The trail changes you.
Once the trail is over, you think that you will be able to just stop walking and you’ll be back into your old life and that your old life wasn’t that bad… but no, as I learned, it definitely doesn’t work like that.
It’s been nearly a year since I received that text message from Nick while in Pak’n’Save in Queenstown. The text that said:
“NZ going to lockdown in 48 hours”
The text that made me drop everything and race back to Auckland on the next available flight. The text that ended my Te Araroa dream for 2020. The text that indicated that life as we know it on this planet was about to change.
Even now I wonder what would have been different if I was somewhere deep in the forest when the lockdown started, rather than walking right beside Queenstown Airport by pure chance. Or if Nick hadn’t sent me that text, and I continued walking oblivious to the lockdown. I probably would have been able to walk a bit further from Queenstown, but I doubt I would have been able to continue to Bluff without being stopped by police. I probably would have spent a month of lockdown in a tent in Te Anau or some other out of the way place. Or I would have turned up at Colac Bay on the south coast, expecting the pub to be open to get some food, but instead finding nothing, and starving.
It took me a while to find a job last year with the pandemic going on, but I did return to work in July after four months, and so life did largely return to normal.
It was winter and so I didn’t think much about hiking. But then as September arrived, so did the “Te Araroa 2020-2021” Facebook group. and I got to see a surprising number of people commencing their own TA adventure. Given that this country is still not allowing any arrivals from overseas except New Zealand residents, I was surprised just how many people there were. And I got to see all their photos and experiences and I got jealous.
Not to mention every time I hear certain songs, I get a flood of memories rushing back. For example, any time I heard the song High Hopes I would be reminded of the walk into Lake Tekapo, where that song made me feel emotional. Any time I heard any song by Crowded House (especially Four Seasons in One Day) I would be reminded of the walk out of Te Kuiti and also way back at the start at Cape Reinga when I walked with Rhydian. Youngblood reminded me of Okiato – Helena Bay. Numerous other songs reminded me of numerous other sections of the trail. And any time anything hiking-related popped up on my Instagram feed from Alex and Ethan, I was reminded of the 30 days I spent walking with them. And there seem to be a larger number than usual of stories about Te Araroa in the local news – I wonder if Mark Wetherall is making more of an effort to promote it than usual?
And every time I read my own blog, I wanted nothing more than to regain the simple life I had for those six or seven months. So I got researching what other walks I could do one day. The Appalachian trail sounds like a great trail. Maybe I’ll get to walk that one day. But of course with the world in the state it is, who knows when that’s gonna happen.
Instead I set my sights to the next logical thing to do – finish the remaining 337-ish kilometers from Queenstown Airport to Bluff. That is do-able right now, I decided. We’re in a fairly quiet period at work, so I was able to get two and a half weeks off work.
Here we go again
On February 18 I’ll be flying back to Queenstown and continuing on. Can’t wait.
But I’m a bit rusty now on all sorts of things. I have to remind myself how to even work the blog again. Even simple things, like attaching photos to my blog posts, I can’t remember how to do.
The more important thing is that I need to learn how to hike again. I haven’t done any long walks since the TA, and I haven’t really done much running either. During lockdown I put on a fair bit of weight, more than the total weight I lost during the hike. I did purchase myself an e-bike though, and I use that to get around everywhere. My new car that I bought sits in the garage 6 days out of 7 now.
I did manage to run the Auckland half-marathon in November in less than two hours, so that wasn’t too bad.
New Zealand was quite fortunate to even be able to hold a big event like the Auckland Marathon. If there was any COVID-19 community transmission, the event wouldn’t be able to go ahead, but there wasn’t, and it did.
I’m not sure any of that is going to help with being fit enough to hike long days again. Ultimately I’ll just have to take things slowly. It’s only 330-something kilometers. How hard can that be?
