Destination: Te Araroa

I placed my MSR Seagull stainless steel pan on the set of scales Iain usually uses to measure out dog food. “Iain,” I call, hoping he’s still somewhere upstairs. “How much does your pan weigh?” The number on the display is showing 427. A lot of grams. Iain comes in with his Sea to Summit Sigma pan. I replace mine with his on the scales. 250. A saving of almost 200 grams. That isn’t even close to the worst discovery. My beloved Leuchtturm1917 journal weighs in at another 420 grams. The pen, a gift from people I haven’t seen or spoken to in years another 38. The pan I can keep. The journal, the pen. They’ve got to go. Iain and I make a last minute run around town. The soles on my sandals I hoped to repair with a squeeze of superglue have only gotten worse since their emergency surgery. I grabbed a new pair, dashed in to the nearest Whitcoulls and picked up a three pack of Moleskine Cahier journals and a pen. I could go without the luxury of my journal, I couldn’t go without the luxury of writing. After two and a half months of slowly bringing everything together, reducing my pack weight wherever possible, finally I am ready.

In the beginning there was a trail. What followed was an idea. I could walk it. What followed then was denial. I couldn’t. I wasn’t fit enough. I wasn’t experienced. I wasn’t prepared. Past tense. From June 2020, when many people were still unable to leave their homes I started walking. Seriously walking. A full pack, food for one, two, three nights. I laid out a summer of plans. New Zealand’s Great Walks. The Abel Tasman, the Heaphy. I remember now reaching the end of the Heaphy Track. Everyone else was talking about what they were most looking forward to; proper food, a hot shower. I wanted another day. One more on my feet. I spoke with John, a man who I remember as French version of Raymond Briggs’s Father Christmas without the beard. He had walked Te Araroa, New Zealand’s long pathway, stretching from Cape Reinga in the North to Bluff in the South. The entire length of a country. Throughout the rest of the summer, the idea kept coming back to me. I could walk it. The idea remained affirmative. I could. I would.

In a time of pandemic nothing is certain. I wanted to finish tree planting in early September. I wanted to do a few weeks of hill training. I wanted to drive up to Auckland and sell my van. I wanted to start walking Te Araroa from the beginning, Cape Reinga. The lockdown that began in September is still in effect in the capital. Auckland has remained closed to me. The plan was in danger. I had finished tree planting. I had done a few weeks of hill training. Where could I sell the van? Where would I start walking? Iain stepped in, as he often has, with another idea. Sell the van in Wellington. Start with the very last of the Great Walks. The one that isn’t a walk at all. The Whanganui River Journey. At first, I didn’t like the idea. Breaking up the walk wasn’t pure. This way though, I could still cover some of the North Island. If the Covid situation remained as it were, I would likely have the freedom to walk the entire length of the South Island. By the time I got to Bluff, things might have changed dramatically up North. I could go back to National Park, start again, heading in the other direction. Instead of starting at Cape Reinga, I could now hope to finish there. A plan changed.

Te Araroa is approximately 3000km in length. A zig-zag splitting both islands in two. 4 to 5 months of demanding travel, predominantly on foot. When you put it like that, I found it quite intimidating. A long way, a lot of time. Te Araroa is also a collection of shorter tramps, ranging in duration from two to 10 days. Over the last year and a half I’ve gotten quite good at preparing, undertaking and completing multi-day hikes in New Zealand’s back-country. Instead of walking one length of a country over a third of a year what I’ll be doing is something closer to 20 week-long expeditions. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my final summer in New Zealand. You read that correctly. I’ve committed to going home. I’m taking the scenic route and I’ll be taking my time.

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