Monday, 30 October 2017

No Obligation

There is a reason thru-hikers talk about a trail family. Your in with a bunch of other people who have all decided to do this crazy thing. You hike together, you walk and eat together and achieve the same goals. But then I wondered, does trail family only live on the trail?

On the 21st October 2016, I started my hike. Just me and Luke with our backpacks (and about half a dozen other hikers dotted a few miles in front or a few miles back) on the long slog that is the beautiful 90 Mile Beach. A year to that day, I had four friends visit me at my home in Bristol -Friends I had made on the Te Araroa and friends that will forever be some of my closest.

It took me all of three days to realise that the greatest wonder of my hike would be the people I met along the way. Whether that meant the lady who stopped her car on the highway from Whanganui to Bulls and handed us an orange each, or the couple that opened up their house and fed us wine and home-cooked stew, or just another hiker with the same damp socks and sweaty shirt. Each and every person came to us as themselves; no obligation to like one another, no obligation to stay in touch or take us in, and we went to them as us; not the filtered, socialised people we are in our 'civvies' at home.

When the date was set for my four friends to visit, I wondered whether things would be the same. Out of our hiking boots, would we have anything in common?

The first to arrive was Renee. Our Australian gem with more punch than any woman I've ever met. We spent the majority of our time on the trail side by side; sharing washing-up duties, splitting dorms, cheering at each other on mountain tops. She made our trail another kind of magic; not about where we were and what we were doing but about who we were with too. Saying goodbye the first time was like losing a limb - our first and longest lasting trail friend going to hike in the US was something we didn't want to miss - who would bail us out when our credit card packed in if not her!

Second was Benjamin (who if my mum had her way, would still be here!) Ben, also known as 'legs,' didn't come into our story until mid-South island. We passed him in the Nelson Lakes National Park where he hiked alone with Hamilton playing in his ears. It wasn't until a week or so later that we, coincidentally, met him in Hamilton hut over a communal game of Cards against Humanity. I am in ore of his unfailing optimism.

Eleri, I fellow Englishman but current resident of Australia, just so happened to also be home for the week and so popped by for a day visit. Eleri, another of Hamilton's extreme fanatics, began her trail on the same day as Luke and I. She too was another of the many women hiking alone and soon enough proved her point in wanting to do something big by herself. She shot ahead after a lazy day in Tidesong B and B where Luke and I decided to stay put with Renee for another zero and we followed her in the trail books from there on. We may not have hiked a large part of the trail together, but she certainly left her mark in my trail stories.

Last, but by no means least, was Brian; the American. My lovely Brian who swung me around like a child when he saw me, first crossed our path in Palmerston North. He was holding still for a week to help with animal trapping in the area and didn't catch us again until a little later on the trail. Brian has a mind like no other I know, clever, analytical, and oh so honest - I fell in love with his competitive enthusiasm to Code Names (a board game he later donated to Luke and I) and will forever crave his company to spice up the bland days.

All six of us together after an hour in a trampolining park was almost disastrous - from jokes I can't repeat to stories only we could follow, we laughed the whole evening. We met as adults from different parts of the world with no obligation to ever see each other again - we met again because, for that very reason, we'd formed a friendship that will exist in any part of the world. The question now is, where will we meet next?

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Being a Female Hiker - Menstrual Products and Getting Over It

Lets face it, the general sanitation of a hiker isn't great. We operate to efficiency and convenience above all. From the overpriced travel soaps in mega heavy bottles to sanitary products that just don't cut it, I travelled the length of New Zealand battling with the laws of sanitation and having a period in the wild.

Before I went away, it was the problem that bothered me most; what would I do if I had a period? It was my first long hike so I hadn't any friends to ask, and it was hardly the question I wanted to ask on a Facebook page. I did the research I could in private, spoke to my doctor about possible solutions and watched some rather precarious YouTube videos before making my first and last purchase of a menstrual cup.

The big rule for anyone in the outdoors is to carry out what you carry in so the idea was to reduce weight, minimise rubbish, and make my experience as pleasant as it could possible be. The menstrual cup is essentially, as you'd assume, a cup that fits up inside and catches any blood throughout the day. It is removed, emptied, and reinserted with zero rubbish or extra weight so its a win, win.

