Freedom again so I was out the gate like a cut cat. I enjoyed my stay with a cute wee grandson but I had left work for a bit more adventure so I was out the gate like a cut car as soon as we moved Covid levels.
Delta level 3 meant I could be on the move however buses and trains were still not running out of Palmerston North. To start my NOBO (Northbound) I needed to get to Wellington which is the Southern most end of our North Island.
So I called up my friend, Maxine and asked for a ride. I was pretty sure she would be eager to get out of the house after 2 weeks locked down and I was right. That got me half way and then I caught a commuter train, then a bus to Island Bay to start my walk.
Starting Te Araroa this time was nowhere as exciting or scary as when I began my SOBO in October 2019. This time I knew what I was in for, physically and mentally, I knew my gear was good and I knew the route.
I found it quite hard wearing a mask as my glasses fogged up meaning I couldn’t see much at all. I had trouble seeing enough through the fog and was fumbling to find money, so I was told not to bother, it was a free trip. Quite a good way to have a free ride.
I really respect all those people who have lived and worked with masks for the last 28 months.
Starting was a bit of an anti climax as it was blowing a Wellington gale and there was no one else at the park to witness my start. Maybe that was a good omen as it was also blowing a gale when I started last time.
I was pleased to get away from the coast line and begin to walk up and over the first of the 2 mountains for the day, Mt Albert. Soon I was passing the line on the road telling me I was safe from a sunami so that was good. I followed the Southern Walkway up and over Mt Wellington along the high fence around the zoo then down to Oriental Parade and back through the centre of our capital city.
I managed to lose the track a couple of times so there goes my theory of knowing the route.
I was surprised to see everyone was wearing masks on the street and keeping their distance. There is no Covid in Wellington but being the home of our Parliament everyone is very compliant here. Noticeably no one else seemed to be wearing glasses and constantly having to wipe them as I was.
I had booked in at the Waterloo Backpackers and am sharing a room with a Japanese girl who got stuck here alone for the 2 weeks of lockdown so she was pleased to have some company.
Dinner out with my lovely granddaughter, Hope, has completed a good day for me.
Firstly I have to state that I am not fussy about my food. I generally eat anything and everything, with the exception of Peanut Butter and I think I may have been the only person on the Te Araroa who didn’t eat this disgusting food daily. I am not allergic to it but struggle just looking at the stuff, let alone smelling it,. However I was able to sit reasonably close to people eating it by the end of the trail. That was probably my biggest achievement on the TA.
Also I have never had any issues with regularly eating the same foods and believe that it is the nutritional value of the food that matters rather than the taste, form or presentation. Obviously, I am not interested in the recent cooking show fad and anyone who knows me won’t let me near the kitchen. This suits me fine as I would much rather be the person sitting on the other side of the kitchen bench drinking wine and chatting.
Therefore, adjusting to the reduced options of trail food easy for me. I basically ate the same things for the whole 5 months and was happy to do so. I kept healthy and always had enough energy to get through the day. So I kept doing what was working all the way through the Te Araroa. There were times where I enjoyed the aromas coming from other peoples’ dinners and I did enjoy looking at what they were carrying but I was happy with my limited menu.
50% of my dinners were trail food, and I estimate that I spent about $15 a day feeding myself. The remainder of the time off trail I ate “proper food” and didn’t skimp on that at all. I sometimes cooked a meal of steak and vegetables if I was at a backpackers but I usually ate out.
Jet-boil Flash 500 ml
2 Food packing cells
Titanium double walled cup
Total weight 896 gms
Pot MSR 850 ml titanium
Zpacks Food bag
Total weight 267 gms
I saved 629 gms by changing changing to the cooker and pot I could prepare a wider variety of foods, however when I came to choosing foods to take I struggled with the choices and ended up only buying packets of instant pasta that had very little food value. So I was back to Back Country freeze dried meals most of the time. Twice I bought Instant Noodles which seemed to be the basic foods for most people on the TA and I did enjoy them. I saved 629 gms by changing systems.
Breakfast – A mixture of muesli and yogurt powder
Frances and I started out with porridge with some protein powder and a few chopped dates. We measured out the oats into our cups and added boiling water. About 5 minutes later our breakfast was ready. However after about 6 weeks of this I was having trouble eating it. Stodgy porridge no longer appealed to me.
