Te Araroa: Reflections on the Halfway Mark

So here I am in Palmerston North, writing my third blog post in two days while taking full advantage of the unlimited computer access at the public library. At the computer station behind me are two kids who have been playing video games for the past three hours – shouldn’t you guys be in school or something? I imagine them replying, “What about you? Normal people have JOBS.” Too true, boys.

Anyway, I’m officially halfway done with the Te Araroa! The halfway marker is in Arapuke Forest Park, which I walked through just yesterday morning on my way into the city. So I’ve walked a little over 900 trail miles – and actually over 1000 miles total if you count the extra bits of hiking I’ve done in areas adjacent to the official TA route. On the occasion of my halfway-ness I have found myself reflecting on the experience so far and wanting to write down some thoughts where all of you, my blog hostages, can read them.

Me at the halfway marker in Arapuke Forest Park

What Does Halfway Even Mean?

Even though the trail marker in Arapuke marks the official halfway point of the trail, I feel like my psychological halfway marker was the trip from the South Island over to the North Island across the Cook Strait. There’s a real and undeniable geographic boundary here – underscored by the way the geology makes itself known. Most of the South Island is on the Pacific Plate – coming across to the North Island you cross a feisty fault zone and end up on the Australian Plate. The North Island’s volcanoes are testament to the this deep and seething boundary between terrains.

Also there’s this – I’ve decided I’m not going to walk every mile of the North Island. Why, you ask? Well, the trail isn’t totally contiguous up here – it’s more like a trail necklace via which discrete natural areas are strung together by highways. And I really don’t want to walk on these highways, so I’m not going to if I can avoid it. Instead I’ll hitchhike or take buses along those sections. What this means is that I’ll probably only be walking about 600 miles total on the North Island, rather than the 900+ I’d be doing if I walked every motorway. Haha, “only” 600 miles! Do you see how insane hiking can make you? Also note my struggle not to adopt a confessional tone when telling you that I’m not planning on walking 300 miles of highway margins. Distance-wise, I probably passed my actual halfway mark at around 800 miles – which just happens to ble about the distance I walked on the South Island! Ah, trans-island equilibrium. Thru-hiker purists: you can stop reading this blog now – I don’t know you but I will nevertheless disappoint and wound you with my shameless, appalling laziness!

View of the Marlborough Sounds from the Queen Charlotte Track, at the northern end of the South Island

I Still Don’t Feel Very Good At This

Despite having walked about 1000 miles, I still don’t feel very good at hiking. Most days are hard – or at least have hard parts. I get out of breath, I get tired. My knees are unquestionably the knees of a 43-year-old. Among people out here, I reckon I’m about 30th percentile. And most of the time I’m OK with that. Haha, all right, you saw through that, you perceptive little scamp, you! I still compare myself with other people all the time, and I’m not even hiking with anyone at this point – I’m all alone! The next closest hiker could literally be a day away and I’ll still be thinking that compared to them I’m a decrepit old sucker who shouldn’t be out here. I think what this comes down to is the boundless human capacity for pointless comparison and self-recrimination, even when reality is clearly presenting a different story. To wit: I have actually walked 1000 miles, I’ve gotten everywhere I planned to get to, and I’ve had no serious injuries other than some foot blisters and a shin splint. Trail as cognitive behavioral therapy: JUST LOOK AT WHAT YOU’RE ACTUALLY DOING OUT HERE and stop beating yourself up, you lunatic!

On the shores of Lake Angelus in Nelson Lakes National Park. That’s my tent – I walked there!

The Mysteries of the Human Body

I’m the only person I’ve met out here who’s actually gained weight on the trail. I think most of this is muscle mass – there was literally a point when I could feel my quads growing. They’d be all weird and stiff and swollen-feeling for a couple of days and then suddenly I’d wake up one morning and they’d be bigger. This would happen at seemingly random intervals, which made me wonder whether muscle growth is stochastic instead of continuous… personal trainers, help me out here? Anyway, it’s kind of fascinating to watch your body cope so competently while you pound the shit out of it every day.

Which brings me to the topic of feet. At first, I had feet. Then I had feet with blisters. Now I have hooves. When I lose a toenail now it’s like a horse throwing a shoe, and I calmly use my newfound farrier skills to put things right. “Let’s get ‘er back to the stable and see what we can do.”

Time AND Space!

So clearly hiking involves moving through space, but did you know that somehow while you walk, time is passing as well? When I got here it was just after the summer solstice – it was still broad daylight at 9:30pm on New Year’s Eve. Now it’s autumn – it gets dark at 6pm and I’ve actually been out here long enough that the seasons are changing. The days pass so incrementally that sometimes it’s a shock to look up and see how much time has actually gone by. I’ve been out here for almost a third of a year! Carrying a backpack, walking through woods and meadows and across beaches and over mountains and into and out of towns, and with other people and sometimes alone, and still on the same earth where I’ve always lived but under radically different circumstances.

And speaking of space, some of the most memorable and remarkable places I’ve been have actually not been on the Te Araroa Trail proper, but rather on detours and side tracks along the way. One of the best things about being here has been the experience of finding myself in so many unique, beautiful spots – and I’m glad I haven’t let “trail tunnel vision” deter me from exploring the places off the track.

And on that note, I’m going to post some pics of beautiful places that weren’t on the trail, just so you can see what an embarrassing surfeit of cool stuff is littering the landscape over here. Love you, talk soon, byee!!!

Punakaiki Rocks, on the west coast of the South Island near Paparoa National Park


Estuary boardwalk near Okarito


A blue entoloma mushroom! Apparently NZ is the only country with a mushroom on its currency. I haven’t fact-checked this but WHATEVER, they are reppin’ the fungus in a beautiful way! And who do we have on the $50 bill in the US? Ulysses S. Grant. Who is nowhere near as cool as a mushroom no matter how much you might like him. Just saying. I myself am indifferent to the man.

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Comments 6

  • Mary Lou Bennett : Apr 15th

    Continually remarkable, fascinating, exciting, and did I say remarkable.

  • Derek : Apr 15th

    Enjoying these posts on my comfy sofa 😉
    The opportunity for self reflection like this is rare and valuable. Many are more afraid of that then a steep, muddy, windy trail.
    You got guts kid…

  • Caryn : Apr 15th


    • Paul Nichols : Apr 24th

      Your doing a fantastic job enjoy the experience of a wonderful trail. I’m 71 years old and in training for the AT In preparation for 2024.

  • Kelly O : Apr 28th

    I had to toss back a few after reading the last 3 installments. You inspire and convince me there’s no place like home. 🙂

  • carolyne : May 7th

    JUST LOOK AT WHAT YOU’RE ACTUALLY DOING OUT HERE and stop beating yourself up, you lunatic!

    You are humaning amazingly out there in the wild. Growing quads and hooves and all. How cool!!!! XOXO


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