KIME HUT are two words synonymous with shelter on the open Tararua tops. But beyond the name lies a human story; that of a popular and active young man who used to zip around the streets of Wellington on his P&M 2¾ horse power motor cycle, engrossed with his work at the city’s Post and Telegraph Office, his interest in photography, bible studies and the pleasure of tramping the rugged terrain of the Tararua Ranges. Eighty-five years on, the grave of E J Kime lies in a rather steep and neglected corner of Karori Cemetery, Kime’s name on the administration’s record of burial not even spelt correctly. With this article I hope to breathe some life back into the man whose surname is often mentioned but whose individuality is seldom recalled.
Esmond James Kime was born in the small Rangitikei settlement of Rata on 1st July 1897. His parents actually named him Cecil James Kime at birth before they had an early change of mind. At the time the Kime family had been resident in the country for 30 years; two Kime families having arrived in Lyttelton from their home town of Holbeach in Lincolnshire, England. Esmond’s father Percy, aged just three on arrival, adapted well to his new homeland. He gained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Canterbury College before establishing himself as a school headmaster and moving to the North Island where he would spend the rest of his life.
Esmond – or Jim as he was known to his friends - spent his childhood in the Rangitikei district before moving to Wellington at the age of 17 to further his studies at the popular Technical College on Taranaki Street. To earn a little money Esmond also secured a job in the mail room at the General Post Office. As early as January 1915 Esmond’s name made the Wellington newspapers when it was reported that he was in hospital after suffering a nasty fall from his bicycle. A bright and diligent student, Esmond excelled at applied mathematics. He gained his Senior Civil Service Qualification and in 1916 gained full employment in the Post and Telegraph Office Workshops. Perhaps it was his sharp mind - or an unknown mild medical condition - that enabled Esmond to avoid subscription to the Western Front when he turned 20 in 1917. His father later claimed that his son “always enjoyed good health” (Coroner’s Inquest, dated 17 June 1915). Whatever the reason, it certainly didn’t stop Esmond from taking up tramping.
The rugged Tararuas appealed and Kime ventured into the range on a regular basis although, interestingly, he chose not to join the newly formed Tararua Tramping Club. The shapely outline of the range’s Southern Crossing was not visible to the 24 year old when, early on a brisk June morning in 1922, he firmly shut the front door to his place of residence at 177 Daniel Street in Newtown and departed for a planned weekend trip with his mate and work colleague Allan Bollons. Kime and Bollons had no idea what lay in store amidst the snow covered mountains, nor the enduring legacy that would consequently result. Bollons would survive but Kime, after surviving five nights alone above 1400 metres before being rescued, would die safe and comfortable inside Alpha Hut.
Kime and Bollons’ principal reason for going onto the Tararua tops in winter was all about photography. Kime, in particular, was no stranger to the Southern Crossing having completed the route three times. The younger Bollons had accompanied him on one of those trips. On hearing of Esmond’s desire to explore the Tararuas in winter his father was concerned:
Others also warned Esmond about the risks but he refused to be dissuaded, adamant that he and Bollons would be ok. And besides, he said, he had promised his friend that he would accompany him. Esmond did not tell his father about his planned June excursion.
The pair caught the 7.50am train to Woodside on Thursday June 8th, their plan being to complete the crossing on Saturday in time to catch the Otaki train back to Wellington either late that day or on Sunday. All went well and Kime and Bollons reached Alpha Hut in good time on Friday afternoon. It was still dark when they left the hut at 6.40am the following morning with the weather threatening. In his haversack Bollons carried blankets and cooking utensils while Kime carried two more blankets, their food and spare clothing, and presumably his camera (Esmond’s landlord recalled seeing him taking it when he left Daniel Street). There was snow on the ground and a cold wind blowing from the south east.
After about four and a half hours of walking, Kime and Bollons found themselves very high on the crossing – but in heavy fog and bitter winter conditions. Unsure of where they were they decided to turn back to Alpha Hut. It has not been established exactly where Kime and Bollons turned back but it was certainly on the Otaki side of the crossing – perhaps somewhere between Mt Hector (1529) and Field Peak (1483). In the fog and snow they may well have taken the wrong direction while descending off Hector and hence ended up in the position of not knowing their location. Kime, who was wearing shorts under a thick topcoat, started to falter. Allan Bollons later recalled their predicament:
From then on things deteriorated rapidly. Kime and Bollons separated at the Beehives but on reaching the top of Atkinson (1472) Bollons, in the fog, mistakenly took the aptly named False Spur down into the gorge ridden Tauherenikau headwaters. Realising his mistake he initially decided to try and follow the river downstream and was eventually benighted.
