Alywn McIntyre tries to keep a straight face but his eyes are telling a different story.
"My sister [Yolanda Clarence, of Wellington] had text me as I was on my way to Bluff," says McIntyre, of Hastings, who had tamed the Te Araroa Trail (The Long Pathway) on February 19 after starting out on October 8 at Cape Reinga. "She said, 'Just think your ancestors are watching you and walking with you'."
The voice of self-employed builder/firewood contractor from the backdrop of Havelock North starts cracking up and he apologises profusely. He opens his mouth but words fail him. His tear ducts well up before breaking their banks.
"Whether it was my ancestors from Scotland or my father but there was something there," says McIntyre, wiping away the tears after revealing his father had died only 14 months after he was born in Westport in the South Island. The 27-year-old dairy farmer got electrocuted and, consequently, had drowned. His mother, Esma, had moved with him to Wellington where she had raised him as the youngest of three other siblings although a step brother, Gary Aiken, came into the equation later.
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Needless to say he had never felt alone during his Te Araroa campaign.
"It was spiritual, very spiritual," says the 61-year-old from the kitchen of a home he has built single-handedly — the fourth for his family during a career spanning more than three decades. "The whole walk was just incredible."
McIntyre has come to the realisation he'll probably never be as fit as he is now so lining up the 55km solo walk for his third annual Triple Peaks Challenge on Saturday, after traversing the country, is no coincidence.
Having won overall the Triple Peaks ultra-marathon walk event last year, he's fairly confident he'll emulate his feat this weekend.
"It'll be effortless ... this year, it'll be like a walk in the park."
The grandfather has competed in the MCL Construction-sponsored Triple Peaks for the past two years because he considers it good for his self-esteem in his backyard, as it were.
McIntyre did the Te Araroa Trail because it had "pushed me to the max".
It is the country's long-distance tramping route, stretching circa 3000km (about 184,000 altitude metres) along the length of the North and South Islands, from Cape Reinga to Bluff. It comprises a mixture of older tracks and walkways, new tracks, and link sections alongside roads.
The trail offers stretches of wilderness, paths through paddocks, beaches, roads and highways, as well as a river section that requires kayaking. Trip planning, river crossing and navigation skills are recommended, not to mention fitness and a trusty pair of tramping boots.
"It had tested me emotionally, physically and everything," says McIntyre, emphasising Triple Peaks offers only a slice of that. "Te Araroa is another thing."
Having supported his family members all his life he finds they have reciprocated "no end".
"I cannot believe the support I've had from my kids," he says of the blogs on the Te Araroa and daughter Laura. "They're saying, 'It's your time now', and that's fantastic."
The children know his character well so they didn't think he is "going mad".
"Going over the edge — push myself to the limits," says McIntyre when you ask him to define his temperament.
He moved to Hastings in 1980 from Wellington to lap up the lovely climate while carving a niche in the building industry.
He believes every Kiwi should treat the Te Araroa Trail like a pilgrimage. He notes people come from far-flung parts of the world to enjoy the journey but not many born here seem to have the compulsion to do it.
"It's a viral thing and it's a pretty extreme thing but they do it — they see it and feel it."
McIntyre says trekking the length of the country enables enthusiasts to see and feel the land, something a car ride cannot replicate.
"I feel so grateful that I've done it and nature is so powerful in those mountains because you walk right through the Southern Alps and all it does to you."
Averaging 30km a day, he reckons, tests an individual's resilience. Near the end he felt like he was hitting a wall and the tourists in his party had echoed similar sentiments. He had been working on a timetable to farewell step brother Aiken to England.
"I was working to a schedule which was achievable without being silly about it," he says. "I looked at Stewart Island and thought I've had enough hiking for now so I'll do that another day."
Lugging "everything" on a backpack, he says, tests one's resolve.
Self-employed for three years now, it has been a luxury not to have to ask employers for time off or sick leave on the foundation of having built a financial nest egg.
"It was my gap," McIntyre explains. "It was like someone had opened a door to say, 'This is your time', and I just took it."
It felt right and he knew he was going to mutate into a person with a different outlook on life.
"There's a closure for me so I don't feel like I need to go around the world to walk other trails because New Zealand's trail [Te Araroa] is the third longest and most rugged in the world."
The walk fulfils a sense of patriotism although he sees no harm in perhaps experiencing the Patagonia coast, straddling Argentina and Chile. The Andes Mountains acts as a divide in South America.
"I have climbed and hiked in Scotland and Wales but New Zealand is just a different feeling so I wouldn't want to go to Aussie to do it."
His mother had threaded her worry beads during his Te Araroa adventure but that had only made a family reunion extra special after the journey.
"Mum was in the background and my sister used to show her the blogs," he says, walking across to fetch the trail guide book. The walkers offer a donation to the trial trust.
Winning against younger rivals in the Triple Peaks isn't an option so he has channelled his energy into walking, something he started doing six years ago at Te Mata Peak with youngest son Paul, 28, who is an engineer with Active Refrigeration which sponsors the Triple Peaks.
"I used to take the kids up there a lot when they were younger," he says of his five children.
It had become an obsession to tame the peak — he found himself three to four times a week up the Goat Track.
Paul had asked him if he had wanted to join his company team in McIntyre's first attempt but the father was adamant to go it alone.
"He's a little worried I'm going to beat him," McIntyre says with a grin of Paul who'll run with a team. "He still cannot be beat me up there walking."
Paul and Yolanda had joined him in the Wellington section of the Te Araroa before she provided a launch to cross Cook Strait to accompany him on the Queen Charlotte Sound track in Marlborough.
He sees the Triple Peaks as a hattrick but will consider joining running as a member of his son's team.
Supportive wife Linda can't believe McIntyre is doing the Triple Peaks days not long after the Te Araroa stint.
"But why wouldn't you use that high level of fitness to your advantage?" McIntyre asks.
With "no fat on me", he reveals, nine-time Coast-to-Coast champion Steve Gurney inspires him. Having done the Deception River and Goat Pass segment of the trail he has some insight on what the now 56-year-old multi-sporter would have had to endure.
"If I was 40 perhaps I would have had a go at it [Coast to Coast] but with Triple Peaks it's enough."
In 2018, when it was a 45km walk, he was the first male winner with Michelle Oakley claiming the overall bragging rights.
His propensity to walk was evident as a youngster. He recalls walking from Lower Hutt to the Basin Reserve as a member of the boys' brigade as a sponsored athlete in the walk-a-thon mould. He suspects hunting also hardens his template.
McIntyre intends to keep doing the Triple Peaks "until I drop".
Most races start and finish at the Mackersey Family Pavilion, Havelock North Village Green:
• 7:30am: Mountain bikers.
• 7:35am: Runners, walkers.
• 9am: One Peak Explorer entrants will start from Rochfort Rd, off Kahuranaki Rd.
• 5:30pm: Prizegiving ceremony.