Te Araroa Start

Te Araroa Start

Monday, November 25, 2013

Last Full Day - Mount Cook

I woke up today with the sad realization that the next day I board a plane to leave New Zealand. Not that I don't love my home country, but this place really is God's Country. 

I hopped on the tour bus for Mount Cook, clouds looming all over, threatening to hide the sun again today. I hoped it would clear up... No hope for that this time. We went through some I the same country that we had gone through to get from Christchurch to Queenstown. Vineyards, farm land, and more sheep. We stopped at a fruit store and then stopped again at Omarama for breakfast. We got to see some great mountain area from the valley road and the glacial blue lakes and river along the way. 

We got to Mount Cook but with the cloud cover there was no way to even see the summit. I had planned on trying one of the helicopter tours that went around it and to a nearby glacier to touch down an walk around. But with the cloud cover there were no flights, so I had 2 hours at te base of the mountain. I watched a planetarium show and a 3d flick of Mount Cook, walked around and explored the visitor center before I grabbed a bite to eat from the cafe. Despite not seeing the summit, I still had a lovely view. 

I walked around a bit more waiting for the bus. I found a hidden trail I wish they had told us about. It was only a 40 minute return trip but by the time I found it I had half that time left. Sad indeed. So as thundered rolled in a distant part of the range I took a few more photos... This area looks like where Helm's Deep would have been... Tucked back in the valley between the mountains in the distance. I am seriously wondering if they used that to CGI the castle/defenses in. I could just imagine the Orc armies at the base on the flat land as it darkened and rained before the battle began. I think I have had too much LOTR on my mind in this country. 

I took a few more pictures to soak in what I could and I finally boarded the bus for the return trip. 

I returned to the sun breaking out as we got closer to Queenstown. I got back to my room, where the obnoxious girls had returned to. (Seriously, is there no other open room in this place?) I took my shower, and decided to kick back and relax. I will do a bit of souvenir shopping in the morning... Not that I can fit too much in my bag (nor do I want to). Then it will be off the airport for a little time travel. I take off at 1430 in New Zealand on the 27th... And 20+ hours of flying later, land in Portland at around 1900 on the 27th. Yay for time travel!!! I will be home for my father's birthday and just in time for Thanksgiving the next day. Not a bad way to return to the States I suppose. 

Milford Sound

Today was the most beautiful day of my trip... Which is saying a lot considering I am in the awe-inspiring country of New Zealand. It was my trip to Milford Sound. 

The day was cloudy and drizzling which I was first discouraged by. But the rain in Milford Sound simply creates more beauty. 

Away we went, leaving Queenstown. We drove on a road that bordered Wakatipu Lake, the 3rd largest lake in NZ (the biggest on the South Island) and went by the base of the Remarkables Mountain Range. Misty and cloudy they sometimes peeked through, towering and dark in the sky. We continued on, driving on the Devil's Staircase. (That's the second one I have been on since being in this country... How many stairs does the guy need?) we continued on until we took a break at Te Anau for breakfast... I always forget they don't expect you to eat before you go. I always get breakfast too early it seems. There were green paddocks filled with sheep, cows, and red deer along the way. 

Then a new set of mountain ranges was ahead of us. Clouded in, peeking through the condensation formed around. We stopped at Mirror Lakes (which really looks like a big pond). We had another stop at a small information center. 

After those stops the rest of the journey was incredibly gorgeous. I was thanking God for the work He had made, because there is nothing man could ever create to measure up to the mountains and waterfalls. I almost cried at the beauty of it and I am not a person easily moved in such a way. But when they say that the heavens and earth proclaim God's greatness, they are right. To me, there was no way to look at it and not see His hands at work. Sadly, some people were sleeping, chatting, playing games... Missing out completely on what we were passing. It reminds me of the Steven Curtis Chapman song... "I'm playing Gameboy standing in the middle of the Grand Canyon. I'm eating candy sitting at a gourmet feast. I'm wadin' in a puddle when I could be swimming in the ocean. Tell me, what's the deal with me? Wake up and see the glory..." Those people were missing out. New Zealand is unadulterated nature, hardly touched by civilization, a testament to a time we have lost. 

These pictures are just a snippet of what we saw in Hollyford Valley. Carved out by glaciers we drove through mountains like these, all streaming with waterfalls that grew as it rained. And when I say we drive through mountains, I mean it literally. There is a 2.7 km tunnel dug into the mountain to go through to continue on the journey! I can't wait to post more photos on my Facebook page when I get home. I think I took more pictures today than the rest of my days combined. 

At the end of the mountains was Milford Sound. I hopped on a boat and we cruised away. I braved the cold wind and stood outside on the deck as we went past mountains, more waterfalls, and seals on the rocks. We got out toward the Tasman Sea and the boat rocked up and down. The older ladies around me held onto the boat and squealed every time the ship bucked under the swells, giving you the feeling like your stomach has turned weightless. 

We turned around and headed back and loaded back onto the bus for the return journey. I took more photos, especially of the area after the tunnel, which made me feel like I was in a huge bowl, a basin created by ancient glaciers long gone. 

We went back through the gorgeous valley, through forest and rolling hills, dairy and farmland, paddocks of animals, and finally back by Lake Wakatipu to Queenstown. 

The obnoxious girls in the dorm have gratefully all gone, replaced by older and quieter gals. I returned from an awe-inspiring day in the rain and cold to a happier room. God has truly and honestly blessed me during this trip. It wasn't what I planned, but it was what HE planned. What a great and powerful Lord He is, giving us so much when we deserve so little. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Christchurch to Queenstown

I only spent a night in Christchurch. It is clearly a city still rebuilding. Empty lots in the central area are clear markers that something once stood in those spaces. Parking garages closed, streets blocked off everywhere, and many shops not open. Although it was a couple of years ago the earthquake's effects were still apparent. 

