End to End New Zealand: Following the Te Araroa Trail on a 3,000 km Journey from Cape Reinga to Bluff By Paul Garland, Campfire Creations, 2012. Softback, $39.50, 200 pages. Available through www.campfirecreations.co.nz.

Canterbury tramper Paul Garland, author of Fast and Light (see recipes in the Notice Board this Bulletin) records his experience walking the Te Araroa Trail in this tidy, readable book. Although an experienced tramper, Garland felt nervous at the start of his 3,000-kilometre, 152-day hike. He’d never walked more than 12 days at a stretch, and at 65 years old, knew he was ‘no longer a spring chicken.’ Losing an hour by taking the wrong turn on day one, not far from Cape Reinga, made a poor start. But Garland soon found his stride, often walking 20 kilometres or more per day, and between sections took showers at local campgrounds and replaced lost calories with fish and chips.

At Ngaiotonga Scenic Reserve, Garland watched a full moon from his camp, surrounded by the silhouettes of nikau palms, and listened to the forest birds performing ‘their nocturnal chorus.’

Some hard-core trampers sneer at the sort of terrain that Te Araroa passes through in the North Island, such as the gorse-lined ‘muddy slalom’ of a track over Mt Tamahunga, which saw Paul end up ‘on his bum’ countless times. But he delighted in new experiences such as the magnificent kauri forests, hearing flocks of whiteheads, and meeting locals. At Takahue, Garland met Te Araroa stalwart Peter Griffith ‘a master carver of considerable talent’ who also has ‘an impressive knowledge of local cultural and environmental issues.’ Many walkers enjoy Te Araroa as much for these sorts of encounters as the scenery.

Te Araroa also weaves through cities and towns. As a southerner, Garland enjoyed visiting such northern landmarks as the Kerikeri stone store and Puhoi’s historic pub, although a Facebook photo he posted of himself drinking there had friends questioning whether he was actually walking at all. Auckland provided good experiences too: ‘I loved the ferry ride over from Devonport, it had a feeling of the 1950s about it’. An Auckland woman, recognising Paul as a Te Araroa through-hiker, even invited him to lunch.

Pirongia Forest Park boasts the first hut on the Te Araroa Trail, Pahuatea. The nearby kilometre-long boardwalk over the Hihikiwi Track impressed Garland: ‘Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to protect this fragile alpine environment, while at the same time making it a pleasure for walkers to enjoy the unique environment of this cloud forest canopy.’

Paul deviated from the main route to take in the volcanic landscapes of Tongariro National Park, then paddled the Whanganui River. After locals invited him to the Bridge to Nowhere Lodge, he watched the All-Blacks beat France in the Rugby World Cup.

Daughter Rebecca joined him for the Tararua Range section, and his son Ryan for the Richmond Range. In Canterbury and Otago, Paul walked through several new conservation parks: ‘Once the domain of grazing sheep and lonely shepherds, this sweeping tussock landscape is now part of the DOC estate, available for us all to enjoy.’

En route, Garland found himself becoming a Te Araroa ambassador of sorts, extolling its virtues to the people he met. ‘The trail is not just about high mountains and wild rivers, although there is plenty of that, it’s just as much about seeing rural New Zealand and experiencing the trail life.’

Although mixed tenses and a few typos distract in places, End to End New Zealand is an enjoyable read, generously illustrated with colour photographs throughout, some quite creative – a bleached log, a spaniard beside a cascade and an iced-up tussock contrasting with record shots of Garland on the trail.

(this review first appeared in the FMC Bulletin – June 2013)