As promised, here’s the second batch of photos from the tail-end of the trip. (See slideshow at bottom of post). In the next week, I will spend time sorting through them all. In total, I have 3,300 images from the trip, having shot well over 5,000, but having had sorted and deleted some.
It’s hard to believe that the adventure has come and gone and that once again I am back in the transition of traveling home and resuming life not on-trail. Ultimately, there is no way to sum up an adventure of such a kind in few words. I think the photos can help.
What I can say is that I’ve had an epic adventure, one that traveled through a spectacular part of the world that really does leave you asking, “Where am I?” And the answer always was, “Middle Earth.” For those who haven’t visited New Zealand, it is a unique place in our world, where the mountains really do meet the sea and big, braided rivers that were once tiny clear blue veins thousands of meters up, open up their mouths big and wide and run into the ocean. It’s obvious from the various nature of rock, from greywhacke, schist, limestone and ultramafic, and all the bizarre forms they take, that a constant drift of plate tectonics has shaped such a world.
I learned alot about geology, the people, the flaura and fauna, how to hike across estuaries at low-tide, how to swim across estuaries at high-tide, how to navigate using the floor of a river, how to hate and then later embrace the art of hitch-hiking on New Zealand roads. In the north island, I walked along beach, across sand dunes, through dense NZ bush and into the heart of Tongariro National Park and the volcanic landscape within. I endured many miles of road walking on that island—upwards of 500 miles—and after I began the next leg of the journey via kayak, I had little idea that those would be some of my last. I paddled the Whanganui, two nights and three days and a beautiful, but rather slow-moving river. I then spontaneously created a plan to bike the remainder of the north island.
Once I reached the south island, I looked at the idea of a thru-hike with changed and, albeit, slightly jaded eyes. I looked at the south island as a fresh start and abandoned the purist in me. As a result, I stepped into gem after gem, walking high along the backbone of the Southern Alps, through the Richmond Range and Nelson Lakes National Park. At that point, I teamed up with another hiker, trading my freedom for that of companionship. It was an easy decision, especially in the first few weeks, as we were both buoyant on life and passionate about the adventure. We then hiked the burly and thrilling Deception Minga, the tussock-lined and scenic river valley of the Cass-Lagoon Track, then down towards Lake Coleridge and over to the Rangitata where we forded what seemed to be a five-mile wide braided river. During the day we trotted along near one another, sharing swimming holes, stories, snacks and jam sessions beside his ipod. We climbed Crooked Spur, and then, after a couple days spent accidentally separated where I explored one of my favorite sections of trail along the Two Thumbs Track, we had a great big reunion with a big ol’ hug. From there, our journey really deviated from the so-called thru-hike, and we opted to tour Mt Cook, with it’s buddhist-like, doghouse-style hut and iceberg littered lakes. More and more deviating would evolve, us skipping sections of trail in favor of other tracks that would reveal greater beauty. As we explored, we befriended other purist thru-hikers envious of our travels and made friends with overseas folks out on their own journeys. I have made friends from all over the world and have a bed or a couch or someplace to base-camp waiting for me for whenever I desire to visit.
There were moments mixed in when the scenery was out of this world beautiful, like Clent Hills Saddle and a little while later, the Breast Hills Track, that I thought for sure I would stay abroad, maybe hopping over to Australia or some small pacific island. But what I realize now, is that those places reminded me of home, and when I wasn’t walking along their high-desert and alpine contours, I felt homesick. And then the worries of travel—like money and weather—kept creeping up and ultimately my heart started to sink. To go home post-trail or to keep traveling? And where was home? Would I return to Bend or would I pack up and leave like I have done so often before.
As the days ticked on, and as the trail wound it’s way further south, and as we spent less time walking with one another and more time to ourselves, I started to wonder about the tradeoff of freedom verses companionship. I started to experience a whirlpool of emotion and considered bailing, but feared that I might lose a friend and might spend the rest of the hike kicking myself for choosing to be alone. I’ve done that before. And this time around, Dylan had become a good friend. But that didn’t hide the fact that he was struggling with his own thoughts and it was obvious his mind was adrift as he spent more time to himself up ahead, well out of sight, occupying himself with music and climbing podcasts. With just me and the perpetual stream of thoughts in my mind, I started to doubt and started to wonder if hiking together was worth it. I grew envious of his toys and felt like I was out there doing nothing but walking and feeling like I was getting dumber by the mile, my vocabulary shrinking, my memory selective. I dug deep into emotional corners, finding answers to some questions and losing the battle with others. Sometimes, too much time with one’s head is too much for a person. And then, amongst the beech forests of the Routeburn Track, I pulled myself out of my self-demising hole. I found strength in beauty and a newfound passion for life.
I was once again riding a wave of joy, eager for the day ahead, which was miles down the Caples, miles up the Greenstone and then along the moss and mud-infused Mavora Walkway. At that point our daily hiking regime had come to an end. We decided to hitch to Milford for a tour of the fjords and then opted to hitch all the way down to the Bluff, saying sayonara to the rest of the trail.
The Te Araroa is a trail that spans the lenght of New Zealand. There is no doubt that it walks through some of NZ’s most cherished landscapes. But the idea of the trail is still very much on-going. The North Island is frustrating to hikers thinking that they can make an enjoyable thru-hike out of it, and for those of us who do start in the north island and walk south, it’s not until we reach the south island that we realize how beautiful the country really is. Am I bitter by this? Well, slightly, but it’s my own doing and I’m glad I did. I met some amazing people along the way, friends that I will no doubt stay in touch for long years to come. I saw and did and journeyed through the unpredictable nature of life. It was an adventure, one I will never forget, one that I will always find laughter in and one that will fuel my passion for life.
So, what’s next now that I’m back in America? There’s a few things on my mind, and unlike the days that I spent behind computers in New Zealand, under the pressure of timed internet sessions, this time I will leave voluntarily, eager to share more words with you when I feel inspired. I hope you’ve enjoyed.
Here’s the rest of the pictures from Annelie’s and my road-trip: