Japan is a hiker’s paradise, and the Dewa Sanzan (the three mountains of Dewa) is a pilgrimage route of the aesthetic Shugendo religion. Shugendo pilgrims and Japanese hikers can walk all three mountains – Haguro San, Gas San and Yudono San – although many non-religious hikers choose to walk just one or two of the mountains. Each mountain has a Shugendo shrine perched on the top.
The first mountain of the pilgrimage, Haguro San, is an easy walk, involving hundreds of beautiful stone steps.
Walking the hundreds of steps between Japanese cedar trees up Haguro San
Shrines at the bottom of Haguro San. These shrines weirdly worship the deities of mining, nation-building, fisheries, and national prosperity, to name a few. To me and Chris, this is contradictory to the little we have learned about Shugendo
Tokyo is surely the most capitalist, consumerist city in the world, and is not a good introduction to beautiful Japan. Billboards and lights scream at people to buy stuff. Trains are crammed with adverts whilst people are transfixed with smartphones. Everywhere I turn, there are women who look like film stars. Looking perfect is seemingly important in Tokyo.
The gaudy lights of central Tokyo make no sense to me. They seem out of place in a culture with such beautiful ornate art, shrines and intricate wooden buildings.
One advert says “life is beautiful.” Not in central Tokyo.
We spent our last couple of weeks in Aotearoa (New Zealand) hiking some astoundingly beautiful routes in the regions of Mount Aspiring, Fiordland and Aoraki.
The hiking trails that we did can be linked up (via a bit of road walking or hitching) to make a longer trail. At the bottom of this blog post is a hand-drawn map of the routes showing this.
Here’s a brief review of the trails we hiked.
I have been walking the Te Araroa hiking trail in New Zealand. This post covers the section between Lake Tekapo and Lake Ohau. After this we decided to quit the Te Araroa two-thirds of the way down the south island. Below I talk about our reasons why we quit, and I reflect on my time on the Te Araroa and whether it was a good hike to do.
You can also read part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4 of our hike.
I am hiking the Te Araroa, a long distance hiking trail which spans the length of Aotearoa (New Zealand).
This blog post covers the following sections of the trail on the south island: Rakaia river to Rangitata river; Rangitata river crossing; Two Thumb Track. (We did not attempt to cross the Rakaia river on foot, and we met no other hikers who did this). You can also read part 1, part 2 & part 3.
Rakaia river to Rangitata river
Rivers rivers rivers. I can’t remember when we weren’t walking through rivers, streams or creeks, and today I’m sick and tired of it. When was the last time I had dry shoes? I can’t remember.
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.
You can also read part 1 & part 2 of the hike.
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. You can also read part 1 of the trail.
“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.