The Great walk

So this another series type blog thing. Me on holiday again. Having stuck around for the first match of the season and getting thoroughly trounced, I now have five days off. So i’ve headed up (more commonly known as north) the east coast to lake waikaremoana. There are a number of ‘great walks’ in NZ, tracks that any kiwi or visitor, simply must do. This is one of them. I’ll not object to that.

Day One

Yesterday I drove up and stayed in what’s described as a fishermans cabin in the motor camp. The place was deserted (off season) and simply wonderful. I spent the evening downing coffee and the sunday paper squidging sand flies on my ankles.

I got a boat to take me to the trail head and off I went. Well I thought I was off and then 2 mins in I took a wrong turn and realised it just before the group behind me caught up, and I managed to pass it off as a coffee stop till I could see where they were going and follow them.

The coffee stop quickly extended to a 30 min session and a good read in the sun watching the clouds come in from the far side wondering if I was gonna get wet.

The walk was really 4 hours of uphill to the top of the panekiri bluff where the hut was. Through spectacular bush and with panoramic views every half hour. Wonderful stuff. I was carrying full kit (except a tent) and within 15 mins I was soaked in sweat and cursing another metaphorical grey hair.

But it was stunning. Being alone in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but a continual cycle of before the throne of GOD running through my head.

So now i’m in a hut and it’s 8.20 pm and over half of the 30 here are in bed. Having spent the evening with a bar of cadburys and a wonderful english couple who’d spent a few years in their twenties in tanzania, talking about climbing kilimanjaro and life in africa and life in NZ.

When you take away modern conveniences ,people seem to become so much more open and friendly, just coming up to you and asking how your day had been, and where you were from. And I realise i’ve been here too long, one of the guys I know has some vague connection to a doctor/nurse couple i’m friendly with in work. It’s like NI all over again…

I’m not sure that I can justifiably go to bed at 8.30pm. I’m pretty sure i’ll not sleep, and anyhow i’ve not ran out of chocolate, book nor battery power. Party on wayne.

Day Two

So I went to bed at 8.45 last night and lay there for an hour listening to a guy snore and lay there another hour needing to pee but not wanting to get up. Got up and went in the end and drifted off to the new aracde fire.

Didn’t exactly sleep well so lay on after all the others had left and got at least an hour of what felt like sleep.

Thankfully it was mostly downhill and I ran parts of it indulging my lord of the rings fantasies seeing imaginary orcs at every stage. I grew up with, what could only be called, a fertile imagination and star wars and narnia just gave me the images to play with. I used to occupy myself for hours at night before I slept running through my own star wars fantasies. ‘between that flick of the light and the start of the dream’. Yet more arcade fire of course…

And so I passed all my ‘single serving friends’ along the way, and I wished them well and it was nice to meet them and I meant it. By this stage my blisters were playing up, nothing to do with my shoes just soft feet. It was easier if I just kept walking. In the end I covered 20km I think, which was decent enough.

This is all largely unaccessible bush, except by boat and so I was surprised to hear a chainsaw. I came across a hut with two guys working as a team sawing logs into fire wood. At first I thought they hadn’t heard me approach but then I realised they were just plain ignoring me (or do I mean plain ignorant). In NZ this never happens. Then an elderly man stuck his head out of the hut and said hello. The most striking feature was the fact he had a prosthetic claw hand. Like something they use in films for cutting pad locks.

I ran through a number of reasons as to why he might have this. One – he’d lost it in the war. He looked old enough. Two – he’d lost it in a logging accident, a mistake his colleagues looked like they were about to repeat. Three – he actually had a bolt cutter in his hand and had really long sleeves. All three went through my (admittedly small) mind in a few seconds. I asked him how far it was to the main hut to which he answered ‘help yourself to the water’ and walked off. I presumed he’d lost his hearing in the war too. I left wonderland as the chainsaw brothers stubbornly refused to acknowledge my really quite plain and undeniable existence.

The hut itself is a wee wooden shack overlooking a rather idyllic bay, surrounded by ridged hills covered in bush. I run out of superlatives in places like this. To my most immense joy it was empty.

I collapsed on the verandah (every building in NZ has a verandah, I want one) and lay in the sun, just managing to get my shoes and socks off and ‘wandered lonely as a cloud’ but with a greater sense of contentment and ‘job well done’. Out of superlatives again i’m afraid. Must buy one of those books that gives you alternatives for words – well I can’t think of an alternative for thesaurus can you?

Lying on a wooden floor outside an old shack, in the sun, by a lake is a pretty top moment. Unsure of what would have made it better. Then felt scared that this might be ‘as good as it gets’, then giggled that i’d made it that far down this line of thought without reality cutting in.

The lying and the dreaming lasted a good hour. But who’s counting. The silence was broken (or at least badly dented) by a family of five coming along the track. And in fact they were wonderful. And following them was a 15 strong duke of edinburgh group full of giggly teenage girls. Who were also good bant but perhaps I am more intimidated by giggly teenage girls than anything else.

So life in the hut got a bit more fun and I had a wonderful evening chatting to the teachers and kids and the family. Mostly conversations like ‘are you english?’, to which I replied ‘of course and you lot are aussies eh?’ ‘are you really a doctor?’, to which I replied ‘i might be or I might just be the janitor pretending i’m a doctor, how would you know?’ Realsing that this travelling by youself is wonderful stuff.

And so after another few chapters of my book and an hour staring at the flippin upside down stairs i’ll probably go to bed and not sleep all over again.

Day Three

And yes I didn’t sleep a wink. Oh well.

Woke (!) to a cold wet morning, not in the plan but the lake still looked pretty cool.

Reasonable length of a walk to the pick up point, passing a few more huts and meeting lots more people along the way. Virtually everyone i’ve met on this trek is from auckland and has family originating in the north of ireland. Kind of cool really. I tell the same story that my family goes back four generations on both sides and haven’t moved as much as 3 miles and that we’re all in-bred with big ears and webbed toes everywhere. Self-deprication always gets a laugh.

In the end I had an hour to wait at the pick up point before the boat arrived and it was howling with wind and freezing. So I put on all the emergency gear that i’d lugged round with me and sat on the bench reading and taking self-portaits with my camera. Trying lots of different angles and realising that my best angle was straight on with a hat pulled over my eyebrows and my hand over half my face. Initially the irony of this was lost on me completely. I must need sleep.

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April 2007

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