The End of the Te Araroa

This is a really difficult post to write. Usually, I love writing these updates and sharing my journey, but I’m not as excited to share this. It seems that my journey has come to an end. I had originally planned to hike the Te Araroa through the middle of June, but a few days ago I had to make a really tough decision. I’ve said from the beginning that it’s important to listen to my body, and now I’m putting these words into action.

Towards the end of my time on the South Island, I started feeling tightness in my upper back. It eventually turned into a terrible pain that would keep me up at night. It was the worst when I was on the Abel Tasman, which was unfortunate since I had no ibuprofen to alleviate the pain. The pain was super strange, because during the day I felt great. I almost forgot that I even dealt with the pain at night. But then, I would go to sleep. After 3-4 hours, I would wake up with such tightness in my upper back, and if I tried to move, it caused me an enormous amount of pain. I knew it wasn’t sustainable and that something had to change. As soon as I returned to Nelson, I picked up some pain relievers. They helped, but I knew that it was only a bandaid; what I really needed was rest.

Fortunately, I had a two week trip already planned to Australia. I spent my time there without a backpack, and I started feeling better. After returning to New Zealand, I spent almost a week roadtripping – also without my backpack – and I felt completely healed. I was excited to get back to the trail!

About a week ago, I began the Te Araroa NOBO on the North Island. I had a plan, and I was excited to hike through the Tararuas up to Palmerston North and then onto the Whanganui and Tongariro National Park. However, this entire plan changed after only two days. I walked the Escarpment section of the TA, and I felt great! My legs felt strong, and I was feeling confident about continuing my journey. But that night, I realized that my pain had returned. I was asleep in my tent in Paekakariki when I woke up with the same tightness in my upper back. It wasn’t as bad as it had been on the South Island, so after that first night of pain, I dismissed it. I continued my journey the next day up to Waikanae. It was that night when I finally accepted the truth. I was in so much pain when I woke up at 2am. It was time to make a change.

In the middle of the night, fighting back tears and trying to think rationally rather than emotionally, I reasoned through so many different options. Perhaps, I thought, I could rent a car for the next month and a half. Or, maybe, I could buy one? I had met quite a few travelers at hostels who had told me how easy it was to purchase a car. So, that was the first option I looked into. After seeing the prices of rental cars and the heaps of paperwork I would have to complete to purchase a car, I quickly dismissed that option.

My second thought was to just push through. I could take ibuprofen every night and keep on walking. But that sounded like absolute torture. I couldn’t stand the idea of being here in New Zealand and not exploring, so the decision I ultimately made was to change my flight.

I got on the phone with an Air New Zealand representative, and she kindly helped me change my flight. She even found a flight that was in the same pay code as the original flight that I bought, so I only needed to pay a flight change fee! I have about three weeks before I’ll fly back to America. I’m planning to still see what I can see. For example, in a few days, I’ll bus up to Tongariro National Park. I’ll leave my backpack at a hotel while I complete the Tongariro Crossing in one day. Beyond that, I’m not sure what I’ll do.

I’m still dealing with a lot of sadness and confusion. This wasn’t the plan. I had every intention of walking both the South Island and the North Island. When I imagined posting about the end of the Te Araroa, I thought I’d be posting a picture of me at Cape Reinga. I didn’t think I’d be leaving early due to overuse and injury. This isn’t want I want to do. However, this is what I need to do. I need more than a few weeks of rest; I need a few months of rest. I spent the last few nights with a trail angel in Levin, and I already know that going home is the right decision. I hope to one day make it back to New Zealand and finish what I started.

I look forward to sharing with you about my experience at Tongariro National Park! Thanks for following along with my journey here in New Zealand. It has truly been incredible. I’m so grateful for the months I’ve spent here. It has been everything that I dreamt a thru-hike would be: from the crowded huts to the long days of walking through mountains to the other hikers I’ve met on the trail to the dehydrated meals and resupply – the Te Araroa has been challenging and frustrating and wonderful and beautiful.

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Comments 10

  • Patty Madigan : Apr 27th

    Lighten your load, rent a different pack. It sounds like the weight distribution may be the problem! Take the IB’s and go for it!

    • Neil McKellar : Apr 28th

      Yes. I’d try a pack like an Aarn that totally distributes the pack weight onto the hips. It also separates back movement from pack movement. More than 15 years ago Aarn was a lifesaver for me and that same pack completed the TA with me in 20/21. I’ve since updated and the new pack completed the Bibbulman Trail with me last September, and the Cape to Cape. And still no back problems. I’m a fan.

  • Martian : Apr 27th

    You may have a torn erector spinae muscle in your back. I had a very similar pain as you after finishing the trail. For a few weeks, I would wake up with an intense pain in my middle back. It was so painful that I couldn’t even do a sit up to get out of bed. But I found that the more I moved around throughout the day, the pain would almost entirely disappear by evening. Then in the middle of the night after laying still for a while, the pain would return just as strong as it was before. I’m no doctor and I could be totally wrong about your back issue, but it’s definitely something to look into. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me until I read about torn erector spinae symptoms.

  • Deb Tilton : Apr 27th

    I think you are making the right decision. Nothing is worth ruining your health and body. Your family is ready to take care of you and love on you. You have so many wonderful adventures that you have taken us on, so take a rest. Love you! Deb

  • Mike Doherty : Apr 27th

    Hey you could consult a doctor or a physiotherapist got a few weeks sad to see your giving up on your dreams. Best of luck love your posts
    Cheers Mike from the NT

  • Adam Peter Herdman : Apr 27th

    They have doctors in New Zealand, you know. And Australia.

  • Richard : Apr 27th

    You’ve done the best part of the trail, I’m pretty sure. So well done. The South Island is a great achievement.

    I did the North Island last year. It was good for sure but everyone I met thought the South Island was a cut above.

  • Marcus : Apr 28th

    Cycle instead with panniers.

  • Te Araroa not the Te Araroa : May 1st

    Please it’s just “Te Araroa” not “the Te Araroa”

  • Samuel Goodwin : May 1st

    If you are still in New Zealand, Rotorua is a wonderful place to visit with lots of creeks that are naturally warm to relax in, and mud baths that are full of great minerals for the skin and muscles!


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