Leg14, the Tararua range, day 9

Sunday, 12 January

Waitewaewae Hut to Otaki Forks (9.5 km)

This is the path. Yes. (Sigh!)

This is the path. Yes. (Sigh!)

We made an early start to cover the 10 km to Otaki Forks. I guess it would have been a pleasant walk on a hot day, but since much of the path was steep downhill, in rocky, flowing streams, slow progress and sodden feet were inevitable. God’s own tramping ground has two settings: “wet” and “wetter”, and today he had set it for it yet another rinse.

We heard one bird call, which sounded like a scratchy voice crying “Get it in!” One hawk sailed silently past, and otherwise … no wildlife for the whole day. The wet weather and dull light meant few photos.

Our conversation was mainly limited to nourishment fantasies. The massive weight of supplies with which we had waddled out of Palmerston North nine days ago was now down to two mug sachets of Watties’ soup and 37 squares of toilet paper. This was bad planning. We should have had more in reserve in case of being trapped by the weather.

P1030265We found a logging relic, a steam engine sadly rusting at the edge of the long-disused tramway. Its old boiler gaped with a silent wail of abandonment. Now and again, we passed the remains of tram rails. “Look,” I said, “they’ve removed all the straight rail sections and left only the curved ones behind.” Hannah was outraged. “This is physical evidence of anti-gay propaganda!” she puffed.

We saw one place, about two and-a-half hours south of the hut, which would have been suitable for camping, and a few others quite close to the forks. That was it for the length of the path from where we entered the bush from Poads Road on Wednesday. The huts are critical for the SOBO Tararua leg. We had thought that it did not matter much if we stopped when we got tired between huts; we were accustomed to making do with our tent. That approach works fine elsewhere on the trail – just not on this mountain range! The ground is seldom level, and where it isn’t tilted, it is either too stony, too squelchy, too exposed, or too thickly vegetated for setting up a tent. So, if you’re going to do this walk, organise your route so that you reach a hut each afternoon.

P1030268Hannah kept lagging behind. She took so long to catch up I thought she’d been raptured. If God had taken her with her brassy atheism, and left me with my shabby but still-under-warranty version of Christianity, I would have been Very Seriously Annoyed.

Two enormous landslips had to be negotiated. James, who must have passed this way the previous day, came to mind. With his fear of heights, he would have crapped himself, “Or at the very least, have done his raving nana,” said Hannah.

Again - this is the path!

Again – this is the path!

The first slip involved a steep detour; the second was fresh, and the path went narrowly and shatteringly close along its top lip. There was a mere 15 cm between our feet and the void that dropped away for hundreds of metres. The photograph does not do justice to the size and danger of the slip. Chests to the ground, breathing wet bracken and moving very slowly, we edged past. My nose was dripping. With no hands free and no dry tissues anyway, I had no choice: I wiped my snot on my sleeve. I hadn’t done that for four and-a-half decades, but luckily my technique was still good.

When we reached the swing bridge over the Otaki River, we knew the carpark was close and quickened our pace. Andrew had kindly volunteered to wait for us there at midday and give us a lift to Levin, where we could catch the bus home. It was a good moment when we saw him in the distance, standing next to his sparkly new car and waving. He is rather proud of his car. He had talked about it at the hut, in some detail.

There was a wee problem, though. For hours, I had been aware of an indescribable odour. We hadn’t left it behind us and I realised the stench wasn’t just stalking us – it was attached. It was my shoes. Could I climb into someone’s car with those horrors? No, but I did have a plastic bag in which to wrap them.

Then we thought about our clothes. Everything we had was wet and muddy. How could we sit on nice new upholstery? A furious, whispered emergency discussion was held over the last 100 metres to the car. Then I had an inspiration. We did each have one item of almost dry, mud-free apparel. “Do you think we could quickly change into our nighties?” I hissed. “No!” was Hannah’s emphatic, bug-eyed response. I couldn’t help laughing. I had a vision of the car being stopped by the police and what explanation the hapless Andrew could give for having two lightly clad, bruised and considerably rumpled females lolling in his vehicle. But it did not come to this. Our gracious chauffeur consented to transport us just as we were. Kiwi gallantry comes in many forms.

On the back seat, down the steep road to Levin, Hannah betrayed me by reading ahead in our Ben Elton book. “You’re cheating!” I gasped. “We normally read aloud to each other at night,” I explained to Andrew. “But I make her put her fingers in her ears and say ‘La-la-la-la-la-la’ during the rude parts. When she’s reading and a rude part comes up, I still make her put her fingers in her ears but she can’t do the la-las.” “Do you read Mills and Boons, then?” he asked.

In the main street of Levin, Hannah expressed her intention to remove her wet shirt and put on her fleece top. “I can’t see a loo anywhere, so I’ll just do it here,” she offered, scrabbling through her pack. “But everyone will see you in your bra!” I protested. “Oh mêh!” she shrugged.

