Oh, Hello South Island…

9 Feb

The trail on the South Island picks up from Ship Cove – a remote spot that has to be reached by foot, boat, or plane. So, although we were on the South Island, we still had to take one more boat to actually get back on the trail.

A water taxi delivered us from Picton to Ship Cove. The cove is famous in part for the five visits that Captain James Cook and his ships made there in his travels about New Zealand. The cove provided them a sheltered spot to repair their  ships, take on freshwater and supplies and trade with the Maori.

The cove also marks the beginning of the Queen Charlotte Track, a 70 kilometer stretch of track that primarily follows the ridges above the Queen Charlotte Sound.


A well graded path that was often wide enough for an ATV, made for easy walking. The track is split between public and private lands. The private land owners have done an awesome job of maintaining their sections of the track and have provided many sweet spots to stop and enjoy the views. The track felt like an auspicious beginning to the South Island.

Along the Queen Charlotte Track, we encountered a new bird that we hadn’t seen before. This is the a mischievous and curious weka.

Wekas are attracted to human activity. We saw many of them hanging around the camping and picnic areas. You have to keep an eye on these flightless birdies, though. They like to snatch shiny objects and food when they think you aren’t looking. One sign warned trampers not to chase the wekas that stile things because they would only run farther. In fact, one morning as we were talking to two other trampers, a weka snatched their toothpaste tube out of a hip belt pocket and ran off into the underbrush with it. Fortunately, the weka quickly lost interest and left the toothpaste tube after a matter of seconds.

On our last night on the track, we camped in a bay with fellow trampers Zach and Amy. They collected mussels from the water and we boiled them up to eat. When the mussels opened there were tiny crabs inside that were also cooked to perfection. It was the freshest, most delicious seafood feast I’ve ever had.

Following the Queen Charlottle Track, we headed into the small town of Havelock. There we were very excited to finally meet Nancy Andujar – serious hiking and biking bad ass and mother of our CDT buddy SLAM. Nancy completed solo hikes of the PCT and CDT in the 1970s. She completed her triple crown with a thru-hike of the AT in 2013. And now, Nancy is out here hiking the Te Araroa.

As we headed out of Havelock towards our next adventure in the Richmond Range, we saw this little gem scrawled on a stile on a long pasture walk. It says “Sensual talk for lonely TA walkers. Text 02……” Tempting offer.

Alright, I leave you here because what happened next deserves its own post. But, here’s a teaser…

 

 

Farewell North Island!

8 Feb

I am happy to report that in the last 400 kilometers of the North Island, the trail threw us some redemptive surprises.


After spending the night at a campground that allows Te Araroa hikers to stay for free, we  walked along a driftwood-strewn black sand beach. The only beach we’ve seen like this. The contrasts of the sun-bleached wood and black sand was captivating.


After the beach (and more road walking), we were finally headed to some real mountains. The Taurarua Range of mountains is quite a rugged and wild weather section of trail. It is also incredibly beautiful. Although our first couple of days in the range were spent in rain and fog, the day we crossed Mt. Crawford was perfect. In fact it was so clear that we were able to get our first glimpses of the South Island.

Much of the trail in the Taurarua Range is above treeline, and there are lots of huts that provide a safe, sheltered place to stay.The night before our summit of Mt. Crawford, we stayed at the Nichols Hut.

The Nichols Hut is meant to hold six people. Twelve people packed in the night we stayed there. The rain, wind and clouds meant that many of the trampers in the area flocked to the huts to wait for better weather to cross the open ridge lines. It was damp and cramped in the shelter, but everyone in the hut worked hard to make it as comfortable and amicable as possible. It’s awesome to see the spirit of ‘there’s always room for one more’ that pervades the huts.

Just a little bit of road walking, beach walking and a few days later, we found ourselves high above Wellington. It was a sweet sweet sight as it marks the end of the trail on the North Island.

We spent one night in Wellington celebrating the end of 1700 kilometers of North Island, replacing some gear, and organizing our transportation to the South Island and the start of the next stretch of our journey. Oh yeah, and we checked out this crazy Orc statue. It was hard to capture just how creepy this thing actually is in real life.

And then, with very high hopes for the next 1300 kilometers, we were on the ferry and headed to the South Island…

Way Down Yonder On The Whanganui

9 Jan

First off, we’d like to give a big shout out to our AT hiking buddy for his recent completion of the 1000-mile Florida Trail. Pensacola to the Everglades. Way to go, Sundowner!

