Category Archives: Te Araroa

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!

2 months in

Only two days after I passed the halfway mark, (and as per the photo below, 30km after the actual 1,500km mark there was in fact an official sign), I celebrated my two months on trail. I thought my two month celebration would consist of me patting myself on the back and reflecting over the miles I’ve walked, but as is the TA way, we ended up staying with a trail angel at the Makahika Outdoor Pursuits Center who gave us a beer on arrival, use of their camp lodge which included a huge kitchen, bunk rooms, washing machine and hot showers, and gave us a huge bag of food to cook dinner and breakfast with.

Once Tom, Will and I were settled into our luxury accommodation, a hiker I met in Paihia (the first town I hit on the east coast) called Kess arrived, and it was literally like two old friends reuniting after about 10 years. There was a lot of squealing and hugging and updates from the trail to fill our entire evening. Tom cooked up a feast in the kitchen, and we all sat very civilised around the table before chatting until well after hiker midnight.

Will has been suffering a pain in the front of his ankle/shin recently, so we ended up taking a zero at the property yesterday. Tom and I went for a run as a zero didn’t quite feel justified, and after huffing and puffing up a small mountain, we literally flew back down. I’ve never really enjoyed running unless it’s on a track, but yesterday my legs moved faster and more confidently than they ever have before, and I can honestly say it was one of the most exhilarating experiences to feel what your body is actually capable of after 2 months of walking 25-30km a day. I’m not doing distances like I did on the PCT because roads hurt too much and the terrain just isn’t as consistent, but I think my level of fitness must be close to the same, minus all the sore muscles from the huge amount I carried on the PCT.

Today we entered the Tararua Ranges after much advice about this section. The weather can be brutal up here and has blown people literally off the mountain, but today we had relatively clear skies and no breeze at all, so it was a beautiful introduction to one of the north island’s unique and rugged mountain ranges.

Having passed the 1,500km mark two days before my 2 month trail anniversary, it means I’m on track to finish the trail in 4 months as I’d hoped, provided my body doesn’t break down or anything major doesn’t delay me. My only real concern is finishing the trail before the weather turns too cold, as I don’t want to be hiking the final section in snow shoes like I did on the PCT.

Once we’re out of the ranges it’s not far to walk to Wellington, and since it’s the last city before the South Island I have a huge long list of things I need to do and prepare while I’m there. We’ll need to prepare two resupply boxes, I have to pick up all the gear I’ve sent there and decide what to do with it, I need to repair a few bits and pieces of my gear, and I’m debating a pedicure to get rid of the huge callus build up on my heels, which I think is causing me to still get blisters rather than preventing them.

I also need to find new shoes with some decent tread on them. I love the New Balance shoes I’ve been wearing since just north of Auckland, but they’ve got absolutely no grip, and already on this section I fell over three times in just one day.

I met a few new hikers thanks to our zero yesterday, and now that we’re heading into hut territory I expect to meet even more and enjoy more social time on the trail. Tom, Will and I continue to travel as a trio, sometimes hiking together, sometimes apart, but always sharing meals and camping with one another. It’s so nice to have a trail family out here, and even Kess was relieved that I’d found myself some comrades, as she is hiking with three people I met earlier on (Shannon, Brian and Jason), and she loves the bond they’ve created.

I finally have my trail legs now, I’m so far enjoying my stoveless meals, and I’m on track in terms of kms and timing. Maybe all the heartache at the beginning of the TA has dealt me a more cruisey second half, but I have no idea what is in store… and I guess that’s all part of the adventure.

Here’s a quick video of my recent reflections in the mountains…

Reaching halfway

This morning we hit the halfway point, km 1,500 of the Te Araroa (although I believe the total distance according to my Guthooks app is actually 3,041km).

There was no halfway marker, no register, no fanfare or real celebrations. Tom, Will and I just snapped a photo at the corner of Roberts Line and Liberty Grove in Palmerston North and kept walking.

We did however have an early celebration last night after bunking in with a trail angel to avoid the harsh storms that hit NZ late yesterday. We didn’t get as much wind and rain as expected where we were, but folks in the South Island would have been pummelled, so hopefully those in the mountains were huddled in one of the many huts along the route.

