” I walk a lonely road. The only one I have ever known. Don’t know where it goes. But its only me, and I walk alone.” ( Green Day – Boulevard of Broken Dreams.)
Except I do not. Every step of the way, Kath has been beside me. Part of the marvel that is our journey on the Te Araroa is that our relationship has remained as strong as some of the rock we have scrambled over. Sure there have been some F-words hurled about when the going got tough, but there is now a telepathic understanding that if one is feeling the strain, the other provides the strength to reach the camp for the night.
But I digress. After enduring as much excitement as we could handle over 5 days on the Whanganui, we decided to pull stumps at Pipiriki. We stayed at a lovely local campground and I was staring down the barrel of a sober birthday when the campground owners responded to Kath’s pleas with a bottle of wine. Not only that but we were treated some leftover catering, which saved me from a pot of couscous. The following day was a cruisy travel day with time spent waiting for buses in such gems as Raetahi and Bulls. The issue was a massive slip closing the road between Raetahi and Whanganui which necessitated a detour around the unremarkaBull Bulls. The next day in Whanganui was designated my Official Birthday Celebration and it was a goodie with plenty of beers, a dip in the motel pool and dinner at the local curry house.
We stayed in Whanganui an extra day in an unsuccesful attempt to wait out a weather system. All was not lost as we visited the excellent Seargeant Gallery and feasted on a plate of ribs at the Rutland Arms. The next day dawned dreary and drizzly, but we decided to trust the forecast and trudge forth in the rain. We took the Drury elevator, an engineering marvel dating back to 1909, but that was the highlight of the day. The rain continued unabated and we trudged another 20km along some non-descript back roads. It was brutal. Walking long distances on the road in the rain, requires a masochistic streak or stoicism that I just do not possess, and by the time we hit SH1, I was over it. I made the call that it was too dangerous to continue and threw up a thumb. That is how we ended up back in UnremarkaBulls….
The following day we walked the 21km to Feilding, a town only slightly less unremarkable than Bulls. It did however hint at a more glorious past and the original Glaxo pharmaceutical factory was built here in the early 1900’s. We stayed in a grand old hotel whose better days were definitely behind it, and dined at Murray’s bar with Georgia from Sydney, where the service was memorable for its uncompromising surliness.
It has taken 1480 kilometers to bump into any of Kath’s family but that changed when we got to Palmerston North. We spent a lovely couple of days with Robert and Marion where we were treated to homemade muesli, a BBQ feast and some absorbing detail of the tracks and cycleways around Palmerston North. The next section was three days walking from PN to our Christmas destination of Makahika Outdoor Pursuits, situated some 11km from Levin. Absolutely stunning scenery especially through the Arapuke Forest and along Burton’s Track, built by Jim Burton over 40 years from 1901. This was why we were on the TA! We camped near a babbling brook and swapped stories with fellow hikers from Germany and Switzerland. Late on the third day we hobbled into Makahika and were treated to the best hospitality on the trail so far. After an excellent shower, our host Sally brought us some chicken pie and invited us to join their Christmas celebrations. The following morning she showed up with bacon and frittata, and then a short while later Sally delivered a chilli bag if wine and beer. We enjoyed a fabulous feast of turkey and ham with about 9 other TA walkers, before heading up to an Eco-village built by Sally and her husband John, where I was still able to deal to a plate of ribs with prawn salad. A fabulous day and we were in bed by 7.30!
We made the call to skip the imposing peaks of the Tararuas and instead chose to walk the 11km into Levin, thereby completing a hat trick of shit towns of the lower North Island. We were picked up by Sylvia, an old book club mate of Kath’s and whisked to her lifestyle block near Waikanae. The following morning we started the final stretch into Wellington with a walk over the remarkable Paekakariki Escarpment track. Over the next few days we honed in on our destination of NZ’s capital city and, on the last day of 2019, we were able to walk without packs to the end point of the North Island TA at Island Bay. There was a euphoric moment when we realised how far we’d come on our journey and the size of the achievement to reach this point. The North Island has been wondrous, majestic and achingly beautiful, whilst still managing to be very tough and frustrating. The size of the challenge ahead if us is real and sizeable, but, unlike Green Day, I will have more than my shadow to walk beside me.