The day ended with some laundry (done in the sink as always), a hot shower and a night in a single room... Oh the privacy!!! Then off to the bus once again for another day of traveling. I didn't mind this time as the South Island varies from the North. New landscapes to enjoy.

 It began with the coast line, which I slept through much of. But then I was lucky enough to see Lake Tekapo, where we stopped for lunch, in front of Aoraki (aka Mount Cook), New Zealand's highest summit. 

After this we continued on into the mountain range. Instead of the rolling green hills I had seen on the North Island there were mountains all around, tussock and brush growing. Some vineyards in a valley close to Queenstown were also readily apparent on the way. It was in stark contrast to the Canterbury Plains we had passed through in the morning. 

I saw this ridge line as we neared Queenstown. The adjective that first came to my mind was "remarkable". And what do you think the name of these mountains are? You got it - The Remarkables. A sign directed down the road to them for winter skiing.

After we passed that road and got to the other side if the ridge line they were even more towering and beautiful. I snapped some photos with my camera, totally forgetting my phone. I managed to snap this one as we continued to Queenstown with Lake Wakatipu at the bottom. 

I walked a bit around Queenstown to feel the vibe. It feels busy for its size, and young. Of course, they call it the adrenaline capital of New Zealand, with chances to hang glide, sky dive, bungee, etc. so I suppose it attracts a young crowd. Outside the town is the bridge where the first bungee site in the world is. Historical, but I bungeed once before - which was enough for me in a lifetime. 

I had some noodle stuff I can't remember the name of for dinner, took a shower and have settled in for an early evening. I have a day tour to Milford Sound tomorrow... I will get to see the fjordland and take a cruise as well to see waterfalls and fish, and greenery. Knock taking a cruise off the life to do list as well (although one day I will take a longer luxury cruise). It's supposed to rain and be chilly tomorrow. One thing I am glad for is the layering system of clothing I packed for my trek. It was light and minimal but prepared me for any type of weather except a freak blizzard. 

I am all set up to get up, grab, and go for the morning. I saw a 24 hour convenience store (a rare breed in this country) on the way to the bus stop from which I can purchase a breakfast of some kind to eat in the morning. Another gal in my hostel room is doing the same tour, so I will likely have a traveling companion for the day tomorrow. Tally ho!!! Ready for the last days of adventure!!!

Friday, November 22, 2013


After a 6+ hour bus ride from Taupo to Wellingon I finally arrived. Found my way to the hostel, got checked in then headed out for dinner. A man in Auckland had said that although Wellington was significantly smaller it felt more like a big city than Auckland. As I walked from the train station to my hostel I understood what he meant. Everyone was in a rush to get somewhere and get there quickly. High heels and business shoes clicking and clacking down the street around me. It definitely had te hustle and bustle vibe I didn't get in Auckland. I was scheduled to have dinner with a gal in Wellington I had connected with as I researched the trail. We met up at a pub, had dinner and a good chat! Then it was bedtime for me. I am not the night owl type these days. 

The next day was my LOTR tour around Wellington. I figured a tour was the best way to see a lot in my one full day in the city. I got picked up in a little can. Our tour had one guide and only 6 passengers so it was great and personal!  We went to Mount Victoria, WETA cave and a tour, all around the coast line, a river, a rock quarry, and a park or two...4 all filming locations for LOTR movies. The guy had stills of movie scenes to compare to what we were looking at. We stopped for tons of photo opportunities, posing and acting like the characters. He had good ideas for poses and those of us not there attached to another person he helped with photos. We had lunch and an afternoon tea snack included in the tour. It was a wonderful experience with Wellington Rover Tours and worth it. 

I decided to take it easy when we got back. I hit up a food court and had some chicken noodle soup in an Asian style and then saw the Hunger Games movie before coming back to crash in bed. 

So the next step of the trip is a 3 hour ferry trip from the North Island to the South Island. I take a 5-6 hour bus ride to Christchurch to spend the night before heading on to Queenstown. The days are too short and the time I have left remaining in this country are coming to an end far too quickly for my liking. Back to reality soon. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Today was the most dreaded and most anticipated day of the trip. I was excited to see Mount Doom and walk a bit of the trail that I had originally planned to walk as part of the Te Araroa. But I simply wasn't sure how long it would take or how it would feel. 

An early start and a hourish long bus ride brought me to the mangatepopo car park at the start of the 19km track. I got a bag , extended my poles, and headed onward. All was well and then the Devil's staircase was ahead. The climbing up the mountains had truly started. The trekking poles have proved to be a precious commodity. I rested a lot as I went up. Met a gal from Ireland I walked with for the rest of the time. 

Finally got to where the official mount ngauruhoe summit track started. I debated for a few minutes.  I had come to climb it but I had many more miles to go and I was already starting to hurt. So I decided that climbing at the base of it counted to me. More impressive pictures from afar anyway. 

At that point I linked up with a guy from London I had met on the bus that picked me up from my failed Te Araroa trek walk. So the three of us traveled the rest of the trail together, all the steep ascents, terrifying descents down slippery scree, and the stairs that never seemed to end. We finally finished, well before pick up time. I used to think the Army was unique in the way it bonded people, but turns out it's not that, but ANY  trying experience endured with others that can do it. 

I didn't realize exactly how much I had been relying on my poles until we went to check the bus and I left them. My knees, which had given out a couple times while tramping, barely held me up. The pain will come tonight and tomorrow... All the walking followed by sitting on a bus for hours... Luckily I won't have any other day hikes this trip so I can baby myself again until I get home and see a doctor. 

