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.
Queen Charlotte Track: Part I
Ship’s Cove to Camp Cove
Day 45: 16 December 2021
Ship’s Cove – Schoolhouse Bay (6 kms/2 hrs)
It’s only 7:30pm but my eyes are rolling back in my head, as we’ve been up since 5:30 this morning to catch the ferry and connecting water taxi out here to the Queen Charlotte sounds.
We’re lying side by side in our little yellow tent listening to the lullaby of a korimako singing in the trees and the white noise of a stream.
It’s so peaceful.
Outside the light is just beginning to change into that magical glow of dusk, casting a pinkish tinge onto the turquoise waters of the bay.
I’d love to stay up – go bug spotting and watch the weka creep around the campground looking for things to steal – but the sleepless nights have caught up to me.
We’d finished dinner and gone to play by the beach, examining the detritus of the high tide line for treasures – silver skeleton leaves, tiny brown pearls of seaweed and coloured shells.
Empty mussel shells were transformed into boats, their passengers tiny crabs abducted from under rocks. They’d huddle bravely in the stern, then jump ship and glide to the safety of the sea bed.
I showed Emilie how to tie a bunch of twigs the same length together with strips of dried flax. We set our boat sailing, only to recover it and add a top sail, which slowly capsized from the extra weight.
As we played, a tuī sat in the harakeke bush just metres away, using its elegant beak to draw nectar from the yellow tubular flowers.
Emilie decided her new jandals made the best boats, then after a moment of exuberance she waded out to retrieve them, forgetting that she was still wearing her shorts.
I seized the opportunity to steer her towards the tent and our sleeping bags, my mind at peace and my body yearning for sleep.
Day 46: 17 December 2021
SchoolHouse Bay – Camp Cove (20 kms/7 hrs)
I’m sitting on a bank beside the track waiting for Emilie. We’ve just passed the halfway mark of Furneaux Bay and she’s slowed down to a snail’s pace, preferring to amble along by herself than keep up with me.
When she catches up, we’ll have a snack to keep up the momentum. It’s a 20 km day along an easy track, but the sun is out and now at 2pm, it’s scorching.
The forest is ringing with the buzz and clicks of cicadas and I can see patches of bright turquoise water through the trees.
I like to let my mind wander and see where it ends up, floating on a subconscious current of thoughts and memory.
It’s interesting to observe where it lingers like a scratched record and other places where it recoils, as though burned.
Just days ago I was concerned my stream of consciousness had been dulled in a serotonin fog, but today it’s back in full force. Between Emilie in one ear and my inner voice in the other, it was hard to find moments of peace.
Today it was sifting and searching through my subconscious, on a mission to find something or somewhere – a chink in my armour. It arrived at a door. I don’t remember the colour or detail, just my 13-year-old self stepping through it with my heart hammering in my ears. Shown to a room, to place my bag of possessions, in a family home of people who weren’t mine. I don’t remember much (I don’t want to remember much), but there was a Pakeha lady and her Maōri husband. They had two little boys, barefoot and snotty nosed, and a daughter from another relationship, a little blonde girl of maybe seven or eight who was smiley and shy. I hadn’t had younger siblings and didn’t know what to do with any of them, although the little ones liked me watching cartoons with them snuggled on the sofa and the girl, I think her name was Belinda, liked art.
I don’t remember the house. It was nothing special, a dank three bedroom house in the back streets of Waihi. There was an outdoor area where I’d sometimes lurk after dark. They were my first foster family . . .
I was deep in this rabbit hole of memory when Emilie wandered up behind me.
“Mummy can I sing you a song?” she asked.
She launched into Frozen, as I nodded numbly. Time to pull myself back together. But it’s so hard to come back from this place. So easy to get lost in the darkness that has followed me around for so long.
It’s a lonely place to be because you can’t really talk to anyone about it. It’s not like they’d even understand.
“How are you?” they’d ask.
“Oh I’m fine . . . I was just remembering the time I first went into foster care, but now I’m late to pick up Emilie for her swimming lesson. Gotta run!”
At one time my therapist got me to do something called exposure therapy, where he’d guide me back in time to slowly open the door to my memory. Once there, I would relive as much of these traumatic events that I could bear to recall, the idea being that gentle re-exposure would desensitize me.
It was hard work, rushing from my busy corporate job to his office, unpacking myself and letting it all fall out. Then I’d pull myself back together long enough to ride my bike through peak hour traffic to collect Emilie from after school care, go home, parent and then let it all fall apart once she was in bed.
