Sunday, January 29, 2012
A castle on the hill ... or not
I sometimes take my family on sort of reverse scavenger hunts: I know what I'm looking for, but have no clues as to how to find it.
Today we set out to find a castle. Yes, a castle in Wellington, a place with a decided lack of medieval history. I'd not heard of this particular castle until my friend Mike told me about it. It was just along from the wind turbine on the hills above Brooklyn, he assured me.
I didn't think I'd need maps. How hard could it be, right? I mean a castle is a big thing with sticky-uppy bits.
So we packed a lunch and, like King Arthur's knights in search of the Holy Grail, set off to find our castle on a hill making horsey noises with imaginary coconuts.
The expedition started well enough, with glorious views over the Wellington harbor. From there we set off into the bush. It's astonishing how quickly you can go from the metropolitan to the wilds around Wellington. We hopped a stile from a paved road onto a trail. The tracks up here are a runner's and mountain biker's dream.
Are we in New Zealand or West River, South Dakota?
They are not, however, a gimpy family's dream. Soon we were slip-sliding away on the steep descents, knees were buckling and ankles twisting and we quickly tried to get back to the road. We still made Monty Python clip-clop noises, keeping the adventure alive.
At one point we were looking over miles of the Hawkins Hill nature reserve. The sea of green was pretty, but castleless.
"Are you sure there's a castle up here?" Amy asked, giving voice to the family's growing doubt about my boy scout/wilderness leadership skills, perhaps even my word.
"Of course I am."
"Are you sure Mike wasn't having you on, Dad?" asked Ewan, adding that perhaps we might have heard about something like a castle before - had there actually been one.
"No, he wouldn't do that," I said. "He's my friend."
Suddenly we heard some rustling coming from the copse above us. The good thing about New Zealand is that there are no animals that will eat or attack you. So our first thought was not, "Bear. Run."
Yes, we were curious rather than petrified hearing the creepy wildlife noises all around us while we were in the middle of nowhere.
Turns out it was a drove of goats.
We're not fond of goats. Who is really? They're like ugly sheep. Sheep who actually know what to do with those pointy things on their heads.
Speaking of ugly. I soon heard another commotion, this time coming from Amy and Ewan behind us.
Having already told you what the good thing about the whole wildlife experience in New Zealand is, here's the bad thing. They're called Weta bugs. They are massive and they bite and they reduce a lot of people to blubbering idiots. Ewan actually tripped on this one, which is how he discovered it. The thing was still alive, and you have to keep it that way because the critters are protected.
Still castleless, we moved on quickly.
"Look, they can't hide a castle," I told my ever-more dubious family.
"Let me guess," Amy said, "it's just around the corner, right?"
"It has to be. A castle is big. It's not like we've walked past it and Mike said it wasn't far from the turbine."
Then we were looking over Long Gully. This is a wide-open green space, an unspoiled valley snaking out ahead of us. There was no castle. I had lost my family's commitment by this time. We'd been hiking an hour and a half. It was time to head homewards. Father Arthur had failed.
Then we came around a corner and there was an ostrich strutting it's John Cleese-like best along a fence line. An ostrich on a mountain. It was magic. In a castleless sort of way. I must confess that I began to doubt my friend Mike.
When I posted a picture of the boys and the ostrich on Facebook, the first person to comment was Mike. He said, "Hey, that's up near my place. Did you get to the castle?"
We all laughed. I felt vindicated - as a man whose word can be counted on, if not exactly my skills of navigation.
We will find this castle.