Yesterday I experienced a fortuitous combination of perfect weather, feeling boundless energy and no urgent demands on my time so I went for my longest walk yet, out beyond the back of the farm. I left just after midday to give myself plenty of time for exploring.
I walked up the valley and into the pines where I found the kiwi burrow months ago. There on the track were lots of holes swirled into the pine needles where a kiwi had probed his long beak recently. But I saw very few birds as I carried on further and higher than I had been before, even as the pines gave way to healthy native bush.
Eventually, at the top of a very steep muddy climb, I emerged onto an open hillside above a pocket of paddocks tucked inside an endless vista of trees. The view stretched for miles of hills and mountains wrinkling to the west. In the distance was a trig station on Mt Motatau and the little settlement at Pipiwai so I oriented myself on the map and decided to try to find the hitherto elusive track that would connect me back to my home valley to the east. (I have written on other occasions about my search for this track).
It was almost three by then, and the sun was casting long shadows in the kind of golden light I associate with long summer evenings. I didn't have much margin of error before dark and walked as fast as I could along a farm track winding south, and then steeply up and east which was hopeful but hard work. The track was well formed and well used and following it along the ridgeline, stunned by the immense views west and the beautiful bush edge east, I came across a picnic table. This was reassuring as my neighbours had mentioned it when describing the track they had started from the highest hill at the head of our valley. I was on the right track, and a beautiful one, but I had no idea how long it would take and if I could make it in the 2 hours before dark. As soon as I entered the bush I tackled another insanely steep climb so when the path eventually forked in a choice between flat to the east or continuing up to the south I chose flat without hesitation.
The flat track soon narrowed and dipped into a long steep downhill heading north and I started to fear having to backtrack if, as they so often do, it faded out into a dead end created for possum trapping rather than thoroughfare. Imagining spending a cold night in the bush impeded my enjoyment of the warm afternoon there, but at each of my two moments of real doubt about the track a bird appeared, first a fantail and then a woodpigeon, my only close encounters with birds that day so I took them as guides and carried on... Another steep climb, then suddenly, without warning I came out onto an open hill top and looked down the valley to my house in the distance. From that height I could see clearly the farm's tracks and streams I ramble along and beyond, further to the east than ever before. I cheered with relief at not being lost.
It was the hill I've avoided climbing because it is so steep. Not even cattle bother scrambling up there so I followed pig tracks through bracken and long grass, creeping down a near vertical slope a long way before the hill gentled out a little and then I was back on the long familiar track that would take me home. I was footsore and weary when I arrived to bring in the washing (already damp again from the evening's dew), fire wood and exciting post (a Donna Leon book won in a local competition!). I came inside and collapsed in front of the window to watch the sun set over the hills I had just descended from... what a satisfying day.