Category Archives: Te Araroa

My Year of the Nomad

When I turned 35 in November last year, I celebrated with a few close friends at a Turkish restaurant on Melbourne’s Sydney Road. It was the first year I didn’t receive a single card or customary gift (other than a free dinner), and I found that incredibly satisfying. There was nothing anyone could have given me that I truly wanted, and I hate the idea of gift giving for the sake of it.

I did however give myself a gift. Something that weighs nothing, takes up no space, and will last in my memories forever. The gift is a year off, starting with the four months it took me to hike the Te Araroa, plus another six months to visit as many people in the world who are special to me. I’ll never be able to throw a party for all the people I care about in one place, so this year, I’m bringing the party to them!

After completing the trail I returned to Australia for a 2,000km road trip from Sydney to Melbourne and back, via Sale, Canberra and Kiama. I borrowed my mum’s car and caught up with friends I hadn’t seen in years, and it seems at the age of 35, a lot of my friends are seeing the world through a different lens. Many of them have kids, husbands, homes, mortgages and well established careers, and the ones that don’t seem to fall into two categories. The ones that wish they had, and those who are grateful to have nothing in exchange for their freedom. I fall into the second category of course.

But hold on a second, how can she afford this you ask? Well if you work for 15 years after university, have no kids, no house and no pets, you’ll find that even on a mid-range salary with some breaks in between, you could probably afford it too. It helps that my parents love to stash money in my pockets and bank account when I’m home, but even without their support, my years of working contracts in the Middle East have afforded me this freedom. For now anyway. I’ll need the next 35 years to start saving for retirement.

The next stage of my trip is North America then Europe, before returning to Vancouver to settle down and work. Sure I’m a little nervous about arriving back in one of the world’s most expensive cities flat broke, but when I lived here in 2015 and earned no more than 12k the entire year, I still managed to get by and have fun. The thousands of miles I’ve hiked over the past five years have taught me that less is truly more, and when I look back at 2015, it was one of my favourite years. I sold shoes part time for minimum wage, went on free outdoor trips with work, and appreciated the small things like buying a cup of coffee once a week or treating myself to a restaurant. I didn’t have a car, I lived in a share house, and I spent all of my free time outdoors. Life was good!

If you’re wondering if I’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness, you’re not the only one. Thankfully the answer is no, but I plan on living this year as if I have been, because I’d much rather do this trip while I’m healthy, then wait until I’m not.

For regular updates on my travels, you can follow me on Instagram @serial_nomad.

Happy Nomading! 🙂

A look back at the TA

I never thought I’d say this… but I genuinely miss the Te Araroa. Perhaps not the trail itself, but the experience, the people, and the activity.

I’ve spent the last 3 weeks catching up with family and friends, cleaning out my sister’s shed and slowly repairing my body. I was inspired to make a video after Tom cut together his daily panoramas… so here it is – a look back at the Te Araroa 2017/18. Enjoy!

Gear & Clothing review for the Te Araroa

After one major pack shakedown at the 1,000 km mark, I ended the trail with a slightly lighter pack than what I started with (approx 8.5 kg/18.7 lb base weight – not including food or water).

I’ve detailed below what I kept and discarded, and what I thought about each piece of gear during the 3,000 km journey from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

Equipment Review/Notes Photo
Backpack – ULA – Catalyst 75L After over 4,000 km on the PCT this pack still held together for this trip. I could have done with a much smaller pack for the TA, and would probably carry a 60L next time. The most popular packs I saw on the trail were Osprey’s varying between 48-60L.  
Backpack cover – ULA I still believe in traditional pack covers and used this a lot in the South Island. Though it almost got blown off a number of times in strong winds, I would still recommend carrying a waterproof cover or at the very least having a fully waterproof pack liner.  
Tent – MSR Hubba NX Though this tent is bomb proof in wind, it didn’t stand up to it’s name in regards to water repellency. Even though I used the ground sheet in wet weather, I found that water would still seep through the bottom of my tent. One of the poles also came unscrewed frequently and needed to be rejoined.  
Ground sheet – MSR Hubba Footprint As per above, I wouldn’t trust this groundsheet to keep my tent dry, though it works well on rough surfaces.  See above
Sleeping bag – Western Mountaineering Ultralight -7℃ Great bag but way too hot for the North Island. I used it mainly unzipped as a blanket for the majority of the trip and can count the times on one hand I had to be fully zipped up to my chin. A -3℃ bag would be perfect for me for this trip.  
Sleeping pad – Therm-a-Rest Neoair Love this sleeping pad, though I did miss the convenience of my Therm-a-Rest Z Lite. It took a while for me to get used to the narrowness of this pad, but I’d still recommend it.  
Stove – Jetboil I got rid of my stove after the 1,000 km mark and have to say I didn’t miss it at all. I find the Jetboil incredibly fast, but a little too heavy for a thru-hike. I’ll keep it for my kayaking trips where weight isn’t such an issue. Oh and cold soaked food isn’t as bad as I thought!  
Cup and bowl – 1kg peanut butter jar Once I switched to cold food my peanut butter jar was used to cold soak my food and eat and drink from. The lid seal isn’t 100% watertight, but it’s pretty good. It’s also super easy to clean – fill with a little water, shake for 10 seconds, empty and repeat 2-3 times!  
Spork – Titanium Once I switched to my peanut butter jar I would have liked a slightly longer spork – preferably foldable or adjustable.  

