New Zealand Roadtrip

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New Zealand Roadtrip

After we completed the trail on April 20th, Alex, Alex, Jer, and I set out to explore even more of New Zealand on a ROADTRIP before we left the beautiful country.  One downside to following the exact route on the trail means we missed some of the highlights of New Zealand. However, the good thing is the trail took us to more remote spots the majority of people don't see.  To celebrate finishing the trail, the four of us decided to rent a car and take time to see what we missed and even more of the beauty New Zealand has to offer.  From April 21-April 30, we made our way around the South Island and enjoyed traveling by car instead of by foot.  Our route went from Bluff--Colac Bay--Fiordland National Park (Milford Sound, Lake Marian, Routeburn Track)--Queenstown (Wanaka, Arrowtown)--Twizel (Mt. Cook)--Christchurch.  Here are just a few highlights from our last stops in New Zealand.  We will miss this beloved paradise and cannot wait until we come back!   

Milford Sound

We heard Milford Sound was a MUST SEE attraction in New Zealand and let me just say, it did not disappoint!  Milford Sound was the first stop on our road trip and it was my FAVORITE! TRULY it was the most beautiful, breathtaking place I've ever been! It was cloudy and a bit rainy when we were there, which tends to be the typical forecast in the area- but even in the dreariness the majestic nature of the sound (it's technically a fjord which means it was formed by glacier) stood out.  We took a cruise around the sound in the morning and our jaws were dropped the entire time!  I've never seen so many waterfalls. The mountains were jetting straight up out of the water and our minds were blown by the scenery.  Do yourself a favor and put Milford Sound on your bucket list! 

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Couples Retreat at Milford Sound

Couples Retreat at Milford Sound

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Lake Marian

After taking a cruise around Milford Sound, Jer and I wanted to go on a short day hike up to Lake Marian in Fiordland National Park.  We ran across lots of tourists near the beginning, but once we started gaining elevation we saw less and less people.  The trail went up through the bush and ended at Lake Marian, a beautiful alpine lake surrounded by mountains.  It was very peaceful and truly stunning scenery- you just can't beat a beautiful lake tucked away in the mountains.  New Zealand, you are so beautiful I wish we never had to leave!

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Lake Marian with my best friend!

Lake Marian with my best friend!

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Routeburn Track

After Milford Sound, we decided to do another one of the "Great Walks" in New Zealand-- the Routeburn Track.  Alex and Alex were pretty done with hiking at this point (who can blame them?), but Jer and I just hadn't had enough apparently.  The Routeburn Track was 32 km and we pretty much did it in one day.  We hiked 5 km to the first hut on the track to spend the night and then we continued on early the next morning.  I am so unbelievably glad we decided to do it because it was a SPECTACULAR hike!  The track was extremely well groomed (which we were not used to) and the scenery was stunning.  The weather for that day turned on us from bad to worse (rain to snow), but even hiking in "not ideal" conditions could not take away our excitement.  This is one of the only hikes I would willingly choose to do even if it's raining! The Routeburn might go down as our all time favorite track-- WE LOVED IT!

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Skydiving in Wanaka

For my 21st birthday, my wonderful Uncle Jim gave me the gift to go skydiving!  Skydiving had always been on my bucket list and we went together in Georgia.  It was one of the best experiences I've ever had and my most cherished memory with him.  In honor of Uncle Jim and to celebrate our completion of the Te Araroa (what better way to celebrate?!), Jer and I went SKYDIVING in Wanaka.  Queenstown, New Zealand is coined "the adventure capital of the world", which makes it the perfect place to go skydiving.  We had EPIC views of Mt. Cook and the Southern Alps!  Jer and I had the best time and I know Uncle Jim was smiling down and watching us!   

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Celebrating our successful day of skydiving with our favorite ice cream ever-- Lewis Road Creamery!

Celebrating our successful day of skydiving with our favorite ice cream ever-- Lewis Road Creamery!

Arrowtown

After our exciting time in Queenstown we headed to Twizel, but we had one more stop to make on the way. ARROWTOWN is one of the cutest towns I've ever been to! We went at the perfect time to see all of the leaves changing. Arrowtown is an old gold mining town with the most radiant fall colors and it's the cutest place ever! I loved transitioning from being smelly hikers to proper tourists. It felt weird not walking into town with our backpacks, because we stopped here on our hike- but I really loved being able to enjoy Arrowtown as a normal tourist! 

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Mount Cook 

We reached Twizel and were excited to be back! It was one of our favorite towns during the hike. We had different plans during this visit, which included going to Mt. Cook. Mt. Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand, so you know we had to hike the trails around it. Jer and I chose to hike the trail to Sealy Tarns, which was challenging, but absolutely worth it with seeing Mt. Cook in the background! We had the best time in an absolutely gorgeous setting. I will miss hiking every day with my best friend!

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Christchurch

After getting our fill of Mt. Cook we headed to Christchurch, which is where we were flying out. We had one full day to explore and then we flew out the following day. Christchurch was very unique as you could still see the damage from the earthquakes. We enjoyed our time seeing the city, eating at food trucks, and going to the container mall. The best part about Christchurch was seeing Ann and Brent again! They were the trail angels and Alex's family friends that let us stay at their vacation home in Staveley. We hadn't seen them for about a month and it was wonderful to reunite with them in Christchurch. They were unbelievably hospitable and we loved our time with them!

Look who we ran into at the container mall- our good friend from the trail, Becca!  Our last day in New Zealand ahhh!

Look who we ran into at the container mall- our good friend from the trail, Becca!  Our last day in New Zealand ahhh!