I had a trial run before committing fully. I sat on the toilet with the cup in one hand and the instruction manual in the other. Okay, I thought, I do not like the word 'suction.'

I proceeded to pinch the sides together, in the hope the word was not as literal as it was technical, and inserted the cup. I stood up. I bent my knees, and lunged as though taking a big step over a rock or something of that nature. I squatted. I tensed my pelvic floor muscles as best I knew how. The cup was still there. It hadn't moved or fallen out. Success. I pinched the cup again as instructed to 'break the suction' and pulled. It certainly wasn't the most comfortable of exercises but it would be better with practice, so I packed the cup in my bag.

A month into my trip, I was coopied between two trees when I realised I was going to have to use the cup for the first time while hiking. It wasn't so much putting it in that made me nervous, but rather, the taking it out when it was full. How would I clean it with no running water? How would I clean my hands!?

Lucky for me, I came across a public toilet that same afternoon. Luke waited outside with two of our friends while I tried my very best to be quick. 'Breaking the suction' isn't the easiest of tasks while hovering over a public toilet with no seat. I held it between my fingers, pulled and twisted round to tip the contents into the loo. I seem to remember making it just before catching my foot in the leg of my shorts and saving myself with both hands on the toilet basin as I heard Luke outside make a crude joke about me being a long time in the bathroom. I stood back up, scrubbed my hands, and stared at the cup sitting upside down in the corner on the bathroom on top the little square drain. I eventually emerged, my friends with their bags ready to go on their backs, and with a mound of folded tissue balanced in my knickers, I made my way hastily to the first pharmacy I could find and bought a large pack of sanitary towels - I'll carry the bloody rubbish!

After that, my pill kicked in. I didn't have another period for the whole time I was away which was a miracle if you don't mind submerging your bodies natural hormones with artificial ones for some time. It saved me a lot of misery and while my friends found the cup worked for them, I would always stick with my normal products in the future, or find a smaller cup perhaps. I carried a dark rubbish bag with me and stuffed it in the back pocket of my bag out of the way with some hand sanitiser close by. There's no lying, it's not a pleasant thing, but its doable, and if I know anything, we girls will get over it.

The All Important Kit List

When I look at the kit written down, it seems like we carried a lot. We could have skimped on some things and maybe invested more money on others to improve weight, but for a budget kit, we did pretty well. I have written our kit list below and have added some notes about whether it lasted to the end in our packs or broke or got left behind etc.

1 x Osprey 68 Bag
1 x Osprey 48 Bag
1 x Tent - Wild Country Zephyros 2
2 x Sleeping bags - Cumulus 600 Lite
2 x Air mats - Thermorest Prolite 3/4 Length
1 x Pen Knife - No 7 Opinel
1 x Multitool - Victorinox Climber
1 x Camping Stove - Jet Boil Flash Cooking system
1 x Jet Boil Pot support
1 x Camping cup
1 x Cooking Pot - Sea to Summit
1 x Water Filtration - Sawyer Straw mini
1 x Medical Kit
1 x Emergency Kit
2 x Head Torch
1 x Microfibre body towel
1 x Microfibre hand towel
1 x Spot Locater
1 x Garmin eTrex 20x
1 x Walking Poles each



2 x Pants
2 x Socks
1 x Camp socks - Merino Wool
1 x Zip off trousers
1 x Shorts
1 x Camp top
1 x Hiking top - Merino Wool
1 x Fleece
1 x Thermoball Jacket
1 x Rain coat
1 x Rain trousers
1 x Fingerless Gloves
1 x Buff
1 x Sun hat
1 x Flip flops
1 x Gaters - Dirty Girl
1 x Hiking Shoes - Barghaus/North Face


3 x Pants
2 x Socks
1 x Camp socks
1 x Camp leggings - Merino Wool
1 x Long trousers
1 x Shorts
1 x Hiking top - Merino Wool
1 x Camp top
1 x Fleece
1 x Thermoball Jacket
1 x Rain Coat
1 x Rain Trousers
1 x Waterproof gloves
1 x Glove liners
1 x Buff
1 x Sun hat
1 x Sandals - Teva
1 x Gaters - Long
1 x Hiking Boots - Scarpa Delta GTX Activ WMN

