By McKenzie Barney, producer and thru-hiker on Comfort Theory New Zealand
Two years ago I sat a desk, lost in the mysterious photograph in front of me. A beautiful snapshot in time, the moment in front of me embodied an obsession. I had become addicted to New Zealand ever since I magically fell upon their Te Araroa (translation: The Long Pathway). Matters amplified in addiction when I realized the “TA” was founded in 2011, making it the world’s newest thru-hike. While my friends were exploring breweries and forging new trails on the weekends, I remained relentless to my goal. There was an insatiable hunger in my soul to hike the 1,800 mile length of New Zealand. I can’t fully explain why, but I would argue you don’t need to put a tangible finger on meaning or purpose. I wanted to hike it because it was there.
18 months later, I awoke from adrenaline. It was 5:30am, the earliest rise of the entire TA trip, and our crew planned to attack the glorious day ahead. We were lucky enough to find ourselves sandwiched between two massive storm days. Yesterday we chose to wait out the sky’s eerie howls, hiking half the day to arrive at the Blue Lake hut that night. Tomorrow we would likely see the gnarliest New Zealand storm yet. But today we were infinite. There is wild, there is peaceful, and then there’s New Zealand – that’s both at the same time.
The storm was set to let up for a tiny 24-hour window, so we planned to get as far as possible. Our goal, to climb the notoriously difficult Waiau Pass. The morning’s coffee didn’t go down as easily as I thought it would – the butterflies made caffeine unnecessary. I secured my pack, fastened my boots, and charged out the door, nervous as ever.
New Zealand rewarded us for the early rising. Each hour I found myself stopping to film and photograph the unimaginable beauty that was unfolding. Clouds parted to reveal elicit blue lakes, reflecting the jagged mountain peaks above. Then it got serious. We found ourselves at the base of Waiau pass. I cranked my neck to it’s breaking point, observing the climb in front of my eyes. Step by step I trudged my way up the pass, taking deep breaths of rejuvenation at every TA pole marker. I felt slow and long-winded. When I thought I had reached the top, I stopped dead in my tracks and bowed my head in discouragement. False summit. I decided to take a break, thirsty for optimism. As I turned around to look at the view behind me for the first time since the climb, my heart skipped a beat.
There, in front of me, was the exact view from the photograph I had stared at two years ago. Hands shaking with sheer thrill, I snapped a shot of my friend as he made his way up the trail.
We all have dreams. Ambitions that burn in our soul and call us to take a courageous quest. But most of our dreams are stored away for “someday”. Two years ago, when I sat at that desk researching the world’s newest thru-hike, I made a choice to not reserve that view in the photograph for someday.
In that unexpected moment on Waiau Pass, I felt a jolt of energy. I felt a resurgence of why I was here. I felt alive. Our team celebrated at the top and prepared for our treacherous descent down the scree.
Eager to review the footage, I called up our director, Brian, who had recently bought a van and was shadowing our route. He immediately laid out the solar panels in preparation for the night ahead.
Surrounded by a campfire, beers, and energetic conversation, I grabbed my computer and the Sherpa 100 to review my dream image. I took a second to absorb my surroundings, realizing that here we were, telling the story of New Zealand, powered by the New Zealand sun energy. In that moment I felt grateful to have an office anywhere.
New Zealand shook me to the core. There were so many moments that reminded me how small I am in the world, and how much there is left to explore. When I truly opened my eyes and heart to the alpine mountain paradise around me, Te Araroa revealed its magic.