Search parties found Bollons at 11.30pm that evening lying on a bunk, wrapped in sailcloth and in a pitiful state. Bollons later said that he believed that had he not been found that night or the next day he probably would have died.
Meanwhile, up on the tops, Kime had made little ground from where he had been left. The South Beehive (1485) is a steep and exposed obstacle when snowed up and it is probable that Kime simply couldn’t muster the energy sufficient to gain the easier ground which lay beyond. At some stage he abandoned the exposed ridgetop to seek shelter on the sunnier and less steep ground on the eastern side of the Beehives.
On Tuesday two search parties coordinated by TTC Chief Guide Fred Vosseler started searching from both sides of the range. Vosseler’s Wairarapa party found Bollons late that day. The next day, in fine conditions, the Otaki Forks team completed their crossing to Alpha. They actually noted (Kime’s) footsteps in the snow below the Beehives but were lured past them when they saw wood-smoke coming from Alpha Hut.
At daybreak on Thursday, June 25, both teams set out for the Beehives to complete a thorough search. A party was even sent down False Spur in case Kime had made the same mistake as Bollons. At 10.30 am Vosseler spotted the recumbent form of Kime lying in a hollow under a rock bluff that was difficult to see from above. Kime was in a delirious and hypothermic state. He was put into fresh clothes and given hot cocoa, brandy and beat-up egg. For an hour and a half the rescuers massaged his legs which were “dreadfully frostbitten”. The hard work seemed to pay off as Kime’s condition improved. Vosseler recalled that his first words were to ask if Bollons had been found; “He wanted to make it clear to us that Bollons had left him at his request and after much pressure” (Coroner’s Inquest, dated 6 July 1922). A member of the search party was sent to Woodside to seek further medical assistance and inform Kime’s parents of the good news.
As the fine weather looked to be breaking, it was decided to move Esmond back to Alpha Hut; an exercise that took three hours as Kime was barely able to walk. During this journey it became clear to the rescue party that Kime was still in a very poor way and once back in the hut further “stimulants” were given. Another TTC searcher, S G McIntosh, later recalled the situation:
Back in Wellington, the multi day rescue was being closely followed by the press. That fact that Kime was found alive and “in a better condition than Bollons” raised hopes but the next day (June 17 edition) the Evening Post was forced to dash the optimism with its headline “Tragic Ending”
Esmond Kime’s body was carried out to Woodside then returned to Wellington by car. That Sunday he was buried in Karori Cemetery. The graveside funeral was very well attended and his work colleagues quickly organised the headstone that currently sits above his final resting place.
A Coronial Inquest started immediately. It established that the cause of death was “exhaustion from exposure.” The inquest recommended that there should be more signposts on the Tararua Track and that a shelter should be built between Mt Hector and Field Peak. In December the very small but adequate Hector Hut was constructed in the saddle between the two summits. When this ‘dog box’ blew away in 1929, the Tararua Tramping Club built a far more substantial building in a new location. After the inquest into his son’s death, Percy Kime donated £50 towards the construction of a shelter. This money was eventually put towards the new hut which was opened on 1st June 1930 and named Kime Memorial Hut. A moment’s silence was held by the 39 trampers who were present in respect to the memory of Esmond Kime.
The story of Esmond James Kime and the circumstances of his demise in the Tararua Range is a lesson to us all. He lasted for a further eight hours after being found alive but one has to wonder that if he had found shelter in a more visible position and his rescuers knew then what is known today about treating hypothermia, perhaps he may have survived.
If he had lived would we then have the current KIME HUT number 3?
The inscription on Esmond Kime's grave reads:
Esmond James Kime Died in Alpha Hut On Mt Hector June 15th 1922 Aged 25 years
And There Shall Be No Night There
Erected By His Fellow Officers Of The P & T Dept Wellington