Day 67 : Otaki Forks / Blackgate campsite – Waikanae / El Rancho holiday park (28.5 km / 17.7 mi – Total: 1646.7 km / 1023.2 mi)
Day 68 : Waikanae – Paekakariki holiday park (15.4 km / 9.6 mi – Total: 1662.1 km / 1032.8 mi)
Day 69 : Paekakariki holiday park – Ohariu Valley Road (35.1 km / 21.8 mi – Total: 1697.2 km / 1054.6 mi)
Day 70 : Ohariu Valley Road – Southern Terminus North Island (36.5 km / 22.7 mi – Total: 1733.7 km / 1077.3 mi)
Day 71 : Zero day
Day 72 : Zero day
Day 73 : Zero day
Jan 14 – Jan 20
Total days : 7 | Walking days: 4
Section distance : 115.5 km / 71.8 mi
Average distance per day : 28.9 km / 18 mi
Total distance : 1733.7 km / 1077.3 mi
I woke up on the edge of the Tararuas, the morning sun hitting my tent and promising a hot and sweaty day. The high grass around me wasn’t quite as picturesque as it was the untrimmed turning point for camper vans to drive through in order to park into their camping spot. I already felt removed from the wilderness, as though I’d been separated by distant memories, not just a handful of nighttime hours and a bridge. But one memory I couldn’t let go of was Gina. She was right there, eagerly jumping on top of the summit of my mind. And all I could think about was whether I’d killed her.
I began to walk, and followed the main road until winding up the easy forest track, and I already knew I was done. Everything was sore. Everything was stiff. I was tired beyond my dreams. Mentally and physically, I was depleted. The Tararuas may have quite physically killed Gina, but they had killed everything else about me: my spirit, my muscles, my dreams and desires. I slowly climbed up the 800 meter hill and rested everywhere. I sat down at the top, the wide open space that overlooked the mountains of the Tararuas and didn’t want to leave. I spent some time thinking, eating, everything in slow motion, which is all I could muster. Then I rested at every pretty little stop and every tree trunk that looked like it would have me. I was broken.
My mind wouldn’t stop wandering towards Gina. I still didn’t know what had happened to her. I’d pointed her to a wrong turn in the Tararuas, unwittingly telling her to follow the old track which had a dangerous slip. She was in front of me and I had no idea what route she had taken, if she’d got stuck in the slip, got hurt, or simply walked out without any issues. I didn’t have her details – and I was beating myself up for not staying at the hut last night. She may have been there.
With all the unanswered questions and worries engulfing me, my thoughts started to go dark. I was angry at myself for giving her the wrong information, that I had told her to take the track to the right instead of the track to the left. Then the internal fight started – and I got angry at Gina. Why didn’t she have the Guthook app? Why was I suddenly and involuntary responsible for someone else’s life? I imagined her parents, heartbroken and blinded with grief, looking at me to place the blame for their daughter’s untimely death. And all I could counter was, she’s not my responsibility – it’s not my fault I killed Gina.
When I realised my phone had reception, I thought of ways to contact her. I didn’t have her number, although Bee might, but she was behind us, still ploughing though the Tararuas. I remembered Gina was on Facebook. I did a quick search and found her, put in a friend request and quickly sent a message, hoping it wouldn’t get lost in that dodgy messages-from-strangers section that you can only locate about once every two years. Then I kept on walking, devoid of energy, spent from my worries of Gina and the trail of the days past.
It didn’t take long for a message to grace my inbox. It was Gina. Instantly all those dark thoughts washed away, and I felt significantly lighter. I hadn’t killed Gina. Apparently, I had been a lot more confused about the turnoff than she had ever been. She had simply followed the signs and had taken the new, correct trail to the left, despite me urging her to turn right. She was at the hut the previous night, and on top of all that, she was well ahead of me now and was about to arrive in the town I was also headed to. But at my pace, I was still hours away.
With my worries for Gina gone, I was back to focusing on the immediate struggle of progressing on the trail. As I inched closer to the edge of the forest I began to feel relief. I was finally, almost out. I was getting close to Wellington, it was just a collection of roads away. When I hit the tarmac I made my way towards the town of Waikanae. The road walk into town was the most horrible I had experienced thus far: I had never come across more rude people on the ten kilometre stretch into town. Waikanae itself also felt off. I felt unsafe, and after a quick stop at the supermarket, I was happy to continue to a holiday park further out of town, even though I made some unnecessary detour to find the entrance, making the day even longer than it already was. But at least my day was over. I hadn’t killed Gina, and I was getting closer to finishing the South Island.