So I changed to having a mixture of muesli and yogurt powder. I had seen other hikers eating this and I really loved it. This added macrobiotics to my diet and I could change both the muesli and the yogurt powder when I needed to resupply so had a good variety. This was my favourite food by far as it was easily prepared: just pour some of the mixture into my pot and add water. Yum
I started out having a cup of black coffee in the mornings but soon didn’t bother with this as it just took up an extra 10 minutes in the morning and I wasn’t enjoying it at all. Therefore I no longer needed to carry a cup. My pot became the go to for cooking, eating and drinking. I really enjoyed a proper coffee when I was off trail.
Wraps (Farrah’s) or crackers (Arnott’s Vita-Wheat ) with cheese, salami and carrot with was my lunch for 95% of the time, followed by some dates and occasionally an apple or a mandarin. The slice of carrot gave it a fresh and crunchy feel and I stored the carrot in a zip lock plastic bag with a small piece of paper towel or toilet paper which kept the carrot fresh for many days. Sometimes I had an avocado instead. Sometimes I used a Parmesan cheese but usually cheese slices as they keep forever.
Occasionally I had a sachet of fish in my wrap but only as a last resort because they reminded me of cat food. Frances would toast a loaf of Vogels bread on resupply day to use for the base for lunches however I didn’t bother after she finished. I never tired of cheese and crackers.
I bought the 2 person packs and halved them and repacked into small zip lock plastic bags. This reduced the weight of the bag and the room they took up. I would add a couple of tablespoons of extra instant mashed potato, noodles or rice to bulk it up a bit. These cost anywhere from $10.50 to $15 (For a 2 meal pack) and were available at most supermarkets and 4 Square shops on the trail. There are about 20 different flavors but most shops only stocked a limited variety. This didn’t matter too much because I never knew what I was eating from the zip lock plastic bag anyway. It was just Dinner.
To begin with I heated the water in my Jet Boil, poured it into the plastic bag which was in the foil cosy then let it re-hydrate. When I changed to carrying a pot I just added the dried food to the boiling water, sealed the lid and waited. This worked well.
Snacks while walking
Dates, Protein bars and OSM bars and occasionally some cashew nuts were my snacks. Each evening I would restock my snack bag that hangs on my front strap. I would try to eat at least a half a protein bar or a OSM each day by having a mouthful every hour or so in the afternoons. However most days I didn’t manage this as I was seldom hungry. The protein bars contained 45gms of protein each and were very dense and filling. I would stock up when Countdown had them on special for about $5.50 which was quite expensive for one bar. However I would see other hikers carrying 2 or 3 packets of cheap bars to get the same food value for probably more cost. So I thought they were worth the money. In the afternoons I would also have a few dates or nuts. I only bought chocolate 3 times on the TA and managed to make a cake of chocolate last for about 3 – 4 weeks. I really had little interest in it. This was quite out of character for me!
Snacks at Camp
On arrival at camp I usually cooked up a cup of soup and in the South Island I sometimes had a some chippies (Crisps) to keep me going until dinner time. I think the salt was what I needed. I started off with a stock of Cup a Soups that I had reduced the package size by down, but later bought Maggi Soups and decanted them into a zip lock plastic bag. I just kept refilling it with different flavours so it became a real medley of mushroom, chicken, vegetable and pumpkin etc. As I said earlier I am not too fussy. Soup is soup!
The chippies were a real treat for me and I carried in the outside mesh on the back of my pack so I had to be careful not to squash them. The mice really liked these so I found myself sharing them on a number of occasions.
Sometimes I carried a packet of Griffins Gingernut biscuits to have for my supper. They take a bit of chewing so feel satisfying after the mushy dinners and never break en-route so are a good choice for a tramping biscuit.
Off Trail Food
While on trail I didn’t really crave any foods and wasn’t hungry. For many people hiker hunger was a reality and I saw people eating huge amounts on trail. They talked a lot about what they would eat when they arrived in town but I was not particularly effected. However, when I did hit town I enjoyed a meat pie, or a steak and chips meal, a beer, a big bowl of fresh salad and some fruit, in that order. Early on, when it was really hot in the North Island, I would look forward to an ice cream at the end of the day. I enjoyed the social times sharing meals in town.
