SOS Survival Training: Getting back to basics

By Andy Kenworthy

Andy Kenworthy joins a group of hardy souls in the bush north of Auckland to test his survival skills on a wet weekend and comes out alive and kicking.

Building a shelter, fire-making and forging friendships are on the agenda for SOS Survival Training. Photo / Supplied
Building a shelter, fire-making and forging friendships are on the agenda for SOS Survival Training. Photo / Supplied

I wipe raindrops from my watchface and squint at the lumo-green screen. Water flecks pass my headtorch beam and collect on my specs. It's approaching midnight. I have been rummaging through a sodden patch of bush for about three hours, collecting the least soaked firewood I can find and trying not to fall over in the mud.

I am slightly nervous because I have already disappointed myself by failing to light a fire this afternoon, when the rain had only just started. And fire is supposed to be the only thing between me and the cold, wet night around me in the long hours before morning.

It's an odd way to spend a Saturday night, and at this half-way point in my 24-hour bush craft experience I am starting to wonder why I chose it over, say, eating chocolate in the bath.

It's been a full day. Five of us trainees met the irrepressible Stu Gilbert of SOS Survival Training at 10am near a small patch of bush just north of Auckland.

He has spent the last decade teaching fellow airforce personnel this stuff, so he obviously knows what he's on about.

He introduces us to the four basic principles of survival: protection, location, water, and food. We are each issued with a large knife, a flint and steel for lighting fires, an emergency whistle, signalling disk and a canteen: then it's time for the fun to begin.

But this is a course for everyone, so that's not really the whole story. Stu has already sent us a comprehensive list of equipment to bring including warm, waterproof clothing, decent boots and a packed lunch and breakfast.

There's a constant supply of drinking water, and he has set up a base camp with more kit, spare food, clothes and a decent fire for us to retreat to if the going gets too tough.

This allows everyone to choose their own level of challenge. We are encouraged to go it alone overnight, but help is always on hand should we really need it. Otherwise this could either be a bit of a woodland picnic, or a cold wet, potentially dangerous experience, neither of which would teach us much.

And we learn an awful lot. Under Stu's patient instruction, we each build our shelters from scratch using only the natural materials around us, like flax, vines, silver ferns and palms. Then I fail at my first flint and steel fire attempt.

After that we behead, pluck, gut and process a chicken Stu has rustled up for us. There's plenty of warning about the imminent goriness, and nobody is compelled to take part.

Having done this sort of thing in my distant past, I find it a fairly intense but useful experience. She's a bit of a tough old bird, but with some of Stu's rice she makes a fortifying start to the evening.

I leave little to chance with the fire second time round, adding kauri gum to my cotton wool, and fulfil the mission of keeping it going all night by my surprisingly waterproof shelter. In the morning fellow trainee Chris Deacon, an advanced paramedic with the Westpac Rescue Helicopter, is good enough to share his breakfast and his experienced insights into what to do when things go wrong: a great bonus to what has been a really valuable and satisfying experience.

A final look at how best to attract attention to ourselves in an emergency, and then we are off back to civilisation.

FURTHER INFORMATION

The 24-hour course costs $200, including a $100 deposit, and is open to anyone of good health. There is a 20 per cent discount for booking in groups. An accompanied 12-year-old boy took part in our course, and younger children can be accommodated by arrangement. See sossurvivaltraining.co.nz, ph: 027 276 9395 or email: stu@sossurvivaltraining.co.nz for more details.

- NZ Herald

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