Final thoughts before I start

Less than five days to go now. Since work finished I have been doing various things, some just for fun and to get away from Auckland, and some in preparation for Te Araroa. I was waiting for my final piece of gear to turn up from overseas, my Leki walking poles. They were supposed to turn up between Sep 4 and Sep 9, but the courier tracking website always showed them “in transit”. I didn’t actually realise they’d turned up on Sep 13 until a few days after that. Still a bit late, but at least I have everything now. In fact, the courier tracking site still says “in transit” for them even though I got them a week ago!

Here is all my gear, except for the hiking poles and trail runners:

All gear except my hiking poles and trail runners

When deciding where to go for a hike, or even just a trip out of Auckland, I turn to one of my other hobbies, geocaching. If you haven’t heard of that, basically you get given the GPS coordinates of a box that somebody has hidden somewhere out there in the world, and you go to that point and find it. You then sign the log with your username to prove you found it, and log it on the website. One that I wanted to find was this one: The Lagoon, south-east of Murupara. One good thing about this one is that nobody had found it yet, which is relatively rare. You get a bit of kudos for being the first person to find a geocache.

So last week I took all my gear and made the five hour drive there from Auckland. I found the geocache hidden in a tree beside the lagoon, which was great. Geocaching has taken me to many cool places that I would never have visited otherwise.

Arohaki Lagoon
Whirinaki Forest on the way to the lagoon

After this I drove out, and had a quick drive through the nearby town of Minginui. It really was a town that time forgot. Every house in the town of about 100 looked like it was minutes from falling to the ground. The two shops in the town were abandoned. It seemed that every single person in the town was in the park playing a game of cricket. I have a quite loud and very yellow car that you can’t miss, so as I drove past every person in the town stopped and looked at me. The town is on a bit of road that doesn’t go anywhere, so the locals knew I was just there having a look.

The “wop wops” as we say in New Zealand

My plan was to find a campground and set up my tent for the night. My first option was in the DOC land near the lagoon… I could see it on the map but just couldn’t find it. My second option was a little layby on the side of the road 5 minutes north of Minginui. I drove there and pulled in. There was another car there with one person in it who was just sitting there smoking, and did not have any camping equipment. I drove to the other end of the campground and waited for a while. The other car didn’t move, and I noticed a lot of rubbish around. While I was sitting there, some guys drove into the layby and drove right up to me. “You ok, bro?” and “Nice car eh” I heard. Actually I heard those two sentences a lot while I was travelling down that way… I clearly didn’t look like I belonged. They said they had seen me driving around and wanted to make sure I was alright. We talked for a bit and they said this wasn’t a very good place to camp. They said a better place is the DOC Campground – the first one I couldn’t find. They tried to explain where it was but were explaining it using a lot of local landmarks that I didn’t know and wouldn’t be able to find in the dark. Eventually they drove off and I drove off in the other direction.

I looked on the “Rankers Camping app” which talked about a campsite on Okahu Valley Road which was a bit further down the road, down a real back road in the middle of nowhere. I drove down the road a bit but soon realised my car was not going to make it down this road which appeared to be for 4-wheel-drive vehicles only. I have a 4-wheel-drive car but it has a low clearance and can’t get over any real obstacles. And since it was dark by this point I just set up camp in a piece of land I found with a camping symbol on it. I am not sure if the camping symbol referred to the campsite down the road or where I was, but I couldn’t be bothered looking any further. Even though it was dark, with the full moon and my headlamp I had no problems at all setting up my tent in the dark, which was reassuring. The ground was quite rocky but there wasn’t even a breath of wind so I didn’t need to stake the tent down. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky either and I could see all the stars. I just put a couple of rocks on the ropes and it held up fine. Also it was apparently 2 degrees overnight, and I didn’t feel cold for most of the night except for one brief period where I just put on a bit more clothing. So I feel good with my choice of sleeping bag and other sleeping gear.

I hadn’t camped in those temperatures before, and sure enough because I hadn’t vented the tent fly it was saturated in the morning – despite the fact there had been no rain there was a lot of condensation. I hadn’t opened the back vent and I also understand I should have unzipped the fly a little bit. Oh well now I know. And it was also covered in mosquitos. There was no water or mosquitos inside the tent so the gear once again proved itself in that regard. And in the morning once the sun came up I could properly see where I’d actually camped. It was a beautiful spot, eerie with all the morning mist.