Tent - It was a squeeze inside that so called '2 person' tent, but with 3/4 mats and a small pocket between the outer and inner structures at either end, we could leave our bags outside of the sleeping area and maximise space. Wild Country have just brought out a two door version of our tent and that would save a lot of rolling over each other in the night for any unplanned midnight wees and, we think, would really help with airing/drying when condensation kicks in (and it does kick in - the tent is small for two people and in any situation, condensation would be a problem. We tried to avoid camping near large bodies of water or on long grass as much as possible.)

The tent has one pole for the overhead loop and two short, structural poles for either end of the tent. We removed the smaller poles and stored them on the outside of the bag with the pegs, and stuffed the tent into a dry sack instead of its original bag. This made it easy to store but also a lot easier to pack.

My main recommendation if your interested in this tent is to purchase the lighter, narrower pegs. We managed okay with the normal ones supplied but they can be difficult to get into hard ground sometimes as well as carrying a bit more weight - we did find ourselves borrowing a friends pegs one night under a forest of squeaky Eucalyptus.

Sleeping Bags - One of my favourite bits of kit for their comfort and easy packing. We went for the Cumulus 600 which was mainly for its weight. Cumulus specialise in lighter bags and have a 'Lite Line' range that carry good temperature ratings as well as being easy to stuff, and can be zipped together if you can brave it after a days hike. Being down, we purchased extra thick dry bags for storing these - while it made them a bit more bulky for packing, we never once had a problem with a wet bag.

In hindsight, these bags were way too hot. With two people in a small tent, it is warm enough, so having extra warm bags was often too much (we also felt they were hot in busy huts too). However, they were cosy, and still one of my favourite bits of kit so maybe next time I'll go somewhere cooler or string a bit of cash for a cooler bag...

Bags - Next time, I think we'll stretch for two of 48s. Luke's was great but he always had wasted space. I caught him sneaking things out of my pack to fill his up, so I'd have to steal them back or else it felt like I was carrying nothing. My 48 was the favourite of so many people we met on the trail. It was light, airy, had all the relevant pockets, stretchy mesh and looked ace too. My only complaint would by the mesh is fairly fragile and might need some emergency stitching, and I had to add some Axeman padders to the shoulder straps to stop the rubbing on the collar bone. Other than that, the sixe was perfect and two of them would have been just right (or perhaps a 48 and a 58 if we wanted to be safe.)

Shoes vs Boots- I took the risk. Against everyone's advice, I went for a pair of heavy duty leather boots. I had some bad blisters for the first stretch on 90 mile but once my heels had toughened up, I stomped through the mud easily and freely with mostly dry feet. Luke stuck with hiking shoes, he had zero blisters (a rarity, I know, but he did it), and found he may have gotten wet feet twice as quickly as me, but he also dried out in a fifth of the time my heavy boots took.

I switched to shoes for a short while but found I appreciated the ankle support and hardness of the boots so switched back again once I'd met the bounce box further along the trail. The main thing when choosing the shoes was to know what it was both Luke and I specifically wanted in a shoe. Luke didn't mind buying replacement pairs (he had three in total) and was also happy to jump into the rivers in his shoes. I, however, wanted something durable and often switched my boots for my Tevas when I wanted to keep a dry boot. Be aware, though, New Zealand may be beautiful but there are one hell of a lot of rivers to cross. Not to mention the hidden puddles, run off from your rain pants, and the countless times I slipped into a bog I thought I could avoid - I did get wet feet, you will too. So if you don't want the problem of roasting them over a fire for three days to dry them because you don't like them soggy, I'd go for shoes.

Jet Boil - The jet boil is an awesome invention. We were cooking in half the time some of our friends were and it was easy enough to work. For two people, we found cooking in the jet boil cup was too restricting. We purchased the pot stand and went for a Sea to Summit pot so we could extend our meal options. This however, reduced the effectiveness of the Jet Boil because we didn't want to fork out for the specific Jet Boil pan. While it worked, and it was quick, Id recommend either splurging on the Jet Boil stuff, or going for a standard stove. I find the standard ones fold up tiny and just cook a little more slowly - a little patience never killed anyone!

