……I spent a month or so packing kiwi fruit and another month hiking a few of New Zealand’s famously fabulous trails. I had been travelling for the majority of the time by myself in Australia but rejoined my then boyfriend briefly in NZ.
It’s over twenty years ago now (which explains the quality of the photos a bit) that I was in this slender country, long before I moved to Canada. Once here in British Columbia I felt that I recognized aspects of New Zealand in the landscape and coastline of my new home – and of my old home. Something of the coastline and mountain ranges were echoed in BC while the rolling green hills and ubiquitous sheep reminded me a little of England.
I was rubbish (apparently) at picking out the not-quite-good-enough kiwi fruit from the production line as we packed them in boxes. What I lacked in discernment I made up for in enthusiasm and speed. Instead of being fired I was relegated to marking up the boxes for shipment. I didn’t mind, I was working in the same warehouse as my boyfriend, we were able to pay the rent and buy food and when a month or so was up we left to go hiking on the first multi-day trips I’d ever undertaken.
Those strenuous outings stood me in good stead for living in Canada and all the cycling, snowshoeing and hiking I have done and do here – not just in laying the groundwork for a good fitness base, but also for what not to do. Like not having enough food. To reduce the weight of our gear (sometimes we tented it, if there was room we stayed in one of the trail huts with their excellent wood stoves) we took red lentils, dark rye bread and biscuits. We took or filtered water as we went. That was it. We lost a lot of weight, just not in the right way. And I can’t believe now we didn’t have coffee.
Or we failed to pay enough attention to the weather. We hiked the Routeburn and Greenstone Tracks so late in the season that we found ourselves wading through rain-swollen streams and rivers as we traversed a valley floor; water cascaded down the mountainsides. Our boots remained sodden for almost the entire time. As we progressed along our route we noticed fewer and fewer hikers until we were completely alone, everyone else had either turned back or finished their hike already. And the night before we set off on what I think was the Anatoki/Waingaro Ciruit I was so cold thanks to an inadequate sleeping mat that I lay awake shivering uncontrollably until we got up the next morning. Hiking tired isn’t great, I stumbled and sprained my ankle on the first day. Soldiering on we made it to a hut set cosily in a meadow between treed hillsides. It was already inhabited by two fathers and their young sons (we weren’t the only late season hikers) and who thankfully had a roaring fire going. When we woke to a blanketing of snow we decided enough was enough and packed up for the return journey. I still remember looking back as we left the clearing and seeing four faces peering out at us through the window.
Occasionally we badly misjudged our distances. To the point that one long, long day – having decided we could fit two stages of hiking in one – we ended up stumbling down a rocky trail, in the dark (I don’t remember even having a head-lamp) led on by lights from a hut and falling, exhausted, through the door.
We were idiots. But it was a fabulous time, our naivety and ignorance aside. New Zealand is one of the best places, I still think, to hike. The routes are well maintained, the huts handily placed along the way in scenic spots – I recall one right next to a roaring river, the swing bridge conveniently located just moments away – the forests, mountains and ocean outstandingly beautiful. The convivial atmosphere on the trails was lovely and we were met with great kindness by New Zealanders who never failed to help out when they could. The island boasts remarkable birdlife, native fish, lizards and frogs but no bears or mountain lions, poisonous reptiles or vicious insects to think about when you hike.
I think it might be time for a return visit.