"Just in case" pays off

This fortnight was another 10-day work stint in the Haast Range on the West Coast of ZL3. Running traplines we spend 10 days moving through the park from hut to hut, working the traps in each area before moving on. The entire job involves about 240km of traplines and 10,000m of ascent and descent, split between 2 people over 10 days. We run the job monthly.

Given all that, I tend to try and reduce weight and have only taken the radio along on a couple of trips. However, this time with the 10-day weather forecast containing just one day of rain (we can do the job in 8 days given good weather) and with 1 summit in the sanctuary still to activate I decided to add 5kg to the pack-weight and bring the radio gear just in case I have time to activate this last remaining summit.


Two days up and down the spurs of the Hindley Creek catchment, servicing traps and hand-sawing through windfall. The damp, dark Watney Biv an unwelcoming home


Rain-day at Hindley Biv, perched on its terrace 100m up Hindley Spur. I seek out DX on the supposedly-active higher bands. Playing for the first time with the Android FT8 app, I manage my first ever portable FT8 contact - with Japanese station JA2JKE on 10m. Dropping down to 12m SSB find a bit more activity and a resulting contact with FK4KX in Noumea, New Caledonia. 15m and 17m give a handful of VKs. Finding a offcuts of cable under the hut adding up to 10m, I extend my 40m EFHW and put out some evening calls on 60m, netting another 5 ZLs. The rain passes, sun breaking through tentatively then strong, fierce. The swampy forested plains below steaming, their recently acquired moisture becoming patchy worn carpets of wispy low cloud.


A traverse of the 1503m Mt Watney (ZL3/WC-406), with it’s wind-battered repeater station, views down the Waiatoto to the coast.

Waiatoto River from Mt Watney ZL3/WC-406


From Waiatoto Biv I finally net 10 contacts in a UTC day and qualify the POTA Waiatoto River Conservation Area for the first time. Hot humid evenings with the whine of mosquitos battering the door and window netting, a constant companion.


Haast Range, Ridgeline - ZL3/WC-318 beyond, snow-dotted at far end. Hindley Creek to right

Then the long tops day along the Haast Range. 20km, 2400 vertical meters, much of it through boulderfields coated with a smear of tangled sub-alpine scrub. Slow, careful travel under a glaring sun. Working from tarn to tarn - 6l of murky tarn-water in 8km of scrubby sun-baked ridgeline. Still hot, still thirsty. Finally, dropping down into the evening-cool tussock basin to Lake Greaney and the luxury of its five-bunk hut.

Lake Greaney - ZLL/0315


A day remaining and just one trapline to walk on the way back to the truck. Finally time to play! An early start up Ridgeline, the valleys and plains below an unbroken sea of morning cloud.

Waiatoto Valley from Ridgeline - ZL3/WC-318

ZL3/WC-318. The last unactivated summit in the Haast Tokoeka Kiwi sanctuary and the reason for carrying the radio over the last 120km and 8000 vertical meters. I reach the summit at 0830 local time, a bit early having inadvertently altered for 0830 UTC. To save weight I have not brought a mast with me, so the EF-40m-HW gets attached to the summit rock at one end, and supported by the ice-axe at the other - a near-horizontal deployment with the mid–point barely 1.5m above the ground.

My first call brings in Stewart ZL2STR - weaker than expected but a good clear QSO. As we say our 73s a faint call comes in, barely readable at 31 - and with volume to max I manage a QSO with F5PYI 31/53 reports each way. The grin barely off my face - the joy of unexpected DX, I glance over at my antenna and notice, for the first time, that the antenna wire is not connected to the matching unit. The ZL - F QSO was conducted using nothing more than 10m of coax and a matching unit - with maybe a little capacative coupling over the 10mm air-gap to the antenna! Puzzlingly the SWR was close-on 1:1 in this configuration.

Air-gap transmission

Attaching the antenna suddenly brought 40m to life and nine further ZL contact followed, all 58-59, and most of whom had been unable to copy me before the antenna fix.

Happy after a successful morning of radio, I pack up. Then an SMS from my colleague: “Don’t rush down, taking it easy - having a look around”.


Mt Duncan - ZL3/WC-260 - from Ridgeline ZL3/WC-318

Three km further along the narrow range, beyond a deep-notched saddle, lies Mt Duncan - ZL3/WC-260. Steep snow-grass-above-bluffs scrambles through the saddle, the ice-axe a reassuring anchor. Two km of careful travel traversing the smooth rock of the sheer-plane west of the divide, avoiding vertical dropoffs to the east. The Waiatoto River an apparent stone’s throw away, 1600m below.

Low coastal cloud slowly rising in the morning heat, clears the valley floors, provides brief views of white shingle riverbed, then envelopes the range.

Arawhata River from Mt Duncan - ZL3/WC-260

The summit of Mt Duncan is comfortingly rounded, snow-covered. Antenna, again, strung between boulder and ice-axe. Six easy contacts around ZL on 40m. 20m, true to recent form, providing poor propagation into VK nets just two 3-4/1 contacts. But the second peak qualified, 12 SOTA points in the bag, and some amazing country visited. The cloud lifts above me, clears the range, opening again views down to the plain below and the coast. White shingle riverbeds the sole interruption to the verdant green forest. Beyond which: blue sea to a blue horizon.

Days don’t get much better than this.

Jacksons Bay, Arawhata River from Ridgeline. Minim Mere - ZLL/0904 below


Very impressive Matt. Are ye hiring?

Thanks so much for the report. It’s great to see some scenery from your part of the world.

Regards, Mark.

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Thanks Matt, excellent writeup and beautiful photos - your job sure has some fringe benefits when the weather is good! I enjoyed your story about working Eu Dx with the ‘air-gap’ antenna.

You didn’t mention the radio used so I looked back through your earlier posts, now I’m assuming it was an FT-817/8? Carrying the radio and enough battery capacity for several activations is an admirable effort.

David VK3KR


Should have said. Operating equipment was:
FT818, MX-P50M amplifier producing 20w out from 5w in, EF-40m-HW, two 4x18650 battery packs, mic, N6ARA paddle, InReach for spotting.

Paddle used only in my evening ‘practice sessions’ at this stage. My CW is at the stage of listening for other people’s QSOs with spotted activators - mainly VK WWFF - and doing dry-run (no tx) chases of my own. For some reason my brain finds this more engaging than trying to decode / send pointless words or letter blocks, but it’s slow going.

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Always. The ratio of would-be workers who think this sounds like a fantastic lifestyle to those who find they can actually do it day after day is about 10:1!


Fantastic photographs.

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