Friday, 12 December
Mangaukewa Road to Ngarahenga camp (60 km)
Thing-bearers: Hannah and Marius
A short distance south of the village, the trail joins the main road and stays on tar for a considerable period before taking a left turn onto rather challengingly chunky gravel, the Mangaukewa North Rd. This road eventually rejoins State Highway 30, shortly before you reach the Ngarahenga campsite. It was from this camp that Hannah and I had started for the ToiToi trail, on which she got her injury climbing Pureora the week before.
Sixty kilometres of road and highway connection is better cycled than tramped, so this distance was the family’s intention today. I had the boring but necessary task of camp commandant, driver and road manager. I would rather have cycled, but someone had to be noble, and I found there was yet balm in Gilead. Driving out of Te Kuiti, I passed a man cycling with panniers. The panniers were not for camping gear, though. No. They were for transporting his extremely important Maltese Poodle, which took its role of fluffy sidekick seriously.
Marius and the kids set off, expecting to find me parked every 10 km or so, to replenish water and check if anyone needed rescuing. I had a Fay Weldon novel, which I expected to be a good read, to occupy me while I waited.
[Marius’s blog] I encouraged the kids to use Granny Gear on the hills and bossed Hannah into keeping going when she complained pathetically about her injury again. We were surrounded by bovine noises – for some reason there were lots more cattle than sheep farms on this road. After hearing a particularly odd bellow from one of these mournful meat and milk mammals, Etienne remarked: “Farmers have come up with a new breed of animal by crossing a cow and a donkey. What you just heard, ladies and gentlemen, was a conkey.”
Later, we saw a farmer with his cattle dogs in action. The conkeys were recumbent and chewing cud, when on the brow of the hill buzzed a quad bike with three border collies who sped like black and white arrows. Their ears were back, snouts pointing low, bodies parallel to and millimetres above their shadows flowing over the ground. These were brilliant professionals; working dogs who knew what to do and thoroughly enjoyed doing it. Before I could get the camera out, all the conkeys had been elevated, motivated, admonished, and relocated. They were disappearing over the hill – all this in about 30 seconds, if that.
Mangaukewa North Rd is loose gravel and leads down into a valley where the heat hangs heavy and torturously for cyclists. Pretty soon the kids were exhausted and I was fairly tired too, although I consider myself cycling fit. I told them to wait, I’d go and get Mom and the car. Off I went. And rode. And rode. Our 10-km rendezvous was at the top of a very long, 35-degree climb.
Returning to Hannah and Etienne at the 30-km point, we found they had created their own version of a golden calf, like the Israelites, when Moses took a bit longer than they thought he ought. They used sticks, rocks and trash found at the roadside, and called their sculpture “The Monument”. Hannah said it was their own “Bushwallyta” (inspired by the divinely idiotic Fry and Laurie skit). “What else have you been doing?” Mairi-Anne asked. “We made barking and grunting noises at each other,” she replied in a tone indicating this ought to have been obvious to us. “Well, so long as you have invigorated your auras and enhanced your chakras, you have not wasted your time,” said Mairi-Anne.
After lunch, I was the sole Thing-bearer for the rest of the day. The rolling countryside around Mangaukewa North Rd reminded me of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, while the DJ in my head played ZZ Top’s “Have a little Mercy”. The DJ was playing a special message from my saddlesore bum: “Have a little mercy/ Love me like a big Roooollls Royce”. My lungs creaked on the last stretch of the ride, and phoned in their dual complaints to my mental talk show, as the bucking and lurching of the gravel was replaced by the smoothness of SH30. Here, one discomfort merely succeeded another, as the heat swelling up from the tarmac drove the oxygen away. No appreciation for views at this point – I just had eyes for the tent and my wife holding out a bottle of cold beer.
[Mairi-Anne’s blog] In the car, the children immediately clawed for their ipods. Goodbye conversation. Toodeloo to even the modicum of emotional transmission provided by barking and grunting. “Why don’t you read a decent book instead?” I pleaded. “I am reading!” protested Hannah. “I’m reading what’s on my ipod.” Note that she made no spurious claim for decency. “I am reading a book!” insisted Etienne. “I have downloaded Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and The Science of Ant Communication by Pamela Patterson. The ant stuff is really interesting. Listen,” he quoted, “‘Cuticular hydrocarbons provide information about sex, age, colony and reproductive status. Each hydrocarbon has a different odour that provides ants different signals such as their tasks (for example, foraging) or whether they are from the same colony.’” This was the first of many anty morsels he shared over the next few days.
When we had set up camp, I got horizontal in hope of a siesta. But teenage scuffles and squeals intruded. The fruits of my womb were drawing tattoos on each other. Etienne gave Hannah a monobrow, which she immediately and churlishly rubbed off, and Hannah gave Etienne a bottom on one arm and a surprised horse’s head on the other. The horse drawing had undergone a chastity conversion from the original one of a willy. He left these tattoos in situ for the next three days, either because he is very sporting, or very dirty. I fear the latter.
I was envious of the family having seen cattle dogs in action. All I had to report was seeing plenty of Australian magpies. “They look like nuns with spiteful faces,” I said. “Yup,” replied Marius. “Dem boids has gone over to de dark side.”
After we had eaten dinner and washed (all except for the resident entomologist, who was keeping his cuticular hydrocarbons pure and undiluted), we took a trip, before the light faded, to see two nearby tourist attractions, the “Steam Hauler” and the “Buried Forest”. The steam hauler left us nonplussed. “It’s just an ancient rusty tractor, like what my dad had on his farm in the 1960s,” said Marius. The story of the buried forest is geologically very interesting; a section of ancient trees was covered in ash and pumice when the volcano that is now the caldera forming Lake Taupo most recently blew (about 1900 years ago). The wood was preserved beneath the ash, but you can see a few logs which have been uncovered in a small section of swampy ground. The photo shows all you can see at the site, so from a viewing perspective, this was not the high point of the day.
We went to sleep while listening to birdcalls. There was the magpie, the familiar tui and the morepork, and another one we had not heard before. It sounded like a sharp rock scraping over a dull rock. The closest it sounded to a word was “Grrrrrrrregg!” Marius reckoned it was a male bird indignantly discovering that Greg had dallied with his wife. I reckoned it was a wife bird discovering that her mate had not done the dishes the night before.