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As far as our Te Araroa (TA) journey, we have an important announcement to make: We don’t recommend it as a thru-hike.

In our opinion, the first 650 miles on the North Island have too much road walking, crappy trails, and arbitrary meandering to be worth the commitment a full-fledged thru-hike. Not to mention that it is a very expensive trail–accommodation costs are higher due to the frequent road walking/town exposure, hiking gear prices are outrageous ($180 for trail running shoes!), and there are many TA-specific costs, like transportation to/from termini & ferries & canoes & huts, that constantly keep us on edge. (Alcohol is also significantly more expensive 😊.)

That said, we definitely have found a few rare moments of natural grandeur on the trail. New Zealand is beautiful and the people are incredibly laid back and awesome. But our gut feeling is that there are many better and more fulfilling ways to enjoy New Zealand than a faithful, continuous thru-hike of Te Araroa.

Also that said, we are masochists and it would cause us more strife to quit the trail than to keep pushing forward. Despite our frustrations with the first 650 miles of trail, and even throughout our allergy issues, we still managed to have a ton of fun. We are some lucky folks–fortunate to be here and to be with each other. And our adage is still true that a bad day on the trail is still better than most good days at a job.

All of the above whining only reflects our perception of the first 650 miles of the trail. Maybe we are just spoiled. Thankfully, we are officially 200 miles beyond that mark. It is a relief to say that the last 200 miles of the trail have improved significantly.

The last town we wrote from was Te Kuiti. On our walk out of town, we discovered via enormous statue that Te Kuiti is the sheep shearing capital of the world and home of sheep shearing legend, Dave Fagan. In his heyday, Fagan was a consistent world record breaker and an 8-time member of world champion shearing teams. Currently, the world record for shearing strong wool ewes is 721 in nine hours. That’s a lot of sheep!

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Check out this leaf I found!


After Te Kuiti, we had to walk about 30 miles of road to get to our next forest trail. Given our previous experience on the TA, we were a bit nervous about what the forest trail was going to look like, literally wondering if we were walking 30 miles out-of-the-way on hot, hard pavement just to slough through 15 miles of muddy forest hell. We spent Christmas Eve at a free campsite on the outer edge of the forest. A Maori family with a camper also shared the site. At the first break of morning, we awoke to the father’s subtle & peaceful guitar chords playing along side the symphony of birdsongs cooing from the forest. What an unexpected gift!

The forest walk was wonderful and our timing immaculate. Rain loomed the entire morning, but staved itself off long enough for us to enjoy a view from a rare moment above treeline. The rain didn’t really cut loose until we were enjoying lunch inside a hut. Once our lunch was over, the skies were clear and blue.

Below is a panorama of the hut. New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) has over 900 huts scattered all over the backcountry. We bought a pass that allows us access to all but the most popular/accessible of the huts. Although this one in particular is not bad by any standard, all of the other huts we have encountered so far have been even nicer.image

When the 15 miles of forest track was done, it was another 25 miles of road walk to the next town. On the way, we passed this little homemade stand with water pitchers and sweets and a hand painted “Sam’s Store” sign. Sam is simply an 11-year-old kid who decided to set up a stand for TA hikers passing by. All he wanted in return was for hikers to sign his book. We did not get to meet Sam, but we did speak with two other hikers who were treated to dinner and a lawn to camp in. They said that Sam is really into the trail and is so filled with information that he is probably the world’s foremost Te Araroa expert.

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Taumaranui was the next town we arrived at. From this point, the official trail gets weird. And I don’t really know how to explain it, but I’ll try…

New Zealand’s Great Walks are the country’s primary backcountry tourist attractions. There are nine Great Walks across both islands and the DOC works hard to make these trails accessible to as many people as possible. In other words, the trails are well graded, well maintained, and super popular. There is no charge to walk a Great Walk, but visitor traffic is controlled by charging for overnight hut & campsite accommodations. In the summer holiday season, which is December/January down here in NZ, reservations for huts are a hot commodity.

The town of Taumaranui is in close proximity to two Great Walks, the Tongariro Crossing and Whanganui River Journey, although the Whanganui is not a walk at all, but a multi-day canoe trip. The official TA maps include the canoe trip as part of the hike.

