Despite the ear plugs, I couldn't sleep. At least they muffled Brett's monologue and allowed me to sift through the wild ideas bubbling away in my neural circuitry. This journey down the length of NZ now had an end date less than four weeks distant. "Let's finish on a real high note," I thought and allowed myself to dream big. Almost at once, I knew what I would do.
Travelling by bus, hitch-hiking and staying in hostels or campgrounds had proved to be time-consuming, expensive and tiring. There was little point in trying to see too much of the South Island and doing a series of shorts walks. However, I did have time to complete two ten-day tramps. That would leave a few days of travel and recovery time between and after them.
"It would be better not to return to Rosa looking gaunt, wild-eyed and with a blown-out budget," I smiled.
Where to walk? Again, the answer was easy.
I had fallen in love with Mt Aspiring National Park last year, where my stepson Valentino and I had walked for a month. The highlight- an exploration of the Young and Wilkin Rivers- had been cut short when a lingering injury flared up.
"It's time to finish that trail," I thought and then, "For good measure, I'll link as many valleys and passes as I can."
Scanning the maps I had downloaded on my iPhone made my heart race a little with excitement. They confirmed that I could walk from Wanaka to Glenorchy through the heart of Mt Aspiring National Park by linking a series of marked and unmarked trails together.
"Four passes, nine days, one man," I smiled. "It's a formidable undertaking for a solitary tramper."
Why don't more people link trails? It's because you have to climb up, over and down steep and difficult terrain. You have to be prepared to have an adventure and not everyone is. You also have to take full responsibility for your skills, fitness and knowledge to go off track. This walk would stretch me physically, emotionally and mentally. Rabbit Pass and Cascade Saddle in particular had claimed the lives of many trampers over the years. I had no intention of becoming yet another statistic and swore that bravado, arrogance and "summit fever" would not lead me astray.
Nature's therapy room teaches you the strength of humility. There is no shame in turning back if a trail is beyond your ability.
For my second walk, I set my sights on Stewart Island, an hour's ferry ride from Bluff and the southernmost inhabited point of New Zealand, excepting the Antarctic base station. The 10-12 day Northern Circuit Walk is remote, wild and a true test for any tramper. Besides, I knew in my heart of hearts that when I reached Bluff, I would see the grey smudge of Stewart Island on the horizon and yearn to go there.
This is my Long Pathway. As on the trail, so in life. If not now, when?
I settled back in my seat to cement the reality of these wild ideas while the landscape of Otago rolled past my unseeing eyes.