Alas, there was no bus to Auckland until the next morning, so we bought our tickets and resigned ourselves to a night at the holiday park. First stop was for Nutella and peanut butter. I like Levin. I haven’t seen another town where there is a doggie hitching rail and water bowl outside the supermarket.

The library was advertising a sale: discarded books for a dollar each. I wanted to stock up for the day-long bus trip home. “You don’t have to schlepp along with me,” I said to Hannah, who groaned when I mentioned it. “You can sit here on the bench outside the supermarket and wait for me.” She was having none of it. “That would make me feel really anxious,” she protested, “because someone would ask me what I was doing and tell me to move on.” She was sweating. I had to clarify a point: “Just half an hour ago, you were going to take your shirt off in the street, and it didn’t bother you. So how is sitting here worse?” “It just is, OK?” A mother must compassionately negotiate many incomprehensions in her task of raising a child with an anxiety disorder. “Oh you are just a tangled pink fluffy mess of complexity and contradiction, aren’t you?” I grumbled.

At the library, the book sale didn’t offer much choice, but there was a large swelling of Mills and Boons and other bodice-rippers. Hannah spent a very happy hour hooting over the covers and reading the sordid synopses aloud. I put my fingers in my ears and went la-la-la but she only stopped when I backhanded her with my chosen hardcover about a priest who had lost his faith.

In romance titles, “wild” is ubiquitous: Wild fury, Wild hearts, Wild concerto, Wildfire, and then there was Defy the eagle, Pirate’s promise, and my favourite: Ecstasy’s chains. “Those are brilliant,” I said, but don’t you think we could invent something better? What about Treacly toilet, or Tempestuous testicles?”

“I want this one,” finally announced my Goth and Death Metal child, trying to hand me Deceive not my heart. The cover colours rivalled a packet of liquorice allsorts, and the slightly embossed, entwined and gilded figures promised vulgar biological enlightenment. “Well, no problem, here’s a dollar, go buy it then,” I said, holding out a coin. “Shoot Mom! I can’t be seen buying that! You’re going to get it for me, aren’t you?” Greater love, and all that…

Sally found us at the holiday park and retrieved her locator beacon. She said there were winds of 100 kph up on the range now. We were very relieved not to be still out there. On the exposed ridges, the large surface area of a backpack would act like a sail.

Lying in a motel bed after having a hot shower and a takeaway roast, and knowing the next day would involve no walking felt like the deepest possible satisfaction. It was climax’s cradle, bosom’s balm, passion’s protruding promise… whatever. However, sleep was a while away because Hannah didn’t want to read the incisive and thought-provoking Ben Elton any more. No. It was Deceive not my heart for us tonight.

Suffice to say the heroine spent a lot of time being unconscious. Somehow, passion bludgeoned a substantial amount of her cortical functioning. But lo! The hero rode a horse called “Tempete” which, luckily, could think for all three of them.

Hannah droned through the turgid text, occasionally stopping to make ringside comments which left me weeping and weak: “Ooo – she’s about to eat the forbidden banana, isn’t she?” Comments like this are the reason why I don’t completely disown her.

Leg 14, The Tararua range, day 8

Saturday, 11 January
Nichols’ Hut to Waitewaewae Hut (8 km)

P1030257A 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 P1030247and 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.

P1030255Dead 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.”

P1030273We 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”.

Leg 14 – The Tararua Range, day 7

Friday, 10 January
Te Matawai Hut to Nichols’ Hut (12.5 km)

P1030222Dawn broke with something of a dull thud, but at least the air was cool. We knew it was going to be a tough day, so we set off early. Not as early as James, who bade us a cheery farewell at about 6.30. We thought we might see him again that evening at Nichols’ hut, if we got that far. It was a mere 12.5 km away, but we knew the track was going to be fierce.

We started among the trees and followed ridgelines most of the day. This meant the usual extremely steep ascents and descents with rather terrifying drop-offs on both sides. In many places, you could not say you were on a path, because there was nothing to see other than faint compressions of thin vegetation between areas of rock. Sometimes, we could see the small pock mark made by James’ stick. I’m sure there must be good reasons for ridgeline tracks – but my fervent hope is that somehow, someday, somewhere, someone in the DOC will feel the urge to introduce contour paths.

P1030224After about three hours of plodding, and when the mist lifted enough to reveal the view, we could look back the way we had come. If you inspect this photo carefully, you can see a weeny speck at about 2 o’clock – that is Te Matawai Hut. We must have been winding rather a lot, because each time we caught sight of the diminishing speck, it had swung around to smile at us goofily from a different place.

P1030229We both had little energy, but I got my jollies from the Alpine vegetation. When is endurance sexy? When it is embodied in beautiful, tiny, determined little plants, of course! Lichen doilies were spread on the rocks beside fabulous little mounds of moss and succulents. These plants hold themselves very modestly, small and neatly crowded together, pursed up against the weather’s inconstancy: ice P1030230and wind and baking midday heat. But how flamboyant they are, too – beckoning us with magenta or yellow.