I am going to have to learn how to stop my tent getting wet though. At least while on the trail it should be warmer at night most of the time, so maybe there won’t be so much condensation.

My campsite in the morning

I spent some time in Rotorua to relax and unwind (and stayed in a motel). I forgot how stinky Rotorua is.


Today I wanted to try out my hiking poles, so once again I looked for a geocache that looked interesting, and I found this one – Challenge Track in the Hunua Ranges. It hadn’t been found in over six years, which is very rare for any geocache in New Zealand, and even more so for one in Auckland. The track was apparently quite challenging, so I would get a decent go with my poles.

Starting out. Also tried out my hi-viz pack cover for the first time. I think it might be slightly too small.

I didn’t realise until I got to the car park that this track actually used to be part of Te Araroa. I’m not sure exactly when, but graffiti at the Repeater Campground suggested that in 2014 it went past here. (side note – please don’t graffiti the huts and campsites. Nobody cares about your silly little messages!)

Entrance – Te Araroa is mentioned

The signage for Te Araroa was still present but last season the whole section between Manurewa and Mercer was on the road rather than through here. The track I walked on today was open but I think other tracks in the Hunua Ranges are still closed because of Kauri Dieback.

Panorama from the Repeater Campsite

The combination of Salomon Trail Runners and Leki Aluminium Walking Poles meant I had an easy time on the relatively muddy and sometimes steep paths. I was impressed with them, although the poles were vibrating sometimes so I need to make sure I am using them correctly. I’d never walked with poles before this walk. I’ve done snowboarding before but never skiing, so I’m used to balancing with my own body weight rather than relying on poles. It was an unusual experience, but the poles really helped going up and down the hills. I did slip once on the way down a slippery hill, and I didn’t know how to recover from it because I had two poles still stuck in the ground with my hands strapped into them while I had fallen on my butt in the mud. Fortunately nobody saw me struggle to get up… and I did manage to get up, eventually.

View from the Repeater Campsite

I did actually find the geocache! Two people had looked for it in 2014 and 2015, but failed. Nobody had looked for it since then (or at least, nobody admitted to looking for it and not finding it). But when I found it, the paper logbook inside as well as little toys inside it were pristine. If you want to read the full story on that, then go to the geocache listing and look for my log at the bottom from Sep 2019 (the one with the little yellow car).

Successful geocache find!

I thought about staying at the Repeater Campsite, but I didn’t want to be camped away from my car which was in the middle of nowhere. Also I didn’t feel like I would gain anything by camping in another random campground, I’m sure of my tent and sleeping gear by now. And after being in a great mood after finding the geocache, I wanted to go home and treat myself to a nice dinner. So I walked back to the car and went home.

Repeater Campsite

Anyway, that’s probably about it for now. You’re probably getting bored! Unless anything exciting happens between now and the 25th, you probably won’t hear from me again until I’m on the bus to Cape Reinga!

My fully loaded Osprey Pack with its first “war wounds” on the top from today’s walk, and with the Te Araroa patch now firmly attached

First night in the tent

Since my inflatable mat finally arrived in the mail from amazon.com, I finally was able to spend a night in the tent with the gear I’ll be using on the trail!  Last night I took it out to my Mum’s place, because there’s nowhere to set it up at my house. I thought I’d report on how it went.  Now keep in mind I’m definitely no expert here.  I have spent very little time camping before, so I don’t know what things are supposed to do and what they aren’t supposed to do.  But here’s my opinion after one night!

I’ll be honest, I didn’t get a good sleep… but that was primarily because earlier on that morning I had slept in quite late, and I wasn’t tired at all by the time it actually came to sleeping.  It was mostly that, but also because it was a new experience sleeping on this new stuff.

The tent in place without the rain fly

Between two of us we managed to get the tent (Naturehike Cloud Up 2 Upgrade model) put up, although the instructions provided were not particularly clear.  We had to watch a Youtube video about the tent to work out where the last few ropes and pegs went.  I’m still not completely sure we got it right.  But despite there being an average amount of wind and a small amount of rain during the night, the tent held up fine, although the rain on the roof of the tent was quite loud and that didn’t help me sleep.  The stakes looked small and lightweight but didn’t come out of the ground at all during the night.  I am interested to see how this tent will handle really high winds. And the most important thing – the inside of the tent got no water at all inside (except a little bit I trekked in myself) and there was no condensation at all on the walls of the tent.

