A long tramp like Te Araroa Trail means being prepared for all eventualities but there comes a limit.
It’s never a good idea to pack your backpack for the first time an hour before starting a six-month tramp.
Bits of kit lay littered around me on the Airbnb floor. Various sizes and colours of dry bags, ropes, straps, repair kits, gear instructions, two sleeping bag liners (one for winter, one for summer), three sizes of travel towel, two pairs of gloves (thermal and waterproof), clothes, eight days’ food, personal locator beacon, foot cream. So much other stuff, plus a foldable plastic kitchen sink.
My eyes moved from the gear to the tiny 38l backpack. How was it all going to fit in there?
I squeezed and crammed, pushed and stuffed and still the top wouldn’t close. I emptied everything back onto the floor and started again.
This time the luxurious sleeping mat went on the outside, above the tent. The water filter, maps and bright orange tro-wel were tied to the backpack’s straps. A pack attachment now carries the cooking kit and I clipped my sandals to the outside of the pack. The summer sleeping bag liner was discarded, along with two travel towels. I kept the foot cream, food and most other stuff.
But the foldable kitchen sink – so practical and foldable and handy for “just in case” – just wouldn’t fit. With a heavy heart I left it on the floor.
By the time I clipped the top shut, the backpack weighed 17.3kg and looked like a heavily-decorated Christmas tree. No time to reassess; the trail called.
Five days and 100km later, I reached Ahipara at the bottom of Ninety Mile Beach with bruised and blistered shoulders and hips. Same with my feet. I had three days of food left and had barely used half of what was in and on my pack.
At the hostel in Kaitaia, I reassessed each item. I needed everything – you know, just in case. But weight had to be reduced. I cut the labels out of my clothes. But that wasn’t enough so I got ruthless. Gear instructions, gone. Extra ropes, straps and tent pegs, gone. Excess packaging and bags, gone.
I hobbled to Kaitaia’s post office holding a small package of unwanted bits addressed to my parents, and stood in a queue with other TA walkers. All had boxes of excess kit. When my turn came, I placed my paltry lot on the scales: less than half a kilo. I blinked. But, as they say, every little bit counts.
Three things I couldn’t live without on the TA
Sandals: A lot of time is spent with wet feet. Sandals allow your feet to air and wet shoes or boots aren’t needed when visiting the toilet in the middle of the night.
Toilet paper: A luxury but essential commodity, particularly on long South Island stretches.
Digital/GPS trail phone app: It’s no fun getting lost. The detail/information on water sources, camping spots and more is an incredibly helpful planning tool.