One rock cover (I think it is a type of moss) is a very dark maroon and has an addictive texture. It feels like the soft, dense fur on a dog’s nose – the bit juuuust stiffening up around the bristly whisker hairs. And then there is a white, splotch of lichen that looks like spilt enamel paint, and feels soapy.

P1030228We stopped for lunch at Dracophyll Hut. In the trail notes, the hut is described as accommodating two people, but we were nevertheless surprised to see how tiny it was. It was about the size of a 1960s caravan. Two bunks are against the long, left wall, and opposite them is a narrow shelf.

Lunch was enlivened by the arrival of some Wellingtonians who had just walked from Nichols’ Hut. One of them, a competent-looking wiry youth with the generous hair and beard of a blonde Jesus, said he’d once fitted six people into Dracophyll. The weather had been inclement. The packs had to be left outside, but the hikers slept with two lying head to foot on the upper bunk, the same arrangement on the lower bunk, another person parallel on the floor under the shelf, and the sixth one lying at right angles, squeezed between the foot of the bunks and the door. One can only hope that no-one that night was so grievously anti-social as to fart.


See if you can spot the path that stretched ahead of us.

The trail dipped several times into alpine forest, where the incredibly thick moss obscured the trunks and branches to the point that they resembled topiary. We lost the trail a few times per hour, and had to keep returning to the previous orange triangle, from which point we would scout around. Steepness meant that going down, we were bum-shuffling in places, and going up, we were clambering serious gradients of about 80 degrees.

At some point (oh ha ha ha), we were meant to “turn left” down into the treeline. Giving up on the teasing imprecision of our GPS, we tried to use common sense and whatever cues emerged from the environment. The turn from the ridge line, the trail notes told us, is marked by a cairn. Well, that is exceedingly helpful as a landmark, because there are many, many cairns along all the ridge lines. So how were we meant to know which one was ours? Especially as (for once) there appeared to be a path leading away in the opposite direction. We wasted an hour crossing a rather dangerous landslip and fruitlessly climbing an unstable mountainside. The grass tussocks, which we grasped near the roots, to help heave ourselves upwards, were a real win! Hannah dislodged a rock and it bounced downwards. It went down a very, very long and mournful way.

Sitting on the top of the wrong peak, and realising we were going to have to retrace our crawl, I resisted the impulse to fold my arms over my head and whimper and rock. We both revised our lists of curses. Then I had a sudden insight. We were getting lost on a day with reasonable weather. Things could be worse. If there had been a thick mist or a bullying wind, we could have been cast into the void. Actually, I’m amazed that more people don’t die in the Tararua Range. “A very cheesy toasted sandwich,” announced Hannah. “Steak and wedges with sour cream,” I responded. “Chocolate mousse.” “Trifle.” “Earl Grey tea.” There are times when a woman has nothing but nutritional pornography from which to draw her strength.

Returning to our previous cairn, and walking beyond it to the edge of the drop-off, Hannah said she thought she could see a faint path. I re-examined the cairn. There was no orange trail triangle on it, but there was a small, greyish cream rectangle. Folks – if you’re doing this walk, despise not the small, greyish cream rectangle.

P1030234We descended to the treeline, where, about ten metres in, a cocky little orange triangle revealed itself unto us. Gratification and annoyance do not mix well.

The thickly mossed trees should have been pleasant, but what with the mud and the falling over and our irritated exhaustion, all we wanted was to go home.

In one particularly slippery bit, I heard Hannah announce that her lace was undone. “Well, tie it!” I said, “it’s a hazard!” “I can’t hear!” she replied. “Tie. It. Then!” I ordered. “I can’t hear!” she shouted. “How **** deaf are you?” I shrieked, “tie it!” She reached the flat spot where I was waiting for her and spoke quietly: “I said, I can’t…here. It was too steep up there to bend over without **** falling!” Oh. So much for my being a communication teacher. But, I refused to acknowledge wrongdoing. She had not used a comma! That vital verbal pause, indicating punctuation before the demonstrative pronoun, had been missing from her sentence and had substantially changed her meaning. My indignation was very swollen and shiny. I go so far as to say it might have won several prizes at an agricultural show.

P1030239There are times when we could very cheerfully slap each other, but it would be rather awkward for slapper and slappee afterwards to sleep pressed up against each other’s disciplined, flushed and tingly bits in a two-person tent, so it is good thing we have held off from domestic violence – so far. The problem with being in the bush is that no-one can flounce away and slam a door. Doorlessness is a true privation for an adolescent girl and her menopausal mother.

After what seemed like an awfully long time, we climbed from the forest to yet another Alpine ridgeline. It was 6.00 pm and the sun emerged at last. “There is no sign of any civilisation, as far as the eye can see, for 360 degrees,” said Hannah, turning around slowly. “We can’t go much further and I can’t see any sign of the hut, can you?” We just had to press on. Apart from outside the Dracophyll Hut, we had passed absolutely nowhere along the trail where we could successfully have pitched the tent.

P1030240After another hour of increasingly limp locomotion, we saw, off the path in the valley to our left, Nichols’ Hut. We had been walking for 11 hours. We descended with huge relief. It was lovely to see James’ friendly face. He was fresh and perky, having had a nice rest after making the trip four hours faster than we had.

