This entry, brought to you by 72℅ dark chocolate..

Do you think eating an entire slab of dark chocolate, well two slabs actually, each weighing 300 grams a piece, in a single 8 hour period just maybe too much chocolate for one day?
This question, among others, have been occupying my thoughts all day. 

But: This entry will be about today–maybe just the last five days since I landed on the shores of Queen Charlotte track to start south island.

In that sense it might be even boring; mostly because, to quote a fellow adventure blogger carrotoquin,  I am bored to death of this type of writing: jotting down the events of the day, like textual regurgitation of the routine tedium of putting one step in front of the other, even if it happens to be at places that make you pause, even when you are moving two and a half to three miles per hour. 

Through hikes are rarely about the actual hiking, you know, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a dirty liar prone to eat the last sugar cookie on Christmas eve.

Still, let’s see what follows. 

First I should note that there a number of events that has since transpires since I woke up with volcanic dust in my mouth on new year’s day at the base of Mt. Ngauruhue.

For example: I lost my favorite blue icebreaker hat. I now have a black one. Oh, I also have a new tattoo: my maternal grandpa’s design of a dugout canoe, accented with some Maori symbols.

I have been welcomed into the whanganui Iwi through powhiri after completing Tira hoe Waka.

If the words in those sentences don’t make any sense, please google them.

I  am still debating the ethics of writing down what had transpired on the Tira along the Awa and all the conversation I’ve since had with interested parties and the kaumatua who took me there…

(Again, google translate is your friend)

It is February 12 and I think it is a Saturday. Tomorrow’s forecast is rain and I have 8 river sidling (I love this word: it makes you think of river crossing as child’s play, as if you have free reign to run around  with sceisors and crayons with your mouth full of cookies, a cool reckless kind of word methinks ) and one major river fording on th cards for tomorrow. Trail notes also say that these rivers are prone to flash floods. I read earlier that I’ll pass a junction to a hut called bush’s edge hut, which was washed out in a flash floods, carrying along with it the two forest service officers who were asleep within.

So there’s that too on the cards–Rain with a possibility of death by deluge. 

Let’s not dwell on that, though, because today was one of the most exciting days I’ve ever had on any trail this far. That’s saying a lot since I have hiked thru the state of Maine in all manner of weather conditions.

All in all I think I’ve hiked well near 12,000 ft in elevation change today in a span of just under 15 miles. Sidled a river too and balanced and prayed my way across the highest summit in the Richmond range.it was precarious work, cerebral too.

I love this type of physically and mentally demanding terrain that keeps you on your toe, sometimes on the seat of your pants, consistently over sizable chunk of trail. Real cerebral stuff: you watch your feet, nimbly step over slick root and trecherous rock, you gauge the flow of the water and pick out the point of entry that balances the fun to  staying dry ratio for river crossing; you adjust your pack strap and drink the last bit of water to reduce the weight because you there is a 3000 ft climb coming up and u could do without the water because there is a source at the bottom. These fun little calculations are the stuff of thru hikes, folks.

The weather was not ideal but could have been worse: thru the magnificent Rimu lined bush it was just cold enough to keep my gloves and the streams came by often enough to strategize my water carry: Ten thousand feet and I only carried a quarter of a liter at most at any given time.  

If that sounds ill advised, consider this: one of more crucial differences between an experienced thru hiker and an casional day hiker is knowing your the limits of your body, mind and gear and trust your ability to take calculated risks. 

Normally it’s a terrible idea to attempt to summit the highest peak in the underrated and formidable Richmond peaks with so little water. The terrain, while good and well formed thru the bush line, is non existent in the scree and boulder fields of the Alpine. It would have been thirsty work on a sunny picture perfect day.  But today was cloudy and each hut, located ideally between three to four miles, had water. While the MT. Rintoul path did not have any water along the way most of the track had a running stream about every two miles. There was hardly a need to carry the extra weight when you have ample sources along the way and you weren’t about to lose water to your surroundings. Even if you were injured there was plenty of water to make sure you won’t be dehydrated for an entire day, provided you did your due diligence and drank your heart’s content along your hike at those cold, crisp, clean mountain springs

But boy was it foggy. I won’t lie that I had to sort of chant my way to a meditative state to push thru to the last 6000 ft of the summit, scaling two peaks along sketchy terrain in peasoup fog. Often I could barely see my next marker and had to use all my route finding skills to make out faint trace of discoloured rock in a wet scree field. Not impossible but neither was it easy, though always entertaining even if only in retrospect.

I was rewarded though with yet another sublime moment of self awareness as it had happened so many times on the Appalachian trail. That you know yourself and you are capable of executing your decisions. 

