Nelson, Day 167 , ~1730km walked
Its a funny thing, ending a massive adventure. It’s a known phenomenon for long thru-hikers that adjusting back to “normal” life is sometimes more of a challenge that what they have gone through. Because Pete and I went through the adventure together, and changed along the way together, we didn’t think it was going to be a massive change. But still, we were mentally preparing for it. We had our last two weeks of the trip planned to ease us back – Stewart Island to celebrate and put a full-stop on the journey. Then a race up the island to collect Tana and 5 days with her in Golden Bay to reconnect both with her, but also with our life going forward.
CoVid-19 and NZ’s lockdown has changed all that. Sure, it shortened our trip (we still have ~300km, and Wanaka to Bluff to complete another time). But, it has put us on level-footing with a lot of the population. Isolated, coping with a severely restricted lifestyle, and looking for work in very uncertain economic environment. That is not a typical TA or long adventure transition! But, as there are so many people in the same and worse positions, it is somehow easier to just get on and make the most of where we are now. And our apartment is bigger than the tent! And staying in one place with good wifi, and all mod-cons is luxury!
Looking back on what we wanted to achieve, I’m thrilled with our 5 month, 1730km, self-styled Te Araroa adventure. There are many, many take-outs, so just a quick summary to help me articulate some of them.
Stronger, better, lighter – those are the words I used to pithily describe some of my aspirations for the trip. What I didn’t really mention was on what dimensions. Sure, physically – big ticks! Walking 10-20km per day, carrying 15kg packs and being careful of what you eat (so it doesn’t weigh too much) has an immediate impact on your body. Mentally too – facing demons, making decisions, having the odd life-threatening moment – yup – can add big ticks there as well. And relationship-wise – we nailed it!!! We had fun, pushed ourselves and each other, built an empathy that 24hrsx7daysx24weeks forces you to develop. We celebrated 25 years together on the journey, and with this adventure, there is a freshness and vitality that I hope we can keep alive. Plus, we have lots more photos and memories for our less active years.
The other dimension I looked forward to, was exploring New Zealand and New Zealanders way of life in the different parts of the country we got to see. Especially in the North Island, this was a major eye-opener. We know we are lucky to live in this country with all its natural environments and a mere 4 million people to populate it, but walking through it – you see a little more – warts and all. There is poverty, extreme wealth, alternative living, community spirit and single-minded meanness. NZers friendliness is a cliche for a reason – most people’s openness is incredible. A multitude of Trail Angels help make the TA possible for the 1500+ thru-walkers each year. The few we met, touched us with their kindness, and have left an indelible mark on many other walkers. The TA is a boon for many communities and their embracing of it makes it special. In other communities – walkers are made to walk 40+km to get to somewhere they are ”allowed” to camp – or made to walk on back-country roads and sometimes our main highways – because the owner of the private property will not give an inch. Or on “paper roads” where the farmer seems to deliberately put bulls in the fields in the height of TA walking, or puts an electric fence down the side of the path – on, even though there are no animals present. We have sooooo much land, can’t we be generous enough to make our national pathway something we are proud of.
An aspect I hadn’t rated, as I hadn’t really looked forward to it – was meeting the other TA walkers. Having had a few DoC hut experiences that left me cold (know-it-alls talking about extreme adventures), I was wary of what we would find. That was blown away on the very first night at Twilight Camp, Cape Reinga. 12 of us shared a cooking facility and the next few nights together. The Scottish Boys, The French Girls, Kiwi-Aussie Trev and Robin, The Wisconsin Girls, French Luigi, and the incredible Nelson Kay. After such a good start, we continued to meet amazing people along the way. The beauty of the TA is that you never know when you will see them again! Trev and Robin we next saw in Upper Travers Hut, Nelson Lakes – 3 months later! Kate who we met in Mt Pirongia, we next saw on the shores of Lake Wanaka. Kay – we were lucky enough to run into mulitple times – and hope we can in Nelson too! Everyone has a different reason for being here, not many have much tramping experience, many are just open to experience this wonderful country and all it has to offer. Sure, they may not spend the same amount as tour-bus customers (some do!), but if you get a chance to meet or help them – they will make it worth your while in so many other ways.
Exploring your country, or indeed another country, by foot is an amazing experience. One in which Pete and I have thoroughly enjoyed, and with luck will repeat at some time in our future. I recommend you find your personal TA experience, and start planning to do it!