We had to send him outside while I bathed with my facecloth and a cup of water. Hannah refused to wash. It was against her religion. I asked her to tell me what my bruise looked like now. She informed me that Australia had spread beautifully and had engulfed Tasmania.

The hut was small but comfortable. Outside, was a newly constructed meat safe. Clearly, hunters often use this accommodation. I don’t think I’d want to add the weight of a carcass to everything I had to carry out, but going by the poem on the wall, it is possible P1030242hunters do not often actually do so. Ten out of ten for the unknown author.

The Hunter
Behold the Hunter.
He riseth early in the morning and disturbeth the whole household.
Mighty are his preparations.
He goeth forth full of hope and when the day is spent, he returneth smelling of strong drink and the truth is not in him.

Leg 14 – The Tararua Range, day 6

Thursday, 9 January
Waiopehu Hut to Te Matawai Hut (5.5 km)

Against the slope below the hut, shreds of mist streamed, writhing themselves rapidly into clouds. Behind, the path led deeper into the range. In the distance, the mountains looked like a Shar Pei: hundreds of valley folds with dull green fur, but not at all velvety.

We turned and started walking in alpine vegetation, where the trees, lichens and mosses were very similar to those on the Whakapapa through National Park hike. I P1030209kept stopping to admire and stroke the tiny little plants living on the rocks. Hannah sighed a bit. She’s lucky New Zealand doesn’t have chameleons. In South Africa, I used to clasp my hands over my breast and talk doltishly to them.

The path was very eroded and had very steep ups and downs, so we did a great deal of mud slipping and root tripping. Nevertheless, we preferred this section to those of the previous few days. We descended into forest. The trail was marked, but not all the landmarks on it were signposted, so it was difficult to determine where we were at any time. We passed over “Richard’s Knob” without knowing it. I can P1030213only hope and trust that Richard was equally oblivious.

The big idea was to get to Dracophyll Hut for the night, but we took five hours to cover the piddling 5.5 km to Te Matawai Hut, at which point Hannah said she did not think she could go on. So we stopped. As we sat on the deck, removing our gunk-caked shoes, we saw the hut had a sign on the door. It P1030219said “No junk mail”. I love moments like these. There are hikers who have a fab sense of humour and someone had brought that ridiculous sign all the way up here for our amusement. Mind you, if I were a junk mail postie, and I’d staggered through hell to Te Matewai to deliver a flyer on Mitre 10’s latest super duper must-have customer deal on nails and tile grout, I’d be deeply hurt. I’d go so far as to say I’d be profoundly wounded.

The hut is dedicated to 14 year-old Greg Fischer, who died while climbing in 1974. Thanks to those who loved him, we have this warm and comfortable refuge after a long and rough walk. It is easy to die out here. While I made tea, I received what was to be the last text from home until we returned to civilisation. Marius said a teenager had just drowned near Otaki in floodwaters from the Tararua Range. How do families survive losing children? Within seconds, everything changes and any future joy must now take a different shape.

I had two cups of tea. Ah, what a pleasure at 2.30 pm. And I was seated on a bench at a table with the thrill of a mattress to follow. Oh no… several trips outside to follow. What is it about two cups of tea that generates three point seven litres of wee? We shall never know. However, visiting the DOC composting convenience has its entertainment. I was delighted to find a toilet brush in the loo. I fervently support the purpose of such a civilised accessory, but here, in a facility without a flush…?

About an hour after we had settled in the hut, James the rowing coach arrived. He had set off from Poads Road that morning, and had taken a mere seven hours to cover the distance that took us 11 hours over two days. He is not a human being. He is a machine. (Hi James! If you are reading this, I guess you must be at least in Queenstown by now.) However, he does use a walking stick and we don’t. A stick-deprived tramp and not Utterly Wimpy Womany Wallyhood is the reason why we are so slow. Well, that is my story and I am sticking to it.


The Tararua Range – day 5

Wednesday, 8 January
The toilet trap to Waiopehu Hut (16 km)

We awoke, feeling only slightly less petulant than the night before. The morning was not devoid of entertainment for Hannah, however. As I dressed, she said, “Ooo, you’ve got a huge bruise on your bum. It looks like Australia.” The injury I had sustained by falling in the stream two days ago was now evident, but instead of compassion, glee filled the 36C bosom of my child. If she were a 34AA, I do believe she wouldn’t have nearly as much room for cruelty.

I wanted to view the damage, but alas it was situated just out of sight, despite my being extremely flexible. No amount of twisting and craning brought it into view. Even putting my head between my legs and squinting upwards failed to yield a visual of the disaster area. There is something uniquely mournful about not being able to admire your own anguish. I wonder what an avid attempt at bruise inspection is called…. Is there an official term for it? What about oedemaphilia?

Everything was still sodden and our clean washed clothes were starting to stink. With closed eyes and using the last shreds of my moral fibre, I pulled on my clammy socks and wet shoes and we headed through farmland towards Gladstone Road.

P1030170I love learning. As we crossed the last stile, we saw a sign nailed to the step. The sign indicated that dogs were restricted from entering. This in itself is nothing new; uncontrolled dogs among sheep are disastrous, but in this case the restriction was to prevent transmission of measles. I had no idea that sheep could get measles and that dogs could carry the disease. I pointed this out to Hannah, but she didn’t share my enthusiasm for facts. She was more interested in seeing if we could get phone reception after three days out of contact. We couldn’t. I started to worry that the family would be worried about us.

About 2 km along the road we found the Makahika Outdoor Pursuits Centre. On impulse, I said to Hannah, “Let’s ask if they’ll allow us to use their landline to phone Dad and tell him we’re OK.” Well, that was a happy urge, because Sally and John did much more than simply allow us to use their phone. They generously offered tea and cake and a hot shower and a tumble-dryer to fix our clothes. “This almost makes me believe in God!” gasped Hannah. “We-ell,” said Sally, “I have been described before as a bush angel.” So there we had proof of being in God’s own tramping country. One of his staff members was on duty. The staff member had a sign on her wall: “Teamwork means everyone doing what I say”. Hannah pointed it out to me and said “That’s you, Mom.” Ah. So that means I must be a bush angel too; an associative member of God’s staff at the very least.

On a long hike, small things make a big difference. Being able to pack everything, now dry and still warm from the machine, enabled a 180-degree attitude turn, and cake was a spiritual experience. Oh frabjous day! The hot shower was brilliant and I had the treat of being able to examine my bruise in the mirror. I was gratified to note that I did indeed have Australia on my arse, complete with a little Tasmania! The island had shifted somewhat northeast of its original location, but I’m sure Tasmanians will appreciate the warmer temperatures and closer association with New Zealand inevitable with its new position.

Marius said he had not been worried about us (pffft!) but he did extend sympathy concerning the 267 mm of rain which he heard the Tararua Range had just received. The weather was not going to improve much over the next few days, either. Sally said she was unhappy about our re-entering the range without a personal locator beacon. “The track is extremely gnarly,” she warned. She told us a bloke recently got lost in the Tararuas and emerged a week later, weak, disoriented and confused. “And he was a soldier,” she pointed out, “so he did have survival skills.” This true and cautionary tale was somewhat spoiled by the fact that the soldier involved was Irish. However, the Tararua Range does have a rather an intimidating death toll, so we accepted one of Sally’s PLBs, which we would return to her after exiting the mountains.P1030171

Buoyed by the kindness we had received, we walked from Poads Road to rejoin the trail through the range. The distance to Waiopehu Hut is only 9 km from the trail head, but is steep and slippery, so it took us six hours.

The forest here is different from the section we walked the previous day. There are much less tree ferns and the vegetation is set out more spaciously, with pennants of moss and lichen streaming from the branches. Evidence of the fierce winds is seen in the many giant tree falls. Wrenched from the ground and now upright in surrender, the roots stand right-angled to their original position, creating semi-circular walls clotted with clay. The P1030189older walls are colonised by moss and other plants.

The rain stopped, but we saw and heard no birds. Our wildlife experience comprised finding two worms: a weeny little green inchworm and the biggest earthworm I have ever seen. It was half dead and curled in a path puddle, but stretched out it would have been about a metre long.

It was with great relief that we reached the hut. A warm and dry night was assured, there P1030187was full cell phone reception and the view was eye-bugging-out beautiful. It was a brief concession from the weather, which was soon to close in again. Near the hut the vegetation was alpine, with tough scrubby plants and tussock grass. In the north the range waited, thickly vegetated and with unlimited crumpled valleys. In the south, the sun broke through in golden smears on the massive plain, which pressed outwards to the sea. Just below us, in the foreground of steep slopes, shreds of mist writhed, beckoning to the clouds that advanced on the mountain, trailing grey legs of rain.

P1030196The hut is lovely: spacious, comfortable and clean, but the best part of it is the swallows’ nest in the lean-to at the back. What a fabulous little mud cup the parents had made, glueing it to the eaves and out of harm’s way. We decided not to open the back door after dark, because the mother flew off the nest each time we came and went. The swallow family was committed to communication and had extremely sweet and squeaky conversations which we heard through the wall. They entertained us by discussing birdie issues at considerable length.

Inside the hut were two further pleasures. 1) Someone had provided decent reading material – The Merriam Webster Thesaurus. I like that person. That person gets a Gold Star on his or her forehead from me. 2) On the front page of the guest book an anonymous soul had written: “My tip for the week. Love and respect your mother. Thank you.” I thrust the book into Hannah’s face and tapped the page imperiously. “See. See! See?” I cried. “External, objective forensic evidence of what you ought to be doing.” She gave me a long, dispassionate stare and then rolled over, covering her face with her sleeping bag. I can tell I’m getting through to her. All it takes is relentless repetition and some lolloping around and shouting “I told you so!” and adolescent hearts and minds are inevitably won.

