“After completing my university degree in Geology, I felt a certain pressure to chase the career path I had laid out for myself.
In reality, what I wanted to do was travel: to see the world in a different light and to experience life outside the classroom – and outside the 9-5 lifestyle.
Additionally, I had begun to realise how much societal pressure existed to chase a career, to get the job, the house, the mortgage and so on. I’d also noticed that even during university life, many of my peers were suffering from mental health problems, notably depression and anxiety, related to this expectation.
I decided that promoting a healthy and free lifestyle (through the act of hiking) was a positive alternative to jumping into a career that may not satisfy a person. My journey was structured to represent a breakaway from the ‘norm’.
I chose to hike the Te Araroa Trail because of the simplicity of walking. One can experience the outdoors most naturally while moving at walking pace and soak in the surroundings at a comfortable rate. For me, hiking is a natural release. It is stress free and incredibly satisfying.
I had done a few solo overnight trips around the Wellington region, but never anything longer than a week. To prepare, I did a lot of research on the route I would be taking. This would decide how long the trip was and how much food and equipment to purchase.
It took me about six weeks from planting the idea in my head to starting the trail, which is a little rushed but worked out fine. In fact, I learnt early on that over-planning can be a disadvantage and that being flexible with the timeframe and the setting is really important.
When I took my first steps from Cape Reinga, I carried with me an enormous mental weight. The lump in my throat was almost choking. How will I do this? How will I walk to Bluff?
I learnt you have to break it down as much as possible. For me, walking over 3,000 kilometres had to be divided into weeks and days. Sometimes the goal had to be broken down into minutes or crucial seconds: when crossing the flooded Ruakaka River in Northland, or traversing the knife-like edge of the Ruahine Ranges in a howling westerly wind.
To overcome these difficulties I had to remind myself about the people. I had made a promise to friends, family and the community that I would do this for them, to raise awareness for mental health. It was the people who were the driving force which ultimately got me to Bluff, some 140 days later.
As part of this fundraiser, I thought it would be appropriate to promote a healthier lifestyle by inviting people to join me for parts of the trail. It was difficult for me to promote this nationally, although I did manage to get into a few local newspapers to help spread the word.
As it turned out, most of the people that joined me were already known to me. On several occasions, friends would coordinate certain sections of the trail where they could meet me and walk with me anywhere from one-to-five days.
In terms of trip highlights, most of the highlights happened when I felt completely alone. Standing at the top of Whangarei Heads in Northland, I was presented with a 360 degree view of Whangarei and the surrounding Pacific Ocean, where shoals of fish were being hunted by seabirds hundreds of metres below me.
Another moment was in the Nelson Lakes National Park in the South Island, where the trail led up a magical valley: the East Fork of the Sabine River. There, waterfalls cascade around me in every direction with lush, green beech forest and mossy undergrowth. It was New Zealand at its best.
As for the lowlights, these tended to represent slips, falls or injuries of some description. One incident involved a major fall into a South Island River (in the Canterbury foothills), where I cut my leg open, down to the shin bone. At the same time, I had submerged my entire pack in the river, wetting all my gear including my cell phone (which doubled as my camera for my blog to raise awareness). It was probably the hardest moment to deal with!
Aside from these physical and mental challenges on the trail, the major thing I learnt was that everything always works out. The trail taught me to be flexible and adaptable, both of which are highlight relatable back in the ‘real world’. I live by these values more than ever now that I have completed the Te Araroa – and, following that, the Pacific Crest Trail.
This trip absolutely changed my life. It was probably the single most important and possibly the boldest decision I have made. To leave society and regular life behind for over four months makes you think about the wider picture of life itself.
Where to from here? Well, I finished the PCT just three days ago, so I’m currently recovering from these two hikes. I have considered getting into guiding, but I have yet to formulate a plan. We shall see!”