Walking the Length of New Zealand

We meet the man who completed all 3,000 kilometers of the legendary Te Araroa
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Jun 16, 2015 | By Naresh Kumar

On December 12, 2014, Bedrock Sandals CTO Naresh Kumar dipped his feet in the Indian Ocean at Bluff, New Zealand — some 3,000 kilometers south of the Te Araroa trailhead where he began his epic hike. On his feet? Bedrock Syncline Sandals — the same pair he started the journey with. We recently had a chance to sit down with Naresh and chat about the inspirations that set him down this incredible path. 

The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes

So why'd you head off to New Zealand?

A bit of a back story here: Back in 2001 while I was growing up in India, I watched the first Lord of the Rings movie and I wondered, “What kind of magical place is that?”

While working as a tech consultant in California, I got a visa to live in New Zealand before I had ever stepped foot in the country. I was exhausted with life in front of a computer screen and wanted to take a leap towards a more fulfilling future. The idea for the Te Araroa was to walk, hike, and run the length of the country, meeting people and seeing new places, and ultimately finding a new home for myself in New Zealand.

That's a hefty undertaking, how much trail experience did you have previously?

When I moved to the US in 2010, I found a passion for trail running. Since then I have completed over 50 ultra marathons, 2 thru hikes, and I won the unassisted 2011 Vol State 500k road race across the entire state of Tennessee.

What spurred the decision to do the Te Araroa adventure?

I have had my eye on doing some long distance thru hiking over the past few years, so when I got my New Zealand visa it was just perfect. The plan was to explore the country and do all the Great Walks, and that’s when I stumbled across Te Araroa, "The Long Pathway", a tramp from Cape Reinga to Bluff. I decided to walk like a hobbit through Middle Earth.

I timed my adventure in such a way that I would finish just in time to watch the last part of The Hobbit - Battle of the Five Armies on the opening day in NZ.

Was it extreme? Possibly. Over-simplified? For sure. But this adventure set my feet moving, pushed my life in a direction I never imagined, and gave me experiences I had never dreamed of.

What was the journey like?

Very humbling. Being a long distance runner, I went into this adventure with a lot of pride. The trail and mountains and weather promptly humbled me within the first two weeks of my adventure. I was crying like a baby in knee deep mud, begging the mountain to let me go. The highest point along Te Araroa is just 1925 meters but the terrain is unforgiving. Mt Pirogia, which is just 900 meters, put me to the real test. A very important lesson: A mountain is a mountain no matter how small.

Weather is your biggest enemy. New Zealand tramping standards are very different compared to US trails. Some sections are more rugged and the terrain very unforgiving. There are no switchbacks in NZ. Sometimes all you do is climb straight up and straight down following the marked poles. It becomes a real challenge. Especially on the South Island where you are tramping in alpine terrain most of the time. Being above the tree line, you are totally exposed to the weather. Streams and river crossings are a huge part of the track. Sometimes you will be walking miles along a stream and will cross rivers where the currents are swift and it will be chest deep. If the weather goes south, you have no other choice but to sit it out and wait.

There is no wildlife that would kill you out there but NZ’s weather will do that job. It can change in an instant. From bright blue sunny skies to wind, blizzard, hail and snow all in a matter of an hour.

What would a typical day on the trail look like?

Wake up by the wood fire, make a cup of coffee, and eat muesli for breakfast straight out of the box, then hit the track. I tried to pick my destination for the day based on the terrain and weather. New Zealand has this amazing hut system in the forests, especially on the South Island. Basic shelter with bunk beds, rain water tanks, and, a built-in wood fire burner. if you're lucky. Once you are at the hut, you unpack, rest and relax. It saves a lot of time over pitching a tent. Build a fire, and eat some instant noodles and cookies for dinner. Read a classic like Homer’s Odyssey or J.R.R. Tolkien by the fire. Then drink some tea while gazing at the fire and contemplating the days ahead.

Life in its simplest form: Eat, walk, sleep, repeat.

What did it take to make this adventure possible?

I come from a lower middle class family. I had dreams to travel and adventure. Life had other plans, though I didn’t let it get in my way.  It took a while, in my case almost 10 years, but it happened.

I was a man on a mission. The finish meant the world to me. I made myself distant from all kinds of relationships, especially from falling for someone along the journey. I didn’t even tell my parents about my adventure. The last thing I wanted was to be constantly worrying them while I was out in the mountains, far away from civilization. I wanted to be present in the moment, to disconnect myself and connect with people around me.

“How bad you want it. That’s what will take you to the finish line.” That's what my American papa Laz once told me.

I wanted a Te Araroa finish, real bad.

Now that I have completed this journey, I realize that there is no such thing as a small dream. Dream and dream big. Keep the dream alive and work towards it. If your dream is important to you, everything else will fall into place and you will prioritize better to make it happen.

What were the most challenging parts, and what kept you going?

Tararua Forest Park, Richmond Range, and the Nelson Marlborough region. These regions were the toughest in my opinion, and definitely put me to the test. When weather, terrain, and your own body conspire against you, it’s a sure-fire way to find out what lurks in the depth of your mind.

What was the best part?

People. The scenery is stunning, no doubt. Peter Jackson has shown the world what an awesome country Middle Earth is. Every turn leads to jaw-dropping, breathtaking views. But the people are so amazingly awesome. The hospitality I received all along the track is simply amazing. I may have come away with stunning photographs, but the memories and relationships will last a life time. It’s one thing when you have your own dreams, but it’s extraordinary when people you have never met before believe in it and do whatever they can to make it happen for you. It makes you wonder, “What did I do to deserve all these amazing people in my life?”

Why Bedrock Sandals?

The book Born to Run got me thinking about minimalist footwear, and since I was a beginner at that time, I thought why not? I still remember the day I called Dan (CEO and founder of Bedrock Sandals) to order my first pair of sandals. I had a no blisters during Te Araroa. That’s a true testament to the product and what it has to offer. Extremely rugged and lightweight. You tread lightly. You feel everything beneath your feet. You can venture out an epic adventure with Bedrock sandals. It is possible and they are built for it.

What would you do differently, either in this adventure or future ones?

Stop being hard on myself. Sometimes things get out of control. Sometimes shit happens. Accept failure if it has to occur, knowing that you gave 100% and there’s nothing you could have done to make it better. [H]

Be sure to give Naresh and his continuing adventures a follow on Instagram here