For several months I've been planning a trip, part of it with three other women who are friends and also belong to the Far North Genealogy group. In a couple of weeks there will be a Family History Expo in Ōtautahi, Christchurch, that the four of us first talked of going to late last year. I wondered if it would happen, with the possibilities of Covid lock-downs always in the background and over the last few weeks as I've cemented my plans, I knew that the trip's pleasure might end up being all in the planning and anticipation, if I couldn't go.
But so far so good.
With everything packed into the ute, including a feather duvet and pillow in case of being snowed in while travelling the Desert Road, the Thermette and a bag of Pūriri twigs for boiling water if I exhausted the huge new Thermos flask we bought for my trip, I left home in time to go to the genealogy group's normal monthly meeting in town.
When that finished, I set off south for Helena Bay, to stay with Kate and Geoff for a couple of nights.
There were goats to see on Sunday, of course.
They all look like scruffy surfies, curly hair falling over their eyes, looking like they couldn't possibly see anything. They're due to be shorn next week, when their improbably round bellies will become visible, with, in most cases, twins in gestation.
The big slip down the hill has fortunately remained stable since Stephan helped fence it last year.
I set off at eight this morning, in time to visit nephew Nick at the eye clinic just under the motorway at Mount Wellington, then on to lunch with Nadene at Ngatea. We haven't seen each other for a few years, so enjoyed catching up in person.
I do like the Karangahake Gorge.
I stopped for a few minutes, crossed the road and climbed over the (traffic safety) rail on the other side, to have a closer look at the Ohinemuri river as it rushed past.
I haven't done a road trip like this, on my own, for a couple of decades. It's funny how you lose the sense of independence through always having someone else around.
As I neared Tauranga in the late afternoon, I was listening to the radio news: Tauranga appeared to be becoming Covid-Central, with dozens of stevedores having had contact with an infected freighter over preceding days. Good grief.
I went to stay with Lynne, long-time friend of Stephan's family, whose husband, Terry, died a couple of years ago and Stephan had come down then to see him for the last time in December 2018. Lynne and I had never spent any time alone together but we both enjoyed ourselves immensely.
Lynne had to work this morning so I went off to see Anna and new baby, Lucy. Babies are so little! And they smell lovely. She went contentedly off to sleep while I held her.
In the afternoon we walked up Mauao (mau=seize, ao=dawn), Mount Maunganui. The wind was cold and the tracks steep but it was good to be moving after my long drive yesterday.
A couple of men were sitting at the top and offered to take our picture, although it wasn't the best place to stand, partly in the shade.
Today we went south to the Pāpāmoa Hills Regional Park, Te Rae o Pāpāmoa, and walked up more steep tracks. Lynne wanted to take me there in particular and I'm glad she did.
We walked first up onto Karangaumu, the highest point. The trenches are impressive. This photo was taken from approximately this point. If you select the satellite option on the map, you'll see a lot of the trenches and terracing around the hilltops.
The views were spectacular, here looking NE, directly out to the coast.
And just over 15 kilometres to the NW, Mauao, where we were yesterday, and the port and city of Tauranga.
We walked back down toward the big pine trees on the skyline to the NE and found a sheltered place to sit and eat our picnic lunch.
Later back at Lynne's I phoned cousin Eleanor and asked if I could come and visit again. As well as wishing to see her, I wanted to check for and photograph some hallmarks on a little silver dish she'd shown me last time, that she said had been brought to Aotearoa by Kate Dickson, our foremother, in 1863. I have a theory about Kate's origins and the circumstances in which she came here and hoped the silver dish might provide an evidential link. Unfortunately it has been lovingly polished over the many decades since and the marks are barely discernible. Later examination of the photographs I took suggested that it probably wasn't made by a Glaswegian jeweller named Daniel Robertson, which was what I'd hoped to find.
In conversation, Eleanor told me of some other family heirlooms she'd received from her mother and grandparents.
This extraordinary marble lamp was brought back from Italy by my great grandfather Albert, when he went travelling with his second wife, in 1931.
There's something very special in being able to see and touch things my long-gone forebears have owned and enjoyed.
Eleanor told me this clock was presented to great grandfather Albert on his retirement from the company now known as Chapman Tripp. It is a one-day clock, so requires daily winding, which she doesn't bother to do.
The makers, W. Littlejohn & Sons, also made the Auckland Art Gallery clock.
On Thursday morning Lynne went back to work and I packed up my things and set off for Levin. This was to be the longest leg of my trip.
Happily I thought to turn on the farm GPS unit I'd remembered to bring with me, so I've been able to go back to that and see exactly where I was when I took these photographs.
This interesting-looking peak is named Titiraupenga, is 1,042m high, and I took the picture from this point.
If you follow that link, then drop the little street-view figure exactly where indicated, you'll see almost the same view.
Another minute down the road was this maunga, Whakaahu, a mere 692m above sea level. The road along here was 260m in elevation, so that's actually quite a big hill at 432m above the surrounding flat land.
