I love New Zealand, and when I heard the story of someone who set out to walk the length of both main islands, I had to hear more.
I am a New Zealander who until recently led a pretty standard life as a coordinator of an online sports mentoring program. A few years ago, I got it into my head to walk the length of New Zealand—all 3058 kilometers of it, following the Te Araroa Trail. When I told my husband, he was concerned about me going alone, and that’s when the quest got a theme: Not Alone.
I’d walk the length of New Zealand, but with a revolving cast of people the entire way. And we’d raise money for The Mental Health Foundation as we went.
Why did you decide to undertake your quest?
I believe people need to talk more. So much gets bottled up in our heads. We ponder, overthink, and make thoughts worse, until we talk them out. I handle situations better knowing someone else has heard about it.
Both my father and brother committed suicide—and I know I need to share those experiences and hear about others who have been in the same boat in order to make sense of it all. So why walk? Well, exercise clears my head and helps keep negative thoughts away. Walking and talking seem to go hand in hand.
What are the costs associated with walking across New Zealand?
I funded my walk myself. The final tally was $3,900 for equipment, food and accommodations.
What memorable encounter is fresh in your mind?
On my fifth day of walking, I asked a stranger we came across if he knew of anywhere I could camp. The man, Richard, took us to his home and showed us where we could set up our tents. He gave us eggs, oranges and raw milk, and let us use his shower and kitchen. We didn’t really get a chance to talk to him, so I gave him my card as we left.
Two days later, Richard met up with us on the road, returned maps my walking buddy had left behind, and donated money to our fundraising campaign. He works in mental health and my quest resonated with him. I asked for a place to pitch my tent and in return received so much!
How did you overcome a low point in your quest?
One person who walked with me was extremely negative. I was fatigued from the day before and had hoped to rely on them from support. Instead, after some negative comments, they walked a few paces in front of me the whole time. Their behavior zapped even more energy from me, making my quest even harder at that moment.
So, I called someone who I knew would accept me as I was, where I was: my husband. Across the wireless line, he cheered me on, and reminded me this was just one moment, and that it would pass. And once I started appreciating the positive parts of the day, when strangers took me in for food and tea, it did pass.
Did you learn anything along the way?
After walking a full day with two girls from Seattle, we knocked on a farm house door and asked if we could camp on their land. A man led us to a paddock that his Dad had made into a golf course. Then, the man and his friends gave us drinks and chatted with us for a couple hours. These two men were rugged, swore every other word, and discussed fanny packs (which is very rude in New Zealand. Let’s just say the word “fanny” here is not something we say in front of company).
I apologized to the two girls with me, but they laughed and said they had a great time. Honestly, I did too. Hospitality wrapped in any package is still a welcome, lovely thing to receive!
What kind of support did you receive from others, and how did they reach you?
Everyone who walked with me was supportive simply by showing up, but they also tended to bring me food, help with transportation, distract me from hard walking and share their life with me. Some people, like Richard, reached me on the road. Others contacted me through my website and Facebook page – and offered to let me stay in their homes, feed me, and even cleaned my clothes.
One memorable supportive moment came outside Palmy. My co-walker and I stopped at a gas station for some ice cream to give us a boost. Lester, the man who served us, jokingly asked if we’d walked far enough to deserve treats. When we told him what we were doing, and that we were finishing up a 33k walk for that day. Lester got out his wallet and donated right there to our cause.
What was walking and talking with so many different people like?
Because of the nature of my quest—raising money for the Mental Health Foundation—we often wound up discussing mental health. By my sharing my story so openly, it was as though the people walking with me had permission to share their experiences.
I’ve only just completed the North Island, so still have the South Island to walk. I will begin recruiting walkers February 2015 and start walking near the end of the year.