This blog post covers the following sections of the trail on the south island:
Waiau Pass; Boyle Village to Arthur’s Pass; Arthur’s Pass to the Rakaia river.
1) Waiau Pass trail in the Nelson Lakes: 115.5km, 8 days:
It’s raining. The river hurls water downstream and the track becomes part of the river. We huddle in hikers’ huts until the weather clears.
The river bursts its banks and the way becomes engulfed by strong water
The trail is here somewhere…
I can’t remember when I last had dry feet…
And then, when the sun comes out and we start to climb away from the valley, the Waiau Pass section becomes spectacular. If you’re choosing just a few sections of the Te Araroa, pick this one! Snow-capped mountains surround us as we climb higher.
This blog post covers the first 230km of the Te Araroa on the south island: the Queen Charlotte Track, the Pelorus river trail and the Richmond Ranges.
“This is not a trail,” I splutter at Chris breathlessly as I huff and puff my way up, terrified of falling. “It’s a scramble up a cliff face.“
We’re back on the trail! After a two month knee injury (which still hasn’t fully recovered) Chris and I rejoin the Te Araroa at the start of New Zealand’s south island.
“You can’t hike any more. You have to change your plans,” the doctor says sympathetically. “Was it your dream to tramp across New Zealand? Had you been planning it for years?”
“Well, no,” I reply, “but it’s really disappointing. How long will I take to heal?”
“Three more months, maybe…or keyhole surgery.”
I have torn a cartilage in my knee just 160km into the Te Araroa hike across New Zealand. It’s now very clear that I won’t be able to hike the whole trail. But because I can stay in the country for six months, it’s possible that I’ll recover in time to walk half of it.
Chris and I spontaneously decide that we’re going to walk a hiking trail which spans the length of New Zealand – or Aotearoa in Māori – some 3,000km. The trail is called the Te Araroa. One month later, we arrive in Auckland.
I don’t know that much about New Zealand, except that my favourite comedy duo, Bret and Jermaine of Flight of the Conchords, are from there. And that Lord of the Rings was filmed there. And that my favourite computer game of the 80s, New Zealand Story, was based there. And that it was colonised and screwed over by the British.
“My god, it’s like we’re in Liverpool,” I say as we reach the centre of Auckland. After months of travelling through Asia, it seems absurd that we’re the furthest from home we’ve ever been, and yet we find ourselves in a slightly different version of England.
“What is he doing with his arm?”
We travel from Malaysia to Sumatra, Indonesia, on the Vomit Boat. Its real name is the Star Express. But throughout the four hour journey we listen to everyone on board throw their dinners up into plastic bags (ironically, before this, the staff give everyone a meal of chicken and rice when the boat is still on deceptively calm waters). The boat sways roughly from side to side, and there’s no access to a deck or any fresh air.
If you want to find out how it feels to be famous (and I mean really famous like a Hollywood actor) then head to the town of Tanjungbalai. Everyone we pass says hello to us. Everyone wants photos with us. And this sets the tone for our month hitchhiking through Sumatra and Aceh.
Map of our route from my diary
“Aaaaggghhhh! You fucking wankerrrrrr!” I scream at a young guy as I chase after him on my scooter. He has just grabbed my breast, whilst driving at 60kmph on his scooter, and now I’m on a high speed chase.
But after just half a minute I wonder what I would actually do if I caught him. Ask him to pull over so that I can have a polite word with him about his misogynist ways? More likely the chase would end with me having a serious scooter accident. So I stop driving and cry instead.
“No Entry!! MOVE ON!” a security guard yells at us as we jump off the longtail boat at Railay beach. He is guarding a new, expensive resort, meaning that the ‘common’ public have to wade through the sea, waves crashing up to our waists, rather than step on the resort’s swimming pool grounds. Heaven forbid us commoners walking on the rich man’s land.
I first visited this peninsula – made up of the bays of Railay, Phranang and Ton Sai – back in 2007. Coming back nine years later, things are bound to have changed. But i’m not prepared for how much it’s changed.
The below blog post addresses just some of the problems of (mostly white European) backpacker tourism. When I first travelled in south-east Asia ten years ago, I did not see that my presence could be detrimental to the communities that I was visiting. My awareness of this has grown and evolved over the last few years, and there are, no doubt, so many more issues that I am unaware of with regards to how I impact communities as a white European. Every day is an opportunity to learn and become more aware.
An example of one of the photos that has been used by Lonely Planet
“Hill tribe tour!” “Trek to a longneck village!” “Spend the night with a hill tribe!”
Hill tribes hill tribes hill tribes. You can’t walk more than five metres in Chiang Mai without seeing signs for these tours.
Tour companies and guide books such as the Lonely Planet use different terms for indigenous people, depending on which country they’re referring to. In Laos it’s the term ‘minority’.
In July 2016 we spent two and a half weeks travelling around the far north of Thailand on scooters. We were careful not to photograph people without their permission, and we avoided driving into many of the small villages that we passed. This is because these villages never see tourists, and may not want to, and didn’t give us our consent to visit.
A sketch of our route (from my diary)
I don’t understand the fascination with traffic-clogged Chiang Mai. I can’t wait to get away from the city and the tour agencies selling treks to ‘hill tribes’. But I’ll write more about that in another post.
Chris and I want to explore the far north of Thailand on a long scooter trip. So we hire out two scooters and haphazardly brave the traffic of Thailand’s second largest city. (If you’re new to riding a scooter, I don’t recommend starting in Chiang Mai.) When we arrive in peaceful Chiang Dao at the end of day one, I’m just thankful that I get there in one piece.
We hiked the GR10 in June 2016.
I don’t like climbing mountains. I think of it as macho: the egoic human wanting to conquer the peak. Don’t get me wrong, I love long distance hiking, and I have done my fair share of hikes. But I don’t feel the need to climb a few thousand metres high.
So I wonder why I am here, why I have chosen to walk the GR10, a trail that spans all of the Pyrénées, from west to east – a whole 900km of up and down. It is, of course, because I want to be immersed in beauty. And surely you don’t get much more beautiful than the Pyrénées.