After Waikanae, it was another three days to Wellington, and three days before facing the dread of deciding on my South Island resupply strategy. Camping and accommodation along this final leg was limited, so I was looking at doing one short day, and two longer ones into Wellington. I walked the first day through a small reserve and then along the beach to Paekakariki, something that demanded a lot more energy than it should’ve. Paekakariki was tiny but surprisingly nice, and a lot nicer than Waikanae. I investigated the tiny main street and eyed up the Beach Road Deli, which hipster charm promised tasty pizzas. It was closed but I vowed to visit before I left. It was exactly what I needed. Instead I bought some soap and spent the long afternoon in the sun on the busy campsite, doing laundry and cleaning every square inch of my tent, washing away the remnants of the mouse that had ravished it in the Tararuas.
I started the next day at Beach Road Deli. I was disgruntled that it was too early for the pizza, but instead I ordered a coffee and avocado bagel, and packed it into my bag. The day was long but at least it was varied, and it started with the Escarpment Track. The track was about six kilometres of hillside trail overlooking the sea, created to get us off the busy highway down below. While the reroute off the highway and onto the hill wasn’t hugely necessary (there were a lot of roads on the TA that were less favourable, and this highway had a perfectly safe sidewalk running right next to it), it was quite a pleasant start to the day. Unlike most tracks the TA followed, this one was touristy and soon got busy. There were ample ups and downs, with stairs and bridges, and a lot of giant bugs that kept flying into me.
After the track I sat down in a small park and ate my bagel from the deli. It was one of the most delightful things I had eaten in a very long time. The rest of the day moved through roads and towns that got bigger and more commercial the closer I got to Wellington. The most frustrating part of the day was an entirely useless detour to get us off the road for a mere 400 meters, where the trail carved through an ‘Adrenalin Forest’, a high-wire obstacle course, which to any TA hiker was an infuriating divergence only to aid some company’s profit margin.
After the town of Porirua I joined the locals in their evening exercise up Colonial Knob Walkway, a steep climb up many many stairs in the forest. At the top the trees thinned out, and so did the crowds. I moved through the high plateau of hilly farmlands and reached the end of my day. I was hoping to camp somewhere nearby, and was counting on finding a quiet spot along the descent through Spicer Forest, until I noticed the new signs that said camping wasn’t allowed. So I moved along and meandered the soft track, the ground covered in needles. I wondered if I should set up after all. It was quiet and dark and the trees were solid and big. But then I noticed signs warning for unstable trees due to a recent storm, and I chickened out. I didn’t want to camp illegally, but I certainly didn’t want to get crushed by a fallen tree.
I exited the forest and found myself with just one option left: camping in someone’s garden. Nr 995 on Ohariu Valley Road offered cheap camping, so I located the house and took some time to find the owner. He let me into his house and showed me around, urging me to walk around the garden to check out the pavilion in the back, and sharing all the pictures of it on his camera multiple times. I was free to move around as I pleased, but I felt like an intruder – staying on someone’s private property was really not within my comfort zone. I was the only hiker there but there was a young Belgium lodger who could hardly be bothered to say hi to me. What was wrong with these self-centred twenty year olds with no people skills?
But it was all right, because this was my last day on trail, before reaching the South Island southern terminus. The day felt endless. I walked the long road into the hills surrounding the city, and watched the views over all the little buildings evermore reachable, in the distance. I was so nearby yet so far away as the trail meandered ruthlessly, moving through all the little streets and every inch of park it passed on its way. I already felt the different city vibes influencing me: everything was different, busier, less friendly, with so many more cars and buildings and people, and even the dogs in all the parks were badly behaved and kept chasing me. The route dipped into the city’s botanical gardens only to weave back out again via the longest route, mimicking switchbacks down a mountain. Then I made it to the heart of town, and I felt as though I was finished. I was so close.
I’d always assumed the North Island terminus was where the ferries left for the South Island. I thought I would arrive in Wellington, take a few rest days and walk the final 13 or so kilometres on the way to the ferry terminals, and hop on a boat to continue the trail. This wasn’t the case. The ferries were closer to town, very much in the opposite direction of this little tail to the TA. The trail continued down to a somewhat random spot, which acted as the southern terminus, further south of the city.
