Spine of the Fish  Day 60: a unique roadside attraction

Slow tourism means being able to stop and talk when something unexpected occurs

Whitianga to Coromandel Township

It was to be a 33 kilometre road walk so to make sure we had enough light to complete the day, we woke at 6am and made our way out of a sparkling Whitianga at 7.30.

The walk along the motorway-like bypass was fine. Large grass verges or footpaths made the travel safe. The near empty road made it even safer. The infrastructure in this part of the country has obviously been over-engineered to futureproof the place for the population explosion that is taking place. It might even be adequate for ten years.

As we left town we walked past a huge marina/subdivision that was being carved out of what would’ve once been swamp. Until recently it would’ve been productive farmland.

It wasn’t long until we left the main road and started our trail over the 309 Road. Although it’s a much shorter route to Coromandel than State Highway 25 it’s very windy and largely unsealed. This suited us fine.

Once the tarseal finished the traffic noticeably thinned and slowed down. We really felt like we were sharing the road with vehicles for once and drivers seemed to think the same with most giving us cheery waves.

The climb to the pass was long, sometimes steep but cool. Semi-mature native regrowth crowded out the road and the stream that cut the route originally, gurgled obligingly below. The occasional picnic spot beckoned but the usual no-camping signs and our need to smash some miles put us off investigating.

Red flowering climbing Rata often popped out of the forest canopy and sometimes spilled onto the side of the road. A close look at the ‘bees’ swarming around it was a disappointment – they were wasps.

We reached the top at noon. We’d fantasized about a nice sunny lunch spot with a view but had to make do with sitting in front of some threatening looking security gates. I said ‘we’ sat…actually Fiona sat while I ate my sandwiches pacing because there wasn’t enough comfy space to sit down on. This proved sensible as Fiona soon got ants in her pants.

The walk down wasn’t as picturesque as our morning climb but we weren’t complaining as it was gravity-assisted. A lucky thing as by 1.30pm we were waning.

One of the great things about walking on tramping tracks is that expected times are often fluid. If a track sign says four hours we can often trim an hour off it. Sometimes the opposite happens, but the unpredictability of these times makes the day interesting. Road walking on the other hand is a very static thing. We know we walk about five kilometres per hour because our GPS tells us we do. Therefore a 20 kilometre road walk will always take about four hours.

Boring! Unless you’re walking the 309.

The 309


An hour down we came to a bit of a tourist side trip – the Kauri Grove. It’s a little stand of some pretty large trees that miraculously survived the slaughter. Of course a few conservationists had to fight for their protection, but they’re there now and magnificent. We washed our boots at the Kauri Dieback cleaning station then made sure a small group of Germans did the same. It’s amazing how people try to ignore such obvious things.

Question: how does one spray then scrub socks and sandals?

Bush hygiene


A wee walk down the road and we were drooping. Luckily the wacky Waterworks theme park sold really good coffee that perked us up for our final blistering trudge into town.

We’d never seen a road-sign warning of ‘Pigs Crossing’ before. We’d also never seen anything quite like Stu’s family farm. As we rounded the corner the sign proved right. Sort of.

Pigs crossing


The pigs weren’t crossing the road. They were sleeping on the road. Perhaps even living on the road. Stu was on hand to welcome us and explain things.

He lived on the 900 acre (or was it hectare?) farm that was owned collectively by the surviving seven members of his family. His father had died decades before but his mother had just recently died at 95 and a half. Stu was living in the shack that had been built for his uncle (who had sadly shot himself a while back).

As well as farming, the family hunted pigs. Well most of them did. Stu tried it but preferred the living Captain Cookers to the ones that come on plates, so he started making them feel welcome. They’ve hung around ever since.

Stu describes them as ‘French Wild Pigs’ as he reckons Captain Cook can’t have brought pigs out to New Zealand from England because Henry VIII ate all the English wild pigs. There are also a few rogue Kuni Kuni genes in the mix.

Stu and a couple of piglets


The pigs themselves are beautiful. They sit around all day, snoozing, eating or making babies…which they do very well.


They are quite blind in the daylight as Stu thinks they are nocturnal and have adapted not to need much sight although their stumbling awkwardness didn’t quite seem right. As they wandered up to us we could see that they were aiming for our shadows not our outstretched and welcoming hands. They liked having their coarse bristles rubbed and would roll onto their backs for a tummy scratch.

You can pat pigs

Rest area on the 309

Getting up for a scratch


The locals seem to like this quirky and incredibly un-touristy attraction but Stu reports some unwelcome and awful incidences. Often cars and trucks hurtle through ignoring the signs and the disabled and often tiny critters. Pig deaths are common. One arsehole went so far as to attract a group of pigs onto the road with a loaf of bread before driving at them in his car. There was only one fatality but clearly Stu was upset by the incident.

As we stood around soaking up the unusual ambience Jim, Stu’s brother came over for a chat. While we talked Stu went off and gathered up a couple of month-old and squealing piglets for us to meet. They settled down once they could nestle into an available neck for a cuddle.

As Fiona talked with Stu I chatted with his brother. Jim was still grieving for his recently dead wife, and as he talked of her terrible death tears could be seen welling close to the surface. He feels quite aggrieved at the treatment she received from the medical profession and is trying desperately to get some resolve. In the meantime his quest to clear the weeds from the family estate is keeping him going. He also has a serious weed problem at his other farm in the Hokianga. As he invited us to stay when we pass through on the Northland leg of our long journey (in a couple of years), his Roundup dripped like toxic tears from the nozzle of his spray pack.

The neighbours house

Jim, when he’s not gardening is an auric healer and water diviner. He is also a very young looking 67. His daughter watched on from the homestead as we all talked. There was a sense of sorrow around the place, but somehow the contented pigs, the make-do chickens and the bedraggled peacock also gave the place a sense of peace.

Unwanted roosters and hens are often brought out by locals who are too soft to despatch them. They’ve found a bigger softy in Stu who although he isn’t all that keen on them accepts them into the fold.

 

The motley crew of creatures is slowly becoming a bit of a tourist destination and we could see why. It’s possibly the most genuine and touching roadside attraction that we’ve ever experienced. We wished them both well and left them to it. Long may they and their menagerie last.

The rest of the walk into town was uneventful as we listened out for traffic with one ear while listening to Afternoons with Jessie on the other. The last few km’s were painful but easy on the ears.

It was cloudy, dark and windy by the time we got into the backpackers in Coromandel and we were ready to fall into bed early – the only trouble with that plan was that the place had a spa pool.

Damn.

 

Wilderlife