Te Anau

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Te Anau, Te Anau, Te Anau. In truth, it’s hard to leave you. This place is spectacular. It’s marvelous to be at the gateway into Fiordlands National Park. The town is small and busy, but somehow still feels like a place where kids are growing up. The locals are friendly and feel like they still have some life in them. Other towns as of late have been experiencing some serious burn out. Which, don’t get me wrong, is something I understand all too well and experience myself in my own home of a tourist town.

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Yesterday we hiker the Kepler Track. A great walk here in New Zealand. There are 9 of them, and the Te Araroa only coincides with two of them, up in the North Island. One of them is the Whanganui Journey, which was our great paddle adventure. These hikes are world famous for their beauty and accommodations. The huts are pricey, but so great for families and allow backpackers not to carry tents.

There are all kinds of opinions about this system here in New Zealand. Honestly, I think their Department of Conservation is admirable. They have put together these incredible hikes in hopes that is draws tourism, and it really has. Therefor, hopefully other parts of New Zealand stay less traveled and can be enjoyed by the locals.

This trail, the Kepler, was majestic. We turned every corner marveling at the views. Lake Te Anau is vast and stunning and the peaks around it are quite dramatic. Not to mention the waterfalls, which are plentiful and marvelous.

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It was a tough hike, in order to do it without a reservation we had to go 50k in one day to get to place we were allowed to stay, and it was worth every step!

We returned to this lovely town at lunch time today and stopped immediately at the visitor center to thank them for recommending a way for us to do this hike. Then we picked up pamphlets for our next adventure off trail, which is Stewart Island. When we finish the Te Araroa, we will be at the ferry terminal to this island, so we figured, what better way to celebrate the end of this journey than with another journey:) It should only take 3-5 days to hike this lovely place, and there is a likelihood of seeing a Kiwi, which has become a dream for us. They are such adorable, gentle, unique creatures. We’ve heard one in the night, which was abrupt and memorable. It kind of sounded like a slot machine. A sort of Ring-ding-ding-ding but which a witch’s cackle to it. Alarming, and confusing when you’re sleeping. Here’s a photo of one that I stole off the internet.

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On we walk. Just one week left!

 

Through All Kinds of Weather

It’s autumn in the Southern Alps. That means so many lovely things. The smell of mulch and crisp leaves falling from the trees. The quieting of tourist towns (though only just). The squash. The breeze. And, of course, the snow.

It’s not too big of a deal. A person wanting to walk in the mountains for an entire season or more is bound to experience some weather. And how….P1010583

It happens slowly,. You don’t realize what you’ve done until your deep in it. We were sitting at a hut around about 1pm trying to decide if we should go on. We had a new hiking buddy for this stretch, Damien. This was the Breast Hill Track between Twizel and Wanaka. We arrived to the hut after our friend. He was making himself some tea and thinking it probably wise to stay put for the rest of the day.

That thought hadn’t even occurred to me. Craig and I were planning on eating our lunch in the hut and moving on. Out the window of the hut it looked like this….P1010580

Obviously there would be more snow up high, but it was 4WD track up and over the mountain, and having done plenty of hiking in the Rockies, I knew that this was something we could find our way through. There would be snow, but not enough to get lost. Plus, there was a hut on the other side of the pass. So it’s up and over and into shelter. That made me feel confident.

Our hiking buddy, Damien, is from Australia, and really thought we were insane. Poor fellow didn’t want to be left behind, however, so he put his wet shoes and socks back on with us and headed out into it.

We grumbled a bit at first. The wind and wintry mix was a bit bombarding. Still, I felt good about it. Sitting in a hut, looking at the cold weather is honestly chillier and less comfortable to me than moving through it. Sure enough, we all felt pretty good after about 10 minutes. It was fun to see Damien in the snow. He hasn’t been in it much in his lifetime and he appreciated our advice about it. We all agreed it was good weather to move in, better than a lot of the rainy days we’d had, honestly. At least the snow can be dry(ish).

The major lesson that came to all three of us, is that life is a lot scarier from the view out your window, than it is when you’re actually in it.

The hut that night was quite crowded, but oh so warm. A little too warm, with the must of wet-hiker-foot (similar, but altogether more disturbing than wet dog) filling the air. It was good, though. I was happy to get put through some challenges, knowing we had an extended town stay coming up in Wanaka, at the end of this track. I really wanted to earn our next shower. For, there are fewer feelings I love more than wanting to shout, “Hallelujah” when the hot water comes pouring out of the wall, and you watch the dirt river slip down the drain. It’s good stuff.