Leg 14 – The Tararua Range, day 4

Day 4

Tuesday, 7 January
Mangahao-Makahika Track (13 km)

P1030168At 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 felon: horrible thorny plant

The felon: horrible thorny plant

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.

Leg 14 – The Tararua Range, day 3

Monday, 6 January
Burttons Track to the Tokomaru No 3 Reservoir (17 km)

P1030152We were just getting up and making breakfast when two trampers passed our campsite. They moved quietly and were neatly dressed in matching pale green and beige. They had no mud on their legs. Their hair was brushed. I bet they never missed a trail sign, or backed into a gorse bush while trying to pee, or went cold turkey near a cliff face or got ordered around by a fantail one hundredth of their size. I bet they were German.

We packed in our very South African transitioning to Kiwi way, arguing about whether we should boil the water and whose bum looked bigger in this trail. Hannah did not use her comb for the third day running. I asked her how her pink elephants were doing and she indicated they had largely dispersed but the trunk of one of them was still making little exploring movements around the edges of her mind.

We walked the road through hills of recently planted pines. A few flags of sky flew through the clouded morning. The weatherman had promised a clear day, but the sun took on another of its annoying identities: Old Man in Raincoat offering occasional flashes of his marshmallow cluster in the hope of eliciting girlie screams of fulfilment. Hah!

The river seethed over its banks and its water was brown, so we didn’t refill our drinking packs until crossing a tributary. Our steripen stopped working last time we were in Kerikeri, so we’ve been drinking untreated water for most of North Island. Such insouciance is not recommended, but so far, we have not suffered any ill effects. As I poured the water into her bag, Hannah protested loudly that “something wriggly” had tipped in. “Oh for goodness’ sake!” I said, flailing around for some explanation, “If it’s a… a water shrimp it won’t poison you.” She wasn’t satisfied. “All shrimps live in water,” she replied, resentfully screwing the lid on her camelbak.

We found two severed heads on the road. The horns had been roughly chopped out. Was it really impossible for the hunters to throw the heads out of sight into the grass?

When we were in Whakapapa, the holiday camp manager told us we hadn’t seen nothing yet. In his opinion, the Tararua Range was “God’s own tramping country”.  I reminded Hannah of this comment and asked her what she thought of this track so far. “No sign of God yet,” she replied. “Ja,” I agreed, “but we could be in his back yard at the moment. Let’s give it a chance.”

The road took us through a section of mature pines, well spaced, with an abundance of P1030155human-high ferns as undergrowth. The rain held off but it was misty. “God’s helpers are cleaning up the back yard,” I said to Hannah, as we were engulfed in another swirl of whiteness. “Right now, they’re spraying for unbelievers. You might not have long to live, so I may as well finish the jube-jubes, hey?” She gave me her eyes-as-lemon-quarters look. I should have waited until I had the packet in my hand. She was carrying the snacks this leg.

View of the day was a cormorant who caught his breakfast a mere eight metres away from us at a stream crossing. He bagged a 30-cm long fish, which he carried to a rock before swallowing. He jerked his head and shrugged his neck several times as the struggling lump slowly descended. Now there’s a creature with absolutely no gag reflex! Imagine a cormorant with a sensitive throat, and who needed all his food to be cut up for him. I think there’s a children’s story in there somewhere, but I fear the moral would not be conducive to good table manners among infants.

We found a huge and marvellous red toadstool with white spots on it, poking through the grass. I didn’t know Big Ears had emigrated to NZ. Unfortunately, the health and safety team, in their hermetically sealed anti-contamination suits, were officiously evacuating Noddy’s little chum. Unable to find gainful employment during the recession, he had opened a Meth lab in his basement.

A small herd of feral sheep showed every sign of enjoying health and strength in a clearing near the half-way mark at Burtton’s whare. Their fleeces were nothing short of majestic, and their almost full-grown lambs were fat, happy and had their tails intact.

P1030163A day on the trail is invalid without loss of direction. As we discovered, at this point, you’re meant to cross the river and continue walking parallel to the bank, but there are no triangles to provide direction and no indication in the trail notes either. We wasted considerable time searching.

Burtton’s Track is excessively watery and tree ferny. The tiny, tinkly waterfalls down moss-covered rocks are delightful, but the stream crossings seem just too damned many, and after a while, all the treeferny bits looked the same to us. I probably sound all precious and ungrateful, but there is something about permanently wet feet that makes me very cranky. Hannah lives in fear P1030164of getting water into her boots, so she stopped almost every time we crossed a stream to remove her footwear. This caused more delay, with our eventually taking nine hours to cover 17 km.

Lowest point of the day was my tumbling into a tributary which was barely two metres wide. A rock shifted under my foot, and with my pack pulling me off balance I fell spectacularly. The water was only ankle deep, but the scary thing was that I could not get up without Hannah’s help. I had managed successfully to wedge myself in sideways.  Everything was soaked, sleeping bag, GPS, and the rest of me from the ankles upwards. It was our first day without rain, yet there I was, sodden as usual. But what was I complaining about? This was God’s own tramping ground, and I had just had an immersion baptism.

