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.
Arrowtown to Te Anau
Day 116: 23 March 2022
Arrowtown – Queenstown
A leisurely e-bike ride ended with a trip to the emergency room at Queenstown Hospital with a bruised shoulder and smashed up face.
I don’t have much memory of the fall or the hours after, although Emilie tells me she found me lying face down on the track and ended up getting mad at me “because I wouldn’t get up.” However I eventually did get back up and we wobbled into Queenstown, hours behind schedule and feeling increasingly dazed and confused.
Our beautiful friends were waiting for us and had the good sense to call St. John’s to our hotel room to take a look at me. My eye had swollen up like a ripe plum and my heart rate was racing as I struggled to comprehend what had happened.
Hard to believe I’ve avoided the falls, breaks, sprains, blisters, dysentery and wasp stings that seem par for the course on Te Araroa, only to get smashed up by an e-bike.
I left Emilie, dressed up in her fairy princess dress and clearly having the best time out of all of us, to enjoy our beautiful hotel suite with the cool big girls.
While my visit to Dunedin hospital is still a blur, the kindness and good humour of the staff is still in my mind – the nurses, the doctor and the legendary on-call radiologist who got out of her comfy bed in the middle of the night to come do my CT scans so I could get home to Emilie.
Head injury aside, it’s hard to find the right words to express how grateful I feel for the kindness and care we’ve received during this shitty, unforeseen event.
I want to send out a big aroha to everyone who has risen up to support us – the amazing medical staff at the Southern DHB, the kind and caring team at Rydges Lakeland Resort Queenstown, lollies from Candy HQ NZ, support from donors, as well as all the messages of love and care. Special thanks to Erin and Smash for hanging out with Miss Emilie (who had the time of her life, apparently) while I was in A&E and to Smash for babysitting us both over the past few days.
Thank you all so much!
I’m going to rest up and take things easy for the next few days, then get back to sharing our journey as we continue south to Bluff.
Day 121: 28 March 2022
Greenstone Carpark – Bridge Junction (2 kms/40 mins)
This morning I focus all my energy on packing up, checking out and getting on the track with Emilie and Smash. After getting some medical advice to help weigh up my options, I decided to head back into the bush and take things easy.
The beautiful Estela drove us out to the start of the Greenstone track and we set off into the dappled sunlight of the beech forest. Although I was tired, I felt overjoyed to be surrounded by nature again. We crossed the swing bridge at the start of the Greenstone track and turned off into the long grass to find a sweet camping spot on the riverbank, underneath a lone beech tree. Emilie helped set up our tent then I took an afternoon nap while she hung out with Smash, delighted to have a new friend to play with.
Later, once Emilie went to bed, I resurrected myself to wander around with Smash looking for insects on the trees and shrubs, but we found nothing of interest after the long hot day. Instead we wandered around the river’s edge, watching native fish streak through shallow pools, sometimes stunned still by our torchlight long enough for us to note their delicate fins and patterns, golden spots or stripes.
Day 122: 29 March 2022
Greenstone track junction – Slip Flat Hut
(6.7 kms/4 hrs)
This morning we wake late and lie in bed snuggling and giggling until we’re bored and hungry.
It’s 9am before we evacuate our tent and slowly start packing. Smash wakes (thanks Emilie) and catches up with us. I take my happy little daughter to float driftwood boats down the river while she finishes up.
The sun is late to reach the narrow valley and it’s 11am and hot by the time we start walking. After a few kilometres we stop at a beautiful swimming hole full of icy blue water and strip off in anticipation, three beautiful naked bodies, but the water was so cold that we only go in for a few moments before bursting out into the sunshine to warm our tingling limbs.
The last two kilometres to Slip Flat Hut feels very hard as my mind is foggy and ready for a rest. While visible on the maps, this little hut doesn’t have a marked track. We’re delighted to finally find the cosy three-bunk hunter’s hut nestled on a terrace amongst the beech forest.
I rest while the others set about unpacking and furnishing our new home. Emilie makes a fairy garden with moss, leaves and berries for the resident pixies and fairies to enjoy. We then explore the stream, rock hopping over tumbling blue water to examine a huge, moss-covered boulder.
After dinner, I take a nap. Smash wakes me and we stumble around in the undergrowth with our head torches pretending to be entomologists, discovering two cave wētā on a tree before getting bored.
Now I’m back in bed, but the mice are up scampering around in the rafters while I hide deep in my sleeping bag.
Day 123: 30 March 2022
Slip Flat Hut Rest Day (0 kms)
I wake late to sunlight filtering through the window and lie warm and cozy while my mind catches up.
Across from me, Smash is sleeping quietly cocooned in her green down bag and I can hear Emilie rustling in hers. These slow mornings are a nice change of pace from our previous regime of early starts and long days.
I eventually slide out of my sleeping bag and pad barefoot outside to pee, the grass dry underfoot and the warm golden glow of the morning sun spreading around the hut. I retrieve my cooker and set about preparing hot water for coffee while watching condensation rise from the red tin roof. There’s a tomtit observing me from the beech tree and above, a korimako is celebrating the arrival of a new day.
I’m still sitting, gazing about, when the hut door creaks open and out pops Emilie, a vision in purple and pink thermals. She bounces up to see what I’m doing and gets busy collecting treasures for a new fairy garden.
Smash the night owl was up until midnight with the campfire, so we try to stay quiet and let her sleep. But I can tell Emilie is itching to wake her up to play.
The sun rolls forward in the sky and soon we’re preparing an early lunch and voting on staying a second night at the hut to fully soak up the beauty of the special place. There’s firewood to collect, food to prepare, a mission down to the river to bathe and refresh, watercolours to paint, cards to play and a Harry Potter audiobook to listen to as we lie around lazily in the evening sun.
Eventually our little grove is plunged into shadow. The fire starts up its hypnotic dance until the stars twinkle in the sky and we hustle the mattresses back into the hut before it’s too dark to see.
We don head torches and take Emilie on an insect-hunting mission, straight back to the same beech tree where we saw last night’s cave wētā, to find a long-legged specimen nibbling sedately on lichen.
Emilie is delighted, but it’s time for bed before she finds another round of Energizer batteries. I join her in the hut, leaving Smash to enjoy the peace of the night.
Day 124: 31 March 2022
Slip Flat Hut to Greenstone Hut
This morning I’ve hopped up to prepare hot drinks and a biscuit for Emilie. I searched through my pack for my phone charger without waking Smash or hurting my still-bruised head. Over the past few days I’ve noticed my capacity to process information and multi-task has improved, but I’m often at my most active in the mornings and sink into a fatigued sluggishness by early afternoon.
The night seemed to go on forever, as the stars were shining brightly the first time I snuck out for a pee and then a little less brightly the second time. The pale blue edge of dawn transformed into a pink and orange panorama before fading to grey. I heard Mousie or Ratty or whomever sneaking around last night, gnawing and rustling, but each time I shone my torch to see only shadows.
Emilie is lying wrapped in her yellow cocoon on the high bunk, reading to herself from her Ella Diaries book. I can hear her whispering the words and see her little hands holding the pages. She is gorgeous, such a delight in her two-toned purple thermal top.
I’ve been worrying about my head injury – worrying because as a hyperactive thinker, analyst and ruminator, it has been pretty quiet up there in the jelly of my grey matter. It’s peaceful, but I miss it. I miss my stream of consciousness and my ability to multi-task like a machine.
My mind keeps going back to fixing up the kitchen, a future project that symbolizes so much more than soft-close cabinetry and shiny new appliances. It must have deeper meaning, as I’ve never been a person who cares much about kitchens. I remember the pleasure I took from my grandfather sampling my cuisine, as well as the satisfaction of cooking and sharing food with others, especially after baby Emilie arrived and eating out at nice restaurants became a thing of the past.
That’s what this kitchen symbolizes for me – I want to bring love into our home, prepare and share beautiful meals with friends and family. So I let my mind wander back to fresh white walls and natural tones, to the smell of baking and the sounds of love.
Day 125: 01 April 2022
Greenstone Hut to Taipo Hut (10 kms/4 hrs)
What felt like the longest night finally faded into day and I realised Emilie was no longer in her sleeping bag beside me. She had hopped up to chat to the other hut occupants, so I dragged myself out of bed guiltily to make a show of being a caring mother and prepare her breakfast.
