Here at Wilderlife, we’re collating Victoria’s diaries, photos and videos into a digest. Each post spans a section of Te Araroa between major towns and rest days.
Walking with her seven-year-old daughter Emilie, together they are raising funds for Federated Mountain Clubs 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.
Havelock to Rocks Hut
Day 52: 23 December 2021
Havelock Rest Day/Prep Like Crazy Day
I woke up after about four hours of fitful sleep to the shadow of Emilie standing over my bed.
“Mummy, can I watch cartoons on your phone now?” she hissed.
“Get away from me and go back to sleep,” I responded, coiling, snake-like back under the covers. I was so tired.
The quaint little second floor motel room overlooking the main street of Havelock had turned out to be a sweaty death trap and we tossed and turned until after 10pm before falling asleep.
I’d woken at 12am and 2am to the rumble of trucks passing on the road outside and now it was 5:20am, our usual wake up time in the tent, but I’d hoped for a sleep in this morning.
After another quarter hour of willing myself to go back to sleep, I gave up and made plans to go downstairs for coffee.
I stopped being grumpy and invited Emilie over for a cuddle. It was the first night we’d slept in separate beds in months, but she’d opted for the cute single bed and I’d happily taken the double.
I’d promised her cartoons and breakfast in bed at the end of the Queen Charlotte section, so I loaded up Ice Age and stumbled downstairs into the cool morning air and around to the kitchen.
Already the sun was glinting off the top of the hills, preparing for another blisteringly hot day. While Emilie was occupied upstairs, I borrowed scissors and a Sharpie to wrap some tasty and lightweight Christmas presents that I planned to carry in and pop into her tramping sock. She’d accepted the fact that Santa wouldn’t be dropping off a whole heap of Christmas stash while we were on the Trail with remarkably good grace for a seven-year-old.
I warmed her a glass of real milk – a treat after the watery powdered crap we’d been spooning over our porridge – and prepared a little tray with fruity oat cookies and fresh cherries.
She happily accepted, completely absorbed in the antics of Sid the Sloth and Manny the Moody Mammoth, while I sipped my extra strength Moccona and surveyed the contents of our packs which were now occupying the floor, pondering how to fit another ten plus days of food in my backpack and how to convince my body to bear it.
Day 53: 24 December 2021
Pelorus to Captains Creek Hut
I’m sitting beside the track under a huge weeping rimu tree with the buzzing of cicadas and the rumble of the river in my ears.
I’m waiting for Danilo and Emilie to catch up, and secretly, very much enjoying these few moments of peace and solitude before we walk on again.
Captains Creek Hut is about 1.5km away and it’s hot . . . so hot . . . too hot to be walking. But here we are, wandering into Richmond Forest Park on our way to the Richmond Ranges.
We got the royal treatment today with a lift from a lovely lady named Karen who has set up her own shuttle company. She’s been following our journey and wanted to support us, so she delivered Danilo to us from St Arnaud and dropped us all with our heavy packs at the Trailhead. What a kind soul!
I’m carrying all Emilie and my usual gear plus six days of food – a mixture of Real Meals’ freeze dried and other morsels I picked up in Havelock, including two blocks of hard cheese, a round of camembert and a loaf of sourdough.
No wonder my bag can barely close! But at least we won’t starve . . . well, at least not for the first few days! I’ve strapped the tent to the outside of my pack to make more room for food.
Emilie glued herself to Danilo the moment we started out and together they’re wandering along, with her chatting about most things and him indulging her.
There’s huge stands of podocarps all around me, the occasional Totora, Kahikatea, Rimu and black beech, towering high above my head.
The forest floor is covered in a carpet of bright green ferns and I can hear sweet bird songs above the white noise of the river below.
I appreciate being gifted with the time and space to walk alone, but it’s also a little scary as my mind is wandering back in time and I’m not sure where it’s going or if I’m ready for it.
It whispered a name, Karina, a name that conjured up memories of a misspent youth, chasing away the darkness with dragons.
A friend, a love, a lost sister – someone with whom I became very close to and who eventually slipped away. Why was I thinking about her now? These days were long ago and almost forgotten.
I was stomping along pondering when there below me on the river bank, red and grey amongst the long grass, stood Captains Creek Hut.
Day 54: 25 December 2021
Captains Creek Hut to Rocks Hut (10 kms)
It’s Christmas Day and Santa stuffed our sweaty socks with carefully wrapped treasures – chocolate and OSM bars in brown paper and strapping tape, beautifully decorated with bespoke illustrations. I think we all enjoyed the wrappers just as much as the treats inside!
The sun was out and the forest was already heating up by the time we started walking. We only had about 10km to cover to get us to Rocks Hut, but it was hot and most of it was uphill.
I guess the whole point of my taking this long walk in nature is to reset and heal but the trouble is that the healing process doesn’t always feel very comfortable.
Old pains and traumas are a bit like a festering wound – sometimes you’ve got to dig down deep and scrape out that rotting flesh before you can properly heal again.
And today, walking ahead of my little group through the simmering bush, I could feel something rising up inside of me. My mind was searching, probing, actively opening the gates to my memory warehouse and sifting through the dusty boxes . . . touching, tasting, and re-experiencing as it decided what to keep and what to let go.
Some memories are just so painful that we bury them down deep, lest they completely shatter our fragile self-image and fill us with debilitating feelings of hurt and shame.
And sometimes we need to come to terms with the fact that we continue to be the orchestrators of our own pain and suffering, that our experience of the world around us has tinted our perception and caused us to unconsciously seek out confirmation that we are unlovable, broken people.
Maybe it was this realization that brought tears to my eyes as a thick sob rolled up my throat. My legs felt so heavy and my heart did too. I staggered on, the heavy weight of grief pressing me almost to the ground, but I didn’t want to wait for the others to catch up and discover me in this state.
I realized walking with eyes full of tears is very difficult as the tears act as magnifying lenses and throw your depth perception all out of whack, which is not ideal on a steep and rooty track.
Why do we cause ourselves to suffer so much? Isn’t having to experience such trauma in the first place bad enough? Why is such a large part of our lives spent in the shadows? For some people, this enlightenment never comes and they are doomed, unable to realize how much they are contributing to their own mental misery.
And anyway, even once that penny drops, it doesn’t mean everything magically changes for the better. It takes so much energy and fortitude to stay well, to reframe your thoughts and come to terms with yourself and your history.
No wonder people spend a lifetime avoiding going to this place; yet here I was, 11:30 in the morning with several thousand Te Araroa kilometres to go. There’s plenty of time to spring clean that memory warehouse and transform it into a safe and peaceful space, not unlike the beautiful forest through which I’m walking right now.
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/ and follow them @adventures_with_emilie on Instagram and Facebook.
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.