Answers to your questions on the North Island section of the Te Araroa Trail

20181105_130606101 days. 1,688km walked.

And with that I reached Island Bay, the bottom of New Zealand’s North Island on the Te Araroa trail and my #WalkNZ adventure.

Here are the answers to questions I’ve been asked about what the journey has been like so far.

What has the North Island section of the Te Araroa trail been like?

In a word, demanding. It’s full on right from the get-go with Ninety Mile Beach, quickly followed by the extremely muddy (read knee-high mud) Raetea Forest. Add in the kilometres of monotonous road walking and you quickly spend the first few weeks wondering what the hell you’ve got yourself into. And it doesn’t really let up. People say if you can get through Ninety Mile Beach and Northland’s muddy forests you can do the whole trail, and there is definitely some truth to that.

What has been the biggest high and the biggest low? 

Completing Ninety Mile Beach after wondering whether I could actually do Te Araroa was a big deal so hobbling into Ahipara was pretty epic. That said, completing the North Island section knowing I’d walked every step (apart from a 5km hitchhike to bypass two aggressive dogs and canoeing rather than walking the Whanganui River) was also a big high. In terms of adrenaline highs – going through the rapids on the Whanganui River and not capsizing once was epic. The biggest low was throwing a strop in the Dome Forest north of Auckland when I slipped in some mud. In fact, the biggest low in general was the excessive amount of mud in the North Island. Another low was having to turn around 300m from the Red Crater summit on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing because of 110km wind gusts.

What section on the North Island was your highlight?

I don’t think I could say there was a particular section. Russell Forest was quite special, the Timber Trail was great (but tame), I actually enjoyed the muddy Hakarimata mountain range, and the Whanganui River was phenomenal but hard work. Trail highlights would be seeing Tane Moana a giant kauri tree, listening to native birds sing, watching sunrise and sunset from the top of Pirongia, and paddling down the mist-ladden Whanganui River at 6:30 in the morning.

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What has been surprising and unexpected on the trail?

The sheer amount of mud I’ve had to walk through and how wet and deep it is. The North Island is much muddier than I had expected.

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On average, how many kilometres were you walking a day and what do you think your top walking speed is?

If you do the maths, I average out on a daily basis of almost 17km a day for the North Island but I took a lot of rest days (which is why I’ve been pretty slow to finish the North Island). Excluding these I was generally walking between 25-30km a day. My biggest day was 39km which took me 11 and a half hours – although my pedometer on my phone tells me I happened to walk 43km one day even though my trail GPS app said that section was around 32km. I’ve met several walkers who were easily walking more than 50km a day. My top speed on the flat with my heavy backpack is almost 5km an hour – it’s much much slower when the hills are steep.

How are your feet and legs?

When I arrived in Kerikeri I has 12 blisters. After taking extra rest days in Paihia and soaking my feet in Epsom Salts my feet started to harden up and the blister situation much improved (except after the wet boggy section after Mercer when a couple of blisters came up). I had an ankle issue walking through Auckland but that turned out to be the inner sole in my boot. Removing that fixed the problem instantly. My legs were ok until the past few weeks when my new quad muscles have become very tight and painful. Note to self – remember to stretch.

How many pairs of shoes have you gone through?

By Whanganui my first pair of boots were had it so swapped them for my second pair. What has surprised me is the number of socks I’ve gone through – four so far.

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What has been your most embarrassing toilet moment on the walk so far?

Fortunately no really embarrassing toilet moments but I did have to pee over the side of the canoe on the Whanganui River. We were about two hours from Whanganui and there was no way I could hold that long. At that section of the river it’s tidal so there aren’t any nice beaches to pull up on, instead it’s just really muddy banks. So my canoe partner and I had to hold onto a tree branch while I tried to get my pants down and position myself over the edge of the canoe, all without capsizing the boat. It’s not as easy as you would think. There was another time I went for a pee behind a tree next to the road and there was a sign on the fence saying CCTV was in use so there was a lucky farmer who may have got an eye full.

What is the longest you’ve gone without a shower?

I think this was six days. It sounds disgusting but you quickly get used to it. I think I went three weeks not washing my PJs and I’ve worn a pair of underpants for four days in a row (and not showered).

Have you had any personal safety or security scares?