Our time in New Zealand came to a close on April 30th. It was very bittersweet because we were so sad to leave this country and the trail, but we are also excited for the next step in our future. New Zealand is our favorite place in the world and we have left part of our hearts there for sure! We will be back no question, but it was time to start heading back home! Except we had one more stop to make before America-- Australia! Look forward to our next blog on our 12 day Aussie road trip with our favorites Alex and Alex! Couples Retreat continues!

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25 Life Lessons from the Te Araroa Trail

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25 Life Lessons from the Te Araroa Trail

I can’t even begin to explain how much I learned on the Te Araroa Trail.  I hesitated writing this post, fearing I wouldn’t even do justice to the lessons learned on the trail.  But here I am trying to put it into words!  Before I began the trail, I knew I would grow in ways I couldn’t even imagine.  Let me just tell you, I didn’t even know what was coming!  Here I am now— having walked the entire length of New Zealand, 140 days later, and I feel like a completely different person.  I am still me, Anna Wade Bohnett, but I’m a better version of myself.  I have been molded and my values have been strengthened.  I knew who I was before the trail, but even more so now, it is engrained deep within me.  I grew in ways I didn’t even know were possible.  Here is just a little glimpse into my heart as I try to portray the ways I grew from this adventure. And no, they aren't in any particular order!

25 Life Lessons Learned from the Te Araroa Trail

1. The Lord is my strength, my protector, my guide. Every day I had to rely on the Lord to get me through! Every single day. I had no idea where we would be sleeping at night and no idea how my body would make it through each day. I was the furthest I could be from my comfort zone and in more pain than I knew was possible. I prayed this prayer countless times- "Lord, please carry my feet. Let your angels lift my legs. Give me the strength I need to get me through this day." I literally could not have done it on my own, but the Lord was faithful. Being in constant reliance on Him changed me!

2. Less is More. I have never in my life had such a small amount of possessions. Literally everything I needed was on my back for 5 months. It was truly freeing and has changed my perspective! Coming back to life with more things has made me realize that more stuff=more stress. Spending less time, energy, and money on things during this journey has made me focus more on what really matters. Living simply has brought immeasurable joy and peace to my life! It's the best kind of living.

3. Hospitality, hospitality, hospitality! I can't even explain to you how much selfless, generous, over the top hospitality was shown to us on the trail. People unexpectedly gave us a spot to lay our heads (either in our tents or in a bed), a place to shower and do laundry, food, and water after barely meeting us. We were complete strangers to them and after about a minute of conversation we were invited into their homes and loved by their families. This was not planned or given with an expectation of anything in return, just from the kindness of their hearts. I have been changed by this sacrificial love and want nothing more than to pay it forward!

4. Community living is fulfilling living. We were made to be fully known and fully loved by others. Doing life day in and day out with your community is the best. In our case, we found community with our fellow hikers. We saw the best and the worst of each other. There were no masks, no faking, no hiding- only being exactly who we truly are to our core. We encouraged each other and loved each other in the hard times. We celebrated and shared in each other's joy in the good times. I am committed to always living transparently in community.

5. Don't mistake being comfortable for being happy. I have never been more uncomfortable in my life than I have on this journey. Hiking in the blistering heat, pouring rain, or freezing snow will really test your limits. Going a week without showering and wearing dirty clothes soaked in sweat will make you question yourself. Pushing through searing pain will take you to your breaking point. Nevertheless, through all of the hardships, when I come out on the other side I have never been so happy. Living a comfortable life is overrated!

6. If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you. I feel like it's human nature to gravitate towards the easier option. The thing is staying safe, being complacent, and taking the easy way out never changed anyone. Facing difficulties head on, not backing down from a challenge, and never giving up- now that will make you a better person. I have learned very literally that all of the mountains in life are worth it to climb and overcome. I have grown, been molded, and improved through the process and I wouldn't change a single challenge on the trail!

7. Working towards a goal every day is healthy. Whether it was the big goal of completing the Te Araroa or the small goal of reaching camp that night, we always had a goal to accomplish for the day. I've known my bigger purpose in life, but making small goals for myself daily will ultimately mold me into the best version of myself. Progress, not perfection. One step at a time and not trying to rush the process. Learning from mistakes and striving to be better. This is how I want to live and learn.

8. You can accomplish anything you set your mind to. The trail brought me more courage and confidence to chase after my dreams and goals. I've learned to never think I can't do something, because as the Henry Ford quote says, "Whether you think you can or you can't- you're right." I have accomplished a goal far greater than myself, with the Lord's guiding hand. In every aspect of my life I will follow His direction even if I'm scared or doubting, knowing He is always with me. I will not shy away from being the best I can be in every aspect of my life, but choose courage instead of living life driven by fear.

9. Together, forever. I could never imagine doing the trail without Jeremy. Teamwork for sure makes the dream work. After some difficulties early on, we learned we needed to be in the thru-hike together. If one of us was having a bad day, the other was walking through it with them. If one of us was feeling great, the other was celebrating with them. Understanding each other (through all of the ups and downs of the trail) and choosing to love each other through it all was probably the greatest lesson we learned on the trail. From hugging each other in the thick of the forest to picking each other up when we fell in the river- we were always there. Love was shown time and time again in the best and worst of days. I wouldn't have it any other way!

10. Kindness goes a long way. The countless amount of times we were shown kindness on the trail gave us motivation to keep going. Stranger after stranger gave us encouragement and support in the times we needed it most. I have learned to take time out of my day to help others in the simplest of ways. Helping carry boxes to the post office or offering someone a ride down the street can turn someone's day around. Acts of kindness are easily forgotten, but I'm ready to be intentional every day to help others in the simple ways.