I don’t know exactly what the terrain is like for this last bit. I understand there are no really high peaks or really steep bits. The Mavora Lakes which is first is apparently really nice. I think the highest elevation from here on is about 1,000m. Then there’s some farms, some beach, and the infamous Longwood Forest with “Abundance Of Rats Hut” (formally known as Martin’s Hut).
Oh yes, and as you can see I have not cut my hair since getting back to Auckland. It was too hard to cut it during hiking and then too hard to cut it during lockdown and then I just decided to let it grow. I don’t think it looks too bad. At least I no longer look like Justin Bieber or any of his entourage.
I actually had considered walking the trail over New Years when I also had two weeks off. But when my friends asked me if I wanted to spend New Years at the beach, I couldn’t say no. It worked out for the best – the weather in the South Island during January was atrocious. Lots of storms, lots of flooding, and even a fair bit of snow. Remember, it’s supposed to be summer here!
I did find these sunglasses on a walk up One Tree Hill, at the summit.
Thanks to whoever left these sunnies up there! They’re mine now, and will come in really handy while I’m walking! I hope I don’t break them like I did 4 or 5 other pairs of sunnies while walking TA last year. These ones are actually quite nice and fit me quite well and are comfortable.
Getting back into shape
I did a couple of walks with my pack to make sure I could carry a pack with up to 20kg in it. It didn’t take me long to get back into the swing of things, although I got exhausted a lot more quickly than I used to when I was full-time on the trail. One such walk was the Pūweto Loop in the Waitawa Regional Park in East Auckland. It was a 9.2km hike, a nice mix of farmland, gorse and beach.
I set up my tent to make sure it is still structurally sound and it was. But I have to get back into the routine of taking photos of everything. Several times I thought “I wish I took a photo of that” (e.g. the tent setup). Here’s the maps of that walk, and some photos that I did take.
The map of the walk is at the end of the post. I even had to re-write the software that displays the maps on the blog posts, because Suunto (the maker of my GPS watch) forced an update on us which completely changed the way they store their map data. Very frustrating.
I also did a practice walk with the pack around Oliver and Sanj’s farm, where I stayed on Day 48 last year. It’s very rugged in places and there are some parts that even they haven’t explored. It also meant that there weren’t the usual groomed tracks to follow, we were just following goat trails. When you’re doing the TA, you are often slightly reassured that other people have walked the trail before you many times. When you’re out here on private land in the middle of nowhere, you don’t have that reassurance.
On the drive back I saw these new signs between Te Rauamoa Road and Kaimango Road. They weren’t here when I walked through last year! The first time I saw these signs while on trail were down by Lake Coleridge in the South Island.
And one other thing… there won’t be any more discussion about my toenail. It grew back and is normal again!
Last year I used the Department of Conservation Hut Pass which meant I could stay in any hut for 6 months. That’s expired now of course, so I bought a few of these bad boys.
These are blue hut tickets, meaning they’re adult hut tickets for standard huts (as opposed to serviced huts). They cost $5 each and each one is good for one adult to spend one night in a hut classed as a “standard hut”. It’s hard to know exactly how many to buy, but if I’ve got too many I can give them away, and if I don’t have enough then I can sleep in my tent. I know that Abundance Of Rats Hut is classed as a “basic hut”, therefore it’s free.
There was a Facebook post by someone saying that apparently only 30% of people pay their hut fees. That’s quite a low number and it’s quite sad. I don’t know what evidence they have but I would believe it, based on reading the hut books last year. Although when I bought these tickets, I commented to the sales girl at Bivouac in Sylvia Park that she has a lot of them, and I asked her how long it would take to sell all these. Her response was “in summer, not very long at all”. So that’s good.
I’ve pulled out all my gear from the corners of my room where it spent the last year, and made sure it is still present and working. My sleeping mat got a bit mouldy, even though I’m positive I dried it out as much as I could at the time before packing it away. I found a small Swiss Army Knife lying around that will replace the one that got taken off me at Queenstown Airport last year. I would want something better if I was going to be doing another through-hike, but this will do. It has a little knife and a tiny pair of scissors which were the only two things I ever used, as well as a file, so it will be fine.
