“You can’t hike any more. You have to change your plans,” the doctor says sympathetically. “Was it your dream to tramp across New Zealand? Had you been planning it for years?”
“Well, no,” I reply, “but it’s really disappointing. How long will I take to heal?”
“Three more months, maybe…or keyhole surgery.”
I have torn a cartilage in my knee just 160km into the Te Araroa hike across New Zealand. It’s now very clear that I won’t be able to hike the whole trail. But because I can stay in the country for six months, it’s possible that I’ll recover in time to walk half of it.
The visit to the doctor is refreshing for me. I realise that I had started to define and label myself only as a hiker, competing with myself to clock up the kilometres, and it’s interesting to observe why I want to walk across the whole country, and why I feel a bit of a failure because I can no longer do that. Is it egoic to want to complete a whole trail rather than half of it?
For the first three weeks after my injury, I can barely walk. Chris gives me a piggyback into town as we go for dinner on my 37th birthday. On this day, I’m filled with overwhelming gratitude. I realise just how lucky I am to be alive. I’m privileged to be 37! Some of my friends have died over the last few years, and others live in countries where blood is shed daily. I also realise just how much I have previously taken my body and my health for granted. I feel grateful that my injury is pretty minor.
“Where ya headed?” the driver of a car says to Chris and I.
“Hobbiton,” Chris replies, and I burst out laughing. A classic hitchhiking moment.
Before we know it, we’re on the filmset of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, walking around the beautiful Shire and visiting Bilbo Baggins’ house.
The Shire is based on an English country garden. The set designers planted native English plants and brought in English thatchers to thatch the rooftops of some of the houses. Walking through the tiny streets of Hobbiton with its old wheelbarrows and garden furniture, I’m reminded of my grandparents’ old garden in Devon. When I learn that the film-makers built an English oak tree out of steel, I have to wonder, “Why didn’t they just film The Shire scenes in England?”
Hobbiton is extortionately expensive and very crowded, but extraordinarily beautiful!
My injury has given Chris and I a lot of free time to explore more of New Zealand’s north island. We take a ferry to the Great Barrier Island, or Aotea in Māori. Dolphins playfully chase the ferry. It’s one of the highlights of my life, being so close to these wild and beautiful creatures.
We head onwards and explore The Coromandel, as well as the Waikato region – the heart of the north island and its main dairy farming region. We also go to a Rainbow Gathering – a hippie gathering in a forest – for almost three weeks, living simply together, communally cooking, creating music, making fires and putting on workshops.
One and a half months after visiting the doctor, my knee injury heals enough for me to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (which is part of the Te Araroa trail). So Chris and I go on a roadtrip with our Rainbow friends Thomas and J-Dawg to the volcanic mountain range that was Mordor in Lord of the Rings.
Arriving at the start of the trail at 3.30pm, we’re warned by a worker that it’s far too late to begin the six hour hike. I’m also aware that the forecast for the night is -3°C, but I know that we’re well-equipped to camp if necessary.
A few thousand people hike the Tongariro Crossing every day. We’ve heard about the lanes of human traffic. However, by starting the walk at 3.30pm, we’re literally the only people on the mountains! We’re joined by a guy called Kristian, the only other person mad enough to start walking in the late afternoon. Together we camp at the foot of Mount Doom in the heart of Mordor. The Tongariro Crossing is by far the highlight of New Zealand’s north island.
New Zealand is undoubtedly beautiful, but it is one of the worst places to visit for animal rights. Before humans ever inhabited New Zealand, it was mammal-free (except for bats) and rich in birdlife that had no animal-predators. This is why New Zealand has flightless birds such as the kiwi. After the British colonised, mammals such as possums, stoats, deer and wild pigs were introduced into the native forest.
Nowadays, the New Zealand government is supposedly on a mission to eradicate all mammals (except for those that can be used as commodities, such as sheep and cows) in their ‘Battle for the Birds’. Their techniques are horrific and inhumane, and involve helicopter-dropping corporate poison onto vast swathes of the country’s forests, causing animals to suffer slow, agonising deaths. Various poisons are also put into boxes that possums and stoats will crawl into. The New Zealand countryside is laced with poison, and it’s difficult to find any wild area on the north island that doesn’t have WARNING: POISON signs.
Much of the New Zealand population seems to support the massacre of defenceless mammals, including vegans and vegetarians that we chat to. Almost everyone we meet speaks the government’s words: “Possums are pests. They destroy our forests and kill our birds”. People say this without recognising the irony of their words: that they are humans, the most destructive of the whole animal kingdom.
As well as the widespread use of poison, hunting and trapping are other methods used to eradicate mammals. There are 1,700 traps on the tip of the Coromandel peninsula alone.
A vegan friend of ours is surprisingly supportive of killing possums, but not of the trapping methods that are being used. He tells us:
“The trapping and killing of possums doesn’t achieve the goal of their eradication. The method involves intensive trapping for a month and then moving onto another area. So the number of possums might fall briefly for a short time and then rise again. The trapping industry provides lots of jobs, but not much else.”
Hunting is an encouraged pastime in New Zealand, much like a hobby such as golf. Most of our male drivers talk about their love of hunting. It is so ingrained into the culture here that the biggest outdoor store is called Hunting and Fishing, and displays its vast array of guns for all to see. We chat to an English woman who has lived in New Zealand since 1998. We ask her whether people hunt for food or for pleasure, and whether hunting helps to eradicate mammals. She tells us:
“People are obsessed with hunting here. I still can’t get used to this obsession. Hunting’s not about getting food…they even release pigs into the wild just so that they can hunt them.”
One friend tells us about a local school fundraiser where the young school children compete with each other in hunting competitions. One newspaper article states that the organising committee “enjoys seeing the excitement on the faces of the younger hunters as they get to show off their prize catch.”
New Zealand’s the only country that I’ve been to where the words ‘eco’ and ‘conservation’ are equated to hunting and poisoning wildlife, and I feel a deep sadness which stays with me, no matter where I am or what I’m doing.
Two months after coming off of the Te Araroa trail, I feel ready to start the hike again. We head to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand and by far the prettiest town we’ve been to in the country so far. We spend our time here eating vegan junk food and visiting the anarchist/radical social centre. We’ll rejoin the trail at the start of the south island. Who knows how my knee will hold up…!
My regimen for a torn miniscus cartilage (unfortunately I can’t remember the doses that I have used, but it’s usually what is stated on the bottle):
Omega 3 flaxseed
Turmeric – put into most meals for the first month of my injury
Ginger – added to food and drunk as a tea
Apple cider vinegar – at least one shot daily with water
I made a poultice by mixing turmeric powder with olive oil and a couple of drops of tea tree oil. I applied this to my knee at night and then covered it. I have no idea if this was useful, but it definitely did no harm!!
Foods that aggravate my injury: