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!

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!

Discovering life's lessons through alternative means…