Thru-hiking is my way of reminding myself, constantly, that I am lucky.

The next day from that crowded hut was still in the snow, but this time we came to a hut just below snow line at the end of it. The next morning we woke up to sun. Glorious, shining sun. Kevin, a French hiker who we’ve been in the same realm of since before the canoe trip months ago, laughed at it that morning and said, “Maybe today, around 1 or 2, I will go for a swim.”

“Ha! Yeah, from snow to swim in one morning!” I laughed. It was a beautiful decent over a gorgeous lake from there. Starting out above the clouds.P1010599

We made it to town in great spirits. We stopped at cafes and bars on the walk in and talked about great things. Like literature and travel and Bob’s Burgers. It was bliss. Snowy weather and all.

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Things that Are

The magic finally hit me on a plateau before Lake Tekapo. We were eating our dinner on the flat slopes, looking down at the lake framed in glaciated peaks. Somewhere between the satisfaction of having what you need and the grandeur of mountain valleys at dusk, I got that tingle down my spine, that breath spiraling inside my chest, that makes me feel most alive.DSC05447[1]

I think ‘This. Exactly this.’ These are the moments I’m after. The gift of being at home in nature.

This trail never stops surprising us. We keep congratulating ourselves for getting through the big things, just to find there’s another one coming. Things like dangerous (allegedly) river-crossings, which would be a 150 km hitch-hike around if you can’t pass them. So often this trail is mapped to the edge of a waterway, lake, river, straight, estuary, what have you, and the kilometers stop counting on the north side, and then resume on the south. As if the space between doesn’t exist. Then you have the reality of how different things are in life than on paper.

It’s good for us. We take this trail one section at a time. Carrying only the maps to our next substantial town stop. I feel knocked off my cloud when other hikers tell us what’s ahead, or how far it is to the next hut. Like they’re spoiling the plot somehow. It’s silly, I know, but I enjoy the problem solving, and I want to be on my toes. I want to have reactions, not plans.

People ask me all the time, “What do you want to get out of this.” I haven’t come up with an answer to that. I feel a need to tell them to un-ask the question. This is just as much about everybody as it is about me. This is about being, not wanting. There isn’t much room here for getting or having. Which is something I’m learning more and more when I walk with that concept we call ‘loss.’ It’s about smelling as much as it is about seeing, maybe more, and most of all, it’s about feeling. Still, I don’t set out with something to gain in mind, I hope that it can be something to give. To be. Me and the things that are.

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Of Water, Friends, and Sky

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This last couple of weeks has been rugged, wet, difficult, and most honestly, lovely beyond words. We have had the pleasure of hiking with our friend Kess, an amazing young woman from Vermont.

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We’ve had laughs, steep climbs, and so much beauty around us. Passes of extraordinary grandeur…..

So many waterfalls and water crossings……..

Steep stuff…..

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And lots of good times together.

Life is good. I figure now is a good time to let the photos do most of the talking.

Crossing Over

A small victory comes from completing the North Island. Craig and I were happy to do it as a bit of a run. 12k from our hostel to the southern shore in the early morning. Fitting for the two of us and a beautiful thing to do in the salted morning-sea air. You get that feeling that everything is so vivid, you almost feel like you’re not really perceiving it. As though you are watching a film of yourself. You’re lighter and your senses are heightened.

It was a beautiful run. Up and over some of Wellington’s great city parks, with tall pine trees and sea views in all directions. Then the end of the track comes down to a rocky shore, jagged and ominous. Like a different sea than we’ve seen here so far. It felt mystic and so alive.

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Which was fitting, as it came with a phone call that changed my heart quite a lot. Just a few steps in that morning came the news I’d been anticipating. The truth I was trying to get used to this whole hike. Lu, my beloved aunt, had passed.

As I was running this last bit of trail, I didn’t know how to feel. It wasn’t shocking. It wasn’t hurtful either. At least, not at the time. I just tried to run with it. To think little and breathe deeply and to feel what’s around me. In hopes that it was a way to dedicate my senses among the living to the dead. Particularly the newly dead. All I knew to do, was to be.