Sponge – 1/3 kitchen sponge I got rid of my sponge after km 1,000 along with my stove as my peanut butter jar was essentially self-cleaning!  See above under ‘Stove’
Fuel I obviously didn’t need this once I got rid of my stove but they’re readily available in all towns and even in some of the very small supermarkets. I only used half a canister by the time I reached Auckland. Fuel for alcohol stoves is sold in 1L bottles, which is never convenient for a thru-hiker.  
Lighter – mini BIC lighter Predominantly used for lighting fires in the huts in the South Island once I got rid of my stove.  
Pocket knife – Mini Swiss Army multi tool This tiny multi tool has a knife, scissor, file, tweezer and toothpick. What more could you want?  
Water bottles – 1L BPA free wide mouth water bottle I needed a wide mouth water bottle when I was using my steripen to purify water. I liked having a water bottle in the side pocket of my pack and my 2L hydration bag inside my pack. I only ever carried a maximum of 3L of water at a time, and on average would only carry 1.5-2L.  
Water bladder – 2L MSR Dromelite with drinking hose I’m a big fan of having a water bladder and hose for easy access to my water. I find people with a hydration system drink small sips more frequently, while those with water bottles drink larger amounts less frequently. I end up carrying more water because it’s harder to refill, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.  
Mouth guard for drinking hose I highly recommend this to keep your mouthpiece clean when you throw your pack on the ground.  See above (blue cap)
Water filter – Platypus 1L Metabottle I had been using a secondhand SteriPEN Freedom (which I loved), but I think the lamp needed replacing and it finally died on me. In Twizel I picked up the Platypus Metabottle, which is kind of like using a Sawyer Squeeze except it’s all-in-one. Though it held 1L I could only squeeze about 750 ml out of it and I got tired of the process, but it was a decent $100 alternative to using Aquatabs.  

Water filter (backup) – Aquatabs I was glad to have these when my SteriPEN died, but I wouldn’t want to use these all the time because they take 30 minutes to purify.  
Hiking Poles – various brands My secondhand Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Poles with metal tips both broke in the North Island, so I replaced them with one ultra heavy pole I found at a fishing store in Kerikeri and the other with a cheap Kathmandu pole in Auckland. The heavy pole lasted the rest of the trail, while the Kathmandu pole completely broke by Wanaka. While you don’t need poles for all the road walking I highly recommend them for the steep and slippery terrain on the rest of the tracks.  
Umbrella – Gossamer Gear Liteflex I used my umbrella in the scorching sun on the North Island and for rain during the road sections on the South Island. I love this umbrella, but it doesn’t perform well in wind so I couldn’t use it on 90-mile Beach, and it’s hard to use on any of the tracks as they’re generally overgrown or have low-hanging foliage. Even though I carried it most of the way in my bag I’d probably still pack it next time.  
Bug head net – Outdoor Research Deluxe Spring Ring Headnet The most use I got out of my head net was to store cans of beer in so we could float them in the river to keep them cool during the Whanganui River section. I did use it twice while stealth camping without my tent, but despite all the sand flies in the South Island, I preferred to cover most of my face with my bandanna instead.  
Dry sacks (2) – Sea to Summit 8L & Outdoor Research 15L (clothes and sleeping bag) I was so thankful to have my sleeping bag and dry clothes stored safely in dry sacks. I fell in rivers twice and had my hydration pack leak all through my bag, so these bags saved me!  
Food bag – Loksak (Odourless sack) 32 x 50cm Even though the seal on this bag broke after 2 weeks, I still liked the size of this bag and the way it stood upright against my back inside my pack. In the huts in the South Island you need to hang your food to protect it from mice (trust me, I made that mistake twice!) To hang my food I just put this bag inside a regular plastic shopping bag.  
Headlamp – Black Diamond Ion One of the best headlamps I’ve ever used because it’s so light and waterproof. Even though I’d love a rechargeable headlamp, I only went through 2 sets of batteries and didn’t have to stress about recharging it in town. I highly recommend a headlamp with a red light for the huts, which this headlamp has.  
Mini torch I like having a mini torch or turtle light hanging from the roof of my tent so I don’t always have to use my headlamp. I couldn’t find a turtle light in NZ so I used a cheap mini torch in stead. I didn’t replace the batteries when they ran out (and just did without), but would absolutely use a turtle light next time as they seem to last forever.  
Clothing Review/Notes Photo
Shoes – various I may need to write an entire post on footwear. The Vasque Mantra’s I started with killed my feet on the road walks (though I’ve loved them on shorter trails), and after switching to a cheap pair of no-brand runners, I got a pair of New Balance WT620LB2 . The New Balance worked better on roads and were nice and wide in the toe box, but their tread was not very aggressive on the steep, slippery descents. I ended up with a pair of Inov-8 Roclite 305’s, which lasted for most of the South Island. Finding the balance between comfort on roads and good tread was challenging in the North Island. In the South Island, your feet are constantly wet so shoes that dry fast are key – though boots would protect your feet better from the sharp rocks and from getting crushed between rocks during the multiple bouldering sections. Saucony trail runners seemed to be the most popular.  
Socks – Darn Tough & Smartwool I only went through 2 pairs of Smartwool socks and a cheap pair of running socks I bought at the Warehouse. The Smartwool Women’s PhdD Run Ultra Lite Low Cut Socks were the best I’ve ever worn because they lasted so long and never smelled very bad. I only used my Darn Tough socks to sleep in so they are still in great condition.  
Gaiters – Dirty Girls Love these gaiters. My hiking companions were always getting stones in their shoes while I was not. The only time I did was when walking through rivers. The only hassle is having to superglue a little piece of Velcro to each pair of my new shoes but this was easy to buy in any of the cheap $ stores in most towns.  

