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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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.
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.
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”).
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 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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
After National Park there is apparently no cellphone service for 7 days or so. So no updates for a while. Ethan, Alex, Charlie, Peter and I are launching canoes and kayaks from Whakahoro on Tuesday morning (the 26th).
The Tongariro Crossing was awesome. Here are some teaser pictures before the full post 😁
So, my Christmas break is now over, and tomorrow I’m on my way back to Pelorus Bridge via Blenheim to continue where I left off. I’m nervous and also excited.
I have decided not to count the two and a half weeks I’ve just had off from the trail as “days”, so I haven’t numbered them. The logic being that if it wasn’t Christmas then I wouldn’t have taken the days off so therefore they don’t count as days.
The biggest thing that happened during the break was that I arrived back to my house in Auckland on 21 December after flying out from Blenheim and noticed that while I was away, some lowlife stole my car. Not the greatest start to my holiday.
After reporting it to the police and establishing that it has been stolen and not simply towed, I worked out how I was going to get around. My friend Kane pointed out that at least I’ve had a fair bit of experience recently with walking.
It took me a few days to get over the ordeal – I was moping around a fair bit initially. But when I started looking at new cars online, it cheered me up a bit. I’ll be able to buy myself a new car as a reward for finishing the trail. And I definitely have the motivation to complete the trail now. No way am I having my car stolen to only complete 60% of the trail.
I weighed myself when I got home on 21 December and I was 75.5kg. I was 82kg when I started the trail and 78kg when I stopped in Auckland in early November. But yet on 6 January after the Christmas break I was back up to 79kg – yikes! The weight goes back on easily when you’re not walking!
I also finally got rid of the beard and moustache… but I kept the long hair, for now at least!
Since I had no car, I had to take public transportation to see my family at Christmas. On the plus side, I seemed to be the only person with this particular predicament.
I had a great Christmas with my family. Then, I went to a place called Tata Beach with some of my friends for a few days.
We hired kayaks while we were there…
And took them to find a Terrain 5 geocache on Motu Island. I even got one of my friends into geocaching – he signed up for an account and continued looking for other geocaches even after I left!
Looking on Facebook recently, I have seen lots of hikers on the Te Araroa group complain about full accommodation. I saw it first-hand here when we drove past the Top 10 holiday park at Pohara Beach. It was absolutely chocka-block despite being a huge place. Every single piece of grass had a tent or something on it. I’m kinda glad that I don’t have to deal with that right now.
I flew back to Auckland to attend my stepbrother’s wedding on New Year’s Eve. It was advertised as an engagement party but when guests turned up they were told that it is actually a wedding. I’m one of the few people that knew in advance because they knew I was walking and so they needed to tell me the truth to make sure I turned up!
Another surprise was that Fraser’s sister Naomi turned up from England, along with husband Paul and their son Seb. That was a surprise for everyone. Naomi told me how much of a fan she is of this blog. Hi Nomes!!
I finally bought a new phone in the Boxing Day sales to replace my backup phone that died at Te Kuiti around day 50. It’s a Huawei P30 Pro, which is supposed to have one of the best cameras on a smartphone out there. I’m happy to have a second phone again while I’m walking, in case something happens to one of them. Let’s see if the photos get better from here on with this new camera!
The first photo I took with my new phone was of a very colourful salad that was made for me by Lin. Hi Lin!
The colours seem to come through quite well on this phone, and you can zoom in quite far, it seems! Although the ratio of the pictures is different – the Samsung S8+ that I’ve used to take most of the photos up until now takes quite “wide” photos. The photos taken by the P30 Pro are more of a “standard” photo size.
There have been a lot of bushfires in Australia recently, which is quite sad. On the 5th of January the smoke from the bushfires made its way over to New Zealand and covered Auckland and a lot of the rest of the country with a weird sepia-coloured glow. I can’t imagine what it must be like actually being near the bushfires, instead of thousands of miles away.
So yes, tomorrow I’ll be starting to walk again from Pelorus Bridge in the South Island. I’ve been looking forward to it over the last week! Although I don’t know if I’ll actually get any walking done tomorrow because on Wednesday the connection time between my flight to Blenheim and my bus to Pelorus Bridge is only 20 minutes – so if I miss the bus I’ll either have to hitchhike, which might take some time, or stay in Blenheim for one night and start walking the next day.
Also publishing new blog posts will be less frequent in the South Island – I need a good, stable Internet connection to upload the photos required for the blog, and I understand there’s not a lot of cellphone reception in the South Island. But I’m still planning on writing a daily blog post, even if I can’t publish it right away. Quite a few people over Christmas told me how much they like the blog and so I definitely have to keep writing it! Thanks to all of you!
