Mother Nature Speaks: St Arnaud to Hanmer Springs

Thursday, January 25th, 2018

Day 81: St Arnaud to Roberts Ridge, 20km

After studying maps of the TA, we realized that the trail stays low, following alongside the Travers River with a gradual ascent towards Travers Saddle, which probably means a lot of green tunnel and easy hiking. With one look at the topo map of the surrounding area, my natural calling was to find an alternative, more challenging route that goes above treeline and offers views instead of a tunnel. Fortunately Matt shares the same mindset, so we decided to follow the track leading to Roberts Ridge, which would give us a whole day of high ridge walking with opportunities to freedom camp in an awesome spot, and exercise some route finding on the way back to the TA.

Looking back as we rose above Lake Rotoiti

Just before we left the hostel, I realized that I had in fact left my light weight, expensive trekking poles in the back of the truck I’d hitched in. Between my tent, my pad, my pot, and my poles, I’ve really been having some shit luck with my gear. I wish I could have just said fuck the poles, but honestly my crappy knees need the extra support. Just when I was wondering what to do since St Arnaud does not have any outdoor stores, the hostel owners offered me a pair of their old poles. Sure, they were bulky and weighed probably four times as much as mine, but they would do. We left the hostel and grabbed some brekky at the general store café, I called my dad, finalized our hiking agenda, and got ready to walk. Welp, one of my new poles was broken from the get go. So I borrowed Matt’s massive stick for the mellow trek up to Bushline Hut, trying not to be frustrated with the unevenness of only one stick. The hut was a perfect place to snack and fill up on water, and I started chatting with the one older man inside. Turns out he literally just hiked the route we wanted to do, so he offered us some useful beta. When he saw my singular stick and knee brace, he offered me his single pole because he had just broken the other one and was going to buy a new pair anyway. I mean talk about good luck! So now I have two mismatched, kind of broken poles but hey, they work! My joints are happy about it. From the hut, we continued up the ridge as the St Arnaud range really came into view with a dark, angry thunderstorm growing over the peaks.

One of the many basins off Roberts Ridge
Angry storm brewing to the east over the St Arnauds

Fortunately the storm was moving away from us, so we followed the ridge and listened to the deep, echoing boom of the thunder. Eventually we dipped down into the first basin to find a flattish spot to set up the tarp. Apparently Matt’s idea of flat is very different than most people’s, but we eventually found some soft grass with very minimal incline. Something about being off trail, finding our own camp spots, and being above treeline has made this already a very special experience. Also my peanut butter chocolate bar had melted and hardened just enough for me to eat the goop with a spoon while watching the sunset over the peaks in complete silence and peacefulness. Mountain life is everything that’s good in the world. I just pray the sandflies have mercy on me tonight until I can get another tent. That is all.


Friday, January 26th, 2018

Day 82: Roberts Ridge to Hopeless Hut, no idea how far

One of our best camspots to date

Ahhh yes, nothing like waking up to the natural alarm sound of a sweet symphony of fifty giant flies buzzing around your head. #tarplife. I won’t lie, bzzzzzzzzzz is a pretty annoying, droning sound, but I’ll deal with it because I’m also watching the sun pop into the clear blue sky over the St Arnaud Ridge while milky clouds lurk in the valley below. God I love being above treeline. What a mystical morning!

Walking above the clouds
So soft I want to jump into them!

The exposed walk along Roberts Ridge to Lake Angelus was a spectacular alpine stroll over rocks with unbelievable views of both distant and near mountain peaks. Once we hit the top of the ridge, I saw the blanket of clouds covering the entire valley with just the summits poking through like fingers in a pair of hobo gloves. Down below it would have been an overcast morning, but high above the clouds were blue skies and a hot sun. The peaks around us were more jagged than anything I’ve seen in this country yet. I really couldn’t have been in a better mood traversing the whole ridge.

Finally some real rocky terrain!
Lake Angelus comes into view!

When we reached Angelus Hut, the lake was begging us to come and swim, so I took a quick dip. This particular hut was located next to the huge, blue Angelus Lake, surrounded by summits and above the valley. I would have probably been enticed to stay, but a 28 bunk hut would have been much too overwhelming for me. So instead we continued past and followed a lightly cairned trail up steep, green tussocks and over loose, red and white scree, talus, and boulders to sunset saddle. From the saddle, I couldn’t resist the temptation to quickly scramble up the 300 meters to the summit of Angelus Peak for some 360 views including Hopeless Peak and Mt Travers.

About to descend down to the lake
Red and white scree an route to Sunset Saddle
Tempting route up to Angelus Peak!
Looking down at Lake Angelus from Angelus Peak
A beautiful tarn coming down from Sunset Saddle
Sweet rocks on the descent
Looking down valley to our descent
Steep screeeee

The peaks were so much more jagged and craggy than anything I’ve seen in New Zealand yet. The route down from the saddle was an amazing, steep rock hop past waterfalls and two other tarns in a huge, green valley before descending a ridiculously steep scree field to the trees below. My knees were just about ready to explode by the time we arrived at Hopeless Hut, but I loved the adventurous, off-trail route. After a refreshing swim in the river, a round of cards, and some noodles, I tell asleep on Matt at the table. Clearly I was wiped, and crawled into bed by 8:30.


Saturday, January 27th, 2018

Day 83: Hopeless Hut to Travers Saddle, some distance

Hit 2000 kilometers today!

Damn I slept like a baby last night, passed out at like 8:30 and woke up at 7:30. I love a good night of hard sleep! Seven minutes into the walk back to the TA on the Travers Track, I realized I’d left my headlamp hanging on the bed so I quickly turned around to see if I could recover my abandoned gear. Unfortunately the hut must have eaten my torch because I couldn’t find it anywhere, but I quickly forgot about it as I started back down through the forest. The first eight kilometers of the day were green tunnel track next to the Travers River until reaching bushline near the Upper Travers Hut.

Just past Upper Travers Hut
Matt hanging out in the Travers Saddle
Wouldn’t you want to climb Travers too? The right ridge looks climbable!

Just past the hut, the track opens up into the meadow in the Travers Valley with views of Mt Travers and Kehu Peak all around. A very steep, grassy route brings you to the Travers Saddle where I stopped for a much needed snack break. Looming to the right was 2,338 meter My Travers. We didn’t know of any particular route to the top, but neither Matt nor I could resist the temptation to see if we could get to the summit. From the saddle, the right ridge looked doable, so we set down our packs and started the trek over talus and scree to the base of the gully leading up to the ridge. The rock got super steep and super loose really quickly, with some minor scrambling moves interspersed between scree, but I made it to the ridge saddle no problem. From there, the terrain continued at a pretty steep incline, and showed no signs of stability whatsoever. I’m a fairly experienced, confident person when it comes to sketchy routes involving scrambling and loose rock, but typically I have some prior knowledge about the rock character and preferred route. However, I had neither of those pieces of beta, or a helmet for that matter, and found myself feeling unusually sketched out when every rock I stepped on or touched moved beneath my body, asking the question: is this risk worth it? I really hate admitting defeat or feeling like a pussy, but I hesitantly concluded the safe decision for me was to not continue.

View from my perch

So about 700 meters up, I found a comfortable spot to post up and enjoy the outstanding views while Matt made a strong attempt for the summit. I envy his confidence and lack of fear, and also respect my ability to know my limits and when to trust my instincts. Everyone is different. Anyway, I was just starting to get a little chilly as the sun dipped behind the peak, and I had just finished off my bag of crispy peas when I heard rocks falling from somewhere. I imagined the mountain was crumbling on its own free will, but was relieved to see Matt pop out on the ledge below me. I called for him to wait up and began the loose descent. Turns out he made it to the summit via a sketchy 5.5/5.6 solo face climb, almost fell when a loose rock pulled out, and descended an alternate route further north, hence popping out below me. After hearing his story, I feel better about my decision to stay put, and even better that Matt made it down safely. There can be a fine line between pushing yourself and being stupid, especially when the consequence for stupidity can quite literally be plummeting to your death. Fortunately the rest of the descent wasn’t bad at all. I always need to remind myself that coming down is rarely as scary as I think it’s going to be when I’m going up. So thanks Travers for that reminder, the sketch factor, and a true taste of what New Zealand’s mountains are all about. It’s one thing to walk on a trail and look at mountains all day, but truly another beast entirely to be on them, building a much more intimate relationship, and understanding their surface. And this is just the first of SO MANY MORE MOUNTAINS!!!! I cannot WAIT to continue exploring this new playground, challenging myself, getting puckered again, and getting to know this amazing island. The remainder of our little adventure was a super fun rock hop across the gully and a quick walk back to the saddle where we set up our best campsite yet…in the grass right in front of Travers.

Sunset coming soon!
Moon and sunset over Travers

We’ve basically been sitting here eating and watching the clouds move up the valley, down the valley, seclude us in a cloud, disappear, turn dark, then white and fluffy, it’s pretty crazy. The moon is currently directly above the Travers summit too, and the sunset is more epic than anything I have ever laid eyes on. Majestic isn’t even good enough to describe this scene. I’m in awe of the purple, pink, and blue hues over not just Travers, but also all the peaks to the south. Every second the sunset seems to become that much more epic I don’t even know where to look! Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!!!!


Sunday, January 28th, 2018

Day 84: Travers Saddle to Lake Constance, 17km

Waterfalls en route to Lake Constance

I woke up this morning to the sun rising into the valley shining on Mount Travers. A few other hikers walked by while we were packing up camp and came over to say hello. An American man from California named Phil came over and wound up hiking with us for the entire steep, forested descent towards West Sabine Hut. We lost elevation very quickly as the valleys here are all super low. There were a few other TA walkers hanging out at the West Sabine Hut, so we said hello and continued on our way. The next stop was Blue Lake Hut. We followed the river for quite some time, then re-gained the elevation we had lost earlier via a mellow forest. Blue Lake was unlike anything I have ever seen. It was once known for having the cleanest water in the world, and even though the water quality has since degraded, the lake still has almost 100% optical purity. The lake and all of the water in the surrounding areas is so clear that you can see everything perfectly on the bottom. It almost looks like there isn’t any water, you just see the green algae and brown rocks. It was crazy.

Blue Lake
Optical purity!
Approaching Lake Constance. Hiked over the cliff on the right

After Blue Lake we were hot and sticky from humidity, and were itching to get to Lake Constance for a swim. From Blue Lake we had a short 45 minutes uphill walk to the edge of Lake Constance, which is a deceptively massive body of water. To get around the lake, we climbed a steep scree field, and traversed a cliff before descending back down to the lake. At this point, clouds had started to appear but the sun shined through just enough for us to indulge in a dip.

Lake Constance

By the time we were done swimming, the clock said 4:30 PM. We had initially considered continuing on over Waiau Pass and pushing all the way to Waiau Hut, since we had only covered 13 km that day. As we were trying to make a decision whether to camp at the lake or continue up the trail, we heard very loud, rumbling thunder bouncing off of the mountain walls of the cirque containing the lake. Where there had once been blue sky, there was now very dark, scary looking clouds in every direction. I am still trying to understand the weather patterns here in New Zealand, and so far my only conclusion is that there isn’t really a pattern. It’s such a small island that weather comes and goes very rapidly, and the forecast predictions are usually not very accurate. What I have been seeing recently is black clouds building and then dissipating quickly. However, that was not the case with these black, deathly clouds persistently lurking and growing behind these craggy peaks. After seeing some fierce lightning and hearing heaps of more intense, frequent thunder, we decided to set up the tarp near the far edge of the lake bed on a soft, mossy spot. Our only problem was the ground being essentially a bunch of rocks covered in a mint green moss, and consequently did a poor job at holding the stakes. But we gave it a go and settled in for the evening. I remember saying “I hope it storms to justify us stopping!” right as we were crawling underneath. Well, Mother Nature must have heard my wish, because about 20 minutes later, before we heard or felt anything, we saw the rain rise over the peaks and creep down into the valley from the direction of the nasty, black clouds from earlier.

Rain coming in hot!

As the rain began to fall on the thin green tarp, the wind picked up dramatically. Within a few minutes, two of the four corner stakes were ripped straight out of the unstable ground. Matt and I each picked a corner, and managed to get the stakes back in. Meanwhile, the rain increased in power and volume, as did the wind. Before we knew it, heavy rain was being blown sideways into the tarp as it flapped around like a baby bird learning how to fly. We quickly decided to put on our rain gear, and throw anything we wanted to stay dry into Matt’s “happy sack”, also known as a giant clear trash bag. By the time we had secured ourselves and our gear the best we could, the two corner stakes, and another middle stake, ripped out yet again. These winds were VERY strong. As we were both laying horizontally, soaking wet, completely holding the stakes down at this point just to ensure the whole tarp didn’t fly away, we realized the rain had turned into Gobstopper sized hail. Hail! We hadn’t seen hail in New Zealand yet, and we’re DEFINITELY not expecting that. We both just looked at each other like OMG WTF IS HAPPENING, somewhere in between laughter, disbelief, and genuine concern that we might lose our shelter and put ourselves at risk for hypothermia. In the height of the storm, Matt stuck his head out of the tarp and just goes HOLY SHIT YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS. I look out, and what had previously been a small, graceful white waterfall gliding down the valley wall was now an enormous, mean, violent, powerful flow of muddy, brown water crashing in plumes onto the rocks below. I’ve literally never witnessed such an intense, rapid change in natural conditions. The now massive, dirty waterfall was so dramatic that I truthfully felt a little freaked out. Added to my list of concerns was the entire lake flooding over, flooding the valley, and swallowing me, Matt, and all of our gear. Then dying of hypothermia. These may seem like over-dramatic concerns, but for someone such as myself who is generally not super comfortable around water to begin with, they didn’t seem over the top. Fortunately to my relief, the whole storm started to dwindle and die out after thirty crazy, exciting minutes. Once the rain and wind lightened enough to venture out from the tarp, we re-secured all of the stakes, and simply stood in awe at the brown waterfall. Even though the storm had stopped, I was still not convinced that the overflow wouldn’t totally flood us out. Matt was pretty certain we would be fine, but to ease my worried mind, we spent the next thirty minutes walking around and assessing the scene. Upon closer investigation, the waterfall was clearly draining right into the lake, which had risen for sure, but was still faaarrrr from where our tent was. So unless another bigger, longer, mega-storm hit, we would be fine. I still wanted to search for a secondary back-up campsite just in case we had to bail, but eventually agreed to stay put. Plus, by this point I was hungry, wet, and cold, and very ready to put on dry clothes and make some dinner. The weather more or less cleared up, and we got a gorgeous pink and purple sunset view over the lake straight from the tarp. Ask Mother Nature for a storm and she will deliver, god damn! Thanks for the epic memories!

The storm has gone!


Monday, January 29th, 2018

Day 85: Lake Constance to Waiau Hut, 13km

Looking back at Lake Constance going up Waiau Pass
Closer look!

First of all, I have to mention how unbelievable the stars were when I woke up to pee in the middle of the night. All of the weather had passed, leaving a perfectly clear sky full of endless constellations and epic sights of the Milky Way, and a gorgeous reflection of the bright moon on the lake, all encompassed by the peaks of Lake Constance cirque. I should have marveled longer, but instead I stumbled back to the tarp in a half-asleep trance. I managed to sleep for a few more hours until the warmth of the sun awoke my smiling self. Camp was packed around 9 as we began the incredibly steep ascent to Waiau Pass. I’m talking basically using all fours to climb kind of steep, with lots of scree, unstable tussocks, and loose rock traverses.

Looking up to the top of Waiau Pass

The descent from Waiau Pass was just as exciting, offering a plethora of options for class 2/3 moves down slabby and flaky rocks. Eventually we arrived in the valley and followed alongside the Waiau River on rocky traverses interspersed with forest. After the crazy storm last night, there were lots of mud slides too that acted like quick sand when you stepped. There also wasn’t much of a track anywhere, so the adventure to Waiau Hut was just a game of where to put your feet as you navigated in a generally southern direction. By the time we reached the hut, it was already 3pm. The terrain was so slow, we had only covered 12 kilometers in 6 hours! The next hut was still another 25 kilometers away, so we decided to stay out at the brand new 6 bunk Waiau Hut. To make up for a shorter day, we did the burpee challenge.

Back in the valley

We definitely got some weird looks from other hikers, but hey sometimes you just have to work out! I followed up the workout with a swim in the river, then took a solid Deet bath because the sandflies were out of control. I layered up and we found a relatively calmer spot away from the bug party to cook dinner before going to sleep.


Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

Day 86: Waiau Hut to Boyle Flat Hut, 43km

Valley views

Fuck yeah man I feel awesome after a long, solid, crusher, cruiser day. We’ve been having so much fun fucking around in the mountains off of the TA that we figured it would behoove us to crush some kilometers to catch up today, especially after our early finish yesterday. Our weakness is definitely being too leisurely in the morning, so we made a point to organize our shit last night and actually set an alarm for 5:30. The sun was just coming up as we finished packing and were, for the first time, legitimately on trail by 6:20. The crisp morning air was amazingly refreshing and I found myself wondering why we haven’t done more early morning walks. By 9:30 we had already crushed 15 kilometers of forest, tall wet prairie grass, and multiple river crossings. The only unfortunate thing was the realization that Matt had left his big, stupid tarp in the hut! Which means we are down one tent, one tarp, a sleeping pad, a pair of shoes, a headlamp, basically a whole backpack, and a pair of poles. The bright side is our bodies are healthy, and we will be in Hanmer Springs tomorrow so we’ll be able to dish out some cash to fix our gear woes. Anyway, the trail eventually turned into a 4WD grass road called the St James Walkway that led us through the wide open valley to Anne’s Hut. The sun was perfectly hot and a light breeze made for some of the most enjoyable cruiser walking. By noon we were more than halfway so we stopped for a long lunch break at the beautiful hut located in the open valley with vegetated peaks all around. After some snacks, coffee, and a game of Jenga we continued on the mellow, grassy trail very gradually climbing to Anne’s Saddle before descending to the Boyle River. We followed another open grassy track through the valley and got to Boyle Flats Hut by 6, just in time for a dip in the river before dinner. I’m definitely glad to be sitting after 43 kilometers, but I feel energized and happy thanks to this pristine day I just had.


Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

Day 87: Boyle Flat Hut to Hanmer Springs, 13km

Amongst efforts to get on a better schedule, we woke up early and hit the trail by 7:30. I honestly wasn’t feeling 100% so I moved pretty slowly through the thirteen kilometers of basic forest track before arriving at the Boyle Village Education Center. At this point we needed to replace or fix a tent, a tarp, a sleeping pad, a headlamp, a backpack, a pair of shoes, poles, and socks. So we made a few calls to make sure that Hanmer Springs would have what we needed to avoid a long, 3 hour hitch into Chirstchurch. We got picked up by a girl from Chicago who dropped us off at a hostel by noon. The hostel was full, so we found a room at the Larchwood Motel and dropped off our crap before setting off to find gear. Matt quickly found a pair of shoes, but the other stores had nothing. Not much time passed before I was craving wedges, so we stopped at Robbie’s Pub for fried potatoes and a burger. With full stomachs, we stopped by the fudge store for some sugary dankness at a discount thanks to the voucher I picked up at the motel, then strolled a bit out of town to the hardware store for other assorted gear. Before long I was drowsy and hot, so we cruised back to the room to check interwebs, shower, chill, and make stir fry. I wanted to see the lunar trifecta, but the sky was so cloudy I couldn’t see a thing. Overall, a chill, relatively uneventful day.


Thursday, February 1st, 2018

Day 88: Chill Day in Hanmer Springs

Ahhhhh sleeping in a real bed is always such an amazing experience. I woke up around 7 feeling very rested and ready to take on the day. Our plan was to pack up, finish some last minute errands, grab something to eat, and hitch back to Boyle Village so we could be at the trailhead tomorrow morning. Well, what have I learned about plans??? You can have one, but chances are your plan will be totally fucked. Today was a prime example of this important life lesson. Despite having put our laundry in the dryer last night, our clothes were still sopping wet by the time Matt had finished cooking an amazing eggs and bacon breakfast. Given my limited clothing while on a thru-hike, my only outfit options while waiting for laundry include a towel or my birthday suit. So I had no choice but to wait for my clothes to dry before leaving the room. However, after four cycles, the dryer was deemed broken. Fortunately the owners were kind enough to throw our ragged hiking clothes into their dryer, and yet it was almost noon before I was able to fully pack up and check out. Once reunited with my skort and purple tank, we headed into town so I could mail off my broken tent, busted pad, and extra shoes to their various destinations. The next move was to sit outside and order a fresh chicken salad at Monteith’s while Facetiming my mom and dad. Eventually 3pm rolled around and we started thinking about cruising back to Boyle Village. There had been a giant tropical cyclone storm heading this direction, but today’s weather was nothing but blue skies, warm temperatures, and gusts of warm wind. So I figured hitching back would be easy. But after making a few phone calls, we discovered that the only place to stay in Boyle Village was super overpriced and closed at 5. Unfortunately, camping was out of the question because I just mailed away my tent and sleeping pad, and there was no way we could make it to Boyle Village by closing time. Our remaining option was to snag a room at the Hanmer Backpackers Hostel, and casually finish our errands in town. We dropped packs and proceeded to buy four new fudge flavors with a second voucher, and finish resupply at Foursquare. I really wanted to rent this ridiculous four-person pedal carriage, but unfortunately showed up thirty minutes past closing, because apparently everything closes very early around here.

Hostel hang outs

Our American friend Phil was also staying at the hostel, so we spent the rest of afternoon hanging out on the patio, enjoying the nice weather and chatting. I blogged a bit, Matt fucked around on the guitar, and I cooked a mean beef and veggie penne pasta. It’s been real, but I’m ready to get back to the mountains tomorrow!

Chuffed: Havelock to St Arnaud

Monday, January 15th, 2018

Day 71: Havelock to Pelorus River Camp, 22km

Man I must have been tired because I slept until 9:30 today! Which would have been totally great had it not been for the grumpy woman running the holiday park who was less than kind about us being late out of the room. To her dismay, Matt managed to quickly cook bacon and eggs, which we devoured quickly before she could find another chance to be a rude, crusty beyotch. Honestly, some holiday parks aren’t super keen on hikers so the vibe can be a little weird. Anyway, we got out of there as quickly as possible and lugged our obscene amount of food up the post office. We shipped our massive resupply boxes off to St Arnaud and Arthur’s Pass, putzed around town for a bit, grabbed a Gatorade and ice cream cone from the store, and hit the road. We only had to walk three kilometers along the highway before turning onto a much quieter, remote paved road. If you keep your eyes open on the side of the road, you can snatch all the delicious, ripe, wild blackberries straight off the vine. There always seems to be some kind of tasty fruit lurking around in the bushes here.

Bits of green never hurt

Eventually the road hits a stile leading you through pastures and whatnot for a few kilometers before hitting a forested track to Pelorus Bridge. The crickets in that forest were absolutely out of control loud, which we thought might hinder our ability to sleep! So we continued to the campsite, begrudgingly paid to set up our tent, said hi to the growing family of TA hikers, cooked dinner, and passed out.


Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

Day 72: Pelorus River Camp to Captains Creek Hut, 21km

Walking into the misty valley on the gravel road
This picture does no justice to the beauty of the Pelorus

The first half of today was spent cruising along a gravel road by the river until reaching a chill, leisurely track that led straight to Captains Creek Hut. We tried stopping for a snack break, but within 3 minutes the Sandflies were swarming. I have heard about the Sandflies being bad on the south island, but I really had no idea exactly what to expect. By the time I reached the hut I was dripping from the humidity, and very ready for a swim in the river. The Pelorus River is an amazingly clear river with light blue water, and very enticing for swimming. We walked down to the river, and as soon as I took my clothes off, there were hundreds of Sandflies everywhere! I was so shocked that I quickly dunked in the water, grabbed my pack and ran butt naked into the hut. If the little fuckers didn’t bite, I might not have cared as much, but history has proven the devilish black insects to leave behind a painful, super itchy, nasty wound. I definitely think I’m somewhat allergic, so I was not fucking around when I decided to take yet another Deet bath and layer up. I know Deet is a nasty poison that will burn through your clothes, and most certainly can’t be healthy to put on your skin, but I also know that the chemical keeps the bugs from biting me so I’ll do whatever I gotta do! I’m definitely going to have to find ways to adjust to the insanity or I might not make it down this island! Every time I went outside, there would be Sandflies swarming me within seconds, so I chose to spend the afternoon reading Animal Farm, which somebody had left behind. We had been the first ones to arrive, but over the course of the evening at least 12 other TA hikers showed up and started building tent city outside. I was glad to have space in the tiny hut for no reason other than the bugs, but did have to pop outside every now and then for fresh air. Eventually bedtime rolled around, I took one last breath of fresh air, then crawled into the stuffy hut and passed out.


Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

Day 73: Captains Creek Hut to Rocks Hut, 11km

Apparently the forecast includes multiple days of rain, and the particular sections of trail coming up can become impassable during heavy rain due to flooding. So everyone has the same idea to kick it at a hut and wait out the rain. That said, the huts have limited space and everyone clearly wants a cozy spot inside, so I was not surprised to see tent city had been completely deconstructed by the time I awoke. Unless I know there’s a long distance to cover, I’m really never in a hurry to get moving in the morning so I’m pretty used to being the last one out of camp. The short walk to Middy’s Hut was along a basic trail next to the river. Rock’s Hut was another five kilometers of actual uphill during which I got stung by a wasp and the rain started up. By the time I reached Rock’s Hut, I was very wet and very excited to get into the hut where I could smell a warm fire burning. Since our plan was to hitch into Nelson for a resupply, we decided to just stay at Rock’s Hut upon realizing there’s a mountain bike trail leading straight into town. Over the course of the afternoon, at least 15 more people showed up, all TA walkers. The hut sleeps 16 so we had more than a full house. Right after we arrived, the rain started falling and has only gotten worse so I understand why everyone is here! Nobody wants to walk around in torrential downpour if they don’t have to. I was honestly a little overwhelmed with such a large number of mostly unfamiliar faces, and my stomach was acting up so I retreated to my bunk and spent the afternoon journaling. This one amazing woman, Anthie, let me use her crazy zapper thing that she uses to help with pains and aches so I played with it for awhile. She was hoping it would help my stomach, but I experimented with various leg muscles too. It has little sticky pads that you place anywhere that hurts, and the device sends out some kind of electrical current that supposedly helps your body to heal. I put the pads on my left quad and the whole muscle was pulsing around, the whole thing was pretty cool. Eventually dinner time arrived and I quietly ate some ramen in the fresh air of the porch under the roof, still protected from rain of course. There were too many people for me to really process what was going on. Matt and I have been mostly on our own up until now, so I need to start getting used to dozens of other hikers. It definitely is pretty rad though to actually see how many of us are in the TA game together. I chatted with Anthie for while which was awesome. She is a really amazing Australian woman who exudes confidence, warmth, and compassion, and does so with extremely genuinely. She works as a counselor which probably explains how well she encourages and engages in meaningful conversation. I’m a big fan.


Thursday, January 18th, 2018

Day 74: Resupply in Nelson, 40km

With the upcoming Richmond Range being a nine to ten day stretch between convenient resupplies, we made the executive decision to hike down to Nelson for more food midway through, rather than carry super heavy packs. To some this may seem like excessive walking, but I wanted to check out Nelson anyway. We could easily leave all of our gear at the hut and just carry empty packs. Any day without your pack is going to be a good day. Turns out there are a multitude of mountain biking trails leading from Rocks Hut straight into Nelson, so our plan was perfect. I was woken up around 5:30 to the rustling sound of hikers getting ready for the day, but managed to sleep a little longer. And when I woke up there were blue skies! In line with our usual fashion, Matt and I leisurely enjoyed our morning hut life, got hacked on coffee, hung out with the other twenty people, and set out for Nelson around 10:30. The first part of trail followed what was basically a flowing stream after the monsoon, and eventually led above treeline. There was quite a bit of fog still, but I was enjoying the exposure nonetheless. The track descended from the Coppermine saddle, contouring around the mountain side along a wide, groomed mountain bike track before reaching the Third House shelter. From Third House, we chose to walk up and over Jenkins Hill, which turned out to be a steeply undulating gravel road following a giant electric fence bordering a sanctuary of some kind. The last thousand feet were a ridiculously steep descent into the back of a holiday park. We crossed the river and began looking for a hitch into town. Some super nice guy in a truck picked us up and delivered us right at the Countdown. I ran into Hannah while grocery shopping, which might not seem that weird but the timing of running into one of the thirty people I know in this country is insane. Anyway, once I stocked up, I began my hunt to all the outdoor stores to see if anyone could help with my SeatoSummit pot that decided to crack and start leaking on me. SeatoSummit gear is enticing but really sucks. Don’t buy it. They are, however, very helpful in replacing broken gear so I left Hunting and Fishing with a new, bigger, nicer version of my Xpot free of charge. It’s honestly unnecessarily large, but I’m into it and it was free. Meanwhile I contacted my friend Tim who had picked up my Steripen that I left at the Havelock Holiday Park, and turns out he was in Nelson so he personally delivered my water purifier back to me. Again, unbelievably perfect timing of events. Finally around six we realized we should probably begin the long trek back to the hut, especially not knowing whether or not there would be a million people again. I wasn’t super keen on climbing back up the super steep slope, so we looked at the map and realized the Dun Mountain Trail would be a slightly longer, but much more gradual ascent route with awesome views of Nelson below.

Nelson from the Fun Mountain Track

We reached the Coppermine saddle just as darkness started to set in. A light mist began to fall amongst heavy fog, which turned our night hike into a mysterious, eerie, awesome adventure. Walking in darkness was so surreal I felt like I was in a video game. The marker poles were very difficult to follow, merely appearing as faded silhouettes on a dark gray backdrop, but with two sets of eyes we managed to find our way back to the hut around 10:30pm. Fortunately our things were perfectly undisturbed so we quietly found our sleeping supplies, and enjoyed a much needed dinner in darkness on the porch. Nothing like a bread roll and a can of teriyaki chicken to satisfy you before bed after a long, twelve hour day.


Friday, January 19th, 2018

Day 75: Rocks Hut to Starveall Hut, 20km

There was blue sky out this morning! And whaddya know, Rocks Hut actually has an awesome view when you can see! I was woken up super early again, but I think I’ll just have to get used to that if we’re living hut life. We started the forested track towards Starveall Hut, which stayed in the trees for awhile before popping out onto an exposed ridge.

Perfect place for a snack break

Wanting to take full advantage of the open air, we stopped for a snack break and gulped in the breeze before dipping back into the trees. The whole route to Browning Hut was a gradual descent with a few river crossings that started to irritate my feet, nothing that a quick Lowdie Wrap couldn’t fix. From Browning, another short walk by the river led us to Hackett Hut where we found Bill, Jasper, and Adrian. At this point we had descended about 400 meters to the grassy, riverside field,  prepared ourselves for the upcoming 800 meter climb. The afternoon sun was blazing hot, and I was sweating bullets feeling pretty disgusting. Fortunately, the six kilometer trek ahead crossed the river numerous times. I couldn’t exist the urge to strip down and go for a swim before beginning the very steep, relentless climb through the forest. 2500 feet of gain in less than two miles is pretty steep. By the time we arrived at the hut, my calves were on fire and I was drenched in humid sweat, but I had zero complaints. We had completed the climb up into the Richmond mountains where we’d get to stay high for the next week. I also love a chance to go uphill for more than thirty minutes! I felt like I was actually working hard for a reward, like I had a purpose and a destination. And I did! The view from Starveall Hut was amazing. The only bad thing that happened was my tent pole totally snapping and becoming useless despite our best efforts. Matt has the tarp at least, which is less than ideal because no bug protection exists, but hey, it’s a shelter.

Perfect hot chocolate sunset
Beef ravioli is life

But I couldn’t be too upset because I remembered about the beef ravioli and sauce I bought in Nelson yesterday for dinner tonight. Fresh pasta in the backcountry is a fucking treat and it was next level delicious. We ate a second couscous dinner because we’re fatties and earned it. The last bit of evening was spent drinking hot chocolate and watching an epic sunset over the hills. I am chuffed.


Saturday, January 20th, 2018

Day 76: Starveall Hut to Rintoull Hut, 18km

Morning scene
Uh oh I lost my pants!
Finally above treeline for real!!!!

No amount of words will be able to describe how amazing today was. I am FINALLY ACTUALLY FOR REAL in the mountains. The South Island is already like another world. I woke up in a clearing with the first rays of sun shining









on a mountain top. The air was chilly and crisp, the grass was covered in dew, and my stoke level was higher than it’s been in weeks. Coffee was made straight from the sleeping bag as I waited for my wet clothes to warm up in the sun. We hit the trail earlier than usual because I was just too excited to spend a day above treeline. Almost immediately we ascended above the trees and got our first taste of the Richmond Range expanding in every direction. We dipped down into a forest for a little while until emerging back out of the trees, eventually arriving at Slaty’s Hut.

I spy Slatys Hut
Ridge track
Approaching Little Rintoul
Descent down Little Rintoul leading to Rintoul

From there, the trail follows an alpine ridgeline with more unbelievable views everywhere before dipping back into the forest. From the forest saddle, we began climbing steeply up roughly 1500 feet to the summit of Little Rintoull, which was significantly above treeline. From the summit, we descended almost the same amount on a steep, scree covered slope before beginning the second 1500 foot ascent to the summit of Mt Rintoull, where we sat for nearly two hours just absorbing the whole thing.

View from the top of Rintoul
Someone took all my clothes what?!

First of all, a whole day of ups and downs ABOVE TREELINE with significant gain on rocky, steep, difficult terrain. Secondly, the weather was ABSOLUTELY PERFECT and we had views with layers of mountains, but also the ocean which is something I’ve never seen before. I don’t think I realized how much I needed the mountains until today, considering the last two months on the North Island really didn’t involve many ranges at all. I feel so incredibly energized, happy in every fiber of my being, stoked beyond belief, inspired, grateful, exhausted, centered, and full. The feeling was mutual amongst everyone at camp. If the rest of the TA is like this then BRING IT ON!!!


Sunday, January 21st, 2018

Day 77: Mt Rintoul Hut to Top Wairoa Hut, 22km

One of the perks to living tarp life since my tent broke is definitely making coffee in our sleeping bags, as long as the bug situation is minimal. Per usual, we were the last to wake up and casually made our way out of camp, enjoying the fast moving clouds and awakening mountains. I have been feeling super excited to walk every day, knowing there are actual mountains ahead, not just a road or a pasture. I feel my energy coming back with a deep level of contentment and purpose.

Enjoying views on PurpleTop
Open forest track

Today’s walk began with a short climb up mixed grass and rock to the summit of Purple Top. I soaked up the exposed views before starting the long descent to Mid Wairoa. The trail maintained a mellow grade through a beautiful green forest that was thin enough to still allow sunshine and a light breeze with occasional open vistas. Eventually the track turned into brutally steep switchbacks leading to a swinging bridge right before the hut. Everyone who had been at Rintoul Hut was at Mid Wairoa resting, snacking, and swimming in the river to get a break from the hot sun. At this point the trail family includes: Katie from Germany, Allie from Canada, Hannah and Joe from California, Jasper from Belgium, Chris and Kay from the UK, Bill from Australia, Adrian from France, and another French dude whose name I forget. We’re quite the bunch. Anyway, the next hut only has 6 bunks so we decided to continue hiking rather than break halfway through. The trail follows the banks of the Wairoa river on a narrow track with pretty significant cliffs at points, and crosses over the incredibly blue, heavily flowing, picturesque river about eight times. I learned the hard way that stinging nettle is a painful grip coming down a slippery slope. Also, living in the moist, dense roots of massive trees are thousands of wasps. I mean these suckers were everywhere, hovering just above the ground everywhere you look, despite the DOC’s attempts to manage the situation with wasp poison boxes. They’re just too persistent; it’s like walking through a minefield. Fortunately the trail wasn’t very steep so the walking was easy, and the beauty and coolness of the river refreshed my body and soul. Unfortunately, two little fuckers stung me, once in the leg, and once right on my toe. And damn wasp stings hurt like a bitch! I’ve now been stung four times in the last two months which is more than my entire life, but I’m learning. Thank god I’m not allergic, that would be more like a death trap than a mine field, seriously. If I’m being honest, between the wasp stings, the stinging nettle, slipping in my Chacos a hundred times, sore ankles, and probably a bit of dehydration, I was feeling a bit frustrated and defeated. But before I could have a complete meltdown, we crushed one final steep, rocky ascent to arrive at the little orange Top Wairoa Hut.

Wairoa River

After a quick snack and some water, I headed straight for the river for not just a swim, but a complete bath and a bit of laundry. Today was day seven of the Richmond Range, so some cleansing was much needed. This is how I imagined showering on a thru-hike anyway, so I’m fucking stoked. Soaping up in a pristine river on a hot, sunny day in a backcountry location? Yes please! My spirits were soaring and I felt like a new woman upon returning to the hut to hang my wet clothes on the line. At this point, most everyone had arrived and the hut was getting crammed so we meandered up the hill to find a perfect, almost flat spot to set up the tarp. Not only was the view better, but the spot was more exposed and offered a little space from the crowded hut. Kay came up to hang out for a bit while we tried and failed to eat the accidentally gigantic portion of couscous cooked for dinner. I was so ready for bed, and just when I laid down another seam popped in my pad, creating too big of a lump and forcing me to sleep with my feet hanging off the ends. So this last week alone, my tent, my pot, and my pad have all pooped out on me! Not the end of the world, but definitely frustrating when you buy nice gear and it breaks and you’re in the bush and can’t do anything to fix it. But oh well! I’m hopeful the next town in two days will be able to help me out. Until then? Sleeeeeeeeppppp!!!


Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Day 78: Top Wairoa Hut to Porters Creek Hut, 17km

How could you not want to take your time waking up to this?

Talk about a leisurely morning…we woke up at 9, made coffee, stretched, enjoyed the misty peaks, and slowly packed up our gear, knowing only seventeen comparatively easy kilometers separated us from the next hut. My watch read 11:30 by the time we hit the trail, probably the most casual start time of the trip yet. The weather blessed us with gray skies, cool temperatures, yet good visibility as we began the rocky ascent towards Mt Ellis. I wasn’t sure what to expect for the 800 meter climb after the long, steep ascents over the last few days, and was pleased to find myself gradually gaining elevation as I traversed the open mountainside.

More ridge walks
Looking back towards the valley
Traversing towards Ellis
Wiped from trees

I could see down into the lush valley to my left, and saw red, green, and brown ridges and peaks everywhere else. The trail contours just around the summit of Mt Ellis where we stopped for a snack break and views before starting a beautiful, forested descent with a few river crossings and a short uphill climb to reach Hunters Hut. A handful of our friends were posted up inside the cozy little cabin, so we stopped to socialize for a bit. Eventually we continued towards our destination as the trail undulated over ridges and through valleys at a mellow grade. We were mostly in open forests or on steep dirt tracks climbing what looked like a giant rock slide zone. A few hours after leaving our friends, I spotted the orange roof of Porters Creek Hut in the distance. A short thirty minutes later we had crossed the green valley, marveled at the sun beginning to set, and were greeted at the hut by more friends and lots of curious bumblebees. There are only four of us here which is a peaceful change of pace from the last few days, even though our little family through this section was pretty epic. I’m a little sad to be ending the Richmond Range adventure because this place is beautiful, but I am sooooooo unbelievably stoked for two more months of mountains. Life is too good.


Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

Day 79: Porters Creek Hut to St Arnaud, 31km

Let’s see what happened today…Bill, Adrian, and Elie departed early, leaving Matt and I by ourselves to welcome the sun and drink coffee. Our other friends who had stayed at the last hut arrived at Porters before we were even packed up, because I guess most people like to get an early start on the day. There’s for sure a time and a place for an early start, but today was not that time. Not for me anyway. The last few days I have been taking the lead, which forces Matt to slow down and enjoy the scenery more, and also helps me not feel like I’m constantly running to catch up. But I also know sometimes the crazy man needs to let loose. So I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised when he wanted to take off and just meet me at the Red Hills Hut. As Matt bounded away across the rocks, I too was feeling pretty fucking awesome on this beautiful sunny day, and definitely pushed my pace into the sweet cardio zone as I cruised up and down through the river valley.

I spy Red Hills Hut

The Red Hills Hut is located in a gorgeous valley with a pristine mountain backdrop, where I found Matt laying in the grass surrounded by at least four different bags of assorted snacks and candy. A pretty standard scene in my life these days. Multiple other TA walkers showed up while I was stopped for a snack, so I hung out for awhile to socialize. Most people took the shorter 4WD track straight down to the road, but I opted for the longer forest track with a slight uphill before the final descent into town. The weather was so perfect and I was feeling way too good to just be done hiking so I set off by myself. The track climbed up a few hundred meters through a beech forest, offering awesome views of the St Arnaud range, Rotoiti Lake, and the whole valley below.

4WE route
Views into the valley

I eventually hit another 4WD road that led steeply down to the highway. No part of me wanted to walk eight kilometers down a state highway during the hottest part of the day, so I stuck my thumb out and had a ride within minutes. Our room at the Travers-Sabine Lodge was cute, clean, and perfect for a rest day. After a quick shower, I headed straight to the lodge for wedges with Matt and some other friends. The town of St Arnaud is super small and cute. They have a tiny general store with a café attached, the Travers-Sabine Lodge, a hotel lodge with a restaurant and bar, another small breakfast café, and that’s about it, so I wasn’t surprised everyone we knew wound up at the same place. Eventually bedtime rolled around, but first I had to marvel at the incredible sky of stars, complete with an epic view of the Milky Way, and wonder how I got to be so lucky.


Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

Day 80: Zero Day in St Arnaud

How I take a zero…hard work

Wow I really can’t believe a whole month has already passed since Christmas. Time is flying and there’s nothing I can do to slow down the minutes. The only solution is to truly make every second count! Which is why I slept in this morning, checked into the cyber world for awhile, and strolled down the street to our favorite lodge to roast in the sun while devouring a mega brekky of bacon, sausage, potato, egg, mushroom, tomato, toast, and coffee. I picked up some much needed but overpriced sour squirms from the general store before returning to the lodge for an awesome Facetime sesh with my mom and grandma, Dandy. After throwing some laundry in, I was pretty much stuck in the room because I don’t have any extra clothes to wear whilst my stinky layers get washed, so I utilized the time to blog, send emails about my broken gear, and catch up with the outside world. The laundry finished just in time to meet our friends Hannah and Rob at the Alpine Lodge for a second round of wedges because you can never have too many fried potatoes. Chris and Kay were also at the lodge, and the next thing I knew I was sitting at an outdoor table with at least a dozen TA hikers! The trail passes straight through St Arnaud so it would make sense that anyone hiking the TA would have walked right by us. I was really digging the sense of community growing around the trail, but also really wanted to go swimming in the lake before the blazing sun disappeared. So we bid adieu to all of our friends and headed down to Lake Rotoiti for an early evening dip. The sun was still blazing which made the perfectly cool water feel unbelievably refreshing, and the mountains jutting out from the perimeter of the lake made for picture perfect scenery.

Mt Robert behind Lake Rotoiti…kind of reminds me off Buffalo in Summit, anyone?

Eventually we decided to munch on some honey soy chicken chips, which quickly drew the attention of the nearest duck family that clearly had already been habituated to human activity considering the few inches of separation between us and their beaks. Sure, the ducks were perhaps a little too close for comfort, but they were also pretty cute so I let it slide. That is until the giant, black, long-necked geese also decided to join the party. Something about two massive birds standing less than a foot away from me, stretching out their elongated necks, was hilariously unsettling. Fortunately they disappeared with just a smidge of encouragement, but the whole scene was pretty entertaining. I was just trying to eat my chips dude. Anyway, 6:30 rolled around so we headed back to Travers-Sabine. I called Clea and whatnot while Matt cooked up some tasty veggie stir fry, per usual. Nothing crazy happened after dinner because I went to sleep. The end.

Volume Two: Wellington to Havelock

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

Day 66: Wellington to Picton

Ferrying to the South Island!

Whew I actually was able to sleep like a rock considering the temperature was normal. I spent the morning chatting with Owain and his flatmates before they all left for work, leaving me with an empty house to organize my shit and figure out some details for the upcoming tracks. I went to the grocery store, mailed a food supply box and a postcard, and met Clea at the hostel. We took an Uber to the ferry terminal to embark on the 2:45 ferry to Picton on the South Island! It’s still crazy that I have officially completed the whole North Island and the second chapter is actually beginning. The weather was still rainy and cloudy unfortunately so I couldn’t really see much, and I was trying not to get sea sick the whole time, but Clea and I were both very excited to be finally heading south. We stayed at the  amazing, colorful Atlantis Hostel ran by an eccentric woman from New York. I picked up a few more things from the store before Clea and I went out for pizza with this Coloradan named Max we had just met at the hostel. I talked them into playing a little bit of Balderdash when we returned, but that only lasted so long. Eventually these three awesome Kiwis named Billy, Lily, and Dan walked in and needed a fourth person for pool. I offered myself up and wound up laughing and sucking at pool until like 2am. I seriously cannot stress enough how awesome the people are here. It’s unreal!


Thursday, January 11th, 2018

Day 67: Picton to Camp Bay, 23km

I was definitely a bit tired waking up this morning after playing pool and hanging out until 2am, but it was worth it. I took a shower, packed up my shit, and ate free toast with Clea and our new friend Max before leaving to catch the 9am water taxi to Ship Cove. I really didn’t want to say goodbye to Clea yet again, but I’m very grateful that I got to spend some time with her over the last few days. She is also seriously considering buying a van which would be awesome because with that level of freedom and independence she can travel around so much more easily! Which would be perfect for her, and hopefully allow me to see more of her too. The water taxi from Picton to Ship Cove was a quick hour and a half ride up Queen Charlotte Sound. Unfortunately the weather was rainy and cloudy with low visibility, plus the windows were fogged up so I struggled to actually see any of the sound. I did manage to sneak in a power nap though which helped with sea sickness anyway. By the time we arrived in Ship Cove I was about to pee in my pants so I dropped my pack and rushed to the bathroom. Just as I was collecting my things, I felt hands on my shoulders and alas it was Matt! He had taken the water taxi yesterday and camped by the dock to await my arrival. I’m glad we were able to get some space from each other in Wellington, and I was also glad to reunite with the ginger troll himself. I put on my fresh pair of hiking boots and we set off on the trail. The track was steep and very slippery due to the rain, and I quickly became aware of how much extra food was in my pack given its ridiculous weight. Eventually the track leveled out and we were walking on a flat, groomed, double wide trail skirting the edge of Queen Charlotte Sound. Based on the map, I had assumed the Queen Charlotte Track would be a remote bush walk, but when we passed a house two hours in, I started to realize the track was nothing like what I’d expected. I don’t know what I’d expected exactly, but certainly not a groomed trail with fancy houses, lodges, cafés, and restaurants accessible mainly by boat. Some really nice lady let me dress a blister on her private porch before we stopped at the overly nice Ferneaux Lodge for a snack. I don’t know what I do wrong when I walk, but my calves were completely covered in mud and I felt beyond out of place. But whatever. We finished our weird snack break and kept walking until we ran into another old TA friend Bill and his wife, Anthie. The TA family is back in full force by now and it’s awesome. Before arriving at the Camp Bay campsite, I ran into my Kiwi friends Billy, Lily, and Dan from the hostel, and joined them for a few card games. Once at camp, I couldn’t resist the temptation to order onion rings and calamari at the nearby lodge. Did I think that would have even been an option on this trail? No. Could I turn down fried food? Also no. Back at camp, everyone was hanging out chatting and whatnot. I wound up staying up late playing cards and having deep conversations with Billy, Lily and Dan. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to have some legitimate, genuine, insightful conversation about relationships, mindsets, perspectives, and life with a group of relative strangers.