My name is Amiththan ‘swami bittergoat ‘sebarajah and I am as bonafide a thru hiker as southernfried chickensteak.

The fire is crackling in the food stove and the last bit of moisture is missing out of the logs. It is a curious thing to watch the shdow dance on white washed walls while gale force winds rush through the manuka brush..

Five days innd I’m already 110 miles into south island.

If the weather holds I’ll once again plunge into next swimming hole I find, naked and exilerated, as I have been at every night’s stop in the richmomd ranges.

Let’s see if I can do this section in three days as oppose to the seven to nine as I timated be the new Zealand department of conservation.

Richmond ranges will take your breath away, if you aren’t careful.

MT.Rintoul Hut, TA km 1877.6

And here’s the real thru hiker secret: no amount of chocolate is too much!

Kia ora

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Stone & thorn, bedding for my feet, I surrender …

Perhaps it was already past midnight, first hours into a brand new year; perhaps only an hour had past since he crawled into his sleeping bag.
It was already pitch black. The moon and the stars were swallowed up whole by storm clouds promising a miserable hike the following day.

New year’s day 2017.

The fine volcanic dust tasted arid. It was this inexplicable texture on his tongue that woke him in the first place after a fitful sleep.

‘Might want to pitch your tent a little lower, mate, will be heavy winds tongiht. Gale force, they recon,’ Sam informs.

Sam is an anarchist at heart. ‘there’s always room for tents, mate. It’ll be fourteen dollars. Have a credit card on ya,? The. On raised kind?’ he asks him. 

He looks into his shirt pocket. Finding it empty he promises to return with the money after picking his tent.

He knows he had spent the last paper currency on a good will gesture.

 His hitch hike from Tamaranui to Tongariro National park was suppose to take 120 kms on trail. But the weather window was small, just two days and the rest, for days looked ominous.

 He didn’t know what the town looked like when he got into the car. His driver didn’t either.  They got carried away, talking about the impact of 1080 drops in the bush to control possum infestations. They both agree that that much cyanide must surely impact the forest adversely. If it can kill possums, it can kill the birds and the bees, too. 

He looks up and the road sign says, whanganui is 30 kms away, and his trail map says national park, his destination, was already 120 kms behind.

Bewildered, it dawns on him the 20 min car ride covered the 40 highway kms in a flash. 40 highway kms =129 trail kms.

He feels foolish. His driver feels bad but is on a schedule to surprise his mum for new years.  They pull over and he hands Scott the 20 dollar bill he had, his last bit of paper currency, for his gas money. 

You see, Scott, the driver had never left his home town in the south island until a month ago and he is now returning home after a month of travel and cycling about the bush. He knew Scott was short on money, even if he didn’t ask for anything in return for the hitch.  He gives him the twenty and wish him an early happy new year. 

The the monotony of relentless hard asphalt is not kind on your feet, especially when you are loaded with an extra 25 lbs on your back. And it was sunny. He knows it would be tedious, thirsty work if he decides to walk that narrow highway.

New Zealand’s highways have a maximum speed of 100 km/h. Walking on one without a much of a shoulder feels as if the cars are zipping past at warp speed. He wonders if there’s enough space between him and the cars should be stick out his thumb for a hitch back to where he should be. It’s tight.

He had never really felt comfortable hitching for rides. Hitching on the Appalachian trail had left an unpleasant taste in his mouth. 

It’s not that anything terrible had happened but you knew that you weren’t getting ride in part because of your skin colour, that people preceived you as a threat. Of course there’s no certainty and that’s the sad part: that you are not sure why they didn’t offer you a ride but people often spoke of getting easy hitches. You start to wonder if it’s you.

Everytime a car passes you by you don’t just think of it as the driver was in a hurry or didn’t pick up any hitch hikers, they aren’t going your direction or whatever  else charitable excuse you may make for them skipping you by.

No. You think it’s you, that you are brown skinned male  with a beard. You fight that uneasy feeling but you can’t help yourself. With every passing car you grow weary and you learn not to depend getting on hitches into or out of towns as the forgone conclusion it happens to be for most of your other friends.

I can only image how much worse this is for women, especiallyof colour hitching about…That dread that naggs you like splinter in your brain that you don’t want to name because you want to believe that human beings, the ones you are about to encounter at least, are inherently good people…

The mini van comes to a gradual stop just ahead of him. She must have seen him well before he decides to try his thumb again.

‘I can take you to national park, she says and he gets in. 

Sometimes you meet people and you can sense their vibe immediately. Even if you fail to trust or recognize your first impression your instincts are rarely wrong. That’s the beauty of solo travel. You develop an instinct for people. Acting on it is harder of course but you always develop that instinct quickly on the road.

