Day 38 (Thurs 17 Dec): Huntly to Ngaruawahia
Started 7.20am, reached Ngaruawahia bus stop 2pm, 19k
Pain in the head status: Improved then recurred in the afternoon. It was such a treat to walk for most of the day headache-free – I tried to appreciate it but didn’t appreciate it enough. It’s like the reverse of not knowing what you have until it’s gone; you don’t appreciate what you don’t have til it comes back. I’m visualising this migraine as a parasite or leech that has attacked itself to the side of my head; it’s not really part of me, it’s serving no useful purpose; and I’m just waiting for it to full itself up with its quota of pain and fall off.
Word of the day: Sine qua non, essential element
The main goal of the day was to do the Hakarimata track, that traverses the mountain of that name from Huntly to Ngaruawahia. To get there, we had a couple of hours of road walking (sigh), notable for the constant procession of trucks from the local quarry, all proudly emblazoned with the motto “We move mountains” (marketing speak for “We eat the earth”). I’m surprised by the number of quarries we’ve passed so far, all looking as though some starving monster had bitten a huge jagged chunk from the landscape, leaving it bare and bleeding. We are literally consuming the earth.
The other notable feature of the back roads of Huntly were the cars that had plowed off the road into the ditch, one of them straight through a road safety billboard. I hope they were wearing seatbelts.
But once on the Hakarimata track, all the gloom about humanity vanished as we were immersed in the bush, on a fine gravelled path for the ascent to the lookouts at the Huntly end, although the expansive views were obscured by a haze on the horizon. We were advised that the track beyond this, and until the trig on the Ngaruawahia end, was a ‘tramping track’ and not suitable for delicate dispositions (my paraphrase). It was lovely- lots of twisted tree roots and undulations which felt gloriously easy because we weren’t wearing our packs. We’d left them in Huntly, along with the tent, which we were returning to at the end of the day by catching the bus from Ngaruawahia (a bargain at $4).
After admiring the views over Ngaruawahia, we trotted down the 1500 or so steps to the bottom so quickly that I wished I’d worn my sports bra instead of my tramping bra, which is so lightweight it provides only a modicum of covering and no support at all. We passed an astonishing number of locals jogging, walking, plodding and sweating up the hill – one of them even did it twice. Some might never do it again.
The bus back to camp was late, which was fortunate for us as we arrived five minutes after it’s scheduled departure and were wondering how we’d entertain ourselves in Ngaruawahia for an hour until the next one (I suppose we could have walked up and down Hakarimata again and been like one of the locals). Thankfully, the bus’ arrival made that a moot decision.
Guilty indulgence of the day: The bus dropped us off right outside McDonald’s and I felt compelled to introduce Tony to a way of eating hot chips he was unfamiliar with – by dipping them into an ice-cream sundae. And I had gone two days without this sine qua non (ice-cream), and was looking for any excuse to get some. To be honest, hot chips dipped into a thickshake works better, but we can save that for another day.
Day 39 (Fri 18 Dec): Ngaruawahia to Hamilton
Started walking 8.15am, reached Hamilton City Holiday Park 3.30pm, 24k
Pain in the head status: The quotidian headache is persisting, like a nasty salesperson. But it waxes and wanes so I’m treating it like a salesperson and ignoring it.
Word of the day: Quotidian, occurring daily
The joy of tramping through civilisation is that you can buy sandwiches and cake for lunch at the plentiful bakeries. The pain of tramping through civilisation is the relentless traffic noise, trains at night, loud people at campsites, minimal native birdsong. And this morning, a Harley gunning off at 5am. It did get us ready for an early start – walking to the Huntly bus stop by 7.41am. And to think I used to be a night owl.
It was fog in Huntly but merely overcast when we started the trail from Ngaruawahia, which was taking the Te Awa River cycle/walkway, winding along the banks of the Waikato. The river was a much more pleasant silky green colour than the murky brown at Mercer.
We were passed by plenty of cyclists and had leisure to wonder why we weren’t also taking this much more expedient form of transport. We passed three golf courses and again had leisure to wonder who all these people were who could play golf on a Friday morning or afternoon. I only wonder, and offer no conclusions.
We spent a fair bit of time gaping at the mansions on the sides of the river but after all this rambling riparian leisure, it was a shock to pop up onto the road and find ourselves in the heart of Hamilton City. We went 2k off TA track to the camping ground, conveniently located next to a Countdown, which supplied us with pies for dinner, which were not outstanding but I was so hungry I would have eaten cardboard.
Discovery of the day: Solberries, from Maungatapere. They look like raspberries, they taste like raspberries, but they are the colour of apricots.