The Needle and the Haystack

The first multi-day tramp I did was (unsurprisingly, as I live right next to it) the Abel Tasman. I was 16 and my four closest friends and I were disbanding: one to Christchurch, one to Wellington, and one on an exchange to Chile which left the remaining two of us to finish our final year at Mot High. We wanted to do something special together before we parted ways geographically, although we are all still good friends to this day.

I’d never been tramping before and thought it was appropriate to take a change of clothes for each day – a total of five I think. A mistake never to be repeated; one set of clothes for walking and one set for the evenings and that’s it! Every little bit of weight counts when you’re clambering up a precipice for hours on end like it felt like my guy and I were doing a few days ago. I always wanted a boyfriend I could go tramping with.

The hardest tramp I’ve done so far would have to be an eight day solo tramp I did in Foirdland in the middle of winter when I was about 22. It was four days out to the coast and another four back in again. On the fourth day the track deteriorated to a scrambly mess of mud and kie kie with the track marked occasionally by colourful buoys. It was hard going and I was tired. Once I finally made it around the headland there was still a long walk along the beach to get to the hut. Somewhere between the headland and the hut my period started, the discovery of which made me feel even more exhausted, and I think I actually cried and wished for my mum.

As I dragged my feet along that beach a small plane came and landed on it, the occupants hopped out and wandered around briefly before flying off again, all before I reached the hut. I felt like shaking my fist at them and yelling “fuck you! It took me four bloody days to get here and you think you can just fly in like it’s nothing, you bastards.” It got me thinking though, about the relationship between the value you put on a place or an experience and the amount of effort it took to get there. I’m sure the sun didn’t glisten on the sea in quite the same way for those people in the plane as it did for me.

I did a lot of tramping on my own after Outdoor Rec; 16 students and two tutors makes for quite a big group, and often when I feel like going bush it’s because I want solitude and to get some perspective. I went tramping when I had to decide whether or not to get my horse put down, and other times I sought solace in nature in order to try and make sense of my interactions with men who only wanted to know my body but not my mind. Bastards. My mind’s awesome.

My favourite tramp, to date, was the Wangapeka-Karamea-Leslie. It was six glorious days of summer, during which time I barely saw another soul, following one river and then another and then another before climbing up to the Tablelands and down to Flora. This one was a real journey: my brother dropped me off at the start of the track and my dad picked me up somewhere completely different six days later, no loops or there-and-back-agains. Each day my pack got a little bit smaller and a little bit lighter and I got a little bit stronger and a little bit fitter. There was a section of track on that tramp, maybe only a couple of hundred metres long, it was flat and easy going and the track was draped with giant podocarps hundreds of years old. It was still and calm and quiet and I felt so safe walking along under those big old trees, and I had an overwhelming sense that everything would always be alright.

When we were driving back home in Dad’s van it felt like we were travelling at the speed of light; I hadn’t travelled faster than walking pace for so long. Dad said he was consciously going slower than usual but it still felt insanely dangerous to me. One could rightly argue that many of our ‘modern’ problems stem from living in a world where time and space have been compressed too much.

I’m toying with the idea of doing the Wangapeka-Karamea-Leslie again. It was over 10 years ago, after all. I want to have that sense of being on a journey again rather than walking somewhere, having a look around and then walking out again. I’d tweak it so that it wouldn’t be exactly the same as the first time, maybe condense it down to five days, mix it up a bit. I want to walk along the Karamea River for days on end again, watching her get bigger and more beautiful with each passing day. Sort through the chaff and figure out what’s really important.

The following photos are from last week’s tramp which took us up the Matiri Valley, past the Thousand Acre Plateau and up onto the Hundred Acre Plateau – apparently these are New Zealand’s oldest landforms and were once a sea floor. The Needle and the Haystack are the two highest peaks in the area, one sharp and pointy, the other broad and squat.

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