I’m in Te Aroha. A little rural down in the shadow of a big mountain range. Or at least it looks big to me.
I decide to go for a walk along the Waiorongomai Valley. Don’t ask me to say it. It’s been 10 days in New Zealand and the names keep growing in difficulty. It’s a beautiful walk up a former gold mine. It’s the golden hour. Photographer’s dream. Just before sunset. I’m just out for a quick walk to take some pictures and check out the scene.
It’s getting darker by the minute so I head back down to the car park. I walk by four horses grazing on the hill with a wire fence right next to the foot path. I crouch down low and stop to take some shots of them with a backdrop of cow fields, farms, and orange, pinkish hues hitting the clouds. I sit there for two minutes looking through my lens. I don’t think they mind me. One of the two horses I am observing suddenly forgets about the delicious grass in front of her and walks directly toward me, as if in a trance. She ignores me and is apparently only interested in the patch of grass sitting in front of me. I put my hand out to her head and she shoves it down her left nostril, breathing hot air on my hand. That’s all she has time for. She lets me pet her head while she vehemently chews on her grass.
Then she turns around and saunters off into the sunset.
The animals are more friendly than the humans in this town. I went to the Information center, as I always do when I come to a new town, and asked if there is any free camping in the area. Now, sometimes this question is greeted with a big smile and kind words of advice. In other towns you are basically told to Fuck Off. The nice ones are always old ladies who have lived in the town their whole lives and now they are retired so they volunteer a few days a week to keep busy and talk to folks. For example, I went to the Hamilton Gardens and asked for a map.
Have you ever been here before? No? OK, let me get you oriented.”
This was proceeded by a five minute monologue on every detail to be seen at the Hamilton Gardens. I love these ladies. They made my days bright and optimistic. Then there are ladies who don’t like people like me. I ask about free camping and they look at me like I have Leprocy. I ask about the Thermal Pools, which I saw a sign for, and she points in that direction. No explanation of what it is like, no pointing it out on the map. Just a big fat get-the-fuck-out-it’s-over-there.
Animals would never treat someone like that.