Our trail angels Gail and her husband John treated us like kings in their already busy household. They had 5 boys living in their 8 bedroom house, 4 in NZ studying abroad from Indonesia, China, Brazil and Hong Kong, while the 5th was their adopted son. We all sat at the table like a scene out of ‘The Sound of Music’ and ate mountains of food that Gail whipped up in under an hour. We were also treated to beer, wine, single malt whiskey and liquor drizzled over heaped bowls of ice cream, so it was a tough wakeup at 6am this morning to head back to the trail.

Gail is a social worker and John is a pastor at their local church. They are wonderful people who have also rescued more than a dozen retired racing greyhounds, two of which befriended us during our stay.

I cannot wrap my head around how generous some people can be. Neither Gail nor John earn a large income, they’ve raised three of their own children and dedicate their lives to looking after even more children, while opening their doors to dirty, stinking thru-hikers. These people are true angels!

Having walked over 90km on roads over the last three days we’re taking today a little easier before we head into the Tararua Ranges. We resupplied this morning at Countdown with 6-7 days of food, so all our packs are feeling a lot heavier. My pack however is feeling pretty good after shedding 2.5kg in a recent pack shakedown, which saw me sending my stove, second hat, sandals, sun shirt, t-shirt, puffy jacket, and all secondary items ahead to Wellington. I still have four out of my seven layers and am learning about cold soaking food from Tom who also travels without a stove. I’m actually eating healthier without my stove as I’ve tried to cut out excessive sugar and replace it with healthier fatty foods like peanut butter and cheese. I’m having to eat a 1kg jar of peanut butter so I can use it as a soaking bowl, and I’m almost at the point where I’m putting on weight rather than losing it thanks to all the hospitality we’ve received.

The boys are already sad that the end is coming too soon, but I know we have a long way still to go, and so many things will happen along this crazy adventure. I’ve never felt so relaxed and at peace on a trail before in my life. I’m not fussed about how far there is to go anymore or what happens in between, I’m just excited that surprises (good and bad) await me down the trail, and I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to be out here. Sometimes I feel guilty that I have the privilege to be doing this, but then I look at people like Tom and Will who are straight out of studying and are managing to hike the trail on a shoestring budget. We all have to go back to jobs to make money afterwards, but I think thru-hiking makes us prepared to live with less in life, and therefore filling the bank account is not our number one priority. It’s like what we carry in our packs – we only take what we need.

Happy trails! 🙂

The Whanganui River

I’d been counting down to the river section since the beginning of the trip. Not that I actually knew exactly when it was coming up because I pretty much live day to day out here, but I continued to imagine what the river would be like, what sort of kayak I’d get to paddle, and who I’d share the experience with for weeks.

After all these daydreams the river still exceeded my expectations, and it will go down as the most enjoyable 5 days of the trip so far. I got super lucky I have to admit. I had two wonderful people to share it with (who also carried most of my gear in their boat), we had exceptional weather without a single drop of rain, and because of the weather, the river was quite low which made the rapids a lot of fun, especially hitting the class two waves on a sit on top kayak while the boys followed behind in their canoe and managed to stay upright.

When we booked the trip in Taumarunui we bought all our food for the trip and left it at the information centre for the canoe company to pick up (Canoes 4U). The tricky part was that we had to purchase 5 days of food for the river alongside 7 days of food for the section in between in under two hours. I felt like I was on one of those supermarket gameshows where people run around filling their trolley with anything they can grab. We then had to run back to the information centre 300m down the street with our trolleys before it closed at 5pm and literally made it with only minutes to spare.I was really surprised at how many rapids there were and how long the days of paddling actually were on the river as well. When they said it would take us 5-7 hours to paddle just over 30km I didn’t believe them, but as I’ve learned the Kiwis don’t exaggerate, and that’s exactly what it took us each day with only a few leisurely stops in between.We stayed at one DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite, one private campsite, on a roadside after the convent we’d hoped to stay at was going to cost over $20 each to camp, and spent our final night at a DOC hut where we managed to finish off all the beer we’d brought with us on the trip.

On our last day we had 43km to paddle to Whanganui, and so I clipped my kayak to the boy’s canoe like a sidecar and we all paddled together with me and Tom up the front using the canoe paddles and Will in the back paddling and steering with the kayak paddle. It worked a charm, and I was even able to boil water and make us coffee on the go!

