Tuesday, 17 December
Fisher Track to Whakahoro (53 km)
Thingbearers: Hannah, Marius
Fellowship: Mairi-Anne, Etienne
Hannah and I rode the Fisher Track, leaving from National Park Village where we had stopped walking on 13 November. The track is mainly grass and clay and is nearly all downhill. I regretted cycling this section, because we moved too fast to appreciate its views fully, and on a bike you automatically miss the tiny, interesting pathside details.
The wide track plunges into a valley, emerges from bush into sheep farms, then joins a gravel road which presses against the river for much of the remaining distance to Whakahoro. What a remote and lonely place it must have been for those who lived here 60 years ago. The fields have been carved out of the bush, which appears to be constantly pushing back.
Photographs do not adequately convey scale. In this picture, the tiny white spots at 6 o’clock are sheep. For much of the way, the river has no friendly, rounded banks, but has gouged its way between walls of sedimentary rock. The road exists on sufferance in the landscape, snagged with slips and threatened with washouts.
On reaching the monument at Oio Rd, we stopped for the blokes to take over from us and cover the remaining distance on the gravel. The First and Second World War dedicatory plaque reads: “Erected by the Kaiteke & Retaruke valley residents in recognition of those servicemen whose lives were broken in their prime”. I like that wording. It says nothing of the greater cause; it speaks only of the grim physical outcome of political conflict.
People with a sense of humour live here. A sign on a fence reads “Bentley’s Fence” and another on a gate proclaims “Hoover Dam”. The restaurant at the end of the track (jewel of a settlement comprising only a few buildings) is called “Blue Duck Central”. Also raising a smile were the sight of a lamb with a pom-pom of fleece left at the end of its undocked tail by the shearer, and an ancient bar of pink soap with toothmarks in it. The latter was left on the campsite’s sink, and you can only imagine the circumstances of this dental record being made.
Between the campsite and the Blue Duck Central stands the old Whakahoro post office, which is now a tiny, informal museum. I loved the gas mask and the heavy black telephone. We had a phone like that back in the 1960s. Operating an instrument like that made you feel very important. Cell phones are such frippery things. Best of all in the post office was an A.S. Paterson & Company Limited manual on how to look after your car. Page two contains a 10-point driver’s pledge, with item six being “Drive only when in full possession of my faculties”. If my faculties had passed out of my possession, would I know? It reminds me of the NZ census forms of a century ago, which asked the respondent “Are you an imbecile?”
From a nearby barn, we heard a ceaseless drone of bleating, overlaid by loud country and western music, the taste of the shearers. After listening to “You’re beautiful tonight” and “Achy-breaky heart”, Etienne said “They’re teaching the sheep these songs. This is a new breed of terror.”
The kids began their playtime. On this occasion they took turns at holding open open my Fay Weldon novel and snapping it shut on each other’s hands. It was a suitable fate for the novel, which was largely crap, but the noise and the scuffling was annoying. We were already cranky due to the sand flies. Disciplinary communication began.
Mom: Children! Stop it! [Scuffling and hand-squashing continues.] Marius, tell your children to stop it.
Dad: Children, stop it. You heard your mother. [Unabated offspring annoyance.]
Mom: Children, you heard what your father said. Do as he tells you.
Firstborn: Stop it, Etienne!
Secondborn: Stop it, Hannah!
We should try leafcutter ant vibrations in future.
That evening, three other camping parties arrived to share the site. Guess what nationality? Yes, the Germans are keeping our tourism economy going. Seriously, folks! Kiwis are a small minority of trail trampers. Get out on the tracks which pass your back door, and which other folk are prepared to cross the world to experience.