If you’re a parent of five children born within five years of each other, you clearly love a challenge. So what better way to spend four or five months together than to walk the length of New Zealand on a 3,000 km trail featuring some of the world’s most stunning scenery?
The George family, from Melbourne, have just begun walking Te Araroa trail, which starts at the northernmost point of New Zealand, Cape Reinga, before winding its way down the country to the bottom of the South Island in Bluff.
Parents Daniel and Kelly, both nurses, are accompanying Gabrielle (15), twins Holli and Asha (14), Rex (13) and Forrest (10) as they travel the length of New Zealand with tramping packs on their backs.
Incredibly, the George septet had never done an overnight hike before taking on the epic adventure. Nor are not the youngest family to take on Te Araroa. That distinction belongs to the Rapseys of Dunedin, who a year ago made the journey with parents Chris and Jorinde, along with nine-year-old Elizabeth and six-year-old Jonathan.
Regardless, the daring and fortitude of the Georges is no less remarkable as they take on a challenge that was concocted by twins Holli and Asha during a recent road trip around Europe. Mum Kelly was keen, but dad Daniel wasn’t as convinced, until, as Gabrielle describes, “we made him”.
The George children learned some valuable life lessons during preparation for the trip, using their craft skills to reduce the size of their sleeping bags to fit each family member’s body size, and also in researching pricing to gain the best deal on all their equipment.
The family started their journey at Cape Reinga on November 9 and endured an inauspicious start that blew away any illusions of first-class comforts throughout their travels. Their first night was ‘celebrated’ with barely edible half-cooked pasta and lentils due to a lack of fuel in their cooker, and they fared little better on day two when lashed by a storm that threw rain, gale force winds and hail stones at them.
But the Georges are a resilient bunch, and are already pulling together even tighter as a unit as they trade packs and weight to support the younger family members who are still becoming accustomed to the rigours of travelling long distances on foot.
It hasn’t been all doom and gloom for the Georges though, far from it. They have been treated to the incredible ocean views off Cape Reinga and the vast beauty of Ninety Mile Beach in their first 300 km.
Eldest sister Gabrielle is writing a blog about the journey, detailing the celebrations and the struggles of becoming bored of white sandy beaches, the encouragement and admiration of local well-wishers, record-sized blisters and the potential of forever dreading the sight and smell of peanut butter sandwiches.
“It’s very hard and I’m pretty sore, but I like it,” Gabrielle said of the first 300 km of the journey. “We were a bit overloaded to start with but we’ve cut that down.”
Gabrielle said the group had travelled 28 km in their most productive day but had been generally walking ‘in the low twenties’ (in terms of kilometres) per day.
She said they were in high spirits, apart from the odd ‘tantrum’ when a storm blew in while they were walking along Ninety Mile Beach. Even Forrest, the youngest of the group, was fit and firing on all cylinders.
“Forrest is all smiles and wanting to take more weight out of everyone’s packs to be helpful, but we have to stop him. He’s energetic, usually bouncing off the walls at home,” Gabrielle said.
Her brother Rex had a physical and intellectual disability but he too was doing well and enjoying himself, she said.
And not surprisingly, Gabrielle is backing herself and her fellow dogged family members to finish the whole journey.
“I think we will make it. You never know what will happen but it’s going well so far.”
Te Araroa Trust chief executive Mark Weatherall spoke of his admiration of the George family and their efforts. To his knowledge, they were the largest family group to walk the trail together all at once.
“It is heart-warming to see a young family getting out there and taking on the challenge, which is the ethos of the Trail. The Georges are certainly a special group of people, and we can’t wait to see their journey play out and hear through reports and Gabrielle’s blog.”
Mr Weatherall was quick to point out that the Trail was not just for those with the time and the energy to take on the full 3,000 km. Whilst over 1,000 people take on the trek annually, either southbound from Cape Reinga, or northbound from Bluff, there are hundreds of thousands of others who take on individual sections of the Trail, such as the ever-popular Tongariro Crossing in the Central North Island, or the Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds.
“Te Araroa is a national resource that is available to everyone, whether they are able to walk 3 km or 3,000 km. We encourage people of all fitness levels, Kiwis and people from around the world, to come and challenge themselves whilst soaking in the unique landscape and beauty that both islands of New Zealand have to offer.”
From their initial itinerary along the upper north-east tip of the North Island, through Auckland, the Georges will then traverse down the middle of the North Island, circumventing Lake Taupo and down towards Cook Strait, before catching the Interislander ferry from Wellington across to Ship Cove at the top of the South Island.
From there, they head down the middle of the South Island, aiming to arrive at their ultimate destination in Bluff around March or April before heading back to Melbourne to conjure up their next great adventure.
Te Araroa Trail was officially opened in December 2011, and was the brainchild of Geoff Chapple who formed Te Araroa Trust in 1994. It has been listed as one of the world’s best long walks by both CNN and National Geographic.