Knee braces – Mueller Knee Stabilizers I really liked the added stability of wearing these knee braces, though by the end of the trail they had stretched so much I stopped wearing them. (I wore them during the PCT too). The TA destroyed my knees so I highly recommend anything to protect them from the crazy steep descents if your knees cry out for mercy like mine!  
Pants – Kathmandu zip offs I got rid of these after 1,000 km because the shorts were too tight around my thighs (and I had another pair of shorts to sleep in), and I really didn’t need the long pants. When it does get cold in the South Island you’re walking through so many rivers your legs will be wet and cold anyway and shorts dry a lot quicker. For the last 500 km I bought a pair of old knee-high socks and cut off the feet to make calf warmers!  
Shorts – Kathmandu running shorts Perfect hiking shorts because they dried fast, were loose to allow airflow and range of movement, and I liked the fact they were black because of all the grime. A pocket would have been nice, but it’s not a must. Any pair of light running shorts are perfect to hike in.  
Sleep singlet – Muk Muk tank top I liked having this to sleep in and wear around town.  
Short sleeve t-shirt – Icebreaker GT 200 Women’s Base Layer I got rid of this t-shirt after 1,000 km and decided to hike in my long sleeve top below. I recommend a long sleeve top for sun protection in the North Island and warmth in  the south.  
Long sleeve top – REI Lightweight crew shirt This was intended to be a sleep top but because I needed sun protection and it was too hot to sleep in, it became my hiking top. Unfortunately the top is synthetic so I absolutely stank, BUT, it dried so fast when it got wet. A thin merino wool top (not 100% merino though), would be the perfect option.  
Arm warmers – Homemade sleeves from a quick dry towel I ditched these when I changed to my long sleeve top. If they didn’t slide down my arms they would have been a good option to wear with my t-shirt to protect me from the sun.  
Underpants (2) – Patagonia Active Briefs x 2 I love these underpants! They dry fast, don’t smell too bad, and are so comfortable because they are basically seamless. I probably could have survived with one pair, but I was glad to have two when I had a zero day in town.  
Bandanna (2) My blue bandanna performs a few functions:

  1. Holds my hair out of my eyes if not wearing my hat
  2. Holds my hat on my head in the wind and protects my ears from the sun
  3. Keeps my ears and neck warm when it’s cold

I think a wide, thin bandanna like this works best.

My second yellow bandanna is my pee rag.

Sports bra – Patagonia Barely Bra Best sports bra I’ve ever had. Like Patagonia’s underwear, it’s basically seamless, so it doesn’t chafe and is all-round super comfortable.  
Sunglasses – Cancer Council Australia Sunglasses are a must in my opinion. This pair wraps around my head nicely and are super lightweight. They are also approved by the Australian Cancer Council so I felt confident the lenses were keeping my eyes safe.  
Sunglasses bag I got rid of the bag because I always carried my sunglasses on my hat or head if I wasn’t actually wearing them and could clean them on my hiking top.  See above
Cap – Picky Bars trucker hat I did end up wearing a wider brimmed hat for about 200 km on the North Island, but I soon went back to wearing this cap as it breathed well and was more comfortable.  
Rain jacket – MEC I loved having a more robust rain jacket on this hike. I often wore this on the South Island during the cold mornings even if it wasn’t raining.  
Rain pants – Saloman I ended up making a rain skirt out of a garbage bag to go over my hiking shorts, BUT, I loved having these pants to quickly protect me from sand flies on the South Island, and to wear over my shorts or sleep pants when it was cold.  
Beanie – Icebreaker I bought this in Wellington after sending my puffy jacket with a hood home. I wore this a lot in the South Island at night, and sometimes even while hiking on cold mornings.  
Puffy jacket – Arc’teryx Women’s Ceva Hoody I ended up borrowing a lighter down jacket and sending this one home after 1,000 km. I was happy to have a warm jacket on the South Island for the mornings and evenings even though I never hiked in it.  
Wind breaker – Marmot Original Windshirt DriClime® I had so many tops I could have easily done without this, but because it was so light I chose to carry it anyway. I wore it over my down jacket to cut wind when I didn’t want to wear my rain jacket or when my rain jacket was wet.  
Handkerchief I ditched this after 1,000 km though I had used it a few times.  
Gloves – Kathmandu wind gloves I loved these gloves on the South Island and even ended up buying another wool pair after it snowed just north of Wanaka. I also bought a pair of washing up gloves to keep them both dry in the rain, though I never ended up wearing the wool or rubber pair in the end.  
Camp shoes – Immitation Crocs (Frocs) I switched to flip flops for a while on the North Island and sent my Frocs ahead to Wellington, but I was able to hike close to 100 km in my Frocs when my blisters were really bad and they were the best sandal to have on the South Island so I could wear my bed socks in them. I used them for river walking at the start of the trail, but just wore my trail runners after I realised how many rivers we had to walk through.  
Leggings – Sweetlegs (polyester & spandex) I loved these leggings to sleep in during the South Island. I didn’t really need them on the North Island, but I carried them the whole way anyway. I only wore them once under my rain pants while hiking in the snow, but I ended up getting too hot and saved them just for sleeping in after that.  
Technology Review/Notes Photo
Solar panel – sCharger-5 USB Solar Charger This solar panel works a charm. I mainly only charged my phone when I stopped to eat lunch, but on long road stretches with no shade it worked well Velcrowed to the top of my pack. It doesn’t work well when going from sun to shade frequently, but in direct sunlight (11am-4pm works best), it charges my phone faster than plugging it into a wall.  
Mobile phone – iPhone SE In my opinion a smartphone for PDF trail notes, navigation apps and PDF maps is the best way to navigate without printing out (and carrying) hundreds of pieces of paper. I use my phone as my camera as well, and I never ran out of battery with my solar panel and back up external battery.  
Phone charger – iPhone SE plug and cord I carried two charger cords, one for my solar panel and one for my plug. This system worked well.  
Headphones – Apple I never actually listened to music or podcasts during this trail so my headphones became redundant.  
External battery – Powerpod I may have only ever used this once but it gave me piece of mind in case there was no sun at all during a section.  See above under ‘Solar panel’
Phone case – Lifeproof Having a waterproof case on this trail is a MUST! My two hiking companions both broke their phones in the rain and mine would have broken during a river crossing without this case. My only complaint is that when it does actually rain the screen becomes almost completely unresponsive. So even though my phone stays dry, I can barely use it when it’s wet.  
Watch – Casio I like wearing a wrist watch and anything light and waterproof will do the trick.  
Toiletries Review/Notes Photo
Toothbrush I went through 2 on the trail.  
Toothpaste I probably went through a small tube every 3-4 weeks.  See above
Dental floss I didn’t floss enough but it felt amazing when I did!  See above
Mentrual Cup – Diva Cup God bless this invention. I skipped one period in the North Island but it came back in the south… grrrr. I can’t imagine using anything else. TIP: I would carry a water bottle to rinse the cup either in the woods, a drop toilet or even a public toilet.  
Hand sanitizer & Sunscreen I had these bottles clipped to the outside of my pack for easy access.  I have to say wearing a long sleeve top cut my sunscreen consumption in half. I was going through this bottle every section until I made the switch. I had to refill my hand sanitizer 3-4 times during the whole trip.  
Body Glide This stuff is an absolute savior for chafe. I used it a lot in the North Island, especially after swimming in the ocean. You can buy it at Rebel Sport.  
Needle To pop blisters. I ended up using a regular sewing needle and thread to drain the blisters as I walked. It took me until the South Island when I finally bought shoes that weren’t too big for me to stop getting blisters.  
Alcohol swabs (2) Sent home – but did have to borrow 2 during the trip.  See above
Sports tape – Leukoplast Used many roles of this for blisters in the North Island. (It’s not cheap by the way – about $12 for a role in NZ.)  
Second skin I used this on the bottom of my foot for a long road walk after my feet started falling apart from constantly being wet in the South Island. It came off after a few hours so I don’t recommend it. Sports tape is the best.  See above under ‘Needle’
Pain killers – Advil Only really used for period pain.  
Antihistamine – Telfast Used once when I stayed at a trail angel’s house who owned a cat.  
Antiseptic cream – Bepanthen I used this on chafing and small cuts and abbrasions.  See above under ‘Needle’
Lipbalm – Chapstick One stick lasted the whole trip.  
Repellant – Ben’s 30% DEET wipes Never used this. The best way to protect against mosquitoes and sand flies was to cover up.  
Wipes – Kleenex or other brand (unscented) & Trowel I used wipes in stead of toilet paper because I like the fact I can clean myself each time I poop in the woods. NOTE: You cannot throw wipes down the drop toilets and must pack them out!