Not a big deal, except that the canoe trip involved a load of logistics, the biggest being where and when to start from. There were many options because the official TA route made no rational sense–the trail runs right to the river, but to a remote spot far from a road, totally in the middle of nowhere. The official TA notes suggest we coordinate a jet boat to deliver a canoe and resupply to the point on the river. Seriously.

In Taumaranui, we walked into an information center and found a solution that was more logistically and financially rational than hiring a jet boat to meet us in the middle of nowhere. As it was smack in the middle of the summer holidays, campsite reservations were fully booked for five days. This was originally disheartening until we determined that it was the perfect amount of time to walk to the other Great Walk at Tongariro and return back to town to start our 8-day canoe journey.

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At the information site, Rachel became a fan of Walking magazine.

And so we were off! It was a mellow two-day walk to the Tongariro Crossing, equal parts road and woods. We could occasionally see our mountains from in the distance.

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It was a huge relief to find out that we had cleared the Lahar Hazard Zone, although a sign on the other side letting us know we were entering a hazard zone would have been nice. Still wondering what a “Lahar Hazard” is.


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That’s a volcano. Last activity was in 2012.

The Tongariro Crossing area is a famous for being the filming location of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The route is short, just a ten-mile track that the DOC recommends walking from south to north. Our route had us going southward against the traffic. We probably passed over a thousand people in those ten miles. The rocky alpine scenery and volcanic craters were a refreshing change, but all the people was a little overwhelming.

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It was actually New Year’s Eve when we did Tongariro and we ended up stealth camping on the other side of the mountains, about a mile outside a little tourist village. Next day, we stumbled on a kite club fundraiser going on in the village. There were some incredible kites on display: dragon, dolphin, stingray, astronauts, and more!

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Eventually we got back to good ol’ Taumaranui just in time to start our big 90-mile canoe journey. Rachel had plenty of experience, but I had only canoed overnight one time–with Rachel and the dogs on a very calm lake in Maine. Obviously Rachel took the captain’s seat and I played lookout. We hit the first rock we came across and ended up stuck, wedged between the rock and the current. It took us 20 to pry ourselves loose, but we did it without tipping over. Altogether there were 239 rapids we had to negotiate on the journey, but none of them were above a Class 2+.

There are so many funny anecdotes to share about the river, but damn this is a long post! I’ll just let these photos show some of the experience…

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Rachel stuffs the waterproof barrels as we load up the canoe in the morning. The general rule was: “If you really need something, you’ll probably need to open every barrel to find it.”


Hard to take a photo during a rapid, so here is an accurate rendering of a stressful moment.

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Here is the rapid guide sheet for the first day on the river that the canoe rental place gave us.


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The second half of our river journey actually went beyond the boundaries of the official Great Walk. Our canoe company admitted that they had never done any of the river beyond the Great Walk and gave us different rapid guidesheets to assist us. We liked these better for the drawings and little bits of historical information.

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Negotiating river rapids with a partner requires excellent communication.

Why spend 3 to 5 days on a canoe when you can jet boat the entire Great Walk in about 5 hours? We encountered jet boats like this about six times a day. They did not slow down, leaving us to contend with a pretty good wake each time they passed by. Assholes. 😊

 
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One of the huts/camps along the river was actually a marae, a sacred site for a native Maori family. This marae had an intricate totem-like carving that indicated the family’s connection to the land.

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A closeup of the carving.

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As you read this, we are on a hot trail to get to the halfway point and then to finish the North Island. We just traded out our worn out shoes for new ones. 850-miles on a pair of sneakers is a record for both of us. They definitely looked and smelled like they’d gone that far. 

And that’s that for now. We love y’all and think of you often! Take care!

(…and never thru-hike this silly little trail!)

Allergies, Kauri Trees and a Campsite, please!

22 Dec

  
When we last left you, we were preparing to walk the rest of the way through Auckland and its surrounding suburbs. All told it was almost 100km of urban walking stretched over about 3 days time. Although urban hiking is far from our favorite type of hiking (too many people, cars, noises…) we did appreciate the opportunity to see some parts of the city we would not have otherwise. 

  

Here I am standing on Maungawhau/Mt. Eden which is both a dormant volcano and the highest point on the Auckland isthmus. 

  

  
As I am sure you have noticed, the terrain and substance of the trail varies daily. However, there has been one constant in the walking since our second week here – abundant pollen! It’s early summer here and all the grasses, flowers and trees are doing their thing. Allergies have never been too much of an issue for either of us but something in this New Zealand air started plaguing us about our second week of hiking. Our eyes were puffy. We couldn’t breathe through our noses. We sneezed and wheezed. We couldn’t taste a thing. We endured for too long.  Hell, we started comparing notes with one another on how to taste our food by exhaling through the nose or blowing the nose after each bite.

