Of paddles and footsteps

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March 3rd 2014
Published: March 31st 2014
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So it finally starts again. The time has finally arrived to finish work and be free once more to travel the world! With 6 weeks planned in South Island New Zealand and then 4 months in South America there are so many adventures to be had, and this time with someone to share every exciting and exhausting moment with.

Becks and I are on a mission to do all The Great Walks in New Zealand to give our travel a bit more of a twist. We start with a 5 day paddle on the Wanganui River. I did the first two days with A dozen or so of us from Palmy Hospital, opting for a sea kayak to attack the rapids (and the canoeists) with. It was a great amount of freedom being able to navigate the river by ourselves and inevitably the beers and wine came out contributing to a lot more capsizing but also a lot more fun! After the first two days my colleagues had to go back to work, and there were some big goodbyes to be had after 15 months in Palmy. There was no time for a melancholic reminisce as the familiar sound of a spluttering engine struggling up a gravel bath came within earshot and Lisa (our van) trotted into view with Becky and her friend Rae in tow. After a special sunset and a few happy beers we slept under the canvas until James arrived (after a 3:30am start), our friend from Bath and the final member of our quartet. We took the next stage of the 155km of swirling river water by Canadian canoe which took a knack to steer allowing for an awesome amount of banter as the girls proceeded to capsize at the first obstacle possible to steer into. The weather was glorious and the water warm so it was all very fun and exhilarating after the initial scare of submerging under the angry frothing white water. The majority of the river was tranquil and would very slowly meander through a dense green forest with the occasional sound of a shag taking off or the beating wings of a Keruru overhead. It was a peaceful, relaxing pace but the slow water needed hard paddling and drinking Country Red out of Carlton Dry cans often slowly but occasionally quickened our pace as we raced the sun to get in before dark. We had 9 barrels and 3 dry sacks between us and would be forever looking for stuff amongst them, often nervously after a capsize- but they fortunately did their job well. It was a physically tiring but soulfully empowering trip and a great way of catapaulting us into our trouble free travel times. Especially as I got my job offer for work in August on the first morning.

After the river trip Rae and James Cheaveau parted from us. Rae to head back to Cardiff and James to see a friend before rejoining us in a couple of days in Nelson. Becks and I headed to Taupo to wave goodbye then had a cheeky few beers and an excellent BBQ after going through two packs of firefighters to get the damn charcoal alight. Was nice to have a bit of time by ourselves after being so hectic the last couple of months! We then boosted it down to Wellington via a rapid pit stop in Palmy and caught the ferry to Picton. Unfortunately the view of the Marlborough sounds that Katrina raved about were a bit shrouded by cloud, however we kept spirits up by doing a bit of "extreme jetboiling" by preparing some noodles on the ship's deck. Went down a treat. We spent the night down a dodgy country lane in the wine country saving some dorrar without getting moved on by an angry farmer.

After a day experiencing the weird and wonderful world of naturism at a designated camping retreat (frying up an omelette for lunch required the utmost care) we got back into Lisa and trundled off to Nelson to meet James again.We stayed at Palace backpackers which was a buzzing hum of life, very different from when I discovered it 5 years ago where it was eerily empty with only a faint smell of onions to imply anyone had ever been there. A night out in Nelson was a similar sorry state of affairs like a night out in Palmy and made me hungry to get back out into the bush. So that we did, heading to Abel Tasman to attempt the 4th Great walk on the list and the first of the South Island.

I went along with the Watson whim of see first, book never and was a bit caught out by the lack of free campsites along the walking track. This meant either a gentle couple of days walking along the coastal track enjoying nature at its finest at a chilled out pace or absolutely beasting it. Rather upsettingly I went for the latter and we proceeded to march 37k's of the track with a casual 7 hours canyoning in the middle. We were knackered after the couple of days and our blistered and battered feet did not look good for the Heaphy track planned two days later. The canyoning we did was an incredible experience, but really took it out of us having a big hike in then using rockslides, big jumps, abseiling, zip wiring and swimming to get from one end to another. I thought it would be a doddle at first but was pretty nervous after cutting my nose open within 5 minutes after we did a classic beach "jumping photo" and my helmet swung up from my harness and hit me in the face. Pretty funny photo at least. The highlight of Abel Tasman was probably camping on the firstnight with only 2 other tent sites at a incredibly beautiful private bay with an idyllic vibrant red sky andgolden yellow sand with lapping turquoise waters right onour doorstep. An absolutely pristine part of the world.

We caught a water taxi back to Lisa at the start of thewalk and drove up the winding highway over the hills to Golden Bay. On our way we swung by a big hole in the ground, which although just being that, was mindblowing. Harwood's hole descended 183m and in typical fashion I managed to get a photo with my head over the side of it. James came and joined me thenlook rather nervous and had Becky's reassuring tones to help guide his shaky legs down!

We got to Takaka where we pitched the tent and parked thevan in the backyard of a hostel which was also the owners home. Quite bizarre how this middle aged couple had opted to listen to classical music and read a book in the quiet serenity of their living room with a dozen other backpackers sitting around, skyping family, drinking cheap wine, changing travel tips and charging everything they own all around them. We explored Golden bay and saw some dramatic coastline, the farewell spit, the sit of Tasman's first fatal encounter with the Maori, and some Wild Westcoast with beautiful sand dunes and rock arches. We got 4days worth of food and 6 litres of Country Red all packedand ready for the Heaphy- the longest Great Walk.

What I feel makes the Heaphy special is the sheer isolation of Kahurangi National Park in the North West ofthe South Island. It's walking at walking a most basic, the need to get from A to B. Unlike the lake, river orcoast I had done before, there was no 90 minute motorised alternative to boost you back to A. Aside from possibly a helicopter, walking was the only real way of exploring this part of the world. It was exciting to know we were going to emerge into a completely different environment on the West Coast and that we were to be self sufficient for that time, like the early explorers Mackay and Heaphy. We had glorious sunshine every day which was surprising for the West coast and enjoyed the fantails, tui, bellbirds, kereru, tomtits, pesky weka (that stole our food) and the sounds of morepork and possibly kiwi at night. By the time we emerged on the west coast the beech forests that became the grassy Gouland downs had metamorphosed into giant rata forests and became much more tropical feeling with Nikau palms brimming the driftwood strewn wild western coasts.

At the Heaphy hut on our last night James and I felt massively out alpha'd by a man feeling in half a dozen fish to upgrade the dehydrated noodles to a fish curry. This set the ball in motion of finding somewhere to fish and drastically regain some man points. After a day recovering from the walk in Karamea we explored some huge limestone archways in the nearby river and headed south along the coast. We stayed at Punakiaki where the pancake rocks were impressive, but not the star of the show. For that title was reserved to the shark I managed to catch off the beach by the campsite. A shark! Becks had never fished before, and James had never been successful so I could have been a little more cool, calm and collected when I landed the beast but the adrenaline took over and there was a lot of whooping until I realised I did not know how to dispose of the shark. After a rather gruesome time cutting its head off I felt a little less guilty after we dug into the tastiest fish dinner I think any of us had ever tasted, let alone on a camping stove balanced at the back of our van. We went to sleep happy and satisfied at a free campsite next to a lake with a spectacular sunset.

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