90-mile beach: So it begins 

The mornings are when I feel the most discouraged. While my body is well-rested, my mind is not ready for the hours ahead. When we take our morning break, I often think to myself: how will I get through this?  It’s not the aches and pains I dread, but how I will entertain my mind. 

Cape Reinga, the start of the Te Araroa trail

Eager beavers on Day 1 of the Te Araroa Trail
90-mile beach from above, part of the first 100 km leg of the Te Araroa Trail
A sunrise like this makes it all worth it

I was tested these past four days walking the 100 kilometre stretch of 90 mile beach, the first leg of the Te Araroa Trail. It is a beach untouched by development, the land surrounding it preserved as farmland, much of it for the Maori, we’re told. It is a scene straight out of a meditation film. 

But we’d also heard that a lot of hikers quit after the beach. And now I can see why. It’s mind-numbingly beautiful. In all directions all you see is basically the same thing for 25 km a day, about six hours of walking, for four days in a row. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like you’re moving anywhere. 

So when we weren’t talking, this is how I kept entertained: I watched the seagulls and wished I could fly. I watched them drop things from the air, then swoop down, I think to eat the prey they’d cracked from their shells. 

I looked at the garbage swept up onto the beach, so much plastic, a roof?, plastic crates, glow sticks and wondered where they were from. We saw a dead seal and some fish carcasses. We saw people driving down the beach (it’s used like a farm road), met an Australian biker and one other hiker doing the TA. 

Instead of thinking about the five months we have ahead, I thought of each step. I can do one more step, one more kilometre. I can get to that piece of driftwood, I can get to that tree, I can get to that next sand dune. I can get through four more days. 

And when we made camp, ate our dinner with the sun and the sound of the waves, cleaned our two dishes, and were tucked warm in our tent ready for bed at about 8 p.m., all was forgotten. That wasn’t that bad, right? 

We laughed today. We smiled and tried to sing. We enjoyed being outside, moving our bodies, observing. We can get through another day. 

About

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Otiena Ellwand is a freelance journalist based in New Zealand.

In October, she will begin hiking the length of the island nation on the Te Araroa Trail, a 3,000-kilometre journey that is expected to take at least five months.

Otiena was a staff reporter at the Edmonton Journal in Alberta, Canada, from 2013 to 2016. She primarily covered crime, breaking news and provincial politics.

She covered the Fort McMurray wildfire that forced thousands to flee in 2016, the death of eight people in Edmonton’s worst mass murder in 2014, and Alberta’s first NDP government under Premier Rachel Notley. She also wrote columns for the newspaper’s fitness section.

Otiena is a graduate of Ryerson University’s bachelor of journalism program. Her work has appeared in the Mumbai Mid-Day, the Toronto Star online, Chatelaine, Alberta Venture, Spacing Magazine and on CBC radio’s The World This Weekend.

Get in touch:

otiena.ellwand at gmail.com