If you’ve been reading my recent posts about Australia, you’ll know that I’m currently trying to rebrand myself as a hiker. As I recalled in an earlier post:
Back in July, Dave and I were strolling through the streets of Prague when, ten minutes into our walk, I had to stop. I was out of breath, I had a stitch and I felt like I was about to vomit. I couldn’t bring myself to walk any further. Dave was understandably extremely frustrated at my complete lack of fitness and as we argued, mostly about how I was going to cope with hiking in New Zealand, I realised that things had to change.
I spent the next six months forcing myself to sort out my fitness levels. I walked when I didn’t feel like it, attempted to climb hills and mountains and bought myself a whole assortment of hiking gear.
I was determined to prove Dave wrong and show him that, when the time comes, I would be able to keep up with him on all of those crazy New Zealand hikes.
Now was that time.
Our first stop in New Zealand was Paihia, in the Bay of Islands. While Dave spent his time doing all sorts of diving and dolphin watching activities, I had only one thing on my agenda.
We were travelling with Dustin for our two months in New Zealand and, well, let’s just say that he has a little more hiking experience than I do…
I could tell that Dustin didn’t think I was particularly capable of taking part in pretty much any of the hikes we had planned in New Zealand, which was understandable as I was barely able to carry my backpack more than 100 metres when we left Auckland, three days into our trip.
And despite knowing that he was absolutely correct in his assessment, I refused to admit it out loud.
I was determined to prove everybody wrong and transform into a hiker over the next two months.
I would begin in Paihia.
When we checked into our hostel, we were shown a map of some of the most popular hikes in Paihia. I was eagerly eyeing up the 90 minute bush walk, thinking about how I’d impress Dustin with my hiking abilities. I’d probably even try to race him.
…And then Dustin started tracing out the “Full Circle Day Walk”, an 18 kilometre hike around the Bay of Islands. 18 kilometres? The furthest I had ever walked in my life was about 6.
Could I really triple my personal best?
I masked my whimper as a giggle and pumped my fists against my chest as an indication that I was ready to tackle the walk.
Pulling on my special hiking attire of jeans and a strap top, I grabbed my camera, ignored Dustin’s pleas for me to take water and snacks, and began to hike like I’d never hiked before.
Because, well, I’d never hiked before.
The first part of the walk is around 6 kilometres and leads you from Paihia to Opua, passing mainly along the beach. I’d managed 6 kilometres when I was the Blue Mountains a month prior to this — but that was the furthest I’d ever walked.
We strode purposefully across the sand. I chose to walk in front to give me the confidence that I was the fitter one of our group and by breathing silently through my nose, I am sure I also gave that impression to Dustin.
Before arriving in New Zealand, I’d been warned practically every single day for months that the weather in New Zealand was similar to that of England. It would rain every single day.
Well, with some kind of miracle, this supposedly frequent rain was nowhere to be seen. It was a gorgeous day, but the sun beating down on me did nothing but remind me that I should have listened to Dustin and brought some water. Using my common sense for once, I decided to buy a bottle from a nearby shop.
After all, I wouldn’t want to die on my first real hike or anything.
We took a car ferry from Opua to Okiato and from here, we began the 10 kilometre walk to Russell. By this point, I was close to giving up. 6 kilometres was a huge distance to me and I was already proud of my achievement. When I began to think about how I was only a third of the way through the hike, I knew there was no way I had the fitness level to take on something like this.
However, I wasn’t going to give up yet.
I remained silent, refusing to voice my feelings to Dustin, knowing that I needed to convince him that I was just as capable as him, that I could easily walk 18 kilometres without even breaking a sweat. This was a test. It was a test to see if I would be able to manage the Tongariro Crossing, the Queen Charlotte Track — the walks that Dave had told me in Prague I’d never be able complete.
How could I let myself fail?
Our ferry ride was over far too soon and I soon found myself slowly trudging uphill, attempting to keep my panting to a minimum and muffling my screams whenever a fern brushed against my face.
For the next four hours, my mind was focused solely on the skin that was currently being rubbed off the soles of my feet and the dull ache in my thighs. I was soaked in sweat, dehydrated and exhausted. There were no benches around for me to rest on, nowhere for me to take a break. I was impressed with Dustin’s stamina, astonished at how he seemed to find this easy.
And then, a rustle.
I looked up in alarm, gasping as I set eyes on a large, round, black… thing. A beast, stumbling across the path in front of us.
…Could it be…?
I moved slightly closer, my eyes widening when I noticed its long, thin beak.
I realised that, yes, in my first week in New Zealand, I had managed to spot an elusive kiwi.
My day had been made.
With a renewed vigor and a newfound energy, I tackled the path in front of us. I stamped up hills and skidded down the other side, enjoying the undulating terrain. My overwhelming happiness had now numbed the pain in my weary body as I raced through the forest.
And then, somehow, we had reached the final part of our walk.
There would be no more hills to climb from this point onwards. I estimated it would be around 2 kilometres until we reached Russell — something which seemed like a tiny distance compared to what I’d just put my body through.
I was wrong, of course.
The sign a few metres ahead was there to let me know that it was actually 5 kilometres to Russell.
I considered hitchhiking or camping on the boardwalk overnight. I thought about leaping onto Dustin’s back and refusing to get off until he walked me to Russell. I considered collapsing to the ground and crying hysterically.
But in the end, I gritted my teeth, ignored the searing pain in my feet and forced my body to continue onwards.
Because, after all, that’s what we hikers do.