The allure of thru hikes is likely no stranger to you, nor is the thought of a solo backpacking venture, I’m sure. So, when given the opportunity to do both at once in a foreign country, you do it, right? Depending on the country, not necessarily. However, I wasn’t in just any country, I was in New Zealand. Anyone familiar with it, or anyone who may have recently shared a pint with Gandolph, knows the wonder this country inspires. Based on a professor’s suggestions, I selected the Queen Charlotte Track just across the Cook Straight from my residence in Wellington. This track is somewhat unique because there are various small hostels along it, giving a very unique and “social” aspect—perfect for a first time solo thru hike.
During the hike in, a local couple established that we were both hiking to the same location—a lodge/hostel with no road access called Furneaux Lodge. They were attending a wedding, while I was simply looking for a bunk and a beer on the first of four nights on the trail—I got so much more than that.
The hostel portion of the resort was a large bunkhouse a little out of the way of the more ‘private’ residences. Immediately upon opening the door, I was nearly knocked unconscious by a flying Tui (not the actual bird, but the beer named after it). Beer in hand, I began processing the scene in front of me. Other than my single bunk, the entire hostel (25+ capacity) was completely occupied by a Maori family, the family of the bride in the wedding. I quickly realized solitude was not in the cards for the evening. Instead, one of the greatest and most memorable days/nights of my life unfolded. They took me in as if I was expected to be there from the start.
After helping to cook what became largest meal of my entire life (think a 15 foot table with only food, no places to sit), we all grabbed another cold one and dug in, sitting anywhere that was available. At some point through all the food, laughter, and general family rowdiness, I became long lost cousin Mitch. The father of the bride (in)formally invited to the wedding and urged me to attend. Even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to because I had to hike on, this moment stuck with me in a very important way.
No other experience in my life compares to the generosity, friendliness, and sense of family these strangers extended to me. I like to think the trail laid the foundation for such an experience. Unique interactions and experiences trails often provide are unfortunately uncommon in daily society. Had this wedding been in a city or town, I can’t imagine I would have had the same experience. Rather, they would have likely kept to themselves, as would I.
Now, go out and have yourself your own solo thru-hike adventure and enjoy the bizarre, unique, fun and memorable people the trail-setting offers…