I stopped on the side of the road a bit before this photograph, when I could just begin to see Lake Taupō. I was going to make myself some lunch but there was a funny smell. It took a few minutes before I noticed a dead sheep decaying in the grass beside the road, and decided to go on a little further before stopping again to eat.
This was a better view anyway, from here just after 1.30pm.
Looking at the map, I'd thought the road I was travelling would take me closer to the lake than it did.
When it became obvious that I'd passed the southern end of the lake, I looked for somewhere else to stop and have a walk around.
At 2.15 I drove into a small parking area off the road, signposted for the Duchess and Red Hut pools and discovered they were the haunts of trout fly-fishers, many of whom had left their vehicles and walked down to the river, or across the swing bridge to the other side.
I walked half-way across the bridge but preferred my other little walk down to the edge of the river, to see how fast and clear the water was.
Google maps labels the river Waipakihi, rather than Tongariro. On the map I see the river originates near a place named Waipakihi. Wikipedia tells me the Tongariro River has that name from where the Waihōhonu stream joins it, a stream I particularly noticed a little further along the road, for its beauty and its name: in one of the earliest waiata (songs) I learnt, hōhonu was a word I'd had to look up, meaning deep or depth.
A few days previously the Desert Road had been closed by snow, and I'd been paying close attention to the weather forecasts since then because I really wanted to come this way if I could. Today was fine and dry and each time I got out of the ute, I felt the wind was not nearly cold enough to sustain snow on the ground, and there was quite a lot of traffic coming north, so the road must be clear and safe to travel.
The Desert Road's elevation climbs from about 600m to over 1100m.
As I drove into the area, I began to see snow on the hills and then also still some at the edges of the road. I was grinning like a loon. I've only seen snow a few times in my life. I know it can be cold, wet and horrible but it is beautiful.
To the right I should also have been able to see Ngāuruhoe but it was hidden by low cloud and, having not been here for years, I forgot it was even there.
I do remember driving north once as a young adult with my father, on a trip we'd done together to Wellington and on to Westport to see his mother, coming back through here in the middle of the night, under a full moon. I was asleep on the back seat and he woke me to see the snow-covered mountains, glistening under the moonlight.
When I plotted the point at which I'd stopped to take this picture, I discovered it was weirdly almost in the middle of the short section of the regional boundary between Waikato and Manawatu/Whanganui, where it runs along the road. The elevation here is around 1100m.
A little further along where I stopped to appreciate the marvellous colours of this place.
The angle of the sun on the snow made me stop here.
The power pylons aren't the most attractive feature but there were some places where their presence didn't obstruct the view quite so much.
This is about as much snow as there was anywhere along the road; still pretty cool for someone from the Far North!
South of Waiouru I noticed this hillside, looking very much like some of ours, except for the snow!
I continued on down through Taihape, stopped at Utiku at The Wool Company and bought three balls of lovely 4-ply wool (the sum total of my holiday expenditure, excluding fuel), and when I started the ute ready to leave again, noticed the odometer: 9999. I drove out onto the main road again and it clicked over to 10,000km. Never again will it show a four-digit number. I like numbers.
The roads were excellent all through that area and the traffic was fairly light. The lack of foreign tourists is lovely; I saw only a handful of campervans on the whole trip.
I felt terribly sad as I passed the turnoff to Foxton Beach, thinking of our lovely little cat and where she'd come from.
It was nearly dark as I drove through Levin, then found the road to Sue and Trevor's new home in a big new retirement village on the outskirts of the town.
Out to see the cows, of course. Sue and Trevor have semi-retired from their farm, leaving it in the charge of their daughter and son-in-law, with some oversight, particularly during calving. They live only a short distance away now and before all the new houses were built in the retirement village, could still see parts of the farm.
Two calves were in need of assistance, one with back legs that wouldn't work (she gradually came right over the next 48 hours) and another Sue noticed was looking hollow and weak, whose mother was entirely uncooperative to the point of being dangerous, so the calf had to be fed some saved colostrum from last year.
It is always informative, watching how other people deal with problems like these, seeing how one's own systems are better and worse and picking up ideas for improvement at home.
Greg was obviously good with the cattle and had managed to quietly get this little calf feeding, either while he held her in standing position, or when she lay on the ground beneath her mother.
The mother is a first-time, two-year-old heifer.
Sue's farming practices have helped improve mine markedly over the years, primarily in changing my assumptions about appropriate cow body condition. Sue's cows are big and well-resourced to the point of being fat. Mine rarely achieve that status but spend their lives now in far better condition than they used when I started farming.
Back then I was informed by the local approach to breeding cattle, using "managed starvation", treating breeding cows as the pasture cleaners for other classes of stock. I gradually changed my own opinion in regard to the cows, realising they are the valued carriers of my next generation of calves, so needing to be fed adequately; and it was seeing Sue's cows that shifted me right out of the minimal feeding mindset.