Friday, 6 December
Ngaherenga Campsite to the Bog Inn Hut (15 km)
Opening our eyes after a rainy night, the first thing we saw was a swathe of mosquitoes swimming above us, in the stratosphere between the two layers of our tent. There were maybe 150 of them and they were psychic. They had channelled our deliciousness vibrations. Now I know how cupcakes feel under the frilly gauze dome at a party.
To reach the head of the Toitoi trail, we walked about seven kilometres through a logging area. It continued to rain, so the light was poor for photographs, but I liked the purple foxgloves growing in ground full of pumice. We passed a two-ton 1928 Caterpillar crawler tractor, carefully preserved under a plastic canopy. It was smaller than a mini car, but they built ‘em solid in those days. You wouldn’t want those tank treads to run over your tender toes.
Some of the Te Araroa path overlaps with the new cycle route, the Timber Trail, which diverges after about a quarter of the distance, following a more westerly line through the reserve. It makes a lovely change to tramp this cycle track, because it is beautifully graded and sanded. Unfortunately, bicycles approach silently from behind, and these days there is no such thing as a bicycle bell. So cyclists have to use their brakes when they’d rather not, and walkers have to make a startled leap out of the way when they’d also rather not. Cyclists could give a warning yelp as soon as they see trampers ahead, but they don’t. I wonder why not?
It rained nearly all the time we were on this leg (oh whoopee), and the cyclists that passed us were branded with the spinal splash, the skunk line of centrifuged gunk up their backs from rear wheel cast-off. Yes, those old fashioned things, mudguards, like bells, have been dispensed with. Mind you, nowadays, mountain bikers can get “gunge guards”, a less uncool version of the mudguard, but these are not much in evidence. Do cyclists actually wash their own clothes? (asked the indignant maternal feminist).
Near the start of the Pureora section of the trail is a small and welcome wooden shelter, where we rested for a while. We were delighted to discover that a little brown bird had nested inside, on a strut just beneath the roof. She was sitting on her eggs, regarding us gravely and seemingly unafraid. We might not have noticed her, were it not for the avian poopatures on the wall below. On the bench was evidence of another visitor, who had used a permanent black marker to draw a heart with “I” above it and “kok” below it. Dear Madam or Sir, Your sexual proclivities interest me not one whit, but your spelling appals me.
We climbed to the top of Mount Pureora. The track went through thick forest containing some ancient trees, including Matai. The preservation of these last few giants is due to the environmental protesters of the 1970s, who risked their lives to stop the insanely invasive logging.
As we got higher, more alpine vegetation emerged, with thick shrubs and some bare patches. At the summit, cell phone reception is excellent, due to the solar-powered tower situated there. The view is meant to be excellent too, but rain reduced visibility to 20 metres. The descent was steep, muddy, and badly eroded, the path nothing more than an ankle-deep watercourse. In places, you could see where some steps had been washed away. We both fell several times and Hannah pulled a muscle in her groin.
It was great to get to the Bog Inn Hut and find we had it to ourselves that night. It was very rustic, but anything is better than setting up the tent in mud. The hut was built in 1960 and is constructed of very roughly hewn planks. The outside is now clad with corrugated iron, and there are bags stuffed in all the cracks, otherwise the wind sure would howl through the dwelling.
Trampers have sheltered here since the 1980s, as we could see from the names and dates carved into the walls and furniture. There was also a lightning flash SS and a KKK carving. Oh dear me! The latter two make “I ‘heart’ kok” look sensitive by comparison.
A tramper couple had left a booklet and a treat for other Te Araroa through-trampers, who were meant to consume the goodies, write in the booklet, and leave a treat of their own for the next person. It is a lovely idea but doomed by average humanity. The most recent resident had consumed the Tempo bar, left nothing behind, and had failed to ‘fess up in the booklet.
After an early dinner, we read more Moab is my washpot, Stephen Fry’s autobiography of his school years. It provides plenty of laughs as well as toe-curling stuff. It is a comfort to know that someone who suffered self-hatred and behaved self-destructively managed eventually to find a better place in himself to “be”, and forged a highly successful career. Hannah and I are united in best loving his characterisation of General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forth.
Day 2 (off trail)
Saturday, 7 December
Bog Inn Hut to Tihoi Road (14 km)
Today was something of a disaster. The Bog Inn Hut is so called because of its location. The trail notes do not tell you that the hut is well off the trail, but they do instruct you to “skirt the bog”. You cannot see the bog from the trail, so anyone not walking to the hut would not know where the bog is or that they were bypassing it. Moreover, the GPS told us there were two tracks across the bog that rejoined the trail, and we could see many water-filled footprints leading into the goo. We realised afterwards that these must be the footprints of others making the same mistake as we did. Sigh! Anyway, following these, and the empty promises of the GPS, we attempted to skirt the bog, although it was not so much a case of skirting as crawling into the soggy jockstrap thereof. Ninety minutes later, we had circumnavigated this dull geographical feature and were back at the hut. Oh goodie.
