The thought of walking 3,000km down the length of New Zealand is equal parts exciting and scary.
Exciting because it’s epic, it’s a challenge and it’s my home country. Scary because it’s seriously hard core, it’s epic, it’s a challenge and mentally I worry about it and whether I can do it.
I chose New Zealand (or rather New Zealand chose me) because it’s where I was born and grew up. In my head, that sits in my comfort zone. I’ve already done some multi-day walks there and experienced New Zealand’s great outdoors so, in my head, the Te Araroa trail sits in my comfort zone. I’ve got friends and family there, there are no dangerous animals like bears, nasty insects, reptiles or diseases. Right now, my comfort zone is so comfy.
When I think of #WalkNZ in these terms, I’m like yeah baby, I can do this.
And then I think of the river crossings.
The ones without bridges. The ones where my feet and boots will get wet. The ones where my tramping trousers and shorts – and possibly even my underpants –will get wet.
River crossings in New Zealand are dangerous – they are one of the top causes of deaths of hikers in the backcountry. And not all rivers on Te Araroa will be as straightforward as the braided Travers River in the New Zealand Nelson Lakes that I had to cross just over a year ago.
So, it’s perfectly reasonable that the mere thought of setting foot in New Zealand’s cold, flowing waters makes my heart do a jig.
But if there was anything I learnt from my six months at Girl Guides it was ‘Be Prepared’. So, I took a river crossing course.
Now I’m fully aware that the UK’s Lake District isn’t exactly the wilderness badlands of New Zealand. And I can only thank the rain gods for having provided some heavy downpours a week earlier, breaking Britain’s almost three-month dry spell, so that there were some actual decent rivers to cross as opposed to puddles. Surely, this had to be better than nothing in preparation for #WalkNZ.
I was already feeling nervous, so when my guide Iain, from Lakes Outdoor Experience, mentioned that some mountaineering organisation now recommended that guides don’t teach river crossing because it’s deemed too dangerous, I felt a little bit sick.
That said, Iain put me through my paces at the River Lune in Kirkby Lonsdale, which is actually more Yorkshire Dales than Lake District.
For several hours I criss-crossed back and forth over the river, surprisingly warm water sloshing over my boots and, at times, above my knees. I crossed a shallow white-water rapid section, a deeper and strangely stronger (and slightly more terrifying) section, as well as everything in between. I learnt how to cross individually, as a pair and in a group of three. I got a feel for what is a no-no and what river dangers I should look out for to avoid.
I came away wet but more confident than when I’d made my first tentative step into the water.
I’m fully aware that many of the rivers I’ll be crossing in New Zealand – in one day alone I cross 12 – will be less tame than the one I have practiced in here in the UK. And while by no means am I an expert now, but having got a taste of what is to come and knowing that if I use my common sense and remember what I’ve learnt, then the thought of crossing a river along Te Araroa shouldn’t stop me from pursuing #WalkNZ.
I’m solo walking the 3,000km Te Araroa trail down the length of New Zealand to raise awareness of self-doubt and low self-esteem, which are linked to mental health problems. I want to show that these negative thoughts don’t have to hold us back from achieving our goals and dreams.
In aid of this cause, I’m fundraising for Mind, the mental health charity in the UK, so that money can go to services and support systems to help people with mental health problems, some of whom may also have been affected by the debilitating effects of self-doubt and low self-esteem. To lend your support and donate, please visit my fundraising page here.
If you’re in New Zealand and want to support my effort and mental health, I’m also fundraising for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. To support my cause, please visit my fundraising page here.