Cooking pan - It got eaten by mice! The Sea to Summit ones are great. They weight a bit more but they're foldable and easy to clean. We did leave our out one night (clean!) and the mice got to it. We didn't realise until we went to cook out next meal and discovered three chewed holes in the side of it. We sprung for a metal one after that - it was heavy because we couldn't afford any of that glorious titanium stuff, but the mice at least couldn't get it!

Water Filtration - We used the Sawyer straw Minis. We started with one each screwed to the top of a plastic bottle (we used old recyclable water bottles - lightweight!). Eventually, though, we ended up with one between us. The water in NZ is beautiful and we only ever needed to filter if we were down low or on farmland.

Our friend had a large Sawyer and it made the world of difference. It was quicker and way more efficient - in hindsight, we'd take one large one.

Rain Gear? Further to the wet weather comment, New Zealand is a wet place. We had a lot of rain, even during the summer months, BUT, New Zealand also has a fantastic sun. Our gear got wet often, but we also only had to put on wet gear a number of times. You can't count on the weather, but it is safe to say you can dry out quickly if your prepared to wear your wet stuff for an hour when the sun does come out.

We both carried rain coats, rain trousers, and waterproof gloves. When I think about it, I only used my rain trousers once or twice and I did wonder mid-trip, should I bother carrying these? But, one climb up into horrific winds and rain that stung your face as it slammed into you at a 45degree angle was enough to remind me that the wind proof factor, if not the rain proof, was important to have.

Fleeces and Coats - We both had a fleece and a coat. It was always too hot to walk in either of these - we'd use our waterproof coat if we needed to keep a particularly cold wind off - but we did have them for any cold nights in camp. Luke probably could have stuck with just a coat. He rarely used his fleece, and when he did, it was usually because he couldn't find his coat. I however, loved both. I like my fleece sometimes to sleep in if it was a cold night in a hut. Our coat also doubled as a pillow at night - we stuffed them into the thermorest bags and pulled our buff over the top for a softer finish - everything doubles as something!

Air Mats - Thermorest because they're great, 3/4 length because why carry more? We did have to stuff some clothes down by our feet to stop the condensation but other than that they worked for us.

Pants and Socks - Fact is, we're smelly all the time. We're hiking after all! Two pairs of pants was enough for Luke- usually one for camp and one for hiking with river washes as frequently as we could get them. I stuck to three - for womanly reasons - though I often only needed two; one wearing; one washing/drying

Gaters - Unlike the UK, ticks aren't really a thing in NZ. I took a long pair and used them in the beginning when I didn't understand the ins and outs of hiking. Fact is, they don't keep you dry. They keep the bits out of your shoes and the spear grass away from your legs. So, eventually, I ditched my long ones and used Luke's Dirty Girls (a fantastic invention I'll have you know) - Luke could empty his shoes of any bits quite easily but keeping the bits out of my boots and reducing the number of times I had to take them off was key. Neither of us bothered with gaters unless it was for this reason - keeping pebbles out! We never truly toughened up to the spear grass but got used to bracing ourselves when we saw the path disappeared into a field of it.

Glove Liners - If you get cold hands like me, glove liners are an awesome alternative to heavy gloves that make you too hot. I got mine online for a couple of pounds and kept them in my bag pocket for any cold moments - made all the difference.

Buff - No question - take one. The usages are endless.

Towels - Your washing in a river, how clean can you be anyway? We shared a big towel and used the small one for things like drying feet after river crossings (it became a coffee filter at one point too!)

SPOT Locator - The Spot was great. We linked it up with our families phones and friends emails so they could follow us the whole way down. They had a map up in the kitchen and moved a red pin to our new camp each time we set it off. Thankfully, we didn't have to use the SOS button so I can't tell you about how efficient that was, but I can promise that it is so fulfilling to look back at the map and see where you've been, how far you've come, and where you're going next. It was a cheep buy compared with some of the PLBs and while it doesn't have the same promises as a PLB, it did offer a continuous tracker for our friends, and an emergency SOS should we have needed it.