Let’s call her Artemis. Artemis exudes a calm reassurance that he had felt only several times before in his life. He knows that this, in itself, isn’t special but he  nevertheless feels relieved of a burden and an anxiety he didn’t know he was harbouring. Everything will be OK. She didn’t need to say a word.

Artemis was Mauri. She tells him a story about her son stranded somewhere far from home on the road, about how she had phoned the local radio station to ask them to send out a message to the listeners to give her baby a ride home.

She doesn’t know if her son got the ride because the radio station broadcasted her message. But she was happy when he got home safely. So she picks up hitch hikers, but she admits that she can read their “feel.”  She silently said without so many words that she read my anxiety, that splinter in my brain.

This isn’t an objective case study. This isn’t scientific. But he felt her reassuring presence. It was as palpable as the shirt he wore.

December 30th, 2016 he sets out to hike the Tongariro crossing. There’s only two days of good weather. Artemis dropped him off 19 trail kms from the approach to the crossing. He starts to walk and another car pulls over. This time, another elderly woman. She was on her way to find a rare Alpine flower. 

He feels good. Like he can climb a mountain and decides that on that day, he will.

He walks, takes a side trail and ends up somewhere magical far off the track. It is a an Alpine lake.

Lonesome as it was magestic on the base of two active volcanoes. One snow capped, the other shrouded in storm clouds. 

He pitches his tent and lights a small cook fire to the   gentle lapping soundscape of a twotoned aquamarine crater lake. 

He strips naked and plunge into the icy water and emerges into the sunlight to bask in the shadow of two tumultuous peaks. He knows the sky will shimmer in a silvery haze of diffuse star light that evening.  He drinks his tea, slips into his 900 downfilled cocoon…

The hut warden Sam tells him the following day that mt.ngaurahue and MT.raupehu are both active and should one one of them erupts during the course of the night, we should carry out sausages and marshmallows with us so that we at least make the best of a fiery situation. 

We chuckle but hope for the best.hr asdures us that these mountains only erupt every three years to mark the anniversary of rolling Stones concerts in new Zealand. It was an elaborate pun. I don’t think too many people got the joke. Dear Sam!

He made us each a pork potsticker dumpling that, night tho, as if to make up for the bad jokes.

He was right though about the gale force winds. He wasn’t quite sure the tent would hold out. He hoped the violent bending of the super light but super strong DAC aluminum poles would hold out the night, but he underestimated the volcanic dust.

He had climbed MT. Ngauruhue that morning and trekked his way thru one of the most unique, desolate, starkly beautiful volcanic flow zones in his life.

He now knew that he could die happy knowing that he had a pretty good idea what Martian terrain must surely look, even if colonizing Mars was not to be in his life time.

You may know mt ngauruhue by a different name from a different context. 

Sauron forged the one ring in the fires of mount. Doom and only there can it be undone, tells Gandalf to the secret council at Rivendell. Sam and frodo takes the one ring to mount Doom and cast into the magma.

Frodo takes the credit but it was gollum that takes the ring for a volcanic plunge. Mount. The ring is destroyed and mount. Doom erupts.

MT.ngauruhue did not erupt that day but it was very cold. He almost lost his way a few times to the summit and had to traverse several nervy hundred meters laterally to safer footing away from loose lava scree.

The snow atop the active volcano was ironic. He picked himself two pebbels from the summit for keepsakes and bootskied his way down a trecherous scree slope.

That night, on the last day of 2016 he slept in the shadow of my.doom and woke in the middle of the night with fine volcanic dust in his mouth.

Have you ever tasted a volcano?


But you are alone..


TA km # 957, Tiroa Station

Currently listening to Rhianna on radio, we fell in love in a hopeless place.

Indeed.

So I figured I’d just go ahead and start walking on my own this morning and so I did.

If you are wondering about what a Tiroa Station is or  Rhianna on radio for that matter, I’ll get to it momentarily.

Patience is a virtue, especially when you are a distance hiker; even more so when you are a distance hiker whose most anticipatory time of the day is dinner time and if you are the type who would forget to pack the most crucial of ingredients for your dinner.

One could say that without my spice/soup powder mixture I basically just have some hot water and egg noodles.

Yup. That’s where was at about half hour ago. I opened my food bag, boiled the water, took out the noodles only to realize I had forgotten the most crucial part of my dinner back at the hostel. Usually I keep it in a zip lock bag but decided this morning to transfer  the contents into a plastic container after having added some delicious dal makani mixture and some ground cumin to the already delicious melange. I was so looking forward to it this evening after a very long day. 

