3,000 km on foot across New Zealand

Catching Up with a Te Araroa Thru-Hiker

As the lingering days before our departure fade away, the enormity of hiking 1,800+ miles across New Zealand becomes even more mind-boggling. I decided to reach out to a former Te Araroa thru-hiker for a bit of first hand experience.

Australian writer Laura Waters (AKA Two Shoes, Jingles, and Wonder Woman) had what can only be described as a life changing experience on Te Araroa last year. Laura’s journey, which can be found on her blog Soul Trekkers, has lead her to pursue a new path in life. She’s currently working on a book about her experience on Te Araroa and the benefits of reconnecting with nature.

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Margaret: What compelled you to walk 3,000 km across New Zealand?

Laura: I always wanted to do something ‘big’ and challenge myself.  I’ve done a number of week long hikes before, but never anything on this scale. I love hiking and have done a number of trips ‘across the ditch’ from Australia to NZ to explore this beautiful country. When I heard that a long distance trail had just been officially opened I knew that was it for me.

Margaret: After your hiking partner dropped out due to illness, you hiked the majority of Te Araroa by yourself – what was that like?

Laura: The first 100km was solo, but after that I actually ended up hiking quite a lot of it with new friends that I met on the trail.

I found myself hiking alone again in the middle of the South island just before heading into a particularly challenging section with no defined path (just a pole every now and again), head high tussock grass in places, 60 odd river crossings, super remote, and with the highest pass on the entire trail. I was a little anxious before heading out (especially with the forecast for snow), but I’m glad I did it alone – just to know that I could.

After that 10-day section, I knew I could tackle anything and I felt a new peace within me. I began to trust my own judgement more and listen to my inner voice. Not always knowing exactly where I was didn’t induce a mild panic like it might once have. I felt at home in the wilderness.

Margaret: What was the most inspiring moment?

Laura:  The epiphanies were many on this trip, so it was all quite inspiring, but there was one particular part of the trail where I actually stopped walking and allowed myself a little “emotional moment” because it was SO BEAUTIFUL. That was on the way to the Upper Travers Hut in the Nelson Lakes region, which is an absolutely stunning section of the trail. The view from Stag Saddle (highest point on the trail) out across to Mt Cook was also a highlight.

Margaret: Funniest moment?

Laura:  Oh gosh, there were many… The funniest however is not appropriate for printing! I think the other people you meet on the trail provide a lot of laughs. The rules of life are different on the trail and you find yourself doing surprising things sometimes… I’ll leave it at that.

Margaret: Scariest moment?

Laura:  Getting caught in a snowstorm in the remote and high Two Thumb Range. I was on my own and conditions were good but things changed quite suddenly in the last half an hour of the day. I had spent the majority of the day in a t-shirt but put on my jacket towards the end as it was starting to feel quite fresh. I could see rain clouds coming up the valley toward me but I knew it was only half an hour to the next hut so I wasn’t too concerned. How bad could it get….?

Bad.

When it hit, the rain turned to hail and then snow. Add to this a biting wind and reduced visibility and the situation was very rapidly going downhill. I couldn’t feel the buttons on my GPS because my hands were so numb, but I knew I couldn’t afford to miss the hut. I ended up talking to myself out loud most of the way to stay focused. It was the longest 20 minutes ever to the hut and had it been a further half an hour away I’m not certain how things would have ended. It’s often said that the NZ weather can change quickly but to experience just how quick and how drastic first hand was very sobering.

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Margaret: How did Te Araroa surprise you? What were your expectations going in vs. what it was really like?

Laura: It’s hard to really imagine ahead of time what’s going to happen in those 3,068km ahead of you. It’s all a bit of a mystery until you get there.

Two things spring to mind though… The diversity of the terrain – I used to associate NZ mostly with dramatic mountain scenery, but there are a lot of beautiful flower-filled, golden beach coastal towns too. Also the friendliness of the locals and the amazing interactions we had which added a great deal to our overall experience of the trail and the country. Often whilst looking for a camp at night you get invited to put up your tent on someone’s property and offered a hot shower.

I spent an evening on a sheep farm and had a tour around their operations the next morning. A few days later I was invited by a team of sheep shearers to join their party and spend the night. These experiences really round out your journey across the land and give you a real insight into Kiwi life.

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Margaret: What did Te Araroa teach you?

Laura: Hiking the TA taught me so much. I discovered that I’m capable of a lot more than I thought. I learnt to overcome fear and just ‘try anyway’. I learnt to trust my judgement more. The more I walked, the more connected I became to the land and to my inner voice. Epiphanies were happening left, right and centre and I realised that I can do anything I want in life. Being in nature for such an extended period strips away a lot of unnecessary ‘noise’ in your head and helps you see things clearly. I also learnt that I actually don’t need much in life to be blissfully happy. I’ve never had a better time than with 12kg of belongings, one outfit, no mirrors, no expectations or demands other than to walk every day. Life is simple and you are happier, kinder, calmer…

Margaret: How has thru-hiking Te Araroa changed your path in life?

Laura: The TA has fundamentally changed my life. After the experience I had on the trail, life in the city seems quite surreal and a little crazy with its busyness, noise, pollution and rampant consumerism that is apparently ‘normal’. I returned from the trail in April and have just resigned from a ‘good job’ that I’ve had for the past 10 years. I cannot see myself pretending for the next 20 years of my working life that I enjoy city/corporate life so I am giving it all away to follow my dreams…to be in nature, write a book on my TA journey, and further delve into the meaning of life and our connection to nature.

Margaret: If you were to hike it again, what would you do differently?

Laura: I would have taken a lighter cup. Seriously, that’s about the only thing I can think of. It was perfect the way it was!

Margaret: And finally, any words of advice or wisdom for your’s truly?

Laura: Take it seriously. Whilst you are capable of a lot, Mother Nature is way stronger. River crossings and bad weather conditions needs to be considered seriously. If it’s not safe, don’t push the limits. Wait until things improve. It’s not worth it.

Don’t skimp on gear. It’s easy to get obsessed on weight saving but if the lightweight sleeping bag you bought isn’t going to keep you warm, or your ultra-thin jacket doesn’t protect you from the elements it makes for a miserable (or potentially dangerous) time.

Also, be in the moment. And just enjoy it!

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3 Responses to “Catching Up with a Te Araroa Thru-Hiker”

  1. Nina O'Brian

    I am so excited & thankful that you are sharing this amazing experience with all of us!
    Enjoy every moment of it & come home stronger & more focused & determined than ever!

    Reply
  2. Nathan Denmark

    Great interview, got me so pumped for my own experience. Would love to catch up with both of you via Skype/FB when I get back, and discuss this post (and many other things, I’m sure!). That weather change point really drove home to me how mindful and ‘play-it-safe’ I’m going to need to be to avoid dangerous situations (which I am, but it’s always good to be reminded).

    My motto at the moment is ‘Put the game above the prize.’ and I think you did just that Laura!

    Keep sharing!

    Reply

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