You have to sleep with your head by the door because the tent tapers down too much at the other end and if you’re 6ft1 like me then your head will be hitting the roof if you sleep with your head at the back.  I think that’s bad Feng Shui, but I’ll live with it.  I was glad to see I could lie down stretched right out and I didn’t touch either end of the tent… but only just.  There was enough place to lie down and also have my pack and clothes next to me.  It felt like heaps of space, and I could sit upright in the tent, but when it came to try and undress in the tent to get into my sleeping bag, I struggled a bit with the low roof (but not too much).  I have no idea how two people would sleep in this “2-man tent” if they have any stuff at all.

After lying in the dark for just 15 minutes, a little slug started crawling up the mesh door right by my head, so I flicked it off. Then, another 15 minutes later, I spied a snail on the roof of the tent, between the tent and the fly.  I made a mental note in my head to check for snails and slugs before I pack the tent away in the morning.

The tent has a handy little vestibule to store things outside the tent but inside the rain fly.  I kept my Crocs out there, and they stayed dry despite the fact it rained.

Ready for sleeping

The inflatable mat was the Nemo Tensor 20L – 20 being the width and L meaning “long”.  It fit well in the tent and it seemed sturdy.  It was quite “slippery”, every time I tried to turn over during the night, I felt like I was sliding around.  It felt quite hard, I think maybe I inflated it too much.  Next time I might deflate it ever so slightly.  The good thing was is that it didn’t deflate at all by itself during the night.  It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be (and as people on the Internet had mentioned) to blow all the required air into the mat, and the valve seemed to hold well and was easy to close.  I didn’t get the “insulated” version which is a bit warmer because I’m already worried that my sleeping bag and liner are going to be too hot.

On reflection the mat did its job quite well, I think I’m just going to have to not expect too much when I’m used to sleeping in a big king size bed every night.

I felt the same about the inflatable pillow, the Nemo Fillo Elite, quite hard, but I think that might be the nature of an inflatable pillow.  Might try deflating that slightly next time too.  The pillow has the same valve on it as the mat which meant it didn’t deflate during the night but this one seemed quite difficult to close.  I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it.  I think if I could bring just one luxury item it would be my big feather pillow.  It would have felt so nice last night.

The tent fully set up

The temperature got as low as 10 degrees Celsius last night if you believe the forecast (and I do).  However with five layers between me and the ground (sleeping bag, sleeping bag liner, mat, tent floor and tent groundsheet), I was never cold.  Some people say that a sleeping bag can be quite constricting, but I didn’t find this – I think mainly because I am used to sleeping in the fetal position curled up on my side, rather than spreading out.

I think the biggest thing to get used to will be packing everything away when it’s wet, or even when it was raining throughout the night.  Hopefully it will be fine and it will just take practice.  This morning the tent fly was wet and the tent itself was dry, as it’s supposed to be…. however as I took the fly off the tent, I realised it was still connected to the tent with two clips, so I had to put the fly down to undo the two clips.  This of course got the tent wet, oops.  Also the groundsheet was very wet and dirty (and covered with slugs).  I am going to have to watch Youtube videos before I go on how to pack away a wet tent.

During the night

Also I have to get used to getting in and out of the tent properly.  When I put my hands on the muddy ground while getting out of the tent they get dirty, and then that dirt gets inside the tent when I get back in.  But I guess after several months things are going to get dirty.  Or maybe it just won’t rain at all the whole time.  Let’s call that Plan B.

So overall it was an interesting night.  I am looking forward to doing it again though.  However I will make sure I don’t sleep in the morning before, so when it comes time to actually sleep, I will actually be tired.

And I am looking forward to the varied views I will have from my tent door while on the trail.  Here’s the view this morning, down my Mum’s driveway.  At least it was sunny in the morning.

View this morning

 

Mid-life crisis?

