Tuesday, 7 January
Mangahao-Makahika Track (13 km)
At the start of the Mangahao-Makahika Track, claim the trail notes, is a small carpark. Well, it depends on what you perceive to be a “carpark” and “small”. In this photo, Hannah is standing in the carpark. At a push, a quadbike, or perhaps two quadbikes could be parked nose to tail on the road verge.
At the first stream crossing we washed our dirty, wet clothes from the last two days. “You’ve always wanted to be a beefy rural maiden and to pound your lingerie on river rocks, haven’t you?” I brightly encouraged Hannah. “Totes,” she grunted. That’s her abbreviation of “totally”. Putting the clothes into net bags, we hung them on the outside of our packs. So now we had clean, wet clothes. There was no chance of anything drying in the humid air and by noon it was raining again.
The vegetation was the same for most of the way, although the rimu trees near the start were good to see. At the viewpoint, from which Shannon, Horowhenua and the Manawatu should have been laid out like a giant pizza before us, the landscape was blurred with rain. From what little we could see, it was evident that on a clear day the pizza would be spectacular.
The night before, we had nearly finished reading aloud Stephen Fry’s Moab is my washpot, and I now pursued a point. “I did not want [my father] to understand, no adolescent ever wants to be understood, which is why they complain about being misunderstood all the time…” Fry writes. “Do you think that is true?” I asked Hannah. “Yes,” she replied. “Why don’t you want to be understood?” “I don’t know,” she answered. Ah. Now I know I don’t know what teenagers don’t know they know. It’s really quite simple.
The second half of the trail comprised a long, slippery downhill and we had more encounters with the evil thorny plant that had deflowered our waterproofs on the Mahoe Track. There were also, according to the trail notes, “several crossings of the Makahika Stream”. This is where the English teacher and devout pedant in me elbows her way to the fore and starts strutting around self-righteously in a steel nipple-capped cross your heart bra. A couple means two. A few means three or four. Several means about six or seven. Several does not mean 12, 15 or 20, OK?
At this stage in the trail, the stream’s course is like the printout from Charles Manson’s lie detector test – the one in which he claimed to love all small and fluffy creatures. The stream squiggles madly while the track attempts a reasonably straight line at right angles through its zig-zags. Hannah was still obsessed about not getting water into her boots. I gave up and just splashed miserably through each time. This was my third day of sodden feet and I was waiting for water shrimp foot to strike. This is the sinister NZ equivalent of World War One’s trench foot. Your toes turn into sultanas, your soles go all crustaceany and two bug eyes on stalks grow out of your metatarsals, desperately searching for Life Above Water. You know you’re terminal when a small snorkel appears.
But I digress from my topic: sloppy or meaningless word choice. Take “a number”, for example. When this vacuous dribbling expression emerges from the lips of newsreaders (using an earnest and authoritative tone), I want to get my catapult and sling marbles at them, the news writers, editors and proof-readers (if the latter two jobs still exist, that is). “Mr Twong has been charged with a number of offences” means nothing. Three is a number. Thirty is a number, as is 300. Actually, zero is also a number. So much for searing journalism uncovering the truth for a nation’s benefit. Oh dear, I’m drooling, sweating and breathing heavily. Time for a number of tranquilisers and a soothing cup of tea.
We camped near the edge of the Tararua Forest Park, in a clearing where there was a toilet and a cairn bearing former PM Helen Clarke’s name. Let me clarify: her name is not on the toilet.
Dinner was freeze-dried lamb and cous cous. With its very first scoop into the bowl, my spoon broke. We travel with one knife and two spoons. Hannah now had her spoon and I had only the knife. So I ate with that, becoming a reluctant role model of rotten table manners. We were both thoroughly miserable. “I want to go home!” Hannah moaned.
But soft! There was one simple pleasure left in this used armpit of a day. The toilet! I trotted across the clearing in the rain to enjoy its convenience. The toilet seat was set in a box, a la ancient water closet. It was obviously built by a bloke, the same blinkered solipsist who affixes that single mirror tile to the wall in every motel room on the planet. He had measured his own femur length for the comfort of buttock placement, so the seat was set too far back from the box edge for most women and all children. Actually, a child would have to do a substantial backwards wriggle on a none-too-clean surface. Eeew. After fulminating for a while, I tried to leave the building. I shouted “Haaaaaalp!” but Hannah was too far away to hear. I struggled with the door for a desperate minute before realising that this one opened inwards instead of outwards in the manner of all other DOC toilets. When in doubt, pull instead of push. That is my advice to y’all. I deserve a special prize for insight, you know. I really do. Next time I am asked by a job interview panel whether “at the end of the day” I can “think outside the box” I’ll know exactly which example to provide.