Natascha Part 2: Completing the South Island

Some of you guys might remember Natascha from a Meet a Traveler post about her here a few months ago. Long story short, she is a really cool lady from Switzerland who is currently here in New Zealand to thru-hike the entire country on the Te Araroa trail. Back when I spoke to her for that profile,  she was just about to begin the trek. A few days ago, Emmett and I caught up with her after she'd finished hiking the entire South Island. He and I were really excited to hear about her travels and thought my tiny smattering of readers might want to hear about them as well. She graciously let me interview her for a second time. Here's what we talked about.

How long did it take you to hike the South Island?
81 days.

Are you going to hike the North Island next? How long will it take?
Yes. But it's mostly road so I'll be doing a lot of hitch-hiking. The North Island is supposed to be more about the people and less about the scenery. I think I'll miss the mountains, I got kinda sentimental at the last hut. People are saying that the people will ask you in and let you stay with them. I'm excited about meeting more New Zealand people.
It should take about the same [amount of time]. Maybe a bit shorter if I do a lot of hitch-hiking. But I like the huts, so maybe I'll do some more tracks to stay in more huts.

How did this hike differ from other long, multi-day hikes that you've done?
Well, it is longer than the last one that I did. [The Bibbulmun Track in Western Aus]. I like it much more. With the Bibbulmun, I struggled sometimes. I was kinda bored. I walked with someone and that helped motivate me. Here I didn't need it. I liked the mountains. Maybe I'm just a mountain child. And I really liked the climate. Usually it was good weather, not too hot or cold.

Did you learn anything along the way?
1. Bivy bags are crap! The first time, I got all wet. The second time, I ordered a tent.
2. I learned that hitch-hiking is great. It was so cool. I met so many nice people and everyone had a story. That's what I'm excited about for the North Island: more hitch-hiking.

What was the most useful thing in your pack?
The power bank for my watch [it's a GPS tracking watch] and for my phone. I listened to so many audiobooks. One a day or two days for longer books. They are super cool. If I'm really excited about the book, I don't take as many breaks. I used the "spooks" app on my phone. It shows all the categories of audiobooks on spotify then takes you to them on spotify.

Did you forget anything that you had to buy later?
Oh, yeah. Well I had to change the bivvy bag. Then I had the wrong alcohol-based fuel; I had a big fire all the time and my pot would get black and oily. So I bought a real gas burner. 
I started with a solar panel charger but it broke so I sent it home and got a power bank. And I got new shoes in Christchurch.

What were your top three favorite stretches of hike?
1. The views right before Lake Ohau. There was a stream and then grassland, then I went over a mountain and could see a forest with the lake behind it. Everything in one picture.
2. The Richmond Range. A lot of different views. It was the first time I saw the ocean on the hike after leaving Invercargill.
3. The Queen Charlotte Track. It was easier walking. And kinda in the jungle. The ocean was really green-blue. I could see lots of houses down below on the water that you could only get to by boat. It looked really relaxed.

What was the hardest part of your hike?
The mental part. To keep going. To be alone with your mind. But I had audiobooks to keep my head busy.

Any weird stories from your trek?
So, I was in one hut and was walking the same pace as two guys. We came to two huts, an older one and a younger one. I went to the younger one alone. There was a guy there from Chile and he took the top bunk. We talked a little and then went to bed. Then later he was like "Are you sleeping?" And I was like "what?" And he said "Are you sleeping? Should I come to you?" And I am kind of dumb about that type of thing, I said "And then what happens?" I realized and then said "No, thanks I am okay." Oh man, he is brave. I was a bit surprised! I don't remember if I said anything that would have made him think he could come to my bed.

Did you mostly camp in your tent or stay in huts?
Mostly in huts. It was just twice that a hut was so full that I had to camp. The whole trek, I camped maybe ten times. Four times were on the Queen Charlotte Track, there are no huts.
To stay in huts I got a backcountry pass. It was only $100 for YHA members. The huts are nice. They have mattresses and when nobody is there you can have two.

How did you wash your clothes?
I'd wear the same clothes every day for a week and then wash them when I got to a town. It didn't matter: you get stinky every day so it's the same. I just have two outfits. One clean one and one to hike in. I'd wash the one I had worn and then put on the clean one. I do also have thermals then shirts and shorts for sleeping.

Did you take any side trips off the trail?
No. Well, I went to Christchurch. I hitched out for resupply. I just felt like I wanted to stick to the track. And I don't like big towns. Christchurch was very overwhelming.
I did do one trip that was to another hut. I met an old guy with a horse. He was really like a cowboy. He ate beans for lunch! He told me about a historical hut nearby, I went there. It was really nice. It was made of clay and had a whole shelf of books.

Did you meet many other hikers also doing the TA?
A lot. On the South Island, I was around people a lot. I had maybe three nights sleeping in a hut by myself. I did not meet that many people going in the same direction... maybe ten people. A lot of Northbounders just do the South Island because they say it is nicer. But Southbounders - many. The trail notes are for North to South. There was a while where I saw so many, maybe thirteen people a day.

Did you see any cool animals?
Well. A lot of wekas. They are just crazy. One was sneaking around my fore-tent one time while I was cooking dinner, trying to get in and take things from me.
In one hut, there was a possum living in the woodshed. It was very cute but at night, it was going crazy. It sounded like it wanted to break in! If I had been alone the first time I heard a crazy possum I would be so scared. It's a bit frightening.
Lots of sheep and goats were on the track. Lots of cute little birds that would eat all the sand flies around you.

Do you have any advice for people who want to hike the TA or go on longer hikes in general?
I don't really know... It is important to keep your backpack weight down. But I am not good at it. I have a lot of food; I eat a lot. When I was thinking about doing the TA, a guy told me it was really hard and dangerous and tried to scare me off. But it wasn't bad. I just took it step by step. Maybe I was lucky because I had no bad weather or dangerous river crossings. And I never got lost. Do it at your own pace. Just do it the way you want to while not thinking about anybody else.