Current Location: Wellington
Kilometers traveled thus far: 1,700 Kilometers still to go: 1,400
Kilometers hiked: 1,400 which includes bonus miles whether intentional or not.
K’s Biked: 230
K’s Paddled: 100
Zero Days: Seven. Six of which I took within the last two weeks.
The end of the north island. I have to say, it feels pretty good. There’s something about reaching and crossing over a distinguished line, one that indubitably marks progress. It’s a visible statement that says, “yes, you have come a long way.” Each long trail that I’ve hiked has these lines and the distance between those lines is sometimes short, sometimes far. On the Appalachian Trail there were lines left and right. With fourteen states to pass through, there was celebration often. On the PCT, there are two lines and for a NOBO, that first line takes 1,700 miles and three months to reach. It’s an incredible feeling, as you can imagine.
But what a strange hike it has been so far. Very different from the hikes I’ve done. Several people have asked me lately why I chose New Zealand. Honestly I think New Zealand chose me. It willed me across the world to it’s seemingly small, but vastly diverse landscape. For the last two months, I’ve pieced together a route spanning the north island’s length. It is an intimate island where yes, you can escape and seek solitude on gorgeous beaches and dense mountain tracks, but at the same time, you are forced to immerse yourself in an urban crawl. It’s shown me how to feel comfortable in all these situations, and how to adapt and find enjoyment in the journey of life.
The last two weeks of this hike have been the most enjoyable. The reason is because of the people and the unexpected chance meetings we’ve had together. One chance meeting in particular stands out most. It was just after 6, after a day of pedaling under the New Zealand sun, when I thought, “I need a break.” A moment later I looked up to a sign that said “Bistro Cafe: 100 meters ahead.” It couldn’t have been better timing, as it was also in between two small towns and therefore completely unexpected. I pedaled up to the bistro, locked my bike and approached it’s front door. My first thought was, “I hope it’s still open,” while my second thought was, “I hope it’s not too fancy for a stinky hiker.” I was pleased to find them still open, and in fact just beginning the dinner menu. I was welcomed warmly by the owner, Nick, who was originally from NYC and had transplanted to NZ several years ago after meeting and marrying a Kiwi. If it weren’t for the fact that I was a bit discombobulated from biking under the hot sun, alongside a steady stream of traffic headed into Wellington, I would have noticed his accent earlier. But I didn’t, and he didn’t mind whatsoever that I was a discombobulated and stinky hiker and in fact he’d always dreamed about doing a big, long hike like the TA or AT. After chatting a bit, I seated myself in the beautiful outdoor patio, and deeming it perfect for the occassion, I ordered myself a glass of white wine along with brushetta. In between the time my wine arrived, and then the brushetta, Nick and I would talk about the hike/bike and his time spent working in the restaurant business in NY. It was obvious from the beautiful presentation and combination of flavors from my meal that he knew his stuff. One piece combined local blue cheese with seared eye fillet. Another salmon with lemon, capers and dill. The third, and a close tie with the seared eye, was with a housemade tapendae. All absolutely mouth-watering.
When I licked the plate clean, and after I ordered a second glass of white, I asked Nick if he knew about camping on Otaki Beach. Soon after, the idea of camping was a thing of the past, and I was invited to stay in the sleep-out of Nick’s friends, Vyv and Errol, an original and artistic couple from Otaki Beach who were seated inside. We ended up having a drink together and then dessert which included an enormous pavlova, which is a meringue-based desert and is absolutely heavenly. Look it up. Put it on your bucket list if you’ve never tried it. After we went back to their place, and before settling in for the night, we lit up a fire in the backyard and sat around swapping stories. Nick came by with a couple of bottles of white and a very fine bottle of port and soon the night melted away.
Vyv and Errol made me feel at home. I felt like I’d known them for years. I took a zero, feeling the need for a little rest. Errol showed me around town, including the only Maori church in NZ, and therefore the world. We had lunch, took a look up a river and when Vyv came home from work, we had a few drinks along with a delicious dinner. My belly has definitely been spoiled. (And FYI, the highly recommended Cro-nut from Bordeaux Bakery was off-the-hook delicious!)
The following morning I was heading south again, a 100-k push along SH1 but also along biking/trekking trails that meandered up and down the coast. There I reunited with the official TA (another reason the bike was handy) and I took that all the way into Wellington.
It was after 7 when I pedaled myself up the steep narrow streets of Mt Victoria. I was very fortunate that Brian, a fella I’d met through my good friend Renee, had moved to NZ just a few months before. He had hiked a part of the TA the year before, and along the way he met Rachel, a super sweet Kiwi, whom he simply hit it off with. They live in Wellington and have put me up for the last three days. (Three zero days! What kind of thru-hiking is this!) But before I reached their address on 21 The Crescent, I landed on the doorstep of an unsuspecting neighbor. As it was, I sometimes mix up numbers and sometimes don’t pay enough attention to things and therefore I went a knocking on 11 The Crescent. Up the steep steps I went, towards the laugher and joy spilling from women on the inside. I wearily knocked on the front door, slightly skeptical because I didn’t think Brian lived with a HOUSE of women. And he doesn’t. So if you can imagine, there’s me, standing at the doorway (which was open on such a lovely evening), asking for Brian. “Brian…brian,” the woman says leaning into me, wine glass in hand. “Hmmmm, Brian.” After a few minutes of me trying to describe Brian and trying to dig through my phone for his address, she invited me in for a glass of wine. So there’s me, wearing my dirty light grey base layer top and my merino 2 tights pulled up to my knees (as my shorts were far too uncomfortable to bike in due to the fact they had no stretch and therefore I have since switched styles) while the rest of the ladies are wearing dresses, white evening shirts and red lipstick. Regardless of my choice of attire, I felt like I was standing around at a dinner party with my closest girlfriends. We chatted about adventure, the different routes our lives can lead to, all the while drinking a few glasses of wine and eating smoked salmon fresh from the butcher. I could’ve have stayed there for hours (as they invited me to do so), but I was eager to meet up with Brian and Rachel and to settle in for the night. That experience is one that I’ll never forget.
And so here I am, three days later, I’ve had a blast spending time in Wellington. Brian and Rachel rock, as they have given me a place to stay, but have also been such great company. We played some disc golf, went to a street festival, enjoyed a round (or several) rounds of drinks, watched movies and ate ice cream. While they both went to work, I toured around Wellington, biking to the southern tip of the north island, walking along the Writer’s Walk or perusing the culture, arts and science of Te Papa museum.
But alas, it’s time to head south. I’ve booked my ferry for tomorrow morning, and I hope the weather improves as a grey, slightly dismal evening has settled in for the night. (Think Portland or Seattle). There’s a likelihood that I will return to Wellington, even if just for a few days, as I really liked this city. It felt comfortable, even as I pedaled alongside the unanimously terrible Kiwi drivers. There’s theater, arts, paddling, breweries, wineries and a fair share of other great city-attributes.