Weight and Health
I started the trail definitely over weight and somewhat unfit. In total I lost about 12 kg over the 5 months. My body fat % decreased by over 10% and my bone mass increased by 1% so my muscle % definitely increased. I lost 13 cm from each thigh, 11 cm from my hips, 5 cm from my waist and 7 cm from my bust. Overall I was a much healthier body than I started with. My challenge now is to keep it that way.
I am relieved to say that I did not have any sickness and had no injuries either. There was the odd day when I rolled an ankle and had a bit of pain but it was always okay the next day. I did develop a sore shoulder over the last couple of weeks and couldn’t manage to get my pack to sit right so that it didn’t hurt me. My hip gave me pain at night if I laid on it too long but this didn’t worry me while walking. This continues to be an issue now that I have finished. I need to get some help with this when the lock down is over.
Hydration and Health
I was never unwell, always finished the day feeling good and I was fit and healthy at the end of the Te Araroa. Therefore what I did worked well for me. However everyone is different and what worked for me may not be what works for others; there are endless combinations of food, fluids, supplements that can be used.
125 ml bottle with hydration Tube
2 x 1 litre Platypus collapsible bottles
Rivers and creeks
Vital Daily Health Supplement
Water purifying tablets (very seldom)
I am a big water drinker at the best of times so keeping hydrated was par for the course for me. I had bought a system to turn a 125 ml bottle into a hydration system. The bottle sat in a side pocket or the back mesh area of my pack so I could see how much water I had. The attached hose mean I could sip as I walked. It was easy to refill and I bought a new bottle every month or so when it began to look a bit manky. I also carried 2 Platypus folding bottles for when I needed to carry a full days water. There were very few days on trail where I was unable to fill up during the day.
I carried some re-hydration salts that I would use at lunchtime during the hot days and usually had a dose each evening on arrival at camp, along with a daily Magnesium tablet. I had no issues with cramps on the trail but had a lot of cramps in my legs after the trail. I began taking the Magnesium tablets again and that settled down.
I also took a spoonful of Vital which is an All in One Daily health Supplement containing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and pro and prebiotics. It is a very light powder which I carried in a zip lock plastic bag and refilled at my Christmas break. I also carried some Raro powder so I could have an orange drink for a change. I didn’t manage to find any dehydrated alcohol to bring with me.
I did carry some water purification tablets and used them mostly as a result of peer pressure. The Europeans all carried water filtration systems and even filtered the town water. Conversely, before the TA, I have never filtered or boiled any NZ water from huts or rivers or creeks. There were notices at all the DOC (Department of Conservation) huts saying that water needed to be boiled. These notices are only a recent addition, and I believe they are just to “cover their backs in case someone does get sick” and I mostly ignored them. The people from overseas all routinely filtered their water and this was a daily ritual for them, even on town. I had one yukky tummy in Tamarunui which saw me running down the main street and into an outdoors shop asking for the toilet. But other than that I had no problems. My father used to say that I had a “cast iron gut’ and I think he was right!
In the North Island finding water was rarely an issue as we stayed mostly in campgrounds or houses and all town water is good to drink from the taps in New Zealand. I carried plenty of water if I was going to be on a farm all day but that didn’t happen too often.
In the South Island I mostly filled up in creeks and rivers as I was usually up quite high and above animals. There was a couple of days in the Richmond Ranges where there was limited water so the pack was a bit heavy with the extra water at the beginning of those days. The huts tanks all had water however I tried to use the nearby creeks rather than the hut tank water if I could.
Hygiene / Night bag
A light, see through pencil case from a $2 Shop was used as my Night Bag.
It didn’t contain much at all. I didn’t even carry a brush or comb as I kept my hair short and I didn’t care what I looked like. We were all in the same boat anyway. When on trail I would have a quick wipe down on arrival at camp to remove the salt, sweat and mud, before changing out of my walking clothes. I always cleaned my teeth night and morning. Other than that the only times I was really clean was when in town where I would have a decent shower. I was most happy to find a proper sized towel and even used the bath mat if need be. I only used shampoo if staying at private houses and my hair was all good.
My luxury item was my razor as I just couldn’t bring myself to let my legs get hairy. Some of the girls did and I didn’t think it looked pretty at all.