The river itself was stunning, running through deep gorges and past numerous waterfalls and beaches. There were a few jet boats transporting folks up the river to see the Bridge to Nowhere, but other than that we practically had the river to ourselves.

We paddled around 150km from Whakahoro to Whanganui, which is one of the many options for this section of the trail. Some paddle from Taumarunui, some get out at Pipiriki, so essentially your trip can vary from 3-7 days, and I think selecting the 5-day option was perfect.

Since the lovely river we’ve completed two 30km days of road walking in 30 degree temperatures. The weather is due to change this evening however, with two seperate cyclones hitting the lower part of the North Island and the South Island bringing with them heavy rain and gale force winds. Tom, Will and I are all camping within earshot of one another, so if it’s pouring down in the morning we may choose to bunker down and sit it out, or battle a wet 20km into the town of Feilding.

Goodnight from km 1466 of the TA 🙂

The turn around

I’m camped at km 1207 of the Te Araroa and I have to say since passing the 1,000km mark, things have really picked up. I think I’d been waiting for some kind of turn around moment, and when I actually passed the 1,000km mark while hurtling down the trail on a mountain bike, I think it might have occurred.

I attribute the trail’s improvement to two things: the physical environment and my company. After the mountain bike section I arrived in the town of Taumarunui shortly after my British comrades Tom and Will. Taumarunui is the town where the river section down the Whanganui should be planned, which meant that after weeks of wondering who I’d end up paddling that section with, the answer became quite clear. There were three other hikers in town planning their paddle at the same time, but they were also planning a side trip in between, so when it came to setting a date I looked at Tom and Will as if to ask, ‘are you guys happy to do this with me as the third wheel?’

Committing to paddling the river together meant committing to hiking the next 7 days together as well, leading through the Tongariro National Park past Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings), and once it was settled this would be the case, we went from TA hikers who bump into each other frequently, to a team of three who camp together, hike together, share food, talk about farting and bowel movements, and find ourselves in stitches from laughter constantly.

When we signed up for the paddle we all had to write down our name, age and where we were born, and when Tom (22) and Will (23) read that I was 35, I think they thought I was joking. Even the guy booking our trip didn’t believe me, but that’s one magical element about thru-hiking. Age is about as relevant as the colour of your socks. Nothing equalises people better than stripping away all your comforts and throwing you into unfamiliar territory.

Tom and Will just happen to be the only two hikers I’ve come across who hike the same distance and every meter of the trail like me. They started a few days after me, but while I’ve taken a few days off, the boys haven’t taken a single zero day, and while I’ve been spending money sleeping in Holiday Parks, the boys have managed to spend only $10 on accommodation before this last week.

Since joining forces I haven’t taken a zero day either, and we’ve slept in a shipping container, a cabin, a public shelter/toilet, the forest and a couple’s shed who live about 30 minutes from National Park near Tongariro. This happened yesterday while enjoying a burger, chips and milkshake at a cafe, when the woman (Catherine) serving us offered to house and feed us for the night. She warned us that she and her partner live in a shed with no electricity, but when we arrived this ‘shed’ was an absolute masterpiece of craftsmanship. The whole temporary home was built by Catherine’s husband Mal with recycled timber and goods such as a wheel hub for a sink in their bathroom. They’d purchased the native bush property in May after giving up their comfortable 5 bedroom house and 9-5 jobs having successfully raised three children between the ages of 22-29. Now that the kids have flown the nest they’ve decided to move off the grid and live a much simpler lifestyle, and I can honestly say I’ve never met a couple loving life and the prospects of their future years more.

Catherine fed us from the moment we arrived to the moment we left almost 24 hours later. We ate fresh herbs and vegetables from their handmade greenhouse (as they live above 800m which makes growing veggies a little difficult), pancakes and fresh fruit in the morning, and delicious wraps before we left in the afternoon. While we sat out the rain for most of the day we also played the board game ‘Balderdash’, which had us in stitches for hours.

If there’s one thing the TA does better than any other trail, it’s introduce you to the locals in some of the most unique ways. I hear countless stories of hikers being invited into people’s homes, and I’m shocked almost every day by the kindness and generosity of the Kiwis. They’re amazing people living in such a diverse and fascinating country.