When we got to the southern shore. We sat and celebrated our journey, or at least I acknowledged it, and sat for a moment at the marker. I jumped into the sea. I thought about how much Lu always commented on my strange love for cold water. Then, more than ever, I wanted to feel the sensations of being alive. I hoped I could share it with her.

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The southern terminus of the south island.
For the rest of the day, that was the most I could do. I wanted to really taste for her. To really breathe in the ocean air and feel the breeze on my skin. We took the ferry over to the south island. It was our day to crossover, in a much smaller way than hers. Still, I found it symbolic. In a way, if felt like I left her on the north island. That this was the first part of my journey going on without her, but in a much bigger way, it felt like I took her with me.

In this gorgeous place, I felt comforted. There’s sadness, but it’s nestled in such beauty, I find myself taking it all in. Everything is part of it. P1010458

I felt grief when the sun set that night. For the day to be ending that had started with her in this world. Yet I felt grateful and deep and touched. I had a cup of coffee, which is strange for me at night, but I had to feel it’s warmth in my hand, and it’s steam on my face, and to see it sitting on the table next to a hand of cards that Craig and I were playing in her honor.

It’s going to happen in pieces. A matter of learning what’s gone the next time I go to reach for it. On a shallow note, I look at the surface of the sea and I wonder what I’m supposed to be feeling. On a deeper note, I know my heart understands things that my brain can’t.

And so, I walk.

 

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In the misty morning, I have found solace in this beautiful place. p1010467.jpg

It’s been a wonderful couple of days hiking along the water. Swimming in the sound, seeing dolphins, and fighting off possums. I’m taking in the charm of the South Island and feeling lucky to be here. It is an extraordinary place. P1010462

We spent the night at a nice little camp spot high above the water and watched the sun set as we cooked our dinners. I am starting to wonder if I could stay here forever. The sea has a way of filling your heart with content. I love the way it demands respect and holds so many secrets. We feel happy here. P1010464

 

 

Walking in Wellington

It’s not long after your tired feet make it down from the high mountains that you get treated with this……

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The final beach walk of the North Island. It’s a beauty. Very welcome after the rugged trail, especially knowing you are finishing the island in a few short days. For the rest of the way, it’s pubs, grocery stores, beautiful views, and in our case, FRIENDS!

My friend Lissa Carlino and her lovely family were waiting for us in Wellington. Though we were still 70k from their house when we made it out of the woods, we couldn’t pass up a train ride right to them. So we had the luxury of getting there a few days before and slack packing the rest of the way back down. That made for more nights to be with friends, and light packs for the rest of the island. All of which, we were quite lucky to have.

It was a good feeling to be in the home of a young family from America. To spend time with their two boys and share meals and stories. To hear how things are going for them in this country. To have their tour-guiding (mostly Gus, the brilliant 5-year-old) through one of the most amazing little cities I’ve seen so far. We were there for 5 days, but it wasn’t enough. Especially with our hiking getting in the way. Aaron plays guitar so expressively and Lissa has such a beautiful voice, I could, and would like to, sit across the table with them for many days more.

Deeper still, there is so much comfort in the way women relate to each other. I see it as medicine. To share a cup of something with Lissa and talk about life. To listen to her tribulations as a mother, to relate about the things we fear or the things we’ve been through. To shine some light in each other’s direction. It’s nothing I take lightly. I know I need strong women like oxygen, and I trust and understand that we can carry the weight together. I will always come back to this and rely on it with every step I take. Love!

The city is impressive, and the trail leading through it even more so. You go from this…..

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to this…..

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suddenly to this…..

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and right into the heart of it.

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This is the Beehive, NZ’s Parliament Building.

It’s stunning, and feels like such a livable place. We never felt pushed or stomped by the rhythm of the city, just glad to part of it for a while. It was quirky too, with fun little shops and dining areas and a platform at the train station that I really appreciated.

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If you get a chance, go to Wellington. You’ll find incredible exhibits, marvelous parks, and people jumping into the ocean from platforms built just for it. Even on cloudy days.

The Tararua Range

After three days of road walking, including 20k on a busy highway, came something completely different. The Tararuas. A challenge that caught me off my guard. When our first day was like this…..

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Somewhere amongst the roots and rocks we scramble, is a trail. Worthy of the form of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. I haven’t been so properly thrown off my expectations since my Appalachian hike in 2011. From an average of 35 km a day, we went into these woods thinking we could maybe slow it down to 25-30 for elevation. We didn’t anticipate struggling to make it 19km our first day in.

