“We’ll name it Bigwheels, and it’s a he,” said Jack, as we set off on our journey. Our rental van had enough character that we thought we’d better give it – him – a name. Character isn’t usually a great sign in a vehicle, unless maybe it’s a Ferrari or a Monster Truck. This van didn’t have ‘character’ in a good way. It had aquired its personality by lugging people the equivalent distance of six times around the earth, and had saggy seats, creatively realigned body panels, and a torpid, sluggish diesel engine. But still, like a slightly stupid but endearing puppy, it gained our appreciation over the weekend.
Bigwheels was taking us to the Otapawa Farmstay (www.otapawafarmstay.co.nz) in the northern Wairarapa. We were looking forward to exploring the Otapawa Farm, meeting some farm animals (for the first time for some of the children with us), and then heading across to Mt Bruce nature reserve on the Sunday. Would we get to see the white kiwi that had just hatched there?
It was never going to be a rapid, sparkling journey in Bigwheels but that was okay. We gently dawdled our way over the Rimutakas and into Featherston, where we bought a big pack of fish and chips for the four – yes, four! – 8-year-olds we had in the back seat. They were very excited to be on their journey, and chatted away for the whole trip.
We got in around 10pm, not too bad a time. Others had driven themselves up, and had sorted out the accommodation for us. We finished off the not-quite-cold Featherston fish and chips – very nice they were too!
Off to bed we all went, with the posse of 8 year olds with a room to themselves. That might not have been so wise in hindsight. They carried on chatting and chatting – all the way until midnight, and then they cracked on again at 5am!
Saturday morning saw a visit from our hosts, Dara and Douglas. They brought us yummy fresh baking and made sure we were all settled in. They gave us a map of tracks we might want to take a look at, around the farm.
In the meantime, the posse, now with Cam in the group too, had headed off to a stream behind the farmstay. Kelvin the Engineer (and Cam’s Dad) had gone with them and built a very impressive bridge across the stream. The kids had found a collapsing silt bank that was swallowing feet and gumboots! Sam ended up having to dig his gumboots out, and everyone got fantastically muddy and dirty. Just what should happen on farm visits.
After studying the map for a bit, we decided to head off to a pleasant sounding waterfall, an hour or two up a farm track. We found cows and calves that stared obstinately until I shooed them away (some of the kids and, er, adults got a bit nervous). The posse rambled high and low over the farmland, going no-where near the boring track. When the track crossed a stream, the posse headed into the gully and dashed up the stream, throwing stones to splash each other and chasing each other up and under the bridge. As the track climbed around a hill, they ran straight up and over. They certainly had a lot of energy!
After an hour or so, we came to the spot where two streams met in a pleasant water hole, with cute wee bubbling waterfall tipping over a rock face into the hole. Just in time for lunch! We munched away on our various lunches, and the posse hurtled around over cliffs and banks. Kelvin and I started talking… and looking at the topo map… and figuring that it would be much more fun to follow this gully back… and then traverse around that spur… and follow that other stream… and come out on a road… and go home that way. A shortcut! Hmm. The posse were all up for it. So off we headed.
The first thing we found was a big coil of number 8 wire, partly unrolled and overgrown into the paddock. “What’s that?”, asked one of the boys. “Ah, that’s a pig trap!”, answered Kelvin, with authority. “Don’t get too close to it!”. The posse thought he was joking, maybe. But they weren’t sure. Then Alex ran up and kicked it – and dived back. Nothing. He stuck a leg in. “You don’t want to lose that leg, do you?”, said Kelvin helpfully. He pulled it out again, fast. But eventually he crawled partially in… but not all the way. Kelvin was very, very convincing!
So we continued on our way, leaping from bank to bank of the small stream we were following. Then we hit our first roadblock – the gully we were meant to be following had been left to regenerate, and was overgrown with bush. We couldn’t go up the gully, we had to go around it. And that meant, going up and around a ridge. And that’s when our plans started to come unstuck. It was about then that the sleet started, too.
To cut a long story short, we followed a different route out – Kelvin having a GPS that gave us an exact bearing, distance and estimated time to the farmstay was a big help! We wandered along through mud, water, hills, more mud, and dead animals. Lots of dead animals. Including one that looks like it met quite a grisly end. We were on the lookout for wild dogs after that! After a while we emerged in, er, Dara and Douglas’s front yard! A slightly sheepish trot down their driveway and we were back home.
Astonishingly, the others, who went the ‘long way’ back down the track, were already back! Who’d have thought it? (Most of my short cuts end up this way!)
Our numbers had swelled, too, since two more cars had arrived. Mary, and Colin and Nathaniel, had both opted to come up on Saturday morning.
After cups of tea and farm baking, we split our forces for the rest of the afternoon.