Hannah was morose. Her groin hurt and she said she was not going to manage another two days of steep and rugged trail, let alone the rest of the planned leg. So we decided to limp out of the park as best we could on forestry roads, spend the night at the Kakaho Campsite, then hitchhike to the nearest Intercity bus stop. This alternative would also take us two days. We had no cell phone reception in the forest, so could not tell Marius we were no longer following our planned route.
I was also morose. I tried to find something to feel positive about. Oh yes: the romantically thick moss and lichen on the branches brought two of my favourite elderly descriptors to mind: voluptuous and festoon. Oh no: they also evoked maternal despair of the household chore variety, being reminiscent of teenagers’ wet washing, left all clumped up on the rack instead of spread nicely to dry.
See-sawing pretty much summed up the rest of the day. It rained and rained. Gloom. We found an abandoned logging shack in which to heat our lunch. Party face. Inside the shack was an ancient, desiccated pile of turds. Disgust. There were also two old bongs. Delight (for Hannah; I just rolled my eyes). At Tihoi there were some interesting rock formations with purple foxgloves and mauve-looking shrubs breaking through swathes of green. A small twitch of delight (for me; Hannah just rolled her eyes). A very nice teacher from the Tihoi Venture School went out of his way to drive us to the Kakaho Campsite. (Party faces for both of us.) The dung drop toilets at this campsite were absolutely the best I have ever seen, being very new, very clean and odourless. (Enthusiastic shriek from me. Hannah made a small, almost imperceptible effort to feel happy for my sake.)
We still had no reception, but a single text had somehow managed to dive roll through the mesh of electronic isolation. Mandela was now officially dead.
Something about being in the wilderness with a throbbing groin and a wet tent renders international news trivial.
In an effort to use my phone, I walked up a nearby hill which was situated in a sheep field. First, I had to climb over a padlocked gate, on which a sign promised that surveillance cameras were operating. 1) Tell me another one! 2) Show me your camera, and I’ll show you my knickers. 3) I bet you don’t want to see my knickers. 4) I can’t operate my phone with a sheep under each arm.
We reanimated a freeze-dried curry for supper and after a brief argument over who would fetch water for the dishes, we went to bed with Stephen Fry. I’m sure he’d be mildly gratified if he knew he’d spent the night with us.
Day 3 (off trail)
Sunday, 8 December
Kakaho Campsite to a spot on the SH32 (12 km)
Despite it being a day on which Facebook beckoned alluringly and made kissy noises from the distant evening, it was another morning on which Hannah wouldn’t get up. In her sleeping bag, she was the shape and very essence of a larva. We usually have dull exchanges in which maternal animation is counterbalanced by larval inertia, with varying degrees of success. This morning was more entertaining, though.
Me: It’s morning. (Using a cuckoo voice) Here’s your tea-hee Hanny. (After another five minutes) Get up, Hannah. (Long pause) Get. Up. Now.
She: I’m studying for my sleep exam.
Me: How have you done in your assignments so far?
She: Quite well, but I’ve been interrupted rather a lot recently.
Me: What were your assignment topics?
She: “Sleep: a neglected art form”; “Sleep in history”; “Sleep as a battle tactic”.
Me: What about “Sleep as an avoidance and displacement activity”?
She: That’s for next year.
Me: “Sleeping positions”? “Sleeping to be bloody annoying”?
She: Yeah, and “Rolling over and punching mothers”…. Hey, are you putting this on the blog?
She: Well, write it down before you forget it.
Me: Why don’t you do that for me? I’m busy getting dressed.
She: (Indignantly snuggling down further in her bag) Can’t you see I’m studying?
We walked down Kakaho Road to reach the SH 32, along which we trudged for ages before being offered a lift. This time it was three young blokes. One of them had a crossbow on his lap. I thought of the nail scissors in my pocket, always carried as a minor weapon in case things go wrong during hitchhiking. You never know when offering an appeasing pedicure to a serial killer might avert a tragedy. “We went hunting this morning,” said the driver. “But we didn’t have any luck. We can give you a lift to Tokoroa if that’ll help.” I asked him what they usually hunted, and he said deer, and that they made sausages and salami from the meat. OK, so these blokes were after Bambi’s Mom, but since I’ve probably already eaten Babe’s siblings, and once murdered a shrew that kept leaving droppings in my kitchen utensils, I decided not to walk the very long road to the nearest bus stop. The hunters’ kindness cut a long day considerably shorter, so we could catch our bus at noon.
Waiting at the stop in Tokoroa, I saw a man amble past with an apt and memorable T-shirt. It read “Beer Hunter”. That gave me a laugh. Life is full of such small flashes of joy.