Upper Retaruke rd. (km1212) -Whakahoro (km1245.5)
We had an interesting alarm clock this morning. Three bucks came crashing in, snorting and grunting around 5:30am. They did some bunny hops and then took off. Deer are very territorial and we had invaded their space. There is a lot of deer farming in the area, hence all the very high fences. Some have escaped and run wild, which I think these were. In all the time I’ve spent backpacking, I’ve actually encountered territorial deer on several occasions, but I didn’t expect it in NZ.
The morning was spectacularly sunny but cool and fresh from all the rain. The road walking was really enjoyable, with no traffic and just tons of animals. We saw more bucks, cows, sheep, horses, and goats. It’s like walking the Serengeti but with farm animals. We took a break at a war memorial, which is a spot where a lot of TA walkers camp. There are toilets and a water spigot. Plus a memorial to service horses, made out of horse shoes! I want to make a collage of all the awesome mailboxes I have seen. This one is classic NZ! We turned left onto Oio rd, with our destination 24 kms at the end. To break up the monotony of road walking, we stopped in at Hazel Blue Farms. This is listed as a possible campsite and trail angel. We found another miniature horse to make friends with…two mini horse pettings in a row! We talked with Isabelle, whose family has cared for the farm for generations. She has a liking for guinea pigs, which live kind of wild in little houses she has made for them out in the yard. She started whistling and rattling their food and one by one, they began to emerge. It was intriguing as there were so many different colors and both long and short hair. She has had as many as 100 but we saw about 10. Unfortunately they aren’t hand tame, because that would have been a unique petting to add to my growing list. I did get to pet just some regular pigs later on.
We walked on and it started to get hot. A nice couple in a car stopped, saying they couldn’t offer us a ride but wanting to know if we were ok. They said we looked like we had strong walking legs. I think they were speaking of Connor mostly.
We played some word games and told stupid jokes for the rest of the afternoon, helping to pass the time. Connor is a bright and energetic kid, and a real pleasure to be around. When all else fails, he entertains by singing songs and whistling. It’s funny how comforting it is to be with someone from your own country, given all the familiarity with pop culture and Americana. He has to start classes in another month, so won’t be able to do the whole trail with me, but we’ve been traveling well together so far.
Finally we got to Whakahoro (population 8) around 3:30 pm, a great early finish and a break for our poor tired feet for 5 whole days! We will be traveling about 100 miles down the river as part of this ‘thru-hike.’ In AT lingo, it’s called blue-blazing. This is the official route and I think it’s an awesome idea. The Florida Trail may adopt a similar idea, paddling down a section of the Suwanee River. I’ll have much more to write about the Whanganui River Journey in days to come, but in short, it’s one of NZ’s Great Walks. We will be joining lots of other tourists, similar to the Tongariro Crossing.
At the river campsite, we met Aussie Troy and Kiwi Graham, who have both done most of the TA up to this point, much as section hikes. We also checked out the Blue Duck cafe. I got an ice cream cone and bought some expensive and crappy internet time ($10 for 500mb) just so I could catch up on blog posts. It was worth it.
The cafe is associated with an eco-tourism business that trucks tourists in to have ‘farm experiences.’ Around 6 pm, about 40 kids showed up and I got to sit in on the introduction. There are opportunities for hunting rabbits, shooting clay pigeons, horse ridding, kayaking, and sheep herding. As a TA hiker, I feel I’ve already gotten quite the authentic farm experience. It was a great dinner conversing with our fellow TA hikers/paddlers at the camp and we are excited about the upcoming days on the river. The outfitter is supposed to arrive around 9 tomorrow morning, so we have a relaxed schedule. I could maybe even sleep in! Yeah right.