Wickers are so weird

I am always stoked to meet my kind of people and fully intend on being in contact with those three when I’m off the trail. I finally crawled into my tent, made sure my food was safe from the wickers (these giant, weird, chicken-like birds that will peck through tents for food), and fell asleep to the sound of rain.


Friday, January 12th, 2018

Day 68: Camp Bay to Cowshed Bay, 24km

Mt Stokes!
Queen Charlotte Sound

Today turned out to kind of be a lazy day. Something about the dreary weather, lack of views, and easy trail had me feeling like walking slow, stopping a lot, and taking my sweet ass time. Originally we had thought maybe we’d crush the 50 kilometers all the way to Havelock, but wound up only making it 25 kilometers to Cowshed Bay. First we stopped for a snack break and to enjoy what appeared to be a decent view of Queen Charlotte’s Sound. Our snack consisted of gummy bears, sour squirms, chocolate pretzels, and chocolate ginger. Super healthy I know. So when we started walking again I was all jacked up on sugar. We created alternative egos for ourselves a whole background story. I’ll introduce you to Mossy de LaFleur and Tom Whittaker later. An hour later we stopped at the Black Rock Campground, laid down on the picnic table, and proceeded to take an hour long nap. Talk about a sugar crash. We were crushing the trail basically. Soon after we arrived at the Cowshed Bay camp, setup our tents, and cruised over to the nearby lodge for wedges with some fellow TA hikers. You know, just because I imagined this track being remote wilderness doesn’t mean I shouldn’t enjoy the hot, fried potatoes available to me. If I’ve learned anything about the TA it’s that nothing is predictable, always expect the unexpected, and enjoy whatever comes your way. With a full belly I was so ready to crawl into my cozy tent and fall asleep.


Saturday, January 13th, 2018

Day 69: Cowshed Bay to Havelock, 24km

1818 kilometers traveled!!!

Queen Charlotte Sound transformed by sunshine
Still beautiful without sun too!!!

Woke up casually, ate breakfast, and started walking. The sun actually came out enough to transform the gray water of Queen Charlotte’s Bay into an unbelievable shade of turquoise blue. It truly is incredible what a different experience nature can be when you can actually see where you are. The hike was pretty easy and we were moving quickly despite the hot sun and humidity. I stopped multiple times just to appreciate the beauty, and arrived in Anakiwa just in time for the rain.

Typical leg after a day of hiking

We walked maybe 7 kilometers down the paved road in the rain before deciding to just hitch into Havelock because honestly, at this point we are both so over the whole road walking thing. After settling in and cleaning up, we went out for wedges and ran into our fellow TA friend Hannah who I hadn’t seen in weeks so that was fun. The rest of the evening was spent catching up on the interwebs and listening to a really weird, chronologically reversed history of  Mickey Hart’s solo albums.



Sunday, January 14th, 2018

Day 70: Admin Day in Havelock

Slept in. Got bacon for breakfast. Planned for the upcoming mountain tracks. Hitched to Blenheim for food resupply. Bought basically three weeks worth of food. Hitched back to Havelock. Marveled at the obscene amount of food in front of us. Got super chuffed about the upcoming section in the Richmond Range. Pretty wild day. Buuuuuuuuttttttt the best part was actually seeing mountains!!! They are real. They exist! I can feel their greatness already.

So much food!!!
Hi my name is Matt Stuhler and I have a bar problem

We are sending boxes full of food to multiple points along the trail where there is no resupply, hence the bed full of goodies. I also went on another battered mussel hunt with Hannah. Apparently Havelock is a mussel center, they are everywhere. First I got two battered mussels from The Hairy Mussel. I’d give them an 8 out of 10, with 10 being the Mangamuka Dairy battered mussel. Then we went to Slip Inn, which didn’t have battered mussels but had some delicious steamed Green Curry mussels. So I got down on basically an entire kilogram of those before coming back to the holiday park to hang out with the massive party of TA hikers gathered in the tenting area. Then I blogged, did laundry, and got down on steak, broccoli and potatoes. All I really have to say is how fucking ready I am for some actual backpacking, in actual mountains, with actually challenging terrain, and actual use for backcountry navigation skills. Let’s go South Island!!!

A Fiesty, Northern Finale: Palmerston North to Wellington

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

Day 58: Palmerston North to Toko Corner Road, 30km

Fresh kicks!

Wahooooooo back to trail life baby!!! New kicks ready to rumble! I was finally able to quickly resupply food this morning before starting the last tracks to Wellington. Nothing beats a fully stocked food bag, it’s like a little fat, chunky baby just waiting for you to dig in so it doesn’t weigh 500 pounds anymore. Today’s hike was pretty mellow and there was some road walking involved, but it was majority calm back roads with little to no traffic, and mostly gravel versus paved. One section was on a mountain biking trail in the green tunnel, Nothing crazy but a million times better than a state highway! We cruised about 30 kilometers before setting up camp by a random lake amongst rolling fields of pine trees, and managed to set up the tarp just in time for the rain which accompanied us through the evening. Honestly just being outside again, walking all day, moving the body, sorting through thoughts, listening to music and sleeping in my tent has me feeling like a new woman already. I’m very excited for what’s to come.

Tarp life
Back on the trail

Oh, also for an update on Clea since I keep mentioning the situation but haven’t explained it yet because it makes me sad. After Tongariro, she went back to the doctor and turns out her Achilles was torn even worse so she’s been rocking a boot for two weeks. After another follow-up this afternoon, a scan confirmed her Achilles is starting to heal itself! Fortunately that means she doesn’t have to have surgery, which is a huge relief because surgery is never a super fun event. The downside is she has to keep living boot life for a little while. She goes back in two weeks and, based on scan results, will know what the next step is. She obviously can’t hike, so we are temporarily separated until we can get after a few girls days together in Wellington so I’m stoked about that. But really however you look at the situation, it’s a big, fat bummer on both ends. And a huge reminder of the importance of being malleable, open-minded, and forwardly positive when life comes along and fucks up your original plans.

Trail magic


Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018

Day 59: Toko Corner Road to Outdoor Pursuits, 33km

La dee daa! A fast, solo cruiser day in the green tunnel today got me feeling back to normal. I decided to have Matt meet me at the Outdoor Pursuits place which happened to be over 30 kilometers away so that we could have cruiser days through the forest all to ourselves. We’re just about the same pace, but he’s a little faster, especially when my foot is hurting, so naturally he winds up waiting for me here and there. We have also been together like 24 hours a day basically for weeks now, so I’m sure you can understand the necessity for some space. Any good team needs to be strong as individuals to continue being healthy partners so today was the perfect opportunity.

Just in case you couldn’t see the individual beads of sweat










Ever since Palmy North, the air has been unbelievably humid. I was sweating buckets hiking into the Tararua Range, sinking into the perfect forest groove. Nothing was too steep or relentless today, just a lot of small ups and downs and stream crossings. Even though views were very limited because of the green tunnel, I hardly cared because I was so happy and feeling so spectacular. Thunder was crackling almost all day too, and just about every hour rain would pour down for awhile, just long enough to wash off the sweat and cool me down. I really couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. I found Matt at the Outdoor Pursuits lodge, which is basically the camping and hang out area for the Outdoor Pursuits students. The owners run the whole organization and allow TA hikers to use their facilities including shower, washer, full kitchen,  lounge, beds, etc. for free! They even gave us dinner including chicken sandwiches, banana, tomato and sausage. True trail angels. I was able to wash off the dirt and sweat too. But now I am very tired and going to sleep.


Thursday, January 4th, 2018

Day 60: Outdoor Pursuits to Dracophyllum Hut, 22km


Where do I even begin the story of today’s radical adventure?! I guess morning makes the most logical sense, just so much dopeness happened today I’m just excited. After rubbing my eyes open on the couch in the Outdoor Pursuits lodge, I enjoyed a steaming cup of French pressed coffee as I wondered what I did to deserve such an incredible, free gift of hospitality. I pulled on my freshly clean and dry hiking outfit that has become somewhat of a second skin, and put forth my best efforts to leave the kitchen cleaner than when I arrived…literally a valuable lesson I can throwback to the Girl Scout Code from the sixth grade. John, one of our hosts, had informed us that the local weather was forecasting a small, tropical storm to hit today and tomorrow with super high winds and heavy rain. We were heading deeper into the Tararua Forest which is notoriously susceptible to rapidly changing, relatively severe, weather. With exposed ridges and steep, rooted, muddy terrain, severe weather could quickly double, if not triple, your normal pace. I’ve been through enough Northland Forests now to understand the slow moving nature of certain tracks! Our food supply was perfect to comfortably get us to the next town on the assumption we crushed 25 to 30 kilometers a day, but the last thing I wanted was to be tired, hungry, wet, and cold because the forest took twice as many days as expected. So we accepted John’s offer for a ride to the local supermarket, followed by a quick lift five kilometers down the road to the trailhead. John wished us luck and drove off while Matt and I devoured some muffins, much to the excitement of the greedy, nearby chickens who very closely and vocally begged for all the crumbs. Around 10:30 we began the steep, forested ascent of the ridge track to the Waiopehu Hut. The 2,500 foot gain to the hut was a mixture of high, rooted steps, steep declines, and flatter, leafy sections that combined with thick, muggy air and a fast, cardio pace to spit me out at Waiopehu looking like a soggy beach towel you accidentally left outside in a thunderstorm. I was so god damn drippy and sweaty I thought I might be overheating or something, so I was pleased to discover Matt also drenched, rinsing his sweaty ass shirt out in the sink.

This is what hiking shirtless in 500% humidity will do to your back

The expansive views from Waiopehu provided a perfect backdrop to snarf some snacks, chug heaps of water, and let our bodies return to a somewhat normal temperature after dumping cold water over our scalps. We had covered the first ten kilometers with significant gain in less than three hours, so it didn’t seem outrageous to assume we’d crush the five kilometers with relatively mellow vert to the Te Matawai Hut in about an hour and a half. Well, turns out the track following Dora Ridge is very muddy, very overgrown, and very sharply steep with ups and downs, which makes walking much more of a foot and body dance than a cruiser hike.

Misty Tararua mountains on the ridge to Dracophyllum

The track is also partly out of the green tunnel, instead on exposed, tall grassy terrain with incredible, open views of the Tararuas begging for you to stop and absorb their beauty. All that said, I arrived at Te Matawai two and a half hours later, yet again looking like your neighbor’s dog who eagerly, and without invitation, jumped into the pool at your 4th of July BBQ. Despite the forecasted storm, and aside from the ridiculously wet air, the weather had been pretty calm all day. No thunder, no rain, just clouds and sun. So around 5pm we were faced with a decision: do we stay at Te Matawai to stay dry and enjoy the nice, large accommodation, or do we send the next seven kilometers up another 1,500 feet and along a ridge to the small, 2-bunk bivvy Dracophyllum hut? Seven kilometers isn’t really that far, but at the rate we’ve been moving through this terrain that could be another four hours, which was just about how much daylight remained. I was feeling groovy as hell, Matt was feeling stellar as fack, and 5pm just seemed too early to stop. So after a quick conversation and some snacks we were putting one foot in front of the other towards Pukematawei Peak. The track was a relatively steep, consistent uphill climb so I sunk into a solid rhythm as clouds and a light misty sprinkle rolled in. Fortunately I was able to get a mental image of the full route ahead before the clouds completely enveloped everything except the ridgeline under my feet. We efficiently conquered the vert and turned right to follow the south ridge towards Dracophyllum. The rain picked up just as we began the descent, making for a perfectly slippery, sliding, splashy mess of mud, wet grass, and rocks. I only ate shit in the mud like four times. I loved it. The majority of the track since we left Te Matawai was out of the bush and into the scrubs too! I don’t know if that’s officially “above treeline” or not, maybe you call it “bushline” or something, but we were out of the green tunnel. We were walking on an exposed ridgeline that, for really the first true time since being in New Zealand, gave me a genuine alpine feeling. I felt a similar sensation in the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest, but this one hit much closer to home. When the thick rain clouds started to break into distant, misty puffs rising up through the valley, I could see layers of mountains in all directions. I could see where the heavy, green vegetation turns into fluffy, tall grasses yellowed from the recent lack of rain, a clear visual of where the green tunnel sets you free. I could see the fingers and spines of the mountains running from their summits down to the river in the valley below. And it wasn’t just one isolated vista like I’ve been experiencing in most Northland forests, but rather I was walking amongst the mountains, seeing nothing but their beauty wherever I looked, feeling their presence encompassing me like a giant hug. Sure, I bet the distant views are unreal on a clear day, but something about the sky being clear enough to expose the Tararua Range, yet hide everything else beyond, added an extra sense of intimacy and remoteness that I have been craving. Besides Matt, trail marker poles, and the occasional view of the small, red roof of Te Matawai, there were no visual reminders of other humans, no roads, no buildings, no electrical wires. I was in my element, and so was Matt. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we dipped back into the forest. Only this wasn’t any ordinary forest.

No pictures can do this forest justice
But I can try!

This was the craziest, most mysterious, trippiest forest I’ve ever seen. In fact, it has to be the absolute most trippiest natural place I have ever been in my life, especially when it’s kind of foggy and drizzling. Absolutely everything was covered in a thick layer of some type of moss. The gnarly, curled trees had thick, yellow-green moss swallowing their limbs with mint-green, lichen-ish stuff growing up their trunks. Dead trees had been swallowed by the moss epidemic too, some yellow-green, some a darker, more olive green. The green growth was squishy to the touch, and depressed like six or more inches with pressure. It turned an otherwise common forest into what looked a trippy zoo of green, mossy animals. If you’re looking for a fun place to indulge in some psychedelics, I found it for you. This is the place. I swear I couldn’t get over it, I had to keep stopping to touch and stare and literally say out loud “oh my god that’s sooo cooooool” because it was. And then the little orange Dracophyllum Hut simply appeared. Described as more of a bivy than a hut, the very small, simple structure housed a top and bottom bunk, and a built-in counter.

Inside the Dracophyllum Hut
Blister #1
Blister #2

There was still a water tank and toilet so it was basically perfect. I immediately stripped off all of my uncomfortable, soaking wet clothes and discovered some pretty nasty blisters happening on my feet as a result of new shoes. Just happy to be dry and also generally super stoked on the whole day, I made some tasty peanut-butter ramen before addressing anything. I had already eaten all my chocolate, so I indulged in some proper blister care for dessert instead. Squeezing rubbing alcohol into a blister has proven to be an awesome technique for sterilizing and drying out a wound, but OMG HOLY SHIT THAT SHIT STINGS!!! But you gotta do what you gotta do out here and I obviously survived so it’s all worth it in the end. Whew. What a day. Stoke level is rising and more epic adventures are on the way. And hopefully Clea will continue to heal and be able to join me again soon because I miss my babe!!!


Friday, January 5th, 2018

Day 61: Dracophyllum Hut to Nichols Hut, 5km

Blue sky is always exciting

Well I don’t know if I’d exactly call it a tropical storm, but the wind last night was out of control! I kept waking up in a dreamlike state thinking the gusts were going to rip the windows off the walls, but fortunately that never happened. The storm was so loud though that I didn’t sleep particularly well, but I was very pleased to see blue skies and sun when I woke up. I was pretty stoked on the change in weather, so I took my time packing up and drying my clothes out in the sun. I was just in a good mood and living in the moment, what can I say?! By the time we started walking, the skies were still blue, the humidity from the last few days had gone, and the air was crisp. Right after we left Dracophyllum (which I think has to be named after all the moss… there has to be an explanation) and turned the corner, we saw a huge, magical rainbow down in the valley below.

Couldn’t find the pot of gold
Here I come!

The trail combined more trippy, mossy forest track with exposed, grassy shrub track as it followed the ridge south with more epic views and positive vibes. We had just started the trek over to Mt Crawford when the rain started. I knew there was a hut right before the summit track, and had already been thinking about stopping there for a dry, snack break. Given the nature of the slow-going track and deteriorating conditions, it took us two and a half hours to travel the five kilometers to Nichols Hut. We stopped in around 1pm for a break, hoping the rain might let up so we could enjoy some views as we crossed over Crawford. Well, an hour went by and the rain didn’t stop. Then I fell asleep. I woke up thirty minutes later and rain was still falling. I drank some coffee and blogged for another thirty minutes. Rain was still falling. I ate some pretzels and wrote for another hour. Rain was still coming down. By this time it was about 4pm, also known as decision time. Again, we were faced with two decisions: do we head out into the cold, pouring rain and trek the eight kilometers over Mt Crawford to the Waitawaewae Hut and certainly miss all of the views? Or do we stay warm and dry at the Nichols Hut, wait out the storm, and get an early start tomorrow with hopes of clearer weather? At this point the choice seemed pretty obvious, especially considering the rain had picked up and visibility had decreased even more, so we settled in for the evening. I switched into my comfy clothes, Matt got a fire going, and alas I’m still writing, thinking about the delicious dinner I’m about to make.

Happily waiting out the storm

After reading the guest book, apparently we are not the first people to wait out a storm at the Nichols Hut. What’s the point in being cold and wet and not seeing anything when you can be relaxed, enjoy yourself and have a chance to enjoy the hike the next day? It’s not like I have anywhere else to be, and that’s a pretty beautiful thing. A long, existential Pink Floyd jam sesh over the patter of rain falling on the roof couldn’t have been a more perfect way to end this day of trippy forest and dreary weather.


Saturday, January 6th, 2018

Day 62: Nichols Hut to Parawai Hut, 18km

I had imagined waking up to sunshine and rainbows again this morning, but instead woke up early to more rain and more wind. Since we had already spent almost 24 hours waiting out the storm, we figured we might as well just send it over Mt Crawford because who knows what the weather will do. By around 7:30am the rain had let up at least so we left the Nichols Hut and set forth up the mountain in the heavy fog. The ascent was like being in a gray tunnel as I couldn’t see anything besides the track right in front of me and grayness on either side. A light rain was falling but the wind was powerful and cold, blowing the rain forcefully onto me. Sure, sun and views would have been rad, but I kind of enjoyed the intensity of the high ridgeline storm. I was reminded of winter and really just thought about splitboarding the whole time and fucking crushed it. The trail was pretty slow moving too, steep and rocky with lots of muddy ruts, slippery footholds, and unstable brush. But eventually we began the descent towards the Waitawaewae Hut and whaddya know, the sun came out and the skies turned blue! But hey, how can you be upset about sunshine, even if it means you missed the views? The descent was a pretty brutal, relentlessly steep 3000 decline over slippery roots and moss. My knees were about ready to punch me in the face for such a beating, but I got to the hut just in time for a warm, sunny lunch break. For the next four hours we walked through a much mellower forest with smaller ups and downs, and flatter ground so I was actually able to stretch the legs out. We enjoyed some solid trail conversation before arriving at the Parawai Lodge, just before the rain began. We had the hut to ourselves for awhile until a very interesting Kiwi couple showed up. The pair shared their fruit and biscuits with us which was awesome. But even more awesome was the astronomy magazine that the dude had. Flipping through the pages, and with space being as fucking crazy and mind blowing as it is, Matt and I wound up in an intense, trippy conversation about the universe. I absolutely love diving into the space realm with people. The ideas thrown around are so far out my brain eats it up. This particular hut was uncomfortably full of cobwebs and spiders everywhere you look, so naturally I wanted Matt to eat one of the nasty, crusty webs. The odds were one out of a hundred and we said 72 and 73. I was so close but alas he got away without a cobweb down his throat. The couple probably thought we were total freaks but whatever. Sleep was calling my name and soon after I was asleep on the porch, free of spiders and any other creepy crawly thing in there!


Sunday, January 7th, 2018

Day 63: Parawai Lodge to Waikanae, 30km 

The one downside to hut life is when you get a really loud, aggressive snorer. I slept outside with ear plugs and was still woken up by the obnoxious, persistent drone of a man snoring. So I definitely didn’t sleep very well, but the couple gave us fruit and biscuits so I guess it all evens out. The first few hours of today’s walk were a mellow, cruiser tramp through the forest to the summit of Pukeatua, then down to the road through pine trees. It was a tunes kind of morning and I found myself lost in the groove, reflecting on everything that happened in 2017, feeling optimistic about what the future holds, and generally feeling strong and empowered. The weather was absolutely perfect too, so by the time I hit the road section I was feeling like a million bucks! We only had to follow the road for about 10 kilometers before arriving in Waikanae. We did a small resupply and poached the wifi at New World to find a place to stay for the night.

Update on blister #1

The El Rancho Holiday Park was close by and offered the most affordable prices so we cruised over there. Unfortunately the first room they gave us had the same uncomfortable bunks and mattresses that the huts have. I don’t mind them, but when you’re paying as much as we were, you want a real bed. So Matt went back to the office, worked some magic, and got us upgraded to a much better suite with a kitchen, living room, and actually comfortable sleeping arrangements. Matt cooked up a mean seafood stir fry which we happily devoured before hitting the hay.

Seafood stir fry is the best


Monday, January 8th, 2018

Day 64: Waikanae to Wellington, 35km

Beach walk

Nothing beats a big bowl of scrambled eggs, a big bowl of fresh fruit and yogurt, and heaps of hot coffee to get your day rolling. Once I was nice and fueled up, I started the lovely morning walk through a neighborhood full of weird, old people, and onto the beach. There was hardly a cloud in the sky, the air was light, the sun was warm, and the water was an exceptional shade of blue as I walked on the perfectly soft sand. A few hours later we took a quick pit stop in Paraparaumu for some scones, bacon, and free WiFi. The remainder of the beach to Paekakariki was a cruiser walk, perfect for headphones. At one point I walked past a mother and her daughter who must have been about 5 years old playing on the beach. As I kept walking I became keenly aware of the little girl running after me. She followed me for about 15 minutes before I laughingly had to turn around and make sure she got back to her mom!

Escarpment track views

The 10 kilometer escarpment track after Paekakariki was absolutely phenomenal. The track climbs stairs and steep ground about 200 meters above the highway to give you expansive views of the turquoise ocean and distant mountains. I thought Matt was going to wait at the end of the section, but he decided to keep cruising towards Wellington so I was left to my own devices. The trail followed a concrete pathway along the highway before arriving in Porirua Bay. By this point, my blisters were aching, but I was still 40 kilometers from Wellington and Clea. Matt was long gone, so I decided to take the train into the city. By 7:30 I was at the hostel with Clea, eating chicken and catching each other up on our lives. We spent the rest of the my until 2am drinking fancy cocktails, running around the city, and indulging in late night McDonald’s. It was a perfect reunion and a fantastic way to celebrate the completion of the North Island walking!


Tuesday, January 9th, 2018

Day 65: Rest Day in Wellington

Well I hardly slept last night because the 10-bunk hostel dorm room was so unbelievably hot I almost sweat to death. Especially for someone who is used to sleeping outside every night, I was fucking roasting. So I woke up at 7 and went down to the lobby to check the interwebs until Clea got up. Once she awoke, we threw in some laundry and set out for some brekky, coffee, and exploration of Cuba Street. Wellington is a way cooler city than Auckland too. It has a way more authentic, local feel with more delicious food, unique shops, and a more genuine aesthetic. After brekky, Clea went to get her hair done and I cruised over to my friend Owain’s house. Remember the story about the super charming, sexy Kiwi with the curly hair and heart-throbbing smile who gave me and Matt a ride to Taupo and ate enormous kebabs with us? Well I hit him up and he was kind enough to let me crash at his place which was conveniently located right downtown. He was at work for the day so he told me where the spare key was and let me make myself at home. I swear the Kiwi hospitality and generosity is unlike anywhere in the states. So I dropped my things off at Owain’s and headed out to run some errands. I’m walking down the sidewalk towards the pharmacy when lo and behold I run right into Tim and Renee, two other TA hikers. They invited me to join them at Husk for a beer and some appetizers. How could I refuse that? Clea joined us not too long after and we enjoyed the afternoon chit-chatting. We all parted ways and I went back to Owain’s to change for a run. My favorite way to explore a city is through a long run, and I actually happened to have my running shoes and proper sports bra, so I couldn’t resist.