The diversion to Catherine and Mal’s came at a perfect time too, because we’d hiked this last section much faster than the guy booking our river trip expected, and still have a day to kill. We were hiking over 30km days because of bad weather where it was too cold to stop, but this also lined us up with perfect weather when we hiked one of NZ’s great walks through Tongariro National Park. It was truly stunning!

The boys and I have been sleeping like sardines beside one another on our matching Neo Air sleeping pads the last couple of nights, and I’ve got them into the habit my dear friend Morgan taught me of discussing our worst and best moments of the day alongside what we learned before bed. The boys told me they never really talked to each other much until I came along, and they seem to be enjoying this enhanced social activity as much as I am.

People always say your trail experience is so much about the people you share it with – and I couldn’t agree more.

The first 1,000km

(I’m about to head into two weeks of no signal, so I apologise that this latest entry is a little rushed!)

I’m lying in my tent at km 970 at the start of the 86km Timber Trail. I arrived here at 10am after 3 hours of road walking, mostly along State Highway 30, with giant trucks hauling timber screaming by.

Having hiked almost 1,000km, one third of the Te Araroa “Trail”, these are my thoughts…

On most days I have wanted to quit. There are three distinct days I remember not considering the option, but these were not because the trail was necessarily magnificent, it’s because it wasn’t as god awful as it often can be.

I’m not writing this to be negative, I’m going to try to be as objective as possible.

The Te Araroa is NOT a trail. It never actually claims to be. It’s a “pathway” that consists of beaches, forests, roads, footpaths, rivers, paddocks, bike paths, highways, 4WD tracks, estuaries, stop banks, and some trail. I’m speaking of the first 1,000km I’ve seen, as I’m expecting the South Island to be quite different.

There are sections that are so overgrown it’s hard to believe there is a path below the long grass or blackberry bushes or spiky gorse that rips through your skin and clothing. It’s hard to understand the true nature of the trail because it’s constantly changing, but all I know for sure is that it will constantly shock and surprise you with what’s up next.

I don’t have the magical sense of being removed from civilisation like I did on the PCT, or the feeling of not having a roof over my head for days on end. I haven’t witnessed sunrises from mountain tops or watched the stars from my sleeping bag at night. I get up early to have 3 hours of walking without the burning sun, so I’m either eating oatmeal in my tent or road walking when the sun rises, and I’m usually in bed before it gets dark.

There is not a trail community like I’m used to. There are definitely people on this trail but there are less of the unique characters I was used to bumping into on the PCT. The average age is about 25. I’ve met two people who are older than me hiking the trail and one of them I had to take to hospital.

People do whatever they want on this trail. Some hike the whole thing, some hitch the roads or whole sections. Some do side trips and in one case win a trip to Figi on NYE and plan their hike around that. This is not a scenic walk. It’s a walk that challenges the notion of walking in some of the craziest places you can imagine designing a “pathway” (in the first 1,000km anyway).

People who begin and complete this trail are determined, stubborn, proud, A-type and gluttons for punishment. I always wake up with a sick kind of curiosity about what my day will be like, and am often astounded at how shocking my day of walking ends up being.

I think people end up enjoying the Te Araroa because of its complete madness. It either breaks you or makes you stronger or both. It will make you fit and strong and hopefully introduce you to some amazing people, but you will work your arse off doing it, and on many days question if it’s all worth it.

I live in a constant state of optimism that the trail will get better. I have been assured hundreds of times that the South Island is better, but boy is it a long way to walk to get there.

I can’t say I regret doing any of it, but you could not pay me any amount of money to ever do it again. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to visit the north island of New Zealand again or ever even look at it on a map. The saving graces are the locals you run into quite frequently during this first century of kms. There are many trail angels who don’t even know what trail angels are. They just help out hikers because they choose to, like any other person they’d come across that looks like they might need help. Kiwis are some of the friendliest and most robust people I’ve ever met. This trail has given me an appreciation of how tough a breed they are!

Yesterday consisted of steep eroded trail that fell away under foot as I walked precariously alongside a river. The sections in between were boggy marshes with mud up to my ankles, and walls of blackberry bushes that ripped through my sun shirt and legs.

After such unpleasantries I joined Tom and Will, two young British guys who I’ve been bumping into since Mercer two sections back, at a cute little campsite by a stream set up by a local farmer. I was able to wash my legs and shoes of all the mud and eat lunch in the shade before another 20kms along various roads. It was the first night I literally camped on the side of the road, thankfully alongside the boys.