Took a long and lovely hot shower, put on some clean clothes and grabbed dinner to eat by the lake. Seafood fritter and garlic chips. Sill funny to me that chips are fries. It was delicious. Seafood here tastes fresh. 

I am all packed up again for tomorrow, just the essentials left out. It's a late bus morning which is refreshing after the early morning today. Then off to Wellington for a day tour. 


I left Rotorua this morning and in a little more than an hour was in Taupo. I had only a block of walking to the hostel, which is in turn only a block or two away from the biggest lake in New Zealand - Lake Taupo. (Funny how they say lake whatever its name and we always say the name and then lake. Just little differences to be noted.) 

I couldn't check in yet so they stored my bag and off I went. I had not planned today. I had decided before arriving to be spontaneous and figure it out when I arrived. I went to the information center, gathered some pamphlets, and made a decision. 

I was going to see the Manuka Honey place. I decided to take the walking trail next to the Waikato River, a longer route than the road but I was sure it was going to be more interesting. On the way I was supposed to pass something called the Huka Falls. 

I have never see a river more clear in my life. You could easily see the bottom of it because the water was so pure. 
The track followed the river path for over an hour until I finally reached the falls. To my surprise, not really a waterfall. More like rapids. The river narrows at a certain point, bordered by hard rock creating the rapids. With such amazingly clear water churning the water was white and blue. Beautiful and terrifying at the same time. 

I crossed the bridge over the falls and walked to the honey place. They had bee hived you could see inside, with information about the bees on the walls. Everywhere you could find honey products. I tested some lotions, sampled some honey types, even tried mead. The honey wasn't my favorite. I guess I like my American processed honey. But I learned that the honey takes on different flavors based on the flowers and pollens the need gather. It is not any man made flavor added, but the natural raw flavors of each type of honey! And the mead... I am not an alcoholic but I could drink the mead I sampled all day. It reminded me Of wine, but without that cringing face pucker I usually have to try to hold back. The first one was somehow processed through oak tree and after the mead sweetness there was a woody aftertaste. I can't explain how you can know what a tree tastes like, but that's what it was. And the one flavored with berry was a subtle kind of sweet. Seriously delicious. 

I bought some hokey pokey. A candy apparently commonly known and loved in New Zealand. I snacked on my hokey pokey as I took the faster road route back to the hostel. It sprinkled a bit on the way but it was cool and felt nice with the sun heating my skin. I was rewarded for my route change with a spot to overlook Lake Taupo and the town and see the Tongariro Alpine Crossing across the lake in the distance. I also got to see this sign (which I think some Americans need): 

At this point I was racing a rain storm back to the hostel to finally check in. I got to the center of town and managed to grab some sushi and seaweed salad for dinner on the way. I had beat the storm by the grace of God!

I got checked in to the 3 bed gal's room. Ate my dinner. Walked to Countdown to grab some snacks for the walk he next day and some fruit for dessert. Came out to rain that wasn't done yet. This REI rain jacket is one of the best investments I have ever made. 

I settled in for the night. I got the transportation and accommodation plans settled for the rest of my time in New Zealand. Just some activities left to plan. 

Tomorrow I go to Tongariro Alpine track so I can climb Mount Doom. After loads of walking today I have a guess as to how much pain I will be in after the approx. 20 km walk. I may not make it to the summit of Mt. Ngaurahoe but I will at least climb halfway. I won't suffer pain for 150ish days but for one day to cross something of my life to do list? Absolutely! 

And to add to the LOTR nerdiness, I decided what to do with my one full day in Wellington. I am doing the Rover full day Lord of the Rings tour. I saw the Shire, why not other places like Frodo's tree, Lothlorien, Mina's Tirith, etc.? There are some parts kf the tour at WETA, the Hollywood for New Zealand. I am a movie buff, I admit it. And with this tour I know I will see beautiful parts of the area around the city I would have missed trying to see all in my own. And if its centered around movies I love... Why complain?

So that's it. The North Island is coming to an end. And there is not enough time to devote to the South Island the way I would like. Plane ticket prices and holidays... What can you do?

Waitomo Caves - The Galaxy Inside

I had the Waitomo Glowworm Caves scheduled for the morning.  Onto the bus for a nice tour of the brilliantly green (as always) countryside. Before our destination the driver stopped at a cafe and I grabbed a salmon, cream cheese, and lettuce bagel. Something new... It was delicious! 

Finally got to the caves. Outside as we waited for the tour I met a couple from California. We chatted a bit and found some things in common. The man had lived in a town in Oregon not far from where my family lives. Proves to be a small world no matter how far from home you go, I guess. 

I have been on a cave your before but this cave was extremely spacious. Poorly lit but huge. Not a lengthy or very informational tour as I had experience in Colorado. I was glad to have that one under my belt as it helped me at least know what was worth noting in my own mind. 

The boat ride through the Glowworm part  of the cave was what everyone was really waiting for anyway. In almost total darkness and silence we all found our way into the boat. You have to keep it quiet and dark for the glowworms to keep glowing our tour guide informed us. We got going, moving smoothly through water we couldn't see, only hear. Above us the tiny glowworms shined like stars in the heavens. With everything dark except their tiny spots of color it felt as if I was lying under a tree, looking through the dark spots of branches into the galaxy beyond them in the sky. I was seriously awed at how it could really look as if it was the night sky. 

Then out of the cave into the sunshine again. We headed out, crossing a trail entrance. It made me a bit sad because it was one of the trails I would have taken if my knees would have held up. 

I went back to Rotorua and spent some more time at the lake and wandering around town. I finalized some more plans for the next few days and lay down for a good read and some sleep!

