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School holidays in bush log cabin were full of delights in 1953

The Catchpole must be one of the most picturesque spots around Wellington. For many years trampers en route to the Orongorongo have made it a stopping place for a "boil-up " and the little mounds of blackened stones and charred sticks testify to the time-honoured custom.

Beside the track in the shade of tall hinau and honeysuckle a quaint old log cabin adds charm to the surroundings.

Built back in the depression by Harry Spaulding, an old time bushman, from beech logs and windfalls now bleached and weathered, the cracks are plugged with mud that has baked hard in the intervening years. A stream in constant conversation passes by the door.

A great stone fireplace dominates one side of the cabin; a hole in the wall provides both light and ventilation. A name plate and notice reminds that it is private property.

It is not a surprise to find parents and youngsters holidaying in out of the way places, yet there are few who know the delights of a real log cabin - they are quite a rarity around Wellington today.

I found them sitting at the cabin door kneading clay from the hillside to make a carillon for Dale from Standard I and a row of round clay men for three-year-old Jill.

So Much Fun

I soon learnt there’s lots of fun on a log cabin holiday. There is supplejack nearby, ideal for fashioning a bow and on the stream bank toitoi fronds to make arrows as light as air that sail high over the cabin chimney.

There are crawlers, fresh water crayfish, under the stones in the creek and eels that clean the porridge from the 'breakfast billy’. Rata vines they use for swings and fallen logs make natural see-saws. Deer feeding beside the track and the chance of sighting wild pigs that have ploughed up the fern roots near the cabin give youngsters more thrills than a front seat at a movie.

Then comes the endless game of gathering firewood and the pleasure of fanning the fire from glowing embers to crackling flame.

In sleeping bags on bunks made of manuka poles children need no rocking to sleep.

And what of wet days (for there were winter holidays) dubious elders inquire.

That is when the insects and beetles crawl out from the logs. You come to know ursus the "bear," the brown hairy beetle searching for sap that exudes from the beech trees, or the grotesque giraffe weevils that live in the logs. There are knuckle bones played with five stones and string games that change from "cat’s cradle" to "fish in the net." Yes, rainy days are all too short.

Altogether the simplicity pioneering appeals to the young. Water from a creek instead of a tap. Meals out of a billy or baked on the hearthstones. Apples dried instead of juicy, dehydrated stew with three helpings for each child on their own tin plates.

Here, too, there is room for juveniles to run and roam, their bright coloured clothes specially chosen to keep them always in sight. A race to beat the sun to the top of the Baker, a landmark well known to marathon runners, a thousand feet above the cabin.

Then there's the view towards Wellington hidden in a maze of wrinkled hills, so like a landscape of the moon. Close at hand the main peal of the Kaikouras looking like Everest itself in a child's imagination.

There are stories of the opossum that slid down from the roof when his tail was touched, of the trapper's dog that had just been wounded by a boar's tusk.

On the last day of the holiday they returned over the hill, sliding down the greasy clay hillside leading back to Wainui-o-mata. They were going home-back to school; back to Kindergarten.

Frank Fitzgerald, Evening Post, 12 September 1953

The Log Cabin, 1950 (Ian Baine Photo Collection)

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