Te Araroa meets the media, then the Wellington mayor, ends its North Island walk and rolls up its sleeves to begin the trail anew.
I wanted a good clean finish, but clean finishes don't just happen.
You gotta plan.
I was now less than a week out of Wellington: whose hand would I shake, and what media could I make?
I'd kept a low profile throughout the walk. Any news organisation that actually made inquiries, fine, but I hadn't gone out of my way for them. I was writing stories on the trail myself, and I wanted, so far as possible, to be anonymous.
But there'd always been two sides to the trip. The first was personal adventure. The second was the route itself. Te Araroa Trust had planned the trail, and begun to set it in place by negotiation with local authorities, iwi, and landowners, but if it was going to stick, we needed money and we were bidding for funding from the Millennium Commission.
Public knowledge and support would be important in that process. Okay, I'd write an article for the Dominion, to coincide with my arrival in Wellington. I wrote it fast, and e-mailed it off with two Tararua pictures. I phoned the features editor, Frank Haden, to make sure the pictures were what he wanted.
"The one of the chopper is okay," said Haden.
"Okay, fine. I thought the dog mightn't show up clearly."
"The what? There's a dog in it?"
"A black dog. That's the point of the picture Frank, the dog is being rescued."
"Well we can't use that picture. You can't even see the dog. You needed to use fill-in flash."
"Well, what about the mountain pic?"
"Why didn't you use fill-in flash for Chrissake?"
"I never claimed to be a professional Frank. What about the mountain picture?"
"It's just bloody mountains, there's nothing else in it. You've got to have things in your pictures."
That was a shock. It just hadn't occurred to me that my favourite Tararua shot, with the dawn light just touching the tops, might not be enough.
"It's called landscape Frank," I said, but he was insistent, and we settled for a shot of myself on Mt Crawford. I wasn't happy though. Slouching toward Wellington, had they but known, was a creature with whole weather patterns hanging on its shoulders. Its great solemn mind had encompassed so many valleys, had penetrated so much interminable bush, had listened so long to the rote crashing of coastlines and the soundless flow of big rivers, gazed with such intensity by day across the vast low patterns of agriculture and by night at the loom of big-city light behind the hills, absorbed so much history and flushed so many people, bright as pheasants, from the hollows that it did not, in its own mind, look a bit like the grinning twit on top of Mt Crawford.
It struck me right then, that my euphoric walk-induced mindlessness had gone on so long, I might be badly out of step with the city.
I went along the Mangaone walkway, and through to Waikanae. My wife joined me there, and we went down the Waikanae River bank, crossed a footbridge near the river mouth, then onto the beach.
Euphoria, it was back again. The wind blew strongly from the north, and the two of us simply held the corners of our anoraks and para-sailed past Kapiti Island, down the coast.
We got to Queen Elizabeth Park and cut across State Highway 1 onto Whareroa Farm, a Landcorp property where you can access - by permission at the moment, but with a walkway projected - the Wellington Regional Council's Akatarawa Forest.
From there to Battle Hill, and then to Pauatahanui, and through Whitby to Porirua. I was within striking distance of Wellington, and I waited.
Television One called me up. They wanted shots of me walking in bush, and walking Raumati Beach. I'd vowed before starting the walk not to deviate in any way for television - television's relegations, its arrogance. Bugger that.
But to give television its due, a keen tramper called Garth Bray on the Auckland newsdesk had followed the trip on the Internet. Bray had tried to organise live footage as we came out of the Tararuas, and the arrangement had failed only because the mobile links went down.
I had the time now. I went back to Otaki Forks with cameraman Pat Murray. I burst around the same bush corner six times, Lekis working away like the forelegs of some Daliesque monster. My boot splashed through the same puddle six times.
I strode and restrode down 100 metres of Raumati Beach. I strode and stopped, strode and stopped, and when I stopped I would turn and gaze at Kapiti while the camera closed on my face, then panned out and away to a wide shot of the island.
Then we did the interview:
Television One's Penny Deans back-pedalled in front of me down the beach.
"Why are you doing this?" she said.
My mind was a blank.
"Hmmnnnn" I said after a long moment trudging towards the lens with my mouth agape. "Could we do that again?"