Rotorua... The Land After the Hobbits

It's true what they all told me... You smell Rotorua before you see it. That sulfur scent associated with the geothermal activity in the town. You get used to it... Except when you wake up at night wondering who passed gas when you are alone in the room...

I got in to Rotorua, checked in to the backpackers and away I went to go zorbing!!!!

I did the straight path and the side winder. Rented clothes to soak and a towel from the place, left my clothes in a cubby and up I went to the top of the hill. They fill the inner bubble with warm water and tell you to "Superman dive" in through the hole they zip up. Only way in so I hoped my aim was true - plop! Right into the clear globe. I thought it would feel claustrophobic inside, but it just felt like sitting in a warm bath. The guy told me to get started I had to stand up and try to walk down the hill. Are you kidding? He said falling is like falling on a trampoline. So what the heck, why not? He dared me to stay on my feet as long as I could. I started walking, and as soon as the globe started rolling I fell firmly onto my rear. So much for that dare. But down the hill I went! It felt like forever but they say its only about 45 seconds. 

They told me I could relax in the hot tub or go right on up for the next path. I went right up. I couldn't wait! I dove in and the guy launched me down the side winder, about a 2 minute ride. Zorbing was some of the best fun I have ever had!!! I relaxed in the hot tub after I was done before I dressed again and bought some photos. Can't wait to share them when I get home. 

Then I took a walk in the Kaipu (I think) park. Geothermal activity all over with paths going around the hot spots. There are even a couple of free foot baths/spas warmed with the earth's heat. My feet were loving it. The park was well kept, flowered paths and gardens everywhere, their aroma competing with the sulfurous earth but their colors splashed for effect. It was quite something!

My last activity for that day was visiting Lake Rotorua. I nabbed an ice cream come and walked down to the socks and found a bench where I could admire the view. The day wound down so I went and are some Thai and hit the hay not long after that, a room in the hostel all to myself somehow. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Matamata - Home of the Hobbits

My last day in Auckland I did a lot of nothing. I stayed in bed for awhile, took a long shower, washed some clothes in the sink (REI pants dried super fast and even the long sleeve cold gear Under Armour top dried faster than I expected) and researched and booked my plane ticket home. I return a few days sooner than I would have liked but my wallet liked the prices on the 27th more than every day after that. I wandered around Auckland a bit, finally walking normally (aside from the hills and stairs). I got my hair done, ate, and went to bed early. Because if I was going to vacation like a normal tourist, then surely that was normal, right? 

Today, I left Auckland and arrived in the small town of Matamata. Only about 6,000 people they say... There are far more sheep here than people. My camp site was further away than my phone contact had reported, so the gals at the I-site moved up my Hobbiton tour time, let me stow my gear at the shop so I would only have to get a trip out once. Seriously, New Zealanders are so nice!

In the blink of an eye, off I went to the Shire! Movie magic makes everything look bigger and grander, but it was a beautiful place! Rolling green hills and trees, sheep and angus cows (yum) foraging about... But aside from all that, I got to see Hobbit holes!!! The LOTR nerd in me was thrilled! I have seen the movies more times than I like to admit. I probably could give a tour myself, ha! The hills were a bummer for the knee but it was a slow tour with lots of picture takin so I had the time to take it slow. I saw Bag End, ate and drank (free ale guys!) at The Green Dragon. I took pictures at Samwise Gamgee's home in the final movie and got pictures of the party tree at Bilbo's birthday... It was surreal and I wished I could really live there. It was so alive and vibrant and was possibly the best smelling place I have ever been in the world. 

I returned to civilization. What a drag. The kind ladies got a hold of the one can in town and I caught a ride out to the holiday park to pitch my tent. When I asked about a ride the next morning, I found to my dismay that he did not operate on Sunday. So tomorrow I take off early in the morning to allow myself a nice slow 7-8 km walk back to the bus stop. We will see how the knee holds up with the bag again for a few miles. I might try my hand at hitch hiking too. Can't hurt, right? 

Tomorrow I am off to Rotorua to go zorbing, maybe check out this Agridome that is across the street from it. The next morning will have me at Waitomo Glowworm Caves and back again to see what else I can pack into my time before I move on to Taupo. My time is running out much sooner than I would have wished. I find myself wanting to stay here, live here, explore. But adulthood awaits me! Onward soldier, onward!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Relaxing in Auckland

Made it to Auckland. I usually fall asleep, out cold, on buses and planes. But here I can't do it. The vibrant greens sweeping past the windows are impossible to not admire. You would be hard pressed to find such a variety of shades of green anywhere else in the world, I think. The rolling hills with ridges on most hills that look like the waves on the ocean shore are brilliant! The vegetation is so foreign. I don't know the names of most of what I am looking at but I don't recognize them. It's like another world. Going through forested areas makes me imagine I am Jurassic Park. Surely there are dinosaurs hiding out still in this country, right?!

So I made it to Auckland. The city that doesn't feel like a city to me. I hated NYC with a passion, but here there is no rush. The hustle has a bit less bustle here I guess. So I explored some more, stretching my muscles and favoring my knee. I am nearly walking on it normally (until you throw a hill or some stairs in front of me and I want to cry). I got a massage, got my Internet on my phone fixed, chatted with the gals I roomed with at the hostel last week... 

Now I am waiting for a comedy show. I found a little comedy club in my wandering around today and the tickets for the show were cheaper than a movie ticket here so I decided to go for it. Then I will be off for a good night's rest and some early morning planning for the day tomorrow. Might see an island I can't remember the name of, or see if I can make it up Mt. Eden. Who knows what the next day will bring my way?

