Day 64 (Tues 12 Jan): Koitiata/Turakina beach to Bulls
Started 7.30am, finished 4.15pm, 31k.
Pain in the head status: A migraine started sometime after lunch but was aborted by a migraine tablet. It was disappointing to get one during the day though.
Word of the day: Sisyphean, unending task, endlessly laborious (from the Greek king Sisyphus, who was forced to push a boulder up a hill for eternity).
I was expecting a laborious walk through soft sand on the beach this morning, but it started out being a soggy slosh through sedgy bog – but we got to the soft sand in due course. The incoming tide chased us up the beach and put our leg muscles to the test.
The beach was deserted bar a few fishermen which was a strange isolation considering how busy the campsite was last night. We walked towards the ‘bomb zone’ near the end of the beach, where the air force have a block of land on which they can play war games and blow things up. They must have been back to work this week as we were treated to plenty of helicopters and planes sweeping overhead, doing whatever exercises they do to keep their military muscles limber.
Once we left the beach, the rest of the day was a slow slog through soft forestry roads, getting misled by the erroneous TA markers, then a Sisyphean trudge on the back roads to Bulls. The roads unfolded in endless long repetitive stretches, each looking the same as the last. It was so hot my boots stuck to the melting globules of tar in the road. My feet ached from the pounding. It felt a little bit like one of Dantes circles of hell.
Fortunately, just before the ability to walk another step deserted me, we reached trail angels Mike and Jo’s TA haven just outside of Bulls. This kindhearted couple built a lovely wee hut and opened their home to TA walkers after they noticed hot and bothered backpackers walking past their property, found out about the trail and the paucity of accommodation in these parts, and decided to provide a safe space, including a hot shower, a swimming pool, cold drinks in the fridge and smooches from the resident cats and dogs.
Rehydrated, showered and fed, I felt able to contemplate another day of walking tomorrow – just. I realised that the dread of walking 30+ kilometres had only made the day harder; self-doubt had nagged at me, and I had been ruminating on the upcoming walk through the Tararua ranges. This would be by far the hardest section of the trail in the North Island, and I quailed at the thought of a multi-day Tararua tramp, coming hard on the heels of three long days of walking from Palmerston North, with no food to supplement the bare essentials we carried in our packs. All this fear churning around in my head, including worry about whether I could walk the next day; no wonder I had a migraine.
Kind deed of the day: Somewhere along the Dantean road to Bulls, a small boy popped out of a driveway, to offer us a bag of sweet red plums from the garden. Angels come in all shapes and sizes.
Day 65 (Wed 13 Jan): Bulls to Fielding
Started 8am, finished 3pm, 23k.
Pain in the head status: A mild one sided migrainous pain persisted for most of the day but I kept it at bay by eating cake, listening to podcasts and a couple of aspirin.
Word of the day: Campanite, bell tower, especially if not attached to a church.
After exploring some of the quirks of Mike and Jo’s garden that we’d been too tired to notice the night before, our first stop of the day was the township of Bulls, memora-bull for its numerous bull statues and excruciating bull puns.
Next stop was Mt Lees reserve, via some more back roads that kept us safe from the horrendously noisy and busy state highway 3, but weren’t as quiet as yesterday’s ones. The reserve consisted of two children’s swings, a toilet and some picnic tables on a grassy flat and no discernable mountain. We later passed by Mt Biggs and Mt Stewart, also mysteriously non-mountainous.
After an extended rest at Mt Lees, where we caught up with friends driving through, we completed the rest of the road walk to Fielding. I distracted myself by listening to podcasts about the storming of Capitol hill, which initially sounded like something from a preposterous Hollywood movie, about why people watch videos of executions and about the ‘introspection illusion’, which explains why we judge our own behaviour differently from other people’s. I tried to apply this to my reflexive censure of the inconsiderate driving we were intermittently subjected to, but failed. Those motorcyclists who tried to deafen us by opening their throttles as they passed us by, they were just sociopaths.
We stayed at a motel in Fielding that would have been much nicer if the woman next door hadn’t been sitting outside chain smoking the entire time. (Unanswered question: how could she possibly afford to smoke that much, if all she ever does is sit outside a motel room?) To escape the fumes, we headed into the metropolis of Fielding, which had an extraordinary number of hairdressers/barbers and an overwhelming selection of eateries. We ended up getting subway and sitting outside in the square, admiring Fielding’s iconic campanite (which is actually a clock tower more than a bell tower, but I wanted to use the word somehow).
New favourite podcast: Species Unite, which features interviews with people working to improve how we live with and treat animals and the environment. One of the interviews was with a bloke developing plant-based dog food, after finding out that US pets are the 5th highest consumers of meat globally. Inspiring.