I’m a freelancer and my contract that I have been working on since January finished yesterday. At 5pm when I left work for the last time I joked with my friends that my mid-life crisis officially started at that point. I turn 40 next year and so I’m due for a mid-life crisis. However, I’ve decided to embrace it rather than fear it. Instead of buying some kind of ridiculous sports car or another typical mid-life crisis thing I’ve decided to walk Te Araroa instead 😁 😁 😁 and besides, I already have a ridiculous sports car.

After work I went to have a few drinks with some friends and like someone who is nearly 40, I was home and tired by 9.30pm.

Yellow Crocs

I celebrated my final day at my contract by buying some Crocs, because once on the trail, after a long day of walking and getting wet feet and shoes the last thing I will want to do is walk around camp or wherever with wet shoes. I was going to just take jandals for this purpose but I like the idea of having another pair of shoes that can be used for river crossings. Maybe I might be prepared to take my trail shoes off and put the crocs on to cross rivers, but I understand there are so many river crossings that people get sick of changing their shoes too often.

I never owned a pair of crocs before and I think they look alright, but it seems the general consensus is that they are definitely not fashionable. You can see the cat liked them (the neighbour’s cat), or was intrigued by them at least, but the reactions from my friends who saw them yesterday were not positive. Oh well, I don’t care. I have a bright yellow car and am often teased for it and so since I won’t be driving my car for a long time, I felt like I needed a bit of yellow to take on the walk (although these are officially called “lemon”).

Geese and chicks

It is definitely spring, I could tell because in the last week I saw the local Albany Lakes geese with their young. And I could also tell because it is still raining all the time, despite the sun shining.

Today was a beautiful day so I went for a walk again with my pack. I loaded up my pack to a weight of 14.5kg which I would say will be the heaviest my pack is likely to get, at least in the North Island where there are lots of towns so I don’t have to carry too much food. The pack actually didn’t feel too heavy when I first put it on, but after 5km or so I could feel the pain in my back a bit. It never hurt a lot though, but I only walked about 9km this time because I had a bit of a cold last week.

I’m underwater, apparently

I also wanted to try out my GPS Watch (Suunto Ambit 3 Run) on the “low accuracy” setting, which uses a lot less battery, but I wasn’t sure how accurate the GPS is on this setting. You can see the map below. The watch showed 8km, but when I measured out the course on Google Maps, it came up at 9.7km – quite a difference. I’m a bit of a stats geek so

this discrepancy bothers me a little bit. I was walking around and around the city streets not in a straight line so that might explain the discrepancy, lots of twists and turns which the low accuracy setting doesn’t capture correctly – you can see it cuts right across some of the roads. Maybe it won’t be such a big deal when I’m generally walking in a straight line. But I know when you have it on the high accuracy setting, the battery on the watch only lasts about 6 hours or so. With the low accuracy it is reported to last 100 hours.

Also, if you believe the watch, I was 39 metres below sea level at one point, as you can see from the photo!

Click here to see today's walk on the map.

More Back Country Cuisine meals

I tried a couple more of the Back Country Cuisine meals last night, in preparation for starting Te Araroa. This time it was:

  • Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken) – chicken and rice in a thick gravy of cream, coriander, tomato and ginger sauce, garnished with dried almonds
  • Apricot Crumble – Fruity chunks of apricot made in a hot sauce and covered with tasty malt crumbs

I thought that the Butter Chicken one was made by a different company (namely The Outdoor Gourmet Company), and the packet suggests it is, but reading the back of the packet I notice that they have the same Invercargill address as Back Country Cuisine so they must be related in some way!

Each was two servings so at first I divided each one into two. While hiking I’m sure I would want to eat the whole two serves each time but since I’m not hiking yet I thought I’d stick to one serve. The Butter Chicken looked a lot like the Thai Chicken Curry I tried the other night, so I was optimistic that it would taste good. The Apricot Crumble on the other hand, just looked like apricots and sugar. There was a distinct lack of “crumble”, and the biscuit crumbs that it came with were very fine so I was surprised.

It’s so easy to make these – boil water, put the water in the bag, and leave for 10 minutes. This time though I made them in the bowls and put Glad Wrap over the top.

