We review the entire country and culture of New Zealand, one thing at a time. Today, Madeleine Chapman finds an old friend on the road.
We all like to pretend we love long walks, but have you ever walked the length of the country to prove it? Finn Egan is three weeks into his estimated four month hike from the very top of the country to the very bottom. He’s not doing it for the sake of his Tinder profile (actually, he might be but I didn’t ask), he’s doing it to raise funds for a safe house to be built in Papua New Guinea, where he spent 18 months working in the community with women and children, many the victims of domestic violence.
I heard Finn was making his way through Auckland’s shitty weather so met up with him at 8am as he left Mt Wellington and headed South to the urban lighthouse that is the Fear Fall at Rainbow’s End. He seemed in good spirits, even remarking that his shoes were dry for a change. Granted, he’s only three weeks in, not yet a quarter of the way through, but I suspect I’d be well and truly over it before then. I walked with Finn for 90 minutes, from near Sylvia Park to near Manukau mall, before gladly sitting down on the train back to work. While we criss-crossed through the rubbish bins out for collection, I picked his brain.
He talked about how he’d planned to camp at least half the nights but had only spent one of the three weeks in his tent thanks to the kindness of locals. No one had been nasty to him. At worst, some people were maybe unhelpful but that was it. As the world heads towards its premature end it was nice to hear that the much-advertised hospitality of New Zealanders isn’t just a marketing ploy.
He spoke of receiving information and news mostly from those who house him for the night and how that can change drastically from one town to the next. Further up North there were families staying in lodges as emergency housing, where he caught a cold from one of the sick kids. Then a few days later he was in Takapuna being warned about “the scourge of Jacinda” and her dreaded capital gains tax. “The conversations that people have,” he said, “the things that people worry about are so different and it’s definitely a regional thing.”
Here’s the thing: I went to primary school with Finn and we were buddies. We played rugby against each other every lunchtime. He’d be the first to say that his life hasn’t revolved around hiking. So why do this? “I spent 18 months in PNG,” he said, “and when I got back I had six months to kill before I started postgrad so I thought it was as good a time as any.”
Very blasé about the whole thing, if you ask me. But traversing the entire country isn’t cheap. Finn has saved up since his university days and has budgeted up to $8000 for the trip. Those costs he covers on his own and any donations to the PNG safe house go directly to their own separate fund. Finn just does the walking.
I started to get envious. How nice to just walk through nature all day and experience the kindness of strangers. But then we got close to a train station and I was worryingly quick in making my exit. Going on a crazy long hike is something everyone thinks about at some point, usually after a break up or a particularly bad stretch at work, but very few follow through. For Finn, that’s been the first and most important lesson he’s learned on his walk.
“I’ve found that saying yes to things is most important. A lot of times people don’t do something because they want to find an excuse not to do it. Just say yes.
“And now it’s raining. Just in time for you to jump on your train.”
Verdict: Check out his progress here and if you see him on the road, show some love.
Good or bad: Good
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