Best view of Wellington on my run!

I decided to run through town and up Mt Victoria to hopefully get a better view of Wellington, but unfortunately the weather was too cloudy to really see. Regardless, it felt so unbelievably good to run again. I got back to the house, took a quick shower, met Owain’s awesome flatmates, and helped cook a tasty vegetable and bacon roast. After dinner, Owain and I met up with a few of his mates for a beer before heading back for an early night of much needed sleep.

Bloatin’ and Floatin’ through the Holidays: Taumarunui to Palmerston North

Sunday, December 24th, 2017

Day 49: Whakahoro to John Coull


Holiday boot spirit
Thanks for the tow Santa

The Christmas paddle is in full swing!!! We slugged around this morning, gathering all of our crap, putting on our Christmas hats, and wishing maybe we hadn’t consumed so much sugary but delicious cider. Taumarunui Canoe Hire arrived around 7:15 to transport us and our gear to their property for an early safety meeting. Honestly I was a bit peeved at first that we had to wake up early for a safety meeting, but it turned out to be an entertaining, super low-key talk on the basics of not fucking up a canoe, complete with quick white-board drawings of river situations. Considering I have very minimal experience with a canoe to begin with, the lecture was actually quite helpful. We also got coffee and bread so I really can’t complain! We departed soon after, and a 90 minute, bumpy, windy, nauseating car ride later we arrived at Whakahoro to put into the river. We secured our bins into the boat, stuffed our pockets with beer and candy, donned our Christmas hats, and pushed away from the chaotic, muddy boat ramp full of high stoke and holiday cheer. Clea and I spent the first hour figuring out how to successfully steer the tandem, and got into a rhythm just in time for lunch. Lunch was just the beginning of our excessive Christmas eating and drinking extravaganza. Our daily lunch spread included cheddar cheese, hot Spanish sausage, crackers, chips, hummus, cucumber, carrots, and olives. Also I have to comment about how gigantic the cucumbers are here. This thing must have been about 18 inches long and was so girthy I couldn’t even fit my hand around it. Anyway, we nommed hard and killed over half of our giant bottle of Green Ginger Wine, which is this absolutely delicious liquid that tastes like alcoholic ginger beer. The next stretch of the paddle to the campsite was a combination of laughing in the hot sun, beer drinking, paddling in the pouring rain, being towed by Matt, towing Matt, and eating lots of chocolate. We were for sure more focused on drinking, eating, and floating than actually paddling. And it was perfect.


We arrived at the John Coull campsite around 6pm, and managed to find a private picnic table with tentsites that somehow none of the other 50 people had claimed yet. Some of our trail friends were there too, so everyone came down to hang out and help us do work on our bottle of Wild Turkey. Christmas Eve dinner consisted of steak, sweet potato, asparagus, onion, and mussels, followed up with chocolate cake and a peach crumble. This Australian Josh was paddling by himself so he joined the crew as we stayed up until the stars came out, just laughing, having ridiculous conversations, and feeling totally full in every sense of the word.


Monday, December 25th, 2017

Day 50: John Coull to Tieke Kainga


How did Santa find us???
Christmas Breakfast

I could never have imagined a more relaxing Christmas. Santa came too!!! He filled each of our gross hiking socks with candy and balloons and bubbles! In true gluttonous form, Christmas breakfast was complete with beers, bacon, eggs, muffins, apples, and banana/chocolate chip/blueberry pangoop. We named the pancakes pangoop because the batter didn’t really form a pancake, but rather a blob of delicious pancakey goop. Interesting but tasty. After breakfast we waddled our way down to the boats and set off. We managed to drink our whole alcohol supply yesterday, and were so full of food that we quite literally bloated and floated the entire morning. The Whanganui River is super flat water with maybe the occasional baby rapid, but basically flat. We had discovered that if you actually paddle, you’ll arrive at your destination in about half the listed time. Since we didn’t really have far to go and were so fucking stuffed and lazy, we wanted to maximize the river time and minimize our effort.

Lunching with my babe

So we flotilla-d our boats and floated with Christmas music to a perfect lunch spot on some rocks along an inlet. I still don’t quite understand how we managed to eat lunch, but we found room in ourselves for more lunch spread. We even killed the rest of the two cakes and the entire blueberry pie during our 3 hour lunch break. We went swimming and took a nap in the sun and felt like giant blobs and it was awesome. Around 4:30 we set off towards the campsite which we thought was only an hour and a half away. We did not paddle at all. Clea and I literally took naps on the canoes while Matt gently steered us through the water. There were times I’d notice that we were basically moving backwards because we were going so slowly, and I couldn’t have cared less. My Discover Weekly was crushing the smooth funk jams as we just existed together on the river, not paddling, not even talking, not doing anything besides sharing the peace with one another. There was no noise, no fuss, no mess, no bickering, no rush, no responsibilities, no stress whatsoever. I’ve never experienced a Christmas day like that. 3 hours later we arrived at what we thought was our final campsite, but turns out was only the second stop. We had floated so slowly that we’d actually managed to double the listed paddle time.


We probably set the record for longest time between sites! Tieke Kainga was listed as a 2 hour paddle, and given it was 7:30 already we decided to get the paddles out and enjoy a dusk cruise. We were there an hour later, just in time to set up camp and start cooking Christmas dinner. If you thought maybe we’d be too full for another meal, you thought wrong. We cooked up a whole ham, more sweet potatoes, broccoli and peppers and mushrooms, corn, mac&cheese, and more mussels. We almost lost all of it when one of the table legs collapsed, but only the corn went flying, landing on the floor like a sorority girl’s vomit. We killed another obscene feast before passing out into food comas for the night. A truly merry Christmas. We also wrote our own version of the 12 Days of Christmas so I will share.

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me:

12 blobs of pangoop

11 kiwi calls

10 nasty toenails

9 Whittaker bars

8 TA hikers

7 creepy possums

6 random goats

5 days of no walking

4 slabs of meat

3 silly hats

2 canoes

And a bottle of Wild Turkey!


Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

Day 51: Tieke Kainga to Pipriki

Free the nips

Can you guess what we did this morning? That’s right, we ate more food! Polished off the kilogram of bacon, devoured more pangoop, smashed a dozen eggs with red capsicum, and guzzled coffee. I got into the tandem with Clea feeling a bit like a beached whale from all the food, alcohol, and minimal physical activity. Fortunately we actually were forced to paddle for awhile to ensure we arrived in Pipiriki on time to meet Taumarunui Canoe Hire with our boats. The weather was perfect so Clea and I let the nipples breathe for the morning as we paddled. I couldn’t quite pick up the vibe from passerbys. Were they shocked, disgusted, stoked, or concerned that we didn’t have shirts much less life vests on? I really didn’t care. The three of us eventually found Josh cruising down the current, and all four of us flotilla-d as much as we could to still make the 1:30pm pickup time. This section of the river actually had something besides flat water, maybe a very low class 2, but more exciting than nothing. Our canoe filled with water almost immediately and while we managed to make it through afloat, I basically tipped us over just as reached the closest beach. Woo excitement!!! Clea bailed all the water out of our boat, we cracked up at the situation, and continued on our way. I have to say, while flat water is relaxing and certainly allows for a proper float and bloat perfect for the holidays, if I ever do another paddle trip it will definitely be in a small kayak with actual rapids to navigate. We joined the other 367,378 boats at the Pipiriki takeout, organized our crap from the barrels, and waited for our van. The boat ramp was a bit of a cluster fuck considering there were at least a dozen other groups of paddlers waiting to meet their canoe company, so I kind of just packed up my shit and waited for people to clear out. My plan was to bike the next section anyway, so while 95% of people were getting on a van back to Taumarunui, I was figuring out what the fuck to do with my pack given I had a totally slick bike. The hardest part of the day was saying goodbye to Clea (still more on that later). We had such an amazing time together on Christmas and I didn’t want to see her go. She is my best friend for a reason. We planned this trip together for a reason. We laugh harder, think deeper, and enjoy life on a deeper level when we’re together. But she can’t ride bikes or hike, and thus was heading back to Auckland to housesit for a week while I kept on with the trail. At least the canoe company gave us cupcakes so I could eat my sadness. After all the vans pulled away, Matt and I cruised up to the holiday park where we found Chris and Kay, and Lucas and Chris. We made delicious ham sandwiches for dinner, after which I passed out so hard on the bean bag chairs in the lobby. I woke up 3 hours later, zombied to my tent, and continued into a deep, happy end of Christmas slumber.


Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

Day 52: Pipiriki to Wanganui, 80km

You’re not cool unless you wear high vis when you bike

Back on the trail, kind of? People opt for one of three methods of transportation for this part of the trail. You can continue paddling down the Whanganui, walk, or rent bikes to cover the 80 kilometer road section. Paddling another 3 days on flat water seemed less than ideal, and a long boring road walk sounded even less appealing, so we opted for biking. Given my fat, whale-like condition, I was very grateful that the road was mostly downhill. I rocked the orange reflector vest the whole way too lest I should be run over! Aside from one pit stop for coffee and a smoothie, and one relatively long uphill, I was able to cruise with the wind in my hair all the way to Wanganui. We dropped our bikes off at this super weird little store full of random trinkets ran by an adorable Swiss man. Our packs were an hour or so behind us, so we set off on a mission to find a beer. If I had to pick one thing I miss the most about the United States besides the obvious family/friends/etc. it would most definitely be all the craft breweries with outdoor seating. All I wanted was to sit in the sun and sip on a strong, super hoppy IPA, but I can’t seem to find that anywhere in New Zealand! Eventually we found this funny, tucked away hotel bar full of drunk, older locals. The bartender let us enjoy our coldies in sunny solitude on the back porch. An hour or so later we had our packs back and checked into the Tamara Backpackers Lodge. This hostel was my favorite so far. Super clean, everything you need, comfortable. We made a mean grilled chicken salad for dinner and hit the hay.


Thursday, December 28th, 2017

Day 53: Christmas Extravaganza Recovery Day

You know those days when you don’t really feel like doing anything? Especially following the holidays? Well, that was absolutely me today. I cooked up a healthy egg and veggie breakfast with the leftover spinach, and washed it down with a massive French press of coffee. Initially I had intended to spend the morning catching up on my blog, talking to family and relaxing before walking a few kilometers in the afternoon. But as the morning went on, and I sunk further into the couch, the less I felt like walking at all. Fortunately Matt was on the same page as me, so we decided to book another room and just have a rest day. Honestly I was feeling pretty bummed out about the whole Clea situation too, and just wasn’t in the mood to start the next trail section. Instead I layed in bed and blogged, then went into town to finally get a New Zealand phone, ordered a battered muscle and fried scallop, and tried on dresses at a store. I met Matt at Countdown for dinner supplies including steak, broccoli, and a root vegetable combo of kumara, potato, beet, carrot, acorn squash and garlic. I’m really digging the healthy hostel meals we’ve been cooking up. I was out like a light.


Friday, December 29th, 2017

Day 54: Wanganui to Koitaita, 30km

Since check-out was at 10am, I made sure to stay in bed as long as possible drinking coffee and eating eggs. My motivation level and mood had improved since yesterday, yet honestly I wasn’t super amped to walk on a road for 30 kilometers. But it wasn’t all bad. Sure, I was walking down a busy highway with cars and trucks loudly whizzing by, and giant trucks full of sheep spewing piss smell into the air, but you know it could always be worse. I just did my best to ignore everything and also not get run over. When I caught up to Matt on the much quieter, much more peaceful Turanuki Road, he informed me that this old guy Bob had invited us over. Next thing I knew I was sitting in a kitchen drinking orange juice and eating cookies with Bob, his wife Evelyn, their friend Julie, and Matt. I couldn’t help but smile as this incredibly kind group of old people enquired about our adventures. I love this country. We thanked them for their generosity and continued the last 8 kilometers of road to the Koitaita campground where I ate, stretched, enjoyed the beach sunset, and went to bed.


Saturday, December 30th, 2017

Day 55: Koitaita to Bulls, 25km

Beach walks

This morning was pleasant and peaceful as I walked in the black sand along the beach, looking out at the Tasman Sea and pondering questions about the upcoming new year. I found myself in a bit of a situation though. I noticed yesterday after we left Wanganui that somehow the inside sole of my left boot had somehow melted into a weird golf ball sized lump that left zero padding for the ball of my foot. I thought maybe I’d be able to fix it, but by the time I realized I really couldn’t wear it anymore, I was miles or days away from a shoe store. My options were to wear the shitty broken boot or rock the Chacos. I opted for the Chacos and managed to make it the 30 kilometers yesterday with only minorly sore feet, but walking on sand is a little different. Once the sand gets under the straps and under your feet, it’s pretty much game over. I tried wearing the boots for another little bit, but wound up just walking barefoot until my toes started to ache so I put the Chacos back on. Talk about a pain in the ass! We accidentally walked past our turnoff, so we cruised down the beach a little further and found an exit road that required some stealthy, high alert, adventure walking through a firing range. At this point I decided to try socks with Chacos, but after about 8 kilometers on another flat, paved road the tendons on the tops of my feet were screaming. As much as I love my Chacs, they are not meant for walking long distances. I tried switching back to my boots one last time, which helped with the random pain but that damn golf ball was unbearable. Matt was way ahead of me and by this time I was so over the road. Seriously, why should I keep walking along a hot, stinky road when my shoes are fucked and my foot hurts? I debated with myself whether or not I was going to hitch because I was being lazy, or because it wasn’t worth causing tendon damage until I could get a new pair of shoes. 10 minutes later I was cruising to Bulls with a very lovely couple who even stopped to pick Matt up. They delivered us in town where we spent some time figuring out a place to stay for New Years. Meanwhile this super nice Kiwi pulled up, started chatting and invited us to share some sushi with him. So that was awesome.

Bye bye boots
Sometimes a chair tries to come with you

The local camping ground was unnecessarily overpriced so we walked along the river until we found a place to freedom camp. It’s probably the least luxurious place I’ve camped yet considering we’re by a highway, a dirt bike track, and lots of litter. To be totally honest this section of the TA is pretty lame. I feel dirty, and not in the “I’ve been in the woods for a a week” dirty, but more of the “I’ve been walking on a sticky highway with semis and goat piss and rubbish in a city” kind of dirty. There are a few more forest sections coming up before Wellington, but I’m pretty ready to be in the mountains on the south island. In the meantime, I’m staying positive, listening to my body and making the best of the weirdness!


Sunday, December 31st, 2017

Day 56: Bulls to Palmerston North


So my foot was feeling less than stellar this morning. There was about zero percent of me that wanted to try walking any distance on the highway to Palmerston North, especially when my Chacos were the only option. I think it’s probably a minor tendonitis situation, and that requires rest anyway. So I decided to hitch the 25 kilometers into town to use my day more wisely. We stayed at the New Railway Hotel which is a perfect, cozy place right next to the main square. After checking in, we hit up the grocery store for dinner and New Years supplies. I also decided that I wanted to buy a dress for NYE because why not? I’ve literally been wearing the same shirt and skort every day for the last two months, and I wanted to feel like a woman! I also decided that I wanted to dye my hair red again. I had red hair for like 10 years, but decided almost two years ago to let it go back to natural. I thought I’d be able to pull off the natural hair forever, but I underestimated my love for cherry hair. After finding a new pair of trail runners, I headed back to the hotel to blog and do my hurr. I was happy to get the blog mostly updated, and even happier to have my hair a sick shade of red! My foot appreciated the rest too. I donned my New Years outfit just in time to cook a delicious steak dinner. Then we hit the town square in Palmerston North for fireworks, live music, and an official countdown. After midnight we meandered down to the local clubs and danced into 2018 with all the locals. Hell yeah PALMYYYYY!!! I lost Matt and wound up getting a ride home from two very kind cops who didn’t want a female walking home by herself. It was an interesting night for sure, but memorable nonetheless.


Monday, January 1st, 2018

Day 57: New Years Recovery in Palmy North

Jesus I was a blob today. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again because it’s too true…I am too old to party. Last night was fun for sure but I literally laid in bed all day watching movies and sleeping. I left the room to get something to eat and resupply food, but the grocery store was closed for New Years so I just ate some Tikka Masala and came back to my room instead. I watched Close Encounters and went to sleep. Literally accomplished nothing. Pretty much a waste of a day but I needed the recovery. All I can say is that I am SO DAMN READY to get back into the trail groove. We’ve got about a week to Wellington and then we hit the South Island mountains. The holiday indulgence has been fun, but that’s not what I’m here for, nor does it create the best version of myself. If I’m being totally honest, I think the combination of not having Clea around, being on a kind of boring, repetitive section of the trail, perhaps missing friends and family, and too much food and booze with not enough physical activity over the holidays has me feeling a bit down and out of sync with myself. My stoke level has been unusually low so I am beyond ready to walk into the rest of 2018 with health and happiness and all of the goodness waiting for me on the Te Araroa!

The Volcanic Playground: Tongariro National Park

Sunday, December 17th, 2017

Day 42: Tongariro Alpine Crossing, 15km

Soda Springs chilling!

I am currently sitting by Soda Springs waterfall in my pink nano puff and purple Smartwool leggings, listening to the water pound onto the rocks, waiting for the clouds to lift for a peak at the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe, absorbing this other-wordly volcanic environment, and looking at my feet wondering if it’s even possible for them to get any more disgusting. While I feel completely relaxed and present in this exact beautiful moment, this morning was definitely a bit of a challenge. Unfortunately it seems that yesterday’s hike carrying a pack with 8 days worth of food was too overwhelming for Clea’s recovering Achilles. Tendons can be a real bitch and a half. Having recently come back from a serious knee injury, I am all too familiar with the difficult balancing act of not jumping back into activity too soon, but also not wanting to entirely sacrifice your sanity. Based on the level of discomfort she was feeling, and not wanting to cause further injury, Clea made the hard and heartbreaking but responsible decision to stay back and rest at our stealthy, hidden little forest camp. Especially with our Christmas paddle booked for Christmas Eve, this next section of trail requires longer mileage with quite a bit of vertical gain each day to finish on time. I offered to stay back for moral support and to help her make an alternative plan, but she insisted I continue. As I started up the trail, I felt pretty shitty leaving her behind for a multitude of reasons. Am I a shitty friend for carrying on with the journey? Should I have stayed to hang out and help her heal? Would I make things worse by being around constantly asking her if she’s ok? I also just miss my best friend and want to spend time with her. Am I selfish for not wanting to miss parts of the TA either? I don’t know if there is a right answer to any of these questions, and perhaps there are pieces of both sides that make sense. I just hope that she is able to fully heal her ankle and her soul to rejoin me later on. I am very grateful we have the Christmas paddle down the Whanganui coming up though! That is one experience we will get to share happily together no matter what. In the meantime I am going to finish the Tongariro area while she rests a little more. I know Clea really wanted to see these volcanoes, but the beauty of nature is that it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. These views will be here next week, next month, next decade waiting for her! And the weather will probably be clearer for her than it was for me and Matt today!

Ketetahi Trail in the fog
I spy Matt
Emerald Lake

Our ascent to North Crater was almost entirely in the fog. I could tell we were climbing a mountain based on the sweat dripping down my face, the more open tundra-like hills, and the occasional vista behind us, but we really couldn’t see more than one hundred feet in front of us until we reached Blue Lake. I kinda dig the blind fog life, it’s eerie, curious, and suspicious. The clouds broke as we walked down into the Mars-like Central Crater, offering incredible views of Red Crater and the mint-green Emerald Lakes. Clouds were rolling in and out pretty much all day so we never had a perfectly solid view, but they would clear enough to snap a mental picture. A strong scent of sulphur was present everywhere, a constant reminder that these craters are still active. The climb to the top of Red Crater was steep and sandy, but the red volcanic rock was something to be marveled at. We would have had a view of Mt Ngauruhoe too if it weren’t for the clouds, so I had to just imagine what Mt Doom looks like in person. But the clouds didn’t stop us, or the other thousands of people from checking out the Tongariro Crossing.

Approaching Red Crater
Red Crater

I have no doubt the breathtaking uniqueness of these natural features, combined with it being the setting for Lord of the Rings, explains why there was such an obscene number of tourists. On some level it feels weird to me that a part of nature has become so incredibly exploited for the sake of tourism. People pay for a shuttle to one trailhead, take all day to walk the 15 kilometers, snap a million selfies, and hop on a shuttle at the other end back to their accommodation. It’s another tricky situation that maybe doesn’t have one right answer. I know I’m biased because I happen to be an outdoorswoman who thrives on experiencing the wonders of nature as a result of my own manpower. I especially prefer immaculate wilderness settings that I don’t have to share because that’s where I find the most peace, the most beauty, the most simplicity. And I will go far out of my way to find those places. So when I’m in a pristine place but am surrounded by heaps of people who seem to have put in more money than actual effort for the view, I find myself feeling saddened almost. At the same time, can’t nature have the same empowering effect on someone else but just in a different way? Could taking a selfie with Emerald Lakes in the background provide the same level of fulfillment for someone as I find on say a remote, high alpine class 4 scramble? Do others not deserve those experiences just because they don’t have the same mindset or physical capabilities as me? Maybe I’m too sensitive because I have so much respect for the outdoors, a respect that is clearly not mirrored by the people leaving candy wrappers and shit-stained toilet paper on the side of the trail. Or maybe I’m just bitter because I’m too selfish in wanting solitude all the time. Maybe I’m overthinking the whole scenario entirely, but I can’t help it. Ok. Rant over. On that note, Matt and I did manage to find some solitude on the summit of Mt Tongariro!

Mt Tongariro
North Crater

Nobody else seemed to want to hike up into a mysterious, apocalyptic cloud covering black, deathly volcanic rock but it was fucking awesome. I can’t say I’ve ever climbed such dark, bulbous rock before. I especially loved seeing little yellow flowers growing out of random rock fragments, just a little hello from life! We half walked, half ran down from Tongariro into South Crater. The clouds were back in full force, covering the barren, empty landscape with a sense of impending doom. Flat, black and gray, sandy dirt was speckled with tufts of dull colored grass, sharp volcanic rock, and views of the rocky base of Mt Ngauruhoe.

Snack break conditions

Thunder rumbled through the fog as we sat down for a snack break, feeling like we’d just entered into another trippy dimension of gray atmosphere. We had intended to summit Ngauruhoe, but decided a sunrise attempt would be more enjoyable and have better potential for views given the current weather. So instead we meandered down to the waterfall, set up the tarp for rain protection, and have been straight chilling with nature all afternoon. In our attempt to be stealthy campers,

Hidden enough?
I think so
Tarp life

Matt decided to move his olive green tarp into a perfectly hidden divet where we ate some delicious dinner and finagled our sleeping bags into sleepable positions amongst all the weird lumps and bumps of plant life. Try to picture a massive valley beneath a huge, active volcano, full of black rock and dull grass, but also with a green waterfall, small stream, and distant mountain views. Then imagine rain falling under a thick, dark gray fog encompassing the valley as night creeps in. Then envision a tiny green tarp smeared into the landscape with two cozy bodies underneath just trying to stay dry and sleep well. That is my current reality and it’s fucking rad.


Monday, December 18th, 2017

Day 43: Mangatepopo Hut to Whakapaitu Hut, 21km

Hello Ruapehu!

Our idea to wake up early for a sunrise summit was squashed when I woke up at 3:30 to rain and heavy fog. I was disappointed but also not too upset about sleeping a little longer. We started to hear people walking to the waterfall around 8am. Our tarp was pretty well hidden, but I wasn’t in the mood to deal with the awkwardness of some tourist making confused eye contact with me in my sleeping bag. I will say though that it’s pretty impressive how little attention people pay to anything that’s not within immediate peripheral eyesight of the trail. Regardless, we swiftly packed away evidence of our overnight adventure and enjoyed a misty breakfast by the waterfall. We continued down the trail in the rain until arriving at the Mangatepopo Hut for some map planning and a snack. There was an incredibly kind French Canadian man there who gave us bananas, bagels, and chorizo! I don’t think people understand quite how special that is. The track to Whakapapa Village was rolling bushland with views of Mt Ruapehu sneaking through the clouds. We couldn’t resist the chance to load up on candy, cookies, and ice cream before continuing on to the Whakapapaiti Hut, our first section of the Round The Mountain track. This next track is another off the Te Araroa adventure that circumnavigates the massive, snow-capped Ruapehu volcano.