Most of us went up to Douglas’s parents’ place – they had a collection of usual and not-so-usual farm animals – lambs, chooks, goats, donkeys, tigers, peacocks and elephants*.
*Some of these animals were not there.
Angela, Mary, Yingjie, Kelvin and Simon headed off up the road instead. The earlier walk to the waterfall had pased by a recent slip of mudstone and the eager fossil hunters among us couldn’t resist having a look. Simon knew the limestone outcrops along the ridges above the farm would prove a better fossil treasure trove. Alas, they came back empty handed, but they had a good time nonetheless – it’s the thrill of the chase, not the quarry!
One outcrop caused great excitement, but it turned out to be mudstone and devoid of fossils. The wind up on the ridges was fierce and the kid in Kelvin made him leap from the car to experience the strength of the wind. The rest were content to evaluate the wind strength from the safety of Mary’s car.
Hamish, Dom and Jack elected to stay put, so Ally and I elected to babysit. I certainly enjoyed myself drinking coffee and listening to Jack and Dom chatting away to each other – Dom was 4, Jack was 8, but they seemed to be able to find enough in common to talk about!
As we hung about the farmstay, the wind started getting up, to the point where in Wellington terms a stiff breeze was blowing. Of course, this was not Wellington, so that meant that in Wairarapa terms a gale had whipped up. Trees were groaning and swaying. And then – oh dear – the lights flickered and went out. No power! Just on dinner time, too!
Soon the others filtered back in and we started figuring out how to get something edible out of what we had. Spaghetti Bolognese was on the menu, and I didn’t fancy cold, dry spaghetti with tomatoes and raw mince! Luckily we had a wood burner with a flat top, that was put to good use simmering the spaghetti and the sauce. It was interminable getting things up to temperature, but once they were there the pots simmered away nicely. And we were able to fire up a barbeque, and fry up the onions and mince straight on the cook top. After combining it all back together it was as good as if we’d had the oven to cook with! Yippee. There was just enough for everyone – no more, no less. I’d judged it just a little bit finely… and then, a little bit too finely, when the clean-up crew found a plate of food that had been left lying around, and biffed it away – only to find it was poor Simon’s dinner, who had been off sorting his kids out. Argh! Luckily we’d over-catered on desserts, and Ally had brought yummy banana cake as well – so no-body went hungry.
That evening, Kelvin and Melanie brought out Monopoly – the card game. It seemed very complicated, and my brain was very tired! The posse of boys were MUCH quieter than the night before. They slunk off to bed pretty early, and were completely silent within minutes of going to bed.
During the night, we could hear the wind blowing and the rain lashing. What would it be like in the morning?! Still windy, but relatively pleasant, as it turned out. But Bigwheels the Van, which I’d parked on a patch of grass, was now sitting in a small puddle. And when I tried to back him out of the puddle – I got about as much traction as you’d expect for soggy grass and mud. After a bit of progress with bark and wood under the tyres and suchlike, Mary took pity on us and pulled us onto stable ground with her Subaru, using a tow-rope that Kelvin magicked up from his car.
So off we headed to Mt Bruce, to explore and run about. We got in just in time for the Tuatara feeding, which was a revelation. I can vouch that Tuatara can go very fast when they actually want to! The keeper threw in some slaters (wood lice) and the Tuatara rapidly chased them about and devoured them. She kept up a constant commentary too, and I actually learned things from it. Did you know that no-one actually knows how long Tuatara live for, because the oldest one in captivity is 120 years old and counting? When that one dies we might have some idea of their lifespan.
Wandering about, we found a Kokako that countless tourists had taught how to speak. It was very proud of itself, and came down to chat to us. And another slightly unexpected sight at Mt Bruce is their stand of Redwoods, which tower over their surrounds. Planted as a forestry experiment in the 1930’s, they are a little slice of California right in the middle of native NZ bush.
As luck would have it we’d also arrived at just the right time to see Manukura, the famous white kiwi. Once a week they get her out to meet the tourists. She is not an albino; it seems that a few white kiwi are born to the Brown Kiwi at Little Barrier Island, and 30 or so Little Barrier Island kiwi were relocated to Mt Bruce a year or two ago. Very special!
But soon it was time to head home. Looking at the storm clouds over the Tararuas and battling through the hail on the Rumutakas made us realise we’d got the best of the weather on our side of the mountains!
This was one of those weekends that seemed much longer than just two days. We crammed so many different activities into it! Thanks to Dara and Douglas at Otapawa Farmstay for your great hospitality; and now you know where to stay if you want a few days of peace and quiet on the Northern Wairarapa. Just don’t pick the same weekend that 20 adults and kids from the WTMC invade the place!