Rainy day blues

After yesterday’s tide mishap, today I’m playing it safe. I didn’t feel like getting up super early in the morning to catch the early low tide, so I slept in, got some breakfast and coffee, and now I’m just sitting here reading and waiting for 2pm to roll around so I can get started. Odds are I’m still going to have to wait for the tide to go out more, but at least it’ll be on the way out, and I can get some of the day’s mileage in before getting to the beach.

Sadly, it’s raining. Off and on, but when it’s on it’s on like Donkey Kong.

Today is also a short day, so that helps. About 15km total, so half of what I’ve done each day so far. And the first soft surface (soft sand doesn’t count) section of the trail if I’m seeing things correctly! Plus I’ll be departing from sea level and won’t be back for 2 months! I believe Havelock is the next time I’ll be at sea level. So I’ll probably take my shoes off, dip my feet one last time, and head off into the distance.

Spirits are high, I’m itching to get moving, wishing the high tide wasn’t so inconveniently timed today!

Day 2: Invercargill to Riverton

Back on the trail for day 2! Pack is very heavy. I’m carrying too much food I think. Oh well. Off to walk the road for about 10k and then beach forever. The sunrise was super nice.

Finally got to the beach and did the obligatory beach writing and selfies.

It was set to be a great day! Not supposed to be too hot. Supposed to rain so it was going to be cloudy which I’m all for. I picked up a buff yesterday at sporting store and made great use of it to protect my face from the sun! It was awesome!

My main obstacle for the day was to be the crossing at Waimatuku Stream. The trail notes say it’s best to time it so you make his crossing at low tide. Low tide this morning was 7:30am, so that wasn’t going to happen, but I still hit the trail pretty early and made it to the crossing by 10:30. An RV that passed me earlier was there at the crossing and I borrowed some shade for a minute before I found some other shade to use.

All in all I was fairly underwhelmed by the stream crossing. The notes made me think it was going to be some raging torrent that would only really be safe at low tide. It was just above my ankle deep.

However, as the day progressed, the tide came in more and more. Remember, low tide was 7:30am so the tide is coming in. Which means my beach is slowly shrinking.

Eventually it got so bad that I could barely walk. The wet sand was too soft and was constantly getting waves crashing on it. There were places where the beach looked like a scalloped knife blade with water pushing farther up the beach between berms of extremely loose rock. So it was a constant weaving back and forth along the beach, between soft sand and loose rock. Terrible footing. There was some dry sand further up the beach but dry sand is about the worst possible thing to try to walk any distance in. I think if that was my only option I would just sit down and wait out the tide.

It seems that the low tide hint was much more about the beach part than the river crossing part. I’ll try to avoid making that mistake again! Fortunately, tomorrow’s the last beach walk on the trip.

Because of my fatigue and grumpiness setting in, I didn’t take any pictures on that section of the beach. I just wanted to be done. My feet hurt. I was tired. I was thirsty. I was hungry but no real appetite. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see a paved road in my whole life when I made the turn off of the beach and into town.

Tonight I’m at the Monkey’s Backpacker, which is a total steal at $20nzd for a bunk. It sure as hell ain’t fancy, but it’s cheap, the bed is clean, and the WiFi is actually pretty damn good.

Now I’m off to get some soap so I can wash my clothes and get them hung up to dry.

Tomorrow’s only a short day on the beach, but the high tide is right in the middle of the day. So I’m not certain if I’m gonna get up early and bust it out, or stay late to catch the tide going out in the afternoon. Judging by how my feet feel right now, it’ll be in the afternoon, but we’ll see later!

Invercargill Zero Day

Welp. The second day of my hike was a zero day. And I’m really glad I did this. It’s still very very warm, with lots of sun. And the trail would have been entirely exposed to the sun all day. The only thing today’s setup would have had going for it is I would have likely gotten through the hard part of the day, crossing Waimatuku Stream at low tide, but I would have walked all the way there during the hottest part of the day. And past that it would have been walking into the sun, so would only have gotten worse!

Instead, I got my packages mailed out. Got some final supplies for the trip. Nursed my sunburns a bit. Did some laundry. Stayed cool. Got a haircut. And now I’m less not ready to load up my heavy pack and get walking in the morning. Since I’d like to cross with as ideal of tide as possible I’m planning to depart by 5:30, 6am. Low tide is at 7:33am, so I figure if I get to the crossing by 9 I should be good. And if I hurry I may beat the rain which is supposed to start around 2pm! Good times!

