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.
Merrivale to Bluff
Day 134: 10 April 2022
Merrivale – Martins Hut (25 kmS/9 hrs)
Today is an orgy of mud, glorious mud, squelching into our shoes, permeating our socks and coating our tired legs.
We’re in luck, apparently, as weeks of dry weather has transformed the worst of the swamps into thick, viscous mud that sinks underfoot without swallowing us up.
It’s hard going but motivation is high. This is the last forest of Te Araroa and from the next peak we’ll have views of the ocean – and Bluff!
Emilie is the superstar of the day. As the self-appointed leader, she powers up the hills with me puffing behind her, quickly giving up any attempt to delicately navigate the huge mud puddles and resorting to sploshing right through.
As we wallow through a particularly soggy section, I imagine this is how animals tire and succumb to exhaustion, struggling to free themselves from mud. Part of me also wants to lie down and sleep, but the fresh cold breeze off the ocean invigorates me to keep going.
The 25 kilometre track to Martins Hut passes briefly through exotic forest before entering dense old growth beech forest. Huge gnarled trunks give way to thick branches covered in moss and other epiphytes, reaching up to the sky.
As we climb the first of three hills, the trees shrink until we find ourselves above the bushline, scrambling through harakeke, mountain toatoa and dracophyllum.
The mud is thick and glorious and we pretend we are dipping our shoes in chocolate sauce. Somehow we make it over the third hill, the icy ocean breeze whipping our sweaty hair, and we are only three kilometres from the hut!
The descent goes on forever until the gloom of dusk reveals the wooden outline of Martins Hut, the last DOC hut we’ll sleep in on Te Araroa.
Day 135: 11 April 2022
Martins Hut – Riverton (32 km/11 hrs)
The view from the Martins Hut loo is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
Maybe it’s the way the early morning sun is filtering through the tall, majestic beech trees, or how lush ferns frame the scene. Or maybe it’s the sense of growing nostalgia within me as I slowly comprehend that this is the last forest of Te Araroa, the last wild place before we hit the beaches and towns near Bluff.
I can hear the trees groaning as they rub together, sounding like the murmur of low voices. A bellbird sings in the distance. The sky above is clear, but we know a nasty southerly front is due to come through this evening and we need to push on if we want to make it to Riverton.
But suddenly I don’t want to push on.
I want to stay here, amongst the ferns and moss and trees. Their stillness has so much to teach us. I realise I’ve walked over 2,000 kilometres across New Zealand, but I’ve learned so little. Maybe I should have sat still longer.
My feet are still throbbing in my freezing wet socks and I can hear Emilie complaining as she struggles to put hers on. I should really go help her, but for now I just want to sit still and soak up these few last peaceful moments by myself.
Last night I dreamt of rape – of terrified women and old men, of violence and scornful women, and of judgment . . . that hot flush of anger and shame when you feel nobody understands, or worse, they insinuate it was somehow your fault, that you wanted those fuckers to pin you down and slide their greasy selves inside of your terrified, frozen flesh.
And after, the shame, the revulsion, the self loathing that follows you around for years, whispering that you’re filthy, damaged, broken, worthless. It makes my blood boil with rage.
Emilie woke me whispering my name and I escaped, heart pounding. I lie back down, heart still pounding, ghosts rattling inside my head. A groundswell of emotion is rising within me. I curse under my breath as the wave breaks and tears roll down my cheeks.
My fourteen-year-old self shrieks incomprehensibly while Emilie is whining about her cold shoes and my head is ringing as the panic button flashes.Why here, why now on the last day in the most beautiful forest? I’m supposed to walk out healed, but my demons are right here with me. I’m too tired to keep running from them. In my mind, I sit down and gather that big, angry teenager in my arms and feel her struggle and then slump against me as she weeps hot, angry tears. I stroke her back and hold her as tight as I can. I’m so sorry that happened to you, sweetheart. I’m going to take really good care of you from now on. Come on, come with me. We’ll get you those art classes you’ve always wanted and we’ll do some fun, brave things. I’ll always be here to listen to you.
Time will heal all wounds, my love.
As I stand here in the forest with tears on my cheeks, a tiny shadow of a pīwakawaka flits by. Emilie catches up and we stand side-by-side admiring the little beauty as he twists and flits. Emilie holds out her hiking pole and behold, he lands on it! We stare open-mouthed and smiling, then turn to share a kiss as he flies off into the forest.
