We’ve done it! We’ve walked Te Araroa North Island from Cape Reinga to Wellington reaching the TA marker at Island Bay, on John’s 66th birthday, 26 March 2017. An appropriate day to finish, we thought. 1701kms according to our maps.me app. Our mission of walking the North Island completed not with speed (80 days walking on the trail) but with specifics in mind; to reconnect with the landscape, engage with New Zealanders, find venture and solace in our shared company, daily experience and meaningful interaction of body, mind and soul, without accident. We achieved all of this.
I feel emotional. It has been an immense privilege to walk our Te Araroa trail from Cape Reinga to Wellington.
Walking for weeks/months often covering 20-30kms a day on a given path requires stamina on many levels; physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally. All will be tested and more often not, found wanting.
A slower means of moving from one step to the next allows a deeper focus on one’s surroundings. Walking beaches for days on end, negotiating sometimes dense or overgrown bush trails, ascending, descending again and again, mountain and hill trails, walking endless roadways of varying condition; tarmac, gravel, old 4 wheel drive trails, timber trails, climbing countless styles in varying states of repair across kilometres of farmland and bush and river tracks, trekking across private farmland with an eye on sheep or inquisitive bulls and cows or crossing over electric fences without being zapped.
A slower pace of life also allowed interaction with people met along the way, both fellow travellers and local New Zealanders. We have been blessed with the kindness of many people. Kindnesses that have ‘made our day’, cheered us on and added to the depth of specialness of this epic journey
Te Araroa Trail, The Long Pathway, connects a series of tracks and walkways; with farmland, along and across rivers and streams, along kilometre after kilometre of beaches and roadways though native bush, pine forests, across mountain ranges, through cities and towns. Many parts of the trail are challenging; in difficulty in terrain and track condition, (sometimes overgrown and very often muddy, boggy and deceptively uneven). Coping with the demands of the weather, the temperature can add to the challenge.
Sometimes the focus is immediate in demand. All attention on the environment at hand…how to skirt a mud mire, descend steep tree roots safely, which tree or branch to Tarzan with, to cross rivers and streams without mishap, cope with narrow exposed ridge lines or traverse steep banks with great drops below, withstand wind drafts from fast moving, multi-trailered trucks mere centremetres away along busy highways or deal with great enveloping dust clouds from logging trucks on gravel roads.
The balance of pack, the sureness of foot, the placement of pole for extra balance or security and prevention of injury. A precision of movement that engages body and mind. Total focus. Often in isolated areas. Away from the ‘maddening crowd’, the constant electronic attention seekers; the phone, the tv, the computer. Back to the wilderness that sometimes really is wild but more often is beautiful and peaceful and calming for the soul. Then we might stop a while and enjoy.
All necessities all requirements for the day the night the week, reduced, contained in a pack upon the back. Minimalistic. Just essentials. Extraneous is more weight for the back; so pared, spared allows the same for the mind. Attention to here and now.
Escapism indeed but we all need this, I think. Away from the greed of more this, more that, trying to satisfy a deep yearning, mostly unrecognized, but a deeply felt need. Away, where the rhythms of the body are in tune with the rhythms and patterns of the natural world.
The demands of long distance tramping, (trekking, bushwalking) is not really dealt with while on track. Resting up for days is not a consideration, unless the weather conditions insist. The focus on the here and now, the reaching of one’s end point is paramount. However, it is recognized at a conscious level to do so with care, in safety. The trail has hazards to which attention must be paid. So easy to slip, to catch a foot, to place a step on ground that gives way. We promised our family to be careful, so careful we have been.
Fitness has been at peak, so too stamina for long days on the trail. It is extraordinary how the body transforms. We both became stronger in legs and backs despite losing weight.
Four months on our trail (including about a month of days and weeks here and there to spend with family and friends throughout the North Island and for zero days resting from the trail), is a long time to spend in our pursuit of tramping the North Island, away from family and the comforts of home.
But nearing our Wellington destination our bodies were tiring. Coping with tiredness, a collective tiredness, the accumulation of weeks of walking; day in, day out and the constant strain placed on the body; feet, legs, knees, backs and psyche, was managed and managed well. So too, pain underfoot for John. His strong mindset saw him complete each day’s target without complaint. We recognised the need (for us) to take more days rest from the day in, day out walking. However, Wellington beckoned, and we walked on for 17 days of this last stretch without a rest day.
