Saturday, 19 October
Hamilton CBD to Te Pahu Road (17 km)
This leg was meant to start yesterday. We discovered at dawn, half way to the CBD bus stop, that Hannah had forgotten her backpack at home. She thought “someone else would have put it in the car”. She is not a morning person. So we were not tramping people that day. When we got home, we discovered Rimsky Korsakov in the lounge, sharpening his claws on Hannah’s pack waterbag. I threw a toilet roll at him. Growling, he immediately disembowelled the paper. Luckily, the waterbag was not punctured.
Take two: dawn on Saturday. Rimsky, his tail tip twitching slightly, watched us depart. I’m certain that if he were much larger, he would play with us for a long time before eating us.
This time, we caught the bus to Hamilton and continued the city traverse from the point at which Marius and Hannah left it the week before. At the lake, we walked the gauntlet of emotional assault by coot babies and pukeko adolescents. Aww…too sweet! What can possibly beat coot feet? A gaggle of geese grazed on the shore. “They remind me of Vicky Pollard and her bullygirl gang,” said Hannah.
We worked westwards through the suburbs, where swans sat in someone’s garden. These were sculptures constructed from car tyres. At another home there was a weathered gate sign saying “Beware of the dog. The bugger bites.” This amused me enormously. It is the first time I’ve seen evidence of an owner ostensibly on the side of the intruder.
A Maori man approached us. “Excuse me,” he said. “Where you from? What country?” Our backpacks make us look like tourists, I suppose, and we still sound like South Africans. “We’re from here: New Zealand,” I replied. “You citizens?” he demanded. “No,” I said. “Soon, though,” Hannah added. The man pressed a hand to his heart. “I’m glad,” he said. That was really nice of him.
Then we were stopped by two pleasant and very pretty Mormon missionaries. After a short conversation, they asked if we believed in God. “I do,” I said. “I don’t,” Hannah said, “because it isn’t logical. I don’t see any evidence.” The missionary said the evidence is all around us. I agreed with her; we’ve seen both heaven and hell flash past on this trail. They offered to share a scripture and pray with us, but we declined, and continued out of town. Our impression of people in Hamilton and further south was of warm friendliness, with only one exception, encountered later that afternoon.
Dogs were out in force for walkies with their humans. One lovely black Labrador had the end half of his tail in a special plaster bandage. A tragedy had befallen his waggy bit, but at least the tail was still all there.
At the arboretum we encountered helmeted guinea fowl and three peahens as well as some rather assertive bantams. Here, and elsewhere in west Hamilton, we saw signs prohibiting golf. Err… Do golfers need nothing more than a stretch of grass for them to whip out their clubs and start whacking away? Is Hamilton the only place with rogue golfers?
We had to find O’Dea Road. I asked Hannah if, considering our track record, a route including a section that sounded like an exclamation of dismay was an ill omen. “And in about 70 kilometres’ time, there’s a road called Orongo,” I added. “But I think I would be more suspicious if it was called Orightgo.”
The Waipa Walk traverses farmland and passes rural residences. There were a few Highland cattle and their teddy bear-like woolly calves as well as some deer along with a preponderance of bovines, painted to indicate breeding status.
The excitement of the afternoon came from crossing a marshy section. The water appeared shallow and clear, with darting insects above and below a surface broken with grass clumps. Hannah splashed across first, and yelped when she sank so the water went in over the tops of her ankle boots. The ground had hidden depths of mud. I wanted to keep my shoes dry, so removed them to cross in my slip-on sandals. “Move quickly, Mom,” advised Hannah, “or you’ll sink.” Almost immediately, I was in it to the knees. Hannah had a good laugh. “Your expression!” she hooted. I threw my shoes across ahead of me, but could not do the same for my 15-Kilogram pack. Nor could I extract my feet, so had to plunge my arm down to the elbow into the goo to grasp my sandal upper and pull each foot out for every step. It was a bit like playing Twister alone and minus the fun and companionship component. Hannah squatted in the grass among the mob of buttercups under an azure sky, and had a comfortable pee. Then she took a few photos of me. “How can you do that while your mother is drowning?” I cried indignantly. She opened her pack and found the biscuit box. “Fruit digestive or malt?” she offered, holding out the container from 15 metres away. “So now you’re having a picnic?!” I shrieked. “You’re taking too long, that’s why you’ve sunk so deep,” she reminded me through chomps on her digestive. “Leave me. Go. Save yourself,” I said ironically as I floundered out at last.
We emerged onto the rural road near Whatawhata. It was a lovely, normal Saturday afternoon of unhurried activity. People were mooching in their garages and cutting their lawns and the air was filled with bruised pennyroyal. In one garden, two serene sheep grazed near their own kennel-like A-frames and in another, a girl walked with a half-grown lamb on a leash. Three heavy horses cavorted endearingly up to the fence to solicit caresses. Best sight of the afternoon, though, was in a beautifully-raked dressage arena. Two speckled hens were officiously re-arranging it by having a particularly vigorous sand bath.
In Whatawhata, a man standing in the back of a truck shouted at us in his own language, which we did not understand. The tone was lascivious and abusive, however. “How quaint,” I observed to Hannah. “He must be making an ancient and traditional fertility greeting.” Hannah made him a rude sign. She doesn’t believe in receiving without giving back. Unsurprisingly, the man became more abusive, this time with words we did understand. I was right. He was referring to reproduction. Sometimes I am in awe of my own insight.
We camped next to the Waipa River, beneath a hunchbacked tree. Dinner was two packets of Watties’ Mexican Fiesta Beans. The beans were rather tasty, but we had some reservations about the anticipated alimentary results. “These are fiesta beans,” said Hannah, “so we can only fart if we’re wearing sombreros.” “Yes,” I said, “and if we sing ‘Hola senorita!’ at the same time.”