Travel Chapters: New Zealand
I arrived on the North Island of New Zealand on Wednesday. From the air it was lush and green and I knew it would be hot. Exactly what I want, to escape the cold Canadian winter and cheat life a bit. I met my friends at the airport, Bec and Andrew. They travel between Canada, Australia and New Zealand often and I had met them in Canada last summer for a hike out in Waterton. Andrew is from Canada and Bec is Australian. They had been travelling the South Island for the last month and we had set up to travel together for their last 15 days and My first 15. They also have a car that I will buy off of them when they leave, mutually benefiting.
We drove a lot the first few days and I have begun to learn the backpacker dirtbag life. I love it. We don’t know where we will end up from day to day and pinch pennies buying lunch and dinner from grocery stores along the way. I had always wondered what it was like to cook a stir fry in a jetboil.
A few things that I love about this place and how I know I will be just fine for the next two months: 1. They have the best instant coffee. 2. They put milk in their coffee here by default. I am set. Well I suppose there is a third reason too, probably the number one reason. The country is absolutely stunning, and I am on the lesser island and still blown away. The South Island may be too much for me to handle.
I drove for the first time here as well, on opposite sides of the road. It was weird, I am used to being such a confident driver I felt like I was learning to drive all over again. I feel like everything here is so backwards, roads, seasons and the school year. It’s the New Zealand summer after all. Something that hasn’t changed however are the people, which are as friendly and as helpful as back home. The accents are hard for me to pick up sometimes though! Bec and Andrew are the best travel companions as well. They have such seasoned knowledge of the country I feel like I have an upper hand, and they are teaching me to drive and live cheaply. Major lessons out here.
After a few days I was itching to get walking. We drove North to the Bay of Islands and the weather was horrible. Pouring rain as we drove, yet we decided together that we would try and do an overnight walk to Cape Brett and stay in a hut out there. The walk was 16.6km one way, not bad, however the costal mountains made for atrocious up and down climbing the entire way. The night before the walk we stayed at this place called “The Farm.” It is a farm about 15km from the trailhead where backpackers are welcome. Bec told me I was spoiled to have a hot shower and kitchen available. I felt spoiled. The farm has horses and cats and dogs so I was very spoiled, I love animals.
We started the walk in the heat. Lucky for us it stopped raining but it was amazingly humid and hot. The first part of the walk was all uphill and the sweat came hard and fast. The humidity refused evaporation so we started to get sticky and perpetually wet with our own sweat. It didn’t take long to feel the exhaustion. The steep downhill sections had slick over-travelled clay that could send you on your bum before you knew what was happening. With a pack that weighed well over 30lbs it was an added challenge to balance. We hustled through however, and I have to admit I was happy to have a butt kicking. I haven’t been running or teaching fitness for the last month so an abusive hike was just what I wanted. It was also so primal for my mental being. The sound of cicadas through the tunnel of trees made me feel like I was deep in a tropical jungle. We didn’t see much until the end which Bec and I agreed was our favourite kind of hike. The scene unveils itself in the last moments of our effort and gives way to a reward of beauty. And my God it was beautiful.
There was a giant eggshell white lighthouse greeting us as we descended down the last slippery slope. We could hear each other’s gasps as our eyes feasted on three tropical cliff islands behind the lighthouse and the small red roofed hut in the distance. It reminded me of Anne of Green Gables. Green and blue and white. A feast of colour.
After satisfying ourself with photos of the landscape we made our way down to the hut. A large group of locals our age had passed us on the trail and settled to the hut before us. As we walked up three shirtless dripping wet boys came up the steps from the coast with bright red fish dangling from their spears. Giant flippers in one hand and spear guns in the other they had joy on their faces, cracking out, “We got dinner!” The mood was infectious and the air smelt of the sea.
We sat looking at the massive cliffs for a bit of time with some fresh coffee. We chatted about the hike and rested our tired now bootless feet. Our bellies soon grumbled with urgency to fill our energy resources. We ate some dehydrated meals I brought called “Good to Go.” It was a new company I have been trying out with the healthiest ingredients I’ve seen in a dehydrated meal and I like to eat things I can pronounce. The thai curry was more than exceptional. The smell of coconut and curry tempted us as we waited for it to be ready. It didn’t take long to shovel down as we sat in the kitchen of the hut surrounded by the smell of frying fish from the other group.
We played Monopoly cards into the evening, a game in which Andrew was eager to teach me because he claimed it was “better with three people.” As we shuffled off to bed with 25 other people in the hut, we were down for a hot stuffy night. It was soon over with light from the sunrise and we packed up quickly to catch what looked like a poor sunrise, so the rush was not felt. Like every good sunrise we were not prepared and the hot orange sun revealed itself too quickly into a sea of pink. We ran to catch the light at the lighthouse. The soft orange light captured the details of the coastal rock and it made our efforts worthwhile even for only one photo. We cooked breakfast after satisfied with the best light of sunrise and then started back up the track, knowing the difficult day was ahead.
