So I do a Classic Shelley walking out of Hamilton. I'm looking out for the supermarket I'd been told about on the trail, my last proper resupply opportunity for at least four days till Te Kuiti, I lose my bearings for a moment, about 200m~ same general direction but on a road parallel to the one I should have been on but, back on trail I happily march on, enjoying the views of Hamilton growing smaller in the distance. I'm passed by Lisa~ and we start marching together (rather fast for my liking perhaps..!) sharing a great conversation and learning about each other when I suddenly remember what my mission was. "hey Lisa, where's Dinsdale?" "oh, back there awhile" "back, like where we started walking together?" "no, quite a bit further back~ back on the main road before the Caltex" The Caltex on the corner where I rejoined the trail. In the space of 200m I'd cost myself a whole lot of back track 😳😩. She had lost her train of trail too so she ends up walking me back to Dinsdale. Meeting Lisa, one of the many great people on the trail softens the blow. While at the supermarket Bad Santa calls- it's Saturday, the day of the wedding, but he's two hours early and wants to pick me up now. "Ok!" So that was my walking day: 6km on the trail. Then 4.5km back. Then onto the liquor store with Bad Santa 😅and then randomly to the workshop of a home-kill butcher. At this point my trust in Bad Santa is definitelybeing re-evaluated... but Boof turns out to be a really good sort.
Onto the wedding and EVERYONE is dressed up, as if they were going to.... a wedding. And here we were- him in jeans and grubby baseball cap and me in my shorts and Superman t-shirt. Pre- nuptials, I get to meet the bride, who is Bad Santa's daughter's friend. She is relaxed and very lovely to this scruffy looking stranger~ but despite the blessings I feel awkward, not just because I was getting the sideways looks from Santa's daughter and ex!! 😳😳 so I go to the bathroom to at least take the blister tape off my feet...! My grandmother would have been mortified..!
Most of the crowd were around my age but I found the older crowd easier to mingle with. And once they had heard my story of how I had met Richard (Santa) they chuckled and relax and the initial judgements seem to be withdrawn~ I think!! "I was told this was going to be a casual wedding, if I had known everyone was going to be this formal I wouldn't have dreamt of coming in a t-shirt...!'" "awww, this crowd? It won't take long for things to get get real casual!" I relax soon after, mingle, have some superb fingerfood and more than my share of bubbles and then the dancing begins!! I meet a lovely couple Ben and Fieke~ a local cheese-making couple originally from the Netherlands who after hearing about my Te Araroa journey and telling me about their Camino (a pilgrimage trail ending in Spain) experiences introduce me to their dance~ Ben takes me round the dancefloor in a folk dance that takes me a little while to get, but once I do~ the joy!! Now Bad Santa is getting settled at the bar and so when Fieke mentions that they practically live on the trail, (and would you believe it, close to where I had to turn back to go to the supermarket earlier that day!) I ask him if he would mind if I leave with them and we say our goodbyes, but not before we all give him rousing applause for his Rod Stewart cover (the band didn't know what hit them!).
Fieke and Ben open their home to me at 1am in the morning, let me crash on their grandchild's spare bed and in the morning feed me a wonderful breakfast complete with their award winning cheese. Ben then takes me (and my back hanging off the front!) on his tractor to his cheese factory which his sons manage and through the fields with the cows that his son in law tends to~ a great grass to finished cheeses family business: Meyer Traditional Style Gouda. Check them out, they're at a supermarket near you!
