The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 2 (May 1, 1937)
Railway “Mystery Hikes” in Canterbury
Railway “Mystery Hikes” in Canterbury.
Christchurch must surely hold a unique place among New Zealand cities for the variety and multitude of the Railway Department's excursions organised from that centre. Perhaps the most intriguing type are the Mystery Hikes, which had their birth in a small way during the tramping craze in 1932, and through careful organising and close attention to the needs of tramping enthusiasts, have been built up on a solid foundation, until to-day, they are a recognised sphere of activity in the Railway Department in Christchurch.
These “Mystery Tramping Excursions,” as they are officially termed, have many unique features. Let us follow the routine of a typical tramp. The train leaves Christchurch at say 9 a.m. for an unknown destination (only the district in which the “hike” is to be held is known by the passengers). During the journey a leaflet is distributed to the passengers, advising them of a few necessary particulars about the tramp, and any historical or geographical features, etc., that will be of interest. On the reverse side of this sheet are printed a few songs and perhaps a map of the locality of the “hike.” Then a real Harmonica Band goes through the train from carriage to carriage, and everybody lets themselves go in a real Christchurch community sing, accompanied by the band. On arrival at the destination the driver sounds two long whistles; this is the recognised signal to trampers to detrain, and then the real business for the day commences.
Now is the time to notice the clothes! Girls in shorts, slacks, riding breeches, and skirts, with colours and designs, as the cookery books have it “to taste.” Some wear hobnailed boots, some wear shoes, sandshoes, court shoes, and real tramping shoes. But, what of the men? A little more sober perhaps in their selection of colours. Some seem to vie with each other as to who can wear the oldest clothes and still induce them to keep on; some wear collars and ties, shirts of various hues—and alas on a warm day, some have no shirts at all! But they are out in the sunshine, these people, in the country, freed from the dust and grime and noise of city life, and they are making the most of it. What is more, they all show the benefit of it.
Facilities for luncheon and afternoon tea are always provided on these “hikes” (the tea being supplied free), the needs of the trampers in the matter of refreshments being an important part of the arrangements.
Much could be written about many different angles of this “hiking game” not the least of them being the unconscious humour unwittingly provided by some innocent people! Witness the English tourist lady who “could not understand why all those sheep running around loose on the hillsides did not get lost.” The reason was obvious when the lady had to climb through (or over) a rabbit-proof fence! Or the young lady (city-bred) who asked a shepherd “if that lamb he had across his saddle was a wild one or a tame one?”
The wide appeal tramping has made to people generally is exemplified on a “Mystery Hike.” Business men and women (young and old), clerks, typistes, shop assistants, elderly people, children, school teachers, mothers and fathers with their families, tradesmen; all are there, representative of people from all walks of life. One gentleman and his wife both aged 80 years have been on many tramps. Another gentleman of 74 never misses a “Hike.” Children of five years of age demon-trate to their elders how to skip over the country.
And now, a word for the Railway Officer who originally conceived the idea of organising “Mystery Hikes” in Canterbury. Mr. W. A. Croft, of the District Traffic Manager's Office in Christchurch, was the original organiser, and although Mr. Croft was transferred from Christchurch some time ago, and had to sever his connection with tramping, he is still remembered affectionately among hikers as a personal friend. With Mr. Croft's departure Mr. G. E. Mitchell took up the organisation of the outings, and under his direction their popularty was steadily maintained.
A final word of praise is due to the younger members of the Railway staff who have contributed to the success of the “Hikes” by reason of the voluntary assistance they have rendered the organiser both before, and on the day of the excursions. These members, Messrs. C. B. Bailey, A. M. Gibb, and L. C. Evans, have been most enthusiastic in their efforts to make each “Hike” a success, and without their assistance many a tramper would have lost touch with the “main body.” They have been the means of assisting and encouraging those hikers who invariably bring up the rear, and they have acted as the popular official hosts at midday and afternoon tea.