GPS - We invested in the Garmin eTrex 20x. It did its job once we'd worked out how to download the maps, but the maps provided don't really correlate with the device and only plot the first few points of each one. This meant we were left to work it out our selves - which wasn't a problem given we knew how to, but people should check their maps before going, practice using the Garmin and ensure they can identify where they are without the plots. That said, it was great to see things like elevation as we were trekking - we didn't have to use it for much else since the track is pretty well marked.

Walking Poles - Luke broke his during a particularly dramatic falls through Herekino forest - we didn't invest in heavy duty ones. Mine lasted until the south island but I found I wanted to use my hands a bit more and ditched them somewhere around Hanmer Springs.

They are definitely important for savings knees in steep declines and gave me huge control on 90 Mile in terms in rhythm and pace. If I were to walk again, which I bloody well hope I do soon, I'd invest in a good one but only take one. That way you've got it for any spooky river crossings, you've got the support for any climbs or descents, but you've also got the freedom to use your other hand.

Hopefully my notes on what and what not to get for a long trek are helpful. I am no professional or pro-lite hiker, but I can promise you, what we took we used, and what ever we used helped us finish our trek and that's good enough for me.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Three weeks since...

It took two weeks for my legs to stop cramping and seizing in the middle of the night. My hiker hunger has only just passed, though the cravings for fresh fruit and veg still continues, and we finally said the last of our goodbyes just a few days ago.

We had two weeks to kill between finishing the hike and picking up our car. We got 'stuck' in Invercargill for the first chunk of that; catching up with other hikers in the cinema, going for coffee, and using countless megabites of cafe internet usage to upload pictures and spread the news that we'd finally finished our venture.

The lull of what-to-do-next syndrome was taxing. Mostly, we didn't want to leave our friends; most of whom were from parts of the world that we wouldn't be in a position to visit for a very long time. A second contributing factor to the ongoing lack of drive and will to move on was monetary. Putting ourselves up in a city camping ground, and spoiling ourselves with celebratory all-you-can-eat chinese and the largest of breakfasts we could find had put us somewhat over budget (though we still felt underfed). But when we eventually wrote our destination of Te Anau on our empty pizza box, we found ourselves making hasty progress to another cafe destination where we set to planning our two week drive to the airport.

More breakfasts, a nacho pie (yes, they have nacho pies in Te Anau), and a few screwed up leaflets later, we'd hitchhiked with Renee to a nearby trail where we hoped to rekindle our love for hiking New Zealand trails. The Hollyford was a couple hours drive. We managed it in one hitch to the start of the track where a well maintained swing bridge crossed another of those crystal clear rivers unique to the fiordlands. We hiked to the first hut and settled in with a few other hikers for the evening where we enjoyed our 'luxury' foods that we only had to carry for the one day.

We skipped the next hut but made it no further than the third. We spent a full day reading infront of the gorgeous lake under the sun and headed back out the following morning. Stopping for one last night in the first hut again, we were met by a group of Welsh Army boys - little did I know, I was a lot more determined, and a lot more hard-working than them all.

We hitched back from the Hollyford to Te Anau and took a converted van to Queenstown to pick up our car. I slept for most of the journey before waking in busy Queenstown realising I'd been sleeping in a young lads bed in the back of his van - not sure it was my wisest of moves.

Setting up in an Air B and B for a few nights, we re-walked some of the TA trail in Queenstown and finally, filled the back of our hire car up with the heaviest of foods we could afford (though we were still cooking on a camping stove so we suddenly realised we still had to stick to pastas and easy cooks.)

We drove to Milford Sound through the mountain tunnel (a must see if in the Fiords), we picked up Ollie and his two friends from Invercargill and travelled the coast to Dunedin to see the penguins (didn't see any). We travelled back up via Renee's aunts house in Christchurch where we stayed and caught sunsets over Diamond Harbour. We picked up our 'missing' parcel from Snow Denn Lodge in Methven that was full of sweets and chocolate from Donna and Mark for my birthday. We traversed back to the West to see the incredible glaciers and Mount Cook. We saw almost everything we possibly could have seen in those two weeks before reaching Auckland.

