LOSING her travelling companion on just the second morning of a 3068km hike does not bode well for Laura Waters’ chances of tramping the entire length of New Zealand’s two main islands from north to south.
It’s a catastrophe-in-the-making that under any other circumstances could derail such an ambitious project completely.
Waters, however, simply steels herself, acknowledging silently that somewhere deep within she’s been almost expecting to have this happen. She might not have known precisely how it would unfold but the fact her carefully calculated plan has been upended at the very beginning does not really surprise her.
Despite the disarray, there’s no question as to whether Waters will continue independently. For this Australian travel writer, there’s no going back – not in the short term, at any rate.
Never having done any true long-distance walking, much less camped alone, she’s left a secure job in Melbourne to spend the next several months on Te Araroa: “the long pathway” that links the uppermost tip of Northland, Cape Reinga, with the Bluff, directly below Invercargill. It’s a lightly trodden trail that’s little known outside serious hiking circles, sketchily signposted and almost indistinguishable from the surrounding scrub or forest for much of its length as it traverses soft sandy beaches, heavily trees mountain ranges, dormant volcanoes and the intimidating expanse of Auckland’s spread-out suburbs and industrial estates.
Carrying all her own survival gear and food for up to a week at a time, 40-something Waters is determined that nothing – not the attrition of fellow trampers, not her own physical pain and not dispiriting weather – will break her focus.
Her story is the Australasian version of Wild – an exploration not only of New Zealand’s ruggedly beautiful but tortuous environment but also of one woman’s commitment to honour her promise to herself.