At this point, we realized enough was enough. We spent the night at the Lake Hokanoa Motor Caravan Park and the next morning the amazing Carol was able to make us a doctors appointment that day!

  
In fact, two hours after she made the appointment we had already seen the doctor, gotten our prescriptions and were on our way back to the park for a nap. We were really impressed with our experience. Our appointment was on time. The doctor listened, was thoughtful and considerate of the fact that we were traveling. And, we paid less for both of us to see the doctor than it would have cost for one of us to see some one in the states.

  
Also, when we went to get our prescriptions filled the pharmacist told us she would have to charge full price because we aren’t from New Zealand. We didn’t care because we were so miserable with the allergies. You can imagine how shocked we were when we found out that all of our meds were only going to cost $25.00. The whole experience made me wonder why healthcare in the US can’t be so accessible and affordable.

 
There are so many birds, flowers and trees we have never before seen. One of the most impressive things we have seen is the Kauri trees. These awesome trees grow to be huge and have bark that is multicolored. They are native to New Zealand and are truly impressive.

They were and are harvested for their dense and awesome straight grain wood. And, the sap (or gum, as they call it here) that they produce was long used to make veneer for musical instruments and more. Even now, furniture made from these trees costs a pretty penny.

  
The trees are under threat now from kauri dieback disease.  However, the DOC is working hard to protect the trees and ensure that the aren’t lost. 

   
 
At many of the trailheads, we have encountered cleaning stations like the one above. Usually there is a brush to remove soil from your shoes. Then, there is a cleaning agent that you spray on your shoes. From what we understand, the dieback infection is primarily spread through soil movement, so we do our best to ensure we thoroughly clean our gear thoroughly each time.

  
In the past week, we’ve crossed a lot of pasture and farmland. In all of our past hikes, the cows have always run away from us as we passed. Here in New Zealand, the opposite happens! The moment we cross into a paddock with cows or walk along their fence line they immediately start coming towards us. On this particular day, we thought the the cows were going to pin us to a fence and made it to the stile with only moments before they would have been on us! On another occasion, we did end up jumping a fence because the cows cornered us. I can’t imagine what the cows want with us, and I don’t really want to find out!

  

Fortunately, the sheep we have encountered haven’t been nearly as aggressive. They are usually quick to move along when they see us coming. According to one statistic I read, there are 6 sheep to every one person in New Zealand. This is down from the peak years when it was 20+ sheep to every person. For your reference, there are about 4 million people in New Zealand. 

  
Since the trail often follows road or meanders over private property or delves into deep bush, it can be difficult to find campsites sometimes. We’ve camped on roadsides, in the middle of the trail, in pasture and even on this rugby pitch. The night we camped here is not one I am likely to forget. 

   
 

Shortly after the sun set and the tent was put up, we heard a loud crashing alongside the road. It was quickly evident that a truck had run off the road and crashed into the trees. After a brief pause in which David and I looked at one another shock, we heard the truck back up out of the bushes and watched it take off down the road. 

In the moment we were stunned, and the next morning we were even more surprised when we saw the damage the truck had inflicted on the roadside. Ironically, the regional newspaper that morning hihglighted that there had been 17 car crashes in 9 hours the previous day. We vowed to never roadwalk after sunset again. 

Oh, but that isn’t the end of the story of our night on the rugby pitch. Sometime later a car pulled into the parking lot. It sat for a moment with its headlights aimed at us. Then, it flashed its brights and super brights at us. Then, some one got out of the car and whistled a few times. Finally, after several minutes, the person started walking towards us with a flashlight. As you might imagine, we assumed it was the police. Turns out…it was just a man looking for his pig. Yep. A man looking for his pig. 

  
There is so more to say about this past week or so. But, I am going to leave it at this…we’ve passed the 900km and have just 100km more before we hit the 33% mark! We are doing well and embracing the challenges. 

  

And, we are enjoying the farm fresh strawberry ice cream along the way.

  
We love you and hope you enjoy the holidays with your loved ones in the places you love. We can’t wait to see you in the new year!

  

Over the land, over the sea…

11 Dec

This trail hands us something different every single day. Even with our careful study of maps and trail notes, we are often surprised by what we encounter.

