Saturday, February 23, 2013



If I'm the girl that's supposed to be the blogger on this team, I'm totally sinking in my role.

I keep saying that my head is going to explode. No joke, on Monday I was pretty sure I'd taken in everything I was capable of experiencing in one day - I fully expected to have a stroke.

Alright, so I'm out of adjectives and if this makes me a bad writer, so be it. I can't freakin' describe this place accurately. It's not really fair to this place, or to my head, or to those of you trying to read this blog.

It's a Sunday morning here in Te Anau. This is our third visit to the tiny town that borders a small part of Lake Te Anau and is cradled by the mountains that seem to shoot like towers from the ground to the sky. The friendly aura of this place can be felt from miles away and pulls you in. Magnetic. I'm back in the lobby of the hotel, looking at the lake, reminiscing over the last two weeks, listening to Joel play the lobby piano... Is it inappropriate for me to say that I keep thinking that cancer must of killed me and I'm now in heaven? I wonder how I will ever be "normal" again. (Ha! I realize how hilarious that sounds.)

It's a little bit strange coming to a place that you've dreamed of; a place that so many people have told you you must visit. You try to imagine what it might be like, then you try to not to imagine what it might be like, because the surprise will be better. But really, no matter how many times you've seen The Lord of the Rings, it's impossible to conjure as many shades of green as the forests here hold.

We've done two of the nine tracks so far, the Kepler and Rakiura. This whole cancer thing is pretty humbling. I was never really competitive at anything (outside of my head, I mean), but I was one of the strongest women I knew. Slow, but sturdy. I could climb high and far without tiring. So I was a little disappointed on the first day of the Kepler track when I found myself throwing my 40lb pack to the ground and bending over to rest. I was in pain. On the second day, when we came to one of the most beautiful views of the track, I looked at my team and actually said, "I AM SUFFERING!"

I've realized that the people who said to me, "Don't worry, you'll bounce back..." never had cancer. There is no bouncing back. There is one way back, the same way I got there in the first place. Hard work. Miles and miles of re-training these muscles to do what they love so much. It's nice to be at a place where I can understand and accept that. (Now I just need to come up with a good response for the people who favor the "bounce back" theory... :))

Kepler was a four day track - 60 km. We have a DOC (Department of Conservation) guide with us on each walk. Normally trekkers don't have experts leading them through the forests. We are being treated special, but we carry our own gear and water - and for the most part, our own food. We cook our own meals at night (usually one or two people take turns cooking for the team) in the huts. In Fiordland (Kepler, Milford, and Routeburn tracks) they provide little stoves to cook. We (ok, our DOC guide) had to carry our own little stove for the Rakiura track.

The huts are awesome; like being back at camp. There's generally one common room where everyone cooks and eats and one or two bunk rooms where everyone sleeps. We play games, chat with the other trekkers, drink coffee or tea and just hang out when in the huts. It's such a fun atmosphere.

So the first two days of Kepler were physically difficult, but the most beautiful - taking us into alpine territory. The last two days were "cruisy" and flat, taking us through forests that were so green and moss covered that I was sure a tree or mushroom was going to start talking to me. Magical.

Rakiura is on Stewart Island, the southernmost point of New Zealand - very close to Antarctica. It is almost untouched. Halfmoon Bay, the only town in Stewart Island, has a population of 400. Its quaint feel and stunning features are only magnified by the authentic, gentle people who live there. It is a special place, Stewart Island.

Getting to Stewart Island was what almost did my head in. We flew on a tiny plane. Our pilot, a tall, beautiful man with the kind of face you are bound to trust, pointed at a map of the island and said "there's a beach here that we can land on if you guys want..." Um, yes please!!! The ride on that tiny plane encapsulates this trip for me so far. It's so much to take in, flying so low you can see fish in the ocean or birds flying from tree to tree. There are no words to describe it. It felt like it couldn't possibly be real.

Rakiura track was a three day, 32 km walk. It was easy compared to the Kepler Track, and I could feel my back becoming stronger with the pack on it, my legs re-gaining the muscles I used to know. The second day of Rakiura greeted us with one pretty nice, long hill. I swallowed my pride, pulled my poles out of my pack (I was the only one using poles at this point) and powered up the hill - like I used to do. Rich and I were together at this point, far ahead of the rest of the group. Rich lost almost 200lbs a couple of years ago, so we compare stories often... They're kind of the similar but also exactly opposite. At the beginning of day 2 I felt different, stronger. I looked at Rich with tears in my eyes and said to him, "for the first time in a long, long time, I feel like myself." I didn't realize how much I'd missed myself. Farther up the same hill and later in the day I heard Rich mutter the words straight out of my head, "this is what I live for." And it is.

This experience is exceptional. I don't understand how I deserve this. I'm soaking it in, it's so special. If I tried to write down every moment of hilarity or beauty or magic the words would sound trite. If I can, as I can, I will write more about the people I'm taking this journey with, or the people we encounter along the way. For now, more piccies. (If you're on FB/Instagram/Twitter or the Great Walker blog you are likely to see repeat piccies... and there are a lot of them. Sorry!)
Te Anau sunrise.
Rainbow overlooking Lake Te Anau from the Luxmore Hut

DOC Rangers Catie and Faye... the magic behind the magic. 

Start of day 2 on Kepler. That pack is HEAVY! 

Jetboat + Swingbridge = HAPPY STEPH!

Sexy and we know it. These leggings are currently my favorite piece of gear. 

This mushroom was supposed to talk to us. I'm sure of it. (But apparently, we're not supposed to eat it.) 

The team on the jetboat, just after finishing the Kepler Track. Again, ridiculous fun. 

Flying over Stewart Island. It was more amazing than it looks. 

So excited, I'm about to come right out of my skin!

My favorite airport in the world. Stewart Island runway... 

Karl was nice enough to let me borrow this hat on Rakiura... Yikes. 

A wood pigeon, taken from my bedroom window in Halfmoon Bay. 


Cutting mushrooms with my pocketknife and feeling REALLY outdoorsy.

Joel and I in our matching his/hers Kathmandu/Air NZ tracksuits. 

First time fishing!!! I caught four fish! Maybe I should be a fisherman in my next life??? 

Jellies. Me no likey. 

Accurately depicting what I'm feeling... 

We got to participate in a Kiwi re-location with DOC. Soooo wild. 

TVNZ filming.

Our holiday home in Stewart Island. UNBELIEVABLE. 

The required touristy photo from Bluff.

Don't ask. 


  1. So great to meet you on Stewart Island. You are awesome! Looking forward to reading about the rest of your adventures on your blog. Say hi to the rest of the posse (inc Great Stalker - cracks me up everytime!) and have a wonderful time.

  2. Following your blogs and you really are the luckiest girl ever from The US of A. Already you have been to places I havnt so enjoying your pics especially the scenic ones.

    Michael J