11. A busy pace of life may not be the best way of life. Before the trail, my schedule was always jammed packed. Every minute of the day I had somewhere to be or something to do. Downtime was unheard of, saying "no" was a rarity, but I chose to live that way. Being a people person and a people pleaser was the driving force of staying busy. I've found with the slow pace of life on the trail, it's better to SOAK in alone time or time spent with others- instead of rushing from one thing to the next. A slower pace of life means I'm making sure to take time for myself, which means I'm better equipped to love others. The constant "go" means I'm not giving 100% in everything I do and learning to slow down has helped me do just that.

12. Silence is a beautiful thing. I've found in our generation, silence seems to be our biggest fear. We are constantly making "noise" on our phones, social media, or watching TV. The ability to sit still and be silent has been forgotten, because we are afraid of what we will hear in the silence. On the trail, silence was so constant at times my ears were ringing and I've found they were some of my favorite moments. Silence gave me time for self-reflection and time to work through things I had been pushing away. It became a time of growth, when before I would run from the silence. It became a time I could listen for the Lord and hear what He wanted to tell me. Silence is a good thing.

13. Gratefulness is key. I have never been more grateful in my entire life then I was on the trail. Grateful for the little things like a shower, a hot meal, and clean clothes. My sense of entitlement has been thrown out the window, after being stripped down to the bare necessities of life. Going back to the basic needs of food, water, and shelter makes you grateful for every little thing in between. There is always something to be grateful for even in the hard times and I've found being grateful, regardless of circumstances, is a rewarding and joyful way of living.

14. I am beautiful exactly the way I am. Living on the trail, I went weeks without looking in a mirror. I haven't worn makeup in five months. It got to the point where I almost forgot what I looked like and it was the most freeing feeling. Living in a society that puts so much pressure and expectations on appearances can really do some harm to your self-confidence. Living in the woods, you don't put so much time and energy into your outward appearance, which makes you focus more on your inward self. You realize you're enough exactly the way you are. You realize you don't need makeup to hide your flaws. You are perfect just the way you are!

15. I want to soak in every minute of every day. In normal life, I would constantly be looking at the clock, thinking about my next thing to do and wishing the minutes away. On the trail, every single minute counts. Every minute you are one step closer to your goal. You are not wishing the time away, but you are present in every moment. You are not living in the past or looking towards the future, you are exactly where you need to be.  I want to live life like that- present in each precious moment.

16. Comparison is the quickest joy-stealer. Comparison is so unhealthy and if you play this game on the trail, you can get down on yourself real quick. Everyone goes at a different pace. Everyone does a different amount of miles. Everyone was made differently. The fact that you are out on the trail, whether you're a "professional thru-hiker" or the biggest newbie, you are doing GREAT! To be out there challenging yourself, pushing yourself to new limits, working through fears, accomplishing a goal is enough. Don't compare in life!

17. Never judge a book by its cover. We walked into towns, restaurants, and shops many times looking and smelling like hikers. We probably looked like the scum of the earth, but most people accepted us anyways. The thing is we all have a story! If you would just stop and ask, you would find out we are thru-hiking the entire country. If I would just take the time and ask a homeless person, I might find out their story. None of us need judgement, only love.

18. The earth is a gift to us. After straight up living in nature as my home for five months, I have a newfound respect for the earth. We always participated in "leave no trace" by taking our trash with us, but I've found my responsibility has gone to new levels. I am now much more conscious about the waste I contribute in the world and the amount of energy and water I use. The earth is a beautiful creation and I want to do my part in keeping it that way! Cheers to environmentally-friendly living!

19. Communication is essential. We all make mistakes. We all do things without thinking. I've found whether it was with friends or Jeremy, communicating is very healthy. Being open and honest about your feelings on the trail was important. Being apologetic and forgiving on the trail was important. Communication is a game changer when it comes to relationships, in real life or on the trail. It's always worth it!

20. Respect. Respect everyone no matter how different they are from you. I have learned and grown in appreciation about other cultures on the trail, specifically for indigenous people. The Maori people of New Zealand are now highly regarded by most and their culture and language is even taught in schools. I want to make sure people who are in the minority are always heard and respected. I want to be an advocate for the weak. I never want anyone to be discriminated against for their gender, culture, ethnicity, or race.

21. Stay active. Stay healthy. The amount of time and energy it takes to stay active and take care of yourself physically is worth it. Exercising all day every day isn't exactly possible, but making it a priority in your daily life is important. I've found even if you're spending more money on healthy choices, it's a good investment in the long run. Taking care of yourself physically helps you immensely mentally and emotionally. I'm determined to always take care of my body!

22. Be the best you can be! The trail pushed me further than I knew possible. It inspired me to reach new heights in every aspect of my life. I have a deeper passion to be the best speech pathologist I can and I will do whatever it takes to get there. I am committed to being the best wife I can possibly be to Jeremy for the rest of our lives. I am better equipped to love others in a selfless, audacious, undaunted type of way. You always want to be the best version of yourself, but sometimes fear gets in the way. The trail has taught me to overcome fear and never let it stop me from being the best me.

23. Life is fullest with ADVENTURE! On the trail, every single day was an adventure. You never knew what the day had in store for you or even what was around the next corner. Expectations, routine, and control were wiped away and let me tell you my heart was the fullest it has ever been. I believe we were made for adventure and it is engrained deep within us. Part of adventure is embracing the ups and downs and releasing control, knowing it all works out in the end. I want to find adventure in every day life for as long as I live! Adventure is calling!

24. Trust the Lord and your husband. I can be stubborn. I can want to do things my way. I can try and do things on my own. But let me tell you, on the trail I was stripped of this real quick. Control was not a word in my vocabulary. Jeremy was my leader and he led us (almost) perfectly the entire way. Even when a wrong turn was taken, a lesson was learned every time. I learned to trust Jeremy and the Lord in ways I didn't know were possible or that I even needed to. The Lord was constant and never left me. He led me to safety time and time again, gently taking me by the hand. Trust is overflowing in my heart!

