Woke up at 5 am along with the sun, super pleased with myself that I packed up all my things before the rain started. It began as only a light drizzle. Rather than find cover, I decided to walk down to the beach and watch the sunrise. That was my first mistake. The storm clouds came swiftly and the rain began to fall. By the bucket load. I was completely soaked through within minutes. I walked along the main road in Riverton, praying that somewhere would be open and save me from the torrential downpour. The supermarket was the earliest to open, and that was at 7am, so I sat, in the cold, wet rain and waited. My second mistake. When they opened, I wandered the 2 short aisles they had for a half an hour, trying to avoid going back outside. When I couldn’t bear to awkwardly walk by the cashier again, I checked out, and went to face the storm. Sweet relief: across the street, The Postmaster Cafe had opened! It was a very big place; I set myself up on a cozy couch, tucked away in a corner room. I had the place all to myself, so I laid out my wet gear and warmed up with a long black. They didn’t have any vegan friendly food, but I had scored 8 bananas for $1.28 at the supermarket, so I was happy 🙂
Once the rain cleared, I went to the information center just up the road. I told the woman at the desk, Carol, that I was hiking the Te Araroa and needed some maps. She saw that I was alone and looked concerned. After a few calls, I was on the phone with Kevin Hawkes. Little did I know at that moment how important it was that I was to meet this man! He is not only a trail angel, he is actually the chairman of the Te Araroa in Southland. He came to the information center in Riverton, fully equipped with trail notes and maps for me! After sitting and chatting awhile, he seemed to be a bit concerned about my lack of knowledge, plans, and survival methods for my walk, which in turn, made me worry. He took me into Invercargill so I could set up a cellphone plan and laminate my trail maps. He also hosted me at his home, called “Humpty,” a cute little house on 230 acres of land, a hot shower and warm meal included! I strung up my hammock in the yard and slept next to the lambs. In the morning he dropped me at the Long Hilly Track trail head with a promise from me that I would text him when I had arrived safely at Martin’s Hut.
The Long Hilly Track was about 6km and took me about 2 hours, not too bad I thought! Then I continued into the Longwood Forest on my way to Martin’s hut. There’s a reason it’s called the Longwood Forest. The only better name I can think of would be the Never Ending Forest. It took me forever! There were very sketchy parts where I was walking over huge ditches on a very wobbly board. I couldn’t keep myself from thinking, “wow I could fall to my death right now and no one would know!” Not to mention a lot of huge trees had fallen recently and were blocking the path. Me, being an inexperienced tramper, tried to go straight through the obstacle, rather than the logical method of looking for a way around. At one point, I tripped and fell towards a ditch on my right. My backpack got stuck under a fallen tree trunk and prevented me from falling to my death. After lying there for a minute, filled with anger at my stupidity, I tried to get up, but I failed. With my 23 kilo pack, I didn’t have the strength to lift it and myself up. I unbuckled from my pack and slid out of it. I was half temped to leave it there. Once I got control of my emotions, I put on my pack and set off again, determined to do this! Once again, I was racing to get to my destination before dark. By the time I made it to Cascade Road, I thought I was 1km from Martin’s Hut. How wrong I was. It was 1km down that road, then another 10 minutes off that road, then another 30 minutes of tramping before getting there! And this wasn’t any easy tramping. This was up steep hills, in thick mud, with more huge obstacles blocking the pathway. With the daylight fading fast, I had to fight the voice in my head that was telling me to just stop and string up my hammock already. FINALLY! I made it up the hill to the sign that said Martin’s Hut: 100 meters, 1 minute. I almost burst into tears when I saw smoke coming from the chimney. I let out a loud “WOO!” and a boy, Benjamin, opened the door and welcomed me.
Benjamin is French-Canadian, a fellow vegan, and started the Te Araroa on the same day as I did! Funny we never came across each other until now. I could tell just from talking to him for a few minutes that he is a very experienced hiker. He is like me in the sense that he has never done anything like the Te Araroa before, and that his pack is far too heavy (24 kilos!) But he has taken outdoor survival classes and knows a lot about the outdoors. I can honestly say that if he wasn’t there, I would not have continued on in the Longwood Forest. I would have gone back and tried to hitch around them. But he was keen to hike together the next day, and I have to say, it was great to have someone there. I’m learning so much from him! Even the smallest, most basic things he showed me, made a world of difference in my tramping experience. Like to look for a way around an obstacle (mud) rather than trying to go through it. There was a very steep, muddy, overgrown path on our hike out of Martin’s hut to begin the day. We were in the clouds when we made it up to the ridges. Trying to find the next orange pole marking the trail became a game that was quite fun. In between the ridges there was some beautiful, enchanted forestry. Everything was covered in moss; it looked like some gnomes or fairies were going to come out and play with us at any moment. But then the rain came. Once again I was unprepared when it came to rain gear and I paid dearly for it. By the time we made it out of the muddy, steep descent towards the road to Bald Hill, we were cold, wet, and the rain was showing no sign of stopping. About 1km up the road, I couldn’t take it any more. It was another 7km to get to Merrivale Road, and we were freezing. My hands were so cold they weren’t working properly anymore. With 6% battery life on my phone, I decided to call Kevin and see if he would come rescue us. Bless his soul, he said he and his wife, Ann, were waiting for my call, and they would come get us! He picked us up within 2 hours and we were back at Humpty, enjoying another hot shower and warm meal.
With rain in the forecast the next day, (today) we decided to take a rest day. After tramping with Ben, I had a reality check. I could honestly die if I wasn’t smart about this. I needed to get better gear, and I needed it before I took another step on the Te Araroa. So, I made a list: what I absolutely needed to get, and what I needed to get rid of to try and lighten my pack. Kevin and Ann are some of the best people, not only that I’ve met in New Zealand, but in my entire life! They took me back into Invercargill to all of the camping and hunting shops to find proper gear. I dropped a lot of money, but I feel confident going into the mud and rain that is forecast for tomorrow. I bought a good pair of rain pants and raincoat, plus some gators and more dry sacs. The only thing I am still concerned about is my sleeping bag. It is not warm enough for New Zealand weather. I couldn’t afford to buy another one, so I am praying that the nights won’t get too cold. Benjamin and I decided to continue traveling together, at least for awhile. I definitely think I can learn heaps more from him, and I feel better knowing I have someone to face the bad weather with.
I know I am not experienced in this kind of thing, but the good thing about starting from ground zero, is you can only get better. I made a deal with myself that I would give it my all for 2 weeks before I consider throwing in the towel. I am hoping things start getting better with the days to come.