It ended up feeling easier however, we voted it to be the cool wind and reduced heat of the day keeping us from the exhaustion we felt from the previous day. I don’t think I have ever smelt that bad before, I couldn’t even handle my own stench at that point, the urgency to shower was strong. It was quite the way to start off my trip.
We decided to stop at these pools I saw on Pinterest called the “Mermaid Pools.” The directions were less than vague on how to find these pools but we set off anyway. We almost gave up on finding it too because we had been aimlessly roaming for an hour not finding these mystery pools. Andrew started up a steep hill and looked at me as if to say “should we go up?” After two days of mountainous walking I was not keen on climbing up another hill. Bec had the same look on her face as well. A man was coming down the hill so I suggested we ask him what was up there, he could decide for us. He bluntly said in a strong Kiwi accent “It’s the mermaid pool.” Bingo.
After I got my back nicely burnt out there, we headed South. Our first Volcano was Mt Ruapehu. The largest active volcano in New Zealand. We did a crater walk to the most beautiful blue Crater Lake. The guided walk provided us with so much information about the volcano, including how all the mountains got their Maori names. We also visited the Taranaki falls the day before.
The next morning was a push. We woke at 1 am to catch sunrise at Red Crater on the Tongariro Crossing. The trail said 4 hours to Red Crater. It took us 2.5 hours. So we got pretty cold as the wind roared. We struggled to make some breakfast behind a rock. Fingers cold the warmth of coffee and oats warmed us temporarily. We decide to keep moving to stay warm. We made it to the Red Crater and still had an hour before sunrise. We sat beside a rock, trying to shelter ourselves. Heat came from the rock, and surprised us. I said, “Is this… warm?” Turns out we were beside a geothermal steaming out of the rock. We got pretty lucky. Sunrise was incredible, an unveiling of the landscape. We played on the crater for the next few hours until a zoo of crowds showed up and we decided to leave.
We wanted to climb this Volcano, but it got too hot and we got too tired, also we had so much more work ahead of us in the coming days.
We then made our way to Mt. Taranaki and up to the Syme Hut. And up it was. Hundred of stairs and scree to make it to the plateau where the hut lay. Such a difficult climb, but well worth it as we caught sunset. I had a pretty crappy sleep here though. The hut was full and we camped. The wind howled all night keeping me awake. We planned to climb Taranaki in the morning and then stay another night. Of course we can never keep a plan and when we noticed the mountain fairly cloudy we decided to he’d to another hut. Back down and up again, we were very exhausted at this point. Well the pictures can tell you it was worth it.
Sadly coming off this hike exhaustion kicked in and I miss stepped and sprained my ankle. Rats. Good thing for us though we had a few days to rest and Bec and Andrew had to fly home. All alone now, it should be good for me. See how independent I can really be. I guess we will find out.
Part Two: South Island
I headed to Abel Tasman after crossing the Ferry to Picton and the South Island. I have summed up a series of memorable “Stories” from the past few weeks. Pick and choose the stories, I can’t promise they will all be entertaining (man I’m really selling you on this eh?).
That Belgium Guy I met on Abel Tasman.
Okay so the title to this story is a bit weird, but I owe this guy some credit because at this point on my trip I hadn’t had a full conversation with anyone for four days. So I had an interesting time trying to book Abel Tasman walk (a great walk in NZ) I tried to book it on a weekend for that day and obviously there wasn’t any space. I booked two non-ideal spots for the following day instead, taking what I could get. I spent a night at Wharariki beach (not apart of this walk) which proved to be quite worth it. Then I went and drove down to camp at Abel Tasman. It was a lousy short walk to my camp, something like two hours and then I had the entire afternoon to lounge. And don’t get me wrong it was pretty beautiful. White sand beaches and clear blue water, it reminded me of the Caribbean. I wished to kayak the walk but they wouldn’t rent one single person kayak out, too dangerous or something silly.
I got bored pretty fast and waited until a reasonable time to cook dinner. Then this Belgium boy showed up, he looked pretty exhausted and he told me his name but of course I forget it now. We had dinner together and he was actually quite a funny guy, I hadn’t laughed that hard since Bec and Andrew had left so I was thankful for his company. We joked a lot about our cultural differences. He made me realize how desperate I was for human company and how much I rely on others to feel okay and not alone. We parted in the morning with a new temporary friendship and a new insight of my comforts. I knew I needed some mountains ASAP, so that’s where I headed next.
