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  • Published: 22 August 2023
  • ISBN: 9781776950478
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 336
  • RRP: $40.00

Adventures with Emilie

Taking on Te Araroa trail in 138 life-changing days



Te Araroa

Day 106

The wind is silent until it encounters objects. And then it can command an orchestra of sound that drowns out all other noise, plucking the harp strings of branches and banging the drums of rocks, building up intensity until it transforms peaceful landscapes into terrifying infernos of energy in motion.

Wind over land flows like water over rocks, picking up speed, increasing in energy with everything it touches. Unchecked and insatiable, it runs around corners, gallops through gaps, contorts across cliff faces, rolls around bluffs and tears through tussock, pummelling everything in its path in a deafening, all-consuming roar.

I’m lying in my sleeping bag, holding my seven-year-old daughter tight in my arms, the thin fabric of our ultralight tent pressed against my face, waiting for the next gust to rip the roof off our flimsy shelter and suck us out into the night sky. We’re camping at 950 metres’ elevation in a valley encircled by dark craggy peaks; a high mountain pass is behind us and ahead, a narrow funnel of a creek that eventually opens into the icy blue expanse of Lake Hāwea.

A front is moving swiftly across the Southern Alps and we’re in the middle of it. The previously rain-swollen clouds have run up against the rock wall of the mountains and dumped their load on the jungles of the West Coast. Now jubilantly free of burden, they’ve risen over the mountains and are descending upon us.

Sheltered valleys can turn into wind tunnels, and with nowhere to go, the wind rolls around, increasing in pressure and speed, packing a punch that will rip off branches, knock over dead trees and throw a 100-kilogram human off their feet.

That’s why they say the only thing that will kill you in the New Zealand backcountry is the weather, and here I am, huddling with my little daughter, 1500 kilometres and 106 days into the longest walk of my life.

Each powerful gust swoops down from the craggy ridgeline and rolls around the basin, picking up speed, filling our terrified ears with its banshee roar.

It rips through the tiny grove of beech trees I’d hoped would offer us some protection and is upon us, bending poles and flattening the tent against my chest, so I must turn my head to not choke on a mouthful of material. How can the poles withstand such rough treatment? How much longer will the rocks I placed over those tiny red pegs keep them in the ground? This tent weighs less than 1.5 kilograms, yet with the force of each gust pressing down on me, it could weigh a tonne.

Minutes stretch into eternity while I wait for our prostrate bodies to be exposed to the full wrath of this storm. These moments of claustrophobic terror feel eternal as I force myself to lie still and keep breathing, when all my body wants to do is fight free of this fabric tomb and run, screaming, to safety.

But I can’t breathe anymore, and my head is ringing with the roar of the raging wind and flapping tent, and I can’t believe Emilie isn’t screaming her head off, because right now I’m so fucking close to completely losing my shit.

I use my free arm to push the tent off my face, again, and miraculously, it just bounces back up, again. I turn to reassure Emilie only to find her nestled into the crook of my shoulder, all wrapped up in her bright yellow sleeping bag like a little doll, snoring peacefully through rosebud lips.

Somehow, I’ve transcended from the turmoil of fear and panic to a quiet sense of calm. I’m not really losing my shit. I’m brave and strong. I am a warrior woman, wahine toa with my little one sheltering safely by my side. The wind will eventually blow itself out over the eastern plains, dawn is just beyond the horizon, and once there’s enough light in the sky we’ll pack up and start walking again. Four hundred and sixty-six kilometres to go. Just another day on the crazy adventure of Te Araroa.

Adventures with Emilie Victoria Bruce

A mother and daughter's wild journey to rediscover the wonder and restorative power of nature.

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