Monday, 19 August
Waitangi Forest to Paihia (15 km)
With some groaning and whining, we washed down muesli bars with boring cold water and broke camp. Working our way through the Waitangi Forest, we passed Covenant 4 semi-infertile freshwater wetland. (At this point I pause for a smattering of applause.) Actually, I have no political or ecological grunt; I simply read this on a forest sign and used the term to impress y’all. I wonder why the land is labelled “semi-infertile” as opposed to “semi-fertile”?
A pair of paradise ducks circled overhead, with rusty cries of “Help! Heelp! Heeelp!” I think it would be a tad difficult for us to do anything stealthy in these parts. I don’t know if it was the same pair who dogged us for a few kilometres or whether other pairs participated in a neighbourhood watch relay, but there were rather a lot of bugled security alerts.
The low point of the day was the frequent odour of dead possums. We also saw their unlovely skinned carcasses flung at the roadside. We paused on Mount Bledisloe before descending to Waitangi.
A sign on the golf course warned us to beware of golf balls. Errrr. Apparently, the world record for golf ball speed is 328 km/h. (I looked that up.) Now even if local players fall far short of unleashing such virile velocity, I wonder how pedestrians would manage to see, let alone timeously skip out of the way of a ball? Or should we leopard-crawl our way past the fairways? Maybe it is the players who should beware of the trampers? Unless golfers don’t like trampers, in which case, an informal change to the game rules could catch on. “Tramper in one”, for example.
As we crossed the bridge at Waitangi, the view was silvery and serene, with small boats moored in still water beneath a low cloud cover.
Starving, we stopped in Paihia for a burger and awarded the restaurant manageress full marks for super-duper lovely wonderfulness. At the door we confessed to being muddy and damp, but she said it didn’t matter and let us in. Not all places welcome backpackers. In some shops, too, you “take up too much space in the aisles”. I had a funny turn during lunch and thought I was going to be sick or pass out. She advised me to lie lengthways on the banquette until I felt better. This, in a rather smart emporium with an award for its food.
Another good moment ambushed us on the beachfront, when we discovered we were inadvertently doing the Paihia community flag trail. Even considering the time of year, there were quite a few international visitors around. Clearly, they feel welcome.
Highlight of the day was the public toilet. Yes: I’m serious. But this is not as pitiful as it sounds. As you can see in the photo, the sign: “Paihia’s wee toilet” 1) has a correctly placed apostrophe, 2) is thoroughly artistic and 3) gives lavatorial humour a new turn. Silver toilet bowls are used as planters and urinals as light fittings. How can you not be entranced?
We were about to head the short distance to Opua, when we realised that it was high tide, so we couldn’t take the beach route, and it started to rain in earnest. Opua is the place from which one catches a motor launch to Waikare for the next trail section. We decided to spend the night at a backpackers’ lodge. A sign advertising “The Pickled Parrot” drew us in. We thought it was an odd name. “Why ‘parrot’?” I asked. “Why not ‘The Preserved Pukeko’? Make it local. Or ‘The Conserved Kiwi’?” On booking in, we understood, as shall you when seeing the less innocent painted sign. I had brought my underage daughter to a hotbed of intemperance and carousel. Hannah laughed. “‘The Pickled Pukeko’ applies!” she said. “Or ‘The Motherless Morepork.’” Our creativity soared. “The Soused Saddlebird’,” I added”. When my family starts, we are unstoppable. Blotto Bellbird, Tanked Takahe and Legless Lark followed.
As it turned out, the place was scrupulously clean, very friendly, cheap, comfortable and convenient, although the blokes in the adjoining room did have a long droning conversation in an eastern European language late into the night. But we read Adrian Mole aloud back through the wall to them. I trust they were edified, or at the very least, bewildered.
The motor launch to Waikare costs $100 and can only take trampers across to the landing in the mangrove swamp during the height of high tide. We were worried we would not manage this, because we would not be able to walk the beach route to Opua before 6.15 am due to the rising tide, and with our record for getting lost, could not confidently walk the alternative road route in the dark. We didn’t want to land in the mangroves in the dusk of the following evening’s high tide either, or to waste 24 hours waiting for the tide in Opua. But another lovely person did us a favour. Micaela, the boatie, offered to pick us up at 6.15 the next morning at the Paihia jetty. Obstacle overcome. Fears finished. Solution sorted. Oh dear, I’d better shut up now. I’m starting to annoy myself.