My Near Lost iPhone Tragedy
These stories have so much more to them than I can tell you, but I will try to condense them for you so they don’t bore you at all. Basically I got into Nelson Lakes area late afternoon and very keen to start walking. I was lucky enough to score the last spot in the Angelus Hut and was pretty stoked on that. I walked myself to speargrass hut for the first evening and met two older ladies who caught my attention. Both were in there 60’s and spending 9 days in the backcountry. They were carrying 9 days of food on their backs and pulling in 8 hour days. I really took a liking to them and they joined me at the Angelus Hut the following evening.
The climb up to that hut the next day was quite a haul. At least 900m elevation and I was just starting to build my mountain legs at this point. The hut was absolutely beautiful and I was instantly in love. Bec told me to climb Mt. Angelus which I wanted to do but was skeptical on climbing it alone. I met two fellow Canadians that were also wanting to climb the mountain in the morning, problem solved. Both of them were from the east side of Canada but they were very different. Taylor was 24 and just finished his engineering degree and travelling before work. The other man (forgot his name) was middle aged software producer on a holiday. It was interesting to talk to them and hear their takes on the world, forever helping me discover my own take on this world. They convinced me to join them to the bush line hut for the last night. I was going to head down to the car park but I realized there is no rush, and I quite liked having the company. On the way down I left my pocket open where my phone was stored as I shot a quick “I’m alive” text to my Dad. When we got to the hut after a 4 hour walk I realized my pocket was open and the phone was gone. I instantly freaked right out and started walking up the track without telling my friends why I had left… I was in my sandals. I remember the last place I had checked the phone and felt like a basset hound on the trail with my nose to the ground. My life is on that phone, emails, contacts, maps and my lifeline to home. This was oozing through my mind the whole time. How silly I rely on such a small device. I walked an extra hour and a half with no luck. I went back to the hut and my friends were concerned about where and why I disappeared. I decided to check the hut once again because I was so panicked. The phone was in the other closed pocket, the one I failed to check. Of course it was right where I left it. An easy lesson.
Weirdly enough the older man left at midnight from the hut during my heavy sleep. I only knew this because Taylor told me in the morning once I looked across to him over the empty mat. Taylor and I headed out and I offered him a ride to the nearest pub to grab some fish and chips. We parted ways after that and I headed south.
New Lifelong Friends
Rain had set in on the west coast as I made my trip down. Alone again I was eager to make new friends and find new walks so I wanted to get south to the mountains. I got a message from a mutual friend saying he would be in Queenstown that Friday so I was keen to meet up with him. My friend from home, Taylor Burk, had recommended we do some travel together. When I picked this man up from the airport he was shoeless on the side of the highway and had a most impressive beard. His long hair gave my hair a run for it’s money. I was so skeptical at first but I knew there must be sometime special about him for Taylor to be so keen about us meeting. And he is special, in fact Geoff may be one of the most selfless people I know. We met up with a few other instagrammers that were in the area for the next couple days and we wanted to get up to some mountain nonsense starting in Wanaka.
I soon met Rachel and Dan later that day. Both of them were from the North Island and so in love with photography. They gave me a new light in my passion for photography while I watched them stay out late and rise early to get the shots they wanted. Such kind local people I was surrounded with and it made me feel so great to be a apart of the group. We headed to Mt. Cook and walked to Hooker Lake. Geoff continued to teach me about the mountain plants and birds and how damaging people have been to the environment in New Zealand. He told me about his work with conservation and the work he has done for the plants, water and wildlife for New Zealand and I have to say I was pretty inspired to the point of asking myself what I have done for this world when he has done so much.
Saying goodbye to these friends was pretty difficult. Geoff said he would be back before I left and I was glad to have a friend to look forward to seeing in the future. The life lessons he has taught me about environment will stay with me for life and I thank him deeply for being so positively influential in my life. He did come back, but that story is for another time.
Get Walking Katie
After my friends departed I had that lonely feeling yet again. If I could tell you or teach you anything from this nomadic life it’s that you’re heart gets broken often. It seems like nothing lasts forever and you are always meeting and departing the most amazing people. Don’t let me discourage you though, these relationships I make with people and places are worth every minute of heartbreak easily.
I decided to get in the back country for a few days, I find that when I am walking it helps sooth my pain and I can find that next thing that makes leaving so difficult. I started at the aspiring hut, wishing to camp. When I arrived the DOC warden greeted me with this conversation, “You looking to camp?” I said, “Yes, they said if I gave you a $5 note I can camp by the hut.” He looked and said “Yeah or you can walk ten feet to the river and camp for free.”
What a cool Warden. I ended up staying in the hut instead because I like being around people and meeting new people. I did meet some rather cool people there too after I did a sticky climb up to the top of the valley ridge line.
