This is the story of my experiences and insights while trekking the Te Araroa trail, Te Wai Pounamu (South Island). While it starts off as simply an adventure, it reignites my deep love of the land, rivers and history. My story gathers its own momentum, just as I did when trekking the trail.
While my tramping pack is full, this is only part of my baggage. I am Father, Brother, Brother-in-law, Uncle, Son, Pakeha, Divorced, Middle Aged, Trekker, Engineer and Elected Councillor. Time on my own is an opportunity to work through issues, connect with nature and to contemplate. A special part of the trail for me will be trekking different sections with my two sons, my daughter and friends. The opportunity to share time and space in a beautiful and challenging environment, away from the distractions of busy lives, is unique and special.
Born and raised in rural Otago, as well as spending time in Fiordland, I developed a strong connection with our land and environment at an early age. After travelling in both England and India, I have witnessed the impacts of population growth and pollution. In Aotearoa, we now have similar issues emerging and need to address them as a matter of urgency.
The sustainable management of natural resources in Otago is important to me and this is why I am a Councillor on the Otago Regional Council, which is responsible for looking after the region's air, water and land resources. Walking the trail means I can experience first-hand the environmental pulse of Te Wai Pounamu - our rivers, biodiversity and access. This is particularly pertinent to the trail, as the rivers are our old pathways and need to be treasured as the life blood of our land and people.
I endeavour to respectfully acknowledge Maori mana as the first people and Te Tiriti o Waitangi partner. I also support Te Wai Pounamu being the appropriate name for the South Island and Te Ika a Maui for the North Island. In my view, the alternate names that are more commonly used, the South Island and North Island, are both culturally insensitive and uninspiring.
West Coast iwi, Ngai Tahu, have a legend that explains how Te Wai Pounamu was named and I love the narrative. Poutini was a taniwha (water monster) who swam up and down the West Coast to protect both the people and the mauri (life force) of pounamu (greenstone). He saw a young woman, Waitaiki, bathing near Tuhua (Mayor) Island and abducted her. Poutini fled south, pursued by Waitaiki's husband, and when he was in danger of being caught, he hid Waitaiki in the bed of the Arahura River and changed her into pounamu. To me, the name Te Wai Pounamu celebrates water, pounamu, spirit and land of origin, all of which are significant to the people who live here.
I am captivated by those who trekked the trails before me, the first Maori in their pursuit of pounamu and the later surveyors and pioneers in search of land and gold. I can sense their energy and mana in the mountain passes and rivers that I cross. Tramping south from bow to stern, I pass through the different regions of Tasman, West Coast, Canterbury, Otago and Southland, although what I experience is just one land, one island, Te Wai Pounamu.
To those who sense that a celebration of Te Wai Pounamu is some type of separatist notion, I say forget it; we live in a strong and proud Aotearoa, New Zealand, with a rich history. I choose to celebrate our diversity and character as well as our nationhood.
My story is divided into eight chapters, where I either rest for one or two days between stages or take some longer time off. In three of these chapters, I tramp separately with two of my children Samson and Taarn, and another section with my good friend Rose, and I wish to acknowledge that it was their journey as well.
I have dedicated each daily trek to a local part of the environment that I made a personal connection with. Whatungarongaro te tangata toitu te whenua (As man disappears from sight, the land remains).
While originally it was supposed to be my Christmas holiday break, there are two Council meetings organised with relatively short notice that will impose demanding timelines for me to attend, even by phone. Like the rabbit in "Alice in Wonderland", it often feels like "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date. As I walk the trail, I become increasingly addicted to this energy and momentum; and I love it. Welcome to My Trail ...