The morning after I stayed at Boyle Village the other two staying in the outdoor education centre realised they have way too much food. They joined an apparently large number of hikers who give away their food for free. Again I didn’t take any of it.
Now I’m on my way from Boyle Village to Napier via Christchurch to attend my friends’ wedding!
The shuttle arrived as expected to take me to Christchurch, although there were supposed to be three others getting on from Boyle Village too according to the manifest. None of them turned up. I talked to most people who passed through the Outdoor Centre and none of them mentioned taking the shuttle. That probably means it was TA hikers who were still out on the trail and perhaps didn’t make it in time. I wonder who they were supposed to be. Would’ve been quite a full van if they were here, there were only four empty seats.
I was told when I booked that I had to pay $46 to the driver in cash, but he was expecting $48. That was a bit awkward. Although he admitted later that he was wrong – it was $46.
In Christchurch, I bought some important supplies, to replace the things I lost over the last few days and to get a big bottle of Deet because of the vicious sandflies.
I reluctantly got my hair cut so that I would look presentable for the wedding. My hair might have been a bit shaggy before but at least it gave me some hiker cred.
Now I just look like an aging member of Justin Bieber’s backup dancers.
I saw the “185 Empty Chairs” installation. It represents the 185 people who lost their lives in the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake. It was quite moving. 185 empty chairs (that you were allowed to sit on) on 185 square metres of grass. The installation is temporary, “as is life”.
I last came to Christchurch in 2013 or so. Back then they had made no progress on rebuilding the Christchurch Cathedral after the quake. It appears from the outside that not much has changed, although signs say that a lot of work is taking place inside.
Here’s the temporary “Cardboard Cathedral” used in the meantime.
I spent a couple of days walking around Christchurch and I also met up with my friends Michael and Lynda who drove me around. It was good to catch up.
I remembered the food boxes people were sending to themselves at Boyle Village and I thought I’d do one for myself. It will be like getting a Christmas Present!
There are almost no shops between Boyle Village and Tekapo which is a long way… in fact it is over 320km. So I decided to send a food box to myself care of the Bealey Hotel (120km from Boyle, 2km from Arthur’s Pass) and then a few days after that I have to get a shuttle around the Rakaia River which will pass through Methven, so I can get food there also.
Can I just say I absolutely love the Christchurch City Centre Countdown.
I got four or five days worth of food and my box was ready to go. It was 4.4kg and cost $8.80 to post from Christchurch to the Bealey Hotel. I’m happy with that because once it goes over 5kg the cost of posting it doubles.
During my down time this week I have been looking at the visitors to the blog and I can’t tell much about them but I can see where people are visiting from. I know who some of the people are… Auckland, Oamaru, Arlington, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, hi to you guys! But one country which is high up in the list is Sweden 🇸🇪. Who is visiting from there? Please leave me a comment!
The night before my flight to Napier I got an email from Air New Zealand saying that fog is forecast the next morning and therefore “there is the potential for your flight to be disrupted”. Oh great that didn’t help me sleep well. I looked at the forecast and sure enough, “low cloud” was forecast. Oh well, whatever will be will be!
The next morning I stood on the balcony of the motel and looked towards the airport. There is a small bit of cloud but it doesn’t look low and definitely doesn’t look like fog.
On the bus to the airport, the cloud increased, but it still didn’t look low.
At the airport I went and got some coffee, and the café had lolly cake but with icing on it! If you’ve read some of my previous entries you’ll know I like to seek out lolly cake. Never though have I seen one with icing. I approved.
There was also this interesting sculpture outside.
It is the subject of a virtual geocache, where you need to take a silly picture of your reflection to claim the geocache “found”.
As you can see by now there was no sign of fog. And sure enough the flight took off without incident.
I met some of my friends on arrival at Napier Airport who flew in from Auckland. My first task as groomsman was to taxi a bunch of us, along with a ton of supplies, around in this massive van. Luckily I can drive a manual.
The wedding was great, and it was a wonderful chance to have a bit of fun and excitement for two days. I’ll be honest though, it was a shock to the system after all the peace and quiet of the trail to have so many people in such a small space! (mostly drinking too)
On the last day on the way back to the airport, I used the Air NZ app to check on my flight and I happened to glance at the weather. Looks like it’s much the same as when I left, but a fair bit warmer.
I also looked at my boarding pass and noticed that there are three 8s in both my flight number and my bag tag number, which is lucky (if you believe in Chinese superstitions).
The flight back to Christchurch involved a stop in Wellington but was otherwise uneventful.