Packing was very nostalgic. I remember that I always used to pack my stuff in a certain way each day and of course now I have absolutely no idea what that was. Although I’m very glad that I posted my gear list here. It meant that I could just refer to that and I know that I haven’t forgotten anything.
There’s a few things that I crossed out, which I’m not going to bring this time. They are…
- Rain pants – I hardly ever wore them except when I was doing laundry
- Cheap op-shop shirt – This was the one I bought in Taumarunui when I got desperate
- S8 Smartphone (backup phone) – I almost decided not to take it but after some thinking, I will. Never hurts to have a backup phone.
- Tent repair kit – The one I bought on Day 5 which I never needed because the duct tape on the back of the tent is still holding.
- Wool for blisters – Only because I can’t find it
- Spare tent stakes – The ones that came with the tent were fine and none ever broke
- Razor and wet wipes – I’ll survive for two weeks without these
I also crossed out “shorts” – I went through a lot of pairs of shorts but the ones I had at the end of the walk were my light blue togs that I bought from Wanaka and so I need to find some new ones.
The interesting thing about the last section is that from Queenstown (km 2681) to Colac Bay (km 2918) there are no towns or shops. That’s 237 kilometers without any place to resupply. There are three places where it’s possible to hitchhike to a town and resupply… but do I really want to do that? I have ummed and ahhed about it many times and my current thinking is that I’ll just pack as much food as I can and walk. I estimate that section will take between 8 and 12 days, but it’s hard to say exactly how long since I’m out of practice. I survived carrying 9 days worth of food through the Richmond Ranges. If I end up packing my pack too heavy, then I’ll just give some food away. On the other hand, if I end up running out of food, then I’ll hitchhike and get more. I have to remind myself that you don’t need to plan these things too much. It’s a nice feeling – just going with the flow.
I’m a bit worried about having such a long stretch without a chance to recharge my devices, I never used my big battery pack again after the trail and so I hope it still retains its charge. At the end of the Richmond Ranges I had the tiniest amount of battery left although I was blogging as I went. This time to save battery I probably won’t publish any blog posts until I hit the towns on the south coast. Besides I don’t think there’s much phone coverage after Queenstown anyway.
Ah, that which I’d prefer not to speak about, but unfortunately it’s a necessity. Here in New Zealand we have been nowhere near as badly as hit as a lot of countries around the world due to COVID-19. We had the four week lockdown in March last year, followed by a less strict three week lockdown in August. Then, there were no more cases detected in New Zealand outside of quarantine for quite some time.
Fast forward to last month, and literally the day after I decided I wanted to do this, and booked my flights for this trip, a new case of COVID-19 was detected in the community, in Northland. Lockdown threatened for several days, but fortunately never eventuated. Then there was another community case in Orewa, and then another one in Hamilton just the other day. So depending on how many more cases they find, it really is going to be touch and go whether I actually get to go or not. I won’t know until literally the morning of the flight on Feb 18 whether I’m going or not.
Despite new Coronavirus variants emerging in the world which are many times more easily transmissible than the original variants, I’m feeling good that I won’t get stuck in the South Island in some kind of lockdown. They’re calling these variants the “UK” and “South African” variants. When the August outbreak happened last year, it was localised to Auckland, and so only those of us in Auckland got locked down. Those who lived in Auckland were allowed to return to Auckland, people just weren’t allowed to leave Auckland without a good reason. It is generally acknowledged that there won’t be another nationwide lockdown unless things suddenly get really really really bad. As long as I have access to any kind of computer, I can do my work remotely anyway.
- Finish Te Araroa
- Don’t die
- No more conversations about COVID-19
- My car doesn’t get stolen this time
Today's walk on the map: