The Bucket List just got shorter

In New Zealand, there are numerous tracks that visitors from all over the world come to enjoy. Eight of them are designated “Great Walks” and the goal for some avid hikers is to do all of the tracks. Last time we visited Carrie in 2015, we walked part of the Kepler Track and part of the Routeburn Track, but both were day hiking trips with no camping involved. This visit we decided to try three days of true backpacking on the Abel Tasman Track, hiking 12+ kilometers each day and staking a tent at night to sleep.

Abel Tasman is considered one of the easier hikes, although it has a fair share of steep climbs and tough descents. The track climbs up repeatedly into a rain forest-type terrain, wanders onto rock outcrops overlooking the blue waters of Cook’s Strait, and then descends back through rain forest, over waterfall creek bridges, and down to sandy beaches. And then it repeats. The views are breathtaking, and this track is often named the most beautiful of the eight tracks. On our third day, we stumbled upon a covey of quails- a male quail had part of the brood and alerted his partner around the bend of the “intruders”. The 15 baby quails were smaller then baby chickens, and yet sported the same head dress as their parents. Our drama was that one chick got separated from its parents and we were unable to hang around to see if the family reunited. In general, the bird song in the rainforest was impressive- we hoped to see a kiwi bird, but settled for a scary, divebombing encounter with an oyster catcher on the beach protecting its nest. When Captain Cook arrived on the island there were so many birds, he and his crew could hear the birds two miles offshore.

At night, we were surrounded by other hikers from all over the world- Germany, France, Italy, Australia. For a brief time, we were part of a make-shift global community with a similar mindset, sharing repair tape and bandages and stories. Young and old alike were on this track, and very inspiring to see women older than myself hiking in the heat and sleeping under the stars. All three of us got blisters and sore shoulders, but I loved it. We fell asleep exhausted from the hike of the day, after playing cards and devouring a backpacker foilpack dinner. Our favorite was Thai Chicken Curry with Rice. Our tent was not the super lightweight backpacking kind, so pretty miserable to carry, but it kept out the sandflies and super mosquitos. Thankfully, Carrie thought to bring a bite stick and heavy duty bug spray. The Department of Conservation in New Zealand does a great job maintaining the campsites, and every site we camped in had treated water, although no showers.

In 2012 I walked a small part of the Appalachian Trail, suffering through a June heat wave, a variety of unforeseen problems and out of control anxiety, which definitely complicated the experience for both me and my hiking partner. Despite all that, I realized I love hiking a trail and camping, and then getting up and doing it again. The deprivation from our lifestyle comforts resets priorities and adjusts any bad life attitude. And the challenge is outside my everyday life box.

I wanted to retry the hiking experience again, but I have also had a second foot surgery, plantar fasciitis and a discectomy since the AT. When we travelled this past summer, my back reacted badly to carrying a backpack, so I thought my hiking days were done. Initially, we thought about “glamping” because of my back, but the expense was more than we cared to spend. We decided to chance my carrying a pack, and it was a good bet. I made it through all three days without my sciatic nerve going crazy, and managed to sleep on the ground pad without much discomfort.

The first night in Anchorage Bay we camped near the glamping tents, and shared a nearby picnic area. I was feeling pretty empowered completing the first day successfully. And then I looked over, and the glamping host had a tablecloth with real plates, salmon with a side salad, and some white wine all ready for the tired hikers who had carried NOTHING! I decided they had to be jealous of us- we had playing cards!

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