Apart from losing three of the drivers in the long-drop dunny located in them thar hills at the back and beyond of Waitomo, everything was just fine.
These intrepid "four-wheel-drivers", participants in the Te Awamutu Rotary's annual 4WD Safari, had eschewed our portaloo, towed out at great expense. Instead, they opted for the farmer's corrugated iron alternative. We saw three of them enter, but no-one saw them exit.
This old-fashioned convenience, high up in the bush, was tucked away in the native trees beside the woolshed that we were using as a lunchtime stop; we had warned people about the many tomos (limestone holes and caves) in the area.
Early Saturday morning, 84 impatient 4WDs and their crews were straining at the leash, snorting, coughing and farting diesel exhaust fumes into the air at the Pirongia Domain.
John Keats would have described the conditions as, "Seasons of mists and fruitful mellowness".
With the morning's low cloud being slowly burnt off by the early sun, David Samuel, ringmaster extraordinaire of this safari, gave last-minute instructions.
And they were off.
In the background I thought I could hear the Blues Brothers singing that song Rawhide: "Rollin, rollin, rollin, keep them doggies rolling, move 'em up, move 'em up, move 'em up; hit 'em up, hit 'em up, hit 'em up in rain, wind and weather".
The ghost stock whips lashed the skies as tail-end Charley disappeared into the bush.
For the past 10 years or so, we local Rotarians have led these strange thrillseekers through the roughest terrains possible in the Waikato and King Country. Holes full of glutinous mud are a speciality, where they can test out their towing skills. It's a great fundraiser; a win, win, win. The participants win; for a small fee they come back time and again from every corner of the country.
The Pirongia Play Centre women (didn't notice any men on deck) provided 411 meals to the 209 participants; a great fundraiser for them; the local eateries and service stations also benefited.
Te Awamutu Rotary also wins by raising a handsome sum for redistribution to local worthy causes. It's what Rotary is all about, with pretty well all 35 members playing a role, be it delivering lunches to far outposts, stuffing participants' information envelopes or being strategically placed to guide the snarling, mud-covered participants at critical intersections.
The 4WDs literally live on the edge.
A couple of years ago, I foolishly accepted the offer of a ride in one of these 4WD monsters. "It'll just be a short run to the west coast beach to deliver some lunches," the driver insured gullible me.
I should have listened to that little voice in the back of my head and bailed out at that moment, but my bravado prevailed. We took our place in the queue and ploughed into the "one in 10" black sand dunes climbing to its rugged peak. I knew I'd made a serious mistake.
For about an hour I kept my eyes shut and held on to anything that felt as if it was fixed as we traversed the ridges. I can only describe this unpleasant sensation as akin to landing at Wellington airport in a roaring northwester in one of those small planes that always give me the sensation of suffering from a "near-to-death syndrome".
But it didn't stop; we didn't land, it just went on and on.
When we eventually arrived at the lunch beach destination, I heard all my fellow safarians exclaiming, "Man wasn't that awesome, great and mighty?"
Is there something wrong with me? All I wanted to do was throw up. I thought I might need some counselling.
Oh, by the way, we finally located those three missing peers, looking dazed and muttering about trolls, troglodytes and taniwha; they'll never be the same again!
- Waikato Times