New Zealand had become ours. Our home. We wanted to see every nook and every mountain. We collected things to take home with us so we might just remember what the pebbles were like on one beach or what the food was like in a particular town. It had become the place that Luke and I had grown even closer and stronger. It was, and always will be, one of the most beautifully ruthless places I know, and I will never forget its lessons.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Invercargill - Bluff (Our Finale)

1st March 2017 - The day we finished our Te Araroa.

We were in bed the night before by 9.30pm, sure that we'd be ready and roaring to go early for that last day to the end, but we didn't wake until 8am. We went for coffee, we lingered around the shops, met Renee, and slowly made our way to the bridge to meet the rest of the group. We were late so they had gone ahead but we could see them not far in front along the estuary walk way. The three of us were excited. We had come full circle, as our group of three- eager to make it to the end of another day. To pitch our tents, wash in a river or under a water tank if we were lucky, stuff our faces with high calorie meals and treats, and get to bed early ready for the day that followed. But today felt different. We didn't really want to make it to the end. We wanted to stretch every minute out as long as we could and push the big finish as far away as possible, because for the first time in 131 days, we didn't know where or which direction we were going tomorrow.

When we eventually caught up with the others (it didn't take long - most had already had two beers and walking had turned to lolloping) the excitement really hit. Everyone was laughing and telling stories from the trail. To anybody passing, we must have looked like the absolute pits. Those drinking beer built beer staff style walking poles as they went while Renee and I decided to settle for gin and tonic in plastic cups. I only had three throughout the day - I wanted to remember every second of that last day.

Unfortunately, that last day is only about 13km on board walk and the final 17km or so is all on highway 1. Since my experience of road walking in the past hasn't been the most joyous, I was grateful to have so many people around. We sang musicals, of course, and chatted nonsensically all the way, but mostly, Luke, Josh, Ben and I waited for everyone else to catch up! We had wanted to stretch this day out as much as possible, but the closer we got to the finish, the more we wanted to be there and each time the beer staff got longer, the group got slower.

We four were the first to the Bluff sign. Its a big sign that spells 'Bluff' about 4km before the end. 4km or not, it felt liberating to see it. We ran to it and jumped up onto the letters while we waited for everyone to catch up. We probably spent about an hour there taking pictures and waving at the cars that cheered us as they drove past - but eventually, the novelty wore off and everyone just wanted to see that last sign post - the one at the very end.

Again, we got nearly to the sign before everyone else. We decided to wait so we could all finish that last bit together but we sat there for a good half an hour with no sign of the group. We tried calling and texting but nothing. So Ben walked back to suss that situation and eventually returned with the rabble trailing behind him - they'd been in the liquor store buying cheep champagne!

So we finally rejoined and I led an eleven person conga line to the sign post. It felt so good to see the sea! Someone else who had finished earlier that day handed out beer to everyone, we popped the champagne open and all ran around hugging each other like lunatics. Each of us had our own story and our experiences of the trail, but each of us had done it. We all understood what it was like to have spent the last four months depending so desperately on the most basic of things and putting ourselves through hell just to get to this point - something none of us were sure other people would understand.

Once we had spent over an hour taking pictures and celebrating, we went for fish and chips. It had taken us nine hours to walk this last track when it should have only been six but it had been the easiest days walking on the whole trail but we were tired nonetheless.

We went to the Bluff Lodge (which isn't a lodge at all - its a backpackers) and checked into our 14 bed dorm which was like something from Annie. The beds all faced eachother with just a small walkway down the middle. The bedding was all different as though it had been carefully selected from second hand shops - most of it salmon pink with frills on the edges and padded throws.

We sat on the edges of our beds drinking wine from the bottle like teenagers and decided not to let the fact that we're no longer hiking get in the way of our bad manners and hiker-trash habits.

And then, to top everything off in true hiker style, Kilt Brian ceremoniously lit his Kilt on fire with the last of his meth spirits which was great in every way aside for the fact it left him with nothing besides his pants to wear until he managed to hitch back up to Invercargill.