Cheers to everyone still reading my blog even after the trek disappointment. I don't have any regrets. 

Day 3 - The Bluff to... Somewhere on 90 Mile Beach

I woke up quite stiff this morning. After a 20+Km day that was to be expected. I shuffled a bit until I massaged my muscles and stretched out. And I woke up to a herd of wild horses grazing not 30 feet from my tent. They watched casually as I packed up. As I began walking back to the beach they followed me. It was quite a sight. Then a new group of horses came running across my path and ran down the shore. It was like a scene from a dream. 

So off I went, into the misty morning, feeling a bit better than the day before had ended. Despite the aches and pains, I felt stronger than the day before and the day before that. My body was already adjusting to the lifestyle of trekking. 

But within a half hour of starting the knee shifted from the normal ache to the sharp pain under the kneecap... The pain I learned to recognize in the Army when I could no longer run. 

I continued walking while I made my decision. I have loved the walking! Even though its been just the beach so far, I enjoyed my time. I was appreciating the gift of God's creation. But I also knew that even as my body grew stronger my knee would only get worse and would surely soon be followed by the left knee. I knew from experience that it wasn't something to be pushed through. 

So I decided that when I could stop and get back to a town with bus service, I would stop. As much as I want to do this trip, it's not worth breaking myself. Luckily, my tour guide from a couple days before who had dropped me off at Cape Reinga pulled up on the beach and saved me from walking 2 more days to Ahipara to find a ride. So I finished my tour back to Paihia to rest and ice my knee and replan my entire New Zealand experience.  

I am frustrated, of course, at this turn of events. As I said before, I had considered how I would feel if I didn't like it and chose to stop. I had not seriously considered how I would feel if I found that I ADORED it, and that I simply couldn't go. It isn't little heart syndrome, but little knee syndrome in this case, I suppose. But in everything there is a lesson... Never have I gone for something big in my life and not completed or achieved it. Now I must learn how to deal with failure, with extreme disappointment.  I can still grow from this experience... And I can still explore this gorgeous country! All the things I thought I would see, I probably won't. But as Derek, the tour guide, pointed out, I will get to see other things I would not have experienced had I stuck to the trail. 

So with disappointed hopes, I bed down for the night under a roof instead of a tent, after a hot shower, with a television on, ice on the knee, and dream about making new plans. 

I also apologize to everyone following my progress... Very little of it was made, indeed. But keep tuning in as I post about other adventures in New Zealand. Thanks to all of you for your support and belief in me. Not a soul ever told me they didn't think I could do it. That belief allowed me to dream so big and believe in my own abilities. The confidence you all have in me is appreciated. I hope no one will think it was misplaced.  

Day 2 - Twilight Beach to The Bluff

Today was the first whole day of trekking.  Started off with a beautiful morning. 

I had a lovely view and unlike my prediction the night before, my body felt pretty good. There were some sore spots and I did a good bit of stretching before I took off. 

I had to go over Scott's Point. Tons of ups and downs. It was overwhelming to see a hill ahead of me after I had just topped one. (And we won't even get into the terrible lack of posts to tell you which trail was the right one.) But I told myself to focus on the hill at hand. One thing at a time, the next hills would be reached in their own due time. I finally got to the epic stairs that take you down to 90 Mile Beach (only 55 miles though). 

So I trucked along, shifting the pack constantly for some relief. Of course aches and pains are to be expected. I stopped at Te Paki Stream, refilled some water, strolled down the stream to the ocean to cool my feet and take a break. I was feeling pretty good! Right after I crossed Butler Stream a bus pulled up... It was the tour guide from yesterday! He gave me a cold bottle of water and let me dump my rubbish. He told me if he worked the next day he would stop again and if he wasn't there he would tell the others to be on the lookout for me. Super nice!!! 

The bottle became a lifesaver. At the time I didn't want to put my pack down and stuff the bottle in, so I stuck it between my waist belt and tummy. Low and behold, the weight was redistributed on my back. My shoulders were no longer bearing all the weight; some had moved to my hips. 

What a discovery! But after all that great stuff came the bad. Around 2pm my right knee started to hurt. Not the ache of load-bearing and walking, but the sharp pain that ended my running in the military. I carried on of course - what else is there to do? Around 6 I finally made it to the campsite at The Bluff. And by made it, I mean I was hobbling. My feet hurt terribly of course - that sand is exactly like walking on concrete just like they said. That on its own is bearable. I have walked further in a day and have had more blisters than the measly 3 honkin' big ones I have now. But that in addition to a knee that hurts with every bend? I had tears in my eyes when I finally threw my pack down to set up camp. 

Now I lay here and realize that although I made it to paradise, I might not get to enjoy it the way I planned. When I planned this endeavor, I thought, "what if I don't like it? Find out I hate walking/hiking that way?" Turns out, I love it. I appreciate being in the moment, each one lived in its own turn. I can apply things I have told myself walking the last 2 days to my life. I have talked candidly with God. Imagine what more lessons are to be learned along the way? I don't mind the heavy pack... Ok, that's a lie. I mind it, of course. It's heavy. But it's not unmanageable. 

But never once in my planning did I consider - what if I can't do it? Not from lack of desire or stamina, lack of determination, etc. but because my body simply wouldn't hold up. I have hiked further in a day before but never with such a pack or such terrain. My knees have always ached after a weekend hiking trip, but nothing a little rest, ice and Mobic couldn't fix. Now I see that perhaps my knees are a bigger issue than I cared to admit. It's only day 2 and one knee is excruciatingly painful unless absolute straight or bent to my chest. And when favoring one knee, the other will soon follow. 