Boardwalking around Ruapehu

We got incredible views of the enormous, striking feature along the trail, and even better views right from the porch of the hut. The stoke level is very high to climb Ruapehu tomorrow, but I am also very sad that Clea isn’t here to share this with me. There was a group of teenagers at the hut, one who wants to work at a summer camp in the United States so we chatted about Cheley for awhile. I indulged in a very long stretch sesh on the porch with Ruapehu in the backdrop before devouring a cheesy, chorizo couscous and finishing off the giant bag of cookies I’d bought an earlier. I was a fool for thinking those cookies would last until tomorrow. I’m going to bed full and ready to get high on a volcano in the morning.

Whakapapaitu Hut


Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

Day 44: Mt Ruapehu, 29km

Happy Jenni!
Sick lines

Helllllll yesssssss today was mega!!! Mt Ruapehu felt like a dream…an epic, beautiful, unbelievable dream. We crushed some legitimate vert, played around on the top of a snow-capped volcano all day and looked at epic views of Mt Doom (Ngauruhoe) while doing so. Being back in a snowy mountain environment felt right. We exercised our route-finding skills to navigate between snowfields peppered with dead gnats making the snow look like chocolate chip ice cream, and sketchy scrambles, and I fucking shredded the gnar back to Whakapapa Ski Village. I’m talking world class glissading straight down the slopes of Ruapehu. I can’t wrap my brain around today being a real part of my New Zealand experience so far, I had so much damn fun and the climb/descent was so entirely unlike any part of the trail yet. My spirits are soaring, my stomach hurts from laughing, and my soul is smiling. I feel free. End of story.

Ngauruhoe from Ruapehu


Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

Day 45: Mangatepopo Hut to Mangaehuehu Hut, 32km

Morning walk vibes

I woke up to misty rain covering Mt Ruapehu to the east, and a full rainbow to the west. We enjoyed the magical view just long enough for the rain to stop so we could continue our journey along the Round the Mountain Track. Initially seeing the distances of the track, we assumed we could zip through the whole track in two-ish days. Perhaps I let the conditioning from the Te Araroa get to my head a little bit thinking I can just crush, as the terrain turned out to be very slow going regardless of your physical capabilities. Steep hills up and down around the base of Ruapehu were full of narrow, knee to shoulder high, slippery ruts that looked like someone had just scooped away the trail. Maneuvering around them required careful stepping, butt scooting, high lunges and the occasional grass pull. Between the washed out track and multiple river crossings we weren’t moving particularly fast, but the views of Ruapehu were astounding so I really couldn’t have cared less.

Different view of Ruapehu

The wind was chilly, the air was crisp, and I was happy. Being on day 5 of an 8 day stretch, our food supplies are running down to the minimum rations, which is always a bummer when you’re someone who loves to snack all day long. Just when I was wondering whether I would have enough food to avoid total hanger, we arrived at the Mangatururu Hut where a large group of older tramping club members were having a Christmas party. I’m still confused about the whole it being December thing considering the summer weather is not and sunny. But whatever. These incredibly kind trampers invited me and Matt inside to finish off the remains of their Christmas party meal! I was so stoked that I’m honestly not 100% sure exactly what I was eating, but I know there was bread, fudge, cherries and peanuts involved. A true Christmas miracle! We went on our merry way as they began their gift exchange.

Waterfall scramble
Hey little dude

The next stretch of trail included an awesome scramble up a pristine, rocky waterfall cascading over white and gray rocks with the southern side of Ruapehu in the backdrop. A few kilometers of the track had us pounding our knees down a paved road until we reconnected with the trail. Soft forest, swinging bridges and lots of wooden steps brought us to the Mangaehuehu Hut. I took a quick detour to check out the Blyhe Hut, but we definely made the right decision to walk a little farther. The view here is unbelievable. The group of teenagers from the other night is here again. I smashed my couscous I was so hungry and now I’m so ready to go to Dreamland.

View of Ruapehu from Mangataehuehu Hut


Thursday, December 21st, 2017

Day 46: Mangaehuehu Hut to Whakapapa Village, 48km

Volcanic desert

Weeeeee crushed today. I woke up to the sound of teenage voices excitedly preparing themselves for the day, and socialized with some hut-mates before hitting the trail. First destination: Rangipo Hut. Especially with a new understanding of how complexities in varying terrain affect pace, Matt and I have adopted a convenient, malleable approach to planning our days. Of course our food supply is the main factor determining timing between tracks, but within the food timeframe we really just go with the flow. We look at the map, talk about potential distances and camping areas for the day’s final destination, pick a meeting spot for our first break, and start walking. At the first spot we eat a snack, check the time, look at the map and talk about potential breaking points for the rest of the day. Then we pick a second break point, start walking, etc. until dinner time starts rolling around and we find a place to camp. It’s a pretty sweet, flexible system that also makes it easy for us to hike separately but stay together. The system’s success, however, is heavily dependent on there having been clear communication about said meeting point. Which leads me to today’s story. So Matt’s pace is about 1% quicker than mine. I don’t understand how he does it. Our legs are basically the same length, but I swear I literally can’t move any faster and he’s somehow always a few minutes ahead. The track from Mangaehuehu to Rangipo started through mellow forest before entering rolling, rocky desert dunes passing up and over ridges, through river valleys, and across lahar zones. Some rocks were light colored and round, reminiscent of the Rocky Mountains, while others were black and bulbous, or gray and smooth.

Rangipo Hut lunch vibes

The smell of sulphur lingered in the air as a constant reminder that you were, in fact, on a volcano. I met Matt at the Rangipo Hut which had a beautiful view of the mountains just south of us, and basked in the sun for awhile. We briefly talked about meeting at the Waihohonu Hut, then potentially stealth camping around Tama Lakes, or crushing all the way back to Whakapapa Village.

Hello Ngauruhoe
Scenic view of Ruapehu

The conversation was short though, and nothing was officially confirmed so I just assumed when Matt took off that we’d just meet at the Waihohonu Hut and make a plan from there. I walked along a casual trail in the open, hot, volcanic desert around the east side of Ruapehu, through black sand, rocky paths, and brown dirt. I knew Matt was about 10 minutes ahead of me, but was very confused when I arrived at the hut and he was nowhere to be found. I checked the old historic hut too and still, no Matt. I continued down the trail for another 30 minutes and found nobody. Given we hadn’t picked a final destination and we still had 16 kilometers until Whakapapa Village, I was not really in the mood to be alone trying to figure out where Matt went. I put my pack down on the side of the trail, left a note, and walked back to the Hut to make sure he wasn’t there. Nobody there had seen him, and they all kind of looked at me like I’m a freak because I was clearly pretty flustered about my missing friend. I kept walking towards Whakapapa, thinking surely Matt would stop to wait for me, especially with night just around the corner. But an hour went by, two hours went by, and no Matt. I’ll be honest, I was pissed. Did he stealth camp without me? Did I piss him off somehow? I walked 45 minutes up to Tama Lakes but no Matt. I considered just stealth camping by myself, but what if he’d gone all the way to Whakapapa Village and was waiting for me there? I considered every possibility before deciding to just send it back to town. My legs were feeling the 10 hours of nonstop walking when I arrived in Whakapapa and borrowed a phone. After being pretty pissed for a few hours, I found Matt at the Tussock Tavern drinking a beer and eating wedges. How can you be mad at someone for drinking a beer and eating food? You can’t. I was just glad to be reunited! I joined him for a few drinks as we let our tired legs relax and watched the sunset over Ngauruhoe. To make the night even better, turns out Clea was at the local holiday park!!! So we headed to the lodge and spent the rest of the evening catching up with her.

Sunset over Nguaruhoe


Friday, December 22nd, 2017


When rain pants are your only option because laundry

We woke up early considering we stealth camped on the couches at the holiday park and wanted to day hike up Ngauruhoe. Matt and I headed down to Ferguson’s Café for some brekky and coffee. While devouring a pastrami bagel and some banana cake, looking at the cloudy, kind of rainy weather, we decided that hanging out with Clea all day would be a WAY better use of a day. I hadn’t seen her in a week and was really missing my best friend! Plus I wanted to cheer her up given the ankle situation (more on that later). On our way back to the lodge I ran into Pete and Cass, our Vermont friends from the first week of the trail!! I swear over the last week I’ve run into just about everyone I’ve met on the trail so far. It’s awesome. Anyway I was stoked to tell Clea we get to hang out all day! We all took a fat nap in the morning, made lunch, did laundry, and awkwardly tried to steer clear of the cleaning people. Tussock Tavern opened promptly at 3pm, so we were there for a beer promptly at 3pm. We sat on the porch looking at Ngauruhoe, talking about life, laughing, eating fried food, drinking beer, and cursing the sandflies straight into the evening. While in line for a drink, I ran into the people I had been freaking out to at the hut yesterday! They were very pleased to see I had made it safely back and was no longer so scary pissed. Deb, Graham, and Mark joined us for more beers and amazing conversation. I got to pick their brain about New Zealand skiing too so that was dope. Next thing we knew it was 10pm! How does that even happen?? Our new friends were also staying at the holiday park so we all walked back together and hung out in the kitchen making pizza. After 7 hours of beer drinking we were definitely a little drunk, which probably explains how we got such an awesome band started. Clea, Matt and I were playing the bottle flute, Mark got a doorknob beat going, and Deb slapped metal spoons like a pro. Our shenanigans continued up until 11:30 when our old asses were finally ready for bed so we packed day packs for tomorrow’s early hike and passed the fack out. Today really turned out to be a hilarious, super chill day in Whakapapa.


Saturday, December 23rd, 2017

Day 48: Whakapapa Village to Taumarunui, 30km


Early morning boardwalking
Top of Mt Doom!









Despite having drank beer for basically all of yesterday, we wanted to beat the massive crowd of tourists we knew would inevitably show up so Matt and I forced ourselves to wake up at 3:30 for a dawn patrol mission to the summit of Ngauruhoe. I was pretty determined to get up there since weather had deterred us the week before. We passed only a handful of people on our way up the steep, scree-filled, sandy, rocky slopes of Ngauruhoe before topping out at the bowl of Mt Doom. The volcanic crater up there is so crazy, you can see giant red boulders falling all around the rim. There still wasn’t much of a view because of clouds, but I was so impressed by the volcano itself that I didn’t care. The descent was a fun scree run past herds of tourists that had appeared while we were enjoying Ngauruhoe to ourselves. Even without our packs I felt like we still stood out. First of all, our clothes are permanently dirty at this point no matter how many times we wash them. Secondly we move about 5 times faster than everyone else, especially without our packs. To be honest though I enjoy being different. The 15 kilometers of basic track back to Clea in Whakapapa was pretty brutal as the lack of sleep started to kick in.

It’s me!
Looking down from the summit of Ngauruhoe

We showed up hungry as fuck after 9 hours of hiking, so naturally went directly to the Chateau for some more spicy wedges with sweet chili sauce. I swear I am such a fat ass these days it’s disgusting. We followed up our wedges with some ice cream before hitching a ride back to Taumarunui. We had a little bit of trouble finding a ride, despite Clea’s ankle boot being an obvious reason to need a lift. Matt managed to find these two incredibly kind American women in a camper van who offered to drive us all the way to Taumarunui despite it being 30 minutes in the opposite direction. We did some last minute Christmas shopping before checking into Kelly’s Motel. We utilized our perfectly sized bedroom with a full bath and kitchen to prepare for the upcoming Christmas paddle. We bought enough food for a small army at New World, knowing we would eat all of it in pure gluttony. The rest of the evening was spent packing our waterproof bins, eating candy, wrapping presents, drinking Scrumpy’s Cider, listening to Christmas music, and decorating Clea’s boot with glitter glue, flowers, and butterflies. The holiday spirit was alive!

Panorama for ya!

Steady Mobbing: Taupo to Tongariro

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

Day 37: Taupo to Pureora Forest

So far hitching a ride has been incredibly simple and quick, but getting out of Taupo this morning was another story. I’ll admit, we were probably more frustrated than we should have been having to wait for almost 2 hours before someone picked us up, but we’ve been so spoiled! I’ll remember not to take people’s kindness for granted in the future. Fortunately a few kind souls including a young Kiwi guy, an adorable Kiwi couple Robin and Lindsey, a kind of awkward but very sweet middle-aged woman, and Peter the truck driver. I’ve been wanting to get a ride from a semi since I got here and today my dream came true! Apparently Peter’s truck was technically a trailer-truck, not a semi, but still it was big and red and I was so stoked climbing up into the super high seats. Totally worth the wait. We arrived at the start of the Timber Trail around 2pm, and honestly were feeling pretty exhausted from staying up super late soaking in hot springs and eating stir fry. The weather was absolutely PERFECT today too, warm temps, light breeze, cool shade. We were faced with a very serious, very intense, very difficult decision: start a longer, 20 kilometer trek to the Bog Inn Hut that would get us to camp pretty late, or take a fat nap in the amazing sun, eat candy and casually stroll 8 kilometers to a random shelter. We most definitely chose the latter. We got to the shelter in a little over an hour, ate dinner and chilled out in preparation for a super long day tomorrow. Today kind of felt like another rest day, but at least we are back on the Te Araroa! The last week was kind of a crazy, exciting, random adventure being off trail and doing our own thing. The only struggle with going so far off route is that commuting in between sections can suck up a significant chunk of hiking time, especially when you are relying on the kindness of strangers for transportation. I am looking forward to crushing some high mileage over the next few days and getting back into the TA groove. AND Clea is meeting us in Taumarunui on Friday! It’s pretty weird and awesome that I’ve just been roaming around New Zealand with this dude I met randomly on the trail. Honestly it’s worked out pretty fucking well when you consider how bad things could have gone spending 24 hours a day for 9 days straight with a total stranger. But Matt and I get along really well, move about the same pace, have compatible backpacking styles, share similar mindsets, and are both weird. I’m probably the weirder one but anyone who can tolerate me and not think I’m a total freak is definitely an oddball. So yeah! Life is good, stoked to be back on the TA and super stoked to have Clea back in a few days.


Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

Day 38: Timber Trail to No. 11 Camp, 48 kilometers

Summit of Mt Pureora
Taste of the Timber Trail

Dayuuuummmm we grinded out almost 50 kilometers today on the Timber Trail, which honestly was a pretty appropriate distance considering the bike trail was basically flat the whole way, and my legs are becoming noticeably stronger. The balls of my feet eventually started to ache, along with my shins and hips, courtesy of pounding level ground for 9 hours straight. I was reminded of 90 Mile Beach at times, but cruising through the forest today was perfect for headphones and I thoroughly enjoyed the grind. After a few low key days, Matt and I both sent it hard this morning. We had a little bit of uphill to the mysteriously cloudy summit of Pureora Mountain before beginning the windy, level path. My legs were dying to move and the next thing I knew we were both running down the hills and into the flats, packs and all. As annoying as 30 pounds bouncing on your shoulders might be, I felt like a god damn machine mobbing down the path at a healthy pace, jamming to some sick EDM and shitty rap. After about 5 hours and 28 kilometers of heavy crushing, we pulled over at the Piropiro Campsite for an indulgent lunch. When you start eating the same thing everyday, eventually you want to start branching out. The problem is that it’s easy to go overboard, which is how Matt wound up eating 10 pounds of burrito material, and I devoured a garlic naan wrapped with pumpkin kumara hummus, avocado, cucumber, cheese, apple and pepperoni salami. I think maybe the overload of food was responsible for what turned into a 2 hour lunch break, but whatever it was so good. Another 20 kilometers later we got to the 11 Camp shelter and guess what we did? We ate again! Backcountry stir fry is fire.


The bright side is that when you’re walking all day you can kind of eat whatever you want without consequence, and the more you eat, the lighter your pack becomes. We also have another 50km day coming up tomorrow so it’s really a win win for everybody. Stretching was absolutely essential for a full recovery of the flat grind, and I’m ready to hit it hard again tomorrow.


Thursday, December 14th, 2017

Day 39: No. 11 Camp to Taumarunui, 50km

Huge swinging bridge

I cherish mornings like today’s when you can make coffee and eat brekky without removing yourself from your sleeping bag. Fucking clutch dude. A satisfactorily lazy start to preface our 50 kilometer journey on a flat, boring road all the day to Taumarunui. Is there much else to say about the walk besides it was very long? Uhhh not really to be honest. I did get a quick view of the snowy peaks of the Tongariro Forest for a second and felt my being fill with joy, but that was probably the most exciting moment of the day. I don’t think I’ve realized how much I actually miss the mountains until I felt such unbelievably high stoke and started smiling like a fucking fat kid getting a second piece of chocolate cake. We got ourselves a nice little cabin at the Taumaurunui Holiday Park, ate a tasty meal, and socialized with some other TA hikers. Boom. End of story.


Friday, December 15th, 2017

Day 40: Taumarunui to 42 Traverse, ADMIN DAY!

I wish I could write a super exciting story about today considering yesterday’s uneventfulness, but honestly we just took care of business until a very special thing happened. I actually managed to sleep in before we cooked a mean brunch of coffee, garden fresh spices with eggs, brown sugar bacon, toast, and fruit. We leisurely hitched our way into town around noon, did some mapping for the Tongiriro stretch, booked our canoes and bikes for the upcoming Whanganui River section, and stocked up on fuel. We wound up running into a bunch of our trail family from earlier on too! We had all parted ways a few weeks ago to do our own thing from Auckland, but somehow managed to be on the same corner at the same time this afternoon for a short hello. Matt and I cruised to New World to resupply food, and immediately left due to poor bulk selections. As we were walking to the bulk specialty store, the best thing ever happened. Are you ready for it? Can you even handle how exciting this next event was? CLEA CAME BACK!!! I spotted her blue t-shirt from afar as we literally ran into each other’s arms. I missed her so very much and now here we were, reunited at last!!!! YAYYYY!!!! The gang is finally back together! We were all feeling super stoked and super happy as we walked into the bulk store and maybe went a little overboard on food. I swear it’s so hard to not buy too much when you’re stocking up for 8 whole days in the wilderness! Your pack is going to be heavy as shit no matter what, but that’s just the price you pay for venturing off into a dope forest to climb volcanoes for a week. We easily hitched a ride to our trailhead and walked for about an hour before finding a flat spot to set up camp for the night. Everything just feels right. I’m with Clea again (her ankle is healed and she is happy), Matt has become a super awesome addition to our adventure (he somehow still wants to stick around even after 2 weeks of basically living with me), and we have the next 2 weeks totally planned to be an epic Christmas journey back cruising on the TA. Hellllllll yeah baby!


Saturday, December 16th, 2017

Day 41: 42 Traverse to Tongariro Forest, 38km

I spy snowy summits!

Apparently we walked another 38-40ish kilometers today?? I seriously must be getting stronger, at least endurance wise, because I’m really not even tired. I could have kept on walking but we arrived at our destination so there was no need. Turns out I also have two big, annoying blisters on each heel from all the flats. I had a pretty awesomely gross time popping them later at our campsite. The 42 Traverse was a super overgrown, incredibly rutted out 4WD track that felt like walking through a giant green toothbrush. We finally popped out onto a road that would have been just another road if it weren’t for the amazing, stoke-raising views of Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngauruhoe, and Mt Ruepehu. We have arrived in the land of mountains and I feel so happy!!! The actual summits of these massive volcanoes were hiding in the clouds, presenting themselves as powerful, mysterious beasts begging us to come and play.

Ruapehu coming into view!

The shelter we initially planned to camp at was too far, so we bushwhacked our way off trail until we found a relatively flattish area to stealth camp. I love when we become true people of the bush. It seems that the majority of people around Tongariro are of the tourist variety, we tend to get some weird looks when we’re mobbing up to a trailhead all dirty and weathered but I am all about it. I ate plenty of food and will be sleeping very comfortably tonight under this tarp with the white noise of mosquitoes and a nearby river.


No Trail, No Problem: Coromandel Peninsula & Kaimai-Mamaku Forest

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

Day 28: Crosbie’s Hut, 19km

Sunset over the Coromandel Range from Crosbies Hut

Whew! I can’t even begin to tell you how much better I feel being back on the trail. My spirit is calmer, my soul is full, my heart is happy. I have been sitting on the deck outside of Crosbie’s Hut watching the sunset cast a pink and purple hue over the Coromandel Range as the clouds wisp up the valley and over the peaks in the distance, allowing the quiet beauty of the mountains to soothe my bones. After spending two busy, noisy, awesome days in the city I felt myself starting to wind up inside. It’s no secret that the wilderness has a powerful therapeutic effect on me, but I literally experienced the stark difference in scenery melt away any anxieties or tightness I may have picked up in Auckland. It’s truly a magical phenomenon. The only thing on my mind besides the cool breeze, bright stars and almost full moon is my Clea. Turns out her Achilles is actually slightly damaged and needs a week or so to heal and strengthen to prevent further injury. With so much trail still ahead of us, she decided to trust the doctor’s word and stay in Auckland for a few days while I continued hiking. On the bright side, the next section of the Te Araroa between Auckland and Hamilton is notoriously known for being a long, boring road walk. Also Auckland turned out to be a pretty sweet city, so the timing and location for a rest week is pretty stellar. That’s definitely not to say that either of us are stoked about splitting up. I can only imagine how challenging and frustrating the situation must be for her, and I wish I knew how to fix it. I will say that Clea’s positivity, gracefulness, and ability to look at the bigger picture is beyond impressive. I am seriously inspired by her because I know I would be a complete train wreck and she is just the opposite. I am also pretty bummed to be without my adventure buddy and best friend. The plan is to meet back up in a week or so and see how her ankle holds up. Fingers crossed that she heals quickly so we can be reunited!!! Part of me definitely feels almost guilty for leaving her alone in the city and continuing on. At the same time, I believe we understand and support each other enough that she wants me to keep going, and I know she will be able to hold her own for a couple of days. However you look at it the situation blows, but everything happens for a reason. Life has a plan. Our American friend Matt had stayed with us in Auckland all weekend and so we decided to team up to tackle the next stretch of trail. Rather than walk 200 kilometers on a road to Hamilton, we chose to ditch the TA for a week and head up to the Coromandel Peninsula. Sure, it’s not actually part of the TA, but I would much rather hike just as far in an epic spot than hike on a road. We are definitely not the only ones either to come up with an alternative to this section.

Lunch views of the Coromandel Forest

This morning after a delicious egg and toast brekky, Mike dropped Clea off at her hostel and drove me and Matt towards Thames. I was curious to see if hitch-hiking with a dude would be more difficult, but I guess Matt is a pretty chill normal looking guy so we got rides just as quickly. I finally got a ride in a giant camper van too! Stoked about that. We resupplied at Pak ‘N Save then headed up to the Karaka Trailhead to begin our journey to my first New Zealand hut. The wide, muddy trail blazed through a forest for maybe 10 kilometers before popping us out at the hut, perched in a clearing with an absolutely spectacular view. With Table Mountain to our right, more of the Coromandel Range ahead, ocean views, and Hot Water Beach off in the distance, this is a for sure contender for best view so far. We’re sharing the hut with two other groups, but sleeping outside on the porch because the night sky is too beautiful to pass up.


