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“As the track sinks in, I am reminded of its magic … Walking, feeling the land … Charging my bone carving with all the ‘mana’ ( = Maori for status, power, achievement) possible … in what I call the ‘eternal, ephemeral dance of the universe’. Feeling home. Coming home. Doing what I love most. Being out there. Creating those connections. Being supportive. Making each day count, in its own right. Embracing the moments. Being aware. Being myself. And run, forever run, with life’s beautiful energy!”
Such are the words taken from my diary as I have completed one of the greatest adventures on this #CreativElenaRTW trip of mine: A four-day, 80 kilometres hike along the so-called Heaphy Track in South Island New Zealand’s Kahurangi National Park, the country’s largest park & longest hiking trail. Wow!
“What were you thinking?! Can you really do it? And so how do you prepare for it?”
I can almost hear my mum, or anyone else really, ask me those very questions (hi, mum – I am alive and well, not to worry!) 😉 . The answer is, of course, as with any situation in life, that YES, YOU CAN.! And part of life is, I guess, finding out about those very questions. One such way is to challenge yourself into “doing the unthinkable”: To ensure you enjoy your trip … you will need to be fit and have good equipment. … expect: To walk 78.4 km. Carry a pack of up to 15 kg. Walk up to 24 km per day … on a hard and uneven walking surface. At least one day of rain while on the track.”
Words from a brochure on the Heaphy Track. Yes. Have I done this before? This being my fifth of New Zealand’s “Great Walks” after the Abel Tasman Coastal, Routeburn, Milford & Kepler Tracks, I can say I have got some experience to show. However …
… the Heaphy Track really challenged me. Blisters from Day 1. A whole day in the rain! Fatigue from walking the first 60 kilometres in just two and a half days … Nevertheless, I loved every single part of it!
And this is it, I guess! What a challenge, and what a way to start the new year! As I am resting here in my beautiful apartment in Nelson, stretching my legs and smiling for the memories, the pride & the achievement, let me recapture some of the highlights and practical recommendations for embarking on any related hiking / tramping adventure for you.
Day 1 on the Heaphy Track: A 6-hour drive from Nelson to Kahurangi National Park, followed by a 6-hour walk to the first hut. Spirits high, blisters nigh: “Let’s do this!”
Oh, the distances. Part of what makes New Zealand, and especially the South Island, so attractive, are the remote locations of its pristine environment. It also means, however, that for arranging trips to those locations, you must really plan in advance – both time & travel wise. I made my booking for the Heaphy Track on 1 September, 2014, securing my sleeping space in the huts along the trail four months ahead of time given the popularity & limited availability of booking spaces available – especially in the main Kiwi holiday season around Christmas & New Year. TrekExpress is a company that runs transfer services from various cities to the start & end locations of the Heaphy Track, which are 463 kilometres apart by road … just to give you an idea! The best really is to base yourself in one city and arrange your transfers beforehand from there.
Day 2 on the Heaphy Track: Finding magic in the rain (forest). “Do you think it is going to rain all day?” – “Ah, yes. It is going to rain all day.” …
Oh, boy. “There might be a thunderstorm in the middle of the day … there might not. But it’s definitely going to rain.” Welcome to the elements. Am I prepared? I should think so … waterproof plastic bags for all my gear to keep dry … and happy fellow Kiwi trampers around me, with one lady just pouring water from a pot into her shoes … YES! “I like walking with wet feet.” Must be the Kiwis. Must be the attitude. Oh, God. With the wind, the rain also comes sideways. I need all the good spirits today. Need all my friends and loved ones to join me on this walk up the mountain, in the rain, more than six hours to Mackay Hut via Lewis Hut. Sounds all Scottish to me. And that is probably how you had to be, as an early explorer out here on the West Coast: Sturdy. Strong. Scottish. Not minding the elements. “You’re gonna get wet.” Yes. But also: “We will see you at the other end”. And: “I’ll save a bed for you.” That’s the lady who just poured water in her shoes. There is some (Kiwi) comfort to reaching the next hut after all!
