overseas with my wife, I don’t think we ever bought meat from a butcher.

In Hawkes Bay, my favourite places were Pohokura on the North side of the Napier-Taupo road and the Wakarara Ranges South-West of Napier off Highway 50. Pohokura was good for hunting in native forest.  Pohokura logging huts were derelict but the logging tracks were still marginally passable.  Not wishing to put my elderly car at risk it would be parked close to the highway, and after walking some distance I would head into the forest, crossing two steep valleys to set up camp on a ledge providing a view up a relatively clear valley floor.

The days spent in native forests and high tussock remain as deeply embedded memories. Thinking back, it may have been true that the hunting was an excuse for being in the forest rather than a necessity in itself but having a well stocked freezer was a significant bonus.  There was also the ever-present consciousness of the damage caused by deer, pigs and possums whether it was in forest,  scrub or agricultural land.  So I had the sense that I was helping the environment into the bargain.  I was never a trophy hunter and would shoot whatever I could and bring out the meat and sometimes the skins depending on the season. Perhaps because of my earliest experiences with my father, hunting just seemed like something you did in the same way as mowing lawns, pruning fruit trees or weeding the garden.

Photo top left: Paul Knight taking a break on a hillslope overlooking Wakarara Birch Basin, Hawkes Bay, ca 1964. Above right: Cutting up a deer for carrying out, Pohokura, 1964.

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