One day, we might have to take a ferry between two places to continue the trek.

Then, we find ourselves wading waist deep across an estuary opening onto the Pacific Ocean.

Another day, we find ourselves walking down pasture lined roads. (Sidebar: to this point at least 60% of the walk has been on some sort of road.)

Then, we find ourselves climbing through pastures to ridges with magnificent views.


The next day, we are cruising down the beach- hopefully at low tide when the sand is firm.


And then, we find ourselves wading and hopping rock to rock along a cave riddled shore.

Okay, if I’m honest – some days the trail hands us all of these situations in one day. Despite the almost perpetually wet socks, the variety keeps things interesting and challenging.


After working on the AT this summer, I have been particularly impressed by the resources that the Department of Conservation (DOC) pours into their official tracks (trails). On this particular track, we ascended and descended over 1500 steps like those in the picture. In the absence of those steps, the track would have been an incredibly muddy, wide and eroded track. While the steps certainly detract from the’wild’ feeling of the trail, it might be impassable otherwise.

 


The DOC is also remarkably dedicated to eliminating non-native mammals that have been introduced to the country. (In case you were wondering, the only native mammal to New Zealand is a bat!) Rabbits, rats, weasels, stoats, possums, elk, horses and more have been introduced. Since there are no larger predatory mammals, many of the non-native species have experienced population explosion and now threaten native species like the Kiwi bird.


The possums seem particularly problematic as evidenced by all the traps and poisons we’ve seen. Although there are always signs letting you know when you are entering a trap area, it was still a bit of a shock to come upon this “humane” kill trap and see a possum hanging from it.


It’s also surprising that these possums don’t learn! They usually have to crawl over a pile of their buddies bones to get to these traps.

As we were slogging along thru a town the other day, we saw an arrow that promised trail magic just 5 minutes ahead and only a tiny detour off the track. We decided to check it out and found this microwave filled with toiletries, fresh fruit, candy and more. A woman who hiked the trail a couple of years ago maintains this little treat and also welcomes hikers to fill their water bottles and empty their trash at her home. Although this is the first trail magic we have encountered from some one super familiar with the trail, it is far from the only magic we’ve experienced.


One evening it was getting late and we found ourselves in the midst of a 20km road walk. We knew we needed to find a place to camp, but we were trying to be strategic since it looked like we were going to have camp on private property. Standing alongside the road, we pulled out our map and we’re looking at it intently when a car pulled right over to the side of the road and asked if we needed help. We shared that we were just looking for a place to camp and next thing you know we were in their car headed for their farm where they host farming education programs and more. We could hardly process what had happened, but we were incredibly grateful.

And, it is well worth noting that we have had several other experiences lke this. People have shared their delicious home cooked meals, offered us rides without us asking, taken us to destinations that were out of their way- even called around town to find us accommodations when they didn’t have vacancy.

In the past few days, we’ve met several more hikers. The trail has been very quiet until now even though we keep hearing this is the biggest year to date. We took the opportunity to celebrate a little trail community with this crew at a pub in Puhoi, and then took the fun down the trail to camp together for a night. We certainly hope to run into these folks again.


As I write this, we are relaxing in Auckland and resting for a day. We’ve walked about 600km or about 370 miles, and we are feeling good. Tomorrow we’ll get back out there and finish our urban hike thru Auckland.


Until the next town… Be well.Take care of one another. We love you.

The Impenetrable Bush

3 Dec

Te Araroa is the name of the trail we are hiking. It is a relatively new trail, approximately 1,800 miles across the north and south islands of New Zealand. We have given ourselves 4 months to complete the trail. Two weeks and 250 miles into our hike so far, we are wondering if four months will be enough…

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It was a bit of endeavour to get to the northern terminus to begin our hike. After a 24-hour flight, we arrived in the city of Auckland on a Saturday. From there, we had to wait until Monday to take a bus further north to the town of Kataia, where we would then catch a tour bus to the northernmost point on the trail called Cape Reinga.

Our weekend in Auckland was nice. It is a small city, quiet and laid back; not too different from an average American city in terms of amenities. Enormous Christmas decorations were installed as we walked the streets.

The tour bus up to Cape Reinga was costlier than simply hitching, but we found the price to be worth it. The first 60 miles of the trail are literally on a beach. During low tide, the sand is compact enough for vehicles to drive on. Our tour bus drove about 20 miles of the trip on the beach, giving us a sneak peek at the terrain and drinking water situation we would encounter in the following days.