I feel terrible this morning.
When you mix exhaustion, pre-menstrual moodiness, depression, PTSD and growing homesickness after 125 days of Trail walking and parenting with a minor head injury, you get a horrible cocktail of low mood and motivation.
I just want to go home. I fell asleep last night imagining hard that the wall I turned to face was Danilo ready to wrap me up in his arms and hold me close. I wanted to feel him so bad that tears welled up inside of me and spilled down my cheeks. I’m tired of being big and strong and walking this fucking trail.
I don’t know what to do. I want to finish . . . to experience the satisfaction and closure of getting to Bluff, but I’m also so over it that I fear it will be torture trying to get there. My thoughts are a mess.
My mood is so low I can’t remember the last time I had a good laugh. I chat to a guy in the hut named Emil who walked the Trail last year. He tells me he’ll be at Greenstone carpark tomorrow afternoon if we decide to walk out.
Smash comes in from a night in her tent. She looks so weary, her beautiful eyes are sunken deep in her face and I can see tears just under the surface. She still hasn’t slept well. I ask her if it’s a manic episode and we talk about how she’s feeling. Just like a weather front, these things sweep through without much warning and take their time to dissipate. She’s exhausted and needs to take her medication and sleep.
I search deep inside for my decision. I want to see the Trail through, but I’m weary and the joy isn’t there. I need to explore my options, so I message Tony @trackmenz to tell him morale is low. Within minutes, a stream of reassuring messages comes through on my InReach.
We decide to continue and hug Smash tight before we go.
Day 126: 02 April 2022
Taipo Hut to Careys Hut (18 kms/7 hrs)
Taipo Hut is beautiful with its double size bunks and sweeping views of the mountains. Yesterday evening we bathed in the pool under the swing bridge before I settled myself down to paint a watercolour of the scenery. I’ve painted more watercolours in the past week than in months and am very happy my bump to the head hasn’t affected my painting.
As the light was falling from the sky, we were joined by another Trail walker, the petite Eliene. Emilie jumped on her this morning with her usual charm and we set off together, chasing the sun that was rising over the hills to warm the overgrown grass. The track undulated around the side of the valley, mostly tussock and matagouri with occasional boggy patches and side creeks.
Now there are cows, shaggy brown and white and bemused to see us, so Emilie stays close to me. She’s not a fan of cows, although these ones seem more concerned with leading their half grown calves away from us. As we clamber out of a river bed, a huge brown head turns to regard us and I realise there’s a bull with the group. He’s an impressive size and I speak gently to him, hoping he’ll choose to walk away rather than turn on us.
After a bit of deliberation, he ambles off and we zoom past as politely as possible.
Eliene manages to extract herself from Emilie’s chatter and boosts on to the next hut while we make plans for a leisurely lunch at Boundary Hut, a run-down clone of Taipo Hut with the same double bunks. I prepare a hot lunch of soup and bread rolls, then lie down to rest while Emilie listens to some Harry Potter.
I’m exhausted and sore. My shoulder is protesting from the jolt of my hiking poles and the weight of my pack. I pop some Ibuprofen and Paracetamol and wish for something stronger.
The final four kilometres to Careys Hut feels harder than it should be, as the afternoon sun beats down on the exposed four wheel drive track.
North Mavora Lake opens up like a brilliant blue green mirror, calm and deep. Once inside, Emilie treats us to a Christmas show with lengths of tinsel she has found in the hut. Where the hell does she get the energy!?
Day 127: 03 April 2022
Careys Hut to Kiwi Burn Hut (26 kms/9 hrs)
We join forces with @eliene_walks_te_araroa for the long walk around the Mavora Lakes to Kiwi Burn Hut, some 26 kilometres skirting the lake shore and beech forest.
I’m enjoying chatting with her until I notice Emilie’s annoyance – she wants Eliene’s attention all to herself and for Mum to go away!
