Te Araroa - Our Journey
Above Claire and Kevin Power walking the Te Araroa Trail
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time
The beginning of the end
In 2017 we travelled to Cambodia; I was 51 and Kev was 52. At the time we had no idea how Cambodia would change the future Clare and Kevin Power.
We’d been operating a successful publishing business for 15 years, working to deadlines and running on caffeine and adrenaline. We’d gone from almost going ‘tits-up’ with four teenagers, to being what some might view as ‘successful’. We’d bought and renovated a modest home, and we had all the toys. We had everything we really needed materially; the business was looking strong, and our financial future was looking bright. ‘Just a few more years and life will be great!’ (That old lie about money and its relativity to happiness.)
Cambodia shook us. The Cambodian people have lost so much through the Khmer Rouge —there is a whole generation missing, which is blatantly obvious as you walk their streets. Then, when you look deeper into their communities there are many things that are hard to witness as a visitor: an “orphanage” scam for example, which is heartbreaking and often leads to children being trafficked into the sex industry.
And yet we have never been more genuinely welcomed into a country. We fell in love with this land of tragedy and contrasts because of its people. They had nothing - but they were so kind, and so happy. (Of course, many things need to change in Cambodia, and some New Zealanders are playing their part in bringing this about. If you’d like to know more, see the 1notes at the end of this article.)
It struck us that there was something seriously wrong with the way we were living. We felt like spoilt children, yet we still wanted more … and we were missing the whole point of life!
Life is short. Life is precious. But what is life about? This question was soon amplified for us by the devastating personal loss of a family member… gone far too soon. Why are we so stressed and busy? We didn’t even play with the toys we owned — we were too busy working to pay for still more “necessities”.
It was time to restructure our lives.
Life is short.
Life is precious.
But what is life about?
Te Araroa – the planting of the seed
One night over dinner with relatives, Geoff Chapple and Miriam Beatson, many years before our Cambodian trip, the seed had been sown. Memories are hazy — the wine was good — but they were celebrating receiving some hard-fought and long-overdue funding to help with the next step towards developing a trail called Te Araroa. Kev was entranced by Geoff’s tales, but I was terrified by Kev’s reaction! (If he wants to walk that, he’ll be doing it alone!)
Te Araroa, New Zealand’s Trail — a 3000km-long hike from Cape Reinga to Bluff, following historic places, walking through Aotearoa’s communities, both big and small, and travelling on tracks and trails as much as possible — this was Geoff’s dream. And now, apparently, it was Kev’s!
(If you want Geoff’s full story of making this dream a reality I highly recommend his book 2Te Araroa: The New Zealand Trail. One Man Walks His Dream.)
Why Te Araroa?
Skipping forward to 2018, I had nervously decided I really wanted to walk the Trail too. Our reasonings at the beginning were different: I wanted to walk the land of my forebears who, on both my parents’ sides arrived in the 1840’s. They were people of the land: farmers, lighthouse keepers, butchers, road builders, punt owners, gold diggers and keen trampers. In part I wanted to honour Miriam and Geoff’s tireless years of dedication, shaping this dream into an actual trail.
I wanted to get to know Aotearoa, one step at a time.
But I also desperately wanted out of life for a while, with no distractions, no anxiety, no hitting the wall, no more deadlines. My life had taken its toll on my mental health. I wanted a break — to find out a bit more about myself.
Kev’s happy place is the bush. His parents, having emigrated from Kenya in the 1960’s, saw a place that they loved in New Zealand. His father was an entomologist and worked for the DSIR. From a baby Kev had spent much of his childhood in the outdoors. There were many tales of trips in the bush, both here and in Kenya. It had become part of Kevin’s psyche. He missed having time to spend under NZ’s ancient canopies, and Te Araroa was right at the top of his Bucket List. He didn’t want to be on his deathbed regretting never having really lived.
But as we started walking, we got asked daily what our reason was for being there. It actually was a tough thing to truly know why we wanted to attempt such a ridiculous thing at such a crazy time in our lives.
You definitely start out thinking you know why, and how it will change you … but at the end of the day, the Trail will decide why you are on it. You have little control over what you’ll learn; you have to work with nature -- and, believe me, she can be one tough tutor at times. It certainly teaches resilience, and happiness - even while you’re uncomfortable. It throws your understanding of life up in the air and simplifies everything.
Walk, eat, sleep, repeat.
I’m sure those who’ve done the Trail will know exactly what I mean by that!
The hardest part
Looking back, the toughest part of the Trail for both of us was the preparation. Making the decision to change our life goals completely, from Western materialistic ideals to the goal of experiencing life in its raw form was incredibly tough mentally. We deliberately told as many friends as possible that we were doing the Trail. Many told us we were mad – but hey – they knew that already! We now had to walk the talk.
Then the practical side: selling a big part of our business (NZ Rod&Rifle magazine), preparing the house for long-term rental, sorting all the paperwork, and saying goodbye to family and friends. Then there was the gear and the food for the Trail. Most people allow six months to walk from one end to the other. But due to a publishing deadline with Fish & Game Magazine we could only take three months off at a time, so we decided to walk the North Island in 2019/20 and the South Island leg in the 2020/21 season. In between we would live and travel in our American fifth-wheel RV.
There was so much planning it was insane! What food do we take? Where do we send supply boxes? How much do we send? I was preparing all of our dehydrated food, as I have food allergies and wanted to stay well. It was certainly a learning curve, but in the end was very successful; I recommend it if you live in New Zealand and plan on doing the Trail. Kev’s hunting meant I never ran out of venison, which is a perfect meat for dehydrating due to its low fat content. Check out our 3YouTube channel Good Life Down Under, as we’ve started releasing a series of videos, and later in the year there will be one about our food system.