South Island, Part III: No Farther South

There is no automatic eject button. Even when you call in a helicopter, for those accidents in which you are concerned about loss of life or a limb, it can take Search and Rescue services hours to reach you. When you are out in the backcountry you are committed to doing and being on your own, recognizing that nothing ever goes according to plan. Continue reading

South Island, Part II: Shaken

We had made it through the Richmond Ranges, one of these most challenging, most remote sections of the Te Araroa.

After resupply boxes, a shower, and more food than should comfortably fit into one human in St. Arnaud, we again hit the trail! No rest days – I, at least, was too jazzed to sit still; I felt too powerful and strong after the Richmond Ranges to stop. We dove into the Nelson Lakes National Park knowing the weather report was not in our favor and not particularly caring. Continue reading

South Island, Part I: Beast Mode

When I first started gathering intel on the Te Araroa, a very obvious trend emerged: the South Island is better! So much so that some folks suggested I skip the North Island entirely and spend as much time as I could on its more mountainous, less populated, southerly sister. And it is true that the South Island is gorgeous. The rivers run clear clear clear and bright blue with glacial melt. The beech forests are drier and lighter than the dense rainforests of the North. I was back in the alpine frequently and I could feel that joy deep in my bones. The travel here was what I had expected of the entire trail: physically and emotionally taxing, remote, frequently stretching me beyond anything I have accomplished before. Continue reading

Elevator Story

“Do you have your elevator story down yet?”

By elevator story she meant the three minute version of the last five months I spent hiking the Te Araroa. I had landed in the US the day before and, although I was already making the rounds to see family and old friends, nothing was all that cohesive in my mind, let alone a charming, pithy synopsis of this experience that contained so much. Shooting from the hip, I talked about the differences between the two islands, how much we walked each day; I might have told an anecdote or two, but I can’t imagine that I built a picture in their minds that did the trail any justice. The next night my mom invited a few family friends over for drinks and story time – a casual welcome home. They were attentive listeners, asked a lot of questions about my experience – the highlights, the hardships, the mosts, bests, leasts and worsts. It was a fun evening but I felt my responses were disjointed, rambling, interrupting and running all over each other. It is the duty of the adventurer to sail off to the far-flung realms of the dragons and return home with jewels and gold, or at least stories. I have returned home empty-handed and tongue-tied. Continue reading

Tea Tag Makeover

“In the beginning is you, in the middle is you and in the end is you.”

I normally find the sage advice on these teabags inane and infuriating, but this one now lives in my wallet. I made this particular cup (or rattling metal pot, as the case was) of tea in a hut in the Nelson Lakes region. The rain had been pouring down for a day already, and with swollen rivers and gale-force winds battering the pass we needed to cross, we were stuck. I was antsy and cranky from the forced zero day; it is much easier on a hike like this to preoccupy yourself with the “how” of travel. It’s on days like this, stalled 2,000 kilometers in with 1,000 left to hike, that the much more complicated “why” creeps in. This little pearl of wisdom was the absolute last thing I wanted to hear and the absolute first thing I needed to. Continue reading

I can. I want to. I will.

Dear Friends and Family,

As many of you know, I am currently hiking across New Zealand on the Te Araroa trail. I started walking on November 16 and in the last four months have covered 2,600 km (1,600 miles) of forest, alpine, beaches, and high tussock. I have been lost and soaked to the bone; I have met incredible people and woken up to brilliant sunrises. I now have just over 400 km left to walk and a few weeks to do it in. As you know, I am doing this, in part, to raise money for the Gruffie Scholarship fund. 

So far I have raised $5,500 of my $8,000 goal. 

Continue reading

Zone of Proximal Happiness

Dawn was just breaking as my alarm went off. Thick beads of condensation dripped from the fabric above my head and the foot of my tent was covered in frost. I unzipped the fly to watch the sun rise over the mountains and the golden river valley hold the morning mist. Without getting out of my sleeping bag, I mixed cold water with some powdered yogurt in my pot and added muesli – breakfast in bed, I suppose. Within an hour I was ready to go; I packed my warm sleeping bag, shoved my frozen tent into my pack with frozen hands, and pulled on my wet socks and boots. Continue reading

Same Trail, Different Paths

We’ve been in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand and the southernmost point of the North Island, for a few days now and we’ll be here for a few more. I am stalling. In the last two weeks I have passed the actual halfway point (the 1,500 km mark), the temporal halfway point (two-and-a-half months), and now we’re sitting at the bottom of the North Island, the psychological halfway point. I am worried that the moment we set foot on the South Island, the rest of this trek is going to be over before I even realize it. Continue reading

The Fantastic Whanganui

Calling the Te Araroa a “thru hike” is a bit misleading. The TA is really a suggested way of traveling across New Zealand by every mode of transportation but private vehicle. I have so far hiked, hitched, ferried, bused, water taxied, kayaked, and canoed; and I hear there are sections of biking coming up. I spent the last week of the trail canoeing the Whanganui River with 19 other members of my trail tribe. Blazing Paddles, a canoe rental service in Taumarunui, will knock the usual $240 price tag for five days on the river down to $100 a pop if you can get 10 people together. As long as you are aren’t depending on his briefing for all of your water safety knowledge and can laugh off a little casual old man misogyny, it’s well worth the logistics of getting 10 hikers together… or 20, as it turned out! Continue reading

Chapters of the North Island

I have been hiking in New Zealand for two months now and have covered almost 1,400 kilometers of the North Island track by foot, hitching, and various boats. No two days have been the same but the journey has tended to separate itself into chapters as I go, the transitions happening organically every week or two loosely demarcated by pace and travel partners.  Continue reading