Toothbrush with slightly shortened handle
Toothpaste 20 gm tube refilled when I stayed at a house
Small soap in a thin drawstring bag so I wouldn’t lose it. Used for body, hair and clothes washing
Small Kathmandu travel towel 20 cm by 20 cm (this was okay on trail but not much good for drying myself after a proper shower)
Earplugs – silicon type which I used most nights and would never be without. Once they are sealed well all mice rustling, snoring, wind and traffic noises are gone
Eye mask – Also a must have to keep out light from other peoples torches, devices, the moon, sun and other light coming in hostel windows etc.
Razor – disposable
Torch -LEDLENSER SOE 5. I replaced the heavy strap with thin hat elastic to save weight. I recharged it about once a month as I usually went to bed in the light and woke up in the light.
I soon got into the routine of using my bowels first thing in the morning which meant I was able to ditch my plastic shovel. Some of the toilets on trail were a bit rough but most were very good considering. Sometimes sharing with a lot of flies or sandflies made toilet time a bit interesting but I can’t really complain.
Wet Wipes – a packet of 10 would last about a week- Used one each day to firstly to wipe my face, hands then my bottom, in that order. I usually carried the used ones out in a separate zip lock plastic bag.
First Aid and Repair Kit
I had very little in my First Aid Kit as my experience tramping showed that there was not much that I had ever needed and usually it was used for other trampers, rather than myself. In the case of any major injury that meant I could not continue I would use my PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) to obtain assistance. I expected Blisters, sandflies, sun protection, and minor aches and pains to be my issues. I was correct.
I had a few basic repair bits and pieces, which came in handy.
PLB – ResQLink (Used twice)
A few plasters (used a couple)
6 large blister pads (used 2 and gave to others)
6 small blister pads (used 4)
2 Op site dressings (Not used
Iodine swabs (Used on blisters)
Paracetamol tablets (Used)
Anti Inflammatory tablets (Used)
Anti Histamine Tablets (Used for bee stings)
DermAid Hydrocortisone cream (Used for rash on back and for others)
Sunscreen – Invisible Zinc (Used on face and backs of hands)
Insect repellent – BiteGuard (Absolute necessity in South Island)
This time next week I will be walking along Ninety Mile Beach, hopefully in glorious sunshine and not in a howling gale and having free skin abrasion treatment.
The last couple of weeks has been busy with preparing my house for tenants, final gear preparation and saying my good-byes to friends and family. I have even managed to get in a couple of tramps with the local club. My Whiteboard is nearly cleared off.
I have been to the Chiropractor, Physio, GP, hairdresser and I have even had a Colonic Irrigation. So hopefully my body is ready to go and I am not as full of sh*t as I usually am. The Physio (nice young fella) has given me some excersices to help keep my hips in line and my legs working so I am carrying a tennis ball to assist with these. I will try and instigate Excercise Hour each evening as there won’t be Happy Hours on the Trail. No-one has developed dehydrated alcohol yet.
My Back Country dehydrated meals have been repackaged to save weight. and I have the first couple of weeks food organisied. After that we will stock up as we coem to shops.
During my cleaning up I found some scribblings ( see below) of mine from 2009 – 10 years ago. I was reading “Te Aroroa – New Zealand’s Trail” by Greg Chapple in my tent. I noted his comment “Look at the last 10 years of your life and the next will be the same unless you do something different” . Since I wrote that I have spent 8 years in Taranaki, where I learnt a lot about the oil and gas industry, made new friends, did a lot of tramping, and received a nomination for New Zealander of the Year. Two years ago I moved back to my family base Palmerston North, and made the decision that I would do the Te Araroa this summer. So, Greg, I am on my way.
I have been out helping clear 300 metres (0.01%) of the Te Araroa track not far from Palmerston North. We chopped gorse,blackberries and flax back and I hope that it is still clear in about 3 months time when I go through that area. It was very satisfying to be doing my bit. There was a group of men in the 70’s and 80’s building a sleeping platform in a shelter that they had built for us. I am humbles to know how many people volunteer their time and skill to make this trail work for us.
Thanks to all the people who gave me vouchers for my last big birthday. They have been used to make sure I have good gear to take with me.
Also thanks to all of you who have signed up to my website. I know there will be times when I will need your feedback and encouragement to keep on ticking off the 4.5 million steps.