We were both finished when we found the reservoir, a couple of kilometres short of the Mangahao-Makahika Trail, which was our scheduled section for the next day. Beside the dam wall, there was a flat section of ground with short grass, so we pitched Samson thankfully. As I pulled on my nightie, I noticed a triangle of three, rather peculiar maroon spots on my forearm. Hannah inspected them with clear evidence of enjoyment. “Those are the first signs of water shrimp poisoning,” she said.

Leg 14 – The Tararua Range, days 1 and 2

Day 1

Saturday, 4 January 2014
Palmerston North to Turitea Rd (8.5 km)

From Palmerston North CBD, where the Intercity disgorged us, we walked southeast to the university and then into farmlands. We had only a few hours left of the day, so the distance covered was minimal, but it was important to make a start. Our packs were heavier than usual because we expected to be tramping for more than a week, so were carrying extra food. At twilight, we found a cow paddock without any stock in it, so that was our bivouac site.

It started to rain. We could hear it tapping on the leathery, dried cow pats, giving them new life, flexibility and odour.  “Isn’t this pleasant?” I remarked to Hannah. She gave me a uni-digital sign of affirmation, so I grabbed her finger and kissed it. Her face crumpled. “Stop it Mom, you’re really creeping me out now.”

It rained all night.

Day 2

Sunday, 5 January
Turitea Rd to Burtton’s Track head (19 km)

We didn’t take photographs because it rained almost all day. Oh goodie. Little streams of water trickled off the tent as we rolled and packed it. We started the long and slow uphill through bush and farmland.

Within an hour, Hannah was lagging behind. “What is wrong with you?” I asked. She wanted to stop and lie down in the tent. However, to spend three days getting to the head of Burtton’s Track was not an option. We had enough food for a very specific schedule to be covered in wilderness without resupply access. “We have to keep walking,” I said.

“I feel dizzy and nauseated,” she said. “I can feel my heart thumping from the inside.” I took her pulse. It was at the right speed for walking. She gazed dopily at me. “It’s so confusing. The ground keeps going in and out of focus when I look down.” “Have you felt like this before?” “Only that time when I took an overdose.” “Have you done something different with your medication now?” I asked, with a feeling of doom. “Well, I haven’t taken any for a week,” she admitted. Ah. She was in unsupervised cold turkey.

I had to think what was best to do in the circumstances. Although much of today’s track was on the road margin, at that moment we were in a place inaccessible to vehicles and out of cell phone reception. Also, here, the track was narrow and there was a steep cliff drop-off on the left.

She took her pills, the effect of which would take a while to kick in. I walked on the drop-off side of the path and held her hand. Where the path was too narrow for two abreast, we walked really slowly in single file while I maintained my grip on her hand. Eventually, we took eight hours to cover a distance which should have taken us four hours, but that was too bad.

“Why did you stop,” I asked, “when you’ve been doing well on this cocktail?” “I just didn’t want to be medicated anymore,” she replied. “I don’t know how much of myself I am not when I take the prescription.”

I noticed that my waterproof pants looked unusual. Last time I washed the mud off them I didn’t rinse the soap out properly, and now in the wet there was a lovely lather on my legs. Oh well, better to foam on the thighs than at the mouth.

Between fierce gusts of rain there were moments when the precipitation was briefly drawn aside to expose the view. We were at the intersection of farmland and mountain bush at one of these moments, and in a perfect position. The pastures were sheep-cropped short, and the land voluptuous. Curvaceous hills folded against each other like rolls of exuberant fat in a Beryl Cook uninhibited lady painting. This lady lay nestled against the mountain range; we stood on her serene and dimpled thighs, gazing down at Palmerston North, which was worshipfully flat on its face.

P1030150Well, that was the highlight of the day. After we entered the bush again, it was all a sodden and rather sad uphill slog. It was with some relief that we reached the head of Burtton’s Track. It was a lonely place, but we could see hunters had been there before us. They had blasted the signboard map with shotgun pellets. Someone had also scratched out the “no shooting” and “no motorcycles” icons. “Gosh but you need to be brave to shoot a map!” I said to Hannah. “Maps are pretty dangerous,” she responded, “and hitting a large, stationary object requires a keen eye and a steady aim.”

We set up the tent under pine trees, where we were thoroughly supervised by a fluffy fantail, which flurried from branch to branch beside us in a very bossy way. We were clearly on his private property.

At 4.00 pm the sun emerged like a spoilt celebrity arriving unforgivably tardily at a fundraising party and expecting everyone to be thrilled and gratified. Pffft!


Leg 13 – Joining more dots, day 6

Tuesday, 17 December

Fisher Track to Whakahoro (53 km)

Thingbearers: Hannah, Marius
Fellowship: Mairi-Anne, Etienne

P1030027Hannah 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 P1030033much 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.

P1030035Photographs 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.P1030039

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.

Etienne on the road to Whakahoro

Etienne on the road to Whakahoro

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 P1030070mask 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 P1030071of 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 P1030074music, 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.

