Experienced tramper Cliff Donaldson will always vividly
remember one night, more than 60 years ago, when he learnt
just how quickly and harshly the weather can change in the
great New Zealand outdoors, including in the Silver Peaks
That night, in early February, 1945, he was an 11 -year-old
youngster staying at the former Green Hut, in the Silver
Peaks, northwest of Dunedin.
He had been accompanied by Leith Valley identity and tramping
party leader Geoff Clark and five boys also from Leith
Valley, including two cousins.
They had already spent one night in the hut, having Weetbix
and cold water for breakfast the first morning.
''I remember the sight of dark clouds scudding in on the
higher hills and we thought it would be good because it meant
an extra night, adding to our adventure, even though it meant
cold water and Weetbix again.
''Little did we know that the approaching storm would gain a
life before next morning.
''Back in the hut we met three new arrivals and I distinctly
remember one was wearing a tweed suit and waistcoat.
''They also wore street shoes, presumably because travelling
by train to Mt Allan Station, one had to be respectably
dressed in those days.
''He told us their three ages combined came to 180, which we
lads thought was really ancient. No so by today's standards
''The three gentlemen decided to keep going and head out to
Leith Valley, even though it was snowing and sleeting.
''Sometime after midnight a pig hunter arrived at the hut
carrying a rifle and pack.
''He told our leaders that his mate had stayed with one of
the two gentlemen, who was in a bad way along the track, so
Mr Clark decided to go out and help.''
The man, James Knox (79), a retired builder, Dunedin resident
and experienced tramper, was brought to shelter but failed to
recover and died within a few hours.
He had earlier become separated from his two tramping
companions, J. J. Marlow and D.G. Wright, in snowy
conditions, and fallen ill.
In recent years, Mr Donaldson (79) undertook some research
and found several newspaper articles about the incident,
which confirmed his youthful memories.
In 1983, three Dunedin school pupils who had been walking to
Jubilee Hut but lost their way and were hit by a blizzard,
died in the Silver Peaks area. And in 2009, eight
international students had to wait several hours in freezing
winds and snow flurries to be rescued, after missing the
trail to Jubilee Hut.
''With summer approaching it is time for people to get the
desire to visit our surrounding hills,'' Mr Donaldson
recently reflected in some reminiscences he had sent to the
The Silver Peaks was a ''fascinating and interesting area''
and he had noticed the plant and bush cover had increased
dramatically since the area had become a reserve several
''One thing that has not changed, however, is the way the
weather can change so quickly.''
Official advice to trampers is that Silver Peaks tracks are
suitable for experienced trampers and weather there can
Mr Donaldson has belonged to tramping clubs most of his life,
having reluctantly stopped tramping only a few years ago,
because of ill health.
''I have tramped in the Silver Peaks area many times since
that first trip, but always had great respect for the
A Department of Conservation Silver Peaks tracks brochure is
available via internet at www.doc.govt.nz