As I walked through Wellington, I checked into my accommodation, took the food out of my pack and strapped it back on to immediately finish the trail. Once again I weaved through all the parks, up and down the hills as I lost the light of day and low hanging clouds threatened me. Once I found the sea the grey sky was everywhere, and it began to rain. I walked along the shore and saw the small park. That was it. It was distinctly unimpressive and desolate, the TA’s stone memorial tucked into the back of a playground. It was an odd place where young people played despite the grubby weather. There were no other hikers. I took some pictures, feeling more awkward than elated at finishing the trail, and swiftly located the bus back into town. It was a sweet relief I didn’t have to walk all the way back.
With that, I had come to the end of the North Island. It was done!
Wellington / South Island Resupply
Now I faced the whirlwind that was several days off in Wellington, to arrange everything I needed to before starting the South Island. While Wellington was busy, my head was even busier. I thought I would take two days off, but I only barely managed to do everything in three. First I visited the i-Site to get the ferry times to Picton, then I read into the food drop options for the stretches ahead. The South Island route did not pass through as many villages, and food drops were required. I was lucky to receive some help: I’d been texting with Tim the Fast Walker who’d gone through Wellington a week earlier. He told me how overwhelming the whole thing was and had shared his resupply strategy with me: he’d sent food boxes to St Arnaud and Arthur’s Pass, but recommended sending to Boyle Village as well. After my own research, I decided to do exactly that. Boyle Village wasn’t exactly required – Hamner Springs was popular place for people to hitch to from Boyle Village, but I already knew I’d rather stay on trail, save myself the horrors of a hitch, and send myself a package.
I created a schedule to calculate my estimated time of arrival, which I would have to note on the food drops. I called all the locations to make sure they accepted packages, and what the charges would be. Then, I bought and repackaged 18 days worth of food, which was quite an ordeal. The cheaper supermarkets were located further out of town, and it was a long and incredibly sweaty walk from my accommodation. I managed to spend a mind blowing $350 on my resupply, then bought a pair of shoes to add to the Arthur’s Pass box. When I was finally ready to face the post office, it was an amazing feeling to seal everything in the big boxes and send it off.
Figuring out my resupply was one of the most stressful and time-consuming things I had done in a long time, but what was even more distressing were two French guys who walked into the post office after I did. They had just arrived in New Zealand, and planned on walking just the South Island. For some reason, they had decided to make the post office their first destination after arriving in town, aware enough to know they needed to look into their resupply, but lacking any plans and knowledge into their options. They approached me and I found it remarkable that they had no idea what they were doing, despite having gone through the efforts of getting their gear together, applying for Visas and booking plane tickets. While I was happy to offer a bit of advice, I felt it was more important for them to research their options themselves, and truly understand the trail they were about to embark on. I asked if they had checked the Facebook group, as a lot of members were sharing their strategies. They said they only just tried to access the group, and their membership hadn’t been approved yet. It seemed like a terrifyingly last minute approach to the trail. They sat down their huge packs which seemed full even though they couldn’t have been carrying any food yet. One of them even carried an additional rucksack at his front, the way travellers do in South East Asia, and he pulled out a laptop. I really wondered if they were going to drag all these items along. Needless to say, I never saw them again.
It wasn’t all hard work. I saw Bee and Gina for cocktails, to celebrate the end of the North Island, and 1700 kilometres done. I did a lot of shopping, to the point where I knew all the sales people in all the outdoor stores – I bought a new base layer to wear at night and a down vest to add warmth for the cold days. Despite the heat waves, I’d had spells of being so cold that the extra 150 grams seemed quite worth it. I got a new set of trekking poles and gave the battered old single one to Gina. I bought some possum gloves to top it all off, determined to be ready for any condition South Island could throw at me.
After three days I was hesitantly ready to continue the trail. I had booked a spot on the 9am Sunday ferry and arranged the Beachcomber water taxi from Picton to the start of the Queen Charlotte trail, where the TA commenced. At the last minute, my Interislander ferry got cancelled. It was just before 11pm the night before departure when I received a text message, alerting the cancellation. It called for me to report at 6:30, for the 7:30 boat instead, but didn’t mention whether it was in the morning or the evening. Immediately I was stressed, unsure what to do, then decided to get up early, and walk to the terminal to see. There was a free shuttle bus but I was too scared it wasn’t going to show up for some reason, so I walked all the way to the terminal instead.
I arrived at the same time as the shuttle bus, and the early morning ferry indeed existed. I checked in easily. I bought a coffee and positioned myself on one of the sofas, tired from only getting a few hours of sleep. We hit the water and I watched the South Island approach slowly. I hoped I was ready for it.