Through Instagram hashtag stalking I found a couple who just started around the same time as I did, and we are all making this trip tomorrow, so I may bump into them along the way, but definitely in Riverton!

And, for posterity, my new do:

Day 1: Bluff to Invercargill

The weather forecast looked bleak today. 30C (about 84F) and sunny. And there’s very little shade on the route which is mostly a road walk, at least according to Google Maps. But hey, I thought. 84 isn’t that bad, and I have a hat and long sleeves and pants so I should be fine!


But more about that in a minute.

I hopped on the shuttle that picked me up right outside my hostel and off we went to Bluff! Along the way I had a chat with the driver as I was his only passenger and that was cool. I was slightly zombified, not having gotten the most amazing sleep last night and also super nervous about the day and trying to remain calm. I probably wasn’t the most stimulating of conversation partners, but fortunately it’s only a 30 minute trip.

When we got to Bluff I had lost the postcards I wanted to send myself from Bluff. I had no idea where they’d run off to, but the driver suggested maybe I’d dropped them when I got in and he’d swing by he hostel and look for them on his way back through town. Fortunately, he did find them, sadly they won’t get the Bluff cancellation stamp I was hoping for, but oh well.

So here I am, at the start!

Hooray, I’m here, at the farthest south I’ve ever been, and one of the farthest south points outside of Antarctica, about to spend the next 2 months or so walking north. Do I look nervous? Hint: I was.

Fortunately, the track started quite nicely. Good amount of shade, some lovely views, gravel path (I would prefer softer track but gravel makes sense for high traffic areas)

Some pretty views along the way. Then up we go to the top of Bluff Hill. 326m and several stops to catch my breath later, I was at the top! The views were quite lovely, nearly a 360 view from the top, aside from the cell towers!

Then it was off to start the road walking. I was sad it started so early, I thought I’d at least get back down into Bluff first. Oh well.

On my way through Bluff I came across a lady and her husband I had met the day prior at a cafe and had a lovely conversation with. They said they’d come down to walk the track, I suspect they were also hoping to come across me and see me off! It was very cool of them!

He asked me if I was hot. I said not yet, ask me in a few hours. And sure enough, if he had, I’d have informed him that yes, I was indeed hot. Very hot. At first it was fine. The air temp wasn’t bad. Sun at my back. A nice breeze. Then the pavement started heating up. I started running low on water. I was tired of the pavement. My deltoids hurt. Heat was starting to get to me.

Along the way I stumbled across a sign for a museum. Way out in the middle of nowhere. I thought at worst I could get some water and rest in the shade. What I came to find out was I’d stumbled upon a really wonderful collection of radio and radio adjacent gear. It was a big collection. Very well curated. Even the museum itself had nice touches. A sound cone for one of the displays that had a video component, which are rare even in major museums. A small theater with comfortable seating and a 35mm projector. Apparently they have screenings of old movies there from time to time. The museum itself is the Arawua Communications Museum. Apparently back in WW1 Germany built a radio monitoring and communications station there. The area was particularly well suited for reception and could pick up signals from around the world! It had a major role for the Allies in WW2 as well. The towers were later removed, but this museum is there to commemorate and document the story. Really great stuff. And all of this for a museum that is only open 4 hours once a week! Amazing.

Anywho, when I pulled in the fire department was doing something out on the road and after being there for about an hour suddenly the power went out. The power lines had been arcing and they had to shut off power for a bit to fix it. So I filled my bottles and left.

More road. More heat. More sun. Finally I make my turn to get off of the main road and onto a trail to take me into Invercargill. Turns out the trail was gravel (read: hot) and had NO shade for large stretches. I finally found a tree and rested for a while, but it wasn’t enough. Was still hot, miserable walking.

Eventually I came into town after several side opportunities presented themselves to get me in via a slightly different route. Being a bit of a purist though I ended up sticking to the official trail until it turned away from town.

I landed in a pizza place and stuffed myself a bit silly, though my appetite still wasn’t fully working so I had some leftovers. After rolling into my hostel I took a shower and booked another night. Tomorrow would be even more exposed, even less water, with my full pack, starting later in the day (I have some things I need to do before I leave town and they open late), and the heat wasn’t going to be much better. So I called it. I’ll stay another night, my first zero day of the trip, but I think it’s the right call. Not a bad one at any rate.

