Reflections on our TA experience
It's now been a month since finishing Te Araroa! The flurry of reconnecting socially with everyone is dying down, and I've had a chance to reflect on our experiences. It's definitely been the hardest most challenging thing I've ever undertaken. To have succeeded in completing it makes me so happy and proud of myself. It still blows my mind that it's even possible to walk that far continuously. 3000km!!
It was hard physically. Day after day getting up and walking big distances. Usually between 20-30km per day and from 6-10 hours a day. There was a lot of climbing steep mountains, scrambling over rock faces and crossing swift or deep rivers.
We were so fortunate to not suffer any injuries or illnesses. Apart from a few painful blisters on only one occasion after our first week which was due to long road walking days. I was always amazed that we would often go to bed feeling a bit sore and weary, but wake up fresh and energized without a single pain.
It was hard mentally. There was constant concentration and decision making on the technical days; where do I put my foot, is that rock stable to step on, where's the safest river crossing point, where's the track etc etc.
Also the determination and perseverance needed (mostly every day around mid afternoon) to keep pushing on when I was tired, had enough, or it was getting to hard.
Despite it being hard, every single day I was excited to get up and get going. I was excited about what we would see, what would happen, what our challenges would be and how we'd overcome them. Everyday was an unknown and an adventure. When I reflect back on my 'whys' for walking Te Araroa, every single one of them and my expectations were met - plus some.
My biggest motivation and main 'why' was being out in nature and taking photos. The vistas and landscapes we saw were incredible. I loved them all, and especially loved the days where there was a variety over the course of the day. Despite not enjoying climbing the steepest hills and mountains, I had the greatest joy at getting to the top of them and seeing what was over the other side, along with the satisfaction of accomplishment.
I was disappointed about not seeing as many sunrise and sunsets as I expected. I'm not quite sure why that was given the stunning weather we mostly had. Probably a combination of; going to bed too early as we were shattered, huts or campsites being amongst trees, staying inside huts or tent as the sandflies were too horrific. I did get to see a few stunners though.
I loved taking photos, and Gerard was particularly patient with me thankfully. 90% of the ones with me in were requested and directed by me, so that all took extra time.
I did notice I seemed to take the most when climbing hills (for the rest), and in the mornings when I was most energised and excited with seeing new stuff. I also seemed to excitedly take one each time we first spotted our hut at the end of the day. The hut ones weren't the most interesting as the hut was usually too far away, and I had no energy left to think up some interesting angle or composition or muck around once we were at the hut.
I have 3,750 photos on my phone (after fairly ruthless culling on the go), so will spend some time now culling them further and reliving our journey through those pictures.
A lot of people have expected us to come back with big life changing plans, and strange as it seems we didn't really have time or inclination for thought on this kind of thing. We were very much living in the moment the whole time. Any spare space for thinking has usually gone on our immediate planning; todays destination, any bookings for tomorrow, how many days between resupplys, where will we get our next resupply sent to, blog writing and photo culling. I was so happy being 'in the moment', that I actually only put my airpods in on a couple of occasions when we had some tedious road walking days. The rest of the time it was relaxing and enjoyable noticing and listening to the nature we were in, or full concentration was needed for the technical days.
Here are the most common questions we've been asked since being back and our responses:
What's your next adventure
We have nothing planned and are very happy to just enjoy being at home for a long while. After five months of living out of a backpack, we're enjoying the home comforts and having friends and family around. We have no desires to do other long distance hikes in other countries, although will continue to travel internationally as before, once borders are more open. We will do a few more of the NZ great walks and other NZ tracks from time to time as well. Gerard is also interested in doing the Tour Aotearoa (the cycle event from Cape Reinga to Bluff).
How have you adjusted to life at home
Surprisingly easily! From day one it's just felt normal. I've had no urges to get out and walk all day long. Luckily there's been no sign of any post trail depression which apparently is a very real and common thing. We've been very busy socialising and catching up on six months of life admin. The continued good weather and beautiful sunsets from home is helping.
What was your favourite part
Despite hating climbing mountains, it was actually climbing the mountains!! Well more specifically getting to the top. The exhilaration, sense of accomplishment, the views, the relief!! Being amongst the huge peaks, and seeing the source of rivers was awe inspiring. My favourite days were summitting Mt Rintoul and little Rintoul in the Richmond Ranges, the Waiau pass in Nelson Lakes, Stag saddle in the Two Thumb Range, and Breast Hill near Lake Hawea. Also the canoeing on the Whanganui river was a real highlight.
What was the hardest/scariest/worst part
Crossing rivers. Just knowing how dangerous these could be scared us both. We were super cautious, and did learn a few good skills and tips along the way. There were lots of 'worst' ones for various reasons. The Turakina river was our first. It was wide and brown with no knowing how deep. We were sinking deeper and deeper into the silt with each step. It ended up only being thigh deep to our relief. Then we had a lot of flooded swiftly flowing creeks/streams/rivers through the first half of the South Island. They were mostly only knee/thigh deep but the force was so much that sometimes we couldn't even put our pole into the water. Then the wide braided rivers with hidden deep channels. Then the extra deep - over head in parts, but otherwise chest deep Okura estuary and other coastal spots north of Auckland.
You must be really fit
I didn't really feel it when climbing those mountains. I still huffed and puffed and struggled. It was definitely an endurance sort of fitness rather than speed, as we didn't walk overly fast. I did like the feeling of being strong though, and the upper body felt just as strong through using the poles, and lifting the pack on and off. It will be near impossible to keep it up without continuing to walk and climb mountains for that long each day. But we will try to maintain what we can.
Would you recommend it
Absolutely! I also think it's very doable for anyone as long as they are determined and committed to doing it. The only exception would be anyone who has a paralyzing fear of heights. Most of us don't enjoy heights, but you have to be able to keep moving forward when on narrow ledges with sharp dropoffs.
152 days on the trail
25 '0' days (including 8 days in lockdown in Northland)
127 days walking
24 average km per walking day
6 days walking in the rain (only half days)
30 nights camped in our tent
35 nights in huts
58 nights in motels
29 nights with trail angels
2/3 of our nights in proper beds
14kg of weight lost - me, (Gerard 6kg)
11.5 hours longest day
34km most km in one day