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Day 81, Top Wairoa Hut to Red Hills Hut, 29 km

I awake with a jolt from nightmares. I’d gone home trying to explain what I’m doing and then had one of those dreams where your house has extra rooms you didn’t know about. Those are always a challenge fir me as though I’m not tapping into my resources fully.

I also was stirred up seeing a weird note from Chloe in the DOC Intentions book – meant to keep track that people have paid for their hut stay and to know where they were and are headed should they go missing. It’s about escaping people who smell bad. Surely it’s a joke, but I found her so harsh and self centered, it strikes some chord in me and feels off-putting to read in this official book.

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Day 80, Rintoul Hut to Top Wairoa Hut, 22 km

I grab two bars, pack Olive Oyl and head up Purple Top before sunrise. A family of goats meets me as I come out of the trees, and low cloud like a bubble bath for row upon row of blue mountains.

The top is off trail, so I leave my pack below on a quest for views. The sun heats the valley, burning the cloud cover to small cottony drifters. I feel so energized after last night. Nice, interesting people. We laugh and share and commiserate. It is what I needed. I can see the hut from here and the long scree slog. Soon I’ll go down into the river valley and say goodbye to views for the rest of today.

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Day 79, Slaty Hut to Rintoul Hut, 13 km

The hut rattles and shakes in the wind, but when I step outside for the loo, it’s not cold. I sleep surprisingly well on my little bunk, pack up Olive Oyl and head up to the ridge along an eroded path.

The sky is crystal clear, the wind keeping me cool as I push up and over and back down into mossy, sun-dappled forest. I feel insecure after John’s bragging and relive the evening trying out new come-backs.

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Day 78, Hacket Track trailhead to Slay Hut, 18 km

Maggie brings me outside when I wake up to show me my good luck charm – a rainbow. Cary joins us for the walk to whispering falls. A serpentine seam glistens in the sun. Maggie loaded me up with one more bagel and lox, extra cream cheese naturally. I have the last piece of rhubarb cake saved for when I finally reach the mountain view.

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Day 77, sidetrip, Abel Tasman National Park

Today is my second side trip, to beautiful Abel Tasman park. Steve makes a plan and we head out with Mozart cranked through the Moutere valley and mile after mile of grape vines.

It has the feel of California, those wineries, plus golden hills, water restrictions and ocean awaiting my eyes and body.

How did I get so lucky? Steve is a classical music fan but tunes into the local station. But when opera comes on, he switched to his hometown station and saw the piece on the MPR website about my hiking the Te Araroa.

Of course he wrote and invited me to visit a place I long felt curious about. But who knew he and I – and Maggie – would hit it off so well. Like old friends, I’m already called Al.

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Day 76, zero day, Nelson

“It’s hard to be more perfect than right now,” says Steve as we sit on his beautiful deck overlooking a garden that flows right down the bank to the river.

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Day 75, Captain Creek Hut to Hacket Track car park, 29 km

I sleep well outside. It’s cooler and the stars come out, diamonds displayed on black velvet. There’s no relief from the swarming sandflies. Did I mention they bite? The painful, itchy welt shows up three days later so you have a hard time blaming any one fly.

It’s not long before I’m packed and off where the nasties stay far away from me. I cross a one-person-at-a-time suspension bridge over the Pelorus river then leave the river after Middy hut and go straight up the ridge through beech forest to Rock hut. It’s humid, the cicadas crackling like a live wires after a storm. Staying ‘under my breath’ my pace slows.

Time loses meaning on a thru-hike. An hour slips past, then another. I stop to take huge gulps of ‘pink’ – a bright electrolyte mixed with filtered river water. I like to hike early because it’s cooler and the whole day is in front of me to do whatever I want with it. Wind is gently blowing in the tree tops.

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Day 74, Kaiuma Bay Road to Captain Creek Hut, 32 km

Tui and Sam’s loud morning stretch greet the day, overcast, just how I like it. It’s a different world down here – sprinklers run all night and fire danger is ‘extreme.’

I get to Dalton’s Track where the notes say we must not walk on road, but the industrial sprinklers are running right on the path. I understand farmers don’t want to dodge hikers, but first thing on a long day I don’t want a mud fest. It will take me an hour to walk here and I’m hoping I can just move along without being seen. Not sure why a public road can be off limits.

Crap, that’s because it’s not a public road. Well, I’m already in too deep in. Loads of signs were ignored. Ugh. I really don’t want to be that ugly entitled American hiker.

Aha, a young Samoan heads over on a 4×4 and guides me away from the big herd coming my way. I’m saved! And the field walk is not too bad at all.

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Day 73, Onahua Lookout to Kaiuma Bay Road – 44 km

A couple of kids do arrive last night, just as the sun goes down behind a mountain. They bring good energy, give me a sip of beer and stay til the tiniest sliver of a moon appears in the western sky and I wish upon the first star.

I’ll tell you what I wish for – the strength, preparedness and resourcefulness it will take to complete this walk. I cuddle into the alicoop and think only on what’s needed for tomorrow and thank whoever’s in charge of granting me such an amazing day.

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Day 72, Camp Madsen to Onahau lookout, 37 km

Q: Why did the weka shriek before the sun came up?

A: Because he can.

To be fair there were plenty of other birds not using their indoor voices as the sky lightened over the sound and I slowly started my morning routine by opening the valve on the thermarest. What a cool spot on a terrace high above the water, big hills seemingly growing from the ocean floor, I later find are actually sinking, the only place in New Zealand this is happening.

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Day 71, Ship Cove to Madsen Camp, 17 km

I needed to get up before 5 am to catch the ferry, but what a treat for Raf to take me. Seas are advertised to as ‘calm’ – just one meter swells. I run into the Czechs and an American comparing shoe wear. Feeling stiff and secure in the new La Sportivas.

The ferry is enormous and I head right up to level six, wet in this gloomy morning. A sign alerts me to the rich bird life of Cook Strait – Sooty Shearwater that travel 64,000 km each year, three kinds of albatross that lock their giant wings in place and glide on the trade winds, gull, gannet, petrel, prion, tern, shag and penguin.

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Day 70, ‘slackpack’ Wellington, 15 km

Things begin a bit lazy on another unusually sunny, warm day in Wellington with waffles and delicious yogurt, golden kiwis and blueberries before we all head to the market and buy a cart load of groceries for the three separate packages of resupply I have to send to manage the first month of hiking on the South Island.

We cram tuna packets, ramen noodles, muesli bars, dehydrated soup, salami, lollies, and more into boxes with fingers crossed they arrive when I need them. And trying to ignore my annoyance with the TA association failing to make vital information like addresses and protocol for resupply easily available, while at the same time the TA facebook page administrator scolds when we don’t get it right. <sigh>

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Day 69, Wellington

I’m now dreaming constantly of walking, this time pushing through scree, trapped and not getting very far. I’m either a full-time pedestrian even while sleeping or I need a psychological break – or maybe more accurately, a revamping of my psychological approach.

All was fine yesterday until I did what I’ve often done – believe the hardest part was completed only to discover the trail wasn’t quite finished with me. After Kuakua, I nearly bonked needing to climb higher in the hot sunshine. I’m going to have to find a way to ensure I’m pacing myself or I’ll bonk while supine in bed.

Perhaps it’s because something momentous is happening in finishing the first island, but the magnitude of what I’ve completed coupled with the magnitude of what’s ahead is hard to comprehend and there’s a part of me that’s skeptical of my success, certain I was just lucky in making it all come together.

Maybe I need to remind myself that trail is walked one step at a time – and starting Monday, it will be in brand new La Sportivas and fresh pairs of socks.

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Day 68, Camp Elsdon to Wellington, 29 km

I get up early to catch the cool air. It’s steep stairs up and up through bush finally into open sky. I pass four overweight Maori, but glad they’re out puffing like me, as this is better than any stair-master.

Colonial Knob is in mist, but I’m happy to not be in the hot sun. At 459 meters, it’s no small hill rising high above the ocean. The traffic is still loud as sheep go about their business. Rubin camps at the top and I fly down with him on switchbacks in the forest sharing mud stories before he and his gal peal off. A little fluffy dog follows me down the road.

