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June 2020 Issue
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Meeting Aotearoa on foot

Michelle Campbell gained a greater connection with Aotearoa on the Te Araroa Trail
Māori tramper Michelle Campbell shared the highs and lows of her time on the Te Araroa Trail in her first book Meeting Papa: A Journey on Te Araroa. 

Could you explain the name of your book, Meeting Papa?

I wanted to have a connection to Papatūānuku (the land; the mother earth figure who gave birth to all things) in the title and I remembered Geoff Chapple writing about his conversation with the poet Hone Tuwhare in Te Araroa – One man walks his dream. On hearing Geoff’s endeavours to start a long-distance walk in New Zealand, Hone said, ‘to get to know Papatūānuku you must go through slowly, on foot’. That pretty much sums up Te Araroa for me and that beautiful statement bought me my title.

You don’t shy away from describing the tough aspects of the trail – what did you most struggle with?

Early on, the constant beach and road walking ruined my feet and shin splints were managed with a lot of panadol and distracting podcasts. The physical strain would often play into my psyche and because I had romanticised the experience so much it took a while to accept the trail for what it really was. The Northland forests taught me a lot about maintaining humour on the trail and noticing how much my ego could get in the way of my experience.

Did the TA give you a greater connection to Aotearoa?

Absolutely, and in a surprising sense. Before I set out, I thought I would find myself isolated in mountain ranges and have the opportunity to come inward. But the reality is Te Araroa takes you through something far more interesting and honest. I found a connection with Aotearoa’s people in particular and coming across occupations like Ihumātao in its early stages (November 2016) really set the scene for connecting in a deeper sense to both my culture and Aotearoa’s complex colonist past.

What introspections have you carried with you, since completing the TA?

It’s amazing looking back and realising ‘Whoa! I walked the length of the country’. It’s brilliant when times get tough and you question your capabilities or determination – it’s essentially a benchmark experience now.
But it is also incredibly humbling. I realise how lucky I was to be in a position where I could forgo six months of work and just go walking.

What do you want readers to take from the book?

To feel like they are along for the journey too and be able to see it from a Māori woman’s perspective. I wanted to pay homage to the land and the significance of nature to our people and enable some learning for the reader in the process. That’s why I described the flora in Te Reo Māori.

Were you and your partner Jack experienced trampers before embarking on the trail?

Jack and I were based in Wellington and used the Tararuas as our training ground. While we were fit and well-versed in multi-day tramps, it wasn’t a peg on the fitness required for the long monotonous days of thru-hiking. It took a long time to adjust. By the time we reached the South Island, we were in our physical element and things became a little easier.

Did you pack any luxuries?

Our luxuries were primarily food based and we would splurge when reaching towns. There was a certain tipping point in the South Island where our appetites just could not be satisfied. We had to be quite careful after finishing Te Araroa that we didn’t put on too much weight. We weren’t walking 25-35km a day anymore and it took a while for our appetites to taper.

What was your biggest take-away from doing a thru-hike?

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata (‘What is the most important thing in the world? the people, the people, the people’). I had heard this proverb a dozen times before starting Te Araroa but it wasn’t until I started walking that I realised its true value. By slowing down and making time to get to know fellow walkers and locals I was able to experience a greater sense of connectivity. The simple act of sharing a cup of tea or a yarn at a hut holds great value in my heart.