I also bought a trowel in NZ after realising how hard the ground is to dig in because of all of the roots.

Muscle pain – Sore No More I call this my ‘magic cream’. It’s a bit like Deep Heat but it’s all natural and cured most of my basic muscle complaints. I didn’t take the whole jar, just a small container with a few months worth.  
Other Items Review/Notes Photo
Safety pin For drying wet clothes on my pack. You don’t want your socks or underwear to fly away in the wind. See below under ‘Foam’
Batteries (2) – AAA Lithium batteries As mentioned above I only used 4 for my headlamp the whole trip.  
Pen To write in log books or for notes to other trampers.  See above
Velcro To attach solar panel to my pack. Works a charm!  
Tenacious tape I used this on my tent when a possum chewed a hole in it, and on my hip belt pockets when a mouse chewed holes through them.  See above
Hair tie I ended up using this on my tent so I could extent the back peg further.  See above
Little Muk Muk A small companion goes a long way!  
Trash bag – Large zip lock bag I used the same bag for a long time but switched to using resealable tortilla bags each section.  
Earrings Thin sleepers  
Passport Inside ziplock bag. Necessary if you’re going out in Queenstown (and to get in and out of the country!) 🙂  
Purse – Light zip up pouch You’ll want to keep this handy in the North Island as you pass so many places to buy ‘real’ food. See above
Credit/Debit card Travel money card loaded with NZD. In purse above
Money – $100 A lot of small grocery stores and even some restaurants or holiday parks only take cash. There’s quite a few campsites/shacks at the beginning of the trail that have cash only honesty boxes too so I recommend carrying a number of $10 bills. In purse above
Driver license Used as ID In purse above
Foam To sit on hard surfaces, stick between my hip belt and hips if they hurt and also as a seat on my kayak down the Whanganui.  

(Image of my gear before departing for NZ)

The final 200km

Ahhh what to say… it’s all over, done and dusted. 3000km later and the Te Araroa is complete. It’s only been two days since the end, but I’m already sitting at Queenstown airport ready to transition into my next chapter of life.

I slept on the side of Princhester Rd the evening I arrived at Highway 94 where I hitched into Te Anau two weeks ago, (one of my last resupply towns 200km from the end of the trail). I’d been expecting wind and rain that night as per the weather forecast, and it delivered just after midnight, keeping me awake for much of the night. The three days I spent alone after Queenstown were typical TA okay, but they simply reiterated what I’d already learned on this trail:

1. The Te Araroa is no fun alone.

2. The best moments of my experience were those that were shared (namely with Tom & Will).

3. I no longer wanted any more alone time.

When I got into Te Anau after hitching with a couple of Danish boys I was feeling a little naff, happy that I’d navigated the previous section all by myself, but also not particularly looking forward to getting back to the trail. I wondered if it was just the ‘one week to go’ blues, but in all honesty, I didn’t want to face the trail alone, not again. The trail and I had had our time, and as much as I wanted to continue proving I could be a strong, solo warrior, what I was really craving was company.

When the sun came out late that morning I sat in the park to dry out my tent, and when Tom appeared moments later, I was overcome with relief. He was half a day ahead of Will and also Kess, who had joined the boys when they left Queenstown just a day behind me. It took them a couple of days to catch Tom and I, but once reunited we spent the final few days on trail as a family of four.

I was well and truly done with hiking by the end of this trail. I’d contracted some kind of stomach bug and my body was slowing down, while we still had to battle the incredibly muddy Longwood Forest Track, some steep farm hills, wet sinking beach pebbles, gale force winds, and long stretches of road and highway. On the final day Will and Kess steamrolled to the finish line, but Tom and I walked at a leisurely pace, which was all I could muster for the final 33km from Invercargill to Bluff.

Surprisingly, I was not that excited about actually arriving at the finish line. It had been pouring with rain, we were wet and cold, and the final farm track around the coast had been closed. Tom and I wandered through town after sitting out the major downpour under the entrance of a rugby club, and casually arrived at Stirling Point in the late afternoon to take photos under the iconic sign.

In my first miserable 700km of the TA I really questioned if I would make it to the end. I’d been so spoiled by the well groomed PCT that the rough tracks of the TA threw me. I wasn’t expecting them to be so incredibly steep, covered in roots and mud and requiring constant care and attention. I thought I would lose myself in thought while floating through miles of stunning NZ scenery. I imagined sleeping under the stars, wrapping myself in nature and losing contact with the civilised world. But the TA is nothing like the PCT, and it’s taken me ~3000km to finally appreciate that.