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Day 67, Paekakariki to Camp Elsdon, 28 km

I dreamed last night that I was walking, but would wake up and see the stained glass window in my bedroom at George and Rob’s, and realize I hadn’t moved. Stress, anyone? A bit.

And my pack is weighed down with food I’m too cheap to chunk. It’s funny how just a day away from walking coupled with the unknown, makes me wonder if I even remember how to walk.

But Rob has me giggling in no time as we squish in for a selfie, the camera set on ‘beauty face.’ We drive on the long stretch of highway I hiked, stopping at a Pa site and a gate they named for their first TA guest, Sandro. I see NOBO Chris from Mt. Crawford, head down, walking the narrow shoulder and I’m glad it’s in my past.

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Day 66, zero day

I suppose it’s a bit odd to snag a zero day when I’m just two days from finishing the North Island, but when Julian and I drove back from Taranaki on New Year’s day – passing through lovely Whanganui – I found I was still absolutely shattered from our spontaneous sunrise climb. So I just had to give my friends George and Rob a call to ask if I might crash at their place for the night.

They welcome me back and insist I sleep in late, feed me highly nutritious meals accompanied by a summery sparkling wine, talk and laugh with me, watch more awesome Maori TV together, and even offer me the Veet left here by a male French TA walker to melt the hair on my legs – obviously one of the subjects of so much laughter. I am restored in so many ways and tomorrow they’ll drop me right back at the very spot I left off.

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Day 64-65, Side trip! Mt. Taranaki

I hate to become repetitive, but this morning began with rain on the alicoop. I think I’m going to need to refine my relationship with precipitation by ditching my bad attitude for one of acceptance, maybe even embracing the rain as part of what makes this trail unique.

Nah, I’ll keep complaining, knowing that it does make the best days even better.

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Day 63, Waikanae to Paikakariki, 21 km

The morning opens with rain and wind. Floris and Marjelain leave early, but I am beat. Brent makes me tea and it’s only a matter of time before I break down, simply overwhelmed by the mud on everything, a sopping wet tent and drizzle.

This lovely trail angel helps grab all my stuff and place it in their ‘conservatory’ – a beautiful glass mud room – gets a pile of old towels to dry my tent, chucks my nasty, mud-soaked clothes in the wash and makes me a grilled cheese sandwich, actually two. He even scrubs the mud from my trail runners.

I’m better in no time.

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Day 62, Waitewaewae Hut to Waikanae, 34 km

I wake up early, pack and eat tuna for breakfast to avoid any more of that weird heartbeat issue. The weather is supposed to be awful tomorrow and Carol invites me to camp on her lawn – and sit in the hot tub! – so I decide to make a go of reaching Waikane tonight. After there, it’s coastal and city walk to finish the island.

I wait for Julian to finish his muesli and coffee, trusting he knows the shortcut across the river.

Which it turns out he doesn’t, so we climb high above through muddy blowdown and roots, me f-bombing for most of the start, but somehow that endears Julian and we become like long lost tramping pals, separated at birth. Julian doesn’t muscle the climbs like I do, stepping high and heaving the body. He jumps. It’s actually rather remarkable his skill at managing the clag – and with one pole since he snapped the other yesterday on that savage downhill.

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Day 61, Dracophyllum Hut to Waitewaewae Hut, 13 km

Just after 5, and the nervous Germans are up packing. I like getting up early and hearing a few wind gusts spurs me on. More climbing today with long exposed ridges, knobs and another slightly higher mountain. That’s why I need to be extra cognizant of the weather. It’s cold now, but looks clear.

The boys faff about for a bit while I pack away a sopping wet tent and put on my muddy socks and shoes. The walk takes us deep into mossy goblin forest, gently lit at an angle by the rising sun. Mist shape shifts before disappearing entirely. Darcy tells me the weather will be good today, though showers later, so I get cracking.

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Day 60, Makahika Outdoor Pursuits to Dracophyllum Hut, 25 km

When you go up in the Tauraruas, you want a forecast with no wind. The fact that it’s pouring rain as I wake up shouldn’t concern me one little bit.

