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Straight away you know you’re on to a good thing with a gentle, open, grassy slope, a warm up for the steeper hills that soon kick in. Most of the three-hour walk seems to be on private farmland, so there’s a constant sense of privilege. There’s no access during spring lambing.
Marker poles lead you along. The whole thing was developed by Milton Rotary in 1980 and is still maintained by them today.
After you’ve climbed a stile on to a road, a sign offers a choice of the Kowhai Loop. Save it for later and carry on past a great old totara and, depending on time of year, sheep for company.
It starts off as pine and eucalyptus with the occasional native reaching through.
Gum leaves cover the track. On a hot day each step releases a satisfying crunch and pinging aroma.
The bush gets better and better. There’s amanuka stand and next thing you realise you’re walking past delicate filmy ferns and even some wide-trunked matai.
The occasional fallen tree can mean the route’s hidden, but the navigation pixies have been, so just scan for a marker. Momentary micro-panic just adds to the adventure.
In summer the bush opens out to grass and dandelion covered slopes like the opening credits of Little House on the Prairie.
Long grass on the summit lets you lie back. Dragonflies zip around high above and thistle seedheads flick about. Wide views peek out to the sea and inland even as far as the Blue Mountains at West Otago.
As you hit the road again, keep your eyes peeled for distant markers showing the Kowhai Loop. It follows a mini-ridgeline, making you wonder whether to admire the view left or right.
If you’re fortunate enough to have the capability to do this walk, mentally GPS yourself. Quite possibly you’re the only person on the track, on the edge of a small town, on the edge of a small city on a small island surrounded by a huge moat.
It wasn’t long ago that these were criteria for cultural-cringe embarrassment. But now, when others around the world are trapped in small spaces with annoying others we can only gag in gratitude for our good fortune.
For that matter, there are people living a similar experience only a few kilometres away in Milburn.
As the saying goes, there, but for the grace of God, go I.