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.