25. Nature is a gem. I have never been so in tune with nature in my life.  I learned to take time to smell the roses (literally), listen to the singing birds, and feel the wind blowing on my face.  I walked through the mountains, farmlands, beaches, and forests experiencing new sights in nature every day. I am convinced the Lord was so incredibly creative and over the top with His creation to draw us to Him. You know how we pursue each other when we are in love? I believe the Lord pursues us by His breathtaking creation. In New Zealand, I was in awe every day by His masterpiece. I always want to be in nature, as it brings me closer to the Creator.

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THE END!

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THE END!

Dates: April 16th-20th

Section: Ohai to Bluff (Southern Terminus of Te Araroa)

Distance: 163 km (101.3 miles)

Overall Distance: 3007 km (1868.5 miles)

 

Date: Saturday, April 16th

Section: Struan Flat Road (Ohai) to Camping on the Crickett's Farm

Distance: 25 km (15.5 miles)

Overall Distance: 2869 km (1782.7 miles)

We woke up today in our bed at Ohai, knowing we had 5 days left until Bluff. The thought of finishing is still too hard to comprehend at this point, but we know the time was drawing near. We were thankful for our half day of hiking yesterday, because we knew from here on out we would be pushing it hard to the end. My foot has been acting up ever since Te Anau, so my body was very thankful for the needed rest. We packed up our belongings at Taylor's Lodge and headed downstairs for breakfast with our friends. Monica, the owner of the lodge, was kind enough to give us all fresh farm eggs and a ride back to the trailhead. She dropped Dan, Kate, Alex, Alex, Jer, and I back at Struan Flat Road where we left off yesterday. We were all thankful for a good nights sleep, clean laundry, and showers that Taylor's Lodge provided.

We had an easier hiking day ahead of us before reaching tomorrow's infamous Longwood Forest, which we were all grateful for to ease ourselves back into the hiking rhythm. We started walking for about 5 km on a gravel road, then headed into the eucalyptus forest (which smells fabulous by the way) before going through farmlands. Once we reached the farm, we climbed 400 meters up to Twinlaw Hill and met Dan and Kate at the top for a break. I was having a tougher day mainly because of my foot pain, but taking a break with my people lifted my spirits big time. We hadn't hiked with Dan and Kate since the North Island and we hadn't even seen them since St. Arnaud about six weeks ago, so catching up with them for the past couple of days has been a huge highlight for all of us.

After our break, the trail went along a wide forestry road, which was the perfect place for us to share our stories from our time apart on the trail. As we were in the middle of our storytime, a truck zoomed around the corner and a man abruptly got out asking us if we had seen any poachers. We were on private land at this point and the farm security guard received a tip that there were poachers out and about. We told him we hadn't seen any and he wished us good luck on the rest of the hike. We were all a bit shocked and surprised by our encounter, but just kept on walking nonetheless. We walked and talked until we reached a forest trail, which became more like a "typical TA track" where we switched into game mode. Tripping over roots and getting scratched up by branches wasn't as difficult today knowing it was one of my last few days on the trail. The Te Araroa has some of the most challenging forest sections I've ever been a part of, but today's section was mild compared to most. After we finished the forest section, Jeremy, Alex, Alex, and I took our last break of the day underneath the pines as the weather outside the forest looked a bit daunting. We heard a storm was coming in tonight and we were hoping to reach camp before it started. We stayed in the pines as a form of shelter just in case, and ate our trail food. Speaking of trail food, can I just say I'm pretty sick of it at this point! Honestly I can only handle so many sausage and cheese wraps or PB & J's before I get sick. Regardless-- 5 MORE DAYS!

After our break, we walked on the gravel road, through another pine forest, and through farm land before we reached Otautau Road. It was here we decided we needed to find water ASAP as we hadn't found a safe or reliable water source all day. We decided to stop at the first house we saw to ask for water. Our plan was to then keep hiking a few more kilometers until we reached Merrivale. There was not a designated camping spot for tonight, so we thought we might have to take a number from the North Island and go knock on doors. Alex and Jeremy walked up to the nice farm house to get water, while Lexi and I watched our packs. Lexi and I were talking while the boys were gone and asked each other if we would stay here and stop early if the Crickett's offered for us to camp.  We both said yes! Shortly after the boys came back with bad news. No one was home which meant no water or a place to camp. As we were just about to leave, Alex saw a lady walk into the house from the farm so we decided to try again. Jer, Alex, and I walked up to the house (I'm pretty sure it's less intimidating if I go with them, instead of two big bearded men) and immediately we were met with a smile at the door. She asked if we were TA walkers and offered us water before we could even ask. She also had the sweetest Border Collie puppy run out to come play with us- I love puppy therapy! About that time, her husband came home from working out in the farm and asked us all about the TA. For the next 45 minutes, we were visiting with Ben and Renee and loved our time with them. They offered us a place to camp on their yard and we gratefully accepted. They were trail angels without even knowing it, just graciously offering us water and camping at a time we needed it most. Ben and Renee Crickett were the absolute best (and they feed their cows kale- unbelievable)! We cooked our dinner and quickly settled in for the night as it started to rain on our tents. It was the perfect place to sleep- warm and safe from the storm!

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Strolling through the eucalyptus forest

Strolling through the eucalyptus forest

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Date: Sunday, April 17th

Section: The Crickett's Farm to Martin's Hut

Distance: 30.5 km (19 miles)

Overall Distance: 2899.5 km (1801.7 miles)

This morning we woke up from the best sleep ever! Literally all of us could not stop ranting and raving about how good we slept. Depending on where we camp at night, it can either be restful or stressful- last night was definitely restful! The four of us ate breakfast, packed up our tents, and thanked the Crickett's for letting us stay on their farm.  We left relatively early around 8:00, because we knew we had a challenging day ahead of us. Today would be our last day of significant climbing on the trail and it was in the infamous Longwood Forest. We had heard the Longwood Forest being compared to Raitaia, which if you remember was the absolutely insane forest in the North Island (the most difficult part of the trail in my opinion). We were mentally preparing ourselves for a really tough day! The first 10 km was on a gravel road passing through Merrivale and heading into the Longwood. We started climbing the moment we reached the forest. However, we were on a really nice track at the beginning, so I remember thinking "This forest can't be too bad- I haven't even seen anything close to the thick bush of Raitaia on the South Island." Well, I thought too soon. Why would I even give myself that glimmer of hope? The four of us took a break right before the track started heading into the thick bush. We pumped ourselves up by chanting "4 MORE DAYS! 4 MORE DAYS! 4 MORE DAYS!", which has become our regular chant ever since we had 8 days left on the trail in Te Anau. Once I stepped foot into the thick bush, I knew that fact would get me through. Knowing I only had four days left on the trail after working so hard (day in and day out) for four and a half months. Knowing today was my last day of thick forest bush on the trail; I CAN DO IT!

And so it began! Let me just tell you, the trail has made us earn our completion of the Te Araroa every single step of the way and today was no different. Four days left doesn't mean it's all downhill from here- it means it's all uphill from here with the thickest, deepest mud you can imagine and relentless bush you have to fight your way through to the end. WHAT A DAY! I can basically sum it up with three words- MUD, SWEAT, and TEARS. Literally that is what today was made of! We hiked through the first few kms of the forest and quickly found out the mud was not a joke. Jeremy literally sank into the mud at mid-thigh! If I had stepped into that particular mud pit, that's like drowning status for me. He was in the mud so deep that he was stuck and all I could do was laugh! I kept saying "I'm sorry I'm laughing, but this is just so funny!" It reminded me of the time I was laughing so hard at my dad every time he fell down while skiing in Colorado. My dad had several funny falls on our ski trip and all you could hear was my laughter throughout the mountains. Jer and I both sank in deep mud pits continuously all morning and we were laughing so hard at the ridiculousness of the situation. What is this life?!

We finally reached the top of the climb at Bald Hill and waited for Alex and Alex to join us for the short quarry road between the forest sections. We all shared stories of our mud escapades and charged on to the next section. Just before heading back into the bush, we ran into two bikers from New Zealand. They gave us encouragement that we were almost to Bluff and were amazed by our journey. It has been so much fun meeting locals along the way. Especially at this stage, when you tell someone you walked here from the beginning of the North Island, their reaction is priceless. Feeling encouraged by the two bikers, we headed into the bush motivated to push on through the forest. We had another big climb before taking a lunch break at the top. Our break was rather short though, since the wind at the top of the mountain was bone chilling cold. I'm talking this was a southerly wind blowing in from Antarctica itself! I have never in my life felt a wind chill as cold as this one. We left our break continuing towards the hut, feeling a bit more energized after eating lunch. That energy soon left us as we fought our way through the slog of the trail, chilled to our core, and muddy from almost head to toe. We reached above treeline where the trail provided views of the ocean, highlighting our destination off in the distance. However, the fog was rolling in with the high winds so we didn't get good views for long. We had a one track mind- get to the hut! Finally, as we were descending down to the hut and the mud was getting thicker and the night was getting closer, tears started streaming. I was exhausted, freezing, in searing pain from my foot, and beyond over the mud at this point. All I wanted to do was stop hiking and be in the hut! Jer was super encouraging, letting me know how close we were and telling me I could do it. I prayed to the Lord for strength and tried to stay positive, knowing in a short amount of time I would miss even these moments on the trail. Thru-hiking life is amazing. It is more rewarding than I can even explain. But the fact of the matter is, even four days out from finishing the trail- you can still have good hiking moments and bad hiking moments. It's just part of it!

Right before it got too dark to see, we reached Martin's Hut. I had such an intense feeling of relief and accomplishment, knowing one of the hardest days on the entire trail was finished. We did it! With the help of the Lord and Jer's constant encouragement, I didn't quit and grew stronger from it. Upon our arrival, we tried our best to wash the mud off our bodies and quickly get settled in the hut. Alex and Alex showed up soon after, and we all talked about was our separate mud escapades on the trail. After our stories, the boys started a fire and the girls tried to get warm. Alex and I were still freezing because Martin's Hut is probably the oldest hut on the trail, without an inch of insulation. Just picture a very run down, kinda creepy, wooden shed and that's what we are sleeping in. It definitely has character, but warmth is not one of it's basic amenities. Lexi was so sweet and literally sat on my feet to try and get them warm! She's such an amazing friend- I can't even handle it! After eating a warm meal, putting on all of our layers of clothes, and being wrapped like a bug in a rug in our sleeping bags, I think I'm finally warm enough to fall asleep. It is our last night of being in a hut on the trail together and man, it's been a memorable one! I really will miss these moments in huts and on the trail with Couples Retreat.

Our amazing camping spot on the Crickett's farm!

Our amazing camping spot on the Crickett's farm!

Welcome to the Te Araroa Jungle 

Welcome to the Te Araroa Jungle 

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The INSANE mud in the Longwood Forest!

The INSANE mud in the Longwood Forest!

