Day 4: Windows Walk

by Mary Beth

The family started off the morning with a hike in the nearby Karangahake Gorge – an exploration of an abandoned gold mine. It was called the Windows Walk, but they didn’t learn why until the second half of the hike.

The family spent a lot of time on the first quarter mile of the track, because after they had gone about a quarter of a mile, Annie realized she had to go to the bathroom, and so she and her daddy trekked back, then realized that she didn’t have to go after all. And then when she got back to Mommy she realized that she did have to go after all. So they all got to know the first bit of the hike very well. It had a really cool swing bridge on it.

Determined to prolong this part of the hike as long as possible, Cora dropped her pacifier into an unreachable area underneath a staircase, and the girls happily ran back and forth on the bridge, Annie singing “London Bridge is Falling Down”, while Daddy tried to reel it in with tree branches and then with a long rusted metal thing that he found by the side of the path.

“TEE-TOE,” said Cora as she climbed the steps to the bridge. “TEE-TOE, TEE-TOE.”

“Are you tiptoeing up the stairs?” her mommy asked. Cora laughed and said “tee-toe” a few more times.

After the bridge was a skeletal building with no roof; they could see a tree growing out of the center of the house. Although her spirits were high, Annie’s heart misgave her. What if there were pirates in there? Pirates were always to be found around gold – she knew that well from books. Her mommy reassured her that she would be fine. But she knew better than to trust her mommy, who was always assuring her that she would be fine.

But she survived; it turned out to be a two-room house, and each room had a door out, so she walked out unscathed and unafraid. Feeling braver, Annie ran onwards, up some gravel steps, up higher onto the mountain. On one side of them was a deep gorge, and across from that Annie could see a mountain made of trees. She picked up a leaf on the path and showed it to her family. “Whoever feels afraid, they can just take this leaf,” she announced.

“What will happen then?” Mommy asked.

“It will make them not feel afraid anymore,” she explained.

Just beside the path there were more ruined buildings, with grass growing in them. Annie and Mommy had to explore. “This feels like India!” Annie said.

They also found a deep hole in the ground, like a sinkhole; Annie and Mommy climbed down to the bottom of it and imagined it was a house. When they climbed out they read a sign board by the side of the path, which said the giant sinkholes were actually giant ovens.

Further up the path, they came to some railroad tracks, running alongside the mountain. They followed the tracks in one direction, and they came to the edge of the mountain, and looked down down into the gorge. They found an abandoned cart that ran along the tracks, usually full of gold; Annie and Cora got into the cart and pretended to be pieces of gold.

Then they followed the tracks in the other direction – and came to a tunnel! It was deep and dark, and black like a bear cave, or like the lair of some monstrous animal. Annie knew better than to go into a tunnel like that. It was only after a lot of coaxing, cajoling and downplaying that she finally agreed to go inside.

“I do not like it here,” she said immediately, peering around at the pitch-black tunnel as they followed the railroad tracks. On both sides of her there was rock, and there was a rock ceiling not far above her daddy’s head. They would have been in total darkness if Mommy and Daddy hadn’t brought lights to see by. “I’m scared. I want to get out of here.”

Mommy and Daddy started talking to her about what a brave girl she was.

“I wish my friends from school were here!” she interrupted.

Unfortunately by this time, Annie had ripped up the leaf which would make you not feel afraid, in order to give everyone a piece. And somehow all the pieces had been lost. So she didn’t even have the leaf to make her feel brave.

Luckily, every time the tunnel seemed to be going on and on forever, they would see a light at the end or off to one side, and when they got to it, it would be a window looking out of the mines over the edge of the mountain into the gorge far below. They would get a breath of fresh air before plunging back into the darkness again.

And then they saw a handwritten message, above a tunnel leading deeper into the mountain, a tunnel that didn’t seem to end. It said: HE IS STILL IN THERE.

Eventually the tunnels ended, and their trail meandered down the mountain, crossed the river, and took them back to the parking lot. Cora found the experience so exhausting that she fell asleep in Mommy’s arms.

That afternoon, Mommy and Annie went on an Expedition to find a tram ride. It was off the beaten track and not very well marked, but they followed a bike path, through an underground tunnel under the road, past a bamboo grove (Annie took one bamboo leaf, just in case she ran across a panda who was hungry), across another bridge – and then they saw the tram, chugging by in the distance. They raced up a hill to the station and arrived out of breath.

Inside, a man was sitting in a chair, and next to him was a cat, curled up in a ball with her eyes closed, looking content.

“Do you like cats?” the man asked Annie. “You can come pet her if you like. She’s a nice cat. She lives here.”

“I have two cats,” said Annie very seriously. “One is black and white and the other is black and white too. They are Walter and Zoe and they are kind of the same but they are actually different because Walter has a pink nose that is kind of pink and kind of red and Zoe doesn’t have a pink nose and we wrote a song about them and Daddy sings about how they don’t like it if you – if you pet them the wrong way.” She laughed.

The man laughed too. “She’s a chatty one, huh?” he said to Mommy, and then agreed with Annie that cats didn’t like to be pet the wrong way. “This one lives here,” he said again. “You can pet her if you want. It’s okay, she’s very gentle.”

Annie had a deep-set mistrust of anything nonhuman that moved, so she approached with caution, but reached out a tentative hand and gently laid it for a second or two on the cat’s back. The cat did not seem to notice.

“Do you go to kindy?” the man asked Annie.

Annie, who had already stepped back from the cat, nodded.

“How many days per week do you go?” he asked.

Annie hesitated, so Mommy supplied the answer.

“Five days! That’s better than three days, isn’t it?”

Annie nodded. “And I have five friends, Sarina and Willa and Riley and Nieve and Ashley. Except Willa is four years old so she is at four year old kindy now.”

“And how old are you?” he asked. “Four?”

“I am three and a half,” she said. “And Sarina is three and a half too.” Annie probably would have gone on to tell him about the rainbow unicorn cake she was requesting for her birthday party but their tram came up to the station, so Mommy bought tickets and they got onto the tram. Annie and Mommy were in one cart, and there was a mommy with a little girl and a baby in the cart behind them.

“I have a baby, too,” Annie told them. “But she is asleep right now. She is with Daddy.”

The other little girl just stared at Annie and said nothing.

The tram ride lasted around fifteen minutes and wound through the ruins of a gold-extracting operation. It chugged along around five miles per hour.

“This is very fast,” said Annie. “You cannot get out of this tram right now.”

“No, you can’t,” Mommy agreed. “You would get hurt.”

“You have to wait until it stops before you get out,” Annie went on. Then she stopped talking and refused to talk to anyone else.

The whole family visited their last stop of the day, Victoria Battery, which was part of the gold-extracting operation too. It was an eerie series of archways, all connected and positioned at angles to each other to make hexagons, like a colossal beehive. On top of some of them were giant upside-down cones, rusted and eaten away – all that remained of 50-foot-tall metal barrels filled with a cyanide mixture that helped to extract the gold. The family wandered through the battery, and then played hide-and-seek amongst the arches.

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