I met a Canadian friendly boy who was WOLFing in town and another Texas man who was actually a photographer for Miss America. He had some interesting stories to share! I also met two kiwi boys camping who were very easy on the eyes. They ended up getting terrorized by the Kea all night and when I said goodbye to them in the car park later it looked like they were happy to leave.
I ended up hiking up to the Liverpool hut with having the French Ridge hut also on my radar, however weather was not cooperating. The climb to the Liverpool hut was probably the most challenging walk I did in New Zealand. It was not a long hike but incredibly steep and made be use every ounce of mental and physical power. I liked it. I came down before dark however because I was not keen to do that track in the ran the next day. At least I made it up there.
After my little excursion in Mt Aspiring I headed back to Wanaka where my friends from Seattle would soon be arriving and I would have more upcoming adventures with them.
Greg, Adam, Josh and Adam Oh MY!
Finally these boys were to arrive! I knew they had New Zealand in their travel plans and we made a point to meet up and travel together for a bit. These guys are such amazing boys. They are from Seattle and each of them has a talent that makes them beautiful as a whole. Greg and Adam K. were the first of these boys that I had met, back in December if you can remember. I had met Adam W. or AJ back in January as well. Josh was the newest friend for me to meet but I knew if he had made that group he was probably cool.
I compartmentalized each of the guys in the group. Greg is the dad, he plans to be on time to things and if they are safe and legal. AJ is the soul, one heart to heart chat with him and you understand life a little better. He also is mean at guitar. Adam K. is the cook. He prepares the meals and brings the group together. Josh is the kid, he is the one who keeps the group young and always has a crazy idea. Somehow it all meshed perfectly and I was lucky enough to be involved. I don’t really know what my purpose was, probably had something to do with finding walks but who knows.
It would be really difficult for me to go through all the adventures we shared together. We hiked to Muller hut, we camped on mountain peaks, we went on an alpine plane together and we shared countless nights with the guitar and good food aside our cars. Man I miss this even while I write and reflect back on it. We shared some pretty amazing times together and I hope we can come together again one day and do it again.
I parted from the boys in order to do the Milford track. I had the four Day walk booked about six months ago and was looking forward to seeing why it was so popular. I parked up at Te Anua Downs in order to start the walk by Boat. It was raining the first day but I only had an hour of track to cover so I was quite alright with it. The dense rain forest like atmosphere had my spirits high. I was looking forward to having some constant walking for the next bit. I was the first to the hut (which surprised me) and a boy from Toronto was behind me shortly after. He told me I moved quick and we talked for a bit about what brought us to New Zealand. I then had a nap before dinner.
I met two other ladies from the North Island at dinner where I shared stories with them about tracking NZ and my photography. They agreed to be models for me the next few days so I could get some adventure photos. Not having models is a huge problem, I am not a selfie queen and setting up a tripod for a shot new kills me.
We got completely and utterly lucky on the day over the McKinnon Pass (highest point on the track). So lucky in fact I feel like I used up all my good luck. It was a beautiful blue bird day and we could see the entire valley. the valley would be unseen for the next two weeks after that day due to weather. It was a wonderful 10 hour day.
I met a British man in his 40’s who had been traveling for over two years due to a job loss and broken engagement. He was very interesting to me, he was basically living like me, playing the YOLO game but as a responsible adult. I respected him a lot and we ended up going swimming under the tallest waterfall in New Zealand together later that day. The pure pressure of the water falling was the most liberating and intense force I have ever been close to.
We were both pretty overjoyed by the whole experience. I didn’t take my camera here, free to enjoy it fully without a lens. I think its essential to enjoy the experiences with and without a camera, you can get so much out of both.
I headed out of Milford the next day in the pouring rain. It was pissing the entire time without a break. When I arrived at sand fly point to get the boat back to the sound I was a tiny bit ready to be out of the rain-forest. I later got to Milford and met with the boys and we hit up a bit of kayaking before going back to Te Anau to get my car and to pick up Geoff who had come back to meet me.
Endings suck, but they Lead to New Beginnings
My last week in New Zealand. Not an easy story to write about because it was the best week of my trip and my emotions are still very present about it. I am gone and still not ready to leave. Geoff spent the last week with me as we played in Milford, traveled to Dunedin and hiked the Routeburn. There are a hundred countless stories from this last week but I won’t share the details, just some pictures here. What I will share however is the fact that it took leaving New Zealand to know that I have to go back. I plan to go back for a year after the Canadian Summer. I have never felt so free and at home before than I did in that country. I lived on little and have never felt more full. I am glad to have been able to experience such happiness in my life, even if I don’t make it back I am still very thankful for the clarity that the country has given me in my life. There is so much more ahead and I am excited to move forward to the next chapters, hopefully you’ll join me. Get ready!