Spine of the Fish  Day 2: back in the ‘hood

Revisiting an old stomping ground in the hills above Wellington


Approaching Mount Kaukau

Ngaio to Plimmerton - 30kms

This is the first mountain I ever climbed,’ said Fiona as we made our way up Mount Kaukau (445m – aka Tarikaka) from the Awarua train station on a perfect walking day. A cool breeze licked the sweat off us and thick, low cloud kept the sun away. ‘In 1974 the Johnsonville Lions organised a walk up here. I got a certificate.’

I was impressed.

The day before she’d already broached the subject of her relationship with her old hometown’s lumpiness so it wasn’t a shock to me.

‘I think I was a weird teenager. I used to walk these hills by myself. I’d walk up to Kaukau, then into town. I’d forgotten this place was so hilly,’ she said.

Before the world got paranoid and parents started picking their children up from school, Wellington probably had the fittest school kids in the country. Fiona’s walk home from Onslow College to the top of a storm-prone hill above the legendary J’ville was almost as tough as my daily ride to school in a Palmerston North headwind.

‘On cold days my thighs would go bright red…then numb,’ she said.

Her early penchant for commuting by foot could’ve been the reason we were on the small mountain today. I liked tramping as a teen, but long distance walking? Nope. I loved being on top of mountains, but hated getting there. She hasn’t dragged me out here kicking and screaming, but it is Fiona who has inspired our current passion for trekking. Although she hadn’t really considered it before, I think it might have been those early days in Wellington that set us on our way. Our new obsession is about stamina; until recently I had none. Fiona has always had it in spades.

In the distance we could see Colonial Knob (468 – a.k.a Rangituhi). It was familiar territory for us. Before we walked the South Island T.A. (Te Araroa) two years ago, we’d section walked T.A. all the way to Wellington from Palmy. This time we were going north and were trail-hardened. Going over familiar land can be boring, but it was interesting seeing how we’d changed since we first came through. When we started this journey, we thought we were unfit but today showed us that we have developed some sort of core fitness that may not show on the outside but becomes obvious as we pound out the miles.

Dropping off Kaukau the hills rolled like Tellytubby-land.

Makara wind farm stands still and stops making money.

1885 – a bad year. Ohariu Valley.

We walked the 22kms from Ngaio, over Kaukau, Colonial Knob and down to Porirua in 5 hours. By the time we sat down in Porirua’s outside mall for a coffee and cake, we were tired and hot, but not damaged – no blisters and no strains. There was a slight temptation to call it a day, but we planned to go all the way to Paraparumu -38kms away- on our third day so we pulled out our secret weapon now to make the next day bearable…

Music made the last 8kms of our day almost pleasant. We took the underpass from Porirua under State Highway 1, pumped up the volume and …got lost. There’s nothing like good sounds to help you forget your aches and pains but it can be a little distracting.

It didn’t prove to be a major error though. No PLBs were set off. No rescue helicopters were dispatched. I’m not writing this from a hospital bed.

Thanks Jim Morrison, Bob Marley, Donovan, Richard Cheese, The Verve, Butthole Surfers and Om for your eclectic, often offensive and usually brilliant work. You weren’t really life savers today, but you helped.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Highway.

Wilderlife