Tales, trails, and acts of kindness along New Zealand’s 3,000-kilometer Te Araroa trail

The Waiau pass in the Canterbury region of South Island, at 1,870 meters, is another tricky area. One morning, I ascend a loosely formed track full of rolling boulders and scree to reach Waiau Pass; with every step I trudge to reach the summit, I’m engulfed in an icy, cold cloud, and in keeping with New Zealand weather, a sunny morning turns into thick fog, followed by rainy afternoon. Almost on the verge of pressing my satellite Beacon for help, the rain stops, and with the flickering rays of the sun, I make my way down the summit.

The river crossings along the TA trail are another challenge; they’re also one of the leading causes of hiker deaths in New Zealand. Just an hour of heavy rain can quickly alter the flow of a small river, making it impassable. After waiting for three days in Arthurs Pass National Park, a section of TA with countless river crossings in the Canterbury region of the South Island, I take a detour road and skip two major river crossings. Unfortunately, I fall into another swollen river, damaging my camera lens. It’s little wonder everyone I meet along the trail calls TA their most brutal adventure…

I approach the Bluff signpost, the trail’s endpoint on my last day, my 118th day on the TA, at the southernmost settlement on mainland New Zealand. I’m with seven walkers who just weeks ago were strangers. I feel a sudden sensation of being pulled in two directions: One from the front, where the signpost is only a few kilometers away, and the other from behind, begging me not to let the adventure end… to keep going.

Then, suddenly, we arrive at the signpost. We’ve made it. And as we’ve seen countless hikers do before us on social media, we hug the signpost in joy and exhaustion. As I finally grasp the scale of my achievement, tears of relief prick my eyes. But that’s also when I realize something. That it’s not about the signpost or how fast I walk to finish the Trail; it’s everything in between.

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