Notes From The Trail
(Our last posting saw us heading out from Palmerston North.)
What a gorgeous day Manawatu has provided for our Te Araroa Trail. Walking Back Track was a pleasure. Easy underfoot and pretty green and mauve foliage lined the banks and small creek beds, under an avenue of dappled light. We marked reaching 1500kms with fern leaves, taking a photo of this amazing point in our journey. After a style crossing we followed a forestry road that eventually had us climbing up and up to reach the start of Burtton’s Track. Muddier and slippery for some time but happily the track improved and so did our progress. Crossed 2 large streams and the Tokomaru River twice. I waded in my boots. John elected to keep his boots dry and used his jandals (thongs, flip-flops) which slowed progress somewhat.
We’ve camped at James Burtton’s home site. James Burtton lived for 33 years in this area farming and clearing a track (that now is part of the TA trail), until his untimely death in 1941 caused by a fall 8 metres from his wooden swing bridge onto rocks in the river below. With extraordinary fortitude (with a broken leg and other injuries) he took 12 hours to reach the nearest neighbour Unfortunately he died in hospital of his injuries. It seems appropriate to spend the night here. A very peaceful area with the warm sun now retreating. We sit and reflect on a pioneering spirit. We are beneficiaries of much.
Tonight we dine on Venison casserole with peas and a few healthy additions such as beef broth and olive oil for extra nutrition. John’s chia pudding and chilli chocolate follows. We continue to eat well!
Burttons Whare – freedom camping. Boy it was cooler overnight. We were warm in the tent…I was wearing three layers (thermal top and pants, shirt and long pants, jumper and wet weather pants), beneath the silk liner and sleeping bag plus warm gloves and beanie. However, outside the tent this morning heavy dew covered everything. The tent wet inside with condensation and outside with dew! We breakfasted and packed backpacks and our very damp tent and we becme quite cold in the process . We took some distance before warming but not before walking through a number of streams some with too bigger stride for me to leap over. How come rocks were not conveniently placed for shorter legged people! I waded. Wet shoes, socks (which later dried) but warming up took a while. The sun’s arrival was welcome. Was fascinated by the countless spiders’ webs glistening in the low grasses along our track.
100kms to go!
It is a beautiful day; cool but the sun shines and as we drink our morning coffee (well made as kiwis know how) at Madison L’Affare at Waikenae before setting off on today’s journey from Waikenae to Paekakariki, I am reflective. Our trail finishes 4 days away. It is mind boggling the distance we have walked. From day to day the focus has been on the day’s venture, the trials, the trail conditions. One step at a time chalks up the kms with little fanfare other than a salute to each 100kms passed. Tuis chirp and chorale in the trees, the peacefulness of our cafe in keeping with a reflective moment of trail gazing.
Wonderful to be back on the beach and on such a gorgeous day. Later the trail took us through Queen Elizabeth park – kilometres over lovely sand dunes.
What a difference a day makes. Beautiful sunshine the day before. Wet and misty this day.
Plimmerton on the Kapiti Coast was a gorgeous spot to rest up at the Moana Backpackers 5 star, no less. From Porirua our trail headed up and over Colonial Knob, down through to Spicers Forest, a pine forest with the most beautiful toadstools. Again visibility, on Colonial Knob was low; waves of rain and mist with wind gusts. Not so pleasant on the ridge. Great to come out of the mist and wind to walk down through Spicers Forest.
The trail throughout Wellington had us climbing the Southern and Northern walkways over Mt Victoria and Mt Albert. Spectacular views of Wellington were ours to enjoy. Access to accommodation, cafes and bars allowed for lighter packs. We indulged in regular coffee hits and just enjoyed the pleasure of the last few kilometres of our trail.
Following some catchup time with family and friends in Wellington, Nelson and Hamilton and some R & R, we are heading home to Perth this weekend. Four months is a long time to be focused on one goal and this epic journey will take some time to process. (Actual days walking was 80 days.) Four months is a long time to be away from our children, grandchildren and friends in Perth. We have missed them. Perth here we come.
Next adventure? Probably another Camino before tackling the South Island Te Araroa Trail in 2018-2019.