Hiking the Te Araroa is walking the length of New Zealand on every type of terrain you can possibly imagine. Many parts are overgrown, many parts are roads, and the actual tracks bar a few are technical and steep. It’s not a continuous trail, it’s a ~3000km route that utilises existing tracks, private farmland, beaches, 4WD tracks, highways, backstreets, footpaths, bike tracks, rivers, estuaries, stop banks, boardwalks, you name it, and it’s constantly changing. Those who’d hiked long distance trails before seemed to struggle to appreciate the TA the most (me included), but the first timers seemed to take everything in their stride, and because of their unbiased perspective, I was able to gradually shift mine.

I wasn’t overcome with emotion at the end, I was simply glad to be finishing with three wonderful people who will forever be my TA family. I learned more from these people than a ~3000km walk alone could have taught me, and without them I really wonder how I would have made it. Though I didn’t fall in love with the Te Araroa and would never choose to hike it again, I will always be grateful for its introduction to Tom, Will and Kess, who made this 4-month and 4-day experience truly unforgettable.

Departing Queenstown

I’m on the shuttle bus that takes me from Queenstown around Lake Wakatipu to the start of the Greenstone Track. This is yet another “natural break in the trail” as they call it, similar to the Cook Straight and the Rakaia and Rangitata Rivers. It seems strange that the trail just ends and starts again on the other side of the lake, but I’ve come to accept that unless you’re travelling with an inflatable raft, it’s practically impossible to seamlessly complete this trail.

Regardless, I’m absolutely pumped for the final 300km and have finally reached the point where I’m getting sad that the experience will be over. I met a nobo (northbound) hiker a while back who told me that by Queenstown everyone looked broken and over it, but I feel refreshed and ready for more, and I can’t wait to see what the trail will throw at me in these final 2 weeks!

I had to stop writing due to serious motion sickness during the bus trip, but I ended up walking all the way to Taipo Hut on my first night after stopping at the Greenstone Hut, which was flooded with people. I literally walked in and then walked out, and at 5pm had to seriously hustle to reach Taipo Hut just before 8pm.

(View looking back at the valley between Taipo and Carey’s Hut.)

I was in a cranky mood prior to arriving at the Greenstone Hut because I’d fallen and cut my hand on a sharp rock and had unnecessarily gotten my feet wet. I knew the only way to get out of my mood was to keep hiking, and after 2 minutes I legitimately got my feet wet again, and from that moment on the trail and I were at peace. In fact, my feet got wet and muddy for the following 2.5 hours so I was well beyond care by the 20th bog crossing.

(My feet are slowly falling apart after being permanently wet in my shoes.)

I had a really good time in Queenstown after Tom, Will, Kess and Brian all arrived a few hours after me. I thought the boys had left Wanaka ahead of me, and was trying to stop myself from attempting to catch them, but I later found out that Tom had been struck down with food poisoning after leaving town, and it was the boys who had been trying to catch up to me.

(The section between Wanaka and Queenstown is 3 days of steep climbing.)

Because Tom and Will lived in Queenstown last winter, they took us out on the town, and it was the first time since New Years in Auckland that I’d been out with a group of TA hikers like that. Everyone took a zero day afterwards except me, but it gave me a chance to get ahead and have my solo time again, which I’ve loved and hated equally depending on how bad the trail is. (Good trail = happy Rozanne. Bad trail = agitated, craving company Rozanne.)

(The trail disappearing from erosion and requiring yet another high leg lift over barbed wire.)

I’ve been writing this post over 2 days now, and just this morning I fell into despair after losing the trail for a good 20 minutes. I couldn’t see any markers beyond the first one, and after following the incorrect path I tried using my Guthooks app to get me back on track. When I was finally back on the GPS track I was still just wandering in the middle of the valley with no trail, and it took me another 10 minutes to actually locate a marker, which was nowhere near where the GPS line was leading me.

Here’s the video I took after finding my way back:

I hiked 33km today and am camped next to a suspension bridge crossing the Mararoa River. I stopped for dinner early at 4pm at a campsite where I was swarmed by sandflies, but thankfully there’s only a handful outside my tent right now, and the only animal hassling me is a black and white bird who seems hostile about me moving in on its territory.

(Sandflies covering my socks during dinner!)

I should make it to State Highway 94 tomorrow which will take me into Te Anau for one of my last resupplies. I’ve heard the forest after the highway is challenging, so at least I’ll be kept on my toes right until the finish. Although the South Island has been beautiful, it still has some shitty connecting trails, but I guess that’s just the Te Araroa – love it or hate it, it is what it is!

Happy trails!

(Beautiful North Mavora Lake.)

The first snowfall

I’m currently stealth camping just outside of Wanaka and have just enough feeling in my fingers to type. Yesterday it got COLD, and after two thigh-deep crossings of the Timaru River I was dressed in wet shorts when it began to snow at 1,000m on my way up to Stody’s Hut.