I have always liked Wellington Airport, not only because I got a “mousetrap” bagel (grilled Swiss cheese and Marmite) from Best Ugly Bagels but also because it always has cool big statues.
I had an hour and a bit layover so I wandered out of the airport to get the nearest geocache. It was about a ten minute walk from the airport and it was disguised as a butterfly.
Once back in the South Island, after a dinner of McDonald’s I did a resupply at Pak’n Save in Riccarton in Christchurch.
I wasn’t exactly sure how many days I was buying for, but it was at least six. The kilo block of cheese I’m hoping will last longer than six days, so that I will still have some after I pass the Bealey Hotel and pick up my food parcel. But 1kg of cheese is heavy! So are all the snacks I bought!
I read that the Coast to Coast bike slash kayak slash run is being held just north of Bealey and Arthur’s Pass on Friday and Saturday, which is about exactly when I plan to pass through there. It isn’t clear whether things will be closed or just really busy. I might have to work around that.
I did some thinking. On day 50 when I arrived in Te Kuiti, I said that the second fifty days were going to be very different to the first fifty days. How right I was. The first fifty were walking through parts of the North Island I knew well and meeting lots of new people, and staying at my friends’ houses when I passed near them. The second fifty were walking the rest of the North Island that I didn’t know so well, almost entirely with Alex, Ethan, Charlie and Peter, as well as the Richmond Ranges and Waiau Pass in the South Island. That was definitely an unforgettable experience.
And since tomorrow is Day 100, it seems fairly clear that the next fifty days will be very different again. Firstly, there probably won’t be another fifty days. That in itself is weird. Secondly, I don’t have any more obligations or planned breaks in the trail. This really is the home stretch now. And lastly I’ve got no idea who I might meet up with.. hopefully I catch Rhydian again, hopefully I see Henry because I have a feeling he is very close by, and hopefully I meet a bunch of new, cool people (who walk the same speed as me).
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.
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!
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
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.
Like I thought might happen, another COVID-19 lockdown has forced me to postpone my trip. People in Auckland are not currently allowed to leave the city.
It’s not the end of the world though – once the current lockdown is over I should still be able to go. I didn’t lose any money as these days I only book transport and accommodation that is fully refundable. The little bit extra that this costs turns out to be worth it time and time again.
The current lockdown is confined to Auckland only (where three new community cases were discovered) and as happened last time, people outside of Auckland who live in Auckland are allowed to return home, so if I had’ve been in Invercargill when lockdown was announced, I wouldn’t have been stuck there. There is some concern that because these cases are the new and highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant (the UK variant), lockdowns in future might have to be more severe, but all I can do is see what happens.
I’m sad I won’t get to see Oliver and Sanj who just happen to be in Queenstown right now. Oli sent me this picture from Tekapo a couple of days before. I recognise exactly where it was taken from.
Hopefully I’ll be there soon. But I’m not going to predict or even guess at a possible future departure date. Getting your hopes up and having them come crashing down gets old after a while.
Fingers crossed… no more lockdowns… and I’ll be able to leave in 12 hours from now! My flight is booked and my bag is packed!
I stayed at work this week because stuff happened that meant work was busy this week. In a way delaying my walk until tomorrow was almost a blessing in disguise because now that that’s out of the way I can walk and not have to worry about leaving behind unfinished business at my job.
I’m all set to go… here is 9 days worth of food, to last me from Queenstown to Colac Bay (although it doesn’t look like that much).
It weighs 6kg, plus I will add a 500g block of cheese once I get to Queenstown. I’m still apprehensive about carrying this much food, because it’s heavy and it’s hard to fit that much food in the pack, and also I don’t know if it will be enough – I’m going to have to ration it! But like I decided last time that doesn’t really matter. I can hitchhike out and get more food if I have to.
The pasta, one of the packets of rice and one of the Back Country Cuisine meals are the exact same ones that were in my pack when I flew back from Queenstown a year ago. They have been in my pantry all this time! And also, the cash that I am taking with me has also been in my wallet for the same length of time.
I put feelers out there to see if any other hikers are in Queenstown and who might be getting a shuttle around Lake Wakatipu this weekend… but got no responses. So right now I’m the only one booked Sunday morning on an Info & Track shuttle between Queenstown and Greenstone on the other side of the lake. There’s a very real possibility I’m going to see very few people for the next 2 weeks. Other Te Araroa walkers I’m following on Instagram who I hoped I might get to meet in person aren’t yet at Queenstown.
It’s going to be nice to be away from civilisation for a while. Away from the little irritations of everyday city life, and away from the constant notifications from my phone. I don’t know what the cellphone reception is like down there, but I’m guessing there is not much. It’s going to be great.