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April 2023 Issue
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What’s not in my Te Araroa Trail pack?

Imogen has found peace and gratitude on the trail

One Te Araroa walker discovers that what’s not being carried – material luxuries, email, responsibilities of home – is as important as the gear in her pack.

When I first contemplated this article, I was planning what to pack for my Te Araroa adventure, my hīkoi whakamana – walk of empowerment. Every month I examined the Wilderness feature ‘What’s in my pack?’. What was essential, what was not?

On numerous occasions, as I lay in my comfy bed, I wondered what was I doing, consigning myself to a sleeping bag and no change of clothes for four or five months. Surely I would miss my sheets and fluffy towels, the fresh smell of clean washing, my inner-sprung mattress, my this, my that. The list seemed endless. 

The reality has been a revelation. As Te Wai Pounamu / South Island dropped behind and I focused on the journey – the day’s route, food and a place to lay my head – I began to realise that the ‘missing’ items were those I hadn’t considered. In all cases their absence has brought a sense of freedom and relief that I had forgotten existed, and certainly did not anticipate.

What was not in my pack? Rather than material luxuries, I had shed things like work-related emails, the responsibilities of home, the somewhat monotonous deadlines that determined my days; the predictable trappings of ‘normal’ life that bound me to routines, schedules and a fluctuating level of stress. Gone were negative thoughts, replaced by a deep sense of inner peace and gratitude for the beauty of Aotearoa, and for life itself.

Gone also was deciding what to wear from my dated collection housed in musty drawers, and the sense of wanting to promote a particular self-image. Soap and shampoo became irrelevant and with them the necessity for moisturisers or unguents. (I have hung on to toothpaste and dental floss – once a dentist’s daughter, always a dentist’s daughter.) In the absence of a mirror I have ceased worrying about my appearance, and with that have vanished all concerns about how others may judge me on the basis of what I look like. Like it or lump it, this is the real me. I’m liking it a whole lot.

News from the outside world simply dried up and blew away, replaced by the smells of bush and tussock, the sound of birdsong, the sight of mountain peaks, the roughness of rock underfoot, the taste of fresh cool river water. Eat, sleep, walk, repeat. Focus on the here and now.

In a brief and unscientific survey of other TA walkers, mostly carried out over slightly sticky tables in small huts, I found that many share this sense of unburdening, of peace, of freedom. Yes, everyone misses something comforting at times, but the absence of pressure is a liberating wake-up call.

The challenge – for me at least – may well be to remember to make do with less when my hīkoi is over.

Mā to huruhuru, ka rere te manu.

Give the bird feathers and it will fly.