The Happy Tramper

18 May 2021


By College staff writer

Rural Hospital Medicine registrar Dr Claire Richardson fancied seeing a bit of the country before beginning her training and walked the Te Araroa Trail, which is more than 3,000km from Cape Reinga down to Bluff!

While her mammoth hike gave her a few blisters it also raised more than $20,000 for Taranaki Hospice.

“When I found out about the trail that runs the length of Aotearoa, I thought it would be a really cool thing to do, a bit of adventure, and so I told a few people I was going to give it try,” says Claire.

“Then things sort of snowballed, and more people found out and all of a sudden I had to do it! Then I though maybe I could raise some money for a worthy cause, and the Taranaki Hospice was an easy choice. I did a three-month placement there as part of my post-graduate training and they were so supportive of  junior doctors.

“I’ve also had family members spend time there so I know what a wonderful job they do.”

Claire is a Taranaki girl herself, growing up along the coast in Tataraimaki, between Oakura and Okato. Her mother was a teacher and her dad, a farmer, who gave a great deal to his community.

“The landscapes, the views, the experience was like nothing else. You meet such interesting and wonderful people doing something like this, everyone supports everyone else and you feel like you are part of something really special.”

“Dad volunteered for 30 years as a first responder and all through my childhood people would be saying what an awesome person he was because he had saved their life  or a member of their family,” she says. “I was so very proud of him and he was the inspiration behind my decision to become a doctor, really.”

Walking so far, and through some pretty remote areas, meant that it wasn’t as easy as tying up a pair of walking boots, grabbing a bottle of water and a map and setting off.

“There is a lot of planning that goes into doing a trek like this,” explains Claire. “I had to organise supply dumps, or bounce boxes, with food and water along much of the South Island stretch because there are simply no shops to visit. It’s very, very wild. I carried a tent with me and ate a lot of dehydrated food.

“The North Island part was a little easier because pockets of civilisation are a bit more common but that didn’t mean a nice soft bed every night!”

Te Araroa was created thanks to the dedication of journalist Geoff Chapple, who founded the Te Araroa Trust in 1994 and began the huge task of requesting access, joining up existing trails and building tracks.

The route officially opened on 3 December, 2011 and not only involves hiking a hugely varied selection of trails, tracks and pathways but kayaking a section of the Whanganui River, too.

Claire also biked the 82km Timber Trail that forms part of the walk from Pureora to Ongarue on the Central Plateau.

“It was amazing; really amazing,” she says. “The landscapes, the views, the experience was like nothing else. You meet such interesting and wonderful people doing something like this, everyone supports everyone else and you feel like you are part of something really special.”

However, it wasn’t all plain sailing,  with mental strength being just as important as physical fitness when it came to putting one foot in front of the other.

“Mental toughness was definately part of it, some days you just wanted to go home, call the whole thing off and go to the pub,” says Claire.

“One of the main things that preyed on my mind was picking up an injury and being forced off the trail, I didn’t want to let people and the Hospice down, so I was very relieved when I reached the finish line!”

“Dad volunteered for 30 years as a first responder and all through my childhood people would be saying what an awesome person he was because he had saved their life  or a member of their family,”

One of the scariest moments was crossing the ridgeline at Mt Crawford, in the Tararuas.

“It was blowing an absolute gale, actually knocking us over, so we had to crawl over so we didn’t get blown off the mountain,” remembers Claire. “Thank God there was a white-out so we couldn’t see the extent of the drop!”

Although Claire is happy to have completed the 140 days of walking it took to complete Te Araroa and be home with family and friends, her need for adventure is still calling and she is dreaming up her next challenge.

“There are so many amazing experiences to be had out there, I’m sure I can find something suitable,” she laughs.

You can check out Claire’s amazing journey on Facebook and Instagram.