The only certainties were the hut tickets stuffed into the pocket of my backpack and the vague notion that if we followed some orange track markers, we’d eventually make it to our destination.
We’ve come a long way since then. Emilie has visited over 50 huts and we’ve endured snow-storms, flooded rivers, sweltering summers, bush bashing and wild weather. Each trip was built upon the last one, carefully learning and growing experience as we figured it all out and pushed ourselves to go further, deeper into our beautiful backcountry.
These days, even after a snow storm in a tent we’re still smiling…
Now that I’m about to embark on the biggest tramp of our lives, I thought it was worth looking back at where we started from.
So many people might read about Te Araroa, and think “I could never do that” (especially with my kid) but I’m saying ‘Yes you can’. You’ve just got to start somewhere, find friends and mentors to learn from and develop your confidence and experience along the way.
And you’ll experience the un-equalled healing power of time spent exploring our magnificent wild places.
So looking back to February of 2019. It was the height of Canterbury summer and there we were, wandering up the Miners Track at the base of Mount Somers, hot, irritable, anxious and wondering what the hell to expect from the two nights we’d booked at the Woolshed Creek Hut.
My backpack was straining from the three litre bottles of drinking water I’d squeezed in there, as I naively had no idea whether we’d find water on the track or at the hut.
I’d never even heard of a topographic map or a personal locator beacon. All I knew was that I wanted to get out of my house, away from my worries, out of the city and into the bush for a decent period of time.
We were both good walkers but debut overnight trampers and my back protested bitterly under the weight of my oversized pack. But I was stubborn and determined so off we went, hand in hand, ogling at the new and unusual scenery of alpine daisies, hebes and tussock grass.
After a while I forgot about my pack and was content to listen to my daughter chattering happily as we soaked up the sights, sounds and smells of the mountains.
After a young couple passed us on the last ridge, Miss Four suddenly kicked into top gear. “Mummy! Quick! They’re going to get to the hut before us! They’re going to take the bed!”
Woolshed Creek Hut was now in full view, settled amidst a golden field of tussock grass, and Miss Four flew down the hill with little legs pumping, trying her hardest to overtake our fellow trampers.
I tried to explain that the hut had more than one bed but it wasn’t until we staggered up onto the veranda and inside the cool sanctuary of the hut that she relaxed and her worry turned into joy.
After claiming her bunk (there were 26 to choose from) she made a bee line for the creek and sat playing in the water, singing and chattering in the sunshine while I nervously fiddled with the brand new jet boiler I’d only unwrapped the evening prior and wondering how stupid I’d look if I asked the hut warden for help.
But after a while I gave up and wandered outside. As I gazed as the impressive landscape, I realised I was flooded with a wonderful warm feeling that had nothing to do with the summer’s day. I sat down beside the creek and listened to the water rush over the pebbles and between my toes. I watched the wind dance through the tussock grass and saw a pair of falcons flit amongst the rocky outcrops.
I looked at the sky and smiled. In these moments, we were part of the pure joy of the natural world and it felt good.
Later that afternoon, we followed the creek down to a deep pool and shed our clothes to swim in the cool water, splashing and pretending to be forest mermaids. I loved seeing the joy in my daughter’s face and how easily she interacted with the world around her. Everything was exciting and new and magical, from the patches of moss on damp rocks (fairy grass), to clumps of Celmisia, the mountain daisy (where the fairies get their dresses).
That night, we lay wrapped up in our borrowed sleeping bags and I gazed up at the brightening stars while listening to my tiny daughter breath heavily in her sleep. I felt so full, yet pleasantly empty of all thoughts, and proud of myself for managing our first overnight tramp.
Long story short, but since then we’ve been hooked on tramping in a big way. It’s become a way of life, a place of refuge, to restore, rejuvenate and rejoice together, deep in the healing power of nature.
Victoria and Emilie are walking the Te Araroa over the 21/22 summer season. They are raising funds and telling stories about the mental health benefits of time spent in the wild places of NZ, as well as the importance of protecting those areas for future generations to enjoy. To see all their stories, visit wilderlife.nz/adventures_with_emilie/
90% of the funds raised are donated evenly between the Mental Health Foundation and the Federated Mountain Clubs of NZ Mountain & Forest Charitable Trust. 10% is going towards some of the expenses of walking the trail.
If you’d like to help them out, please donate via their give a little page.