From Porirua, Te Araroa's route followed the existing walkway up to Conical Hill, and connected with Wellington City Council's projected Skyline Trail. Skyline followed a ridge some 25 kilometres, right through to the Botanical Gardens and Wellington itself, but it was not yet in place, and to tramp it meant contacting around 30 landowners.
I could have sat down with the mobile and worked it through, but suddenly I was on an urgent deadline. Te Araroa's chairwoman, Jenny Wheeler, rang to say the Trust had arranged a mayoral reception for 3pm the next day.
I road-walked from Porirua to Ngaio, and stayed the night with my cousin, Maurice Gee, hefting the weight of the Deutz medal he'd just won for his new novel Live Bodies.
National Radio had scheduled an interview at 11.30am next day and I walked over Tinakori Hill on Wellington City's Northern Walkway.
No question, I was out of step with the city. The houses still looked like stage sets. I was still being left behind by the cars and the polished 4x4s. What would I say to Kim Hill? What was long distance walking anyway? The walking itself was effortless, and it was something to do with your head, floating on your shoulders like a Steadicam... Maybe that was it - that I was kind of - disembodied.
Yeah, so? That was pretty wordless. That would hardly fill up 20 minutes of air time.
Down through the Botanical Gardens, then I was ushered into a live studio.
Kim Hill's left hand was twisting a paperclip into unnatural shapes. She was doing a phoner with a scientist who'd just cloned the last seaweed eating cow on planet earth.
He'd taken DNA from the ovaries of the sub-Antarctic Enderby Island cow Lady and, using somatic cell transfer techniques and semen from a dead bull, had...
I sat there. It sounded complicated. All I did was walk.
"And now, into the studio with a huge pack has just staggered... "said Kim Hill. The interview went on a while. Twice as I talked, Hill signalled over my shoulder through the soundproof glass. We lost eye contact as she tapped on the keyboard, communicating to her producer, lining up the next interview.
In a natural situation, it meant lack of interest, and momentarily I was thrown. But it only required that I get more complicated. I was back in a world where people did two things at once.
What personal changes had I undergone? asked the presenter.
"I think," I said "I'm more primitive."
"More - feral," said Kim.
Fair comment. The hogo of trail sweat was still in my clothes. The long johns had holes in them. The boots were cracked, the sleeveless Chinese down jacket was patched with Sleek, the cap was frayed around the bill.
That was about as close as we got to psychology.
I hauled my pack around to the mayoral reception. Television One was due there to complete its piece, but Te Araroa had a talent for timing its big moments to coincide with political crisis. Prime Minister Shipley had just sacked the Treasurer, Winston Peters, and every news camera was at Parliament.
But it was a good meeting. We all sat around on sofas - Miriam, my daughter Irene, John Bould from Te Araroa Trust, and Liz Bould, Wellington City Council recreation planners Andrew White and Derek Thompson - and I took the mayor through the trail plan.
"You seem to be proposing," said Blumsky finally, "the tramping equivalent of Highway One."
Well, yes. The same thought had occurred to me walking up the stopbanks of the Waikato. The green-grassed banks, just a metre wide at the top, had stretched away along the side of our mightiest river with the beckoning allure of any clear highway, but, when they were finally opened to the public as part of our plan, they'd be for foot traffic only. Call it Byway One.
Or Te Araroa. It was almost real. I'd just got word that Environment Waikato, responding to the submissions we'd made six weeks before, had agreed to support the trail in principle right through its region.
And Blumsky was keen. He'd write to the Millennium Commission offering Wellington's support for the project. He'd get his planners to report.
I gifted the mayor a brand-new Leki stick - Uses for a Leki Stick, #112, Political Patronage - then walked on down to the inter-island ferry terminal, and called it quits there. Sometime, when the South Island trail was in place, I'd board the ferry and do the South Island too.
That night Miriam and I booked into the Bay Plaza Hotel on Oriental Parade. We went down to the restaurant for a meal, we drank red wine, and reeled back to the hotel room.
We hadn't monitored the news broadcasts. TV hadn't come to the reception, and would hardly run the story amidst the political meltdown. It was sheer serendipity therefore, reeling in right then, switching on the TV. The 9.30 News was on, just coming up to its magazine section. There was a tramper - some guy moving fast across bush trails and beaches and momentarily I marvelled at his speed, until I realised it was myself.
Why are you doing this? asked the interviewer.
"To let the trail speak," said the tramper confidently.