Friday, 15 November
Brandon Hall Road to Ngaio Road (19 km)
The dawn chorus was great. Best were the tuis, who sounded like a group of grannies cooing over a new baby in a pram. I sat up. “It is going to be a reasonably easy walk, today,” I said. Hannah was still horizontal. “From this angle you look incredibly old,” she murmured, “very wrinkly.” Pffft. “The first gruesome lines appeared while I was grimacing in anguish, pushing you out of my genitals into the world,” I retorted. My referring to her birth never fails to animate my child with annoyance. Animation is good when you have to get going in the morning. “I did not come out of your genitals!” she shouted. “I was a Caesar baby!” This is true, but I refuse to abandon the moral high ground provided by real or fabricated suffering.
The tarred road to Bulls is very long, flat and straight. The main excitement it offers is a slight bend at about the halfway point. However, the farmers that live on Brandon Hall Road take a real pride in their post boxes. We particularly liked a giraffe, a horsebox and an ancient camera. The back of the horsebox, which faced the road, had two lovely bottoms and tails hanging out of it. The camera was on a tripod and had “Zeiss Nikon” painted on the front and “Made in China” on the back. I love that humour. It had an ancient flash bulb and a lens on a concertina pop-out. My grandfather had a camera of similar structure in the 1930s. As we entered Bulls, we also found a post box fire engine.
Bulls is proud of its name and groaningly awful puns abound. Businesses tout themselves as incredibull or adorabull; the Town Hall is listed as a place to be sociabull, the library is readabull and the pharmacy is indispensabull. Signs on large litterbins (recycled milk churns) exhort people to be responsibull with litter. Best (or is it worst?) of all is the sign outside the public loo, which tells us how relievabull a visit to this public convenience can be. There are also murals depicting locals as anthropomorphic cattle. The police station has a garage door decorated with constabulls dressed in blue. Cowed, we were udderly relieved to depart.
At this point our trials of the day really began. There is a Rangitikei River track, through some private land, which is meant eventually to bring the tramper out onto Ngaio Rd. Our usual saga of an inadequately marked trail boringly played itself out yet again, but even if the trail did have an abundance of orange triangles, we would have missed them. This walk is hugely overgrown with wild fennel, weeds and brambles. It was impossible to negotiate and so we ended up involuntarily trespassing and climbing into paddocks of livestock simply to escape.
Eventually and by chance, we found a black and white trail sign far too modestly placed on a rock on the other side of a multi-stranded fence. The fence was set up for electrification, but was it activated? Hmm. Getting over it without touching it would be difficult, maybe impossible. Now, I have a heart condition, so playing with electrical currents is even less a sensible option for me than it is for the average soul. “Please would you touch this to test it for us before we try climbing?” I asked Hannah. I asked her very nicely, too. “I’d rather walk all the way back to the main road,” she replied sleepily. I knew she was lying. She was sitting very comfortably on the grass and she never takes a single extra step unless she is guaranteed food. I considered mentioning my genitals again, but dismissed the thought. It is not wise to deploy the same weapon twice in one day. “Greater love hath no Mom,” I said nobly, “than to risk her very life for her daughter’s uncaring laziness. Moreover, you are a wuss!” and I reached out my age-spotted sacrificial hand. Nothing happened. So over we went.
Once across the fence, we still had to get over the large rock, along the exit side of which ran what looked like a nylon string. As I discovered, while lowering myself into thigh-deep weeds, this string was the electrified item. My bottom was the recipient of an agricultural stimulus that I cannot relate without blushing. If I were vindictive, I would have allowed my heartless daughter to discover this unpleasantness on her own. But I am a nice person. I now have a pink fence around my plot of moral high ground. It even glows in the surrounding darkness of filial ingratitude. Prominently positioned is a sign saying “Beware of the Blog”.
The path then led us along a cliff top on the wrong side of a fence, where the space between the fence and the void was too narrow for safety. So back into the paddock we climbed. We were sick and tired of the stupid track by this time. All we wanted was to get the hell out of it and onto the road to Feilding, but we were led astray for another hour through farm fields before our final release in the wrong place.
I’m sure farmers in the Bulls district must have female cattle too. Maybe someone at some time has seen them? However, for our entire walk, we saw nothing but bulls of varying ages. Is this settlement Evil? Are The Stepford Cows kept in oppressed seclusion?
We could see a road in the distance. Oh joy! The problem was that yet another field of bulls lay between it and us. On the whole, the bulls we encountered were young, curious, but nervous. They wanted to inspect us but posed no real danger while we walked slowly and quietly along the fence line. In this particular field, however, one mature male looked like a very mean bugger. He was thick set, with small rolls of flesh at the butcher’s joins. Two small eyes glared out of a fat, flat face and stalagtites of drool from his lower jaw quivered in the breeze. He had a statuesque and truly menacing stillness. We detoured his paddock.
As we crossed the last field, where the bulls were young and frisky, I said to Hannah, “Look, it probably won’t happen, but it is possible we could be charged. Unclip your hip and chest straps now, so if we are indeed charged, you can easily drop your backpack as you run, in the hope that…” “…That the bull will be distracted by you and not pulverise your valuable possessions,” Hannah interrupted. It is because she makes statements like this that I do not entirely disown her.
On reaching Ngaio Road, we decided to hitch hike to Feilding. We’ll have to come back another time to complete the road margin tramp. Meanwhile, we knew Jean would be only too delighted to find us deposited on her doorstep in the expectation of luxurious accommodation for the weekend. Old friends wearing the same clothes they’ve sweated into for the last three days can only be embraced with delight, right?