3,000 km on foot across New Zealand

One Island Ends and Another Begins

How old is my peanut butter? I wonder if peanut butter can go bad. I’m thinking mine has. I don’t feel so hot…

We were on the Northern Walkway with the Wellington skyline in the not-so distant future when my stomach gave an undecided rumble, as if it wasn’t too sure about gravity anymore. I quickly threw my pack off and reclined on the flattest patch of ground I could find. I lay there, staring up at the milky grey sky.

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Though I’d been in Wellington just a little over a week ago on a mini-vacation with my boyfriend, it felt a bit more significant walking into the city on Te Araroa. Once I decided it was safe to stand up and continue, I brushed myself off and was about to heave my pack on when Dad noticed something.

“Hang on, you’ve got brown on your back,” Dad said. “What were you lying in?”

“I don’t know…” I looked down and saw a small pile of rabbit droppings.

“Margaret, you’ve got poop all over you.”

Naturally.

I hung my head. With my freshly stained shirt, we headed into Wellington Central. The Northern Walkway spat us out in the suburb Khandallah where Andrew Simm of the Wellington Te Araroa Trust picked us up for a bit of “trail magic.”

Andrew’s wife Prue obviously knew all about hungry trampers, so over the biggest meal in New Zealand to date, we made plans for continuing the TA to the end of the island. Andrew is currently working to change the route through the city and asked if we’d be open to trying it out.

The future TA takes trampers directly through the city center, past the Te Papa Museum, a healthy number of food shops, and the YHA where we could drop our packs and continue South. A walk in the future didn’t sound so bad!

The next day, we parted ways with the present TA in the botanic gardens, passed through the city’s oldest cemetery, over the motorway, and back into the Bolton Street Memorial Park… Interesting. Now, if I’m not mistaken, there weren’t many motorways in the late 1800s, meaning it was either built over the graves (the premise of another Poltergeist film), or the bodies were exhumed (which they were). More than 3,500 graves were moved into a vault beneath the park, and the headstones relocated on either side of the motorway.

Old cemeteries, weathered headstones sometimes illegible with age, are fascinating; like a metaphysical link to the life of another person so long ago. They tell short stories, mysteries with no answers, about the past. Who was Robert Richmond Suisted, just twelve years old, died in 1849? Or the unnamed man or woman whose headstone is scrubbed bare by the elements? Of course, there’s William Wakefield, 1801-1848; no mystery about him.

Hired by the New Zealand Company in London, Wakefield lead an expedition to purchase land and prepare for future settlement in 1839. Wakefield bought a sizable tract of land from the local Maori iwi in the Upper Hutt Valley. The area’s natural harbor and strategic location between the North and South Islands eventually made it the nation’s capital in 1865.

New Zealand’s capital was recently ranked 12th on the Mercer Quality of Living Survey, and for good reason, too. Like London, Vancouver, or even Seattle, Wellington is effortlessly and confidently hip (albeit with a uncomfortable penchant for anything 90s). Herds of tanned and toned runners┬ájog along the quay in the warm afternoon heat. Kids leap into the harbor waters from a high dive. And skateboarders run rampant through the city… without helmets. What would their mothers say?

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Azog welcomes visitors at the Te Papa Museum.

We left our packs at the YHA and continued onto the Oriental Parade and up the stairs to the Southern Walkway. From here, the greenbelt extends to the end of the North Island and we were quite happy to trot along it without heavy packs. We came to an abandoned rugby field and suddenly to an unmarked intersection. The last sign indicated we veer off the field and down a small dirt road.

All was good until we began to notice signs that read “No Trespassing” or “No Public Access;” which of course were ignored as we weren’t about to backtrack up the long hill we’d just come down. It looked like we’d wandered into a college. There were no students milling about, just an odd groundskeeper who didn’t appear to notice two lost Americans.

I looked us up on the map. We were in Wellington College. Our best bet was to get to the closest road and catch up with the Walkway further South. Down through the empty school grounds, past the dark buildings with closed windows, and we finally heard road noise. Adelaide Road was just on the other side of a tall, locked wrought iron gate. We were trapped in school! During summer vacation!

Dad got down on all fours and rolled under the gates as though he had experience in breaking out of college. I looked around, half expecting to see a security guard bearing down on us. I followed Dad under the metal spikes and took off down the road.

We reached the end of the North Island later that morning. After nearly two months on the trail, the land simply stopped and there we were in Island Bay, a suburb ripe for gentrification. But, as it were, the small community was empty and lifeless on this grey morning, completely ignorant of how far we’d just walked to be in their town.

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Two days later after mending, patching, throwing out, and buying new gear, we were on the ferry across the Cook Strait. The trail picks up on the Queen Charlotte Track, a beautiful 70km cycleway and walking trail with B&Bs, campgrounds, and even pubs along the way. It’s also a bit of a tease, because we know what’s coming…

Admiring the views from the Queen Charlotte Track!

Admiring the views from the Queen Charlotte Track!

2 Responses to “One Island Ends and Another Begins”

  1. Pamela mccullough

    You two are such an inspiration! I so hope to do this trail next year (I just need to find a partner). And your stories only fuel my desire. Thank you so much for sharing, and hike on! God bless you both!

    Reply
  2. Larry Gill

    Great Progress. Just think of it–One down and only One more to go–only one more.
    Sounds easy when you say it like that. Island number two! I’ll be excited to read your new updates. Take Care and Have Fun–as I know you will continue to do. Larry

    Reply

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