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.
Waikenae to Wellington
Day 40: 10 December 2021
Waikenae to Paekakariki (15 kms)
I haven’t slept well in days. I seem to inhabit this strange zone between sleep and consciousness, my nights a constant battle to drop down from light dozing to something deeper and more restful.
The mist of the Tararuas drifts through my memory. After a week of urban trail walking, the wildness of the mountains seems a long time ago.
We spent Wednesday and Thursday resting, or rather, trying to coax my shattered brain through a long list of Trail admin, in preparation for the South Island.
By Friday we were on a train to Waikenae, experiencing Wellington’s public transport at its finest. A little over halfway, the loudspeaker informed us there was a tree down on the lines and we were bundled off at the next station to wait for a bus. We sat like sardines, conscious of our big backpacks, relieved to disembark and feel the earth, or rather, the footpath beneath our feet.
In all the confusion I misjudged our stop and we got off before Waikenae, but close enough to make our way through the backstreets to rejoin the Trail on the coast.
Evidence of the flood that hampered our efforts to leave Ōtaki Forks was everywhere — foamy brown storm water hurtled through suburban creeks; footpaths and sand strewn with soggy detritus.
It was hot and humid and we trudged awkwardly along the shoreline, our shoes slipping in the soft sand.
I watched gulls wheeling and turning against the grey sky and the dark outline of Kapiti Island. It felt strange to be so close to those mighty Tararuas, yet already we were worlds away.
I don’t really enjoy urban trail walking with its noise and weeds and reminders of human existence. I like being immersed in the beauty of our wild places, far away from the mess, destruction and chaos of modern society.
But we were onto the last leg of our North Island trip and I was happy to finish off this section before disappearing into the relative wilderness of the south.
We made it to Paekakariki campground to be greeted by a lovely Trail Angel who we’d organized to stay with tomorrow evening.
The day ended sunny and warm, with the promise of new friendships and easy walking. Emilie was happy and so was I.
Day 41: 11 December 2021
Paekakariki to Paremata (18 kms/5.5 hrs)
Today we got to experience the joys of slack packing, thanks to the legendary Ed from the Wellington TA Trust. He shuttled my big backpack forward to our accommodation, leaving me to tout Emilie’s pack.
It felt great to stretch our legs and work up to a good pace over the narrow and windswept Escarpment track and through the back of suburbia.
Yesterday’s sun had turned into dark cloud.
It was hot and humid as we toiled along the Trail, stopping for a celebratory ice cream at the Pukerua Bay dairy, the sticky scoops also suffering from the day’s heat.
We walked a few kilometers beside the motorway, our ears unused to the roar and smell of traffic. Our eyes picked up litter and weeds amongst the green strip of newly planted native bush.
Anne met us on the outskirts of Plimmerton. We wandered over to the harbour to admire the exploits of the kite surfers, before returning to her home and being thoroughly spoiled with a hot bath and home cooked dinner.
Day 42: 12 December 2021
Paremata to Tawa (14 kms)
Clearly we felt so at home with Anne and Russell that we didn’t want to leave! But we finally waved goodbye around midday (after a morning of emergency trail shoe shopping) and wandered onto the Trail.
I felt a bit silly squinting at the blue dot on my Trail app as we wandered through downtown Porirua, as the markers were few and far between.
We hustled away from the temptation of the supermarket and up the hill to start the ascent of Mt Rangituhi to Colonial Knob.
It was hot and humid, so we were grateful for a second day of slack packing and the shade of native bush.
The wind blew us across the tops, dodging mud and sheep poo on the exposed bare hills, cropped short by wooly grazers and rabbits.
We were met by Jaana and family on the descent from the summit, Emilie embracing the company of the other children. The kids ran most of the way down the hill with the adults following as fast as we could. Still, it was past 7pm by the time we arrived at their house, delighted to be welcomed for dinner and a warm bed.
Day 43: 13 December 2021
Tawa to Wellington CBD (25 kms)
Early this morning we got a lift to the road end. We resumed the Trail and set off down the quiet valley road. My coffee hadn’t kicked in yet and I thought of Jaana going to the office . . . those days when I’d been happy to go there too, to make a cup of tea with my colleague and then sit on my comfy office chair.