We also got to go sandboarding down some steep dunes near the beach. Kinda like sledding, if you got enough speed going, you could skim across a shallow stream at the bottom of the dune. It was a blast! We both got about four rounds in before I had a hard stuntman wipeout and we decided to chill out before one of us got hurt.

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The native people of New Zealand are called Maori. Cape Reinga is a sacred place in Maori tradition, representing the northernmost place on the island where one’s soul leaves the earth and enters the afterlife.

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The Te Araroa ends in Bluff, the southernmost point on the South Island. The sign says it’s only 768 miles as the crow flies, but the trail zigs and zags around the country enough to double the distance for us on foot.

We took our requisite start photo, climbed a small hill, and began our 60-mile beach walk. It was a perfect day to start a hike.

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Looking down on “Ninety Mile Beach”–estimated to be 90 nautical miles long upon discovery by James Cook in the mid-1700s.

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The photo below is pretty much what 60 miles of beach walking looks like in both directions.  The walk took us three days.  By sheer timing of our start date, the tide was low when we started each morning.  When the tide is low, the beach is wide, the sand is firm, and the walking is easy.  When high tide would roll in around midday, it would only leave a small strip of soft, annoying sand to walk in.  Rather than frustrate ourselves, we would use high tide as an excuse to eat a long lunch and take a nap, maybe cool off a bit in the water.  After 1.5 hours or so, the sand was ready to march on again.

On our way to Cape Reinga, we saw tons of young people in towns, busses, and hostels who said they were also hiking Te Araroa. However, we didn’t see anyone on the beach until the last few miles.  For three days, we practically had an entire beach to ourselves.

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A cool thing about hiking in New Zealand is that there are no snakes or native mammals to worry about. That said, wild boar, dogs, horses, and possum are known to roam the “bush”–which is the kiwi term for the woods. We found the skull below and were a little unnerved by its teeth!

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At the end of the day we would climb over the small dunes that lined the east side of the beach and make camp.  We have a new tent for this hike that is ultralight (1.5lb with stakes!) and uses our trekking poles to stand upright.  We set it up successfully one time before the trip at Rachel’s parents’ house, but a month had passed since then and we totally forgot how to put the damn thing up.  The first two nights were a little sloppy, but we eventually got it functional.

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As you can imagine, the sunsets were gorgeous. The beach borders the Tasman Sea, which is the body of water between New Zealand and Australia.image

And then there was no more beach. We were immediately thrown into The Impenetrable Bush.

To hear a kiwi say such words in their accent sounds something like saying “Eempennytribble Boosh.” It comes off as a soft and delicate description of some heavily wooded forest. However, “Impenetrable” is the perfect descriptor for these northern forests we have encountered. Anything that is not trail is impossible to walk through without a severe ordeal. Campsites are extremely rare, and bumpy at best. Taking a dump always results in several scratches and bruises.

The following poor photos hopefully convey the idea.

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The Impenetrable Bush is stressful. It wants to devour what sliver of trail you think you are following. But our situation was compounded by some big bad Mud.

After 60 miles of blissful beach walking, we spent the following two days desperately slogging through the steepest, slickest, thickest, most aggravating sludge we have ever encountered.

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After two days of trudging through this guck at half-a-mile per hour, we were greeted by a sign on the other end of the forest warning that the trail was wet and slippery.

No shit, Sherlock.

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Not gonna lie, it was tough going. Less than a week into our hike and we were having some serious doubts of what we’d gotten ourselves into. But thankfully the trail eased up a bit. Not many views in the bush, but we got to enjoy some interesting plant formations like the arch below.

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Occasionally the trail dipped into a river gorge and the river was the actual trail. So far, the trail has included about 10 miles of literally walking up a river. Sometimes the water level reached mid-thigh, but most of the time it is somewhere between ankles and knees.

No such things as dry socks on this trail. We have really come to appreciate these river walks. It is an easy excuse to go fo a swim. (And no snakes!)

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Sometimes the trail is so wide, it feels like home. Always steep–apparently the kiwis only walk straight up and down their mountains–but nevertheless sometimes the trail can feel like our truest comfort.