But I must admit, I’m sick of rain. Although it’s said I’ll have views once I get up there, it is absolutely pouring right now. I pop open the thermarest with a ‘pssssssssss’ and that means game’s on and I pack.

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Day 59, Kahuterawa to Makahika Outdoor Pursuits, 40 km

Robb starts the trail with me for just a few feet before pealing off. Our drive into where I left off yesterday reveals the rain’s damage – big rocks in the road, swollen river, waterfalls pushing across our path.

We part and I walk up the Backtrack – which is exactly what I do when I hit a massive landslip. I try to climb over, but sink in wet, shifting mud. At first I feel done in and walk back to the car park hoping for a lift, but then calculate an alternate route and feel smart and tough carrying on. Which is no problem on this piece of bike trail, although I keep my eye out for possible campsites should I get stopped again.

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Day 58, ‘slackpack’ Palmerston North to Kahuterawa Park, 21 km

It rained last night and is still raining all morning. I have tea and toast with Robb and Tara hands me present snuck under the tree by fat orange Fred – tuna packets, nuts and chocolate!

I forget to mention last night in Val and Tony’s neighborhood are huge light displays, everyone out to enjoy. Quite American, actually and made me miss home.

No one out today. Christmas is a wash with constant rain, so I ask Robb and Tara if they might allow me to slackpack this portion of the trail and join the family for more holiday cheer. Best Christmas present ever to do this. I want to pick up k’s but would like to stay dry if possible.

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Day 57, Mount Lees Reserve to Palmerston North, 31 km

Well it was bound to happen – I wake up in pouring rain. I pack up anyway and figure, it can’t last all day, can it?

Of course the forecast is for the wettest Christmas in years. I’m in full rain gear and it’s just a drizzle right now. These days before Palmerston North are notoriously bad. It’s mostly road walk, but with the temperature cool and the sun hidden, I don’t mind it too much.

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Day 56, Koitiata to Mount Lees Reserve, 37 km

A full moon looked in on my sleep, then a glorious sunrise. I’m back on black sand as my trail down the beach this morning. Tide is out and walking on concrete-pack.

It takes me back to the beginning, walking a long, lonely beach by myself, finding beauty in simplicity – the reflections of clouds, the shape of the tide-carved sand, the trails left by beached shells.

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Day 55, Whanganui to Koitiata, 33 km

An absolutely beautiful rest in a beautiful room awakened by the smell of toast, eggs, bacon – a full English breakfast New Zealand style.

We speak of past lives with George CEO of the NZ kennel club, owning a bar, practicing law. Rob makes me laugh with an escapade of outrunning a possum trapped in the shed.

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Day 54, Hipango Park to Whanganui, (30 km) + 7 km

I wake up to a five-note song, a slight variation on Gershwin’s first prelude. I answer with the second line, but I’m utterly ignored. The moon was bright as I slept on soft grassy comfort. We both awoke to a weird creaking in the shelter, but neither bothered to investigate.

Rain seems to be a thing of the past – for now. The dock has stairs, so loading is expected to be manageable. The question is if high tide will might fight us as we paddle into town.

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Day 53, Flying Fox to Hipango Park, (34 km)

The moon comes out accompanied by wild night sounds and a few stray splats of raindrops shaking off the trees. Flying Fox is one of the best stays yet – lots of attention to detail and small luxuries like a plastic box with soap and shampoo, TP at the composting long drop and odds and ends of dishes to use at the covered picnic table, a place I enjoyed for hours in the pouring rain.

Andrew told me I am the engine of our boat. He’s kept us straight as we’ve entered the rapids, but I kept us moving. I feel so complimented by a young man thirty years my junior who treats me as an equal.

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Day 52, Tieke Kainga to Flying Fox, (52 km)

You know it’s a thru-hike – or at this point a thru-paddle – when you wake up in the middle of the night with all your regrets staring you in the face.

The good news is I had absolutely fantastic stars, a halo of milky way, just by looking up and it was warm enough to keep the tarp drawn.

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Day 51, John Coull to Tieke Kainga, (32 km)

Our tents are damp in this foggy morning, set on a staircase of carved terraces, Inca-style. Yesterday, Andrew and I spied rock formations that appeared made by hand, huge hewn blocks as if a wall around the river. His passion is science fiction, so it got us fantasizing of ancient alien civilizations here in this last of inhabited patch of the world.

