Ever wondered how a small idea ends up being something much bigger and more challenging than you ever anticipated? Well this is how it happens for us.
Last year while travelling in Italy, Steve and I did lots of walking and one of the most challenging was a walk up to Alpe Maccagno at 2131 mts. It was a stunning walk through forested meadows, over a Nepoleonic bridge and then steadily climbed through fields following an ancient path up to a lake. Here there are a cluster of stone buildings and for six weeks of the year cows graze on the lush mountain grass, they are milked twice daily and this is made into cheese. This hamlet had been our goal and we were pleased when Francisco popped out of one of the cottages and offered us some cheese and a cup of coffee.
It had been a slog to get up there and on our descent we realised why – it was rather steep all the way down. After 7 hours we were pleased to be back at St Antonio where there was a welcome rifugio and cold beer for our efforts. While we sat there a Welshman came in for the night and we got chatting. He was doing the GTA – Grande Traversata Delle Alpi, a 55 day walk through the alps. He was semi retired and doing it alone. I was very inspired by this and as we drove back to our base in Campertogno I said to Steve ” Wouldn’t that be a great thing to do in NZ? I think there is a long walk you can do from Cape Rianga to Bluff.” And that was the start of a huge challenge we have set for ourselves.
Te Araroa is a 3000 km walk but as Steve and I are both South Islanders we have decided to do only the 1200km South Island section. Starting in the north where Steve grew up and finishing in the south where I grew up seems to us a great linking of our lives, past and present. We have both done a bit of tramping in the years before family and business took over but we have managed a few walks over the last few years. We are incredibly lucky to be in a region that offers so many choices not too far from home. BUT this challenge we have set ourselves is a little more serious than a walk in the park so we are doing more serious tramps to get us prepared for our long walk next year.
Three weeks ago Steve, our friend Be and I tackled Mt Owen. I had done it 15 years ago but did not remember what a grunt it was. My companions were incredibly patient with my slow progress and we got there in the end. Always a fantastic sight when you turn a corner and there is the hut and a much improved version from the one I stayed in previously. A restorative dinner, relaxed evening and good sleep put us in good stead for a walk to the summit. It was a glorious day and the walk through the alpine meadows was a real treat. Up on the rocks was a bit more of a challenge and as I had been to the top before I sat out the last 40 mins and waited in the sun while Steve and Be summited. We had a wonderful picnic lunch back down in the meadow and then strolled on back to the hut. The walk down the next day was perfect, it was a still, sunny day with stunning views and we felt invigorated by the previous two days. Walking downhill can be just as arduous as going up, it just affects a different part of you ie your knees. With the assistance of walking poles and just taking our time, stopping for coffee and then for lunch made for an enjoyable descent. We were happy to reach the carpark and cool our feet in the river before driving home for a hot shower and some clean clothes.
We learnt several important things on this trip – 1. Fitness and strength are key and make for a much more enjoyable time. 2. Not going all the way is not a failure, it’s a sensible decision. 3. When walking downhill place your heels on the ground first, it makes you feel more connected to the earth and give your more confidence.
We are slowly building up a level of fitness and knowledge so that when we start the challenge of Te Aroroa in February next year we are as fully prepared as we can be. This is a far cry from when we started the challenge of setting up a cafe in the middle of nowhere in 1991, armed only with a bright idea and a naive belief that “build it and they will come”! We learnt a huge amount very quickly and continue to learn as we go but with this wilderness challenge we feel preparation is key to the success and enjoyment of this very long walk.
I will keep you posted on our progress as we train for this “Out of my comfort zone” project. Next up the Heaphy Track.