Driftwood wild boar at the Blue Duck Central

Driftwood wild boar at the Blue Duck Central

Can anyone identify this plant? Please leave a comment.

Can anyone identify this plant? Please leave a comment.

Leg 13 – Joining more dots, day 5

Monday 16, December

Taumarunui to Owhango (18 km), 42 Traverse (46 km), connection to Tongariro (13 km)
Thingbearers: Marius, Hannah
Fellowship: Mairi-Anne, Etienne

Back on the true Te Araroa Trail route, all four of us cycled today. Hannah and I did the section from Taumarunui to Owhango, Marius did the 42 Traverse and Hannah and Etienne did the road connection between 42 Traverse and the northern start of the Tongariro Crossing, where Jenny and Olivia had dropped us on 9 November. For Hannah, Etienne and me, the road cycling was uneventful. I had one of those delightfully incongruous juxtaposition moments, though, when sublime Ruapehu heaved into view in the distance, while in the foreground was a prosaic turnip field with its unmistakable odour. Sometimes my life feels like a turnip field: ordered rows and well-hoed, but with things underground that can grow into very rude shapes.

Traverse 1[Marius’s blog] Our symbolic journey is from north to south, but this section is better managed from south to north, so I did it from SH47 to Owhango. It was another glorious day for 4×4/off-road/quad bike aficionados. Ahead of me, an adventure sport operator had just dropped off two German guys.

The first downhill gave me a taste of what was still to come: loose shale and rocks the size of babies’ heads. Suddenly, I realised I hadn’t packed my puncture kit or a spare tube. That was dim; pinch punctures are common on this kind of terrain.

For the most part, the sides of the road were overgrown with alpine vegetation and grass plumes which obscured the view but fortunately were soft when slapping you in the face or on the arms. Soon, the fairly easy downhill gave way to some near-vertical mine shafts where you have to descend bare rock. Luckily the weather was good, otherwise I would have had a real challenge with slippery hard surfaces. As it was, I quite gingerly played back and front brakes while expecting the back wheel to come sliding past on terrain that was still wet. However, anyone doing the track north to south would have the penance of hauling self and bike up these craggy slopes after riding 40 km in the heat. The meek are not going to inherit this part of the earth, that’s for sure.

I reached the first stream at the same time as the German tourists, after which there was the “pumice pipe”, a sudden and totally unrideable vertical climb (possibly a scrambler could make it). We had to scrabble our way through the loose ash and pumice on foot to the top. Soon afterwards we had an encounter with motorcyclists who damned nearly didn’t see us.

According to the usual laws of geography, the floor of the valley was followed by another climb. This was done in short sharp bits of hill, just on the verge of granny gear’s capabilities. The heat was murderous; I felt as if I was being both suffocated and exsanguinated. Calculating that I must be about half way, I checked the GPS. Ouch… not even a quarter! Unseen, the “Grrrrregggggg!” bird continued its unceasing admonishments.

My bike’s chain is ageing and gets all grumpy and sticky when wet, so at each stream crossing the bike changed from beast of burden to burdensome beast as I had to carry it. Fortunately there were some good stretches of shade where I could regain strength, and some bracing downhill sections.

This ride was much like my annual fix in South Africa, the Giant’s Castle Challenge, but on a smaller scale – 46 km as opposed to Giant’s 75 km. I longed for the good mates who used to share the masochism of Giant’s with me.

At 3.00 pm, I encountered a sign indicating I was at Dominion Road car Traverse you are herepark, about 15 minutes from the end. I could have wept with relief. I swooped and dodged down the hill. At the bottom I saw another German couple on bikes, approaching from the north. They were doing the Traverse with panniers! Hell! I did not have the heart to tell them about the sheer rock up which they would have to haul their bikes, belongings and weary bodies in thickening darkness after being bullied by the intervening 40 km.

[Mairi-Anne’s blog] Back at the campsite, Etienne shared more ant power with us: “‘Leafcutter ants communicate through vibrations’” he quoted, “‘these … can be used if leafcutter ants are in distress themselves. For example, if they are buried alive from the nest caving in, they send vibration signals to their nest mates who then rescue them.’” Nature is amazing. But so is literature. We had a traditional pre-bedtime family activity: taking turns to read Winnie the Pooh aloud to one another. Tonight’s chapter was “In which Tigger is unbounced”. I thought the kids would benefit morally from it. The opening line is Marius’s favourite: “One day Rabbit and Piglet were sitting outside Pooh’s front door listening to Rabbit…”. Marius says I am Rabbit, but that is a Most Dreadful Lie. I am merely efficient and I know almost everything. Rabbit is bossy and related to beetles! There is no comparison, is there? Besides, I am like Pooh, “who felt more and more that he was somewhere else, got up slowly and began to look for himself”. As we passed the book around, I realised that walking the Te Araroa Trail is pretty much like the unbouncing squad’s experience of getting lost in the mist in at the top of the forest. There are simply not enough orange Tiggers around.