The Butter Chicken was quite nice. It’s not as thick and creamy as I’d hoped and as the label promised but I wasn’t expecting it to be – there’s only so creamy you can get when adding water. It didn’t look like a lot of food but actually I was surprisingly full afterwards. A little bit more spice would have been nice, but I know a lot of people like their Butter Chickens mild. It was no replacement for a real Butter Chicken from an Indian Restaurant but it will definitely do when you’re out in the middle of nowhere. It did make me crave a real Butter Chicken though. If I was hiking through Kaitaia right now I’d be having Indian food for dinner that’s for sure!

The Apricot Crumble on the other hand I didn’t understand, it seemed more like “apricots in a thick paste”. I feel like I would have got the same result if I took a can of apricots in syrup, crushed up a packet of malt biscuits as finely as I could and mixed them together – I’d have the same result for about 20% of the price. I didn’t really like the taste either, I mean the apricots were nice but the rest of it was a bit weird. Kind of a tangy sugary gloopy mess.

I’d definitely buy the Butter Chicken again but the Apricot Crumble I think I’d pass – for dessert I think I’ll just take a block of chocolate.

This is the last time I’ll be trying the dehydrated food before I start the trail, it’s pretty clear that I like the savoury ones and will be taking a bunch of them but I’ll probably pass on the sweet ones.

Walking with my full Osprey pack for the first time

Osprey pack ready to go, minus the Te Araroa Trail patch which I want to attach to it

With exactly a month to go before I start, I realised I haven’t actually done any “training” yet.  I always walk a lot, but I’ve never carried a full pack for very long before.  I bought the Osprey Levity 60 pack two weeks ago when I was in Melbourne and carried it around Melbourne for a few hours with a 6kg or so weight, but I thought I better start walking on weekends with it fully loaded.

So yesterday rolled around, and since it was a nice Saturday with little rain forecast I piled a lot of cans and other things into the pack to make the load 11.3kg, and went out for a walk.

I live close to Mount Eden and that was my first stop – to walk up to the top of there.  My calves were burning as I was walking up the hill but the pack itself felt good.  I kept trying to pull the bottom of the pack down, but I think that’s because it’s a smaller pack than I’m used to carrying.  I spent quite a while with the salesman in Paddy Pallin getting it fitted and learning about it, and also I got the Large version of the pack so there was nothing longer.

I’ve never had a bag that sits away from your back before.  It was weird but very nice to finish the walk without a sweaty back!  However it did mean I wasn’t used to the way the pack sat on my back – I could feel the things in the top of the pack on my shoulders and the things at the bottom but not the things in the middle obviously.

I was also trying to follow the trail route to test out my mapping app.  So the next stop was Cornwall Park and One Tree Hill.  This is where I noticed something interesting.  The trail notes for the Coast to Coast Walkway (this section) say that you have to walk “up to One Tree Hill summit”, however every map I have seen shows the trail going around the edge of the park and completely bypassing the summit.  The perfectionist in me was uncomfortable about this.  Do I have to walk up to the summit or don’t I?  I would hate to tell people in the future that I walked Te Araroa, and they say to me “cool!  How did you like the summit of One Tree Hill?” and I’d say “actually I didn’t do that bit” and they’d say “hmmmmmmmmmm…..”

The council website for the walkway shows the path going to the summit.  And you go to the summit of Mount Eden, so why not One Tree Hill?

Summit of One Tree Hill

I’m not going to pester the TA Trust about this sort of little thing though.  They do a great job providing the trail route in different formats and all the trail notes.  Well, maybe after I’ve given them my donation I might ask them 🤣 🤣

I did end up walking up to the summit on this occasion and I took a photo from the top.  I was going to ask a tourist to take a photo of me and the pack and the obelisk all in the same picture, but I think it would have been unfair to get them to frame the photo exactly how I would want it.  so I settled for a selfie 😁  I won’t post any pictures of the view from the top, because as a local I’ve seen the view a hundred times!  But there are a selection of other photos that I took yesterday below.

At the summit it was very windy and the wind was very cold.  But yet I couldn’t be bothered taking the pack off my back to get out my wind jacket.  Not because it was heavy or awkward, but because the only access into the pack is via the top and I’d have to take everything out in order to find the jacket.  Clearly the way that you arrange things in the pack is going to be important.  Besides, I thought, I can handle the cold, the cold doesn’t affect me.  So I just kept walking with my merino shirt and my shorts.  Even when a few spits of rain started, I didn’t stop and take my waterproof pack liner out of the pack, again because I couldn’t be bothered, but also because the rain was just a few spots.

