Sunday 22 September
Quay Street to Mangere (25.5 km)
Marius was meant to join us again today, but when the alarm bleeped at 6.30, his incoherent returning-to-consciousness mumblings and reluctant sub-duvet heavings indicated a state of weakness and frayed moral fibre. As human speech began to emerge it was clear that he had sufficient strength to provide transport for Hannah and me, but planned to shelter, in a very cowardly way, behind a pile of marking. Aha! The small print of our ante-nuptial contract specifies that such lapses have to be repaid by him with breakfast in bed on demand, six unsupervised and uncriticised shopping trips, and 25 “Yes dear” responses to entirely unreasonable wifely remarks. So I did not repine.
He dropped us at the wharf in Quay Street, where Hannah spotted these meat cleaver door handles which could be right off the set of a psycho killer movie. They made us laugh. Don’t you think they provide a nice thematic touch for a restaurant called the “Botswana Butchery”?
How many folk associate meat cleavers or similar implements with mental illness? The Shining offers an over-the-top image of an insane killer thrusting his horribly smiling face through an axe-wrecked door. This image remains fixed in the public mind more than 30 years later. And who can forget Hannibal Lecter in a muzzle? Some people think that at worst, a mental health patient is a maniac of the roaring, eye-rolling, knife-wielding Nicholsonian type. At best, they think a mental health patient is creepy, sticky, troublesome and best avoided.
In real life, there is a small percentage of mentally ill people who are dangerous, but mental illness encompasses a huge range of symptoms and behaviours that are not dangerous to others. The suffering of the mentally ill may be invisible even to those closest to them.
Also, it is not a handful of the population that suffers mental illness – it is more like an armful. Stigma prevents people being open about their illness in the way they might be about measles, hernias or cancer. Silence may shield them from anticipated rejection, but also isolates them from compassion and help.
As a child, I was told by an adult family member that even if someone recovered after a “nervous breakdown”, that person would “never be quite the same again”. The view was that the sufferer was forever tainted in some way: a tad peculiar. As with other medical conditions, some people with mental illness may not be able to lead normal lives and may not be healed. But, as with other medical conditions, most of us can be helped.
When I suffered major depression for two years in my twenties, I eventually got better. And I discovered that indeed, I would “never be quite the same again”. I had learned how quickly and easily an otherwise buoyant personality can be dragged down; how someone who formerly never would have imagined contemplating suicide, might find herself buying bottles of sleeping pills and hoping a car accident would kill her so she wouldn’t eventually have to take responsibility for that awful job herself. I had learned how someone who loved to run marathons and to laugh could stay in bed, hardly able to move for days, and cry continually – until her eyelids peeled. That person was me. I would never be the same again, because now I understood; I was less dismissive and intolerant.
We walked through the CBD and across the remarkably pretty university campus before entering the Auckland Domain. Here, someone had illegally pitched a blue, two-person tent. If the desperate trampers had wanted to remain undetected, they should not have overslept, but maybe they were counting on park officials being hypnotised by the screening of the America’s Cup.
The domain has a resident population of plump and happy geese. If this were South Africa, those birds would be gone overnight, and the same swift fate would befall the sheep in Cornwall Park. But this is New Zealand, where two women can walk the length of the country in reasonable safety, and park livestock numbers can remain relatively constant. Mind you… considering Hannibal Lecter and vulgar sheep jokes, if things went really very tragically wrong on a spring Sunday in Auckland, neighbours might sniff the air at midday, noting that the barbecue chez Lecter was cooking up a two-course bumper feast. (You can only hope that tramper steak makes tough chewing.) Meanwhile, at Cornwall Park, a woolly passenger would beat with her little cloven front hooves on the inside of a car window, as a sinister bloke with immoral intentions drove her away.
At Mount Eden Domain, from the lip of the volcanic crater, we had a spectacular 360-degree view of Auckland. Although this grassy cup is comparatively small, it is still impressive when you’re on foot. If the crater were not protected (signage declares it “fragile and sacred”), it would be a superb place for cardboard box tobogganing.
Apart from the section through Epsom, the placing, frequency and appearance of trail signs continued to be an annoyance on the coast-to-coast walk and beyond. It was only with two maps and a GPS that we could keep going in the right direction.
Although there are some inevitably dull and ugly places in the tramp across the city, the reward for keeping going after Cornwall is Ambury Park. There is nothing to hear but the gentle tearing sound of sheep grazing and an occasional, placid baa. The ground is flat but contains odd pleats of rock, some of which shelter pools of water. In the distance is the sea and the bluer hills beyond the far shore.
After Ambury, the tramp deteriorates substantially. The trail goes through a long stretch next to the sewage works and the city dump. The sewage works is ugly, but not odoriferous. The city dump stench is frightful, though, and you can’t escape it for ages. You just have to tie a handkerchief across your face, breathe lightly and march. We saw a sign at the end of the section, declaring that this track would be closed when a new, foreshore alternative is opened in October 2013. Maybe we are among the last trampers to endure the horrid section, but if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction I don’t think the folk on the new path will escape the smell.
Marius picked us up at the Oruarangi Road Bridge in Mangere. I asked him how the marking was going. He looked shifty. “I arranged it into two piles,” he said in a squeaky voice. Aha! So Hannah and I were still on the moral high ground, and what a gentle, aesthetically pleasing and delightfully fragrant path it provides!