Alexis: D-day has arrived! I am writing this from the back seat of the car as we drive over the Takaka hills towards the tip of Golden Bay, our point of departure for our four-month journey.
We are a day and a half behind our scheduled departure date but given how much we managed to achieve in the last 3-4 days it feels like a feat that we aren’t further behind schedule.
Today marks the end of the long slow preparation and the beginning of the long, slow womble. The seed was sown in early January, when I caught up with Mark and Allan at Lake Aviemore. I had just returned from a challenging year living abroad and needed something exciting to sink my teeth into. The idea of doing a Southern Alps traverse had been floating around since early days at uni; inspired, for me, by tales from the 1978 traverse that friends of my father had done (he injured himself training for it and sadly could not participate).
As we lounged about on the shores of the Aviemore, I pitched the idea to the two of them. As it turned out, Allan had been thinking along the same lines, and Mark was immediately on board.
We decided early that we wanted a fourth member, and ideally a woman, to balance out the team. Neither Allan nor I had done much tramping with Lydia before the start of the year, but after a couple of great trips in the first half of the year, we knew we had an ideal candidate. She was dead keen, in her typical nonchalant way. So we had a team.
That was May. Then followed many months of planning. We decided early on that we wanted to walk the whole length of the island, from the NW extremity to Puysegur Point at the bottom. The magnitude of the undertaking started to sink in as we poured over guide books to plan our routes, and started compiling it all together: we reckoned we’d need around 4 months to pull it off.
Until a couple of months ago we continued living our everyday lives, deferring making a start on the mountain (forgive me) of work we needed to get through before leaving. As November drew closer, I started experiencing moments of panic with increasing frequency.
[Allan here now, taking over as the others catch a quick cup of tea with an old teacher in Golden Bay.]
Here we were. At Golden Bay. It was nine months on. And a dream was just becoming reality.
As we crossed the T-Hill into the Bay, the worries started to drop away as they always do there. A “cha-hoo” inducing to bike ride to Upper Takaka followed, and then came that most special of drives bearing due north towards an open horizon. Today it was spring, a time I’ve never seen the place, but the familiar and clearly-maritime clouds filled out the skies. As ever, my thought was that those can only be over the Bay. The bay at the other end of the Island I will always call my home. The experience of flopping down this road has always seemed to me like the Island’s way of bidding a long slow goodbye to those, and particularly those lovers of our Island, who venture out into the world. Talking heads was our soundtrack. Cape Farewell was coming. We had a plan, but I guess in reality we’d make it up from there. Here we were at Golden Bay.
In other forums and in due course we’ll record our prep in detail. Here for me it’s enough to say that it was as involved as enjoyable. It’s now been about a fortnight of five or six hour sleeps at the outside. We organised eleven or so drops of material in meticulous Belton style, we placed two of the drops up serious valleys. We each did about half a year’s life admin – probably – although doubtless the odd phone call has gone missing. And we hosted several killer social evenings at HQ in Christchurch.
One interesting dimension of the exercise that stood out has been balancing thoroughness and drawing a line at which to say ‘whatever’. There’s little doubt that sound prep will minimise issues in the field, but there’s equally no doubt that we’ll be in for a serious humbling at the hands of the Hills, come what may. This has got to imply a limit in the utility of fastidious prep, and I’m looking forward to discovering something about those limits.
It’s a privilege to be here. Not only for the opportunity to get to know the landscapes we’ll soon be getting into. Not for a host of other reasons. Those things matter, but the biggest of our very big privileges is in having ‘been allowed’ to check-out from the noise and clutter of a normal life with the blessing of those close to us, beholden as we are in entirely reasonable ways to them.
That others want a good experience for us and express that in their actions is, to me, almost everything. Those people know who they are, and here again it’s time to say “Thanks”. You’ll be walking with me, at least.
In matters less existential, the next few days will take us to Boulder Lake, the Dragons’ Teeth, Drunken Sailor and on to the Cobb. But for today, we touched the Tasman Sea at Cape Farewell, biked to Bainham, and hit the Mussel Inn. Here we were at the other end of the Island we love. Here we were at Golden Bay.