The morepork hooted through the still night until I was awakened by David’s excited descriptions of climbs to Alex and the Croatians, as well as advice to slow down the pace for the South Island, which he completed last year. I really wanted him to shut up and give me a few more moments sleep, but I will miss David and these guys. They go on further today to get to Wellington before the month is over.

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Day 50, Whakahoro to John Coull, (38 km)

Waking up was with complaining sheep and the thwap-thwap of techno pop meaning only one thing – sheep sheering. It’s weird to have so much time before I have to move. The canoes will be here in an hour or so. My tent dries on a fence post.

My friends from Taumaranui canoe hire arrive and have us unpack out carefully packed gear and repack it in barrels. It’s all a bit of a drama as we hurriedly reorganize then get another briefing and small canoe lesson in the thick mud at the launch.

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Day 49, Katieke War Memorial to Whakahora – 24 km

The day opens with low hanging mist. I have to put on rain gear to pack the tent, studying the little coffin shaped dry spot in the grass that was my warm body a few moments ago. It’s a modest day, so plenty of time to dry my gear before packing it away on the canoe trip. I will stay in huts. A small luxury, but if the day is dumping rain will be well worth it.

The walk today is a country road doubling as a cycle path. You know you’re in farm country when you come across a jug in the middle of the road with ‘stock’ scrawled on it.

I pass a barn and the shearing is on, hits of the ‘90s this time, backbeat pumping incongruously against the pastoral backdrop.

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Day 48, National Park to Katieke War Monument – 27 km

I’m having trouble sleeping as my birthday winds down. So many gifts of good weather, astonishing scenery, strong legs and decent track. But I feel lonely just now – and maybe a bit foolish, this woman now in her mid-fifties all on her own trying to recapture her youth.

Tom said something yesterday about missing love while hiking this trail. He has his eye on a certain female walker, but what he’s referring to in this case is the deep connection of his family and friends. I too miss the solid and tender person I married who always keeps me balanced and focused. Out here on my own, I’m a little bit lost.

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Day 47, Mangatepopo track to National Park – 30 km

I often wondered where I’d end up on December 14th while walking the TA. So happy to wake up in the Tongariro National Park – and to be packed and moving right before the rain revved up again.

Last night’s spot was perfect to look up the valley and watch the thunderstorms. But I literally turn a corner and glacier-covered Ruapehu reveals herself in all her grandeur, a small trail of fog circling like a boa. I saw her flat top all the way from Mt. Puerora days and days ago. The snow is fresh, white, gleaming against the blue gray of her folds. She’s in my sights as I negotiate a severely eroded trail – an accident waiting to happen.

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Day 46, Te Porere Redoubt to Mangatepopo track – 27 km

I’m up and packing at 3 am. Friends, there are stars out. Glory Hallelujah. Fingers crossed we make the crossing before the storms come. Dark gives way to gray splashed with orange, a long road walk then it begins.

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Day 45, Whakapapa River to Te Porere Redoubt – 35 km

Gray and ominous this morning; foggy, but no rain. Obviously I’d like ideal weather for the crossing – and my birthday this Friday – but there is something cool walking overland to the national park and having it reveal itself.

Walking is such a metaphor for life. Unless it’s a race, you can’t really rush it. You have a pace, set it and then walk every step to where you’re going. It goes as it goes. David is gone when I’m up and then I’m next. I am not partucularly fast, but steady. And this is uphill for the first several hours.

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Day 44, Taumaruni to Whakapapa River – 25 km

To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.

– Søren Kierkegaard

The day starts in a familiar way – rain. Extra loud on the container that I share with Bojan, Marko, Alexis and David. Always good sleeping on a ‘bed’ – actually kiddie mattresses – and bonding with all our stuff spread about.

I forgot to mention that I at least attempted a surreptitious rinse in the river yesterday afternoon. Later, when one of the sons picked me up from a second attempt at resupply, he comments, “So you’re the nudist tourist, eh!” If seeing a glimpse of a middle aged lady is your big thrill, good on you.

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