I really should have taken the time to find my jacket.  I was cold to the bone once I got home.  I turned the heater on and sat under it for a couple of hours.  But it makes me glad that on the trail I’m taking a wind jacket, a rain jacket, thermals, and two shirts.

One thing I noticed about the pack is that the inner layer of nylon is very thin – to be expected for such a lightweight pack I suppose.  I’m going to have to be very careful about spiky or sharp things inside the pack piercing the fabric.  Which is okay, because I plan to keep everything inside in a rubbish bag or a dry sack anyway.

I’m not going to write a full-on proper review of the pack until I’ve been walking with it for a while.  But my walk today was decent, it was 14km and I only had a very slight twinge of back pain after the 14km which went away after I took the pack off.  This is why I’m doing these walks – to prepare myself for walking with a pack like this every day.

This time one month from now I will be on the bus to Kaitaia!

Cute lamb on One Tree Hill. The mother sheep paid me no attention at all.
Daffodils in Cornwall Park – it must be spring
A mural at the nearby Intermediate School showing landmarks of Mount Eden

Review of the Back Country Cuisine Thai Chicken Curry

Everything ready to go

Last night I thought I’d have my second go using the Optimus Crux gas stove and I cooked a Back Country Cuisine dehydrated meal that I bought a couple of weeks ago from Bivouac in Albany.  I wanted to try the dehydrated meals at least once before I started Te Araroa so I knew if I liked them or not – I’d never tried one before.  Here’s what it says on the packet:

Thai Chicken Curry (Gluten Free) – The distinctive Thai taste of coconut milk & curry with chicken, green beans and roasted cashews”.

Well they sure make it sound appealing.  But I didn’t have high expectations.  I expected it to be bland and chewy and have a kind of “mystery meat” taste that you often get with cheap cuts of chicken.

Boiled some water on the stove (easy just like last time, despite the fact I had the pot quite off-centre as you can see) and poured it into the bag, stirred it, sealed it up and left it for 10 minutes.  Then, apparently you can rip off the bag at its midway point where the notches are and eat it directly out of the bag.  But I wanted to put it into my plate so I could see it.

   

As you can see it doesn’t look too bad, and I’m pleased to say that it tasted good too!  Spicier than I expected.  Quite a lot of flavour.  Although if I’m honest, I couldn’t identify the chicken.  Is it the square pieces?  That’s what I assumed, however the ingredients list contained “Soy Protein” as well as chicken, and this looked a bit like soy protein.  I don’t really know if I’m honest.  Although the rest of the ingredients were there and identifiable and tasted nice.

I’m not a foodie, so I don’t know good food when I find it.  In fact, I’m quite fussy with food, I often won’t eat something if I don’t know what meat it is or if there are ingredients listed that I haven’t heard of or if I simply don’t know the ingredients.  So the fact that I found this nice must be a good sign!

It was a small meal serve though.  The 1 serve was only 392 calories and I imagine after a day of hiking that is going to be very unsatisfying, and I think it was $8.99.  So I’d definitely be buying the 2 serve which was $12.99 for the amount of food I feel I’d need.  And I feel like I used the amount of water it said and left it for the length of time I was told to but it ended up just a little bit too watery.

I’ve just looked up their website and realised that one of their Frequently Asked Questions is “why is the meat rectangular?”, so that answers that question.  The square bits are the meat.  Interesting.  By the way, the answer is that it re-hydrates better and isn’t crunchy.  They’re also made in Invercargill too, here in New Zealand.

Definitely next I’ll try one of the dessert range… and also there’s a Butter Chicken meal too, but another company make that one.

It’s a miracle!

Yesterday, a miracle happened.  For the first time since June, it didn’t rain at all the whole day.  At least not where I was.  I mean I know New Zealand can be wet in the winter, but the relentless rain was just getting really tiresome.  I remember at the start of the year during summer how much I was looking forward to doing the trail – back when it was warm and all the days were fine and you actually wanted to be outside.  With all the rain recently I have very much enjoyed late sleep-ins and just generally staying indoors.  Yesterday I actually started to feel again like I was looking forward to some long-distance walking.