Part of my reason for walking Te Araroa is to give myself the time and space to gently unpick all of these thoughts, to come to terms with this history in a space safe, immersed in the non-judgemental arms of nature – where nothing much could hurt me except the weather and my own poor decision making.
I didn’t know why my mind was going back to this place. It was a beautiful sunny day, an easy track, stunning scenery . . . and yet I was back there, stepping over the threshold of darkness.
I suppose the desensitization exercises had worked because as I let my mind wander through these scenes, I felt nothing. It was like watching an old movie about someone who looked similar to myself. I had either transcended, like a Buddhist monk, or I was completely emotionally detached.
Day 47: 18 December 2021
Camp Cove Rest Day (0 kms)
I woke to the dawn chorus and stayed awake to listen to the beautiful melody of hundreds of little birds as they celebrated a new day – a new day with clear skies and strong winds that came through in gusts every few minutes, sounding almost like the roar of heavy rain. But my tent fly was dry and with the exception of two of Emilie’s hiking poles dragged about the clearing, nothing else seemed to have been pilfered by the wekas of the night.
Emilie continued to sleep as I opened up the tent and lay watching the tops of the young trees move with the wind. I loved the shapes of their leaves and the collage they made – some long, some fat, some shiny – tilted skywards in clusters like a green bouquet.
The weka with the swollen cheek came by to peek in the door of the tent, but I gave him a stern look. Apart from last night’s dishes stacked neatly together and my shoes, there was nothing worth stealing.
I hoped today would be a shorter day with beautiful camping and swimming, as I wanted very much to soak up some sunshine and stare at the scenery. And I’m sure Emilie would love some downtime on the beach, setting crabs to sea in little boats.
As it turned out, we stayed to play at Camp Bay, packing our rest day full of seven-year-old entertainment activities that had me dying for a nap by 3pm.
After breakfast, we secured the tent and headed down to the bay, skinny dipping with delight in the cold, clear water.
I lay on my back with my eyes closed and the warm sun on my exposed skin, listening to the gentle lap of water on the shore. It was as constant as a heartbeat, as comforting as being held in the womb. I treasure these small moments of being completely at peace with myself and my surroundings.
The sandy seabed was covered in large stingrays that, just like us, seemed to be hanging out enjoying the morning sun.
A tuī fluttered between the harakeke, sipping from the tubular orange flowers. Emilie played . . . and talked . . . and played, while I tried desperately to be a good sport and keep up. We combed the high tide line for treasures, finding fragile green and purple dried kina, tiny shells, glittering rocks, fern fronds and fragments of Neptune’s necklace for her to arrange into a garden for the seashore pixies.
She brought down her book to identify seashells and made me wade out, holding tightly to my hand, to observe the stingrays who tolerated our presence before gliding away across the seabed to deeper waters.
The sun grew higher and the sounds of other humans had me reluctantly reaching for my clothes, while Emilie remained capering around, a little golden nymph surrounded by graceful green punga.
The weka returned. We were all friends now and he no longer attempted to steal from us. I fetched my watercolours and sat and painted the scenery in a happy trance.
We retreated to the shelter of our tent only to find it boiling in the midday sun, so we moved it a few metres into the leafy shade. The weka had a friend and together they stalked the campground, eying up sandals and hats with their beady red gaze.
Hot and irritable, we ate lunch and returned to the cool of the bay. It was now at low tide, as the sun baked down on the exposed sea grass and shells.
I took Emilie over to the jetty and showed her how to swim around the wooden pillars from one side to the other, and to my surprise, she followed me, enthusiastically doggy paddling and giggling through the turquoise water.
All those years of swimming lessons and still doggy paddling, but nothing a week on the beach and some more confidence couldn’t improve. In fact, she had no trouble in the confidence department. After a couple of goes at swimming from the end of the jetty to the rocky beach and back again, she set her sights a bit further afield. Pointing to a distant orange buoy she declared “Come on Mummy! Let’s swim out to there!”
I redirected her back up the ladder to sunbathe . . .
You might not realize how exhausting it can be when your only companion is an energetic seven-year-old with an almost insatiable appetite for attention. And for Emilie, her only companion was her sleepy old Mum, who she adored to boss around as much as possible. I guess I’m making up for all those long days at the office when she was in daycare, or after school care.
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.