Dave dropped us off at the trail head the next morning feeling a shade fuzzy. Lizzie made short work of the gentle hill sloping upwards past gloriously coloured eucalyptus trees, while Alan and I huffed, puffed, sweated and began to regret those beers from the previous evening. Our general state wasn’t bad enough for the classification of “hangover”, but we were certainly not on top form that’s for sure. The track wasn’t necessarily jolting us out of our Speight’s induced haze either – despite darting in and out of fabulous indigenous forest, we were also back in farmland and on linking roads. This was really becoming a means to an end – the end of course being well and truly in spitting distance. For me, the tedium is a lot easier to bear with the finish line so close – I could cope with these little stretches of tarmac and cow dung underfoot knowing that they were among our last. To say that I was relishing them would be a stretch. Happily endure would be more accurate. I’m terribly prone to sentimentality you see and with a mere 5 days remaining of the trail, I was feeling lumps in my throat imagining it coming to an end. I wanted to stretch out each day, even if they did take us through smelly old cowpat fields.
The plan for the night was to camp at the top of Merivale Road, after which point we would enter the Longwood Track, our last forest track before Bluff. Walking up Merivale Road we had our eyes peeled for “Merry Creek”, our last water source for a good while. But, impatient as we are, we saw a house first and Lizzie offered to call in and ask them to fill us up. To be honest, I’m still incredibly Irish about this type of thing – that is, a little shy and unforthcoming. Couple this with our pal Sharon’s story about being yelled at by a householder just outside Auckland, and I would generally cut off my water supply to spite my thirst. We didn’t need to worry in this instance as Jessie, the girl living in the house, was eager to demonstrate the usual Kiwi hospitality that had become par for the course. Doubting the suitability of our anticipated campsite, Jessie invited us to camp in the garden, an offer we accepted after a brief confab (“It’s only another 5Ks..” “But think of all the WATER!”, and so on and so forth..).
After being shown to a stunning lawn (who knew grass could be so beautiful) Jessie offered us the use of her guest bathroom to shower, at which point I let us all down, cementing the reputation of smelly hikers everywhere, well at least here in this quiet corner of Merivale Road. Clearly having been institutionalised by the trail I told Jessie “Oh we’re ok, we had a shower this morning”, not taking into account either the 30 kilometres we’d walked on a hot day, or the glares from Alan and Lizzie. Looking properly disgusted by my lack of care for personal hygiene, the lovely Jessie left us to set up camp and make acquaintance with Blue, the resident dog who we had been warned “Would play fetch until she dropped”. Challenge accepted. Being more accustomed to the ways of cats I didn’t really know the etiquette of kicking off a game of fetch, so just decided to suggest to Blue: ” Maybe if you have a stick or a ball or something?”. Immediately Blue was off in a flash of fur, returning moments later after rummaging in the nearby garage with a 2X4 plank of wood. Trying to reason with Blue wasn’t working however and she demanded that Alan at least try to throw the “stick” for her. After a couple of throws Alan became worried that he was gouging holes in the beautiful lawn. Blue did not have such concerns and whined and whimpered when we tried to replace her beloved plank for something more fetch appropriate. Feeling guilty about denying her the game of oversized fetch we instead invited her in for a visit in the tent – which, let’s face it, was more for the sake of us being able to have a dog in the tent. After a visit and a doggy cuddle, it was time for bed and we, alas, had to evict Blue. We didn’t want our sleeping bags to stink more than they did, but also we were more concerned about what Jessie would think of us kidnapping her dog for a sleepover – she already looked dubious about our mental health after the shower rejection incident.