The date was November 22nd, 2016…
I had reached Picton the previous day after a two hour ferry ride that was both exciting and beautiful. Seeing the difference between Wellington and Picton was like going to two very unique locations. I suppose that makes sense as they’re on two different islands, but it was a fascinating experience all in the same.
While standing on the deck of the ferry I made eye contact with a man whom looked just as scruffy and out of place as I did. I knew automatically that he was a TA Hiker. A few days prior I had been speaking to a man from England named Matt, explaining to him how I was getting to the South Island and the times that all of the boats left. I could have guessed that this man were him, but I couldn’t be sure. I didn’t know at the time, but that first look would lead to many others on my South Island adventure and Matt would become a very interesting friend by the time I’d reached the end.
Anyways - the South Island.
I’d gotten there a bit late and was in a panic because I couldn’t attach to internet to find out where Lyra and our friend Laura were catching the water taxi to the start of the Queen Charlotte Track (QCT). I knew it was going to be at 10:30am, and by 10:25am I felt like I was doomed.
With a 50lb pack on, full of four days of supplies and a lot of regret, I ran as fast as I could to the docks. I didn’t know where the water taxi was, but I knew it had to be near water.
I ran for several minutes before I saw Lyra in the distance, cheering at my appearance.
“OH THANK GOD!” I yelled as I stopped, hands on my thighs as I tried to catch my breath.
“We weren’t sure if you were still coming.” Lyra smiled as she hugged me.
I hadn’t seen Lyra since 90 Mile Beach, at the top of the North Island. At the beginning of Te Araroa. A million adventures ago. It seemed appropriate that we were reconnecting at the top of the South Island.
Laura ran over after, a huge smile on her face. “There you are!” She laughed. It seemed like everyone was afraid they’d have to head out without me.
Laura and I had met in Rotorua, where we had a day of roadtripping in a rented car from a place called “Rent-a-Dent”. I hadn’t seen her since, but she’d had her share of adventures. This included being in Wellington during an Earthquake that measured a 7.8 on the scale. She had to be evacuated from her hostel. I’d been in Taupo at the time, and had barely felt it.
“Hey man. I told you I would make it.” I said, still out of breath.
They laughed and cheered as they coaxed me towards the water taxi station. When I entered the open doors, they introduced me to some friends that would be joining us. A wonderful girl from America that was preparing to cycle across New Zealand, and another Canadian from the Yukon. It was safe to say I was excited to have a fellow Canadian for a few days.
To get onto the Queen Charlotte Track, you need to purchase a water taxi ticket along with a walking pass. Although the QCT isn’t considered a “Great Walk”, it is still under care of the DOC. The Great Walks are popular treks that stay maintained by the Department of Conservation. By purchasing day passes, you help the DOC with the keeping of the land and all of it’s scenery. Scenery that - and trust me on this one - is worth keeping healthy and happy.
After purchasing my ticket, which Te Araroa Trekkers get a discount on - I’m assuming it’s because most of us are foreigners and they know that we don’t have a lot of money. (Thanks Kiwis, I love you) - I put the day pass around the handle of my pack and swung it back over my shoulders. After a month on the North Island my body was more adjusted to picking up my pack, which made swinging it around much easier for me.
We hopped on the water taxi, which was like a double decker bus with an open top. We found some seats right at the back of the top section, and made ourselves comfortable for the hour or so ride we were about to endure. Just as we settled down, the scruffy hiker from the ferry popped up the stairs and searched for a seat.
“Hey!” I shouted.
He turned around and nodded at us. “Hello”, he spoke.
“You’re a TAer, aren’t you?” I asked.
“What gave it away?” He laughed.
Lyra and I introduced ourselves as fellow TAers, and explained how the North Island was basically a failure compared to what the South Island was going to be. He laughed and explained his own journey - 40km a day with a mission, every kilometre walked. He was impressive, to say the least.
The water taxi ride was unlike any other boat ride I’d ever taken in my life. Not only was it taking us to the start of our trek, but it was also used as a mailing service for people that lived along the islands we were passing. Houses scattered across the shores, none the same. It was beautiful and such an interesting way of living. We waved at people, and their dogs, as we handed them mail and smiled at their smiles. Everything seemed perfect in the world.
Then, as if the day couldn’t get any better, dolphins emerged from the blue sheets of water that kept them safe. They greeted us with grace and swam beside our boat for a long while, keeping us in their views. It was the cherry on top of an already pretty sweet sundae.
After about an hour we reached the peak of the QCT. 72km later, we would find ourselves back in Picton, but not before a mission of hills that continuously went up and down. And up and down. And did I mention - up and down? An exhausting few days that would leave me with a twisted ankle and a BnB stay that, yet again on my journey, wasn’t worth it’s price. But hey, after three days the bed was welcomed and the shower was needed.
The first night was a night I will never forget. The six of us sat around a picnic table, talking about why we were traveling and where we planned on going. The mountain stars shined above us as we laughed. And laughed we did - so hard. At eachothers misery, adventures, and lives. I’d never felt so complete in that time. People I didn’t know held a connection that could never be destroyed. Not by a trail, or illness, or all around exhaustion.
We were the rebels of our own demise. We were free. We were renegades.
We embarked on the first day of the trek as a group of six, but by the end of it we were split into four different groups. Matt, finished and gone without a trace after a couple days. Laura, after staying kept up with him for a bit, finished after four. Our new Canadian and American friends making it after the fourth as well. Lyra and I? After three days, we decided that we’d hitch back. Due to injury and all around weather issues, we were pretty fine with missing the last few kilometres.
Little did I know at the time, the South Island held every answer I’d been asking myself. That first night, and those first 60kms, were the starting point of something so much bigger than myself. They were the start of the rawest version of myself. The real Caitlyn Peesker.
Journeys like this one hold true to the people we are meant to find. I never once expected to find true love with a stranger while I was there. But I did. They were glorious, determined, and eccentric in all of the right ways.
That stranger was me. A woman of lost prosperity. A woman who reached for the stars and came back with the moon.
A woman who had finally found her home.