Day 49 (Mon 28 Dec): Ongarue to Taumaranui
Started 7.45am, reached Taumaranui 1.30pm, 26k
Pain in the head status: Had another migraine in the night – it eased off with medication but disrupted my sleep so was very dozey while walking. I could have sat down and had a nap in an instant. Just as well it was an easy walk that you could almost do with your eyes closed.
Word of the day: Sop, thing given or done to appease someone
One delight of the Timber Trail was the outstanding signage, with kilometre markers and arrows to point the way at the merest sniff of an alternative path. Back on Te Araroa, we return to minimal or naught directions, with the only TA marker I saw all day being almost completely obscured by long grass.
Fortunately it was an obvious path, walking the Ongarue Back Road, which was, as its name suggests, a back road from Ongarue. We followed along the Ongarue River and the railway line, and pretty much walked parallel to state highway 4, to the outskirts of Taumaranui; then popped past a golf course, a high school and two cemeteries (the new one all sparkling, tidy and colourful; the old one dull, weathered and shaded by weeds) to reach the main road to the township. At this intersection, we were forced to visit McDonald’s, as a sop to our grovelling stomachs. The delightful four young TA walkers we’d shared the campsite with last night had done almost nothing but talk about food, which had implanted visions of hamburgers in Tony’s mind and cravings for scrambled eggs on toast in mind. I settled for hash browns, caramel thickshake and apple pie.
Highlight of the day: We had read rumours of a souvenir shop on the Ongarue Back Road that might sell ice cream. But some said it was only open on Tues and Thurs; some said it wasn’t open at all; and it was also a public holiday so we didn’t hold out much hope. But lo and behold, in the middle of nowhere (strictly speaking, 10k from Taumaranui and a stone’s throw from a state highway) there appeared a Tip Top ice-cream flag. The souvenir shop was open. I’m betting TA walkers made up the majority of their ice cream sales that day.
Day 50 (Tues 29 Dec): Taumaranui (rest day)
Pain in the head status: A bit off, to be honest. But muddled through. A good sleep should sort it out.
Word of the day: Anachronistic, chronologically displaced
We needed a day off to plan the next section of the trail through to Wanganui – where to stay, food to buy, river transport. We gave our financial support to at least eight Taumaranui businesses, trying to ensure there was no favouritism. We bought food from the New World, the Four Square, the Asian supermarket and the West End dairy. We ate from the bakery, Jasmine’s cafe and Thai restaurant. We visited the i-site and played with the model of the Raurimu rail spiral. I almost need another day off to recover.
At the motel (Alexander Spa Motel, if anyone ever needs a nice place to crash out in Taumaranui) Tony turned on the TV to watch the news. After days of no media, and the TV providing a spate of reporting about coronavirus and other topical issues, I had an anachronistic sense of being in the wrong place and time. Lockdown? Not here, not now, not ever again if our luck holds. Cricket? Good on you, Southee, but it’s not going to help me walk faster. Weather? Oh yes, that’s interesting. Tramping boils life down to the essentials: enough food and drink, having a safe, warm, dry place to shelter at night and get enough sleep, adequate toileting and washing facilities and the occasional nice human being to talk to. If everyone in the world had that, we’d be doing all right. Oh, I forgot the chocolate. We all need some chocolate.