I felt led by God to come here. It felt absolutely right. But it would seem my journey in this form will be cut short. I know this knee pain won't get better. I tried that before. I will have no choice but to quit after I have barely begun, unless there is a miracle. 

Day 1 - Cape Reinga to Twilight Beach

Short day, starting off at the Cape around noon. Had a great tour guide on the way. He is doing the trail himself in sections so he gave me tips and even taught me how to catch tuatua (a mollusk of some kind) and eat them. Pretty tasty. Saves me some cooking! 

Anyway, it was a short day of walking but it sure felt long. My shoulders ached and I got pretty good at balancing my bag on the sign posts to give them a break. Other times, I just plopped myself down in the middle of the trail to rest and lean on the heavy pack. I won't lie - I felt very out of shape. But I kept telling myself I can only get stronger from here. (And unlike rucking in the Army, I can stop and rest when I please.) I know I am not on a timeline so I took as many breaks as I needed. This pack has a great set up except it is heavy and the straps are too wide and not made to contour around lady bumps. But my body will get stronger and in a few weeks I hope it won't be any issue. 

I set up camp early. The guide thought I could make it at least to Scott's Point, but I know not to push too hard at the start. So I stopped at the campsite on Twilight Beach. I am glad I gave myself the extra time, just to see how long my evening routine will take. I successfully made a fire (my biggest worry) for my dinner, some New Zealand kind of Ramen. But I learned some lessons about how to do my routine better. Made some mistakes. But hey, the Army taught me how to do an AAR, so I sat down and evaluated my day. Tomorrow my routine will be better. 

Now I am cozy in my sleeping bag (actually need one here unlike Texas), listening to the waves of the Tasman Sea crashing on the shore below, with the sun finally starting to go down. I hope to be asleep soon and praying to God that my body doesn't betray me tomorrow... Which I am sure it will. But, all I have to do is put one foot in front of the other. The journey of a thousand miles (or about 1,800 miles in this case) begins with a single step...

Planning in Paihia

Well, no longer a trekking blog exactly... But I will keep posting about plans and events and review some of my gear along the way. 

Laid in bed for quite awhile, watched the news. I just didn't want to get up and go. I took my time. Finally got up and hobbled around. After resting for so long my feet could hardly bear my weight and my right knee was feeling better but was in much better shape if I kept movement to a minimum. 

I spent a couple hours on the hotel computer picking things in New Zealand I wanted to see and do. It was like starting from scratch. 

After a bit I needed to do something. I had to enjoy Paihia. The tour guide had mentioned that the start of New Zealand was in Waitangi. So I headed out. Grabbed some chicken saag at an Indian joint along the way. I embarked on the 20 minute walk to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. (For me it ended up being more like a 30-35 minute walk.) 

It was worth the trip, knee or no. It was the place where the Maori chiefs and British signed a treaty that basically began New Zealand in 1840. Look it up! They had the actual site marked by their Navy cross, you could explore the house where the treaty was drafted. A huge, world record setting Maori war canoe was on display with the stump of the gigantic Kauri tree that the bow and stern were made from. There was also a meeting house with an awesome Maori cultural performance. They did a welcome ceremony, performed some traditional song and dance things. Lots of big eyes, foot stomping, mad gesturing, yelling, and sticking out tongues. An awesome experience! 

Then I took another nice slooooow walk back to Paihia. Ate some fish and chips, hopped back on the computer and planned, researched and booked my travel for the next few days. 

Today it's back to Auckland, then to Matamata for camping and Hobbiton, then Rotorua for zorbing and nearby is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing - a day hike with a trip up Mount Doom if I can manage it. From there I will work on planning the next leg of my trip. I will enjoy New Zealand, even if it isn't in the way I planned. It will probably be my last big vacation, as upon my return I will have to be a grown-up again and find a job. 

Off for more adventure. Throwing off those bow lines Mark Twain mentioned once... Living life as it ought to be lived. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

-2 Days

If all goes well I should start walking sometime on the 10th (which is the 9th for those of you in the States). I go to Paihia tomorrow, spend the day and night there, get my food, enjoy one last hot shower, then head on a tour to Cape Reinga the next day. No other way to get there. 

Auckland doesn't feel like a city. The buildings aren't as tall as we expect in U.S. cities. The traffic isn't dense. Everyone waits for the signal to cross the street (must have some strict jay-walking laws or something). There is Asian influence everywhere, which I was surprised by. Where in the U.S. we have Spanish as the most common sub culture, here it is some Asian background.  I wish I knew more to know if it is Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, etc. 

It's been an interesting day so far. Just hanging out, walking around, ate some pho (there is SOOOO much food variety here, it's amazing!) I have to remind myself to not freak out when I see cars that look like they have no driver; they are on the other side. It's that, more than the opposite side of the road, that gets me. Movie tickets here are ridiculously expensive. Enjoy your cinemas stateside folks! As a westernized country speaking English, I was expecting much to be the same as home. But there is as much if a culture shock coming to New Zealand as there would be anywhere. 

Also met another dorm mate today. She is originally from the Czech Republic (my mom's side of the family comes from there) who lives in London now. She has been here for 6 months, working, backpacking, and now getting into acting. It is amazing to me how easily people talk to one another here, a freedom about it. I often keep to myself, but world travelers are so open its hard to resist. 

So far all has been well. I am enjoying the experience but it will be a different ball game when I start walking. It is coming soon enough!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

On the Way...

Started this post off sitting in the Fiji airport with one leg of flying left to go. That place was beautiful! Arrived as the sun was coming up... Forested mountains, gorgeous green grass, palm trees, and humidity. I was sticky on the walk from the plane to the terminal. Who knows? Maybe on my way back after this trip I will make a stop in Fiji for longer than 3 hours. It would definitely be worth checking out. 