It was so bizarre that for the first time in so long, it didn't really matter what time we woke up in the morning. We didn't need to know the exact time the sun rose and set again, or where our next water source or camping spot would be. We just needed to shower, eat some real vegetables, and, as much as we might not want to, face real life again. So we all eventually fell asleep in our Annie beds pondering our next move - where next?

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Te Anau - Invercargill

From Te Anau the route takes us through farm land mostly. There are a few steeper climbs but not much to rant and rave about. There is however, a story that I'm sure Luke will get tired of being reminded of.

On the second day, we stayed in a place called Birchwood Lodge. It's basically an old out house king of thing that some farmers have in their garden. They charge $20 each per night and you get a bed, kitchen, shower and bathroom, and a washing machine which is quite a good deal compared with what the price and facilities at the holiday parks!

It was the sort of place that made me feel a bit of a snob. While everyone else was just pleased to have a roof over their head, I wondered what my mother would say if she saw where I was staying. I imagined probably something along the lines of 'wear your flipflops in the shower and use your own cutlery.' Ah- it was a wicked place really.. just needed a lick of paint and a bit of bleach to the ceilings...

The owner gave the boys a lift to the shop (now with Renee, Kilt Brian, Benjamin from Sweden, Ben and Josh from NZ) and they all came back with a few beers and a bottle of wine for Renee and I to share. It was the last stretch and we wanted to celebrate! So we all had a drink and were playing a game of Code Names when Luke asked everyone if they wanted a fire. Of course, everyone did because we had marshmallows to roast! So, Luke set about collecting wood and starting the fire up.

About twenty minutes after Luke had got the fire roaring and we battled furiously in an intense game of Code Names, I smelled something strange. I looked to the fire and noticed an old pair of shorts had been left on top. They were on fire. Renee grabbed them and carried them outside before dumping a bottle of water on them but that wasn't the issue. The issue was that the burning shorts had reminded Ben and Josh about where they had left their mobile phones charging. Panic struck - Ben and Josh's phones had melted to the fire place. Ben's was off, obviously, while Josh's simply displayed a helpful message on the screen, 'Your iPhone is too hot. Please cool down.'

We plucked them from the fire place watching not to burn our fingers n the metal casings and put them out on the deck to cool down. Ben's battery had melted to the outer so we used a knife to pull it away from the rest of the phone and let it cool while Josh's, bar a half melted screen, was actually working!

We spent the rest of the night awkwardly trying to avoid the topic of mobile phones and soon headed for bed in the prison style bunk beds which had mattresses too big for them and rolled its occupant to one side or the other each time they tried to get comfortable.

The morning after, Ben and Josh left pretty sharpish and the rest of us followed around nine-ish once the sun had decided to grace us with another fine day.

From there, it took another two days to reach our 32nd and final hut of the entire trail, Martins Huts in the Longwood Forest. The track up to Martins was a perfect round up of the trail. Hiking through knee high mud, being drenched by a stubborn low hanging cloud, having a relentless hammer of Southern wind against our faces, and a severe lack of hope that we'd ever actually make it to the hut - it was everything, believe it or not, that had made this trail so bloody cool! If it was easy, if we weren't challenged and made to face everything that New Zealand has to offer from its completely unpredictable weather system, it wouldn't have been worth doing and certainly wouldn't be worth telling you about.

When we got to Martins, a four bed shack with no windows and a dirt floor, there were already seven people staying there. Benjamin, Rowan and Rosie had beds, Dylan and Lutz were sharing, Ben and Josh were on the floor and the whole hut was covered in wet gear that smelled of old waterproofs and muddy socks.

Luke and I, Renee, Martin, Kilt Brian and Pawel all pitched our tents in the limited space outside and took turns to squeeze into the hut and have our share of heat from the fire. We may not have got to spend the night in the final hut, but we did have one hell of an experience. We all sat around in the tiny, dark room and reminisced about the trail and about our next few days to come and, aside for the absence of a few others, we had our 'trail family' all in one space.