Oh ya, I hiked about 44 kms today. That’s about 25 miles to those of you who refuse to learn your metrics. Dinner time is about the most anticipated time for any long distance hiker. It signals much needed nourishment and the impending moment when you get to be sated and horizontal…

I sated and horizontal but that’s partly due to some ad-hoc dinner. For the record I did not just have plain boiled egg noodles. Fortunately I had packed out some lentil humus for lunch and also had some aged cheddar. So for dinner this evening it was noodles cooked in. Cheese sauce with lentil paste. 

It wasn’t so bad. It was hot, filling, and theoretically contains at least some nourishment I neeed to replenish for tomorrow. Six more days before I can resupply. Winning trail!

So what about Rhianna? Well I wrote yesterday that interesting trail magic happens to me when I hike alone.

I had every intention of hiking the next 14 kms to the Department of conservation field base off the highway, fading sunlight be damned. So what if it was 8 pm already; I was on a gravel road headed for a state highway, there was plenty of battery life left in my flash light and I had a veninson burger with two fried eggs for breakfast this morning, and a ginger beer. Game on.

There was so much water on this trail-in fact I was following a bucolic river, the type you’d expect to sirens, like in the movie o brother where art thou?, pop out, expect they would be kiwi or possibly Maori and it would have been awesome.

But I’d take the pretty river anyway over a siren fantasy. Curious that when there is ample water around you never really get thirsty. I hiked the first twenty kms without drinking water and finished all I carried, every bit of those two liters, within the next. Part of it was that I had to get off the bush and the cover of shade and start trekking on gravel road. I also had to just straight up hand over hand climb, using thick patches of grass as both hand and footholds to make my way up a 200 m accent. Even though the climb was sheer I had seen some wild goat  do the climb when they saw me approach and figured I got enough goat in me to get’er done.

It was thirsty work, itchy too. I think I am allergic to new Zealand.

There was suppose to be a steam coming up in ten kms so ifigured it was safe bet to drink all my water. Of course the stream was on private property and I just couldn’t get myself to wander in there. Call it part of the apprehension of hiking while non white. You never know when someone might misinterpreted your presence on their property, but this was new Zealand and I would have been probably ok.

Still, I was amazed at my hesitation and was sad about my racial conditioning and insecurity. Not fun.

So I kept walking knowing that I had a filter and it is only really ten km. I won’t die of thirst. 

It was seven pm. I had two liters of water in my system, few small chocolate bars and a muffin bake bar since breakfast back at the hostel. Being hungry and thirsty and itchy and alone on a dirt road is not fun. To make matters worse a young bull had escaped his confines and I had to play cowboy for a good two kms, hoping that he won’t realize that I’m no match for his brute black Angus strength if he decides not to share the narrow road with me. That was actually exhilarating.

It made me forget my thirst and hunger for a bit. Fear is a great distraction. And then I saw some after drip from a high bush rock wall, I was hopeful. Maybe if I just make a funnel I can fill up my soft plastic and use my Sawyer. 

God invented Sawyer mini filter for preciseky these moments when you look at water running off sheep and cattle paddocks as a viable option to quench ur thirst.

Location and behold the smart new Zealand farmers had constructed drainage canals along the dirt roads that collected the water into a larger drain pipe that redirected the run of pack into the near by river. Cleber, efficnet buggers, bless them all.

So I sat there, collected and filtered water from the drainage pipe, are my lunch of cured meat, lentil humus and Tortola.a single Tortola since I only have five more left and they have to last the next five days. 

I filled up two liters of water and decided to hike to the DOC base.

Listened to Beethoven’s appasionata / sonata 23 –the only piece of music on my phone and may I add the it is the best-for an hour. I figured that’s a useful way of timing my pace.i hiked 6.3 km in that hour. Only 1.5 km to go to state highway and then hopefully a hitch so that no body runs me over or take the risk and walk the rest of the 13 k to the base.

There was a sound of an ATV so I moved to the side but a  Maori man  with a disarming smile pulled up right next to me and asked me if I’d like to stay at the their field office for the cattle and sheep station. He had seen me walking on the road and decided to ride after me from his home to offer me a place to stay.

How  awesome is this country?! At the Tiroa Station there are over 25000 heads of cattle and sheep and the station is well over 6 000 acres. 

Wayne had seen other TA walkers go along this dirt road and had decided this year that he would offer them a place to stay inside.

 There is a radio here. Thus, Rhianna.i just heard that George Michael has died this morning.  That bit of news seems so distant where I am..

I had cheese soup with noodles for dinner and am listening to radio inside a sheep station. Life is pretty good at this moment.

It’s lovely to be alone.