ZL1/WL-101 Hawkins Hill

by vk3arr

There is an aphorism that is well known to any military person: no matter which way you march, it is always uphill and into the wind.  An army too, marches on its stomach.

A bunch of work getting ZL1 active for December 1 coincided with a work trip – pure coincidence, your honour.  Unfortunately, I was due to fly out of Wellington on December 1.  Could an activation be squeezed in on my way out? I ran the numbers and decided it could.

Those who do travel frequently for work will recognise that sleep patterns and eating patterns are rarely maintained – your body is a few hours out, the customer meetings are over your body’s idea of lunchtime, and food gets skipped, usually to be replaced with carbohydrates in the form of beer later on at the hotel.  Today was no different, other than the lack of beer.

I found myself after my last customer meeting heading back to the hotel, getting a taxi, loading the FT-857, vertical and ATU into a plastic bag, and heading up to Hawkins Hill (ZL1/WL-101).  Lunch was a distant memory.

The weather too was typical Wellington, cloudy and grey.  The usual wind wasn’t evident at sea level, meaning I was expecting similar conditions.

As we snaked our way up to the Brooklyn wind turbine – installed to test various parameters in what might be described a wind-rich environment, the cloud level approached our altitude, until we were in mist and light rain when I was dropped at the gate at the end of the turbine car park.

From here, Hawkins Hill is about 2.5km.  The track is a sealed road – permission for walkers has been given, but cars are not permitted on the private land without prior authorisation.  I started to walk quickly, having organised for the taxi to pick me up about 80 minutes later.

The walk was surprisingly arduous.  One factor in this was the fact I was basically wearing a suit, minus a jacket and in proper walking shoes.  The other was the wind.  It was constant and every so often overpowering, particularly when you crossed a col that was otherwise exposed.

Visibility in the clouds was down to about 50m, and there are a number of false summits along the way before you reach Hawkins Hill.  For starters, make sure you keep walking past the VHF transmitter station for the airport (marked Hawkins Hill VHF station).  This is not the true summit.

Visibility behind my glasses had dropped to about 10m, and I took to doing the librarian stare to see where I was going, and having to stop more than I’d have like to keep track of how far I had gone.  For a sealed road summit, it was really quite difficult to see anything.

By the time I reached the activation zone, I was fairly exhausted: uphill, into the wind, carrying my laptop backpack and a radio, as well as being soaked to the bone and lacking in food and energy.  I found a spot where the wind was slightly stifled, set up the vertical, and started to call CQ on 17m.

I had about 10 minutes before I would need to pack up and head back down the mountain to meet the taxi.  In the end, I spotted myself on 18.140, and kept calling.  It took right up to the 9 minute mark for Ron VK3AFW to come back to the CQ, a low 4/1 signal to my 5/3.  Ron took the points for the first ZL SOTA contact, and I took the honour of the first ZL activation.


The shack

Despite only one contact, I had to pack up.  No points, but association number 13 activated.  Sorry to those who were searching for me.  I will try to be QRV in Auckland over the next few days, work depending.


The view

The walk back was quicker, but just as cold, and saved by a car descending behind me responding to my suddenly outstretched thumb.  He took me down to the gate, to where the taxi was waiting, and I headed back to the hotel then out to the airport.

Thanks to Simon the taxi driver who managed to work out ways of beating the Wellington traffic, and to the architect who drove me down the rest of the way.

So, an army marches on its stomach, so make sure you have food in you before tackling this, but it’s Wellington, so no matter what you do, you’ll always be marching into the wind.  And it’s SOTA, which means uphill!