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I remember how hard it was to accept on the A.T. I felt so mad that I couldn’t go faster. I would push along out of spite. Thinking of the trail as my rival. Something to defeat, or outsmart in some way. It’s different now.

I find myself taking for granted how well I’ve come to understand my stepping. How I can generally do what I think I can do. A lot of that’s good reasoning too. Making room for a few unexpected set backs and some sluff off time. In this track, humbly, we were brought to 1-2km per hour.

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I am grateful. If there’s something I’ve learned from my foot travels, it’s the marvel of what you think you know being embarrassingly wrong. To eat your words and say, “Well, so much for that.” It gets easier with time. I appreciate that. I enjoy laughing at my expectations, for no matter how useless I know they are, they stay with me. Maybe there is a way to live with them, acknowledge their presents, and tell them to get lost all the same. Maybe it’s good for me to really embrace what sucks about me. In a nutshell, it’s expectations. Yet, perhaps rather than trying to get rid of them, I can learn to be ok with all the parts of being human.

We are greedy, by nature, so maybe that helps us to really shine when we share. We are anxious, so maybe that helps us to be extra beautiful when we open up our hearts. Perhaps we’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got.

I owe the mountains a thank you. Thanks for kicking my ass, and reminding me to loosen those expectations. It only took me a moment or two to accept that I was going to be in these mountains for longer than I’d planned. Only a moment later, to feel lucky for it. Another day in there is a gift.

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The rest of it was lovely. We made it to a hut that night with sincere joy. Yes! We got to rest our bones. We had shelter. We had rain water to drink way up there on the ridge. The next day, we caught up to some friends and shared a hut with them. Kess and Tyler. We got to commiserate and share our brilliant ideas in hiking food. Truly, thru-hikers have some fantastic creations.

Now, we are looking at a stretch known for being just as tough and twice the length. My thoughts are this……. it’s probably going to suck wonderfully.

Family

A stranger can somehow feel like family. It happens when you travel. It happens all the time. It happens an awful lot in New Zealand.

I’m writing this at the kitchen table of the Wright family. They’re at work right now. Livi and Gareth are teaching and Riley is starting secondary school today. Their youngest son, Nixon, starts school next week and is with his grandparents. We get to stay within these walls and experience these moments with them. They are happy to share it with us. Even gave us a key to their house when we first arrived, two days ago. They gave us their trust without even batting an eye. They are wonderful people too, full of life and adventures together.

How did we get here?

Honestly, it didn’t take much. About a week and a half ago, we celebrated my 31st birthday with a proper mountain beating. A day of cutty grass (which is well named) and crazy mud. Which gave us some lashes to wear proudly. Followed by a day we’d been rather excited for, the famous Tongariro Crossing. Nary a volcano I’ve heard of can offer this much mystery and humility in a 20km jaunt. In perfect comedic timing, we began our ascent in a storm. A thumping good one too. Relentless rain and wind in the socked-in clouds. It was pretty cool. I took a few pathetic photos of my wind blown, puffed out pants and the clouds all around us. Maybe we didn’t get to see much, but that’s ok with us. We put far too much emphasis on how things look anyway. We could taste the sulfur. We could feel the winds of “Mt. Doom” telling us we are puny. It was grand.

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We got a pretty wet, naturally and looked forward to our lunch break in the Mangatepopo hut. Other hikers greeted us with smiles and made room. I was trying to prepare Craig not to get attached to having room in the shelter. More than once on the Appalachian Trail, back in 2011, I can recall approaching a shelter in the rain, with relief on my shoulders, only to catch mean stares from people huddled underneath it’s awning. They don’t make room for you, they don’t smile or say hello, they just glare are you like you’re not welcome and you turn around and try not to cry.

Not going to happen here. I’m pretty sure a Kiwi would let you sit on their lap before expecting you to stay out in the rain.

We sat with a family, laughing and playing cards. It struck me right away as a beautiful thing. These two young boys and their parents sharing this adventure together. Craig and I brewed up some coffee, and how! They laughed at our delight for it. This, in a nutshell, is why we hike. For the simple pleasure of holding a cup of something warm in your hand, with insatiable gratitude. To have good people see you in that moment, in it’s bare-bone honestly, is even more special.

DSC05190[1]Here’s the volcano a few days later, when the clouds cleared a bit. 

