Thursday 10 December – Day 26
I’ve slept in this morning. In truth I was awake before 6am but snoozed until 8am, enjoying the opportunity to have a sleep in. But all the time knowing that my tardiness was cutting into my walking time. So my bad it was 9:30am by the time my trail angels had dropped me off at the Mangatarwhiri bridge on SH2. Horribly late start for me and it puts me in an apprehensive mood as there is a lot of walking needed today. Plus I have put my old Salema shoes on (from 2017 walk) and already I can feel my feet being irritated through my socks. I have passed over this bridge so many times and glanced wistfully along the stopbank knowing that it was the TA trail disappearing into the green distance. And now I am on it. First thing is the grass is really high. Up to my knees mostly and often higher to my hips. It’s wet from dew and it doesn’t take long before my shoes and socks are wet through. It’s also uneven with pocked cattle tracks hidden beneath the grass. I stumbled a lot which increased my annoyance with this walk that I imagined would be a dream across the fields. Time to focus on something else to occupy my time. Listening to the skylarks, watching the cows, feeling the breeze. The stopbank continued for 7 km rounding 90 degrees towards the end along the Fish & Game wetlands. The last remnants of how this area looked before being drained. At the end of the stopbank is an Archimedes screw pump. Quite a large one in fact. When operating it conveys water from the drainage up into the wetland area. A pleasant raid walk continued through the Fish & Game area before crossing the railway lines and after a short bush walk I shimmied underneath the SH1 road bridge to reach the right hand side for the walk alongside the highway to the Mercer service centre. A bacon buttie is in order.
The lady in the Mercer cheese shop where I purchase some early season plums and vintage Gouda is keen to do the TA herself one day. I hope she does. She wants to do the whole thing in one go. No half arsing around with bits here and there. That’s the spirit. Leaving Mercer the trail does not immediately follow the Waikato River south but swings inland for a muddy clamber up a steep hill that then continues up and down, up and down across farmland, through bush and across swamps. At the end before returning to the river the track passes by the Whangamarino redoubt from 1863. Built during the time of the Waikato wars the blockade was used to shell the 1,000 strong pa at Meremere, 2km distant. The Maori didn’t have a chance against this new type of firepower plus the support of an ironclad gunship on the river. When the British troops reached Meremere the pa had been abandoned and the fighting moved south. The Maori land was all seized by the British.
The trail descended underneath the rail and road bridges at Whangamarino and reemerged on the bank of the river. For a start there is a wide grass area to walk safely along until you reach Meremere where, for a short distance, there is just the barrier between you and the 100kmh traffic. Once it did return to a stopbank track it was really nice walking between the cabbage trees and ground cover. The track moved onto farmland, dairy country as it’s all electric fencing. Mostly there was an electric wire with a plastic handle for passing through a gateway but twice the gateways were wired in so I had to heft my pack across to the other side and roll myself underneath the wires being careful not to touch. Finally at the last paddock before the Meremere dragway some apiarists were working with hives. They were fitted with protective gear and surrounded by a furious swarm of thousands upon thousands of bees, it was obvious that I couldn’t follow the trail here. Even from my distance from the hives the bees were hitting me as they flew home. I made a very wide berth around the paddocks and shortly after was on the next section of stopbank that would continue for about 5km through more dairy country. The stopbank track was well maintained and easy to walk on. Herds of calves cows and bulls created interest as did watching the swift flowing river to my starboard side.
It wasn’t to last. The stopbank came to a halt and was replaced by skirting the riverbank between the farmers paddocks and the water. It was overgrown and slow going. In between the annoying little showers the track grated on me more and more. My feet were wet through and tired. I just wanted it to be over. Then I reached a piece of the trail which had submerged into the river. There was no way to pass without slipping into the river so I had to backtrack and go over the gorse covered hill instead. A frustrating waste of time and energy at this point of the day. Fortunately there was just over a km to go before the end.
Tomorrow Rangiriri to Huntly