Tuesday, 22 October
Pahautea hut to Kaimango Road (14.5 km)
To lure Hannah out of bed, I told her with almost tearful excitement that we’d be starting the day’s trudge on the Noel Sandford Boardwalk south of the camp. You have no idea how brilliant it is to walk on a constructed pathway suspended well above the bogs, even if this thrill lasts for only a couple of kilometres. Noel Sandford, whoever you are, we blow kisses in your general direction.
Today, the mist was like milkshake. When we reached the Hihikiwi lookout point, we could see absolutely nothing, but the trees through which we braided our way were spectacularly mossy. They were Lord of the Rings props for Rivendell.
On the trail, Hannah walks behind me. She does this to see what route I take through the boggy bits and repeats my movements if I do not do an involuntary breakdance spin in the mud. Blessed is the daughter who learns vicariously instead of experimentally; she shall go to the Armageddon Nerdfestival at the weekend.
We both needed an incentive to keep us walking; this section was rough and dirty, taking us four hours to cover the five kilometres to the road. “Cream puffs,” I groaned. “Steak and hot chips,” replied Hannah. After this came a long list in which Christmas pudding with white sauce, marshmallows, cheese, fried eggs and bacon were the most desired items. The cheese at least we knew would be on the menu today, because we were going to detour to Otorohanga for supplies.
We emerged from the forest into undulating open farmland where a few trees point their leaves and branches in one direction due to the prevailing wind. The road gravel is white, making a flashing contrast to the relentlessly green turf and fence posts stained with red lichen.
A man in a truck pulling a trailer with a quadbike on it stopped for a chat. “You need a bike!” was his diagnostic greeting. “We’ll have yours, then,” I replied. We walked quite a long way on the tar road before getting two lifts. First, a man and his nephew made room for us. He asked why we were walking so we told him about the thing. He said his mother had been mentally ill, in and out of institutions for years. He had slipped through the child welfare cracks and stayed home, mainly alone, from 12 to 16 years of age. How hard it must have been, that young, to press through the loneliness and find self-sufficiency. When he dropped us on the highway he said, “Be careful, now. Someone really crazy could pick you up.” “We know,” I replied. “But we’re counting on being crazier than he is.”
Our next lift came from Erica, who took us directly to Otorohanga. She was on her way to a ceremony to commemorate the first anniversary of her husband’s death. He had been diagnosed with cancer soon after they had been forced to leave Christchurch due to the earthquake. It is amazing how some people can find the energy to be kind to strangers when they are themselves enduring something overwhelming. Thanks, Erica.
Staggering under supplies including cream puffs and cheese, we went to the town campsite, where we moved into a cabin and had a hot shower instead of setting up the tent. Real sheets and pillows! An electric light! Milk in our tea! Glee.
When Hannah was a baby, I loved blowing cheek-slapping raspberries on her little round belly. She would coo and chortle and pull my hair. Looking at my child lying on the motel bunk I suddenly had the urge to do it again. She is bigger than I am now, so this seemed a tad foolish, but hey, we’re both cracked. “I’ll make you a cup of tea if you let me,” I bargained, so she laughed and raised her t-shirt a few centimetres above her waist. No Mom ever forgets the special scent of her baby and the warm velvet feel of baby skin under her kisses. Ah… to renew these sensations is bliss. But years on from my happy baby, whose little toes were so gorgeously plump they looked crooked, my daughter is striped with scars everywhere, and I could feel these now, under my lips. She is my tiger child.