Welcome to the Rootin’ Tootin’ & Dootin’ Adventures of a New Zealand Thru-Hiker! I am your author, Jenni, here to bring you chronicled stories of my journey with my beautiful friend Clea as we tramp Te Araroa, New Zealand’s longest and newest trail. Whether you are reading this blog as a friend keeping up with my travels, a fellow TA thru-hiker searching for useful beta, a potential thru-hiker of any long walk seeking tips or advice, or just a rad person wanting to read about other rad people doing rad shit, I hope you thoroughly enjoy yourself and find what you’re looking for.
So what the hell is Te Araroa? Te Araroa translates to “The Long Pathway”, a perfectly simple and accurate description of the 3000 km (roughly 1800 miles) trail spanning from Cape Reinga at the very top of New Zealand’s north island to Bluff at the bottom of the south island. For conceptualization purposes, I like to think of Te Araroa (TA) as a Kiwi sister to the Pacific Crest Trail in the United States, that is in basic terms of being a multi-month, long-distance hike through varying terrain. Beginning with a 60 km coastline walk along Ninety-Mile Beach, TA winds through dense forests, farmlands, towns, river valleys, volcanic mountains, high ridges and across rivers and oceans. While the official trail was connected and finished in 2011, TA holds a rich history of New Zealand and a bright future as trampers travel from all over the world to walk its length.
But…why? What reasons do I have for hiking 1800 miles in a country I’ve never been to before? I have asked myself this question about 500,000,999 times. My friends and family inevitably also wanted to know why this trip became something I had to do. So after many conversations and deep sessions of personal thought, I determined there is no singular, dominating reason, but rather a collection of goals, dreams, emotions, and ideas that are constantly changing and growing in direct relation to the events, relationships, interactions, experiences and environments of my daily life.
My first response to the why question is simply why not? Why not save money and go spend a year exploring a country on the other side of the world I’ve never been to before? Do I have a full-time job stopping me? No. Do I have kids or a pet to take care of? No. Am I in a committed relationship I don’t want to lose? No. Is there a deadline on “settling down” that I need to make? Definitely no. So why not? I’m an adventurous, outdoorsy, motivated, independent 26 year old mountain girl who’s been living an active life in Colorado for the last 7 years. I know what makes me happy, what my passions and strengths are, and what areas I need to focus energy for positive growth. I know I have a degree in Design Studies from the college of Environmental Design at CU-Boulder. And I know I have the ability to achieve whatever I set my mind to. What I don’t know just yet is where these components overlap in terms of a sustainable future that will have a meaningful impact greater than just my own personal benefit. Sure, I could work relatively easy, non-committing jobs forever and earn just enough to support my snowboarding/splitboarding addiction (among many others) with a little left over. But in my heart I know I have a deeper purpose than just kicking ass for pure recreation. Between serious knee surgery, two years of living in a small ski town, a failed attempt at the whole relationship thing, a degree that seems to look better on paper than in application, and about a million possible ideas, I have simply been struggling to “figure it all out”. So when the opportunity to explore New Zealand (with my best friend!) popped up, I saw a chance for change, for a new force to be applied and send myself in a new direction.
Is there a notecard with my life’s purpose written down sitting on Te Araroa waiting for me to walk by and pick it up? No. However, I do believe the physical, mental, and sometimes emotional challenge of walking 1800 miles will provide an avenue for some serious introspection. I have been backpacking basically my entire life and fell in love with the clarity and serenity I feel being disconnected from the outside world. With everything I need on my back, the backpacking life is simple. You walk, absorb the beauty, eat, sleep, wake up, absorb the beauty, and repeat. You live in the moment. Imagine living in a space for 5 months where you’re not thinking about work, your stupid Comcast bill, taxes, the huge, expensive dent in your car from the rock you hit at the trailhead last week, how you’re possibly going to afford that new Jones Airbag, or why that hottie you met at the coffee shop last week hasn’t texted you yet. None of your brain space is taken up by any of these pieces of normal daily life. As long as you have food, water, and a place to camp, your mind is free. The physical part of walking every single day will be a challenge at times too, but I love a solid sufferfest because I know the natural high is next level afterwards. I am beyond stoked to see what I discover about myself on the trail in this inevitably free mind space, after a long, intense, and absolutely beautiful adventure.