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