Ohai is a coal mining town...or was. There is a Solid Energy office here with a "No Blasting Today" sign out front and a couple of great open cast holes within sight of the main drag.
David McKitterick, who runs the Taylor's Lodge backpackers with his wife Monica, says they're about to fill the holes with water to make lakes. He also says that once upon a time 1200 miners worked here.
Down the road near Nightcaps there is a new hole being prepared as the dead duck state coal company tries to get a last buck out of the good quality local coal. The mine is right by the magnificently named Tinkerton.
Above it sits the local graveyard. It has plenty of dead babies and miners, but also lots of people who reached 80 plus years. People lived long lives down here. Whiona's grandparents, from similar stock, reached well into their 90s.
We walked around Ohai on our day off. It was late afternoon, overcast and a bit breezy. That funny combination of summer heat and damp cool wind. The houses range from 1900s cottages through to 1950s government-department-issue houses. Most have the same air of paint-peeling neglect.
We came across an old chap, who looked a healthy 80, busy in an almost empty section. He was wearing blue overalls and his long white beard rested on his belly. He answered our question about the red brick complex with long grass across the road. Yes it was the school, it closed about 10 years ago - now it's privately owned.
We asked what he was doing standing in the empty section with a small axe in his hand. He had just single-handedly demolished the house that stood there. He lived next door and the house had been "full of druggies". When they moved out kids had tried to burn it down.
So he bought it, ("I'm not telling you how much I paid for it! ) scrapped it and sold the timber to a bloke who was fixing a big old house in Christchurch. He planned to run a few sheep on it and plant an orchard.
When we asked him if he was from here he said 15 years doesn't make him a local. Not even 50 years would.
He declined our request for a photo. Bugger.
Ambling on we met another "local" sitting on a fence with a couple of tins of DB. He had sheared sheep round the Manawatu and everywhere else it seemed. He knew the country by sheep stations not cities. He had fond memories of the Café De Paris in Palmy.
In David and Monica's lounge there is a Lions Club book of the farms of Southland. A roadmap book with nothing marked in it but farm boundaries. Tomorrow we walk across Mt Linton Station then disappear into a blank on the map - the Takitimus - or the Takis (pronounced Tackies) as the locals call them.
A brief word about Taylor's Lodge backpackers: David and Monica almost seem to run it as a favour to Te Araroa. They earn a crust by dealing in wool, deer velvet, dags and possum fur.
In a bit of a "coals to Newcastle" scenario they also sell Kai (Kaitangata) coal to Ohai.
The old Ohai pub is also part of their empire. It stopped being a going concern when the government left town.
A couple of years back some fella from Te Araroa came through and asked them if they could offer walkers a rest spot.
I asked David of it was THE Geoff Chapple.
"That sounds about right".
So walkers now have a place to stay in Ohai. There is almost nothing else there for us...no store. No fish and chips. No pub. But if you're lucky David might loan you the ute for a quick trip into Nightcaps for a resupply and a bottle of cider.
The day's rest left us well fed, clean and resupplied with the box of food Whiona had sent down a couple of weeks before we left home.
David took us the 10 ks back to the track for the start of day 10.
Thanks for the hospitality guys.