Day 136: 12 April 2022
Riverton – Oreti Beach (26 km/6 hrs)
Oreti beach stretches away in front of us, the horizon hidden under squally dark cloud. We’re hit with waves of nostalgia – it’s just like being back on Ninety Mile Beach, over six months ago!
Last night we dug deep and walked all the way to Riverton, arriving after dark, just before the rain swept through. We walked the final four kilometres by the light of our head torch, up over the hill through the beautiful native bush of Mores Reserve and down the road to the Holiday Park. Emilie took charge of the head torch and stormed ahead, disturbing a fat possum on its evening stroll.
This morning we treated ourselves to a leisurely brunch at the Crib Cafe in Riverton, cheered by the friendly staff, before setting off down the beach. After yesterday’s emotional catharsis, I feel a lightness that has nothing to do with my almost-empty food bag.
We soon ditch the hiking poles and hold hands, happy and quiet, watching the waves and the gulls and the sky.
When the monotony of beach walking becomes too much for Emilie, I switch on our Harry Potter audiobook and we walk on, hand-in-hand.
Day 137: 13 April 2022
Oreti Beach – Awarua (18 kms/5 hrs)
Today we’re back in civilization.
Invercargill is spread out ahead of us with its squat grey buildings, a radio tower and a factory releasing thick steak into the sky. Overhead, power lines replace the lush green canopy of the bush while to my left, there’s a highway instead of a stream. It’s a sombre reentry into society, yet I feel strangely detached – an observer wandering through this world.
I joke to Emilie, “Hey, look at all these orange markers!” She laughs at me. “They’re road cones, Mum, you’ve been in the bush too long!”
I think she might be right . . .
Once we turn off onto the estuary path, I feel more relaxed. The sun has come out from behind the dark clouds and the marsh grasses are glowing golden against the reflective blue water.
Giant, majestic black swans paddle quietly nearby, regarding us as solemnly as we regard them.
I expected today to be a whirlwind of excitement as we psyched ourselves up for the big walk into Bluff tomorrow, but I’m not feeling very much at all. I suppose it’s normal to feel a kind of grief at the end of such a journey. It’s a hard thing to experience the wild freedom of the hills and return, willingly, to the chaos of society.
But the hills will always be there to offer silence and solace, as long as we act to protect these precious, wild spaces.
We follow the estuary track past the sewerage plant, as far as kilometre 2,990, then hitch a ride back to the Holiday Park. We’re saving the best for last, as tomorrow we’ll walk the remaining 20 kilometres into Bluff!
Day 138: 14 April 2022
Awarua – Bluff (22 kms/4.5 hrs)
Hello beautiful people! Today marks the end of our long walk across Te Araroa.
Some six months and twelve days ago, Emilie and I set off from Cape Reinga with a whole heap of nerves and excitement about the big adventure to come.
We walked straight off Ninety Mile Beach into a Level 3 lockdown, prompting us to fast forward to Taumaranui and continue to the end of the North Island, then walk the full length of the South Island.
This afternoon we wandered into Bluff, buffeted by the cold winds and full of similar emotions. Mum almost got cold feet and didn’t want to walk out, but Emilie told me everyone has to finish the Trail eventually and we have many more adventures ahead of us – wise girl!
So before we dip offline for our Easter and birthday celebrations, we want to thank you all for being part of our journey!
Thank you for all your lovely messages, your hugs (virtual and physical), your support and your friendship.
Thanks to everyone who has donated to our GiveaLittle for the Mental Health Foundation and Federated Mountain Clubs (if you’d like to pop a bit more in, donations can still be made here).
Also a big thanks to the organisations and businesses who supported us on this journey, including: Federated Mountain Clubs, the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, TrackMe NZ, Taonga by Timoti, Further Faster NZ, Macpac, Radix Nutrition, Real Meals NZ, Bivouac Outdoor, Kiwi Conservation Club, Department of Conservation and Te Araroa Trail for allowing us to experience the walk of a lifetime.
Much love to you all and see you out in the hills sometime!
Check out Victoria and Emilie’s interview with Kathryn Ryan from RNZ.
Victoria and Emilie walked the Te Araroa over the 21/22 summer season. They have been 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% went 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.