2,208,251 Steps (1,686 km)

2,208,251 Steps (1,686 km)

Waikenau to Island Bay

This is the end, and the beginning.

These last few kilometres of the North Island represent the midlife in the journey: that place that is beyond the halfway point, where figurative milestones present themselves, where lessons have been learned. A time to look back and to look forward.

The journey has become dramaticaly easier these last days, by virtue of the terrain and my commitment to not push myself (or my feet). While the antibiotics did wonders for my infected toe, I have since developed an enormous (2 inches by 1 inch) blood blister on the large toe on the same (right) foot. This is likely a byproduct of walking funny – to ease the pressure on the infected toe. It really is enormous, and I can barely fit into my shoe. My plan us to take it easy with short days (without stopping), stay cool as possible, bandaging and cleaning and to let it heal on its own.

On January 22nd I was a bit late off the mark, but being out of the forest comes with the advantage of a light pack, owing to not needing to carry food. Leaving Waikanae, a series of beach walks and sidewalk strolls through seaside villages went very fast – even under a hot sun – and left a lot of time to stop and gaze at the sea and to break for coffees and snacks before arriving at a delightful hilltop homestay in Paekakariki. Sitting in a chaise, on my private deck, from here I could look down at the tiny main street, framed by mountains and the soft glow of the sunset. I imagined living in an intimate place like this, seaside and quaint, yet just a 30 minute train ride from downtown Wellington.

After getting my early morning fill of yoghurt and fruit, my walk on January 23rd was mostly on pavement: a 7 km stretch on the major highway, then a paved bicycle path and trails alongside the railway. Almost all of this was adjacent to the sea, and the ocean breeze kept me cool and comfortable through the day. Midday, as I approached Aotea Lagoon, just ahead of Porirua, children and teenagers were jumping off the jetty into the cool torqouise waters. If I had fewer kilometres ahead of me I would most defintely have joined them, but the risk of irritating the bandaged blisters on my feet kept me on dry land. Another day…

Once arriving in Porirua town centre, I spent an hour changing my cell phone plan (my third cell phone company in as many months) to the firm that offers the better rural coverage on the South Island. Three is proving to be a magic number on this journey:

  • 3 cohorts: I have three cohorts who started this trail on the same day as me: MaryLene, Jorg, Rory. Though travelling apart, we still stay connected and interested in each other’s journeys.
  • 3 sets of walking poles: so far…
  • 3 kobo e-readers: I crushed the screens on two in my pack, but think I have worked out a preventative solution.
  • 3 pairs of shoes: one down, one in progress, one waiting for me in Arthur’s Pass.
  • 3 cell phone providers: Vodaphone, 2 Degrees, Spark
  • 3 failed resolutions to quit smoking: still wavering on the date for my next attempt.
  • I imagine there will be more of these threes, if I am mindful to keep a look out for them.

I spent the evening at Camp Elsdon, a modest Methodist church camp that offered dorm accomodations and particularly conspicuous “no alcohol” signage at every turn. I chose to disregard the signs and to enjoy a beer in my room. Then, I clumsily spilled half of it all over my mattress. Half a beer and a wet bed was not what I was aiming for. If Methodist God was really watching me like that, perhaps they didn’t need the signage at all?

I got out on the trail very early for the final approach into Wellington city on January 24th. This was a great walk, through some forest, some quaint country roads, then on up high on hills overlooking the city and Tasman Sea. At the top of Mount Kau Kau, overlooking the city, I met Andrew Simm, who is a trustee with the local Wellington Te Araroa Trust. He was there to put up some new trail markers and was kind enough to take some time to share some very helpful suggestions for food drops and resupply locations for the first half of the South Island.

From there, the trail meandered through urban forest, hilly neighborhood streets, the botanical garden and into the city centre. By 2 pm, I checked into my hotel room, had a light lunch, and relaxed in air conditioned comfort overlooking the Wellington Harbour.

Owing to the “go slow” plan I had recently adopted, I chose not to take a “zero day” in Wellington. I didn’t feel the physical need as my days had been short recently and I had been sleeping in beds every night. Instead, I would take a short day the following day and head in the evening to Picton on the South Island. This is where I earlier mailed my bounce box and could next organize provisions and assess the progress of my foot before proceeding further. I was also keen to get onto the South Island after so much time on the North.

I got up very early the morning of January 25th. My plan was to quickly finish off the last 9 km of the North Island, jump on a bus to return to the hotel, and celebrate with a hot breakfast. The trail was kinda disorienting, weaving through the city, and went up (and down) every hill between the downtown and Island Bay. It took almost three hours to get to the plaque commemorating the end point of the North Island section of the trail, and just 10 minutes on the bus to get back to the hotel?!  The rest of this day was spent resting my foot, buying freeze-dried meals for upcoming backcountry sections, and tasting some local beers at a fantastic underground beer bar. I was only in Wellington for a day, which was enough to give me a sense of the place. It feels like my kind of town, and when this journey is done, I will make a point of spending some days here before departing New Zealand.

Finally, close to 6 pm, I headed to the ferry terminal and said goodbye (for now) to the North Island.

The North Island has taught me skills. Challenged me. Added perspective to who I am, what I am capable of, what I like, how I can stay healthy and thrive best each day. It has given me much and taught me much about how I approach the journey ahead.

The South Island represents an opportunity to apply all I have learned. To approach new challenges with the benefit of some amount of newfound self-awareness and wisdom. It will be a different challenge, with its own experiences, weather and terrain, and it will be awesome because of what the North Island has given me: perspective.

I feel profoundly confident and at ease at this moment. Excited and confident in what lies ahead, and prepared to enjoy it at a healthy pace that works for me.

The journey itself has prepared me for what is ahead.

And yet this journey is still beginning…

Kia tupato kia pai to hikoi
Me te titro whanui, kia koa
Ki nga taonga kei mua i a koe.

Walk the path in safety
Look deeply and learn
From your surroundings.