Saturday, 11 January
Nichols’ Hut to Waitewaewae Hut (8 km)
A special committee of noisy flies rushed to greet me outside the toilet at daybreak. They were distressingly well nourished. Mist was oozing down from the surrounding peaks, but there was no sign of incipient rain, so that boded well. We said goodbye to James who was going to make Otaki Forks by evening. We thought we’d only get as far as Waitewaewae Hut and we were right. It was a mere 8 km, but it took us well over six hours.
We battled our way through another day of long and steep ascents and descents which were very rough on the quadriceps. Hannah fell and twisted her ankle, but not too badly to force a halt, and there were occasional flashes of sun through the clouds, so on the whole we felt cheerful enough for conversation.
“Mom, what’s pleonasm?” she asked. Pleonasm. That word sounded as familiar as “onomatopoeia” or “socks”. I knew I knew it. In fact, I knew I had taught it and had a PowerPoint grammar lesson on my computer about it. Insufficient food and too much bush time had taken their sinister toll and I could not remember. “I think it is something to do with tautology,” I managed at last. “But I’m not sure. As soon as we get reception again, you can phone Dad and ask him.”
“I prefer tramping with Dad,” announced Hannah. Oh sharper than the serpent’s tooth…! “Why?” I asked. “Dad is disorganised and always forgets or loses things.” I reminded her of the time on the 90-mile Beach leg when he forgot the water at Scott’s Point and later was obliged to eat his porridge with a fork at Waipapakauri Beach. “Oh yes,” she said impatiently. “You’re very organised but you’re pedantic and so render any benefits moot.” I was delighted. I am a sucker for vocabulary. What other 15-year-old abuses her mother like that? The serpent’s tooth gash was now nicely plugged.
Dead leatherwood plants abounded. Without their leaves, they resemble elaborate silver candelabra. We also found a rather amazing plant. Its flowers were on metre-long orange spires. Let’s just say that any groom watching his bride glide towards him at the altar, with a few of those blossoms in her bouquet, would have good reason to feel nervous.
As our path dropped altitude, alpine vegetation became dim alpine forest with thick moss, then forest with much less moss on the trees and more light filtering though. We could hear the river.
“I’m really hungry,” Hannah moaned. I reminded her that we had almost no food left and it had to be carefully rationed. “I might resort to cannibalism,” she responded. I rolled my eyes and enquired which part of her own flesh and blood she would eat first. After minimal thought she said: “It would be your arse. Because Australia has already been tenderised.”
We were both cheered by the sight of the suspension bridge over the Otaki River. It was high, narrow and bouncy, with only one person allowed to cross at a time. The trail notes indicated that the hut was close to the bridge, but how close? Desperate to arrive, I kept switching on the GPS to assess our distance from the hut. This is the nearest an adult comes to the childish bleat: “Are we nearly there yet?” It is only minimally more dignified.
At the hut, we found Andrew, Jason and 13-year-old Harrison in residence. Jason and Harrison were on a father and son hunting trip and had a deer in the meat safe. Andrew had walked in on his own from Otaki to have man time.
The hut has a Reader’s Digest Pocket Dictionary. On the flyleaf is written “Please do not remove. For trampers’ nightly amusement.” What can I say? There are People Out There from whom I was separated at birth. I flipped through it, desperately seeking “pleonasm”. Sadly, I saw the entries flowed from “plenty” to “plinth”. Ah well. It was a pocket dictionary. And it was Reader’s Digest.
The hut population swelled with the arrival of a young American man, a middle-aged pharmacist and her husband, and then a young couple. So, on the Tararua range we saw only three women, one of whom was about my age. We saw a smattering of older blokes, but the vast majority were twenty- to mid-thirty somethings. Moreover, the vast majority of souls we encountered throughout the Te Araroa Trail have been foreigners. Come on, Kiwi folk! Walk your wilderness!
Just as we were falling asleep, the discussion of our fellow residents turned to the entries in the hut’s visitors’ book. Frequently in the “destination” column appears the acronym “TAT SOBO”. We knew it meant “Te Araroa Trail, south-bound”, but we didn’t enlighten them. Their efforts to decode it were too entertaining. They guessed the TAT part, but Andrew’s interpretation of SOBO was rather a triumph: “same old bloody outside”.