I have already been blessed again with trail magic and I have not even started walking yet. I met a lovely Samoan lady on my flight from LAX (an absolute nightmare there, by the way) to Fiji. She has 7 children and 16 grand kids, all over the place. She lives alone in Seattle now but is on her way to her son's graduation from seminary in Fiji. (Gee, that was an option for school? A paradise island?) When she found out I was hiking in New Zealand alone she gave me her phone number and she gave me her other son's number. He lives in Auckland, not far from the airport. She said to call him if anything happened while I was in New Zealand or if I just needed a ride or anything. He would understand if I told him his mother sent me (she must do it a lot). After we landed in Fiji we split up. But she said if I ever wanted to go to her homeland Samoa to give her a call and she would come too. She said we could stay with her family so I would have no need for a hotel or food, just the money for the flight. And I genuinely believe Iva meant it! What generosity from a stranger on a plane!

I made it to Auckland finally. My dad was right; they talk funny here. (Jokes!) So I am in a hostel, paying for wifi, chatting with a nice  gal from Dublin, wondering why there are 2 buttons to flush the toilet, and ready to get my bus pass and food tomorrow so I can be on my way shortly. 

I can already feel that this trip is going to change me. And with the kindness I have experienced from multiple people before I have even begun, I suspect that the changes will be for the better. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Gear List

Below is a list of the items I have packed up for my trek across New Zealand. As I go, I may find that some things aren't needed and send them home, might swap out items... a person can never really tell until they get going. But this is what I'm starting off with. Seems like a lot, but I'm alone in a foreign country, and I hear that you can experience all 4 seasons in one day in New Zealand - so I definitely had to be prepared. My support system is in another part of the world, so there's me to depend on.

As I post this, I also want to shoot out a big thanks to those who have donated items to me for use on my trek:

Kevin at U.S. Tactical Supply in Albany, OR for the rugged and durable pack. Might be heavier than my other but there is no doubt in my mind that it won't fall apart on me. Eberlestock makes quality gear and I'm happy to be trying it out.

Thanks to Aqua Mira for donating water purification products for my use. A well known company willing to send their product to me for use to keep my drinking water safe.

Thanks to Clearly Filtered also, for providing water filtration products to my family and to me. I drank nasty barracks water and water out camping from streams and rivers without fear. I will continue using their products on my trek as well for water purification.

Thanks to Richard at Datrex up in the Seattle, WA area for providing an Ocean Signal PLB1 at a discounted price. I know it gives my family peace of mind to have a personal locator beacon on me in case of emergency. It is a great comfort to me as well.

Thanks to Paqlite, providing easily renewable light sources to my family. My mother passed some along to me for use in the dark.

Thanks to family for helping me get the last of the gear together to get ready for this trek. Couldn't appreciate it more!

Gear List

=Eberlestock Terminator 67L pack (4100 ci)
=Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 tent
=REI Women’s Flash Sleeping bag (long)

=REI Flash Inflatable sleeping mat (long)

=Cocoon inflatable travel pillow
=2 8L sea to summit stuff sacks (for clothing and sleeping bag)
=Black Diamond Carbon fiber cork trekking poles

Cooking and Water:
=1 Power Pot with attachments
=1 180 stove
=Waterproof matches
=2 Platypus 2L bottles

=1 Camelbak bladder (100oz)
=Clearly Filtered purifying straws (back up water purification method)
=Aqua Mira drops (for main purification method)

=Aqua Mira filter
=1 aqua mira water bottle
=Ozarks brand silverware/kit

=2 pair Dr. Scholl’s diabetes/circulation socks
=2 pair Exofficio underwear
=2 Under Armour heat gear sonic reversible sports bras
=1 pair REI convertible Sahara khaki pants

=1 pair North Face Horizon Tempest convertible pants
=2 heat gear Under Armour fitted short sleeve tees

=1 cold gear Under Armour fitted long sleeve base layer
=1 military Gen III mid-weight top
=1 military Gen III mid-weight bottom
=1 REI Rainwall jacket
=1 Columbia Storm Surge rain pants
=1 Under Armour Ridgeline Trail Runner Offroad shoes
=Outdoor Research Women’s Rocky Mountain High Gaiters
=1 pair Cabela’s Wind Force Convertible Gloves (fleece mittens)
=1 knit beanie cap
=1 Spec-Ops baclava
=1 pair flip-flops (camp shoes)
=1 extra pair of shoe laces

Personal Care:

=Hair ties

=Folding brush with mirror in handle

=Camp soap
=Toilet paper

=Travel folding toothbrush and travel size toothpaste

=Personal medications
=1 P-style in case

Navigation and Safety:
=1 compass
=Trail guide book and maps
=1 Magellan GPS and user guide
=1 homemade first aid kit (gauze, medical tape, band-aids, ace wraps, anti-diarrheal, Pepto, hydrocortisone cream, triple antibiotic, snake bite kit, etc.)
=1 Heatsheets emergency blanket
=Military grade paracord
=2 paracord bracelets (1 from CRKT with saw inside)
=Ocean Signal PLB1


=1 notebook and pen
=1 plastic spade
=1 Gerber multi-tool
=1 headlamp
=2 Paqlite products
=4 bandanas (for cleaning, personal hygiene, sweat band, etc.)
=Iphone 4 with Lifeproof case


Monday, October 14, 2013

App test

The day is drawing near. Less than 3 weeks from now I will be in New Zealand. I will be posting from my phone if my wi-fi plan goes without a hitch, just the way I am posting now. 