Words from my diary … Take a blogger away from her computer & the Internet for a few days, and she will still find ways to express her thoughts and feelings. I must say, there is beauty in being offline and keeping a written diary while travelling around the world – at least for a while. 😉 I just love the impact the track had on me, and especially that second day, I really “needed to write” and express what I felt. Feeling the first pain from my protesting feet, yet equally feeling my physical strength and ability to carry myself up that mountain that is. 700 metres of difference in altitude, shoes & gear soaked in water but dry and happy in my € 400,- super expensive super worthwhile Goretex Patagonia Outdoor jacket…! There is beauty in being in the rain in a rainforest. There really is. Let me tell you, and show you, why.
Day 3 on the Heaphy Track: Being helped on by the Kiwis. “Don’t worry … I do this to all the ladies on the track!”
Adjusting my backpack, that is. “What a line”, I laugh with this good-natured, happy Kiwi man that has just crossed my way on the Heaphy Track. “Can I use it in my article about this track?”
SO EXHAUSTED … SO PROUD … SO HURT … SO HAPPY. Could this be, a synopsis for the whole of life?
I just love the Heaphy Track. And this is me, totally exhausted, but also so proud of my own strength! Surrounded by all the Kiwis, I get back to this wonderful, easy-going, straightforward attitude of CAN DO. WILL DO! Easy, really. I like it. And people are so amazing. Angels on the way … carried my pack across a log, across a “gunning river” swollen from the rain … I only realized after crawling across it on all fours that it might have been dangerous, had I attempted to cross it on my own with the destabilizing weight of the big backpack … But I made it. And I carry on. In the end, all that is left is this feeling of strength. Of pride. And support. That you can do it. That you just carry on. Against the odds. Blisters, fatigue, rivers that come up and need wading through, shoes and all. You just deal with it. … And walking there, all by yourself, your body busy and your mind occupied, your thoughts start to clear … working through everything important to you … songs, memories, people, places, all the more so as I prepare for letting 2014 go, literally hiking from one year to the next. … I am so ready for this. Bring on the New Year!
Waking up in the middle of one of New Zealand’s most beautiful natural landscapes on the first day of a new year has an exhilarating quality to it. All the more so, as December 31st said goodbye under torrential rainfalls, and January 1st greeting us to blissful, perfectly bright sunshine. It is another 24 kilometres hike that day, across the land from James Mackay Hut to Perry Saddle Hut. A few kilometres in, I decide to change my hiking boots for my jogging shoes. The pain from the blisters simply is too much: Knowing when to stop and/or “change tracks” is another important lesson that can equally be applied to life in general I believe. For the track, it means I have to be just a bit more careful on the uneven surfaces. But my smile is more that of the sunshine that day. And what a wonderful first day of the year it is!
Day 4 on the Heaphy Track: Talk the walk. Of how the angels have guided me back to Earth!
Sunny morning after. My feet are resting … No more marching for a while. What a perfect way to start what I am sure will be a very exciting, powerful and wonder-full year ahead! Met such lovely angels on the last section of the Heaphy Track, charming sisters Kenzie & Shasta from Portland, Oregon! “You know that the World Food Travel Organization has its headquarters there?! I am going to their World Food Travel Summit in Lisbon later next … oh, this year! Can’t wait to eat my way through Portland too one day …!” So sweet. They literally talked and walked me down the mountain, another five hours of final tramping … Sharing coffee & cake with them in Golden Bay after such an intense experience as the Heaphy Track was priceless, and most memorable. “Forever grateful”, was written on my T-Shirt, and in my heart that day.
What an experience. What an adventure. What a fulfilling journey! It is both hard and easy to put in words what I have felt, lived & breathed along the Heaphy Track in Kahurangi National Park. Starting on the West Coast & ending the track in Golden Bay rather than walking the opposite direction has allowed me to spend another day visiting friends in this beautiful arts (and hippie!) district of South Island New Zealand. “The Bay” has so much to offer really. I am glad I spent another day here visiting one of its key resident artists, networking figures & forever cheerful, happy characters: Grant Knowles & his family, that is. Check it out!