About mud, rivers, beaches and feeling (un)happy / Te Araroa diaries 3
This is going to be a long post, simply because there is a lot to tell. Over the past weeks I’ve started to doubt whether hiking Te Araroa was making me happy. While being in New Zealand makes me incredibly happy and hiking makes me happy too, I just wasn’t feeling happy in general. While I imagined that hiking the entire length of New Zealand was going to be what I wanted to do, it in fact turned to be quite the opposite.
The actual realization that doing what I was doing wasn’t what I had hoped it would be already hit me within the first few days of walking Te Araroa. I kept it to myself because I was still jet-lagged from the long flight and my feet were still recovering from the blisters I had on 90 Mile Beach. And while I’ve experienced many happy moments on the trail (seeing fantails, climbing mountains, experiencing the most amazing sunsets and sunrises) the overall experience wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. Before I’ll tell you more about the decision to hike my own hike, I’ll first do a quick recap of the third and fourth week of my hike.
Beaches and rivers
My third week on Te Araroa was all about beaches and rivers. Rivers that flow into the ocean that is, meaning that they are tidal dependent and that they can only be crossed during low tide. Ever since I got nearly swept away by a glacial river in Iceland a few years back I’ve had a fear of river crossings. Despite of this I still decided I wanted to do Te Araroa, which includes a gigantic lot of river crossings. I was ready to face my fears. The first two rivers I crossed, the Horahora and Taihahuru were easy (up half way between my knees and thighs) with slow flows. The knee deep mud in the estuaries and mangroves proved to be more of a challenge.
I did endless beach walks and actually enjoyed it most of the time. I had just one meltdown, which was towards the end of a 30 km day where I had to walk through soft sand for 6 kms after already doing the above mentioned two river crossings as well as climbing several mountains. The day before I had lost my Apple airpods in the back of a truck I hitched in and the morning after the 30 km hike I failed to close the lid of my water bladder properly causing two liters of water leaking into my bag. Each time I was walking through farmland I felt like walking through the Shire and thankful for the sunshine on my face.
I experienced enormous generosity and kindness by New Zealanders who offered me rides, food, coffees and encouraging words when I needed them the most. Meeting a variety of people has been a huge motivation to keep on going, in addition to the beautiful landscapes I’ve been walking through.
Mud and rivers
After taking it slow for a few days in the coastal town of Mangawhai because of heavy rains and my period causing my hormones to bring out the worst in me, I was ready to hit the trail again. Next up was a beach walk with three rivers to cross, which would usually just be ankle or knee deep. However, with the enormous downpours of the days before (it rained heavily nonstop for 14 hours the night before) I imagined the rivers would be quite a challenge. They were. Although the current was not too bad, the water was muddy and the sand at the bottom was soft, making me sink into the sand if I stood still too long. The water was thigh deep most of the time and I found myself almost getting into a panic attack at some point because I felt myself sinking away. Luckily I remembered my breathing exercises that I learned during my Wim Hoff ice bath workshop and I was able to breathe my way through it, which felt like a huge victory.
Next up was Mount Tamahunga and the Dome Valley, known for being extremely muddy and potentially dangerous after rain. The way up was muddy but nothing that couldn’t be done. The way down was horrendous. A lot of fun too, but wow, I sometimes feared my life while sliding down and hanging onto trees with a vertical drop off next to me. Luckily I was joined by two fellow hikers and we managed to keep our spirits up well most of the time. We camped in the most beautiful paddock up in the hills, enjoyed massive hospitality and shed tears each at our own moments.
A walk into Auckland
The final days I walked into Auckland, by myself again. I decided to choose my own path rather than following everybody else’s because a few days earlier I realized that what I was doing was not making me happy. Reaching Auckland truly felt like a victory though, because I had walked some 600 kilometers (with a few hitches here and there) down to the place where it all got started exactly one month earlier. As I saw the Auckland skyline ahead of me, I realized that no matter what my decision was going to be, I hiked the furthest I had ever hiked before. I felt incredibly proud as I boarded the ferry across Hauraki Gulf that took me into the city from Devonport.
In search of freedom
It was already in the first week of hiking Te Araroa that the feeling hit me that I wasn’t sure if this was what I wanted to do the next six months to come. ‘This’ being what felt like a tight schedule of hiking some 25 kms each day, getting up at 06.00 am, leaving by 08.00 am, marching on, counting distances, setting up camp, sleeping and repeating it the next day. In addition I felt that with having a bunch of rest days in Kaitaia to let my feet heal and hiding for the weather, I was falling behind on schedule and found myself wondering if I was going to make it to Bluff within the expiry date of my visa at all.
I wasn’t the only one worried about this. Upon arrival at the campsites, there often was talk about distances covered, budgets not being sufficient (New Zealand has a 30% inflation, meaning that I need € 2.000 more than budgeted as I expected to spend some € 6.000) and not being able to make it to Bluff in time. I found myself feeling truly unhappy worrying about this. I did not come to New Zealand to calculate distances, just march on and reaching my destination within time. I missed taking the time for a morning coffee, spending time in front of my tent if I felt like it, having enough energy left to read a book and I missed the feeling of freedom to decide each day what my day was going to look like. After spending nearly three months in Sweden earlier this year where I basically had no plan at all, I was used to living in freedom. Hiking Te Araroa on the North Island felt far from that.
So, what’s next?
I’m currently in Hamilton where I decided to give my body a few days rest. I sometimes tend to forget that it’s not just my time in New Zealand that I’ve been on the go, but that it’s in fact been almost five months that I’ve been on the road. Although I’m enjoying it most of the time, there’s also times when I feel extremely exhausted and just want to lay down in bed and hide under the covers for as long as needed.
This made me decide to take things easy from now on and start to enjoy the small things in life again. To hike shorter days, to enjoy other things than hiking that also make me happy (such as a cup of coffee in the morning sun or reading a book for a few hours). I’ve missed those things. When I was at the hostel in Stillwater I found a quote, written by Tom from I Walk Around the World, on one of the walls. It said ‘never sacrifice happiness for achievement.’ It couldn’t have been more spot on. I had been sacrificing happiness for achievement most of the time since my arrival and it was right then that I made the decision to no longer exhaust myself by running forward.
This upcoming week I’m hiking the Timber Trail and from there I’ll catch a bus down to Wellington, from where I’m flying to Queenstown. Here I’ll be speaking at the International Adventure Conference. My initial idea was to fly back to Wellington after the conference but knowing myself, I may just as well stay on the South Island. Either way, my plan is to hike all of Te Araroa on the South Island, starting more or less on January 1st, which gives me 3 months to complete the whole island and travel back up to Auckland for my flight back to The Netherlands.
By releasing the pressure of having to complete the entire trail, I also felt myself opening up for the good things in life again. It was like the dark cloud above my head lifted and I felt myself coming back to life. Ever since I’ve experienced many happy moments on and off the trail, which I cherish more than the miles I was hiking. Life is too short to be unhappy and so I decided that from now on all that I’ll do is hike my own hike.