Monday, December 4th, 2017

Day 29: Crosbies Hut to the Pinnacles, 34.5km

I woke up like this

Holy moly I am POOPED!!! Today was fucking RAD! WE CRUSHED! Probably my favorite day on the trail to date for a number of reasons. First of all, we escaped the Green Tunnel, as Matt would say. The whole entire 10 hour day was actually on a track, like no road walking with the exception of an hour on a rough 4WD path at the very end. And not just a plain, typical, green Northland Bush track either, but a variety of exciting terrain including expansive views, open air, significant ups and downs, huge mossy stairs, steep climbable roots, scrambly rock, slippery mud, and massive ruts to maneuver around. We got a little confused coming from Crosbies Hut because all of the trail maps are essentially useless without a scale, proper trail names, intersections, road names, full tracks, or even proper orientation. And it’s definitely possible that we intentionally got confused so that we could meander into the Pinnacles area which we had heard might be closed for storm damage. Typically I’m not one to disregard a closed trail sign, but technically speaking that was our only way to the other side. We just lucked out that the Pinnacles happened to be fucking amazing. The giant steps and steep slopes leading up to the Pinnacles Hut actually got my blood PUMPING and the sweat DRIPPING as I crushed to some Top 40, enjoying the open views along the way. Quite a change from the enclosed, dense forests we’ve been used to. I also couldn’t help but wonder what a pain in the ass it must have been to carve such massive steps out of these rocks. Thanks to that trail crew!

360 views from the summit

More familiar terrain!

I felt like a ninja as we explored the Pinnacles Hut, which turned out to be an enormous complex that can house up to 80 people during peak season. I’m really bad at breaking the rules, I get way too anxious about getting caught, but we couldn’t pass up the chance to drop packs and climb up to the summit of the Pinnacles. SO WORTH IT. The 20 minute climb ascended a shitload of stairs and finished with an actual mini scramble to the protruding rocks at the top. The view was unreal. For the first time since coming to New Zealand, I actually felt the freedom, power and exposure of a true summit. I could see coastline, beach and ocean in both directions with volcanic rock plugs, layered mountains, and undulating forest in between.


As we sat on the top soaking up every ounce of the exposure and eating the most delicious cheese and crackers, we heard voices. Matt had passed two rangers earlier, so I assumed it was probably them coming to tell us to leave. My anti-criminal mind attacked so we started descending. Matt, on the other hand, apparently loves the thrill of breaking the rules. He found us a stealthy spot to hide and let the rangers pass by. Well, they weren’t rangers after all but other hikers. And not just any hikers, but two dudes I had met on the trail literally over 2 weeks ago! And here we all were together on a closed trail on the Coromandel Peninsula nowhere near the Te Araroa. We marveled in the moment, invited them to join our Christmas paddle down the Whanganui, and continued our we descent. I thought we were in the clear until I saw the two tank-topped rangers waiting for us at the trailhead. Busted!!! I couldn’t tell at first if the dude was mad, worried, about to put me on New Zealand DOC most wanted list, or chillin’ when he asked to see my backcountry hut pass. I hesitantly gave him my card before he started going on about how this is a closed part of the trail and there is nobody on duty here and what are we doing here etc. I gave a spiel that wasn’t entirely fabricated about the maps lacking information and getting confused. More than really being mad, he seemed like he wanted to make sure we knew how to get out, and to make sure we paid if we’d be sleeping in the forest (which apparently is a thing, there’s no information on anything here). After we gave him $20, introduced ourselves as experienced backcountry folk who literally work with children in the outdoors, and made it clear we knew how to handle remote situations, he started to lighten up and give us excessive beta on how to get back to the road. I think he was more concerned with our survival than anything else. So we said goodbye and set out down the valley. After crossing the river, the trail literally went straight up the ridge until we connected with the main road. We followed the road until we saw some grass by the river and finally set up camp around 8:15. Talk about a long day of hiking! The elevation gain and giant steps had my legs feeling tight like a tiger. All I could manage was to set up camp and eat dinner. The only problem with river campsites is that there tends to be heaps of bugs. There were SO MANY GNATS!!! I opened my tent for 2 seconds to get inside and probably 100 got in before I could zip it up. I spent the next 15 minutes luring the trespassers towards my headlamp before squishing them to death, while Matt closed my fly for me to avoid further intrusion. I had to fall asleep with my sleeping bag and arm over my ears to drown out the pitter-patter, rain-like sound of thousands of gnats flying around between my tent and fly. Fortunately I was so tired and so happy though that I fell right into a deep slumber.


Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Day 30: Hahei, 27km

Cathedral Cove

You know, I definitely believe in magic sometimes. So I thought maybe, just maybe by magic, all of the gnats would have just disappeared by the morning. Well folks, magic isn’t real. It’s all a cheap scam where you’re filled with false hope and wake up with thousands of bugs in your face. Ok I’m probably being a little dramatic but for real the gnats were going at it this morning so I packed up maybe a little faster than usual. Not really having a set plan of any kind, we set off down the road towards highway 25, passing a few orchards along the way. I realize that the whole point of coming to the Coromandel Peninsula was to skip out on road walking, but Hahei was only 11 kilometers away. When you’re a hiker person used to walking 30 kilometers a day, you kind of feel like walking just for mileage, especially when it’s not even noon yet. So we cruised along the road for about an hour until the heat picked up and the sound of Cathedral Cove was calling us. Is it wrong that I feel lazy or like a cheater for hitching a ride 5 kilometers up the road?? Most normal people probably wouldn’t think twice but when was the last time anyone referred to me as a “normal” person? And you know what, I’m damn glad we got a ride because the rest of the day timed itself absolutely perfectly.

Unreal rocks at Cathedral Cove. We swam to the island behind!

I couldn’t resist a mango smoothie at the local dairy, which besides being a cool, delicious, treat, directed us towards an employee who offered to store our bags while we explored Cathedral Cove. The whole town of Hahei is super touristy, full of camper vans, families and groups of young people. The beautiful 45 minute walk down a gravel path by the coast was trafficked by flip-flops and sundresses on their way to take Instagram photos on the beach to document their BEST VACAY EVER TO NEW ZEALAND OMG!!! But I can see why. Cathedral Cove is mindblowingly gorgeous with a beach tucked into a perfect cove of some white rock (I wish I were a geologist). I’m assuming its name comes from the giant, Gothic-like, pointed-arched rock formation creating a natural walkway between two beaches that creates a pristine window-frame view of the vegetation behind. Massive, solitary rocks stand free in the water with rocky, green islands off in the distance. If you couldn’t tell, I’m not exactly the type to lay on the beach and take pictures of my sunkissed thighs with an ocean backdrop. My skort tan is too heinous for that anyway. So Matt and I stripped to our undies and flew into the waves like a seagull stealing a hot dog straight out of the bun. Next thing I knew we were swimming passed the break, out into the open water towards an island that Matt nicely pointed out was “much further than you think”. Ok, challenge accepted. Let’s not forget either that water is not exactly my element. I’d rather be traversing a 2 foot ledge with a thousand feet of exposure on either side than swimming across the wide open water. I know how to swim and the water is refreshing AF, but something about being one tiny person floating over a GIANT ENORMOUS MYSTERIOUS black hole of water kind of freaks me out. But I wanted to get to that island, so I pushed my fear aside and touched land about an hour later. A few tour boats floated by and asked if we were ok or wanted a ride. I got the impression nobody really swims outside of the immediate beach area. Like hmm do you think I would be all the way the fuck out here exploring my own private island if I wanted a ride back to shore? I hope that didn’t sound snooty, I truly appreciate everyone’s concern I just think it’s hilarious how much us hikers tend to stick out in an otherwise tourist environment.

Views into the bay

Sadly we did have to leave our personal paradise to swim back to shore. And shit am I glad we left when we did otherwise all of our most important belongings like wallet/passport/license/phone would have been swept out to sea. I kid you not, I saw one of Matt’s tevas being carried away the second we stepped out of the water. Our dry bag was almost underwater (but dry inside!!!) and my clothes and hat were in severe danger of drowning. The only casualty was Matt’s gray shirt, but had we been a minute later we’d have had a problem. Then we managed to get back to the shop where are bags were stored just as they were closing. Unfortunately freedom camping in Tourist Town seemed like a bad idea, so we sucked it up and tented up at the Hahei Resort for the night. I seriously can’t get over how perfectly things seem to work out on this trip. Maybe New Zealand is magical after all.


Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

Day 31: Hahei to Waihi, 14km

The Little Merman on Hot Water Beach

Today was weird. Life is weird. Being off of the Te Araroa, not having a trail to follow is weird. People probably think the fact that we’re trying to walk all day every day is weird. And being weird is fucking awesome and exciting and I love it. The only kind of weird I’m not super into is when my surgery knee starts acting up and feeling funky, which has been happening for the last couple of days. Soooo I spent the first few hours of the morning emailing my surgeon to calm my mind, webmd-ing pinching knee pain, and using my Orb to roll out what I concluded is most likely an IT band issue. There was hardly a cloud in the sky as we cruised the 8 kilometers from Hahei to Hot Water Beach. HWB is apparently a dope spot where around low tide you can dig a hole in the sand to essentially build your own natural hot spring. We dropped packs and explored to the end of the beach where somebody had the dopest vacation home setup ever. Upon returning to our packs, I really had no desire to dig a hole and sit in hot water with the sun blazing down. So instead I beach bummed pretty hard. For all the shit I talk about lazy tourists doing nothing on a pretty beach, that’s essentially what I did for two hours. I broke up my sunbathing with a few topless dips in the ocean. I am feeling so much more comfortable in the water these days it’s amazing!!! Eventually I started to feel useless so I carefully dried off, making sure not to coat my body in a layer of sand before reapplying sunscreen and getting dressed. I’m basically a professional sand minimalist at this point, and left Hot Water Beach around 2pm happy and dry with just a little bit of salt.

I like your style New Zealand

Hitch-hiking to Waihi was ridiculously easy, and highly entertaining. As soon as I stuck my thumb out a van pulled over and gave us a ride to the highway. Within 2 minutes a couple from Arizona picked us up. We chatted about nannies and New Zealand until we hopped out at the junction. Before the Arizonians could even pull away, my thumb had hitched us another ride, which happened to be two young, kind of drunk, male Kiwis. They took us on a detour to check out the surf on Whangamata Beach which was dope. Also I bet however you are pronouncing Whangamata in your head is completely wrong in every way. Google it if you really want to know! After these two dudes dropped us off we actually had to walk for almost 20 minutes until our next ride scooped us up. Dean and his adorable pup Freedom live on a dairy farm off the main road, but delivered me and Matt all the way to the information center in Waihi. We stopped at the information center in search of beta regarding the North-South Track in the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest. The woman on duty was probably the most helpful Kiwi I have encountered yet. She directed us to a store for resupply, let us drop our packs, and even offered to drive us to the trailhead. At this point it was already like 5pm, we weren’t totally informed on the upcoming 82 kilometer track, didn’t know how many days worth of food we needed, didn’t know how late we’d be getting to the campsite, etc. And perhaps were feeling a bit over it. Unlike the TA which has multiple connected tracks, the Coromandel Peninsula is mostly tourist traps spread out along roads with very limited camping options. So we turned around, grabbed our packs, and walked into the hotel across the street. The hotel didn’t really have a reception area, but was connected to a bar with a bunch of older people hanging out looking at us kind of weirdly. Here we are, dirty, confused, and carrying backpacks, asking where the hotel office is.

A shower for your convenience

Apparently the hotel office is some guy at the bar who, without conversation,  got up and proceeded to unlock a door down the hall with a broken #5 in the middle. We were kind of confused like was he offering us the room? How much does it cost? Do we pay him? We kind of just went with it and wound up in this super hot, little room with two twin beds and a random shower in the corner. I guess everybody should have a shower in their room to keep things exciting? I can’t explain it. Anyway, we politely utilized the weird shower before stocking up on groceries for our upcoming forest adventure. After sitting in our hot room getting sucked into all the sad news stories about current events in the United States involving our pathetic excuse for a president, I felt the urge to find an outside bar for some fresh air and a beer. We found a restaurant, splurged on a fried seafood platter, drank a coldy, and swapped stories about our families mostly. We arrived back to our hotel bar where a few locals were still sitting around, and schemed a general route for getting after it tomorrow. Never in a million years would I have imagined myself in a small town in New Zealand with some dude I met not even a week ago (who fortunately happens to be a rad human), not even on the TA, but isn’t the adventure the whole point? The only thing I’d change is for Clea to be here, laughing at the weirdness with me. Soon enough!


Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Day 32: Kaimai-Mamaku Forest to Waitawheta Hut, 27km

Cool river trails on the Karangahake

To say we woke up promptly, packed up efficiently, and hit the trail at an early hour would be a complete lie. In reality, I took my time getting out of bed, ate basically 3 breakfasts, iced my knee, Facetimed my mom and bugged Matt for awhile. We stopped by the pharmacy to pick up some fish oil and a knee brace before beginning our hitch to Karangahake. I’ve been so spoiled with easy rides recently that it felt weird to actually spend 30 minutes trying to hitch just a few kilometers down the road. Too many old people driving from Waihi apparently. We accidentally disembarked from our ride too early, but fortunately there was a gravel path by the river to follow to the start of the North-South Forest Track from Karangahake Gorge. The whole Kaimai-Mamaku Forest is full of mining history with old mining caves and railroad tracks. We explored one of the shafts until I started feeling pretty freaky and claustrophobic in the narrow, pitch-black tunnel with too many twists and turns. I don’t understand how anyone could actually work in there! After the mines, the trail meandered flatly along the Waitawheta River, passing by interesting rock and more caves. When we reached the river crossing, the sun was blazing hot and walking up the river seemed like a much better idea. Yippee for adventure! We slowly waded upstream for awhile, drenching ourselves in nipple-deep water at points. One may call it unnecessary wetness but I found the dip justifiably refreshing. We rejoined the trail and started our first steep ascent of the day towards the Dalys Clearing Hut. The most extraordinary thing we saw walking along the mellow, bush path was a group of what seemed to be about 5 million young teenagers and chaperones camping out at the hut. Apparently a school trip was in action so we swiftly moved along from all that chaos. It’s funny how Matt and I both work with teenagers in the outdoors, but when we’re not at work, teenagers in the outdoors is about the last thing I want anything to do with. We descended slippery steps to the Waitawheta Tramway Track which was another flat, mellow trail by the river passing by remnants of the old bush tramway. The Waitawheta Valley is absolutely gorgeous with its wide river, large rocks, numerous swinging bridges, and tall, vegetated valley walls. I laughed to myself as I watched Matt walking through a straight, flat corridor of greenery that literally could be the dictionary photo for the term “The Green Tunnel”.

The Green Tunnel
River crossings

The Waitawheta Hut sits tucked away in the peaceful valley. We also happened to be the only ones there which was fucking amazing. It’s been pretty rare having a campsite to yourself so we reveled in the tranquility and solitude. Just as we thought we were truly alone settling in for a night’s sleep on the porch, I spotted a pair of beady little eyes creeping up the stairs. At first I thought it must be a cat, but low and behold it was a possum! I was a bit shocked. I mean I’ve heard about the possums and seen about 100 dead ones stiffly hanging from the traps, but I’ve never seen a living, breathing wild possum. They look just like a GIANT rat, so gross and creepy. We scared it off but another one appeared on the other side. I don’t really know too much about possums…do they bite? Are they mean? Aggressive? Diseased? Will they eat my food, my gear, or me? I wasn’t interested in finding out, and conveniently there was this hut thing right there so we moved inside and fell asleep to the lovely sound of wild possum activity on the patio.


Friday, December 8th, 2017

Day 33: Waitawheta Hut to Kauritatahi Hut, 30km

A perfect morning at the Waitawheta Hut

What a glorious, fantastic, liberating day in the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest. We successfully escaped any overnight possum attack, and happily enjoyed a morning of rare solitude and light rain before hitting the track. Not only were we alone this morning, we also did not pass a single human soul all day. And now just the two of us are at the Kauritatahi Hut, enjoying the miraculous view down the valley, cooking a monstrous dinner, and feeling how deeply special a day to yourselves truly is. Today was my first full, real day of solitude here, if you count being with your partner as solitude. I feel small and yet powerful when I think about being one of the only two people climbing up and down the steep, rooty, rocky slopes of these round, forested peaks. I don’t think any section of today’s hike was flat. New Zealand has a unique style of building trails: straight up and straight down, no switchbacks. If there’s a steep rock face in the trail, just build a ladder and call it good. I appreciate the directness, certainly keeps the track exciting and will for sure give you a nice ass if you hike enough. The second half of trail today kept popping us out into an open, grassy clearing with exceptional views of the bushy ridgeline we were following with coastline on one side and rolling countryside on the other. I even saw what looked like an alpine lake down below too, another first of this trip. My knee has been giving me grief recently which can for sure start to stress me out and put me in my head. I also really miss Clea and have a few other things continuing to infiltrate my mind space the last couple of days.

Magical mountains

Alpine lake?
One solution to a steep slope
I spy Matt!

So when I turned around and saw a vast, mountainous vista to remind me of where I was, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude and the importance of staying present. I truly believe that the mountains have healing abilities. If you respect their existence, allow their might to humble you, and recognize their power as greater than your own, the mountains will fuel you. They will give you the strength, the confidence, and the health that you need if you know where to look. Sometimes, on days like today, I quite literally stop for a moment, take a deep breath and ask the hills for what I need.




Sure, I probably looked like a weird hippie talking to myself in a field, but I literally don’t give two shits about what I look like. I continued my walk feeling recentered, happy, and strong. A few hours later we started up the last steep push to our hut. My knee was being annoying, I started getting really hangry, and I could feel my energy tightening up. Recognizing my oncoming bad vibe, I told Matt to cruise up without me while I stopped for a snack. Not long after I started the steep climb, I saw Matt had stopped to wait for me, we came to a view of the mountains covered in broccoli trees, and I remembered my moment from earlier. Within minutes I felt immensely lighter and a smile returned just in time to arrive at the quaint, cozy, absolutely peaceful in every way Kauritatahi Hut. As I’ve written this, the view has been replaced by gray clouds so now we’re in an awesome, ominous, impending storm on the top of a mountain. It hasn’t really rained in weeks either so I know it’s coming. Matt has an actual fire going, which is yet another first here, and is cooking up some beans, rice, and quinoa. We’re about to grub so unbelievably hard. There’s really, truly, quite positively no place I’d rather be.

Good eats
Change of scenery in 30 minutes!

















Saturday, December 9th, 2017

Day 34: Kauritatahi Hut to Mangamuka Hut, 37km

Hut life has me feeling like a million bucks

If you’ve read my first blog post before I even started walking the Te Araroa, you should remember my eager anticipation to experience a genuinely free, present mind space. I think today I truly, deeply tapped into that freedom. I am amazed where my mind can go when I spend an entire day completely detached from anyone or anything. A few other groups of people were on the trail, and I knew Matt was ahead of me the whole time, but I felt completely solitary. Compared to super steep, slick tracks in recent days, the trail itself today required minimal attention as the relatively level ground rolled up and down and flat along rivers and streams in thick, green vegetation. This simple, mindless cruiser trail through the forest combined with no conversation, no headphones, and no sounds besides the rivers, streams, birds, wind and rain left me entirely in my uninterrupted thoughts. The time flew by as each physical step was matched by a deeper step into the basement of my brain I almost didn’t know existed. I mean sure, I’ve had deep thoughts before, we all have, but I’ve never had so much time and energy to embrace a thought and let it run rampant. An hour long, torrential afternoon downpour added an extra refreshing element to the day too!

Chilling atop Waire Falls

We stopped at Waire Falls around 4 and perched ourselves on a rock atop the multi-hundred foot waterfalls, feeling crazy centered and happy. We still had another 4 hours of solo trekking through overgrown bushes, navigating around waist deep mud until we arrived at the quaint Mangamuka Hut settled way back in the forest. Apparently the solitude and silence of a day in the green tunnel had Matt’s brain working all day too. Sure we were exhausted from mobbing 37 kilometers, but our brains were wiped as we guzzled some noodles just before dark. We chilled by another fire, courtesy of Matt, letting the gravity of the day settle into our bones until sleep took over.


Sunday, December 10th, 2017

Day 35: Mangamuka Hut to Taupo, 16km

I have to admit, I really enjoy taking the mornings super slow and soaking up some peacefulness in the crisp morning air before heading out. I’m all for efficient starts when called for, such as dawn patrol missions for summit attempts, but when you know you’re about to crush miles through the bush, there’s literally no reason not to leisurely awaken your mind, body and soul. The rest of the North-South track consisted of more leveled adventure walking through thick vegetation, trying not to eat shit or choke yourself on the vines, ducking under and rolling over huge fallen trees, and laughably cursing the stinging grass nipping at your ankles. After a few solid days in the same forest, I really started to understand the flow of the track, knowing where to look for the next turn, where to put my feet, what character to look for in different parts of the trail. I zoomed out of the bush feeling like Michael Phelps in the 100-meter Butterfly: swift, confident and strong. I encountered an intense shock to the sensory system when I popped out onto a carpark right next to the highway with incredibly loud, eardrum-busting, headache-causing semis whizzing by. After 4 very quiet, very tranquil days of remote, bushy hut life, the harsh commotion was a stark thrust back into reality. With luck on our side, a very sexy young Kiwi named Owen was filling up water on the side of the road and agreed to give us a ride. No hitching necessary at all! Even more perfectly, Owen was heading straight through Taupo where we needed to go. I squeezed in next to his blue kayak, rolled the window down and let the breeze relax my mood as we cruised towards our destination. With even more luck, Owen wanted lunch so we stopped at a pizza and kebab restaurant in Tokoroa. We all ordered large kebab pitas which turned out to be fucking ENORMOUS, like the size of a small child, like the thing stood up on its own it was so big. And sooooo delicious. I could only eat half so I took the rest with me to devour later. Owen dropped us off in Taupo and within a few hours we were posted up in a cheap room at the Utopian Motel, beyond ready to start enjoying our much needed zero day. Being someone who can quickly feel suffocated by the confines of a small, indoor space, I suggested we leave our shit in the room and head down to enjoy a cold one and some meaningful conversation by Lake Taupo. It’s quite a beautiful lake, but it felt kind of weird to see houses and buoys and people everywhere. I think I’m getting spoiled by wilderness! On the way back from the lake, Matt asked two young locals if they would perform a Haka for us. Apparently a Haka is an aggressive, vivacious ancient Maori challenge/war dance that involves high energy stomping, loud vocals, and charismatic expressions. If you Google a Haka you might understand why I was so amazed that two dudes performed one for us in the street. It was epic.

Well deserved

Anyway, we followed up our lake chat sesh with a legit steak, potato and roasted broccoli/asparagus dinner conveniently cooked right in the room. Never have I ever eaten something more delicious. Maybe it’s because I’ve been eating ramen for a month, but a home-cooked meal really hit the spot. I can’t wait to zero hard tomorrow, restock my food supply, connect with Clea, and figure out what’s next on the docket!


Monday, December 11th, 2017



Have you ever been able to wear your broccoli on your finger? This was a first.

For being such an active person, I am exceptionally talented at doing absolutely nothing, especially when I know I deserve it. I woke up to the smell of burning food and the sound of a blaring smoke alarm, a result of Matt’s eager effort to cook bacon for breakfast. He relocated the pan of sliced meat to the communal kitchen downstairs, meanwhile I did my best to air out the smoky room. Not long after the morning mayhem we were munching on scrambled eggs, apples, strawberries and surprisingly phenomenal strips of pig. I swear all the food here just tastes better, it’s not as fake or something. I fucking dig it. I spent the whole rest of the morning waiting for my laundry, lounging in bed with a full belly, updating my blog, icing the knee and watching Snapped. The washer/dryer at Utopian Motel gets a D- for effectiveness and timeliness, considering it took 4 hours to wind up with damp clothes that were only kind of maybe a little less muddy and not quite as stinky. But whatever, my skort will be dirty again by tomorrow anyway.

