Don’t dream it’s over

“There is freedom within, there is freedom without. Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup.There’s a battle ahead, many battles are lost. But you’ll never see the end of the road while you’re travelling with me. Hey now, hey now. Don’t dream it’s over. ” ( Crowded House – Don’t dream it’s over)

But it sort of is. The dream/goal of a 3000 km through-walk of Aotearoa New Zealand is over for these two trampers. There are a number of reasons but the main one is that the trail in the top of the South Island is too tough, too steep and too hard core for these fifty-something trampers who have a healthy appreciation of the risk presented by these advanced trails and an over-riding lust for life. There was a poster in the Hunting and Fishing store in KeriKeri in Northland which proudly stated that “Without risk there is no adventure”, but, conversely, with death there is no life. We feel this is the correct decision for us and it has been made easier by the fact that climatic conditions have met that a number of tracks are closed in the top of the South Island due to fire risk, and in the Fiordland/ Mount Aoraki region due to heavy rain.

There are a couple of other reasons which have dimmed my enthusiasm for the TA. The TA has become a victim of its own success and its cult-like status has resulted in young adventurers flocking from around the world to walk the trail. This is especially true of the South Island, which has one third of its land mass devoted to national parks and has a deserved reputation as a place to get away from it all and experience pristine forests and rivers. However the popularity of the TA trail has meant that the huts in the National Parks are routinely over-crowded, which in turn destroys any illusion that you are at one with nature. I also feel that the destination (i.e. Bluff) has become all consuming for the majority of young TA hikers who routinely spend every daylight hour carving off 30 to 40 km sections with barely time or inclination to absorb and appreciate the beauty that surrounds them. These are not my sort of people and my enthusiasm for spending time with them in the huts has waned significantly.

Abandoning the TA as a through-walk has had immediate upside in that we are no longer forced to follow a prescribed trail which goes over territory we don’t want to walk, but instead can cherry-pick the highlights of the South Island that suit our skill-set and walking experience. To date this has meant that we were able to spend 7 days traversing the Travers – Sabine circuit, surely one of the best walks in New Zealand with its two alpine lakes, the Travers Saddle with its towering peaks, pristine rivers and a wonderful collection of huts. Completing the Travers-Sabine restored the excitement and enthusiasm for tramping that I first had when we took our first faltering steps on 90 Mile Beach and the beauty is that there are many more such walks in NZ. Another classic tramp that we completed recently was the thoroughly enjoyable St James Walkway which had us walking through alpine valleys and beech forest over a period of 5 days. Interestingly both trails intersected with the TA for part of the track, and, where it did, the huts were all full to over-flowing whereas away from the TA we only had a few hut companions each night and enjoyed Speargrass Hut all to ourselves.

So, a new plan is evolving. We will continue to make our way down the South Island choosing walks and places to stay that take our fancy. We will continue to track the kilometers walked along the way and hopefully get to our goal of 2000 km walked during our journey. We will use our car to ease the logistical nightmare of getting across uncrossable rivers and around regions which are effectively closed due to rain damage. We will suppress the tug of the final destination and instead wander through this South Island wonderland with a spring in our step and a sparkle in our eye.

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