Te Araroa: Part 5 – New year, new direction
Time for reflection
The Christmas period gave us room for thought and reflection. We mused on how the trail experience had been going this far, plus what we wanted to change over the next two months out in New Zealand. The key thing for me was that we continued to live by the “honeymoon first, hike second” mentality and after a talking it through agreed on the following:
1. Hiking the North island is now out of the question in the timescale we have. It was always going to be a push, and from all the southbounders we spoke to, nothing convinced us that we would have more fun hiking than exploring more of what New Zealand has to offer by car or bike. Therefore we can take our foot off the gas and just focus the hike on the South Island, and get excited about seeing the North Island in a different way.
We plan to see as much of New Zealand as possible, as it is a mighty long journey from the UK. We’ve had great recommendations from the Able Tasman, the Northern Circuit and the Alps to Ocean cycle ride, so will be looking into these for our rest days.
2. We’ve got to remember that every trail is different. I’ve definitely been guilty of comparing experiences with the PCT, critical of the Te Araroa’s lack of switchbacks, a defined trail and real adventure vibe due to the road walking. We also found out in this section that we are not the only PCT hikers who feel this way, as other Sobos referenced the grumble and moaning of the PCT class of 2022 on trail. Miles on the PCT probably correlate more to kilometres here and we need to adjust our expectations and planning accordingly.
3. Weather is a huge part of determining our on trail experience. So far we’ve had the Kiwi summer of 2022 described as anything from “wank” to “shit-as” by the locals, and with no sign of that improving quickly we’ve decided to flip up to warmer climates at the top of the South Island. What was also helpful is Katie and her family were driving past Nelson so we were able to get a ride for most of the way. This cemented our decision and with that we started planning a southward direction with the plan to connect our path near Twyzel.
The most wonderful time of the year
Christmas was a real treat. Staying with a friend, the soft bed, warm showers and also the ability to stay in one place for a while was a comfort we quickly grew accustomed to. Jenny got to watch her favourite film, Love Actually, in the lead up to the big day so the yearly tradition wasn’t broken! Christmas day itself was a fantastic affair with champagne, croissants and some presents to go with. Joal got some socks and a merino t-shirt whilst Jenny got some lovely jewelry, three items that have yet to make it onto the lighter pack list. Joal also sent some gear up the trail and swapped his shoes to a dazzlingly orange pair of Altra Olympus’s
We set off from Christchurch full of turkey and happy memories. This was Jenny’s first Christmas without family and our first with each other even though we have been together for 11 years. After a stop in Nelson, a non-memorable town, we bussed to Picton through the Marlborough wine making region. Jenny even got to see where her favourite sauvignon was made!
From here we stayed with Joal’s former music teacher at their bach on the Marlborough Sounds. With beaming sunshine and a day on the kayaks we knew we had made the right choice. The air temperature was tropical and the water was stunning. We couldn’t wait to be back on trail!
Our best day on trail.
We knew from speaking with Kiwi friends that the Queen Charlotte track was going to be much kinder to us than some of the other bits of the Te Araroa. We got a lift back with our friend who calmly drove us to the ferry terminal with a full mug of tea sloshing uncovered in the cup holder – an absolute power move, especially as none of it spilt! After a detour to a bird sanctuary island, which was also where James Cook raised a flag when he “claimed” New Zealand for the crown, we got to Ship Cove where his ships were first landed. You can see why he returned and humbly named this area after him and his wife. The Sounds are stunning and have a Caribbean vibe.
It was odd getting off the boat here as it felt a bit like a natural Disneyland. Lots of crowds of families, with kids that didn’t really want to be there, nice smelling couples and picnics being had. We headed off on the trail which was a wide dirt track, easily big enough to walk two abreast. The trail undulated calmly through the fern and palm frond canopy tipping us out onto an inviting beach every few miles.
It was 27 degrees but with a light breeze creating the perfect weather for us. After a couple of beach swims we stumbled across Furneaux Lodge, a high class hotel in the middle of the bush.
This place was a little slice of paradise and at peak times the most expensive room is about £2,500 (5,000 NZD) a night. Jenny enjoyed a glass of sauvignon blanc while Joal stuck to ginger beer. Two hours later we darted back into the trail to finish our day at a packed campsite. We had our dinner on the beach away from the crowds, watched golden hour from the pier, and both agreed that we were happy with our decision to flip. Our first day going sobo had been the best trail day so far.
Riding the high(way)
Over the next few days the Queen Charlotte track provided us with a very cruisy track to follow. It was weird seeing mountains and not being ordered straight to the top of them, only to drop straight back down again. Instead we were keeping a fairly consistent elevation and taking the simpler path the whole way, through the bird song and crickets.
At times the cricket chirps get so loud it’s almost impossible to hear each other without shouting, or your podcast without turning up the volume. I was recommended the podcast Winds of Change over Christmas and ended up listening to all episodes back to back over the course of two days on the Queen Charlotte track. It’s a brilliant look into how the CIA can take down governments in more soft-power moves – in this case using the power of a rock song.
New Years Eve was celebrated in Marlborough sounds style with a swim from our campsite which was right on the beach. Like christmas this was a different affair to the usual alcohol fueled parties with friends or family. We were pitched out of earshot of other people and enjoyed a relaxed and contemplating evening watching the sun drop before heading to bed. 3 hours later we were awoken by a group of hikers belting a countdown to zero. We looked at each other, whispered happy new year and returned our buffs over our eyes as we fell asleep to the distant sounds of fireworks going off. Whilst a departure from our norm we both agreed this was probably one of the best ways we have welcomed in the new year and maybe it sparks a new tradition of trying to see each new year in under the stars.
Whilst maybe a little bit early to call we are both really happy we talked through how we’ve enjoyed the first quarter of our time out in New Zealand and how we’ve adjusted course to make our collective experiences better. We are working well together as a team, have definitely seen a good degree of challenge already and are listening to our bodies and hearts to ensure we are getting the most out of the trip and hike. life is good.
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