This is what happens when you scratch old mosquito bites

We spent the afternoon running errands around Taupo including multiple outdoor stores for fuel, a sports store for a more supportive sports bra and new sneakers, a phone store to replace Matt’s Samsung that got eaten by the bush, and a café to scheme a plan for this week. Then I legitimately almost got kicked out of Pak ‘N Save for eating some of my bulk chocolate covered ginger during a food run so that was awkward. Our next move was to make brownies and organize ourselves before heading to the local hot springs. In search of the hot springs, Matt decided to taumahauk off of a 10 foot drop because he thought it was grass. But no, it was not grass, just air with a wet, bush landing. He recovered quickly and we found a boiling river pool away from everybody else to soak our muscles in for awhile.

Chef Stuhler strikes again

Dinner was a dank vegetable stir fry with baby shrimp and giant muscles…why is food so amazing??? We also crushed basically the whole tray of brownies because we can so why not?? Overall I would rate this zero day a solid 10/10.

Return to the Concrete Jungle: Whangarei to Auckland

Friday, November 24th, 2017

Day 19: Marsden Point to Uretiti Beach, 13km

Happy hiker!

We strategically planned a leisurely half day beach walk to follow up our enormous Thanksgiving feast. Plus my knee and Clea’s ankle were begging for another bit of rest, so we only cruised 13 kilometers today. We slept in a little bit, I called to say happy thanksgiving to my family back in Missouri, and hitched a ride up to Marsden Point from a super nice guy named Mark. From Marsden Point, we casually strolled on the beach along Bream Bay until we hit the mouth of the Ruakaka River. The water was too high to cross, so we dropped our packs to wait for low tide. Clea made some progress in Lord of the Rings while I passed out for a fat nap. I woke up two hours later and realized I had forgotten to put sunscreen on my thighs, which were bright red and blotchy. Uh oh. I put aloe on them ASAP but I have a feeling they’re going to hurt tomorrow. My tan lines are out of control. Anyway, a few hours later the water was low enough for us to wade across. Soon after, we arrived at the Uretiti Beach campsite, stretched, cooked dinner and chillaxed. Sometimes you need more than one lazy day to get yourself geared up for more action. I’m all about it. I also apologize for the lack of pictures in general on this post. To be quite honest there just weren’t too many moments on this stretch that were calling for a picture!


Saturday, November 25th, 2017

Day 20: Uretiti Beach to Sentinel Rock, 34km

Back on the trail, cruising down the Mangawhai Cliffs

Back on the hiking grind! We covered basically 20 miles today with a combination of beach, road, pasture, and track. We stopped at a café in Waipu so I could use the WiFi to download the rest of my book, and to have an excuse to eat a mean savory scone. People are always so curious about our trek, we for sure stick out like sore thumbs with our massive packs and dirty clothes. The owner of the café came over and gave us 3 of yesterday’s muffins to fuel our hike! I’ve never been so stoked on muffins before. We ate one and saved the other two for dessert. Most of today’s walk was beautiful but relatively uneventful. We almost got ourselves horribly lost in the pastures on the way to Bream Tail. So many rolling green hills and so many baaing sheep can be hard to navigate, especially when you’re tired and hungry! Fortunately we only had to illegally hop over one fence to get back on track.

Safely far enough from the water!

Determined not to pay for camping tonight, we found a spot on the beach to pitch our tents, cook a tasty dinner, and eat what turned out to be amazing peach banana muffins. We set up at low tide and Clea is pretty confident that our tents are far back enough, but I’m not totally sold. I might get woken up to a flood like the third class passengers on the Titanic but only time will tell.


Sunday, November 25th, 2017

Day 21: Mangawhai to Pakiri Beach, 30km

I did not get swept out to sea by high tide last night. I did, however, have a dream that the ocean flooded my tent. So even though I was actually dry, I spent the whole night in between my dream and reality, waking up and looking at the water. It was super weird. Dreams are weird. I always seem to have extra bizarre, extra vivid dreams when I’m backpacking. Probably because I’m so wiped every day I sleep so deeply! Anyway, today was another long day on another long beach. We cruised down the road through Mangawhai Village, and followed a gravel road through a pine forest before reaching the beach again. We took a long lunch break before beginning the 17 kilometer trek down the beach. I made sure to put sunscreen on my thighs, and reapplied to my neck and shoulders. My mistake this time was proceeding to lay down in the sand. When I sat up, I had sand literally caked on me everywhere. I don’t totally mind sand, but it’s not the most comfortable feeling to have little sand grains fucking everywhere, in all the creases, under all of your clothes, in your ears, mouth, water, etc. I tried rinsing off in the ocean, but even after a quick rinse, I was still rubbing sandy sunscreen into my pores. Clea kept laughing at me because I was clearly so uncomfortable. Having grown up by the beach, Clea is pretty unbothered by excessive sand, unlike myself apparently, struggling. It was funny in hindsight.

Pakiri Beach looking deceptively short

Anyway, we passed over Te Arai Point, which apparently is where all the old people go fishing and middle-aged people go for surf lessons. We passed by some sick coved beach areas for swimming too, but kept going down the beach. From the top of Te Arai, the beach really didn’t look that long. But beaches are deceptively big. We walked for what felt like forever in the soft sand. Whenever I thought I might be getting close, I’d walk for another 30 minutes. I did discover how useful trekking poles are as air drumsticks though! Its really hard to dance and walk at the same time, but poles make great instruments for grooving, even if I look like a complete idiot. I couldn’t care less. Finally we arrived at Pakiri Beach and made our way to the holiday park. I was more than happy to get a few days worth of sand off in the shower, and sneak in a solid stretch session in the nice, green grass. Our other trail friends were here too! I was stoked to see them.


Monday, November 27th, 2017

Day 22: Pakiri to the Dome, 26km

Gaining some elevation up towards My Tamahunga

Hip hop HOORAY FOR FORESTS!!! I cannot express to you how much more I enjoy romping through the woods than cruising down a road. There has been quite a bit of road walking recently, which is just part of the journey I suppose. But nearly all of today’s hike was through the mud, roots, grass and trees of the Omaha and Dome Forests. And I loved it! The day started with a muddy trek up to the summit of Mt Tamahunga. The mud was nothing compared to Herekino or Raetea, but slippery and squishy enough to add an element of excitement, and to slow down the pace! From Tamahunga, we proceeded to climb for what seemed like eternity towards the summit of the Dome. The terrain was thick, dense jungle-like forest following the ridgeline steeply up and down. The sun was out and I was sticky, but I threw in some headphones and totally got in the climbing groove!

You can deny it but we all know it’s fun to leave wiener leaves on the ground

After so much flat beach and roads, I was having a grand old time crushing some vertical gain. I will say the summits on the Northland are less than climactic, considering they aren’t even 1000 feet tall. The summits are more or less a clearing where you think you can’t go any higher; knowing when you’re actually at the top is a whole challenge in itself because you can’t see anything for reference! Totally different than high alpine summits but exciting in its own right.

The trail notes said descend to the cafe. This is not a descent!!!

The 25 kilometers to the Top of the Dome Café literally seemed like they were never going to end as I walked up, then down, then up, then down again, and so on for almost 9 hours. My glutes and hammies were getting a dope workout, in addition to having a spectacular adventure in the bush. Aaalllll about it dude. Unfortunately the café was totally closed by the time we got there. No brownie for Jenni! Bummer. We continued up the road, hoping to find a spot to stealth camp, when a car drove by and offered us to camp on their property where they have mowed a space for walkers! They found us totally by chance, but totally saved us! The woman brought us a ton of fresh water, and offered us showers too. I declined the shower because I had one yesterday, god forbid I get too clean. People are seriously too nice here. I love this place!


Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

Day 23: Kraack Road to Puhoi, 26km

Rolling hill roads

I always know it’s time to get up when the bird chirping becomes an orchestra of energy. Today was no exception. We left our perfectly mowed spot of grass earlier than usual to allow time for hitch-hiking into Warkworth for a much needed resupply. I thought I was improving in my resupply skills, but somehow continue to go over budget. Maybe it’s time to rethink my purchases. It’s not my fault I was raised to have expensive taste. Nor is it my fault that the Pascal Party Pack of candy is so damn delicious. A quick detour into town had us back on the trail around 10:30. The first few kilometers were on a gravel road that fortunately had some decent hills to get the sweat going as we approached Moirs Hill. From there, we jumped on the Dunns Ridge Track which was a bush walk combined with a very odd, confusing route through pastures, only requiring one sketchy hop over a barbed, electric fence. The Dunns Ridge Track runs right into a swinging bridge entering onto the Puhoi Track. These lasts few kilometers were on a comparatively nice, stepped trail through a peaceful, green, perfectly shaded forest littered with pine needles, which reminded me of home. The track ends at a quaint recreation area by the Puhoi River with a bridge leading over to a general store and little pub. We found our friends Tim, Hannah, and Georgia at the pub, joined by the handsome fellow American named Matt who had caught up to us on the trail today. After trying my first battered muscle at the dairy in Mangamuka, I have been determined to try as many battered muscles as possible. As your new local battered muscle connesouir, I had to order a few with some chips. News alert: the Puhoi Pub has delicious chips and wedges, but their fried muscles are sub par! So far nothing has beaten Mangamuka’s cheap but huge, juicy and salty muscles! Either way I enjoyed the treat. You can also freedom camp here, so Clea, Matt and I found a nice patch of grass to set up camp and stretch for the night. Solid day in paradise.


Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

Day 24: Puhoi to Stillwater, 33km

Awesome rocks on the coast towards Orewa Beach

There was something about today that just felt light, unhurried, and overly positive. It’s almost as if my body knew today was going to be exceptional when it decided to wake me up earlier than usual. We were packed up, fed, and walking by 7:30 which is early for us! Instead of spending $50 to rent a kayak to float the 7 kilometers down the Puhoi River, we chose to splurge at the pub last night and do a short road walk this morning. We weren’t quite aware that we’d be walking alongside rushing morning traffic on Highway 1, but there’s nothing quite like noisy semis blazing past to wake you up. Fortunately we reconnected with the trail a few hours later.


Rock hopping!
Sick cave!

Somehow Clea and I wound up going 20 minutes in the wrong direction…seems to be a common mistake. At least the wrong way was through a pretty forest! Eventually we got back on track and walked through Waiwera to the beach, which quickly turned into a super fun morning of rock hopping! We followed the coastline up and over these awesome, Martian-looking rocks, past tall caves, scrambled around mini boulders and water pools interspersed with sandy beach, and navigated around wet, muscle-covered rock ledges. There was almost an apocalyptic feel to the rocky coast, which made for a fantastic, meandering adventure. The rock ledges eventually gave way to the flat, sandy Orewa Beach which overlooked the cliff-perched houses in the beautiful town of Orewa. This town was absolutely gorgeous with its cliffs, sprawling ocean, perfect sand, and distant islands.

Town of Orewa popping into view

Eventually Orewa Beach came to an end and the concrete Orewa Estuary path began. For a pedestrian and cyclist walkway, the estuary path was vegetated and pretty, but by the time we reached the Silverdale stores and oddly familiar housing developments our feet were tired. I checked the time and it wasn’t even noon! We only had about 10 kilometers to our destination, so we popped into a little café and split a spinach and feta muffin mainly so we could poach their WiFi without getting any questionable looks. We wound up sitting at Jamaica Blue for about 2 hours, putting off the beginning of another road section for as long as possible. To my excitement, we ran into Hannah, Tim and Georgia shortly after setting out. As we all stood at a street corner discussing our acceptance of the laziness of today, a lady came out and delivered all of us a free batch of frozen pork broth! I’m a sucker for free food. I buried the frozen cup deep in my pack in hopes of preventing the blazing sun from melting it, also praying it didn’t start melting pork juice all over my stuff.

Pristine bouncing at the Stillwater Motor Camp

I jammed out all the way down the road to Stillwater, one of the most calming, relaxing places we’ve been to yet. The Stillwater Motor Park offers free camping, showers, and kitchen to walkers! They also have a trampoline which I took full bouncy advantage of. Our new friend Matt, our old friends Tanya and Dave, a couple from Italy, and a couple from England were all here! Talk about feeling like a trail family! We all walked over to the Stillwater Boat Club to indulge in a beer and conversation. Clea and I haven’t been buying drinks or coffee on this trip for a number of reasons, but something about having all 12 of us at a table, one day away from Auckland, in a gorgeous town with hot, sunny weather felt like a reason to celebrate with a cold pale ale. A beer has never tasted so good!!

Eventually my tummy started yelling at me to feed it, so we mobbed back to camp to cook up some tasty ramen in our free, spicy pork broth. Complete with some peas, those noodles made me so happy. Oh, you know how we have Starkist flavored tuna packets in the states? Well New Zealand has their own brand of packages tuna that throws Starkist out of the fucking water with legit chunky, rich tuna flavored in combinations like Lemon Sesame Ginger and Green Salsa Verde. Highly suggested if you ever find yourself in New Zealand looking for tuna. Anyway, after dinner I balled out in another sick jump sesh on the trampoline. Matt eventually joined me for a quick bounce, followed up by some great conversation whilst swinging at the playground. Talk about a throw back to being 7 year olds playing after school. Before I knew it the stars were out in what appeared to be a clear night! We laid in the grass, listening to the crazy birds, talking about life and looking at the southern hemisphere stars. I think I recognized Orion, but he was upside down. It’s totally possible it was an entirely different constellation, but I’m not an astronomer. Anyway, a beautiful, magical day was followed up by a beautiful, magical night until my yawns got out of control and forced me to sleep.


Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Day 25: Stillwater to Auckland, 40ish kilometers


The American crew of stinky hikers!

Whew! Today was long. This morning all 12 members of our rad, motley, oddball crew of hikers gallantly rolled out of the Stillwater Motor Camp like an enthusiastic line of baton twirlers in a festive Christmas parade. We’d heard rumors that the upcoming Okura River crossing could get up to neck deep so we all decided to cruise together and wait for low tide. I apologize now that I failed to collect photo documentation of the following events. We arrived at the Okura River an hour before low tide, but Clea and Matt dropped packs to scope out the water depth. I stood on the shore watching my two fully-clothed friends slowly wading into the water like lost ducks. Turns out the water only came up to mid-chest, but at that point they both decided to fully immerse themselves as they searched around for a shallower crossing point. As Clea slugs out of the river dripping from head to toe, I turn right to see Klaus, our middle-aged Italian friend who is one half of the Silver Hikers duo, approaching wearing nothing but his backpack and a pair of tiny blue underpants. I couldn’t help but laugh as I watched just about Everton strip down to their boxers, granny panties and sports bras in preparation for what turned out to be a relatively mellow river crossing. Nothing like a giant group of hiker trash in their underwear simultaneously mobbing across a river holding their packs above their heads like giant babies. Well congratulations to us, we successfully made it across dah reevah!!

Out of place much?

The rest of the way to Auckland was 20 kilometers of random bits of suburbia including neighborhood streets, cool rocky coastal walks, and beach segments. The humidity was pretty brutal, and the concrete jungle was lengthy, but thank the lawd we finally made it to the ferry crossing from Devonport to the city. If you want to talk about feeling out of place, imagine 3 rugged, dirty, stinky backpackers amongst a large group of clean, nicely dressed, business-like city folk. While there are tons of “backpackers” in Auckland, it’s pretty easy to spot a typical backpacker from a hiking backpacker who’s been through the Raetea Forest and spent the last three weeks sleeping with the sheep. Returning to the city was quite the trip, having begun our journey here almost a month ago. Same sleek, clean city, but very different, dirtier, wiser, stronger adventurers. After another hour of walking through the city feeling like totally overstimulated children at a candy store gawking at everything in sight, we arrived around 7pm to the YHA Matt had booked and kindly invited us to join. Well, turns out Matt’s reservation skills from the forest aren’t the greatest and he had actually booked a hostel in another town about 250 kilometers away. Fortunately we were quickly able to find a vacant triple at the BK Hostel nearby before we all completely turned into hangry, feral creatures.

Step one: take our fucking packs off. Step two: shower off the sticky. Step three: find food, lots of food. As a group of three Americans, we couldn’t resist the suggestion for Sal’s Pizza where we ordered three different pie flavors and swapped slicesso we could really amp up the pizza experience. When our one and a half giant, greasy pizzas arrived hot and fresh out of the oven, Clea proceeded to detach her melty slice too soon as we watched all of the toppings slide straight off the buttery crust. We ate every morsel faster than you could pull apart two pepperonis.  Step four: find ice cream. We walked around the streets by Sal’s with no success. I was determined to find a cone, and thus began the epic Ice Cream in Auckland Saga. Earlier today I passed probably at least 5 various gelato and ice cream stores, so I assumed I’d have no trouble. Well you know what happens when you assume…you wind up walking another 4 kilometers around the city without any milky deliciousness. Eventually I asked someone for the nearest ice cream store. He sent us to this over-the-top gourmet ice cream parlor where you are seated with a number and expected to pay at least $10 for a gold-coated ice cream cone topped with lacy, creative chocolate structures that look like they belong in a fine art exhibit of ice cream. Never have I seen such a thing! I was intrigued, but am much too simple of a woman to need such extravagance. So the hunt continued to no avail. My last resort was to buy some beers and a pint of low grade mint chip ice cream from the grocery store. Five minutes after leaving Countdown, we walked past a yoghurt store. A yoghurt store as in frozen yogurt. As in the self-serve froyo place with toppings and all! Aka everything I ever wanted! How did we walk right past it?? I don’t know but I said fuck it and, grocery store pint in hand, filled up a bowl of froyo, which turned out costing $9. So after all that, I still wound up spending $15 on mediocre ice cream. And it was so worth it. As we walked back to the hostel we passed Sal’s Pizza. And guess what is DIRECTLY across from Sal’s. That’s right, a rolled, Coldstone style ice cream shop with 30 different flavors. Right there, across the street from where we ate. I almost bought a rolled ice cream just on the principle, but walked my baffled self back to the hostel. The rest of the evening was spent hanging out with Clea and Matt in our triple dorm, killing the pints, drinking tasty beer, and cracking ourselves up like three 13 year old BFFs at a slumber party. We giggled and gorged and chit-chatted right up to 2am, which, with a regular trail bedtime of 9pm at the latest, felt like the latest night ever. It was worth every penny, every calorie, and every step it took to get there.


Friday, December 1st, 2017


Still at kilometer 600

Fuck yeah dude zero days are the tits. When you’re literally walking all day every day, like your 9-5 job is literally just to walk, you truly come to appreciate a full day of gluttony, relaxation, and brief reconnection with the cyber world. Your muscles, joints, stomachs and souls thank you for the break too. The day began with another failed attempt to sleep in after our late night slumber party. Clea departed for her doctor’s appointment to check on her Achilles situation, leaving me and Matt to wander the streets and pretend to be city folk for the day. The weather was absolutely perfect, hot sun but cool shade with less humidity than recent days. I lugged Matt to the storage place to help me retrieve our post-hike clothes bags Clea and I stored a month ago. We stopped for a quick coffee and delicious berry compote muffin at the Whale’s Tail before heading back to the hostel for a solid planning and research sesh for the next few sections of trail and our upcoming 5 day Christmas paddle down the Wanganui River. Sometimes it’s hard to start reading about what’s next because there is SO much dope shit to see around here I start getting OVERSTOKED WITH POSSIBILITIES!!!

Per usual, hunger started to creep up so we set out on a mission to find me a delicious pulled pork sandwich. I know today was supposed to be a zero day, but with such pristine weather I think our legs subconsciously wanted to be moving. We walked around downtown Auckland for over an hour looking at menus before narrowing down options and eventually choosing Al’s Café. God forbid I just ate at the first restaurant and missed a better option! My pulled pork sandwich was fucking tasty but the best part was sitting next to a Kiwi named Stuart and his Australian friend Adrian. Stuart had heaps of beta for hiking suggestions, and also happens to know someone who lives in Wanaka and does ski patrol/search and rescue and skis all the backcountry around there. Stuart said he would put me in contact with this guy so I’m already starting to lock down connections for touring partners and jobs when I cruise down to Wanaka for the winter! Word. I’m stoked.

We walked back to the hostel and killed a few more hours at the hostel before heading out for a night on the town. Turns out Clea hurt her Achilles and needs to take some time off from hiking, so we figured if we’re stuck in the city, why not boost morale and get into the city spirit. Our friend Heinz also happened to be in Auckland so he met us for some incredible burgers and beers. We eat a gross amount of food on rest days, my stomach is a bottomless pit. Being the hiker trash we are, we knew drinks would be too expensive at the bars so we bought a few beers and sat on a bench at the Auckland Viaduct, talking and people watching for awhile. A few IPAs later we decided to say fuck it and go dance at a fancy club. Wellllll apparently Chacos don’t quite make the Auckland club scene dress code so we were sadly turned away. Sorry, next time I guess I’ll remember to pack stilettos in my backpack. Rather than feel any weirder about that situation, we went on the search for a grungier place to dance and found ourselves drinking cheap whiskey and sweating balls as we danced to amazingly bad pop remixes in a hot, grungy backpackers bar. It was perfect. A few hours went by and as 2am rolled around we remembered we weren’t in the states where everything closes too early. Tired from the day of gluttony, we started walking back to our hostel which happens to be located in a part of town with a hundred strip clubs and random bars. Just when we thought our night was over, somehow we found ourselves in a super weird but awesome karaoke bar. Before we could even finish our drinks, we were shuttled next door into an apparent gay bar with half naked men dancing to heavy house music. Soooooo far out of our element I still am confused about how we got there, but we got down with the beat and made some unforgettable, uncharacteristic, very unhikerly memories before finally getting to sleep around 5am. Thank you Auckland for being perfectly weird as fuck, but endlessly entertaining.


Saturday, December 2nd, 2017



Based on how tired and blobby I was today, I can confidently admit I am getting too old to party like that. But I have no regrets and sometimes you just gotta let your freak flag fly, especially when you are presented with the rare opportunity to explore the night life of a foreign city. All we wanted to do was eat and sleep, so that’s what we did. A salmon cake, some chorizo flatbread, scrambled egg toast, and oodles of coffee at Bestie Café brought the 3 of us back to life, momentarily at least. We had given ourselves enough energy back to walk to Auckland Domain Park where we found the perfect tree, laid down, and passed the fuck out in the warm sun. I was woken up to the noise of what sounded like a drone or a remote controlled car or something buzzing by. But when I opened my eyes, I didn’t see a drone or a little boy’s toy car. In fact, I would never in a million years have imagined waking up to a 10ish-month old baby with a bucket hat cruising by in a tiny baby version of a white Land Rover. This baby was just chilling in the car as her dad controlled its direction. It was absolutely hilarious! Like hey honey what do you want to do today? Oh, how about we put Lucy in her Land Rover and take her for a quick spin around the park! Totally normal.

Grassy park naps for the win

We followed up our naps with the rolled ice cream across from Sal’s Pizza that we missed the other day. Bangkok’s Rolled Ice Cream is a must! I got Coconut Oreo and Chocolate Cake in a chocolate dipped waffle cone with whipped cream, caramel drizzle, and white chocolate pieces. They make the flavors by pouring ice cream mix over the flavor item (like an Oreo or brownie) on a cold stone and chopping until it mixes and freezes. The mixture is then flattened out and rolled into little logs and stuck in your cone like a flower. So rich. So tasty. And I hear if you roll your ice cream instead of scooping it, you’ll actually lose weight too!

Princess life!!!
Dessert, courtesy of our lovely Kiwi hosts

From Bangkok’s we collected our baggage and began the Uber trek to Mike’s house. Mike is this random middle-aged Kiwi who met Matt at a grocery store a few weeks ago and has been storing his extra bag. He and his wife, Marcia, live in a beautiful, beach front home just outside of downtown Auckland, and invited me, Matt and Clea to come over for a barbeque dinner and spend the night. I don’t know what I did to deserve such high class treatment, but between the view, comfortable bed, shower, barbeque chicken, sausage, salad, potatoes, cherries, blueberries, strawberries, chocolate and red wine, I felt like a princess. By evening I was feeling back to normal so I even had a chance to go for a long run by the coast, AND sneak in some burpees! Walking burns calories, but I have been craving the cardio. Matt runs too which was awesome to have a fellow inspiration! Mike gave us plenty of hiking information for our upcoming trek, printed out maps for us, and spoiled us rotten. I am going to sleep tonight feeling overly grateful for the kind, generous, pay-it-forward attitude of all the people we are encountering on this journey. I am also very satiated with tasty grub and most definitely ready to get back to my amazing, comfortable life in the bush.