It's not real yet. I know I am out of the Army but I still kinda feel like I am just on leave. I thought the drive from Texas to Oregon would be the thing to make it hit me. That wasn't the case. Perhaps when I get to the airport with my pack in hand and I fly out it will hit me then. Maybe when I land in a foreign country. Or maybe on the bus to my start point. Hopefully by the time I get started on the trail I will know. 

So this is the test post. Just getting all the last minute plans put together to make the trip the most successful one it can be. Wish me luck as I finalize everything!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Counting Down...

So there it is... 2 months after ordering it, I have finally received my trail guide. This is the only one I could find in all my searching and I had to special order it from Mighty Ape in New Zealand and wait 2 months for the order to go through. Maybe I'll write the next guide book, publish it in the U.S. I've always wanted to write a book. Perhaps this will be the inspiration.

I've just about gotten all my equipment. Just down to a few clothing items left to buy. 15 working days left until I'm done with the military, a trip home for 3 weeks, and then on to what could be the biggest adventure of my life! Today, when I started to look through the guidebook that I had finally gotten in the post, it really began to hit me. I could show people what it was I wanted to do and it became even more tangible to me. In less than 2 months I will be in a foreign country walking all day every day, camping out, weathering the elements, seeing the wild outdoors... I won't have to put my hair in a bun, or wear a uniform. I won't have to answer my phone or report anywhere by a certain time. I will be about as free as a person can be!

I will likely lose touch with many of you while I'm gone and my phone will be disconnected. I will do everything I can to keep up with this blog whenever I can get Wi-Fi, and post pictures of my journey along the way. As I post, feel free to check out the Te Araroa website or Google photos to see where I am in my trek... I'd love to know that my friends and family are following my journey from a distance!

Keep calm and happy trails!

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Seed

An idea begins the journey that could be the adventure of a lifetime... The idea? To hike the entirety of New Zealand on the Te Araroa Trail, 3000 km through volcanic country, the Southern Alps, coastlines, forest/jungle area, etc. I have made the decision to do it when I get out of the military. But how did I reach this crazy decision?

After deployment, I set out to find out who I really was. What kind of music did I like? What were my interests? My hobbies? What kind of person did I want to be? So with that, I began testing things out, to finally find the real me.

I found, in my experimentation of self, that I love hiking. If I didn't have to drive an hour to get to a state park with trails to keep me occupied all day, I'd go all the time. I love the feeling of the wilderness, the birds chirping and water flowing, instead of the sound of tires on the road and people in and out of their rooms. I like the stillness, the way you can breathe hard after a tough climb and have that be the only sound in your ears. I enjoy the time to think. That's the crazy one, because I know I'm with myself all day and thinking all day, but the moment I try to recall what I was thinking... nothing. There's something beautiful about that too. Taking pleasure in God's creation and getting away from the cell phone, the work calls, the Internet. All that in a hike is enough to make me happy - in a way I've never been happy before.

So I began to learn more about hiking. Luckily, I was moved in my job in the Army and found some like-minded people who loved the outdoors. They were a sounding board for me to ask my questions. They were the experienced ones who provided me with information about what to buy, where to shop, the culture that goes with hiking and camping. God truly blessed me with the resources to go with the new-found passion.

My former NCO, is currently hiking the Appalachian Trail on her own. She got out of the Army and about a month later, she was on her way. She inspired me. I have done the research, looked at blogs, books, websites, etc. to find out more about it. I wanted to take a hike like that myself when I got out. But my dates were all wrong... I would be getting out in October. That's the wrong season for thru-hiking in the U.S. So as much as I wanted to, I was going to have to stick with my original plan of moving overseas. That's all the adventure I would get. Or maybe live in the U.S. in an outdoorsy kind of state, like Colorado. I was waiting for God to lead me one way or the other.

Nothing was happening. I didn't feel particularly pulled in either direction. Colorado or Australia - both perfectly viable options. I'd had this problem once before, my senior year of college. I was waiting on some sign from God and it never seemed to arrive. Back then, someone helped me realize I had to move for the Lord to guide me. I'd get a feeling, things would work out or they wouldn't. That would be his guiding hand pushing. I'd forgotten that lesson until this past week.

So I finally decided to MOVE. I chose to do something. I began to look at getting a work visa, for Australia or New Zealand. I was going to get the ball rolling. I realized it was going to be harder than I thought. And it might not happen. God was putting up a wall. I could feel that despite my desire for adventure and change, this route I'd talked about wasn't what he had in mind. Then somehow, I came across the website for the Te Araroa Trail. It happened just a few hours ago, and I have already forgotten how I got to the initial site. And instantly my passion was ignited... It's Spring in New Zealand right now! I could get out in October, do my thru-hike and not worry about the season! I could do that for 4-6 months, then come back to the States with my wanderlust satiated for a time. Then I could find another job. And maybe with a thru-hike under my belt, I could find a job related to this new-found love for hiking and camping.

It feels right. The moment I saw the Te Araroa Trail, I was motivated and driven again. That's how the Army was for me, 4 years ago. I was suddenly struck with the idea, I researched it, and it felt right. I later justified it by telling people about the money and education benefits. But I really joined because my gut said that was right. And I know to recognize that feeling now as God pulling me to stop and saying, "Look at that option again. That's what I want for you."

The gut feeling has come again. I WANT it. I've begun researching, reading blogs, ordering trail guides, thinking about equipment, etc. So the seed has been planted by God. Just as seemingly random as the Army was, so comes this trek. I remember, when I was younger, I told people that when I grew up I wanted to walk across the United States. I told people I wanted to be a doctor. So God got me into the Army, where I became a medic. And now he's pulling me to a long trek across the gorgeous country of New Zealand. Some dreams we have as children re-invent themselves later in adulthood, nurtured by the Lord for the right time to grow.

The seed...