Pete Oliver and Lizzie Cook, walking New Zealand to raise funds for gut cancer, deviated from Te Araroa Trail to spend time in Maxwell with Pete's cousin, Jill Hare.
Recently returned from working overseas, the engaged couple want to complete the trail before putting down roots. Animator Pete and engineering geologist Lizzie started at Cape Reinga in mid-November.
"It's been a heck of a journey," says Pete. "The trail is still quite young, about eight years old, so there are still sections that require attention, but we've enjoyed it so far. We're just over a third of the way, with 3000km in total."
It was daunting to start and they were questioning themselves on the drive up to Cape Reinga.
"Now we think a week at a time," says Lizzie. "We plan it section by section and focus on that."
Pete says he's always been interested in the trail.
"I thought it would be one hell of an adventure, like a mental, physical test. Then I thought it would be nice to do it for a cause ... my father passed from pancreatic cancer six years ago. So we thought it was an opportunity to raise money for others in the same situation."
"We've got a sign on our pack that says 'Walking NZ for Gut Cancer' and we've had walkers come up to us and say, 'I lost my dad three months ago' ... " says Lizzie.
"The highlight is the people we've met," says Pete. "It's like we're tourists in our own country. We're meeting so many walkers from around the world, and we're also meeting what they call 'trail angels': Kiwis who have got their backyards available for us to camp on, they let us use their showers, they'll have us in their house to talk." He says walkers leave a koha in exchange. They met a couple along the way who had walked the trail a few years ago.
"They took us in, gave us lunch, and because we were there at the wrong time for an estuary crossing, they got us a boat and rowed us across," says Lizzie. They say it's a great way to see the country, step by step.
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The trail dips into the water at the Whanganui River, so more buoyant transport is required.
"It was five days by canoe from Whakahoro down to town," says Pete. They stayed at sites along the river, including Hipango Park and The Flying Fox near Koriniti. Jill picked them up from where they left the river at Top 10 Holiday Park.
They carry a tent and like that there are camping grounds close to the trail.
"A lot of campsites have discounts for TA walkers," says Lizzie. Farmers have made paddocks and fresh water available.
"Some people put out buckets of oranges," says Pete. "In Auckland a guy ran out of his house with brownies for us," says Lizzie.
Pete and Lizzie expect to reach the end of the trail by Easter, making it five months' walking.
"We feel very fortunate to be able to do it. Not a lot of people can put their lives on hold like this," says Pete.
They have had to contend with blisters early in the walk, and sunburned fingers from clutching paddles and walking poles.
Both say the walking poles have been great help.
"We're really excited about the South Island because we haven't done any walking there," says Pete.
To donate to the gut cancer cause go to www.gutsy4gutcancer.everydayhero.com/nz/walking-kiwis or Instagram @walkingkiwis