I have put up with severe blisters, crossed river rapids and slept with rats and mice running over me, but through every step of my journey I never doubted I was doing the right thing.
Walking the Te Araroa (TA) trail was an absolute privilege and a journey I will treasure forever. I was inspired by Sir Graeme Dingle, founder of the Dingle Foundation and Project K, who walked the length of the South Island in 2009, two years before the TA officially opened.
My choice of charity to support was therefore obvious, as I have always had a passion to work with young people, encouraging them to experience survival in the wilderness.
My generous friends and family donated almost $5000 to a Givealittle page and I know the money will be put to good use locally as the Graeme Dingle Foundation is still working in three schools in Hawke's Bay.
I began my TA journey on September 29, 2019, and was so fortunate to reach Bluff on March 19, five days before the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. Many others did not complete their journey and were stranded on the remote tracks along the trail.
My first week on the trail was a nightmare. I suffered serious blisters on my toes and on the balls of both feet. Each step on the hard sand of 90 Mile Beach felt like I was walking on razor blades.
My pack weighed too much and I was sporting front packs which felt ungainly and awkward. I soon ditched them as well as 2kg of unnecessary clothing and heavy food items like onions and celery and the buckwheat cereal which I thought were going to be my staple diet.
After that rocky start, I conquered all the notable, challenging sections - in the Tongariro Forest Park, on the Whanganui River rapids, the high, muddy trails in the Tararua Ranges, the very steep, high and windy Richmond Ranges, the dangerous, rocky Waiau Pass and the many long, wide and rocky river valleys in the Canterbury region such as Goats Pass.
I found them all difficult and had to dig deep within myself to complete each section within the daylight hours.
Getting lost daily stretched my stress levels enormously. The serious flooding in the South Island rivers washed out many of the tracks and new courses were often difficult.
Never once did I feel like giving up but often it was a stumble into the campsite or hut that night and it was reassuring to know that other people regularly got lost as well.
Rodents infested the entire South Island. We lived with rats and mice in the huts and the campsites. They ran over my hair when sleeping, they ate through packs and into the food bag and they ran riot over the surfaces. I even resorted to pitching my tent on my bunk inside the hut and taking my pack and food bag to bed with me.
It was a mast year when the beech trees produce excess flowers in the hot dry summers, producing ample food for the pests.
After walking the length of the country, minus one North Island section due to injury, I finished in Bluff having shed 7kg and feeling so lean, healthy, and energetic.
Food was mere fuel and weighty packs were a thing of the past but having to walk the equivalent of a half marathon every day made me so strong with a real sense of well-being.
The highlight was my family, friends and supporters. I was so impressed that so many people followed me on TrackMe, a device that showed exactly where I was at any time of the day. They contacted me, messaged me and encouraged me, all of which kept me going over the difficult sections.
My husband John drove thousands of miles, first to drop me in Cape Reinga and then to Bluff to meet me, along with sponsors of the Graeme Dingle Foundation.
My sister Jill and brother Geoff walked through Palmerston North with me, my brother Allan walked the Stag Saddle section and another brother Byron met me in a floatplane and flew me into Tekapo township.
The walk brought me many rewards. We have been hosting two young stranded TA hikers throughout the lockdown; one Russian and the other French.
These young men have been enjoying life downunder, working in the packhouse of a local orchard. Through them, I have been able to relive my journey on the TA many times over.
I am also extremely grateful for the people who supported me and the Graeme Dingle Foundation with their donations. I can't say enough how much that support means to me.
That sponsorship generosity will make a huge difference to some children's lives.