Every time I think back to the things that happened while I was walking Te Araroa, I still struggle to believe that some of them even were possible. Leaving the trail five times (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and yet still not completing the whole thing, my car being stolen, meeting the Prime Minister, walking with the same group of awesome guys for a month, flipping kayaks and crashing canoes, and the crazy COVID-19 pandemic – I still can’t get over the sorts of things that happened that I never expected to. So much for just a walk from one end of the country to the other – it was much more eventful than that.
Of course none of those crazy events are even related to any of the wonderful places I ended up visiting. It’s really hard to pick the best parts of the whole trail, but I’m going to give it a go. These are the parts of the trail I’d recommend to people wanting to do a short section of the trail.
- All of the Richmond Ranges (days 87 to 94)
- Tongariro Crossing (day 59)
- Goat Pass (day 104)
- Puketi Forest and river walk (day 10)
- Waiau Pass (day 97)
These were the five best walking tracks in my opinion, but there were of course other days which were really great, not because of the view or the wonderful path, but for other reasons. I would have to say that my most favourite day on the whole trail was actually the very first day for no other reason than it was so exciting and scary – I was finally on the trail after spending almost the whole year thinking about it and the emotions I was feeling that day I’ll remember forever.
There were a few times on the trail where I thought to myself that I would be prepared to wipe my entire memory of the whole trail just so that I could experience the thrill and excitement of that first day a second time. The start of the trail was so new and exciting because it was the first time I’d ever done any kind of multi-day hike before. I especially started to think this in the second half of the South Island because once I passed somewhere around Lake Coleridge in the South Island, a lot of the trail became a bit “ho-hum” by then and I was just looking forward to finishing it so I could return to normal life.
Lots of foreigners come to New Zealand and only walk the South Island, either because they have heard the North Island isn’t worth it, or they only have limited time, or for other reasons. So which island did I prefer? Perhaps controversially, I preferred the North Island.
The North Island was a huge variety of landscapes and experiences, it was thrilling because it was first (and therefore new and exciting), having lived most of my life in the North Island it allowed me to see all the places I have known and loved all my life from different angles, and I was able to walk with a couple of groups of people for a long distance.
The South Island was merely an epic hiking expedition. Which is great, but it’s not the main reason that I originally sought to do this.
I know I’m writing this as if it’s all over, despite the fact that I only completed 89% of the trail. I’m aware that I could do the final 11% in two weeks, in a break from work (once I start working again), however the truth is I probably won’t. There were no sections of the trail past Queenstown I was particularly looking forward to, except perhaps the beach walks along the south coast. Realistically there’s no chance it’s going to happen this season now and arriving at Bluff with a gap of a year or two since starting feels like it would be pointless and would achieve nothing. Of course, if it ever does happen I will document it here!
When I sit down and read back through all the previous posts, especially near the beginning, I am reminded of how happy I was to be out there. It was always more about the journey than the destination. Getting to Stirling Point at Bluff would have been nice but it always felt like just a formality. This was more and more the case each time I had to leave the trail for whatever reason. If I had’ve walked from Cape Reinga to Bluff without stopping so many times like most tourists would do then reaching the finish line would have been much more important.
I remember on the morning of my last day on the trail when I was deciding whether to continue on or not, I was chatting with Henry who was one day ahead of me and who had just left Queenstown, and we were discussing whether we should go on – by that time the lockdown had not been announced. Henry was worried about going on from Queenstown and I said I agreed, I don’t want to be stuck in Invercargill after the trail was over. But then I said “surely they won’t cancel all domestic flights. I just really can’t picture that happening”. The idea just seemed so incomprehensible. And then, less than 6 hours later, that’s exactly what they did. We really are in crazy times right now.
I also know that Henry was originally unable to get a flight out of Queenstown but then he did make it home safely before the lockdown.
If the announcement had’ve been a day later, when I would have passed Queenstown, I wonder what would have happened to me. Would I have finished the trail, but be stuck in Invercargill or Bluff for the duration of the lockdown? Would I have found the two big farms that we walk through closed, and be stuck in the middle of nowhere? Would I have arrived at the Colac Bay tavern with no remaining food, expecting to go in and get a huge big meal, only to find the tavern (and everything else around) closed?
It would be great to walk Te Araroa northbound one day (in the very distant future!), and if by chance I ever did that then I would like to do it without stopping. No break for Christmas, no injuries (hopefully), no social engagements, just walking. But again I think it’s unlikely that I’ll do that – it’s hard to take such a long time out of normal life, and also to experience the excitement of a brand new experience again maybe the next long hike will be something overseas. But with the pandemic ravaging the world any kind of overseas travel might be years away now, so who really knows.
Since I’ve been back home I’ve been pretty bored, especially since I’m not working. As I write this we’re on Day 6 of the Alert Level 4 lockdown. The lockdown has been forecast to last four weeks, and if it does last exactly four weeks, then it will be lifted on the exact day of my 40th birthday. I’m interested to see if I’m allowed to go and have a drink with my friends on my 40th birthday or not.
I’ve been getting back into running – being about the only outdoor activity we’re still allowed to do. On the first day I was only able to run 4km, but now I’m consistently running 10km on two days out of three, so that’s good. It seems that despite walking big distances most days in the last six months, this hasn’t carried over to being able to run long distances each day. But that’s okay, at least I can run which gives me something to do and means I might not put on a ton of weight during this lockdown. I put today’s 11km run on the map below – just one last map for old time’s sake!
It was really fun writing the blog, I don’t know what I would have done in many of the evenings otherwise, and it will always be a reminder of this six month period of my life. Walking Te Araroa was a great experience and I never regretted it at any time. I really liked all the positive comments I got from you readers and especially when people said that they were inspired to walk some of the sections of the trail that I walked. I’d love it if this blog ever inspires anybody out there to do the entire TA – if that’s you, please let me know in the comments below!
Today's run on the map (blue = Te Araroa, red = today's run):