At first the snow was a novelty, until all I could see were Tom’s footprints ahead of me as I slipped and fell multiple times along the trail. My bare legs became numb, and I kept having to wipe the snow off me with my wet gloves after each fall. I started getting scared that I wouldn’t make it up the incredibly steep trail, until I could smell smoke up ahead and knew that not only was I close to the hut, but Tom already had the fire going.

Both Tom, Will and I had camped separately, but Tom passed me in the morning and we ended up navigating the challenging final river crossing together after a full night of rain. The water was full of silt so we couldn’t see the bottom, but we carefully made our way across, ensuring our poles didn’t go below waist height before we took our next step.

Going solo from Twizel has been rather hilarious because I ended up catching up to the boys on the first two nights and then we ended up sharing a hut last night too. It was even funnier because I also bumped into Brian who I met way back in the north island and also Kess, so tonight is only the second night I’ve camped alone after my big solo decision.

I do feel rejuvenated and back in control of my journey regardless of my recent company however. It’s amazing how such a simple change has transformed the way I see the trail again. It’s like I’m back in the driver’s seat after sitting as a passenger in the back seat of a car barely looking out the window. I love having the freedom to wake up whenever I want, camp where ever I want, and hike at whatever speed feels good for my body. I didn’t realise how much pressure I was putting on myself to keep up with the boys, even though we always walked the same distance in the end. I know we’ll bump into each other multiple times over the next few weeks, but the important thing is that I feel inspired again by the trail, and am rediscovering that joyful feeling of independence and solitude I had way back when I camped alone in the rain in the Hanua Ranges.

Here’s a video I took a few days ago on my first day alone after crossing the 2,500km mark:

The Te Araroa is a crazy trail, and even though I’m looking forward to the end, I know I’m going to look back and miss the joy and madness of it all.

The split

Today I made the decision to split with my two British hiking buddies and go on alone. I’m still in the midst of the reality of the decision, having bid my two comrades goodbye who have left the town on Twizel ahead of me.

A few factors caused this rather immediate and drastic decision. Firstly I realised I wasn’t really looking forward to the final 500+kms of the trail and was starting to turn into a walking zombie, simply following Tom who was the prime navigator of our trio. I’d also stopped writing, making my own decisions and feeling challenged, which was a major part of why I decided to hike this trail in the first place.

I could have very easily and comfortably followed Tom and Will all the way to Bluff and completed the trail in a cruisy fashion, but I feel I have more to learn from this experience, and didn’t feel I was going to learn it while travelling inside this comfortable bubble.

I have a growing sense of excitement, but right now I also feel very sad. I haven’t laughed as much as I have in the last two months for a very long time and shared so many hilarious and intimate moments with two other human beings. Will comes out with the best one-liners that absolutely have me in stitches, sometimes over multiple days, and Tom is the most cool, calm, collected and kind young man I’ve met in a long time.

Classic Will.

Tom writing his journal in Stone Hut by candlelight.

When I broke the news to them this morning the mood was somber, and I had to hold back tears when I hugged them goodbye just now in the Twizel Bakery. BUT, I know this needed to happen, and I’m ready to accept all repercussions. I’m going to face this trail head on with a new sense of vitality and determination, and make the most of the trail time I have left.

I so want to love and feel connected to this trail, so we’ll see how my solo reunion with it goes. No doubt it’s going to be a bumpy ride, but hopefully by the end I’ll remember why I began this journey, and understand why it was so important to push on alone towards the finish line.

The willingness to suffer

We just completed a 7-day stretch through the Richmond Ranges, and apart from spending one full day in Browning Hut to sit out cyclone Gita, we had impeccable weather and bluebird skies for the entire stretch.

The Richmond Ranges are said to be one of the most challenging and beautiful sections, and I can attest to both the beauty and difficulty, with Will saying that the section along the Wairoa River was at times “terrifying”, mainly because you’re tramping high above the river’s edge on a track consisting of slick wet stone requiring death grips on any available roots or rocks that will stop you from sliding.

The highest summit of the section is Rintoul Mountain at 1731 m, and we got up before sunrise that morning for a mammoth day hiking from Slaty Hut, past Old Man Hut, up Little Rintoul and Rintoul Summit, and then down past Rintoul Hut to Tarn Hut, which Tom, Will and I had to ourselves. We came across a number of TA hikers during the section, but because our bags were half the size of the others, we were able to do larger days and only shared a hut with them once.

Speaking of lighter bags, I’m really learning to live with less during this thru-hike. Both Will and I have been pushed out of our comfort zones after our pack shake downs, and I have to say it’s so liberating to learn that I can still survive without carrying all the weight that I used to. I was scared I was going to run out of food during this section when we got stuck in the hut, and after barely eating anything that day I still ended the section with 3 extra tuna packets, couscous, mash potato, and a plethora of bars. I’m so used to finishing a section with at least two days of food left that I panic if I get any lower than that.