The morning after was a solemn one for the fact we had to put on all of our wet gear and mud-sodden boots for another day in the forest. We headed off nice and early because we thought it was going to be another rainy, muddy day but it turned out to be a beautifully easy day following an old mining water run all the way to Colac Bay pretty much.

As we came over the brow of the hill and caught our first sights of Colac Bay, it almost felt like the end - we could see the sea and beyond that was Stewart Island - I could have cried right there and then (but I didn't because I am the new kick ass Bear Grylls come Wolverine come Dora the Awesomest Explorer Ever.)

From Colac Bay we walked along the coast all the way to Riverton for a lunch stop and then again all the way to Invercargill (almost).

Not quite ready to finish, Luke and I decided to walk that last beach by ourselves. We stopped three or four times to read. We pitched our tent to have dinner (which was like eating in a cape in a sand storm) and just relaxed and talked until it turned dark. We packed the tent up, and we hiked the remainder of the beach with nothing but the incredible South Island sky to light our way.

It sounds romantic and nice but in fact, there were bad boy racers on mopeds driving up and down all the way and when it came to finding somewhere to pitch up once we'd left the beach, it was so bloody dark that we didn't really know where we were and whether in the morning we'd be on someones front porch!

Nonetheless, we woke the morning after on the Lifeguard Club's front lawn and left pretty sharpish to walk into Invercargill. When we got there at 9am, all we wanted to do was carry on to Bluff but we'd decided to walk with our friends and that's what we were going to do so we fought the urge and spent the rest of the day in Invercargill gearing up for the very last day of our trail. We arranged to meet the team by the bridge at 9.30am sharp the morning after.  

GreenstoneQueenstown - Te Anau

We had a bad start to the Greenstone. We walked from our camp the night before to Greenstone hut where we arrived to a group of drunk Russian tourists sitting on the decking outside. We did our best to introduce ourselves and make small talk but in the end resigned to claiming our bunks for the night and then minding our own business.

We had a long afternoon in the sunshine since we'd only walked a short way and so wound up in bed fairly early. We read for a bit until it was a sensible time to try and sleep and then instantly regretted not sleeping sooner. Snorers in huts should be banned! We slept maybe for four hours that night.. and that's probably a generous rounding up. At four in the morning we were both bolt upright trying to fathom how any human could possibly make that much noise! Luke tried fluffing, very loudly, and I giggling, very loudly, but nothing would wake them and stop that awful noise.

The morning after, we woke grumpily, ate breakfast grumpily, and left the hut hoping the snorers didn't follow behind.

The walk from there to Carey's Hut was all along the Greenstone flats. There was little to gain in height but a lot to gain in weight since our shoes were slowly filling all day with the water from the boggy ground we hiked through all day.

When we got to Carey's Hut, we washed in the lake and prayed the night ahead would be an improvement on the last. It wasn't.

At nine o'clock that evening, a load of fire wood was dropped off to the hut and so, as man does, our American friend, Dylan built a fire. By the time we went to bed, we were sweating so much in our sleeping bags that Luke went outside and pitched the tent instead of sleeping inside! I braved the heat but I can't say it was a comfortable nights sleep!

The day after leads you beside the two Mavora lakes along a really nice, well looked after track through forest until you reach the part that just Te Araroa hikers use and it turns to utter shit. Sorry, Parents, but it was bad!

The grass was taller than both me and Luke, if tussucks weren't tripping us then we were falling into bog that we couldn't see. If we weren't trying to navigate around slips, we were trying to find our way over and under barb wire fences that had just randomly been placed in the middle of the track. It was awful! And little did we realise that we were some of the only people on the whole trail to actually walk this part. Apparently everyone else was sensible enough just to walk on the road or hitch there way to a better track.

Although it was tough and slow, Luke and I did have a really good day trying to find our way along it. Laughing at each other every time the other fell down and making fun of the trail has become half of the fun of the Te Araroa and we've learned to just take it in our stride.

We camped on the river that night and prayed the remaining three km the next day would be easier.

They weren't easier but they did go quickly and we had a full day to resupply in Te Anau for the final eight days! Just eight more days!!