Wee chatted about adventure for a while and were soon invited to stay in their home. We had three days of walking and four days rowing before we would be to their charming home town, but it was something all 6 of us were looking forward to.

They scooped us up as soon as we contacted them. Just after we got off the river and into some clean clothes in Wanganui. They took us first to a marvelous rocky pier at dusk. The moonlight was shining brightly off the water, and the waves were crashing all around us.

It’s so easy to love.

We had a great couple of days with them. They showed us around town, helped us get the supplies we needed, and we had dinner and trivia together in the evenings. We were really lucky to be so well received and taken care of. Gareth even gave Craig a new hat for the hike. He unfortunately lost it when we flipped our canoe in a rapid on the river.

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Here we are at a lookout just before sunset. 

This timing is really good for my soul. I’m beginning to cope with the reality of losing family in this house. I said my last, “I love you” on the phone yesterday. I went right to the piano and cried in minor chords. I feel safer here, with the ocean to talk to, and a families’ love to fill the space between the walls.

A special thanks to the Wright Family.

To the Ocean. To E Minor.

And to Lu. Always

Naked and Nervous

We know there are varying degrees of what’s appropriate for naked behavior from region to region. Most hikers/mountain folk that I know in Montana see it as a right. When you’re in the trees, no one can get on your case for letting your butt cheeks shine. Especially when swimming in the cool mountain water.

In the mid-west, where I grew up, I have family members that can’t even handle us mentioning the naked bike rides in Portland and Seattle or our love for skinny dipping. When I was new to the mountain culture, I recall feeling daring and bold to let it all out. My surrounding company was sort of like, “So what. You’re clothes are off. What’s the big deal?” Craig and I think it’s great. I’m not entirely comfortable being naked in front of people, but I want to be. When no one else is around, I love the way it feels, and no time more than while swimming.

We’ve been trying to navigate this situation in New Zealand. We are by water often. It’s hard to get away from the ocean in New Zealand (not that we would want to). We usually dip in with our hiking shorts on and, in my case, a sports bra. When we find ourselves alone with the coastline, we strip nude and run into the water like happy children, free as the wind blows.

A couple days ago, we were finishing up our river trip. The Te Araroa routes you down the Whanganui Journey. An incredible river that sweeps you along through some breath-taking scenery, in a wild, historic river canyon that you can enjoy for days. It’s remarkable.

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We were soaking up some shade for a long lunch break. Out of the national park boundary now, we were appreciating how quiet it was. Not a boat went by, the whole hour we were eating our hummus wraps and drinking a beer. It was a hot one. Temperatures in the high 20s C, which is sticky-hot in New Zealand. Our dip in the river was much anticipated. Naturally, there was less need for clothing now that we weren’t seeing others, and it felt great. We dove in and came up smiling at each other. Ahhhhhh, what a good life we have.

Then, an unexpected sound rang over the valley. I chuckled and said, “That sounds like children.” Mostly kidding, playing out a scenario one would find in some Ben Stiller film. Just a moment later, three kids in life jackets came running down the hill, heading right for the very same swimming hole we were nervously treading. They jumped right in. Their dad came around the corner with an older boy, who swam laps across the river for training. Even in our time of awkwardness, we acknowledged that this boy was a badass. Craig and I had been timid about going 2 meters away from shore, let alone swimming across the current.

His dad watched him and yelled coaching advice, all the while having conversations with us about our journey. He told us stories of growing up with this mighty river. He is Mauri and has a lot of connection to the river itself. There were annual paddle trips, swimming lessons with uncles just tossing you out of the boat, and sad stories of friends losing their lives. We had a surprisingly good conversation for floating heads with things to hide. This changed my attitude toward the dark tint of the water. I was a bit of a snob at first with it. ‘Montana streams are crystal clear’ I thought to myself as I put a foot into the murky unknown.

I was just about to brave up and ask him to toss me my swimming clothes, when he headed quickly toward his son and started yelling urgent directions to him, “Go with the flow! WITH THE FLOW!” The boy was in control, but working a bit too hard. There were three kids jumping off the rocks behind us, who seemed distracted enough, and the father and son in front of us were rather focused on the river. So I made a dash for it. Just 20 steps from concealment to clothing. I snatched it up, slipped it on, and tossed Craig his shorts. If the kids behind me noticed, they didn’t let on. As for the dad, I’m sure he knew the whole time. You don’t grow up on the river without being able to recognize when you’ve caught someone with their knickers down.