Pipiriki to Atene

Day 60 (Fri 8 Jan): Pipiriki to Matahiwi, via Jerusalem and London, along the Whanganui River Road

Started 7.15am, finished 1.40pm, 24k

Pain in the head status: Used another caffeine tablet in the night for a nocturnal headache and it worked again. It’s like a vampire headache, obliterated by coffee rather than a stake to the heart, and dispersed by daylight. I’m considering whether to take a shot of coffee before bed as a prophylaxis, but don’t like stumbling around at night in strange places needing to pee. I could just swallow a spoonful of instant but that’s pretty dire. Will take the watch and wait approach.

Word of the day: Sub rosa, secretly or confidentially

The overnight rain had passed by the time we started walking on the tarsealed Whanganui River Road, which provided occasional views of the River, lots more farm animal sightings, including a swarm of honeybees, if they count as farmed. I also had my first encounter with a peacock, on the side of the road, and their shrill wailing cry was almost as frequent as the magpies.

Around 12k in, we passed through Hiruharama/Jerusalem, and spent some time poking around the St Joseph’s church and convent there, established through the efforts of recently sainted Mother Suzanne Aubert, a French nun with a passion for the well-being of children and the Maori people.

Another 9k on, we traversed Ranana/London, which took about five minutes, the highlight being the collection of apple trees on the side of the road that we systematically tested to find the best variety. Still, there can’t be that many people in the world who can say they walked through Jerusalem and London in the course of a morning.

Our final tourist visit was to the water-powered Kawana Mill, which in its heyday ground flour from wheat grown in the surrounding areas. It fell into disrepair once the wheat farming dried up but has since been restored to become a museum of sorts. I was more interested in sitting down than reading the information panels, to be honest. Road walking gives your feet a hammering.

But it was only 1.5k from the mill to Matahiwi, where there was a cafe and cabins for hire. Luckily the cafe was open so we could sample the delicious home baking of the owner, and also book into a cabin for the night. It turned out that our cabin had been visited by a patron sub rosa, unbeknownst to the owner, who had left a pair of pyjamas under the pillow. The pyjamas held no discernable clue to the identity of the stealthy sleeper, except that they might fit a largish lady with poor attachment to her nightwear. The owner gave us another cabin, and a phone to use in case of suspicious interlopers.

Mistake of the day: It was so hot when we arrived in Matahiwi that I thought it would be an opportune time to wash out my tramping clothes, especially the shorts still dusty from the gravel road walking to Whakahoro. But no sooner had I done so, the sun was obscured by blackening clouds, the temperature dove and thunder and lightning broke loose. It then rained for several hours and the sun never reappeared. So much for clean dry clothes tomorrow.

Day 61 (Sat 9 Jan): Matahiwi to Atene

Started 7.45am, finished 1.25pm, 24k.

Pain in the head status: Nothing to report, to my relief.

Word of the day: Insouciance, Casual unconcern, nonchalance.

By morning, the rain had passed, leaving a heavy mist over the hills. My damp, semi-clean tramping clothes soon dried off once I started walking, but then got damp again with sweat, but it only got hot around midday when the sun finally burnt through the cloud.

The highlight of this section of the river road should have been the marae and museum at Corinth/Koriniti, but it was closed due to COVID. This was perturbing, since as far as I know we haven’t had a community case of COVID in NZ for months. Other mysterious closures on the road include Kauika camp (at Ranana) and, most disappointingly, a shop that sold ice creams.

Our main entertainment was examining the culverts on the road, and dodging the free range farm animals, who mostly observed us with admirable insouciance, bar the piglets who thought we might feed them and started a riot.

If Corinth was a let-down, passing through Athens/Atene was even less of an event, although I did remember walking this stretch of road years before at the end of the Atene Skyline Walk, where you can see where the Whanganui River once flowed almost in a circle inside a steep hill until it burst through to create a more direct route to the sea.

Downes Hut, accessible by boat; the river has turned brown after all the rain

We walked 4 or 5k beyond Atene to reach Rivertime Lodge, the only accommodation option we could find in this part of the river. After rudely waking the owner from an afternoon snooze on an outdoor couch, we made the unexpected discovery that there was Wi-Fi, so settled in for an internet blitz. All the questions that have piled up in the past week can now be put to Google, like: is it legal for campgrounds to sell single muesli bars that have ‘not for individual sale’ printed on them? What is that vine that drops round yellow seeds the size of grapes that pop when you stand on them? What causes a horizontal nail ridge? All are about to be answered.

We are at the blue dot – next stop, Whanganui (by road not river)

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