Strange round glowing thing in the sky

There was also this weird bright round thing in the sky, quite an intense white, something that’s not usually there. I didn’t know what it was.  When you looked at it you felt warm.  I don’t remember seeing it before, and actually it was quite unsettling.

My workmates told me today that it was just this thing called “the sun”.  I think I could get used to this “sun”.  I hope it continues to grace us with its presence.

On a serious note, I tried out my Optimus Crux cooking system on Sunday.  I don’t do much cooking on a normal day so I need to use it a few times before I start the trail so that I know what I’m doing.  This time I just used it to boil water.  We were all worried about how windy it was outside but when I turned the gas on and lit it with a match it was so easy.  The flame was much more powerful than I imagined and it felt like the small amount of water I had boiled in only one minute.  It was much easier than I expected!

Optimus Crux

I did expect to boil the water in the main pot and then put the instant coffee in the smaller pot and drink out of there.  However this didn’t work so well because both pots got hot quite quickly.  And the coffee seemed to cool down quite fast when I did that.  So I think I’m going to have to take some kind of lightweight mug and plate on the trail.

Tonight I’m going to use it to make my first dehydrated meal dinner.  Thai Chicken Curry by Back Country Cuisine.  Despite the fact that these get relatively good reviews from salespeople I have spoken to in the stores, I’m apprehensive.  But I need to get over any fears I have of dehydrated food otherwise I fear I will be living on nothing but couscous and nuts on the trail!

It seems the one fine day is going to be the exception.  Checking out the weather forecast for the next 10 days shows that we’re back to the usual rain, rain and more rain.  Although not every single day has rain forecast, which is nice.  And it seems MetService have also noticed the unusual round glowing thing in the sky too, it’s scheduled to make another appearance in a few days.

Weather forecast 20 – 29 August

My Goals

I want to be realistic when I am preparing for all this because while I know I can walk a long way and have done a lot of running, I haven’t done a lot of camping and I really don’t like getting wet. I’ve also never walked with a heavy backpack, well not for any great length of time anyway.

So while I’d love to say that my goal is to walk from Cape Reinga to Bluff, my first goal is actually to get myself up to Cape Reinga on 26 September and just walk back to my place in Auckland. And then, hopefully I will feel wonderful and want to continue. But Cape Reinga to Auckland (Mount Eden) is only about 20% of the whole trail and is a much more realistic and achievable goal for someone like me who is a long-distance-hiking newbie.

I’m lucky to be free to go as fast as I want or as slow as I want, and also to walk as far as I want or to abandon the walk at any time. So my second goal is just to walk however I want and not stress about anything.

But in saying that, my third goal is not to deviate from the trail unless absolutely necessary and not to skip any of it, not even one step. I understand lots of people skip the road-walking sections by hitchhiking them – I’m not going to do that. Short trips away from the trail are okay as long as I return to the exact same point to continue. River crossings are excepted. River crossings are apparently one of the biggest causes of death for long distance hikers and so I will not feel like I cheated if I use any alternative means to get across any river, or any body of water for that matter.

I’ve got most of my gear now – most importantly backpack, tent, sleeping bag, cooker and clothing. My NatureHike tent turned up from AliExpress a few days ago and so I set it up for the first time to make sure there weren’t any holes in it and that I could actually do it. There weren’t any holes, and it’s quite a nice looking tent and wasn’t hard to set up after I overcame the fear of snapping the poles while bending them. It’s supposed to be a 2-person tent but if two people were sleeping in there then there would be absolutely no space for any gear!

Here it is (with my Dad in the picture who helped me set it up)…

Unfortunately we couldn’t set it up fully because just as we got it to the point in the photo you could tell it was about to start pouring with rain (like it has every day for the last 6 weeks). We didn’t get a chance to put the stakes in so it looks a bit floppy in the picture above. But I got to lie in it and I fit in it okay which I was a bit worried about because I’m 6ft1.

I spent time deciding whether to take the groundsheet that goes under the tent on the trail because it’s an extra 300g or so and some YouTube videos say that it’s not necessary. But at this stage I think I will take it because I’m really worried about gear breaking on the trail and so anything to keep the tent in great shape has to be good.