Thankfully nothing major. I’ve got lost a couple of times on the trail but it wasn’t bad lost. I’ve met a couple of interesting/dodgy characters but nothing untoward happened. There was the issue of two aggressive dogs outside Ahipara that bit two walkers two days before I was due to walk past – which is why I hitchhiked to pass that. The other questionable bits include, attempting the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in bad weather (which forced me to turn back), walking through paddocks with bulls, and doing a face plant in the Tararuas after slipping and not being able to get up – thankfully another walker was able to pull me up.

How many nights have you slept in your tent as opposed to a hut and was the main reason for using your tent due to rodents?

In the North Island, it’s mainly tenting (and holiday parks). I’ve slept in maybe four huts for the whole North Island section – and three of those had rodents (the secret is hang your food from the ceiling). I slept outside one other hut because of rumours about mice.

Do you have a trail name?

No. I half thought about giving myself one – Gas Can – because for several 100kms I was carrying three gas canisters (thanks to the lovely shop assistant in Kerikeri). A German father and son joked they might call me Sherpa because the huge size of my backpack reminded them of a documentary that featured some guy with a huge backpack whose trail name was Sherpa.

Did you ever want to give up?

Yes, when I threw my strop in the Dome Forest. And on hard days or when I’ve particularly felt like I’ve struggled, like in the Tararuas, I’ve questioned what I’m doing and whether I should be doing it.

Were the tips you received from adventurers before you started the journey (see blog here) of any use?

Definitely. Singing has really helped me get through some dire road walks and hard forests. And remembering that the pain doesn’t last forever, that tomorrow is another day, helps with any bad situation. Likewise finding positives in a crappy situation. I walked down one beach in terrible weather and it was bleak but the positive was I had the whole beach to myself. One of the best tips was to focus on small chunks and in that sense I was just able to put one foot in front of the other and take one step at a time. I’ve even counted my steps to take my mind’s focus elsewhere.

What have you been eating on the trail and how have you been cooking it?

My mother’s marvelous green muesli, which has spirilina powder in, for breakfast. It looks horrendous but tastes ok. I have a muesli or nut bar for morning tea, while lunch is generally a wrap with either peanut butter, Nutella or avocado. Snacks include scroggin, nuts, dried fruit, chocolate and my mother’s scroggin biscuits (so good). For dinner I’ve been mainly having dehydrated meals by BackCountry – they are easy, convenient, tasty and nutritious. Mum wasn’t too keen on me eating two-minute noodles. I cook using a gas canister and a little gas stove from Alpkit.

What has been your favourite meal? 

Stand out meal was dinner at Jock’s who was a trail angel in Helena Bay. He cooked bacon, eggs, fried tomato and hash browns. It was perfect. I devoured a massive burger that had bacon and an egg, with a side of chips at Whakapapa Village and then polished off a banana split, which is probably the most I’ve eaten in one sitting. I think I even surprised the waiters with that one. Christmas dinner at home was pretty good too, while the chocolate brownies at the brownie cafe that my cousin took me to in Wellington were considered a food orgasm.

How have you resupplied along the trail and how have you organised this? 

The North Island is pretty easy for resupply due to being more populated and having the trail go through quite a few towns that have supermarkets and food joints. This means you can generally carry less (unless you’re like me). I met one guy who carried virtually no food and he just bought what he needed for that moment. I still had my mum send some resupply boxes enroute so that I could eat her muesli and so that I didn’t have to carry boxes of contact lenses.

Now that you’ve completed the North Island, what would you change to adjust to the South Island? Do you prepare differently for each? 

Pack weight is definitely the big thing but I really don’t know what I can feasibly get rid of. I’m still trying to get the food sorted – generally I’m carrying too much (heavy). What I have changed is my sleeping mat – for the North Island I used a rather luxurious self inflating mat that weighs 600g because so much is tenting. But in the South Island, about 80% of the nights will be in huts so I’ve swapped the self-inflating mat for a lighter and smaller mat for the few nights when I’ll have to tent. The other difference with the Islands is the food resupply – the South Island is more remote and won’t just be able to pop to a supermarket enroute so I’ve had to organise resupply boxes to be sent to various points on the trail.

How are you Facebooking and blogging?

A lot of the sections in the North Island have no internet access so when I take a rest day in a town I go social media crazy and try to write a blog. I try to do this about every one to two weeks. Rest days aren’t very restful.

Do you have a selfie stick?

Nope. Extra weight that I shouldn’t carry.

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