But here we were, barely 8:30am and there was something a little magical about knowing we had all our worldly possessions in our packs and no fixed destination for the night.
Emilie was in fine form and told me story after story while I recovered from yet another night of disrupted sleep.
I was wondering if the massive dose of serotonin from my antidepressant medication was responsible for my difficulty sleeping and rang my doctor later to discuss.
I was also feeling a little spaced out, like a kind of warm fog was obscuring my stream of consciousness.
t was a pleasant change from the gnawing anxiety that had followed me from Whanganui to Palmerston; however, so I agreed with my doctor to give my body a bit more time to adjust.
We reached the end of the country roads and began climbing around the back of Mt Kaukau, marvelling at the wind turbines in the distance and beyond, the dark blue outline of Te Waipounamu.
We stopped regularly for hearty snacks and breaks. By early afternoon we wandered down off the mountain and into the backstreets of suburbia, skirting through Ngaio and Wadestown, pausing for a refreshing ice cream at one dairy and a second ice cream at another.
We were seriously contemplating continuing on to finish the remaining 13 kilometers to Island Bay. But after taking a seat in the Botanical Gardens to finish our ice cream, I realised it was already 6:30pm and we were both shattered.
25 kilometers was still a good effort, so we made the call to bail out to a downtown backpacker’s hostel, a simple meal and a bed.
I sat quietly, savouring my sweet dessert and watching the other humans hustle and bustle about their busy lives. It all felt very pointless and surreal. I tried to make eye contact with someone to see if they understood what I was thinking, but everyone was on their own tangent.
An older lady dressed in black shuffled by with a wry smile, her swollen feet shoved into a pair of cheap slide on sandals. She took a seat opposite us to watch the people rush past, then shuffled up to rummage in the rubbish bin near my seat. I was going to offer her some of our food, but she turned and wandered away. Emilie stared with her mouth open and turned to ask me why. I shrugged – maybe she was hungry or looking for something. Emilie ran off to climb a tree and chat to an old man walking his dogs.
I was surrounded by other people, but I felt so alone . . .
Day 44: 14 December 2021
Wellington Central to Island Bay (13 kms)
A light rain was falling when we woke to the noise of traffic on the streets below, but I convinced Emilie we could go finish the last section of the Trail then come back to watch a movie in bed.
She was reluctant. Why would we leave this nice warm sanctuary to go walk in the rain? Hadn’t we gone far enough? Wasn’t the ferry we were catching on Thursday just across the road?
All perfectly sensible logic, but we bundled up and strode off through downtown Wellington. Our brightly coloured shorts and trail shoes proved a stark contrast to the well-dressed Wellingtonians. I sniffed out a French bakery and indulged us in coffee and chocolate croissants, pausing to huddle in our shop doorway to savour our spoils before heading further downtown.
A spot of shopping seemed like a perfectly justifiable distraction from trail walking, so we stopped in at Macpac and Bivouac, picking up some new clothes for Emilie and looking for a new pair of trail shoes for me. My beautiful comfortable Lone Peaks had finally fallen apart and I’d been too hasty to buy a replacement, which was already crushing my stumpy little toes after a few hours of fast walking.
Shoe shopping with a bored child is never the most fun. But we both had a great time in the Athlete’s Foot with Emma, an amazing sales assistant who simultaneously helped me try on shoes while entertaining Emilie with a fun game of guess ‘what’s in this box.’ They pretended to exchange random Christmas presents while I tried on shoes, finally settling on a pair of Hokas that felt like a warm hug in a shoe.
A little bit poorer but much happier, we set off through the now heavier rain around Oriental Bay into Mt Victoria and Mt Albert Park towards Island Bay.
I’d like to say it was fun and amazing, but we were soaked to the skin and both thoroughly over it by the time we staggered down the hill to the bay, the cold wind whipping our wet legs.
It was an anticlimactic end to our 750km North Island adventure. No one else was mad enough to be out in this weather, so there were no witnesses, no cheering or showers of confetti. At the same time, it was a strangely fitting end to this deeply personal journey, one where we’ve both had to dig deep to find inner strength and resilience.
We stumbled to the bus stop and rode Bus #1 back into town in a quiet daze, each quietly contemplating our achievement.
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.