Sadly I can’t spend a night in the tent yet because I don’t have my sleeping mat. AliExpress said that the tent came with a “mat” but what it actually meant was it came with a “groundsheet”. So I had to order an actual sleeping mat online (because I wasn’t happy with the ones I saw in any of the outdoor shops in Auckland). I’m looking forward to spending an actual night in the tent.

I also have my Osprey Levity 60L lightweight backpack so now I have to start doing some walks with it fully loaded. I live very close to Mount Eden, so my plan is to walk up and down there with ever-increasing amount of weight in the pack.

Anyway that’s enough writing for now. 39 days to go before I start!

It’s getting close

Up until recently, starting Te Araroa in September/October seemed ages away.

But now it’s almost mid-August, and I’ve started buying gear (some of it expensive), so there’s no going back now.  Once you pass the “no going back” point, it’s actually quite scary.  On a sunny day, I look outside and can’t wait to be on the trail.  But when I’m curled up in bed on a rainy morning (and there have been a lot of those recently), I really question why I’m doing this.

I haven’t told many people at this point that I’m doing the walk.  But now that there’s no going back I have started to tell a few people.  I am keeping it a surprise from most of people though, and only telling family, close workmates and friends that I see regularly.

It’s funny to see that other people’s concerns are totally different to my concerns.  Like my concerns are how I’m going to feel about crossing rivers and how I will cope when it rains for 24 hours in a row… whereas my family’s main concern seems to be the safety of people on the trail.  And I don’t mean safety as in being stuck in the hills far from anywhere, I mean safety as in people walking past and assulting you or stealing your stuff.  What’s funny is that I never gave my safety in that regard any thought at all.  I mean, have you ever passed someone who looked like a homeless person in a tent and had any desire at all to steal their stuff?  No, didn’t think so!  I mean, Kaitaia is a bit of a rough place but still, it never crossed my mind!

This is the view from my workplace right now.  This is Albany Lakes in North Auckland.  The trail passes close to here but not actually right past here.  Still though, I wish I was outside right now.

View from my workplace… before it started raining literally two minutes later

Annnnnnnnnnnnndddd… in very typical New Zealand fashion… two minutes after I took this picture, it started raining!!!

Why am I doing this?

For those of you that don’t know, Te Araroa is about 3,000km (1,860 miles), walking the whole length of New Zealand from Cape Reinga in the north to Bluff in the south (or less often, in the other direction).  If you want to see the exact route, click here and zoom the map out.

I’ve been thinking about walking Te Araroa since I walked the Queen Charlotte Track in February 2019 with my friends (which was about 90km).  We kept seeing that in the shelters we came across, in the register of people passing through, lots of people walking had written their destination as “TA SOBO” (and also occasionally “TA NOBO”) and we couldn’t work out what it meant.

Our group met up with a guy called Miguel while we were walking and he was walking the trail, and we heard a bit about it from him.  Suddenly it became clear that “TA SOBO” meant Te Araroa Southbound.  Clearly quite a lot of people were walking this trail, judging by the number of times we saw it in the registers!

I thought it was an intriguing idea, and after the Queen Charlotte track my friends and I were talking about it on the way back to the airport.  My friends largely scoffed at the idea. But in my head I was thinking “I could do that”.

Since then I have been reading blog posts and planning it. But now with only two months to go, and now that I’ve actually started buying gear and planning to take time off work (and started a blog), I realise I actually have to go through with it… There’s no turning back now! Uh oh…

Scariest things for me… will there always be somewhere to sleep?  Or go to the toilet?  And river crossings… the trail has a lot of river crossings.  I’m not much of a water person.  Oh yes… you’re also stuck in a canoe for nearly a week down the Whanganui River.  I’m kind of looking forward to that part, but mostly it scares the hell out of me.  And I’ve only ever camped for two nights in a row before, and definitely never by myself.  And I hardly ever do any cooking on a normal day… so what am I going to eat?  I feel like I might be living off nuts and couscous every day.

But I love being outside with nothing and nobody around, it’s a great feeling.  And it’s been a long time since I’ve been way out of my comfort zone.  I’m sure I’m going to love it!

And I realised that I never answered the original question – why am I doing this? I guess the answer is… because I can.

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