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Beautiful afternoon view of the Tasman Sea

Beautiful afternoon view of the Tasman Sea

Date: Monday, April 18th

Section: Martin's Hut to Colac Bay Tavern/Campground

Distance: 29.5 km (18.3 miles)

Overall Distance: 2929 km (1820 miles)

The four of us woke up at Martin's Hut from a fantastic night's sleep. Once we all warmed up last night, we all slept like babies. I thought for sure it would be a stressful night's sleep since we already knew there was a mouse in the house. But thankfully, he didn't bother us all night. I wasn't this calm last night about the mouse, don't worry. We all got very sentimental about it being our last hut on the trail and wrote our farewells to the trail and our people in the hut book. It was time to complete the forest! We knew we would be in the forest all day, but we were hoping since it was no longer considered the Longwood Forest it would be an easier day. The first few kms to get out of the Longwood were still very muddy and slow going. Pretty soon though, we popped onto a gravel forest track that would connect us with our next section. We reached Ports Water Race Track in high spirits, chanting "3 MORE DAYS! 3 MORE DAYS!" I could not believe after today I will be out of the forest in New Zealand forever. Obviously we will be coming back, but we won't be coming to these particular forests again, that's for sure!

The Ports Water Race Track started out eerily similar to the Longwood Track, so we prepared ourselves for the worst. The interesting part about this track is it was a historical mining track where they built an impressive water race (channel) right beside it. Since the track was elevated and a huge trough was right beside it the whole way, the mud wasn't quite as bad as the nearby Longwood Track. The problem was there were countless blow downs along the track and getting around those was a struggle to say the least. Jer and I had fun reminiscing about all of the obstacles the TA brought our way as we were pushing our way through our current obstacle. We took a break with Alex and Alex for our morning "smoko" before heading on as we had a big task to accomplish today. My foot wasn't hurting as bad today, which was a huge positive. We kept on track and headed through the bush making slow progress along the way. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other. I truly cannot think of anything that would build more discipline in a person than completing a thru-hike. We have to keep going every single day, through every hardship brought our way (terrain, weather, sickness, injury) to reach our goal. Once we were about 5 km from finishing the forest, the four of us took one final break for lunch. After lunch the track grew easier and easier. The closer to town we hiked, the better the track was maintained. We were so thankful for a smoother trail! We all talked about how we were an hour away from finishing the forest and how far we've come from all the other challenging forests we've been through. Reminder: New Zealand forests should not be compared to the "woods" in America, it might need to be compared to the Amazon Jungle or Vietnam (shoutout to Hairy).

We finally reached the conclusion of the track, where we saw relics of old mining equipment and signs telling the story along the way. When we popped out of the forest, we saw a sign telling us our upcoming destinations with the kilometers and times posted next to it. BLUFF. BLUFF was on the sign! Ahhhhhh! How have we come this far, walked this long, pushed ourselves this hard to make it to seeing Bluff on the sign?! It feels like just yesterday we started the trail at Cape Reinga. But then it also feels like we began the trail years ago. Needless to say we were all freaking out! We had about 7 km of road walking to finish our day in Colac Bay. On the road walk, it started pouring rain out of nowhere and we rushed to get our rain jackets and pack covers on. Once we were covered up, we continued walking back down the road when we noticed the Alex's were no where to be seen. Shortly after, we heard our names coming from a shelter and we ran over to it. Alex and Alex had been offered shelter from a farmer named Galvin as they passed his land. We thanked him for the shelter and talked to him until the storm passed. He was the friendliest, nicest farmer, and he wanted to know everything about the Te Araroa. He had seen countless hikers walk past his farm, so he was familiar with the sight by now. He offered us tea and to come in his house, but he also said "Wazza's (Colac Bay Tavern) is the best pub food I've ever had, and I'm not biased." He told us all about the pizzas, fish and chips, and burgers. We just had to go! We were only 3 km away from eating to our hearts content. We thanked him earnestly and were on our way. As we were leaving, he called out to us "When did you start?" We replied, "December 3!" and he said, "Good on ya! You are almost there!" We loved his enthusiasm and encouragement! Before we knew it, we had reached Colac Bay Tavern. We walked in and ordered food, then sorted our place to stay for the night. The entire place is perfect! Food, beds, showers, and laundry all within a 5 meter radius- very hiker friendly since we don't have to walk far for anything and it is cheap. We are all so overjoyed to be here that you would think Colac Bay is Bluff! As I'm laying in bed, I could not be more grateful for a full belly, a clean body, and this electric blanket. It's the little things in life!

Our last hut on the trail-- Martins Hut!

Our last hut on the trail-- Martins Hut!

Our last time to sign a hut book

Gold mining equipment on the Ports Water Race Track

Gold mining equipment on the Ports Water Race Track

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Can't believe we are this close to Bluff! 

Can't believe we are this close to Bluff! 

Date: Tuesday, April 19th

Section: Colac Bay to Invercargill

Distance: 45 km (28 miles)

Overall Distance: 2974 km (1848 miles)

We woke up at Colac Bay and literally did not want to leave. We were obsessed with the place, even though it was the simplest spot you could imagine. Alex and Alex left a bit after 7:00 and Jer and I left around 8:00. We knew we would be night hiking tonight. We had 45 km to make it to Invercargill, which would then set us up for Bluff tomorrow. Knowing this would be our longest day on the trail with mainly road walking and beach walking (flat, hard surfaces without much give), I was nervous for my foot. I prayed that the Lord would bring me healing and strength for today. I prayed He would give me joy through the pain. Jer and I had a moment before we left, soaking it all in and trying to grasp what it meant to be hiking for our next to last day. We left Colac Bay and headed out towards the beach. Once we arrived at the beach, we saw the most stunning scene. The sun had already risen and was shining bright across the sand, making the ocean sparkle. It was truly breathtaking! It was a momentous occasion because we had not been on the beach since the North Island and now we were at the bottom of the South Island. We walked along with wide smiles across our faces, listening to the sound of the waves crash upon the shore. This morning's track was a mixture between beach and walking along the cliffs. The trail was absolutely beautiful, but not exactly smooth sailing. We definitely had pokey grass and gorse to push our way through, but the views we were given made up for it. We walked 13.5 km into Riverton where we had planned to meet Alex and Alex at a cafe. We stopped for a short break to eat "smoko" and get takeaway coffees at Postmaster Bakery. We purchased snacks from the store and headed out as it was time to continue on our way. We still had over 30 km to hike today, which is a full day all in itself! We decided to trick our minds and say we were starting out from Riverton for the day, because 30 km would be a more typical hiking day for us (mind over body, right?).

