I have now walked just more than half of the South Island of New Zealand on part 2 of #WalkNZ.
More than 650km.
That explains why the tread on my shoes is looking a little bald and why I’m now slightly obsessed with food.
The past 10 days have provided some of the best highlights of the trail – wild West country and the greatest sense of remoteness so far, super wild camping spots, the highest point on the Te Araroa trail, a stunning ridgeline walk with views to New Zealand’s tallest mountain Mt Cook, and a 55km bike ride.
The section between the large hazardous braided rivers of the Rakaia and Rangitata over the Clent Hills was wild West country – vast open valleys of dry yellow tussock surrounded by huge lumpy mountains that seemed to be melting rivers of scree down their flanks.
It was a barren landscape.
The waist-high tussock was out to trip us up, catching on our shoes, hiding holes in the trail, while it’s silky blades were deadly against the lack of tread on our shoes.
Spikey plants, some with thorns the size of little fingers, poked and scratched at our legs. One, a pin cushion of sharp spears (known as spear grass), soon became nick-named son-of-a-bitch plant.
This seemed so remote, another world tucked away and forgotten in a corner of New Zealand.
I was infinitesimal, a tiny dot against a land so open and vast.
And then came the highest point on the Te Araroa trail – Stag Saddle at 1,925m above sea level.
A remarkable accomplishment for a somewhat unremarkable view of a lot of scree.
Do the ridge walk, they said. Don’t descend via the river valley.
Fine by me – I was getting a bit sick of river crossings and wet feet. Several days earlier we spent a day crossing a river 58 times.
And the weather was on our side – yet another day of blue skies and few clouds.
Ridge walk it was.
You don’t need gusts of wind to be blown away. A row of jagged peaks, some coated in snow, with New Zealand’s tallest mountain, a giant ice shard, taking centre stage, can equally blow you away.
We sat for about an hour and a half on the ridge line, a hot cup of tea in hand, appreciating the beauty of the Southern Alps.
Two nights later we sat on the edge of Lake Tekapo, its milky turquoise waters lapping at the rocks at our feet.
This was our home for the night. A wild camp on the lake’s shore.
And wild it was as gale force winds buffeted the tent during the night. It held up but I needed my boyfriend’s help to pack it up the next morning under a rose and apricot sunrise.
A road walk and Tekapo Village essentially marked the halfway point of the South Island.
From there is was a 55km bike ride along a cycle trail to the town of Twizel.
It was a flat and straight forward ride but that didn’t stop my butt complaining.
Said butt is currently recovering while I sit across from Mt Cook and Lake Pukaki at my friend’s Anna and Mike’s Lakestone Lodge which sits on the trail. (Thanks for hosting us for two days guys – you rule!)
Originally my boyfriend Mark was going to say adieu here – we would part ways, me continuing south solo, him hiring a bike and cycling the South Island.
But after 15 days of walking together, of enjoying cups of tea and watching sunsets, of nursing his nose after he face planted, of laughing at his jokes and singing Is This The Way To Amarillo, and with him carrying the tent, the gas canisters and some of the food, I couldn’t bear to part company with him.
So against all rational arguments and expectations that this was a solo walk, I asked him to join me for the second half of the South Island all the way to Bluff, all the way to the finish point.
I’d been wanting a different experience since returning for part 2.
So much had changed during the six months I had off walking when I was back in London. Why walk the same way when everything was different now?
I wanted to find freedom on this second stab at the South Island. What greater freedom is there than going against expectations and against things you think you “should” do (ie walk solo) and instead just doing what you want and what makes you happy.
Life is too short.
I always knew part 2 would be a different experience to part 1 of #WalkNZ.
Now it really will be.