Suffering debilitating anxiety from an emotionally abusive relationship, Australian Laura Waters sought to escape, find adventure and – above all – heal herself. She walked the Te Araroa Trail and wrote the book Bewildered.
You walked the TA in 2013 when around 150 people were also doing it. Now, more than 1000 walk it each year. What do you make of its growing popularity?
I think I was extremely fortunate to have had the experience that I did because for me the magic was in having that space on my own. When you hike with other people, you invariably end up talking about yourself, your job, your favourite music, stuff at home. You’re not as connected to the environment as you are when you’re walking solo. When you get to a hut and you’re out in the middle of nowhere on your own, all that internal chatter just stops and you start tuning in to the sounds of nature and the feel of it, and at times I just felt part of everything around me and that was such a magical experience.
Why did you choose the TA?
I didn’t want to follow a nice neat footpath. I wanted something that would give me a nudge and challenge me. I thought the TA was the perfect balance of challenge but not so radical that I might kill myself. If I had done the Bibbulman Track [in Australia], which is like a total pussy trail, there are loads of signs and easy logistics – it wasn’t about doing something like that, it was about doing something in which I would have to think and work stuff out.
Is doing a long trail when you’re going through a personal crisis a good idea?
It worked for me. I was in the city doing this corporate job and in this emotionally-abusive relationship just worrying about how I was going to make it through the day and not being able to breathe and just being in tears all the time. Within a month on the trail, all those symptoms were gone. I just needed to remove myself from this environment that was not supporting me and was not making me happy and did not feel like me.
How would you describe your life before the trail versus afterwards?
It’s chalk and cheese. And I’m so grateful that I did that experience because I wasn’t being me, and I might have gone through a whole lifetime not being me. A lot of my life, I’ve done jobs and I’ve been productive and I’ve travelled, but I’ve felt like doing more. I’d be doing what everyone else does but it wasn’t really me.
Now I only do the things that inspire me and that I’m passionate about. I’m learning a craft with writing that I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid and it’s hard and I get paid s*** but at least it’s something I’m interested in. And, even though I have to live very frugally, at least I’m living authentically and passionately and that makes me feel rich.
You are remarkably honest in the book – about your relationships, your feelings and needs. Was it hard to share it with the world?
It started off a far more sanitised story, but my editor wanted to know more about me and the motivation – that’s where the real story is and bit by bit she teased it out of me. And I don’t really care – everybody has these vulnerabilities, these fears and challenges. It’s just whether you acknowledge them and talk about them or not.
In this issue we have a story about how the North Island section of the TA is underrated. What did you think of the North Island?
I loved it. When I think of the North Island, I don’t think of roads – I think of dense forests, the Tararuas, paddling the Whanganui, the long empty beaches, the Tongariro. I had some awesome experiences on the road
sections. That’s where you meet the locals, that’s where you go to fill up some water and end up staying the night on a sheep farm. That was the intention of the trail – it was to be a natural, cultural, historical tour of
What gear from the TA do you most rate?
I’m a fan of Aarn packs. I had the Natural Balance on the TA and honestly, when I first tried it on in the shop it was like some weird optical illusion because this pack that I could barely lift off the ground, with 20-something kilos in it, felt fine. On the TA, I literally stopped a couple of times, took my pack off and checked everything was in there because it felt suspiciously light and I was worried I might have left a bag of food somewhere. It just spreads the weight so well.