A Long and Winding Road: Kerikeri to Whangarei

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

Day 11: Kerikeri to Paihia, 21km

With chilly temps and rainy skies, yesterday’s rest day was everything I could have asked for. And today I woke up relaxed and ready to get back on the move. The walk from Kerikeri to Paihia certainly wasn’t the longest, hardest, or most exciting stretch we’ve done so far, but it was beautiful nonetheless. We followed a paved road out of Kerikeri until entering the Waitangi Forest where we followed a super mellow gravel road through the gentle vegetation. We eventually popped out onto another paved road, crossed the Waitangi Bridge, and arrived at The Pickled Parrot hostel in Paihia.

Crossing the Waitangi Bridge

The majority of New Zealand’s residents live on the North island, so the trail tends to cut through a ton of little towns. As a result, a lot of our camping has been at designated camping areas or cheap tentsite hostels. It’s quite a luxury but sometimes I feel like we’re cheating, even though it’s really the only option! Once we get into the less populated, more mountainous spots on the South island we’ll be camping in the more traditional backcountry backpacking setting I’m accustomed to. But for now I’m enjoying a warm chair and full kitchen every 4 or 5 days!

I usually stuff all the tent pieces in my tent bag, but accidentally stuffed the tent bag in my sleeping bag compression sack this morning, so I just shoved the tent into my backpack. I had also carefully laid my rain fly on the driveway to dry this morning in Kerikeri. So when I went to set up my tent this evening and noticed the absence of a rain fly, I made the heart dropping realization that I had in fact left my fly on the ground in Kerikeri. Especially in a wet environment such as New Zealand, a rain fly is pretty crucial. I kind of panicked. But before I could totally freak out, Clea and some other friends helped me contact the Kerikeri Holiday Park. And whew! They had my fly. So I hitch-hiked my dumb ass all the way back to Kerikeri, grabbed my fly, and hitch-hiked back. It’s seriously too easy to get a ride around here. These two young guys picked me up and we got to talking about heli-skiing, determining that I need a friend who flies helicopters. They let me out and I get in another truck a few minutes later. I asked the driver what he did for work, and turns out the dude flies helicopters. No way. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to lock down any heli-ski lifts, but I was appreciative of the lift back to Paihia, fly in hand. I can promise you I’ll be making sure that damn piece of fabric is in my backpack every morning from now on!


Friday, November 17th, 2017

Day 12: Paihia to Waikare, 29 + 10 bonus kilometers

On the vehicular ferry from Opua to Okiato

We left Paihia around 9am and cruised along the Opua Coastal Walkway to the car ferry loading dock. The route was a casual dirt track along the forest by the coast. The vehicular ferry takes you from Opua across the Veronica Channel to Okiatio. From there, we could follow Aucks Road directly to the junction with Russell-Whakapara Road, or we could jump on the Okiatio to Russell Walkway. The walkway would add on a few extra kilometers, but takes you through wetland, bush, and around cliffs instead of a paved road. Naturally we chose the nature route. We ascended and descended sets of stairs as we hiked through thick, wet forests, along boardwalks, and crossing roads every once in awhile.

Boardwalking in the wrong direction
It’s chill though

About four hours later, we arrived at a random boating club near the town of Russell. Something didn’t seem right. We hadn’t seen any Te Araroa signs for awhile, and had just been cruising along this nature path. We finally checked a map and turns out we had walked about 10 kilometers north towards Russell, the opposite direction from where we wanted to go. Dammnnniittttt! Of all days to go the wrong way, of course we fuck up when we’re carrying a full 8 days worth of food supply. Oh well! Thanks to New Zealand’s hitch-hiking magic, we got a ride back the 10 kilometers to the road junction we totally passed, and continued on our way.

The next 17 kilometers were definitely a long haul along a paved road. As we walked in monotonous silence, I enjoyed a few solid hours of much needed introspection. We’ve been having a lot of endless walking time in between more exciting sections of the trail. I have found the time to be perfect for asking yourself a deep question and truly exploring the answers. Not only does time seem to pass faster when your mind is occupied, but I’m absolutely diving deeper into my ideas than I would normally. It’s pretty cool.

Eggs by candlelight

Anyway, we eventually arrived at Sheryl the Trail Angel’s house in Waikare. Sheryl is an incredibly generous local woman who lets TA walkers pitch a tent on her property and use her facilities. We’re sleeping in a field with the cows and horses, and are currently eating fresh, boiled farm eggs by candlelight…feeling right at home in this rough-around-the-edges but adorable Northland farm house!


Saturday, November 18th, 2017

Day 13: Waikare to Oakura Bay, 20km

It’s 7:40pm and Clea and I are currently at Whangaruru Beachfront Camp in Oakura Bay. We are laying on a slightly slanted but super comfortable double bed in the back of an old ambulance renovated as a camper van, digesting each of the 9 delicious curries we sampled for free at the Curry Cup, a friendly competition held by the Kiwis here for a local fishing tournament. If there were ever a moment of wondering “what the hell is my life” in the most hilarious way possible, this is it.

The rain started around midnight last night, and hasn’t stopped since, not even for one single tiny minute. I suppose we were overdue for some proper non-stop New Zealand sky water, I’d be a fool to think we’d be lucky enough to somehow miss it. We spent extra time this morning talking to the lovely Sheryl, hoping our tents might dry at least a little bit before we stuffed the wet, muddy fabric into our wet, muddy packs. We thanked Sheryl and her husband Peter for their hospitality, and went on our merry, wet way down Waikare Valley Road. We almost missed our turnoff, but after yesterday’s 10 kilometer mishap, double checked the map and got on route. For the first 4 kilometers we tramped directly up the Papakauri Stream.

Tramping up Papakauri Stream
Very soggy. Very wet. Very pretty.

After all the rain, and with the rain continuing to fall, we were consistently wading through water mid-calf to mid-thigh deep. Makes for slow but adventuresome tramping! Just when my fingers started to feel cold and tingly, we popped back on a trail and emerged at the DOC Shelter. We were totally soaked when we stopped for a snack and quick warm up, necessary I guess as my lips were apparently turning an unusual shade of purply blue. After awhile we sucked it up, stuck ourselves back into our sticky rain jackets, and booked it up the old forest road to get some blood pumping. By the time we got to the junction with Russell Road, we were just as wet and just as cold as before, so we glanced at the maps and kept moving.

Is blue a good shade on me?

Camping options between the road junction and the beginning of the next track were limited. We ran into the Australian couple and their group from Tramp-Inn, and learned they were camping in Oakura Bay. Initially we intended to walk at least 5 kilometers further, but our potential B&B was booked, and the other campsite was another 6 kilometers passed that! And let me point out that by this time we were still walking in the pouring rain, now alongside a paved road getting splashed by cars, feeling pretty pathetic and probably looking even more pathetic than we felt. By the time we passed the sign to Oakura Bay, Clea and I were both totally over the day. Now if you’re in the woods and it’s raining, you don’t really have a choice; you make do with the wetness, accept the change of environment, and laugh at your misery. When you’re cold and soggy on the side of a road watching dry, warm people pass you as you slowly make progress towards a camping area, you choose the camping area. The Whangaruru Beachfront Camp only had tent sites available, so we paid our dues and went to kick it by the kitchen in hopes the rain would let up.

Hiker trash some might call us

We changed into dry clothes and sat outside chatting and reading, smelling all kinds of amazing things coming from the kitchen. Turns out there was supposed to be an annual fishing tournament that was cancelled due to weather. Each year they do a curry cook-off, and we showed up just in time! I think they felt sorry for us backpackers looking so pathetic and wet, eating couscous with peas, even though we were totally happy. Regardless, they let us try all of the curries and cast a vote. New Zealanders are seriously awesome people. Meanwhile, another tramper’s tent pole broke and the owner told her to sleep in the laundry room.

Our only instructions were to not play with the sirens
Cozy ambulance bed!

When she walked by us on the porch, clearly having not set up tents yet, she asked if we wanted to sleep inside somewhere. The rain did not look like it was going to stop any time soon, and a warm, dry night of sleep was irresistible. So she offered us to sleep in her old ambulance which she had redone like a mobile camper.



So alas, here we are, snuggled up like the two coziest, happiest trampers ever. Dry for the first time all day, grateful for the acts of kindness, and ready for another beautiful day on Te Araroa tomorrow.


Sunday, November 19th, 2017

Day 14: Oakura to Whananaki, 31km

OMG BEDS ARE THE SHIT! I slept so well in our little ambulance last night. Our day started off well-rested and dry, but took a disheartening turn due to a progressing ankle pain Clea has been dealing with for the last few days. If anyone understands how upsetting a random, annoying, unexplained injury can be when you’re otherwise feeling healthy and fit, it’s me, and my heart was breaking for her. I wish I had a magic wand to instantly heal miss Clea’s Achilles, but unfortunately I’m just a regular bloke with no special powers. She decided to hitch-hike to the Whananaki Holiday Park for a rest day while I powered through the next trail segment. Choosing to miss a day on the track is never an easy decision, but there comes a point when your body calls the shots and you’d be damned not to listen. Fortunately Clea is an incredibly strong, independent, intelligent woman who cares enough about herself and her goals to make the hard but right choice to spend a day nursing her heel. She also is amazing and understanding enough to handle herself for the day, so I set out down the road by myself, anxious to get to camp to provide moral support and smiles.

Curly and the view after Helena Ridge

I put some headphones in to bump some Dead jams during the uneventful road walking section until I was joined by a happy middle-aged man with curly graying hair, short shorts, Hokas, and a tiny pack. Turns out he’s a trail running Kiwi named Curly who left a week ago in attempt to set a record for tramping the TA. Anyone who can talk running with me is an immediate friend. We cruised at his very fast pace (I’m definitely starting to understand the benefit of small light packs) and chatted about life and outdoor activities all the way through the Helena Ridge Track, a mixture of forest track and open fields. A clear endurance athlete with a super positive attitude, Curly most certainly inspired me to move fast and not limit my realm of possibilities as far as personal fitness goals in the future go.

Morepork Forest Track
Slippery stream crossings!
A happy me

Anyway, at the beginning of the Morepork track we ran into the familiar group I’ve been seeing for almost a week now. I snarfed my bag of trail mix and kept on the move, trying to keep up with Curly without being too intrusive. The Morepork Forest was nowhere near as muddy as the Herekino or Raetea, but slick and slippery nonetheless.

Expansive meadow views got me feeling groovy


Eventually I popped out of the forest into a beautiful, open meadow with expansive views of the ocean in the distance. As awesome as the forests are, every time I come out of the trees into a meadow I am overwhelmed with a sensation of freedom, similar to how I feel in the mountains. We still have a long ways to go before we’re back in an alpine environment, but I’m absorbing every ounce of liberation in the Northland.

I got to Clea faster than expected. She had been resting her ankle and reading at the Whananaki Holiday Park all day, and making friends with this adorable man named Tom. They say a huge part of trail magic is the people, and I believe that wholeheartedly. The overly generous Tom offered us dinner, and proceeded to cook beef stir fry with rice and red wine which Clea, Curly, Tom and I absolutely devoured. What a treat!!! Like seriously what an amazing man Tom is to spoil a group of strangers; he said he wants to ensure a solid spot in heaven. He gave us advice on just about just about everything in the way a loving grandfather would. I went to bed with a full belly and satiated soul.


Monday, November 20th, 2017

Day 14: Whananaki to Ngunguru, 25km

Whananaki Bridge
Whananaki Coastal Track
Dead pine trees along the coastal track that smelled like Colorado

This morning Tom walked us across the Whananaki Bridge and took our picture before parting ways. Fortunately Clea’s ankle improved enough for her to hike! HOORAY! From there we followed the gorgeous Whananaki Coastal Track which curved along the oceanfront past adorable, unique beach houses before popping out on another road. I got stung by a bee for the first time, at least from what I can remember. That shit hurts! Anyway, because the TA is a relatively new trail and there are so many towns on the North Island, unfortunately many segments have to follow roads for miles until the DOC can figure out better connecting tracks through nature. So we walked along the road until reaching the food mart in Ngunguru where we snarfed down an ice cream cone and called for our ride across Nikau Bay.

Our ride is coming!
James and his boat

Our ride across Nikau Bay came in the form of a little boat driven by a middle-aged male Kiwi local named James who offers rides across the bay as the TA happens to pass through his property. Little did we know he was about to deliver us in paradise. Our acceptance of James’ offer to camp at his place was almost immediate upon arrival. Right next to the water but tucked behind tropical trees, James had built a beautiful open kitchen and dining area for trampers in the huge green yard below his house, complete with showers and toilets, kayaks, a fire ring, a garden, a picturesque swing, and a camping cabin. He told us to pitch our tents anywhere and make ourselves at home, which we did promptly. Soon after we cozied up, our trail family from the last few days arrived. James provided all of us fresh eggs from his chickens and access to any of the vegetables in the garden, which everyone gratefully accepted.

Happy swinging

Later that evening, James brought me and Clea a cold pale ale and took us out for a beautiful nighttime kayak ride around the bay. For the first time since arriving in New Zealand I was actually able to see some stars! I’ve either been asleep too early or it’s been too cloudy. Lots of firsts today. But yeah James was not only an unbelievably generous host, but he hung out with everyone all night. He is a super honest, genuine person with incredible outlooks on life, an interesting history, and great conversation skills. His place is almost too good to be true! A true paradise.


Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

Day 15: Nikau Bay (James) to Taiharuru, 32km

James’s Tramper structure
James’s kitchen area where I devoured my breakfast of luxury

Man I didn’t think James’ place could be any more magical, but that was before today’s breakfast. First of all, I slept like a baby after our late kayak adventure. Secondly, I saved my eggs from yesterday and cooked them sunnyside up with white cheddar, sausage, and sauteed kale straight from the garden. Thirdly, James joined us for breakfast with a huge pot of coffee!!!! COFFEE!!! I haven’t been drinking the amazing black juice because it’s expensive, takes too long to make, and quite frankly I’m enjoying the caffeine break, so the bitter cup of heaven this morning really got me going. I slowly ate my delicious meal, which beat my usual Clif bar by about 25 million, postponing my inevitably departure of this tropical haven. Eventually we packed up, showered James with thank you’s, and began yet another long road walk.

Horses along the Mackerel Forest Track. Neigh!

Of the 25 kilometers between James’s house and Pataua, the 4 kilometer Mackerel Forest Track was the only section of rolling, grassy trail. The other 19 kilometers were along a mellow paved road. There was hardly a cloud in the sky as the hot sun pounded down on my shoulders all day. All I can say is thank god for headphones. Nothing like some Phish or Nick Jonas to get in the road-walking groove.

Crossing the Taiharuru Estuary

We timed ourselves perfectly to be walking across the Taiharuru Estuary at low tide. Always one for great descriptions, Clea said walking through the muddy, sandy water was like the perfect combination of 90 Mile Beach and Herekino Forest. I agree entirely.

Peaceful dinner at the Taiharuru Walker’s Camp

After the estuary, we followed signs to a Walker’s Camp. Historically we know little information about campsites until we’re there, and this was no exception. We walked up a driveway for awhile before the handwritten signs sent us on a seemingly random track through the grassy hillside. The track was leading into a gorgeous, open valley amongst pastures full of turkeys, cows and horses that seemed like a trippy and strange approach for a typical holiday park. We kept thinking we’d pop out in some magical kingdom full of fairies and butterflies, but alas we found ourselves at a little cabin situated in an open, green paddock with a picnic table, outdoor stove, and random white outdoor sofa. Inside the cabin were two beds, a shower, a sink, coffee, tea, a cooler full of snacks and soda, honey, books, and other assorted items of the like. Turns out this 16 year old kid Louis lives up the hill with his parents, and built this structure as a camp for TA walkers! He asks to put $15 in the honesty box for your stay and enjoy yourself. How fucking cool! Shit like that makes wonder what the hell I was doing when I was 16.

Free women of the flowers

Anyway, we took showers to wash off the stinky estuary mud, and because nobody else was anywhere in sight, decided to frolick around naked in the grass and delight in the solitude. Another TA trail angel providing us with our own valley oasis! Fortunately Clea spotted a woman walking down the hill in time for us to throw some clothes on. Louis’s mother Susanne was a sweet lady who seemed happy to have us there, and we told her how impressed we were with her son’s idea. After we stuffed our faces with ramen and tried to cook this random egg Clea found in the woods (which turned out to be disgustingly rotten, don’t ever trust unknown forest eggs), we played Bananagrams until the sun went down. Now we’re both laying on our own beds listening to the 363,388 mosquitoes buzzing and the mystery animal creeping outside the window, feeling happy and fulfilled. I can’t wait to eat breakfast with this view tomorrow and hopefully I don’t become one giant mosquito bite overnight.


Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

Day 16: Taiharuru to McKenzie Bay, 25km

I slept so deeply in that cozy ass bed that I managed to have a nightmare. I can’t remember what it was about, but I woke up hyperventilating and weirdly screaming; Clea and I are officially really good friends now that she’s witnessed one my midnight terrors. Anyway, I survived the night with minimal bites, and the mystery animal failed to bust into the cabin so that’s all groovy.

Inside the walkers cabin
Morning lounge time

I was awake before Clea and noticed blue skies above so I read outside for awhile until she woke up to join me for a marvelous cup of instant coffee. Aside from our one night in the forest, this was really the first morning we had to ourselves. We took our sweet time packing, soaked up the beautiful weather and peacefulness of the valley before cruising out. A short uphill road walk with incredible views of the ocean and distant mountains lead us to a grassy, forested track over Kauri Mountain. An hour later we arrived on top of the steep, clay descent down to Ocean Beach. Realizing high tide was coming in, we decided to read and sunbathe for an hour before starting our journey down the beach. Not being in any kind of hurry whatsoever is such a liberating feeling! Ocean Beach was a significantly shorter, much more scenic, and noticeably softer beach walk than 90 Mile, landing us at the base of the Bream Head Track.

Ocean Beach
View from our lunch spot

I’ll take hot sun over cold rain any day, but HOLY FACK THE SUN TODAY WAS TOASTING MY BRAINS! The heat and humidity slowly turned my body into what felt like a giant bucket of popcorn butter as I climbed the exposed, grassy slopes and sticky, forested stairs to the summit of Bream Head (Te Whara). Dying for a snack and a break from the gallons of sweat oozing out of our pores, we dropped packs and scrambled up to a lunch spot with probably the best view I have seen thus far. The bright blue ocean stretched beyond the horizon in front of us, encompassing distant islands and crashing waves onto the tan shores far below. Positioned on the middle of a forested ridge, there were massive rock faces with vegetated tops and steep cliffs in both directions. Behind us were rolling green hills speckled with tiny buildings and miniscule animals. The view was truly breathtaking, and our perfectly leisurely lack of a schedule allowed us to simply sit and exist in paradise until we satiated ourselves with nature’s beauty.

From Bream Head we undulated along the heavily vegetated ridge, up and down hundreds of steps, and over roots, passing multiple false summits before topping out on Mt Lion (Matariki). Only mildly sticky but severely stinky, we began the descent into Urquharts Bay which involved well over another 1000 steps. You know stairs might kind of suck and destroy your knees in large numbers, but they’re definitely better than a long, super steep, muddy downclimb!

Descending into Urquharts Bay

My joints rejoiced upon returning to a flat, smooth road which led us the short distance to The Green Bus Stop, another quaint camping area for TA trampers in someone’s backyard. We found Tanya, Dave, Hannah, and Georgia (most of our recent trail family members) cooking dinner and relaxing in the humble camp complete with fresh water, free farm eggs, a toilet and shower access. Hungry from the day’s hike, I quickly pitched my tent and proceeded to cook my current favorite meal: this amazingly flavored Malaysian ramen with peas and shiitake mushrooms. This particular batch was phenomenal with the addition of a cracked egg. Mmmmmmm. After dinner I walked up to the owner’s house to pay and ask if she could open the can of mangos I found in the free food box. I wound up having a long, interesting conversation with Jenny (she has a cool name) about reasons why people are seeking out adventures like the TA, and the general shift in attitude towards what’s important in life these days. I swear we have been encountering the coolest, most generous trail angels recently, I feel so lucky! I am also very much looking forward to a rest day in Whangerei tomorrow, my knees need a break. Tomorrow also happens to be Thanksgiving (at least in the southern hemisphere) so we are planning to do nothing but feast. It will be epic.


Thursday, November 21st, 2017


Grill master

I AM SO STUFFED WITH DELICIOUS CHICKEN AND BROCCOLI AND PEPPERS AND KUMARA AND BREAD AND BOYSENBERRY APPLE PIE!!! Clea and I fully succeeded in creating an epic Thanksgiving meal for ourselves during our off day in Whangerei. I know it’s technically only Wednesday in the States and that Kiwis don’t exactly celebrate Thanksgiving, but today was the third Thursday of November so it only seemed appropriate to prepare a feast and celebrate our gratitude for the amazing life we are living. The timing also worked out perfectly with our resupply to spend the day touching base with everyone at home, resting our muscles and joints, and stuffing our faces.

Anyway, I have a lot to be thankful for, and I’ve had a lot of time to think about the truly important people and parts of my life so I’ll share. Just so you know, this is written more for me than for anyone else I am grateful for the opportunity and ability to travel, to have worked hard at a job I loved to earn enough to fund a trip like this. For having a true, meaningful friendship with someone like Clea who supports me, encourages me to be honest and genuine, trusts me, and is crazy enough to spend months on the trail with me. For having two incredibly loving, understanding, and supportive parents who are always helping me learn to trust myself and follow my dreams. I am grateful for Dandy whose enthusiasm and excitement for my adventures keeps me going. For Tyler and Logan and any other family member who might think I’m nuts but love me anyway. For Maria for loving my dad as much as she does. For Jack for finally showing my mom the kind of man she deserves. For all of my crazy ass friends who share the stoke with me on all different levels, who laugh with me, cry with me, climb bad ass mountains with me, and push me to be a better person, better friend, better mountaineer, and so on. For my peer mentors who have taught me how to splitboard, understand avalanche safety, and climb, trusted me, and been patient while I learn. I’m exceptionally grateful for all the families I have babysat for who have become like second, third, and fourth families to me. For all of their kids who I have been lucky enough to watch grow up. I’m thankful for the strangers I’ve met and will continue to meet on the TA who start conversations that spark new perspectives on the world and my place in it. And for all the people who love to pick up hitch-hikers. I’m thankful for everyone who is a part of my life in any way, because every relationship is unique. I give and receive something entirely individualized from each person I interact with. Whether it’s repeated or instantaneous, happy or sad, simple or complicated, all of these interactions play a role in shaping the person I am and continue to grow into. And that’s fucking cool.

I’m grateful to know so confidently what makes my heart full. To wake up everyday and know how and where to find my strength and happiness. To be so passionate about the things I love to do. To have an excellent education been provided my whole life. I’m thankful every single day for my health and physical ability to walk, run, hike, climb, ride, etc. I’m thankful as hell for Dr. LaPrade who fixed up my knee two years ago, and to Nate and Lyndee for being the best physical therapists in the world. For my parents and friends for physically and emotionally helping me through that whole shitty recovery.

I’m grateful for mother nature, for the mountains, high summits, challenging rock, long sketchy routes, fresh air, alpine lakes, beautiful trails, fresh snow, sunshine, wildflowers, soft breezes, and trees. For trail runners, sports bras, hiking boots, hydration packs, backpacks, snowboards, splitboards, trekking poles, ice axes, crampons, helmets, harnesses, ropes, and aaalllllll the other gear that keeps me alive. And for all the geniuses who design and create it. For sunscreen, bug spray, arnica gel and chafing cream. For topo maps, compasses and mapping tools. The list is endless. I could seriously write a novel about everything I am grateful for, but I’m passing out from a food coma.