Day 56 (Mon 4 Jan): National Park to Kaitieke
Started 7.50am, reached Kaitieke memorial 2.45pm, 27+k.
Pain in the head status: All good.
Word of the day: Salutary, beneficial, conducive to some good purpose. Bonus word: Farrier, a person who shoes horses.
Two zero (no trail walking) days in National Park were salutary to my physical and mental well-being and I was fired up to carry on. After gorging on the complimentary as-much-as-you-can-eat continental breakfast provided as part of our stay at Pipers Lodge, we set off. The last downpour had been around 6.30am and the clouds and mist were lifting.
We were now walking from National Park to Whanganui on the Mountain to Sea cycle trail and immediately benefited from the comprehensive signage for national cycleways that the TA lacks. The kilometre markers were encouraging, indicating that we had done over 20k by lunchtime, with our destination at 27k, but when we reached the 27k marker and had more walking to do it caused a minor devastation. Fortunately it was not much further.
We started out on Fishers track, which was actually a gravel then dirt road, passing through Erua Forest, with lots of flowering manuka and northern rata trees. It was easy walking, graded for the bikers, but two days of not doing much seemed to have turned my muscles to mush and after 20k they started to hurt. I thought rest days made you stronger and faster. Maybe I had too many desserts.
After Fishers track we were once again on gravel country roads mostly through farmland, but we were treated to the equivalent of a live Country Calendar episode by walking past just as a farmer on a quad bike and his extraordinary dog were herding a rowdy crowd of cattle into a fresh paddock across the road. The dog was fearless, finely attuned to the whistled instructions of the farmer and looked to be having a load of fun. The cattle ran about excitedly once they reached the new paddock and immediately chowed down on the long green grass.
At the end of the walk we camped out on a grassy space opposite the war memorial at Kaitieke. The memorial consisted of a monument listing the names of servicemen who died in the world wars in the form of a broken pillar, to symbolise the squandered lives and broken families. Given the list of names on the plaque, there must have been a lot more people living here in the early 1900s than there are now. Adjacent to the monument was a sculpture that must have been made by an out-of-work farrier.
The sun was so scorching that all we did was flop about in the shade of a couple of trees and bless any cool breeze. We were joined by another two TA walkers that we knew, one in search of internet connection, but she was out of luck. No connections until Whanganui.
Steps for the Gravel Road Jig: Stand on one foot, raise up your boot, rotate your ankle to the left, rotate your ankle to the right, tap your toe on the ground and shake your boot about. Take a few paces forward to check whether you are still treading on the stones in your boot or whether yiu have successfully dislodged them from under your heel, toes or sole. Repeat, varying the steps as desired.
Day 57 (Tues 5 Jan): Kaitieke to Whakahoro
Started 7.50am, reached Whakahoro 2.20pm, 25k according to the TA app or 27k according to the road signs. Who to believe?
Pain in the head status: Headachey over night and in the morning but I thought it had gone. However by lunchtime a proper migraine was brewing so I reluctantly took a migraine pill, reluctantly because I’m trying to eke out the remaining ration of pills to get me through to Wellington. But it worked it’s magic and aborted this one, for now.
Word of the day: Entreaty, an earnest or humble request.
Another day of roads, through farms and bits of bush reserve, but this time alongside the Retaruke River, which twines into the Whanganui River at Whakahoro. It was an easy day, although stiflingly hot again by midday. My legs recovered from their shock at being forced to resume activity yesterday and ceased their painful protest – just the normal amount of walking aches.
As well as the usual farming interests, manuka honey seemed to be a big business in these parts- we saw dozens of hives among the flowering manuka groves. Tourism too – much of the traffic was transport shuttles and trailers piled high with canoes, taking punters to paddle the Whanganui River.
It was also a day of unexpected food supplementation. Tony found some plum trees along the road to increase his daily fruit intake (I abstained, as my stomach is not overly friendly to stone fruit). At the campsite, we discussed NZ’s societal ills, coronavirus and job prospects with Irish Hazel, then responded to her entreaty to help her eat the snapper she had caught, which was too much for one person. I suspended my vegetarianism briefly to partake of this fish, as it was caught in the wild by non-commercial means and it made a welcome addition to our meal of mashed potato (from a packet of potato flakes) and dehydrated mixed veges. We had finished almost all our home-dehydrated dinners and had to stock up for the coming week with whatever the National Park Four Square had to offer. It was slim pickings, unless we wanted to carry heavy wet food or pay a fortune for Backcountry meals that have limited and uninspired vegetarian options. Hence the mashed potato.
Observation of the day: We could see shells pressed into the layers of the sandstone bluffs along the Retaruke River. What was once under the ocean is now a riverbank.