Some of you are probably thinking it’s good and safe to have enough food and extra gear with you, but we all live in such fear of being uncomfortable in life that we often overcompensate or sometimes don’t do things at all. I have barely ever been pushed so far out of my comfort zone that I’ve really suffered, and I think the mere thought of it has had me living a very regimented and controlled lifestyle. Everyone has a different comfort level, and certain comforts that are a must, and the biggest one I’ve had to let go of on this trip is a hot shower, laundered clothes and a comfortable bed after each section.

At the start of the trip I stayed at a holiday park after each stretch, and even though I stayed in my tent, I still showered and cleaned my clothes and had a dry place to organise my pack for the next section. On the PCT I stayed in a motel room in almost every town and had a warm bath and a cosy bed after each section. But because the boys are on a much tighter budget than me, I’ve adapted to washing in streams, using soap on my body and clothes only in public toilets, and rolling in and out of towns on the same day.

Yesterday we stopped in St Arnaud for a few hours because we’d booked into the Alpine Lodge’s famous Sunday BBQ. We used my left over wet wipes as a shower, and after one of our most civilised meals, a glass of red wine and even dessert, we left the lodge in the dark and made our way clumsily along the trail to camp in the forest by Lake Rotoiti.

Though the trail feels more like a holiday than a gruelling tramp in the company of the boys, I’m still being pushed out of my comfort zone in new ways, and if there’s one thing I hope to bring back with me to the civilised world, it’s the willingness to suffer a little more. In some ways being willing to suffer is actually working in my favour on this trip, because my body is suffering less from all the weight I used to carry. In the real world I hope it translates to me being more spontaneous, carrying less with me every time I leave the house and trying things I might not be good at. It could also mean setting out on a new career path and taking more risks when it comes to earning money… but for now I’m just going to enjoy the liberation of being filthy and carrying a lighter pack.

Heading to the South Island

I’m currently on the Interislander ferry to Picton on the South Island of New Zealand. Last night Tom, Will and I reached the southern terminus of the North Island and celebrated with a few beers on the edge of a football field before retreating into what we thought was forest well after hiker midnight. Turns out the forest was actually in the middle of a golf course, and when we got up to leave this morning we had to dodge some folks teeing off for their morning round.

It was a busy day for us in Wellington today before catching the 5pm ferry. I needed to purchase new shoes, pick up my two packages from the post office, repost what I don’t need, shop for 21 days of food for resupply for the south and buy a number of other small items in between grabbing a quick lunch, charging my phone and bussing to the ferry. We made the bus by the skin of our teeth carrying about 5 shopping bags each, then we were 3 of the last people to board the boat.

We’ll arrive in Picton tonight, sleep on the outskirts of town and then post three food drops to places that don’t have decent spots to buy food along the way (St Arnaud, Boyle Village and Arthur’s Pass). We then need to catch a small charter boat to the start of the Queen Charlotte track where the trail begins again on one of NZ’s great walks.

It felt like a huge accomplishment finishing the North Island, especially considering how hard it was at the beginning. There were certainly some days where I wasn’t sure I was going to make it all the way through. I was so miserable and upset by the state of the ‘trail’ and felt like I was the only one battling it out in full until I met Will and Tom. Not only are they great company, I’ve adopted their frugal ways of avoiding spending money on accomodation, which has actually been quite fun despite the cold showers in random toilet blocks and only washing my clothes in sinks. Today I washed my socks for the first time since about two weeks, and have just grown accustomed to the general level of hiker filth I’m existing in.

The Tararua Ranges were magnificent and we got so lucky with the weather considering all the horror stories we’d been told. It gave us our first taste of real mountain trails, and I’m excited to see what the South Island has in store. Will’s foot is still troubling him a bit, but we all got new shoes in Wellington today so hopefully that will help!

My health has been good except for recently fainting at the top of Mount Kaukau after probably going a little too fast after eating half a pizza and 1/4 of a banana bread loaf. Luckily Tom was with me and I woke up to him holding my head after I fell and hit my chin at the top of the lookout. Despite a rather large bruise I was fine, and we still ended up walking 30km to get to the southern terminus of the trail yesterday evening. I’ll be a little more careful on the ups, and will try not to climb large hills after binge eating in towns!

Seeing the wind and waves over Cook Straight right now I’m so glad I didn’t try to kayak over. I was pretty gung-ho about it before the trip, but I decided early on that hiking this trail was going to be tough enough, and it probably would have been more for bragging rights than actually wanting to do the paddle and figuring out the logistics (or maybe I’m just scared shitless, which seeing it now I have every right to be!)

I think the South Island will go quite quickly once we get started, and I really want to savour these last two months of freedom from society’s demands. This thru-hike really feels like an escape from the ‘real world’, and even though each day of walking is still tough on the body and the mind sometimes, I’m just so glad to be out here.

More from the South Island soon!