She tries this on with most of the people we meet and it can get very uncomfortable, as she makes a point of speaking to me rudely or ignoring me completely while she enjoys her independence. On one hand, it’s admirable that a seven-year-old child is so determined to connect and converse with other people, but I can see we have some learning to do about sharing people and being part of a group.
My head is beginning to ring as I reach my daily capacity for conversation. Each day is better than the last, but I do crave silence after a while.
We reach the end of the North Mavora Lake track and dodge the kids roaring around in their 4x4s to pick up the track through the beech forest.
It’s beautiful. Tiny riflemen flitter through the trees, bouncing up tree trunks and along branches in a way that seems to defy gravity, and korimako sing in the background. Dappled sunlight lights up the track, a patchwork of gold and brown beech leaves that is soft underfoot like a carpet.
We stop for lunch at the edge of South Mavora Lake, spreading our tent fly out like a picnic blanket over the damp grass. A big group of Canada Geese are arguing loudly in the shallows, spreading their wings and flapping or dipping underwater with their large white bottoms in the air.
As the hours creep by, I can feel my energy draining away. If it wasn’t for Eliene’s speedy little legs, I think I might have given up and attempted to pitch tent in the forest. But the kilometres were ticking away; and as dusk drew closer, we finally reached the intersection and the final push to Kiwi Burn Hut.
It was a beauty – set back on a small terrace overlooking the valley, beech trees behind and swampy tussock in front. Hunters claimed one of the bunk rooms, so we set up in the other room, three tired girls who were very proud of themselves.
Day 128: 04 April 2022
Kiwi Burn Hut to Te Anau
No more. Bring Mum a beer.
Right now I need someone to bring Mum some Tramadol or Codeine or other strong analgesic, so I can numb out and walk the next 80 kilometers to Birchwood and finally onto Bluff. My shoulder was so stiff and sore last night that I hardly slept, curled awkwardly on one side of the sagging bunk with my aching arm beside me.
Eliene is going to Te Anau to resupply and we’re supposed to push on to Princhester Hut, collecting our resupply box from D’Avaar Station on the way. But I’m bruised and broken and seriously need to sort myself out before I tackle the Takitimus. What I need is a ride into town, a visit to a physio, a chat to my GP and hopefully some new drugs.
We part ways with Eliene on the far bank of the overgrown river track, cutting across the farm paddocks to the local road that runs adjacent to the river.
From here we pick up a steady pace, pausing occasionally to send and receive messages on my InReach, then flop down on the roadside to wait for the ride into town with Bike Fiordland – Wild Rides that Tony from Trackme NZ has organized. What a legend.
I’m in the bath smothered in conditioner and trying to shave my legs without cutting myself to shreds. Maybe smooth legs and clean hair will help me feel more in control because at the moment, I’m just a few quick breaths away from losing myself. I feel terrible – a concoction of anxiety, worry, fear, confusion, pain, exhaustion and self-loathing. My head is a right fucking mess.
My motel room bed is strewn with medication. I’m going to rattle through the Takitimus packed with pain medication and new anti-depressants. Please God . . . please, please let these ones lift my mood, as I can’t stand myself for much longer. I’m short-tempered with Emilie and it’s just not working, as we fall into uneasy silence around each other. She’s sick of me telling her, “I’m sorry, I don’t want to hear your stories ” . . . and I’m sick of her constantly demanding my attention when my bucket is so empty.
I just want to be left alone, but I’m so dark and lonely. I just want to be loved, but I feel so unlovable. I’m afraid I’m getting to the stage where I’m not sure what’s real and what’s not in my head. I told my GP I didn’t think the antidepressants were working, as I was ruminating badly and she didn’t seem to think that was a side effect of the Prozac. I’m asking for help, but feel like there is no help available . . . no one at all can come inside my head to rescue me from the dark maze in which I’ve become lost.
We ended up grabbing a twin motel room for the night. I let Emilie have the bed and the Netflix programme she wants, just so I can hide in the bath and cry a little. I know what she really wants is her fun, loving, attentive Mummy back, but we lost her somewhere in the bush and I don’t know when she’s coming back. I wish my Mummy was coming back for me too.
Inside of me, I’m screaming out for something. I’ve walked almost 2,000 kilometres and somehow not found it yet.
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.