The Inner Elf

Fashioning Christmas presents in the outdoors

If you find yourself on Christmas Eve with no presents and hours from the civilisation don't despair, with little more than a knife, some rubbish and a bit of ingenuity you can make presents for the whole family.

I'm not going to presume who in your party these presents would suit, but hopefully there's a range here to choose from. In the end, it will depend on where you are and what tools and materials you have at hand.

I'd suggest you get inventive. A Christmas present you've not only made but invented and designed yourself has to be a beautiful thing. Good luck.

Whittled Salad Spoons

A little time consuming, but if you do it right it'll be something that will be treasured forever.

We've covered how to make a basic spoon on Up Country in the past, so start there. Make them a bit larger and then double your efforts and you got yourself some salad spoons. Next!

Weave a Kete

A flax kete is just as likely found in downtown Auckland as in the outdoors. If you can master the skill to fashion one of these with your own hands, you will be forever in the good books.

You could make a mini handbag or satchel or go for something bigger that can be used for serious baggage carrying duties, but don't underestimate the skill involved in this and also the cultural and spiritual significance. Maybe you could make that part of the gift giving process?

Anyway, do some reading and maybe a bit of practice before you head off. Here's one resource that may help.

A Real Working Sailboat

This is one I've made plenty of times as a kid and are hours of fun. A good design to start with is a traditional outrigger canoe. Cross beams can be tied on with shoe laces or sleeping bag pull cords and the mast is best held up with more cordage.

The simplest sail design is a square rigger with a single yard arm and a sail made from a plastic bag or a square piece of plastic cut from pack liner. Or if you had some success with the kete, you could try and weave a sail from flax to give it that authentic look?


Every kid, and maybe adult, loves a slingshot. They are a weapon though so maybe include a safety briefing for the young ones. You will need some kind of rubber strapping, band or tubing so you'll probably want to bring that with you as preparation.

Key parts are good quality stretchy rubber stuff and some kind of pouch to hold the projectile. Leather is best, but you could get creative. And then you'll need a strong, v-shaped stick with a comfortable hand grip.

Here is one way to make one.

Spinning Tops

These one is easy and quick. A round stick and a knife is all you need. Getting it nicely balanced so it spins smoothly is the tricky part, but you'll get the hang of it.

A great stocking stuffer that could turn out to be the best thing you do all day. There are plenty of varieties to choose from, like the type with a string to start the spin or the type that you get going with a quick flick of the fingers.

This one is probably the simplest type to make.

Whittled Chess Pieces

Like the salad spoons, all you need for this is some dry timber of roughly the right size and a decent knife. You could make these as simple (a modernist take on the classic designs?) or as complex (Lord of the Rings inspired characters?) as you want. Time might be a factor here.


Who doesn't appreciate flowers? Well I've never really been a fan but I bet someone in your family does. Plus they'll help with the lack of Christmas decorations. Flowers can be found almost anywhere, even in the remarkably green New Zealand bush, and luckily at Christmas there are plenty to choose from.

There's the pohutukawa and rata of course, and that should be your go-to tree for something bright. If you're in an alpine area, head upwards, there are plenty of beautiful flowers in the New Zealand mountains, the lovely Sun Orchid being one example. Throw in a few ferns and broad leaf varieties for texture and you got yourself one great christmas bouquet.

And finally, check out our article on backcountry Christmas trees. This could be the icing on the cake that makes this Christmas one that will be remembered forever.