After a relaxed start and my mouth a little dry from the over-indulgence of the night before, I set out across the fields of Ben and Fieke and across onto the road about 2km from where I had finished the day before. I stash my pack behind some bushes and run to the spot and back (walking/running EVERY INCH, no cheating!) and set off again southbound on road and farmland towards the notorious Pirongias. I can feel the alcohol oozing out of me and I'm struggling, and as I stop to take a break I see a familiar face. Coming towards me was Pim, a fellow hiker and someone I'd previously met and kept in contact with from a navigation course a few months prior. We talk a little, walk a lot and then we start up a big hill and gravel road towards a block of farmland. "you know" I say, "the trail notes say this land is closed till two days from now because of lambing season" "now you tell me?!" "yeah...😅" all signs of the trail cease, and we follow our GPS and some faded hiker markings to sneak our way onto the land~ bah, it's only a couple of days early.. right?! It does get my heart racing for fear of getting caught, but the alternative of more road walking didn't appeal. And it was a lovely stretch of trail with some high elevations and wonderful views of the Waikato. After a long and hung over 34km for me I'm very relieved to get to the camp grounds at the base of Pirongia for a well earned rest~ and in time to be in my tent, in my sleeping bag before the torrential rain hits. The next day with all my gear wet it takes me forever to get ready and Pim patiently waits. He notices the river (Kaniwhaniwha) has risen markedly from the night before but the rain had eased somewhat so we head in and up~ and the bush is magestic...! The elevation was gradual and gentle (and a short 8km) and the atmosphere in the rain and mist was something else. After a bit of monkeying around taking photos at the top (with ZERO view, freezing temperatures and high winds) we head down to the hut a further kilometre and get dry and have lunch. It was only 12.30pm and I was itching to carry on, but the wind had really picked up - and though it was probably glorious weather down below we were literally surrounded in cloud so we decide to sit tight for the rest of the day, dry our gear and stay the night. "want some chocolate?" I say "oh no... you brought that for you, I won't take it! It's my philosophy to be completely self reliant and not take anything from anyone" (not a good time to mention that I had run out of cooker gas and was hoping to have some of his to cook breakfast.) So early the next day I pack and because he wants to take his time, I say goodbye and head down sans breakfast (I am such an awkward weirdo sometimes, I'm sure he would have shared if I had asked!!). I was one and a half days from Waitomo where I would be seeing mum and the dog Stella, so was intent on being 'self reliant' and worked through my plentiful non-cook ration instead... though I missed my oats!
I camped up that night after a long slog down the other side of Pirongia, in the mud where weird man-made footbridges and walkways would appear where there was good trail and ample drainage underneath only to disappear so you had to step into a pool of mud. That night before the sun had gone down I was snuggled in my sleeping bag and I went to sleep with the evening chorus of a nearby kokako~ bliss!!
The next day was only 21 km to Waitomo~ and I emerged from the bush mid afternoon just as mum parked up. Stella went crazy when she saw me :) Together again!! We stayed at a doggie friendly motel, and I sit down for a rest only to have Trump news dominate the telly. I want go crawling back into the bush immediately!
The Waitomo 17km is a relatively difficult track (I took it slack pack, but was hardly running!!) and I meet mum in Te Kuiti for lunch, a finally cuddle with Stella and a 900km selfie! 😄
Fellow Te Araroa walker sightings: 1 Pim the Dutchman, and notes from hikers past in the hut book in Pirongia
Number of Olympic gymnastic-worthy tumbles: Ooph, too many to count down Pirongia. Even the Doc workers I met on route had a chuckle "fell over, did you?" Funny guys...
Number of cries: a couple, one was with the anticipation of seeing Stella (and of course, mum) heading into Waitomo
Kg of rubbish picked up: nothing of note, just a wrapper here and there. Drop off points were: Otorohanga (motel)
Homes for the night: Day 35: Ben and Fieke's place on the outskirts of Hamilton (half day: wedding) Day 36: at the base of Pirongia Day 37: Pirongia : Pahautea Hut (half day: weather) Day 38: around the 875km mark, in the bush with the birds! Day 39: Otorohanga Motel, with the fam Day 40: Half day from Waitomo to Te Kuiti, following into the Te Kuiti track in the afternoon
Food highlights: the wedding food was to die for. And the cheese~!!
General Highlights: following my gut about Santa- what a good man, who has been through a lot and hasn't lost his heart. The wedding, the dancing, Ben and Fieke, the confidence I'm building on every day.
General Lowlights: missing out on a view from Pirongia.. I'll be back! The general judgy vibe of the wedding guests.. though I guess, who the heck am I? and what the heck am I wearing?!
Song predominantly in my head: Wagonwheel. (That damn wedding~ they must have played it a hundred times!! Haha!)
Things I learned: not every km is made the same. Mantra for the downhill of Pirongia: "every easy metre is a blessed one" there is no 'right way' to slice or each cheese according to the cheese maker himself! (Though I very much doubt he means it's ok to take a bite out of a hunch of cheese on one hand and a hunk of salami in the other~ which I do on a regular basis for lunch...)
Number of days with dry feet: a couple, surprisingly! Weather: Pirongias awful, the rest be a few showers in Hamilton, great! Body: feeling good~! Spirit: feeling strong and light again Question unanswered: when will I be free of the mud~? And when I am, will I miss it?!
900km selfie (actually 912, but who's counting!) w mum and Stella!