3,688,000 Steps (2,766 km)

3,688,000 Steps (2,766 km)

Queenstown to Princhester Road

The heifer carcasses were not exactly the tucker I was looking for.

But I took the hitch to Te Anau and tried not to look back. I am mindful as ever that there is still plenty to look forward to.

I was a little hungover, nursing a soy latte and settling into an almond croissant as the shuttle bus picked me up outside the hostel in Queenstown at 8 am sharp on March 22nd. Rob and Joss were already on board, having camped at a holiday park a short distance away. The three of us were the only passengers for the drive around the other side of the lake to Greenstone River, where the Te Araroa Trail would resume. The 90 minute drive was a low-key typical catch-up amongst the three of us.

By 10 am we were on the trail, walking in the forest upstream beside the Greenstone River. This was a very scenic walk, with many waterfalls and deep pools of crystal clear water, along a popular and well engineered path. I stopped at the Greenstone Hut for a lunch break around 12:30, saying so-long to Rob and Joss an hour later as I continued on towards Taipo Hut as they settled in to stay the night at the luxurious hut (complete with flush toilets!).

The afternoon walk left the forest and climbed into a wide open alpine valley and rolling saddle. It was cloudy and cool but great for walking until reaching the grassy saddle, where the trail crossed many kilometres through wet bog and peat. By 4:30 pm, though, I was settled in to the cozy Taipo Hut, feet and shoes drying, and enjoying a brief nap when I was joined by Maria and Andy.

What a charming and delightful couple! They started the Te Araroa in early October, but took an extended break midway. They had walked along the way with many of the same cohort as me, just at different times. We had much to talk about. It was comfortable conversation and a pleasant evening spent eating and getting to know a little about them before we all settled in for the night.

I slept in until 8 am on March 23rd. Unheard of so far in this journey! I said my so-longs to Maria and Andy and headed out around 9:30 am. The clouds were fast burning off and a beautiful blue sky promised a great day ahead. The trail continued to be boggy and wet and a little hard to follow in high grasses, so the going was slow until I reached Boundary Hut at midday. Here, I switched into some dry shoes, had a quick lunch and then followed a fast and flat 4WD trail alongside the Mararoa River to North Mavorca Lake. I was making good time, so I stopped at the shores of the lake, resting in the sun and enjoying the views before following a forest-shaded lakeside path to a fantastic camping area at the far end of the lake. Here, I enjoyed the comfort of dry, flat ground, running water and a quiet evening overlooking the lake. A calm end to a peaceful and stressless day of walking.

I awoke at 5 am on March 24th. Cozy again and comfortable in my tent on the lakeshore, I was unclear where I would end my day. The trail ahead entered private farm land for many kilometres and no real promise of an appropriate tentsite. Awkward…

I reasoned that the only real course was to get out early and try and push out 40-plus kilometres to State Highway 94. There, I would hopefully be able to hitch a ride off the trail to the nearby town of Te Anau for some resupply, a roof and some rest.

I packed up everything and headed out at first light – by 7:30 am – fast and strong alongside South Mavora Lake and then the Mararoa River. There was beautiful light for the first hour as the orange morning sunrise warmed the forest. Around noon, the riverside trail deteriorated, so (following trail notes) I began a long road section for 28 km through farmland. The most interesting scenery along this walk was in the sky: layers of shifting cloud formations in contrasting shades of blue, grey and white.

Around 4:30, just as I approached State Highway 94, a pick-up approached from behind me. I turned, threw out my thumb real quick and the truck slowed to a stop, a small trailer in tow.

Bruce is a semi-retired farmer, living in Te Anau, but working on good weather days at his dairy farm 30 km east of town.

“Where you headed, then?” Bruce asked.

“Te Anau.” I smiled.

“Outta tuckah’ are ya? Right, hop in!”

I did not totally understand what he said, but got from his smile and gesture that I had a ride. I threw my pack into the bed of the pickup, stepped around the trailer, and jumped into the truck.

We pulled away for the 20 minute drive to Te Anau. He explained he had picked up many walkers on this stretch of road in recent weeks who needed a lift into town to get more tucker (food).

Okay. Tucker. Food. Now I understood.

Bruce was talkative and friendly. I asked him a bunch of questions and he filled me in on his farm operation, the joy of semi-retirement, the seasonal weather patterns and how he had spent that day: slaughtering two heifers that couldn’t get pregnant.

The carcasses of these poor animals were wrapped in burlap in the beds of the truck and trailer.

Right next to my pack.

I worked really, really hard to continue with the conversation, but my attention was wholly occupied with the challenge of how I could get – what was in my mind – the copious amounts of blood and guts stains from my pack. My pack, that was at that moment bouncing around in the bed of the truck, propped against the burlap-covered carcass of one of these poor animals.

That was the longest 20 minute drive of my life. Bruce continued to explain the economics of dairy cows and the 6-10% of cattle he had to slaughter every year simply because they couldn’t have babies. I smiled and nodded, but it just became even more horrifying to me.

Bruce dropped me off near the centre of town. I grabbed my pack (it was, mercifully, unsoiled) and waved a thanks and goodbye as I struggled to shift my gaze away from the burlap-covered mounds of heifer in the back of his truck and trailer as he pulled away towards the butcher’s.

Te Anau is a charmer. A small town on the shore of Lake Te Anau and the gateway to Fjordland National Park and many of New Zealand’s Great Walks. It is tourist-oriented, for sure, but in a low-key way (think Jasper). A welcome counterpoint to everything that was Queensland a few days earlier. I walked the mainstreet to the lakeshore, and by 5:15 pm had secured a room at the hostel and was enjoying a beer overlooking the lake. A day ahead of schedule, my feet and legs were tired and sore from the longer than planned roadwalk of that day. I had an early night, skipping dinner in favour of rest. Also, the heifer thing sort of threw off my appetite…

March 25th was a carefree day. I woke around 7 am, just before the sun. With a loose agenda thanks to the prior day’s extra effort, I focused on the basics: bathing, coffee, checking the weather, reviewing maps and considering arrangements and supplies for the day ahead.

I got my tucker. My resupply visit to the supermarket went incredibly swift. I have developed after 2700 km a pretty efficient approach to resupply. I know what I need, how much, and get in and out quickly. I also buy ONLY what I need now. In the early days of this journey, I carried way too much food, the wrong food, and took forever determining my choices. This go-around, I did heavily favour vegetarian meals (because… heifers).

Later in the day, Bobby called me from Riverton, which is on the south coast, about seven days of walking ahead. He gave me some perspective on what lies in the coming days, reiterrating what others have said: “It will remind you of the North Island… mud… slogging… Herikino Forest… Rattae Forest…” Also, the weather forecast did not look kind.

Over beers with Rob and Joss the discussion was similar, and there was much reflecting on the meaning (if any) of coming to the end of this journey.

As the curve of the graph accompanying this post joyfully illustrates, the Te Araroa trail saves some of its hard stuff for the end. It will be six days’ push to get to the south coast from here. Then a final few days march along the windswept seashore towards Bluff, the end of the trail.

On the face of it, this may be the promise of misery ahead. But, weirdly, this terrain and weather isn’t concerning me in the least. It’s a welcome reminder of where I have come from over the course of the last 2700 km. I am sort of welcoming another challenge right now. A familiar challenge, even if it is tough, is welcome at this stage.

My mind is up for it. My body will take another day of rest to catch up. But it will.

I am not tuckered out, just yet.

To put some faces to the names, I have added a few pics of some of the walkers I have written about.