Sunday, 6 October
McIntyre Road to Hall Road (19 km)
We woke to the sight of three slugs shmoozing their way across the inside of the tent dome. Ick! The first section of the day’s walk wasn’t too nice either, as it took us through tall weeds on wet ground in close parallel to the motorway.
At the Mercer service centre we bought liquids: a bottle of guava-flavoured Blue V (Hannah’s choice), and a 1.25L bottle of water (mine). I wanted something extra to wash with when we stopped. Hannah does not share my horror of sleeping sticky. She cheerfully goes without washing while tramping, but she did make a faint noise of disparagement when we read about Rosie Mole confessing to Daisy and Adrian that she had not washed her hair for a year. “Doesn’t Rosie know she can achieve the perfect unwashed look with gel?” was her critical response.
The walk improved after the stiff hill climb behind Mercer, where we had our first view of Waikato. It was a morning of moods; occasionally windy with cloud clumps pulled roughly apart, allowing through occasional handprints of light.
The track undulated (this is understatement) through fields of sheep before descending to the Whangamarino Wetlands track. We followed the Waikato River bank from this point until the end of the leg.
It is impossible to complete the riverside sections in wet weather, but even after the sunny spell which preceded our tramp, it was unpleasantly muddy. We traversed cattle paddock after cattle paddock with abundant muck sucking our shoes. Laugh of the day was an orange triangle-marked stile which offered to take us over a barb wire fence situated a metre beyond a two-strand electric fence. The path had brought us to the wrong side of the electric fence. Dear me! It was a bit like an emergency exit key being secured in a box of smash-proof glass.
We saw some enormous fish jumping; one had the colouring of a koi carp, which we later discovered is an introduced pest species. The big plus of the walk, though, was the spectacular yellow irises flowering thickly along the length of the banks.
By this time it was hot, and Hannah, who had not checked her water bag at Mercer, discovered it was empty. She started on my bottle of certified purity. “Hey!” I protested. “You’re drinking my bathwater!” She has no shame. She knew I could not leave her in a Waikato field to die. Forty-two years ago (this is not strictly a non sequitur), when I was at boarding school, a small girl called Annetjie gained kudos of the horrified variety in our dorm, by piddling in her bathwater and then drinking it. She grinned broadly while slurping and I recall that she had only a couple of front teeth.
At Meremere we passed the dragway from where the complaining and irritated whining of scramblers could be heard for miles. South of here, we walked a long distance on the stopbank. This section is described in the trail notes as easy tramping, but it is not. The grass length varies between ankle and knee height, thus making walking an effort: you really have to pick up your feet. The ground is flat, but cow hoof-pitted dried mud provides an ankle-wrecking uneven surface.
Somewhat sinister was the number of cattle and sheep skulls we counted. We even found an entire skeleton, with a small amount of flesh yet to be prised off it by insects and birds.
A rough transcript of the afternoon’s conversation:
She: I want to stop walking the trail in a few weeks. By December, actually.
She: I want to get my hair done. It is my December tradition. I want to have another Death Mohawk and dye it purple.
Me: You can have your hair done and still walk, but you’d have to put sunscreen on the shaved bits.
She: But I can’t maintain “the look” on the walk.
Me: So, if the hairstyle is spectacular, it doesn’t matter if the brain underneath it is woo-wah doolally? Dad and I could drop you off at the psychiatric ward and you’d be the best groomed patient there.
She: Yup. That’s about it. That’s what Patsy would do.
She: Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous. She’s my role model. I hope I have a body like hers when I’m her age.
Me: Well, you can certainly tone your body by walking the length of New Zealand.
She: Oh shut up Mom!
When we reached Hall Road and set up the tent, I discovered that Hannah had actually finished my sparkling bathwater. She laughed at my annoyance and went to collect 1.25L of replacement water from the river. It had things floating in it. Now Patsy wouldn’t bath in water like that. Pffft!
In the darkness, we listened to a hissing possum fight and a cattle choir. Somewhere across the river, a herd of bovines was seriously disturbed. Muted and slightly distorted by distance, there was a fugue comprising a bass drone overlaid with shrieks and trumpeting made on both the in-breath and the out-breath. They sounded like souls in the fires of damnation. Maybe these were cows newly and forcibly separated from of their calves. Horrid thought. Horrid practice.