We've been working on this one for a while, but starting February 1st we'll be embarking on our biggest hiking challenge yet: the 9 Great Walks of New Zealand in 9 weeks!
For those of you that might not be familiar with them, the 9 Great Walks are multi day tracks ranging in length from 32km to 145km and are known to be some of the most spectacular in the country.
We'll be spending 30 days on the trails, hiking up to 8 hours a day in a country that's well known for it's unpredictable weather!
Last time we were in New Zealand for our summer holiday, we were greeted with a blizzard in Mount Cook and gale force winds of 1C that nearly blew us off the side of a mountain in Fiordland!
However, there is nowhere else on earth we'd rather be hiking than New Zealand. If you've seen Lord of the Rings then you know what we're talking about!
We'll be hiking icons such as the Routeburn and the Milford Track (which sells out for the year hours after being put on sale) as well as trails as far south as Stewart Island and all the way up to Lake Waikaremoana in the North Island.
We'll trek over mountain passes and volcanos, and one of them isn't even a hike (the Whanganui Journey is actually made by kayak!). Along the way we'll be staying in huts maintained by the amazing Department of Conservation, and for the couple of spots not covered by huts we'll be camping.
We'll be starting in the South making our way north in this order:
You might be wondering "why all 9 and why in 9 weeks?"
The seed for this crazy idea was actually planted over 15 years ago when I travelled through New Zealand on my gap year before university. I walked many sections of the the Great Walks as day hikes and fell in love. I vowed one day to walk them all start to finish.
Now I wasn't thinking about walking them in one go. That idea came later.
After living so close to New Zealand in the last four and a half years we have actually only visited once. We tried to book a couple of the Great Walks then but they were sold out, it was during the busy Christmas period.
We recently made the decision to do another trip and that we fancied something a bit adventurous. It was a no brainer, the Great Walks it was, and after having lived in Australia for years and not having walked a single one, we decided the best way to complete the dream would be to do them all in one go while we had the time to do so.
The 9 weeks specifically? We thought that added the challenge element and it has a nice ring to it. : )
Is it possible?
From the start Joe doubted whether it could actually be done.
Many of the walks are not circuits and mountain ranges mean you can end up many hours from the point at which you started. Whilst New Zealand is not a big country the roads are often windy and slow and therefore getting between the walks would take a lot of time. We'd also need car relocations, water taxis and all kinds of support to ensure we could do all the trails in a row.
In order to get the right weather window to give us the best chance to walk all 9 in one go we had to go in summertime. Now anyone who has been to NZ in summer will know this is an extremely popular time to visit, and places get booked up really far in advance, especially in popular areas such as Milford Sound and Te Anau (we literally booked the last room available in Fiordland National Park on all hotels / airbnb websites).
But it can definitely be done, as long as the weather doesn't let us down and close any of the tracks. It took hours of pouring over maps and researching locations, but as a complete research geek this was a challenge I relished. I am going to write a full post about the trip logistics at some point for anyone interested in doing some or all the tracks too. In the meantime get in touch if you would like to know more.
So that's the logistics sorted, the next test is the physical one. Can we do it?
We're not athletes by any means. We don't go to the gym and lately we haven't even been hiking much as we have been putting together this website. Needless to say we're a little nervous as it will be a test of our endurance. Over the course of 9 weeks we'll hike over 400 km and climb over 5,400m and that's without taking the 145 km kayak into consideration.
To put that in perspective, that's the equivalent of hiking/kayaking from London to the Scottish border whilst climbing higher than sea level to the summit of Mount Blanc!
Can we make it? I hope so. We'll be sharing photos, stories and track reports over the next few months so we hope you'll follow along.
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Do you have a dream challenge you've always wanted to try? Have you done any of the Great Walks? Let us know in the comments below.