"Why are you guys here?"
We're asked this question almost everyday as we make our way through to the end of Te Araroa. Hunters who pass us, fishers, other hikers - they're all curious to know why two girls are in the mountains with a week supply of food and tired bodies.
"We're hiking Te Araroa", is always the answer.
In 140km, however, that answer will no longer exist. In a mere eight days we won't be on this trail anymore. It will all be done. In one way or another, the 3000km trail will be complete and we'll cease to exist on it's terrains.
"Wow! You've walked the whole thing?" Is always the next question received.
This is where I would feel some sort of regret or shame, if I had any. You see, I haven't walked the whole Te Araroa trail. Infact, by the end I will have only walked half of it.
In eight days I will have walked 1500km of a thruhike that tests both will and physicality in a person. The accomplishments I've held in the last two and a half months can never be taken away from me, nor should I feel as if I don't deserve a congratulations in myself for making it where I have.
At the beginning of this hike I was determined to walk every kilometre of it. Every ounce of will in my body told me I could do it - I would do it - and I would be the strongest woman for it. I would complete Te Araroa or die trying. There was no way I wasn't going to.
Guess what, guys? Things change.
And for me, they changed on 90 Mile Beach. Only 50km into the 3000. The blisters on my feet begged for me to reconsider while my mind screamed at me in the sound of the waves crashing to my right. Every step on that beach was a wake up call, and it was in that moment that I realized I didn't want to walk the whole thing.
The North Island, being as beautiful as it is, interested me in no way whatsoever when it came to hiking Te Araroa. The road and beach walking came in copious amounts, the towns were expensive, there wasn't enough freedom camping, and there weren't enough mountains.
By Bream Head, 300km or so from the beginning, I was miserable. I remember the day so clearly, walking along the Ocean Beach Walk. I stopped and screamed so loud at the waves, raging into the shore. Tears were rolling down my face and the painful realizations started to flow through me.
There was no way I was going to continue Te Araroa. Why was I even here? Who the hell let me do something so preposterous? Why couldn't I have just gotten a puppy like most people do when they get dumped? Why was I letting the ghost of my past haunt my every move?
It wasn't until a few days later, after wallowing in my own self pity, that I realized these emotions were exactly why I came here.
I needed to make it to Bluff. I needed to touch the pole at the end of the trail with the fulfillment that I craved so badly. I needed to walk, travel, explore, drive, boat - whatever it took to get to the end of Te Araroa. I didn't care how I got there, as long as I made it with that feeling of true achievement and happiness.
"No, I've only walked half of it." I usually say. "But I've explored all of it."
Every hitch ever taken on parts being skipped led to a new story from a new person. Every walk ever done away from the trail is a walk I would have never seen. Every new friend I made, all of whom hold a special place in my journey, would have not been met if I'd taken this path differently. All of the nights a stranger turned into a friend, a hostel turned into a home, and a hitch turned into a tour, were given to me as a gift in my adventure.
"Te Araroa" translates into "The Long Pathway", and that's exactly what it is. It's a pathway that you take, and regardless how you choose to take it - it will lead you exactly where you need to go.
As long as you make it to the end with a feeling of fulfillment, then you've achieved something that no one can ever take away from you. In 140km, I will be at Bluff. Te Araroa will end there, but my Araroa will just be beginning.