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Rough Science 3 New Zealand: Mike Bullivant's Diary: Quakers

Updated Tuesday, 27th February 2007

Do sheep hold the key to allow Mike Bullivant to pass the waterproofing challenge?

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Mike Leahy and Mike Bullivant in front of the tent Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team

Day 15 - Waterproof Tent
Day 1 of the third programme, and it’s down to Mikey L and I to be helicoptered into the wilderness to find some gold-bearing rock to bring back to the sawmill.

We’re going to have to camp out overnight on the second ‘day’ of filming, and we’re given the job of constructing our own tent and waterproofing some cotton material for a flysheet, just in case it rains, which on the west coast of New Zealand is very likely.

Mike and I have a think about the kinds of things that we have at our disposal that we’ll be able to use to waterproof the cotton. Lanolin, from TV 2, is an obvious choice - if it keeps the sheep waterproofed, it should be good enough for our purposes.

There’s also some beeswax in the suitcase of resources that we were given at the top of the programme - a bit of a give away that! Beeswax is a little like candle wax, and it should do the job perfectly. I’ve also noticed a bag of coal lying around the sawmill, and we can get some creosote from that easily enough - creosote’s used to waterproof timber, so I don’t see why it shouldn’t work on cotton as well.


First job then is to light a fire, put on a kettle containing some of the ground-up coal and condense the ‘creosote’ vapours that come over. We’re pretty pushed for time with acquiring these waterproofing agents and applying them to the cotton fabric, as we’re being taken up into the hills by helicopter at noon on Day 2.

Mikey’s suffering from a massive hangover from last night, and although I’m also not feeling too bright, we push on with our creosote extraction. By the end of Day 1, we’ve managed to coat small, test-strips of cotton with each of our three waterproofing agents, as well as a fourth: a sticky gum that Ellen’s extracted for us from a flax plant. She’s also used the leaves of the plant to make us some twine, and, more importantly, two superb mattresses to take into the hills with us. What a star!

The waterproofing test that we carry out at the end of the day show that beeswax and lanolin are good at repelling water, the creosote and flax gum less so. We also test each of the four ‘waterproofed’ strips for flammability:

The beeswax- and creosote-treated test-pieces quickly go up in flames when we put a match to them. This is scary as we’re going to have to build a fire up there in the mountains, just to keep warm. We must make sure that we pitch our ‘waterproofed’ tent a safe distance from any fire - one stray ember could mean we’re without shelter for the night!

Tomorrow, we have to waterproof our cotton flysheet by mid-day. Will we have time?

Day 16 - Waterproof Tent
It’s going to be a bit of a rush this morning. While I get on with trying to extract some more creosote from the coal, Mikey L melts some beeswax in a bowl. We didn’t manage to get much creosote yesterday for some reason. What’s more, we haven’t been given much beeswax either.

We’re surely not going to be able to waterproof all of the cotton fly-sheet with the little we’ve got. Mike and I have decided to divide the sheet up into separate panels, each coated with a different ‘waterproofing’ agent. This way, we’ll be able to assess which one works best.

By 11 o’clock we’ve ‘waterproofed’ the cotton, but there are great gaps where the material isn’t treated at all. If it rains tonight, we’re in for an uncomfortable time. There’s nothing we can do but go with what we’ve got.

The helicopter arrives bang on noon, and having bade our farewells to the rest of the team, we’re off up into the hills. 30 minutes later and we’re coming in to land.

The landing pad is a small clearing in the middle of nowhere; and when I say small, I mean small - only 4 metres or so wider than the helicopter rotor blades. The clearing has been hacked out of the dense forest by Peter, a bushman hired to look after us for the next 24 hours.

It’s freezing cold up here. Peter tells us that this part of the mountain only gets an hour of sunshine a day. The ground is frozen solid. These are the kind of conditions I love. We’re going to have a great time.

Once the helicopter’s taken off, we set about building the frame for our tent out of the saplings around us. Within the hour, our overnight shelter’s finished, and we’ve built a fire, onto which we’ve thrown some granite boulders - we aim to roll these inside the tent when we go to bed.

They’ll act as storage heaters and will radiate heat for much of the night. We’ve also been given a bottle of brandy, which comes in very handy. As night closes in, we slide carelessly into our sleeping bags. It’s going to be a long night…………but a cosy one at least.

Note about filming this challenge :
The tent sequence was filmed on private land (not government land administered by NZ DOC) with the full knowledge and co-operation of the owners. The production team were advised by a member of the Westland District Council and accompanied by an experienced bushman.

The area where the vegetation was cut down is a landing site for helicopters for the owners to access their land (the vegetation is cut back regularly in this area to allow safe landing for helicopters).

The production team worked closely with the Department of Conservation in New Zealand to minimise any impact from filming.

Day 17 - Waterproof Tent We’re woken at 7am with the smell of coffee in our nostrils. Derek (the cameraman) and John (the sound engineer) have cooked us a full English breakfast.

We’re all relieved it didn’t rain overnight, and it’s not as cold as we thought it might be. In fact, we had a really comfortable night.

After breakfast, Kate H is helicoptered in to see how we’ve got on and to help us collect the gold-bearing rock (remember, the reason we’re here?).

It’s a short walk to where the rock is, and Peter, our guide, knows exactly where to look. There’s an old gold mine or two here, but after a brief inspection, it’s obvious that all of the gold has already been mined. Mikey L is more successful.

He’s managed to locate a rich seam of quartz; that’s likely to contain some gold. We take as much as we can carry and make our way back to the tent to await the helicopter to take us back to the rest of the team.

It’s been a great 24 hours. We survived the night, and we’ve got what we came for. It’s a pity that Kate insists on testing the waterproofing before we dismantle the tent to make space for the helicopter. As I said, it’s a good job it didn’t rain last night!




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