We left Riverton and immediately got back on the beach, knowing we had 20 km of beach walking to go. Now you might be thinking- what's so hard about walking on the beach?! A beach walk sounds nice! It is nice for sure, in the way that it is peaceful, beautiful, and you can hear the ocean crash on the shore. It's not nice in the ways of the sand being hard on your feet and it is difficult to see your progress when you have the same scenery for 5 hours. It can be monotonous and tiring when you are carrying a pack for the entire afternoon along the beach. Don't get me wrong-- I LOVE BEACHES! But I enjoy beaches for laying on or strolling on, not necessarily hiking on. Also, I have to share this revised John Muir quote from Lexi that cracks me up every time! John Muir's famous quote is "The mountains are calling and I must go." Lexi's hilarious quote is "The beaches of Thailand are calling and I must go." Alex and Alex are actually going to Thailand after this trip so it's completely true for her- I love it! We were walking along the beach when Jer and I decided to go over all of the highlights of our trip to pass the time. We love thinking back on all of our amazing adventures throughout the Te Araroa and the incredible people we've met along the way. In the middle of our walk down memory lane, we saw Alex trying to get our attention. He found a baby seal on the beach! I ran over to him in pure excitement and wanted to hug the cute baby seal. That was until it started growling at us. We were in its way and it wanted to get to the ocean! So instead of hugging it and kidnapping it, we watched it flop its way over to the ocean and jump right in. It was so happy as rolled all around and played in the water- it was so cute! Seeing a baby seal in the wild was amazing. Now I just hope it steers clear from the famous Great White Sharks around here. The sharks are literally in the ocean right next to us, so you know I'm not going in there!

We continued walking down the beach and I started reminiscing on my time during 90 mile beach. 90 mile beach was the very beginning of the trail and I remember thinking it was never going to end! Oh, how far I've come since 90 mile beach! I have grown in so many ways since then, I almost feel like a different person-- changed for the better. I had no clue what was to come on the trail! Looking back now I would have a few things to tell myself then- 1. I promise you it gets better and that pain your feeling won't be as strong (the whole way). 2. All of the hardships and obstacles you are about to face are more than worth it to endure. 3. You will have the absolute time of your life on the Te Araroa and grow closer to Jeremy in ways you didn't even know were possible. I love that the trail almost comes full circle in a way, taking us back through farm lands, forests, and beaches which is exactly what we went through at the beginning. Besides reminiscing and meditating on all the TA has brought our way, I also decided to listen to podcasts to pass the time. I had downloaded Matt Chandler's sermon series on "Who Jesus Is" (I didn't even know that's what it was about). I just downloaded the most recent podcasts from Matt Chandler. This is significant because I have felt like the Lord has been revealing more of Himself to me for the past year and I've been falling more and more in love with Him because of it. This sermon series was exactly what I needed in that moment I can't even explain it. I had tears streaming down my face as I was walking along the beach, feeling so close to the Lord in that moment. He is so good and the more I know and experience who He is, the more I want a deeper relationship with Him. Before I knew it, we reached the end of the beach and started talking to this sweet lady with a couple dogs.  She encouraged us on our journey and told us we must eat the world famous Bluff oysters at the end. She couldn't believe we had come this far!

Alex, Alex, Jer, and I took a quick break and headed out to finish our day. The sun was setting at this point and we still had 10 km to go. It had been a long day already and it wasn't over yet. We had no water and were really exhausted. We kept on going, but my foot was killing me! It did not appreciate the hard ground as I was continuously stomping on it or the extra weight of my pack. The concrete was pretty unforgiving, but I just had to stay positive to keep going. It wasn't until we were about 2 km away from the holiday park in Invercargill that I just couldn't take it anymore. I felt like I had to set up camp that very second or I was going to die. There's always something about the last 2 km of the day, where your body knows you are almost done and it's ready to give up. I had that normal feeling, but on steroids! I'm sure it had something to do with the fact that today was the longest I have ever walked or run in my life (28 miles). Thankfully, we finally made it here to the holiday park! I am done- I can't eat, can't shower, and can barely move. Jer set up the tent and I crawled in like a beaten puppy. Today the trail almost beat me, but with the grace of the Lord it didn't! One more day left! ONE MORE DAY!

Sunrise over Colac Bay

Sunrise over Colac Bay

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Happy to be back on the beach!

Happy to be back on the beach!

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We saw a BABY SEAL on the beach!!!!

We saw a BABY SEAL on the beach!!!!

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Sunset as we were leaving the beach!

Sunset as we were leaving the beach!

Date: Wednesday, April 20th

Section: Invercargill to Bluff (Stirling Point) aka the southern terminus of Te Araroa

Distance: 33 km (20.5 miles)

Overall Distance: 3007 km (1868.5 miles)-- FINISHED!!!!!!!!!!!

We woke up this morning to the sound of rain on our tent. Oh no, not today! We thought surely it would be just a simple shower and it would pass as we started going for the day. I could count the number of times it rained all day on us on one hand for the entire trail- that is amazing! We have been so blessed by good weather, there is no way on our finishing day it will be raining right? Spoiler Alert-- Wrong! It rained ALL day! We packed up our gear quickly in the rain and headed to the nearest convenience store to get breakfast before we started. We had a good breakfast with coffee and my favorite Puhoi Valley yogurt (best yogurt I've ever had in my life) to start off the big day. Alex, Alex, Jer, and I left Invercargill and headed towards Bluff! We could not stop talking about the fact that today was the day. We actually made it!!! Not yet- but almost.