I’ve got new heel blisters from all the road walking, and when I got to the start of the Timber Trail, which is essentially a mountain bike track, we saw another hiker Katy jumping on a rented bike to do the track in one day. The boys and I looked at one another and then approached the man Katy had been speaking with, and after 5 minutes we’d organised ourselves bikes for $60 each. The only consideration was that we had to be able to do the whole thing in one day, and having just completed it, I can say it was the most thrilling and terrifying section of trail for me.

I literally felt like my bike was going to fall apart as we raced down some of the winding, bumpy, narrow and scarily steep sections. Just before the half way point I stopped Tom and told him I didn’t think I could make it. He gave me a look like I was crazy and said “but you’ve been overtaking everyone else on the trail”. Everyone else was only doing half the distance we were, but his belief in me helped me stopped feeling like the weak link and 3rd wheel, and by the end I was hammering so fast down the hills I felt like I was flying.

Will felt like we were cheating… but my body doesn’t feel like riding 86km in one day was anything close to cheating the trail. The TA is mainly hiking with some paddling thrown in, and I very much expect this section to become mountain biking after word gets around!

So as I finish writing this from km 1048 of the TA a day later (with the thill of the ride still buzzing inside me), I can honestly say I’m looking forward to what’s to come, but I’m bloody glad those 1048kms are behind me! This trail is a rollercoaster!

Sleepless in Stillwater

I am SO tired right now, but I’m staying at the Stillwater Holiday Park where TA hikers can sleep for free, but your bed is in the games room of the park, so if you want to sleep early forget about it!

I’ve had a great last few days, and I’ve also enjoyed feeling no pressure to write an update. In fact the only reason I’m writing now is because it’s impossible to sleep, so I’m happier to use the time productively.

Since Christmas I’ve hiked 113kms across beaches, through beautiful forest, across rivers and along roads. I came to the realisation that the TA has a personality disorder – just when you think you’ve got it figured out, it surprises you again!

Beach walk to Pakiri.

Farmland leading to the Tamahunga Track.

I actually met the woman who is responsible for the trail in the north while I was hiking yesterday. Thankfully I’d just had coffee and was in a great mood, because when she asked me about the trail I said it was tough for the first two weeks but now I’m starting to enjoy it. We chatted for a long time, and she was as regretful about the road sections as I am. This trail has been a huge endeavour, and an expensive one to negotiate with all the private land owners who host the trail on their property. Some people just won’t budge, and so the only way to connect the trail is to take a road around to the next track.

After racing through the Dome Forest two days ago with a guy named Warrick who was training for a week long adventure race in Tasmania, I was in my tent by about 7pm on a farmer’s patch of lawn opened up for hikers. I was about to drift off to sleep when I heard someone yelling, and then soon after I heard hiking poles falling to the ground near my tent and a huge pack hit the floor. Enter Kevin from Lyon in France. This guy is hilarious, and although we both swear by hiking alone we’ve been forced to share this section because of the logistics with kayaking and crossing estuaries. He’s been good company to have around despite the fact he doesn’t seem to understand much of what I say, but it’s also nice not to talk too much, while having someone to appreciate some of the better parts of the trail with.

Kayaking 7km down the Puhoi River.

Coastal walk from Waiwera to Orewa.

I’ve entered the outer suburbs of Auckland so it’s been a lot of road and pavement walking today. I took the opportunity to purchase a new pair of shoes – a pair of New Balance trail runners with a D width that seem to fit my toes perfectly. I’m hanging onto my old sneakers for the estuary crossing tomorrow and some of the roads around Auckland if they last that long. I’m scared my new sneakers are going to be destroyed before I even hit real trail again!

My collection of footwear.

Today I felt like I was on a vacation rather than a thru-hike. I stopped for eggs and bacon and coffee for breakfast and ate a burger this evening at the boat club nearby the holiday park. I feel like I deserved it after the horrendous road walk into Stillwater today though. It was literally a winding road with no shoulder for 5 long and hot kilometres, and at the end I was practically running to avoid cars.

The trail through suburbia!

Goodnight from km 562 of the trail. I’m due to arrive in Auckland for NYE on the 31st! Woohoo!! 🎉