We set off from the house in Hawker to Wanaka Station, where camels are kept. They had already been rounded up and were in the yard getting brushed and saddled for the group 10-12 who had been postponed from a previous rainy day. Some were lying very patiently, others were play fighting (best friends apparently) whilst others were somewhat curious about their visitors, mainly to see whether there was any food available. Camels are driven by their stomachs. Two of this group had been hand reared so were very used to and happy to be fussed. Others were rescue camels so a little mistrusting and unpredictable. The females tended to be more aloof and not in need of much attention. They make more reliable and stronger animals for this type of work.
We received a full and frank introduction to the dynamics as Karen openly talked about Paul’s initial stress levels on treks but I ‘m relieved to say that it was something which seemed to resolve fairly quickly once we were underway. It was just a little bit uncomfortable to be exposed to such overt criticism of her business partner and husband on only our second day, more so because it was well within his hearing!
10 students finally arrived, all foreign, unfortunately they didn’t seem all that interested in the camels, nor Karen’s interesting introduction to the species. Quite a few of them found it more interesting to throw sticks for Maggie, the delighted dog. It wasn’t particularly good conditions to ride but they didn’t seem disappointed and left after a few managed a photograph with scary Raja, a soft baby camel at 4 years old. They aren’t fully grown until about 8 or 9.
As they left soon after we had some time to spare so managed to get out of the biting wind into a derelict shed for our packed lunch! The sun had decided to disappear altogether and it became very cold. So much so that everyone jumped at the opportunity to be shown around Paul’s sheep shearing shed and wool bailer just to get out of the cold! We did manage to maintain an interested air and some even seemed to be genuine. Whilst there, the guests for the 5 day trek started to arrive. There was a mother and son, a family of 4, a couple and a single guy from New Zealand.
Roger, Anise and I went on ahead to set up the camp, all of us being novices! We thought we’d have a bit of time whilst the guests and others walked the camels in. The ground was too soft in places for it to be safe to ride. Camel feet are very smooth, splaying out to the size of dinner plates when they put their weight down. They are designed for sand, not wet, claggy clay so can become like skates. Despite this they travelled far too quickly and all too soon arrived in camp. We had just managed to get the fire started but otherwise we were not ready, we didn’t know where anything was, how equipment worked, were not familiar with the recipes (Hannah had been instrumental in devising the menu but was not available as she was back at the house with a streaming cold.) We were also very cold from standing around most of the day and riding in the car rather than walking into camp but also pretty tired!
We managed to throw the meal together to some satisfaction with much relief. We had suggested people put up/assemble their swags just after they arrived so that there was still some daylight. These constructs were somewhat more elaborate than our previous experience and almost more of a tent with a mattress (Tim!) and vitally importantly, a built-in fly net. We set ours up near the camels and enjoyed hearing them munching all night, chewing the cud. The first night that was all we heard. The second though, I was having a nightmare of being chased by a lion only to wake and find Tanamai making the camel noise, which I can only describe as a gentle roar.