Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking for the horizon

I'll be spending one of the first days of the New Year on the Hauraki Plains, helping Brett Cross, who has developed an interest in the region's contribution to aviation and maritime history, search farm drains and peat swamps for the bones of World War Two corsairs and nineteenth century schooners. If Brett and I can con a geiger counter from a handy nuclear scientist, then we might even test a couple of acres of soil near Ngatea for the dose of radiation that the landing gear of a flying saucer supposedly left in 1969.

I will probably spend some of my day with Brett staring west, at the Hakarimata and Hapuakohe Ranges, which together stand like a wall between the plains and the Waikato River.

Like so many New Zealanders, I was raised amidst hills and valleys and trees, and sometimes feel lost and a little dizzy on a bare plain. In the same way that a disoriented yachtie might search a horizon for a familiar reef or star, I have to check the unease that flat barren country gives me by looking into the distance for hills or, better still, mountains. The Hakarimata-Hapuakohes only rise a few hundred metres, and are covered in regrowth forest and scrub, but set beside the yellowing dairy farms, gravel pits, and peat swamps of the Waikato they seem massive and primordially green.

I took this photo of the Hakarimatas from Gordonton Road, which flows southwest from State Highway One below the sacred maunga of Taupiri, past a dairy farmers' golf course and the ancient marae of Hukanui, into the bleak new northern suburbs of Hamilton. About this time last year, Gordonton Road began to lose traffic to the new four lane expressway Steve Joyce built between Hamilton and Taupiri township. Where Gordonton Road is adorned with bends and dips and rises, Joyce's expressway is determinedly flat and straight.

Without their shoals of commuters and daytrippers, Gordonton and nearby roads sometimes have the melancholy tranquility of estuaries at low tide.

If you're driving through the Waikato this holiday season, you might enjoy avoiding Steve Joyce's four lanes and giving the old roads your custom.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


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