Fit for the purpose

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
I’m doing the Heaphy over Christmas.

The Heaphy that’s a Great Walk. Not the Heaphy stroll to the pub. It seemed like a good idea when I booked the huts, but it must have been a rush of dehydrated bolognaise to the brain, because I am very unfit right now. You’d think looking after my Purakanui rat mansion would keep me in top condition, but the truth is I’m physically at my best when I’m miserable and I haven’t been miserable for years. Needing to regain some fitness, fast, I’ve been going on a few training hikes.

First, I set off from Purakanui and walked to Port Chalmers. "Are you OK?" asked the driver of the first car to pass me. I must have been toiling up the hill like a walking heart attack. I explained. "Oh, I love you!" she said. I briefly felt like someone doing a charity walk/run, but this made me think of Jimmy Saville which took the shine off. A few other locals passed and did not stop to enquire, which I thought was rude - turns out they thought I might have somehow lost my licence again and didn’t want to ask in case it embarrassed me. I made it over the hill.

When you are walking you can see just how much rubbish there is on the sides of the road. It is always empty cans of Mothers and empty bottles of crap light beer. People who drink nice craft beer don’t tend to fling the empties out the window because they are afraid one of their chunky silver rings might fly off.

Coming down the hill towards Port I could see the "Aramoana Save" sign painted on the side of the milking shed. I love that this has been repainted to stop it fading away, and that they forgot to write "save" in front when they started. Just in case you thought casual racism and deliberate sexism were the worst things about New Zealand in the late 1970s, Aramoana was once proposed as the site of a major aluminium smelter by a consortium of New Zealand-based Fletcher Challenge, Australia’s CSR Limited and Swiss firm Alusuisse. We already had an aluminium smelter at Tiwai Point at the time.

The plan called for the destruction of the villages of Aramoana and Te Ngaru, and also threatened a local wildlife reserve. In response, residents announced their secession from New Zealand, established a border post, printed passports and postage stamps, and set about building a national grassroots campaign in opposition to the smelter. In the face of this, the Government could not lightly face the serious political risk of bringing down a special empowering Act to force the smelter through, as it had done with the Clyde Dam. The tide having turned against Think Big, the smelter was left to sink without trace. Isn’t that a great story?

Not so great was the extremely horrible thing happening right in front of the sign. It involved a headless, hideless cow carcass being hoisted into the air, guts bulging within a thin membrane sac threatening to unloose. This wasn’t the reward I’d sought for communing with nature. This was too much nature. I felt more than a little pukey and held my breath the whole way past.

The round trip took 4 hours. The average day on the Heaphy is 5-6 hours of walking, so I would have felt justifiably pleased with myself, if I hadn’t had to have a nap the minute I got home, after taking all the ibuprofen in the house.

On the next hike I wore my new tramping boots, ridiculously expensive, flash as. Why do people always say "money can’t buy happiness" but all my hobbies require thousands of dollars in gear? The flash boots were so uncomfortable and so cruel to my feet that the minute I made it back to the car I unlaced, drove to an op shop and handed them over, telling the lady behind the counter, "These are worth a lot of money, so don’t sell them for $2". She promised not to, but honestly, I wouldn’t have cared if she sold them for 50 cents. Revenge achieved (nobody puts Pinky in a corner), my tootsies and I agreed we would do the Heaphy in my stinky old Keens.

Last Saturday I set off from Purakanui, over the causeway to Osbourne then up Station Rd to the Mopanui track, listening to Kim Hill. I love her voice, her chainsaw modulations. Now that’s a woman who has walked a thousand miles, in terms of her achievements, and not been a whiny little bitch about it. I was only going on a tramp, for goodness sake. Kim gently sandpapering my ears with her laugh, I reached the top in no time.