We left Invercargill and took the Invercargill Estuary Walkway for about 10 km. We decided we would take two breaks for the day- one after the nice trail ended (10 km) and one after the horrible road walk ended (15 km). Our first break was in a small bus stop shelter where we ate "smoko" and were thankful to be out of the rain. We knew the next part would be bad since we have been warned by many other hikers. Of course the last day would have obstacles as well, with the combination of State Highway 1 and rain.  As it would, the Te Araroa couldn't make even the last day easy breezy. Thanks Geoff! (As we like to say to the creator of the trail) We started walking and shortly after we ran into Reyne and Brooke who stopped for a break in another bus stop shelter. We were so excited! We hadn't seen Reyne since the very beginning of the South Island! His girlfriend Brooke had joined him in hiking for the last 450 km of the trail, so we met her and decided to all hike the last part together. The more the merrier to commiserate in the cold, wet rain and to celebrate the completion of the trail. We kept hiking and talking, sharing all the stories we had while we were apart from Reyne. It was such an encouragement to reunite with him! We kept walking along the highway, hoping the cars would stay in their lane and wishing the rain would stop. The rain didn't stop, but finally the road walk did! We completed our last road walk of the TA on probably the worst highway yet. We were thankful to be done and took a break right by the BLUFF sign! We all rejoiced we only had 7 km left to hike, so we took a short break. We were so ready to finish and get out of the uncomfortable rain.

The trail went through farmlands and then around the bluff, with amazing views looking out onto the ocean. We had one last cow pasture to go through, thankfully with no charging bulls. They parted ways for and allowed us to keep on towards our goal. 6 km left, 5 km left, 4 km left! THIS IS NOT REAL LIFE! How on earth is the trail ending today?! The occasion was so bittersweet, my heart could barely handle it. When we reached 4 km left, the trail turned into a pristine gravel track through beautiful bush with views looking out over the ocean. It reminded me of Cape Reinga. As we had now reached the southern most part of New Zealand, it resembled the northern most part of New Zealand. The view was beautiful even with the rain and fog. We were not going to let the rain get us down! Once we had 4 km left on the perfect trail, all of the couples split up so we could have separate time to process and take it all in. Reyne and Brooke went first, Alex and Alex followed them, then Jer and I brought up the rear. This is when the moment got REALLY FUN! I literally was going crazy! I'm telling you, I could not stop smiling! I was basically running, and I just couldn't even deal. Jer kept telling me to slow down and take it all in with him, but I had so much JOY that I couldn't even contain it! Thankfully I slowed down, so Jer and I could have our moment. We would run and celebrate, then stop and talk about how much we meant to each other. We would get pumped again and scream, then stop and talk about our favorite parts of the trail. We would hug and kiss each other and then thank each other for everything we appreciated on the trail. We had an inexplainable amount of overwhelming joy, a bursting feeling of accomplishment, and love for each other like we've never known! 3 km left, 2 km left, 1 km left-- we saw our friends at the finish line. The four and half month long "race", where I felt like I ran a marathon every day. It was a finish line like none other. It was one that represented our journey of walking 3007 km without missing a single kilometer. It represented our growth as individuals, as a team, and in our marriages. It represented the end of the Te Araroa, the trail we had planned for, saved for, and dreamed about for this very moment. We could see the finish line! We gave each other one final celebratory kiss, talked about our love for the Te Araroa, and then half walked, ran, skipped, and danced to the finish line. Our friends Tyler and Bekah (who had finished the day before), Reyne and Brooke, Alex and Alex, were all cheering us on. We were ecstatic, letting out celebratory yells, hugging and kissing each other! We took our finishing pictures at Bluff and let it sink in-- WE MADE IT!!!!!!

We hiked the entire length of the country of New Zealand! Cape Reinga to Bluff-- 3007 km, 140 days! I have never felt more accomplished in my entire life. It was like finishing a marathon on steroids. I was so proud of Jer for everything he did on the trail. He was the best guide, adventure partner, and best friend I could've ever imagined. My love for him has grown immensely and I'm overwhelmed with gratitude for our experience on the Te Araroa. We all went out for a celebratory dinner and had the best time ever! Finishing the trail was very bittersweet, but leaving the people is the part I will miss most. We had the best night ever celebrating our finishing day and soaking in our accomplishment of walking the length of New Zealand. BEST NIGHT EVER!!

State Highway 1-- not fun!

State Highway 1-- not fun!

Only 3 km away from BLUFF!

Only 3 km away from BLUFF!

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WE MADE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

WE MADE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We started Day 1 at Cape Reinga together and 4 1/2 months later we finished together at Bluff!

We started Day 1 at Cape Reinga together and 4 1/2 months later we finished together at Bluff!

Reyne, Tyler, Alex, Alex, Jer, Me, and Bekah celebrating good times, c'mon!

Reyne, Tyler, Alex, Alex, Jer, Me, and Bekah celebrating good times, c'mon!

After we've had time to process, Jer and I will write about our reflections on the Te Araroa.  We have grown immensely and have learned countless lessons on the trail.  We would love to share our hearts with you as we look back on our time in New Zealand! 

For the next week, we will be road tripping with Alex and Alex in New Zealand.  We will hit some of the spots the Te Araroa misses before we leave this magical land!  After New Zealand, we will fly to Australia and spend about 2 weeks exploring our friends' beloved country.  We will then fly back home to the States and visit family and friends we've missed so dearly.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! From the bottom of our hearts.  We can't put into words how much every encouraging word furthered us on our journey.  The unending love and support we've received throughout this adventure has been immeasurable!  We couldn't have done it without you all! 

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