Day 36 (Tues 15 Dec): Mercer to Rangiriri
Started 7.40am, finished 3.30pm, 26k
Pain in the head status: Bad headache in the night. It’s always worse at night when there’s nothing to do but lay there and wait for sleep. I find it easier to deal with during the day, when there is so much distraction. Walking is easier than sitting in an office too as it doesn’t require much cognitive effort and all your senses offer an alternative sensation to pain- views to look at, birds to listen to, the feel of the sun and breeze on your skin; the sweat dribbling down your face; even the burgeoning blister on your heel makes the headache diminish. It’s like the brain is so busy with the body’s movements and feelings that it can’t pay as much attention to the headache. It feels worse when I stop.
Word of the day: Munificent, very generous.
Mercer is a noisy place to sleep, with trucks pulling into the service area for gas, McDonald’s, a rest break, or all of the above, in a whine of deceleration. At least the fire service alarm went off at 6pm not the middle of the night.
The day’s walk started on the Whangamarino track, which activated the sweat glands with its sharp ups and downs, through some scrappy bush and farmland, looking down onto the highway and Waikato River. It would have been anathema for anyone with grass allergies, as the pollens puffed up around us as we brushed past, like clouds of fairy dust. We passed the site of the British redoubt that fought the Maori defending their lands in the 1860s, dropped down to skirt under the rail bridge and SH1, then trudged along the highway for a while, but mostly at a respectable distance due to a large grass verge.
Then back into farmland, with lots of crawling and rolling in the grass to get under the multitude of electric fences. Past the Meremere Dragway, we took an ill-advised lunch stop – ill-advised because it was in a paddock full of cows who were inordinately interested in our presence. After shooing them away multiple times, we cut lunch short and left them to stare after us, possibly both them and us wondering what all that was about. Our bovine communication skills need some development.
It was around 28 degrees when we reached Rangiriri, and we had to check we weren’t sticking our poles into molten tar on the final road section. We tented on Cathy’s lawn – Cathy is world famous in Rangiriri for her pies so we had to try one. It was nice, but not quite as good as an ice-cream.
Another interesting cemetery, hosting the British and Maori dead from the battle at Rangiriri, after which the British took the fertile Waikato lands for their own. And introduced pest fish like koi carp, that we saw plenty of in the Waikato River. Major ‘doh!’ moment reading about this final battle, and how a misunderstanding about flags meant the British thought the Maori had surrendered and the Maori thought the British wanted a truce. By the time the mistake was discovered, the British were inside the Maori defences.
Act of kindness award goes to the munificent folks of Te Kauwhata Water, who on their own initiative put in a water tap at the water pump half way between Meremere and Rangiriri, and signage about its existence, after seeing TA walkers in a badly dehydrated state at the end of the day. It’s heartening to see ordinary people go out of their way to make the trail experience better.
Day 37 (Wed 16 Dec): Rangiriri to Huntly
Started 7.45am, finished sometime between 1- 1.30pm (forgot to check my watch), 18k
Pain in the head status: Slept well, despite the highway noise (which was almost a constant drone, could think of it as sleep-inducing white noise). Migraine persists, which makes me feel justified in the choice of this website name. It’s always good to have a silver lining. It wasn’t as severe today, which gives me hope it will burn itself out in another day or so. I’m taking the occasional aspirin but no more migraine medicines for this attack. Neurologists talk a lot about how bad it is to have a migraine that last for days, giving it the scary eponym ‘status migrainosus’. I can only speak for myself, but I’ve had plenty of these statuses and they go away eventually. Maybe I’m just lucky. Or maybe having had so many before gives me the confidence to deal with them. Being angry about it or afraid makes it worse, so I try to be sanguine. And take a nap when we get to camp, and let Tony blow up my mattress. Blowing up a mattress with a migraine might take me half an hour.
Word of the day: Sanguine, confident, cheerfully optimistic
An easy plod today through farmland and more memorials to the Waikato Wars. We walked the gamut of grassland varieties, from recently mowed grass graveyard, to cow-cropped and hoof-rutted, to tangled overgrown jungle, to perfectly manicured in a brief sojourn through the golf course. The orange-topped twin towers of Huntly Power Station loomed on the horizon, never seeming to get any closer despite hours of walking.
Then we were there and had to cross the river and double back to reach the Huntly Camping Ground, an oasis beside Lake Hakanoa, a dirty-looking pool of water that nevertheless hosts myriads of ducks, pukeko and Canadian geese. The hot shower was very welcome after last night’s wash in the Rangiriri public toilet, which threatened to open and expose you after ten minutes. It was such a hurried fearful affair that I didn’t realise until this morning that the automatic soap dispenser had deposited a large dollop of liquid soap in my hair while I’d been trying to wash my face under the temperamental touch-free tap. My hair is now so squeaky clean it’s standing up on end like a clump of orange reeds.
Podcast highlight: Listening to the Compass from the BBC on how the ills of modern life are so bad for our bodies, including our feet, which are getting weaker and flatter by the decade. The cure? Lots of walking. Check.