We think of you often, wishing we could communicate the amazing floral aromas or the new, elaborate birdsongs we are experiencing. Hope your Thanksgiving holiday was great. We’ll be walking into Auckland sometime next week. I’ll make sure Rachel writes you an update then. 😊

Any question on your mind? Write it in the comments! Love y’all! Take care!

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Hello, Goodbye

12 Nov

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Despite our best intentions, we obviously did not do a good job sharing our summer adventures in Maine. In fact, when  I last posted, I was still awaiting David’s arrival in Maine and was only about three short weeks into my job as caretaker. Now, as I write this, David and I are in Dallas spending a last few hours with family before we head to New Zealand. The last six months have been a whirlwind and a genuine pleasure. Before we take after for New Zealand (and hopefully do a better job of blogging our adventures), I wanted to just share some of the highlights from our summer in Maine.

DSCN1477Early in the summer, I wanted some Katahdin redemption. After our first trip up Katahdin at the start of our Appalachian Trail hike, I vowed never to climb the dreaded mountain again. But never say never, I guess. In early June, I returned to Katahdin with two other caretakers and summited the mountain. It was a perfect day – clear, cool with distant views. Katahdin was a completely different place than I remembered. No tears this time.

DSCN1662imageDavid still had a couple of months left as a middle school math teacher in Little Rock, Arkansas when I first moved to Maine. As soon as the school year wrapped up, he made his way north with our two 10-year-old dogs, Chickpea and Valentine. He spent about a week in North Conway, New Hampshire becoming a certified wilderness first responder and then made his way to Maine. Prior to the end of the school year, David built this backpack to carry the doggies on hikes. The pack has an external frame with a basket for the doggy at the bottom and the pack mounted above the basket. Maine has some rugged terrain, but the dogs loved it.  They would hike to their heart’s content, normally about 5-miles a day, and voluntarily hop into the basket once they were tired.  Even now, they get excited anytime we touch a backpack.

wpid-DSCN1504.JPGDSCN1818Towards the middle of July, the two other caretakers (Grace and Moxie) and MATC volunteers (Dick and Audrey) made a trip to Horns Pond for the mid-season mixer. Now everyone who heard we were having a mixer was excited until they realized what we actually were mixing: Poo.

That’s right. Poo.

There are two batch bin composting privies at Horns Pond to handle all the human waste. When the bins under the privies get full, we have to take them out and convert them into something useful. Basically, we mix the poo with wood chips, let the mix cook up in some steel bins and then dry it out as clean compost. This is every bit as smelly and gross as you might imagine it.

AND, the worst part is people who put trash (“biodegradable wipes,” tampons, pads, raisin boxes, plastic bags, clothes) into the bins. We had to pick all of that out by hand–just something to think about next time you are considering putting something down a bin that you shouldn’t.

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We had many great visitors this summer. We certainly felt the love with all the visits! In the first photo above, our friend Flyboxer, (from our CDT adventures), relaxes at Horns Pond on his way to finishing his Triple Crown. Towards the end of the season my Dad came to check out Horns Pond and spend some time with David and me. And, Maryanne–a mentor and friend from my time at Smith–came to check out the forest and go on her very first backpacking trip. We had several other family and friends make the time and effort to come see us. We truly enjoyed sharing Maine and our little mountain addiction with these loved ones.

imageBefore we knew it, it was already October and my season as caretaker was winding down. We wanted to do the 19-mile traverse of the entire Bigelow Range one last time before we wrapped up our time in Maine. The entire hike was picture perfect and immaculately timed.  We paused on top of Little Bigelow for lunch and admired the golden fall foliage reaching up towards Avery and West Peaks and the Horns. We hit West Peak just as the sun was setting. When we arrived at Horns Pond well after dark, the stars were on bright and unencumbered.  No one was in the campsite, a magical end to our final hike of the season.

imageOn my final morning on the mountain, I woke up to an inch of snow covering everything. It was the first time that it had snowed since late-May. It felt like a gift and fitting farewell to the most beautiful, peaceful, spiritual place that I have ever had the opportunity to live.

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And that is a super abbreviated summary of our wonderful summer in Maine. The next adventure for us is the Te Araroa traverse across the length of New Zealand, (see map below), which we will start walking in three days. The trail is about 1,800 miles in length and we have given ourselves 4.5 months to complete it.  From our research, this hike will definitely have its share of new challenges and rewards.

Our intent is to get back on the wagon with this blog thing… but right now, we got a plane to catch!

Love you! Be well! See you in April!

PS: A special hello to Suhawn!!

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