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August 2022 Issue
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Painting Te Araroa

Sarah Adam painted her way through Te Araroa

Sarah Adam didn’t just walk Te Araroa Trail in its entirety last summer, she also paused each day to do an oil painting. The 23-year-old now has 140 postcard-size paintings to muse over, an epic memento of the trip and its landscapes, weather and sandflies.

Why did you walk Te Araroa?

I studied architecture in Wellington and went to Mexico to continue studying, but realised I had no interest in architecture at all. I have always been into painting but haven’t had the time to pursue it – architecture’s quite a full-on degree. So I came back to New Zealand when Covid hit, got into painting, moved up to Auckland for a change of scene and was working at an art shop part-time. I wasn’t really enjoying living in Auckland. It felt overwhelming. I wanted to get out and live a more nomadic lifestyle for a while. Also, at the end of last year you couldn’t go overseas, so it seemed like a good time to see New Zealand.

Did you intend to paint every day?

Last year I got into painting en plein air (outdoors). So I took all my painting stuff and ended up getting really into it and doing it every day. Originally it wasn’t going to be every day, more just ‘I’ll see how it goes’. Often I’d be in the middle of nowhere and wouldn’t notice that I was freezing cold or starving until I’d finished painting. I found I got very immersed in it. It was the best feeling in the world.

How did you decide when to paint each day?

It was totally landscape-driven. It would have been easier if I’d been like, ‘Okay, I’ll stop to paint at 10am every day.’ But sometimes I’d walk for 10 minutes and be like, ‘Man, this is so good, I’ve just got to paint here.’ And then I’d stop and paint for two or three hours, sometimes twice a day if it was really beautiful.

Do you enjoy looking over the paintings?

It definitely brings back so many memories of how I was feeling when I was doing the painting, or what I was thinking, or the weather. Some of the paintings have a few little sandflies encrusted in them, and I remember the hatred of sitting in a swarm of sandflies while painting.

Will you collate the paintings in any way?

There’s going to be an exhibition in Devonport [Auckland] at Depot Artspace from December 2 to 23. I picked that space because it’s only 300m off the trail. That’s the only confirmed showing at this stage.

What did you learn from the trip?

It has definitely cemented for me that painting is what I really enjoy doing. But in terms of paying to live, I think the trail’s opened my eyes to a career that tries to help with the impact we have on the environment. I was quite struck by how big our impact is in a lot of places; even though you’re so far away from people on parts of the trail, you can still see it. Also – it sounds silly – but I learnt that you’re capable of so much more than you expect, physically, mentally and emotionally. For that extra effort each day there’s now this whole collection of paintings, which is pretty cool.