All in all today could have been worse. I knew it would be bad. 26+ miles I walked. Mostly on roads or bad trail. Add to that the heat and sun. But it’s over now. I didn’t have to finish with this like some people do. I get the Queen Charlotte Track as my reward for completion!

Now I’m off to bed with sunburn, some treated blisters and lots to do in the morning.

On Te Araroa!

Greetings! I’m currently hiking New Zealand’s Te Araroa trail, starting from the south and heading northbound, aiming to complete the full South Island portion of the trail!

As I am on the trail I have limited cell service and internet access, so posts will be infrequent and bursty (a bunch will go up when I get to an internet connection), but I hope to bring you along with me on my journey! If you want to contact me, the normal contact methods apply, just be aware that it may be a few days before I get your message!

Feel free to follow along with me on Instagram where I’ll be posting photos as I go wherever I have cell service.

The time has nearly come

I’m sitting here in my lodging in Wellington staring out at the city from the 10th floor trying to think of what else I need to do before I go.

A little while ago I picked up my backcountry hut pass. Right now I’m filtering through my gear again trying to figure out what I can send to Queenstown, which isn’t my halfway point but I feel is a good first bail option point, and by the time I get there I’ll have a better idea of what the shape of the rest of the trip will look like.

I’m anxious about the weight I’m going to have to carry, even early on in the trip. Worried about food still, since I still don’t have much of a clue as to what I’ll be doing on that front. Fortunately I only need to worry about one food drop to get me to Queenstown, and if all else fails I can hitch from the trail at several points to go get groceries.

But also super excited about all of the people I’m now following on Instagram and through blogs, seeing their pictures, reading their stories, and most importantly, lookin forward to meeting them, even if only briefly as we pass each other in opposite directions. Hopefully overnight hut selection between northbounders and southbounders will have enough overlap I can at least get an evening with them!

Earlier today I was running errands and I realized that a couple of years ago I wouldn’t have dreamed I’d be “wasting time” doing things like laundry, grocery shopping, waiting in line at the post office while on a vacation. Yet here I am, thousands of miles from home, doing just that. And I’m even about to go take in a movie at the local cinema. Fly half way around the world to see Jumanji, you say? Damn right.

The calm before the storm. I am glad I opted to spend a week or so in country before starting the walk. I can do last minute things. Get over jet lag (which wasn’t that bad actually). Explore Auckland and Wellington a bit. Do some day hiking as a bit of warm up. And most importantly, relax. The week I had between coming home from Iceland and leaving for New Zealand was packed full of activity. Paperwork. Visiting friends. Dropping off my cats. Worrying about my cats (which I’m still doing to be perfectly honest). Cleaning my apartment. Packing. Right now though, mostly what I need to do before I start walking is done. The rest I can make up as I go along.

When I first got here I was so anxious to get started I wished I hadn’t pre-booked everything up until the day I start walking because now I can’t really change it. But I’m glad I did 🙂

Anywho. I think I’ve rambled enough. I start walking in a few days. I’m excited. Slightly terrified, but excited 🙂

On a side note it’s super expensive to send a postcard to the US from New Zealand. $2.20NZD! (About $1.50 US) I’m going to go bankrupt sending postcards home and to everyone I can think of! Speaking of which, if you want a postcard, hit up the the about page and send me your address.

Trail food planning

My current plan is that I’m going to ship food boxes from 2 places on the trail: Invercargill (one food box to Birchwood Station or Ohai) and Queenstown (food boxes to Tekapo, Lake Coleridge, Arthur’s Pass, Boyle Village, and St. Arnaud)

The Birchwood Station box only needs about 4 days worth of food, and is only so I don’t have to start the hike with 10 days worth of food, much of which I won’t need for about 3 or 4 days out of Invercargill. It will get me to Te Anau where I’ll resupply for the stretch up to Queenstown.

I may not send a food drop to Tekapo, but it’s a 7 day stretch past there and I don’t know what food availability / cost is going to be like there, and if I can buy in bulk fairly inexpensively in Queenstown, I’d rather do that.

The rest of that, though, the food drops are going to be my primary source of food on the trail. Without any ability to augment my food supply for large stretches of trail, I’ll need to carefully plan what I’m going to eat, so I don’t pack too much, but I don’t pack too little, and since most of my food will be coming from one place, fairly early on in the trail, I have to be careful to have enough variety in my food so I don’t get sick of eating oatmeal on day 30 and still have another month of oatmeal ahead of me in food drops! I’m hoping to flesh out many of the meals and such in the first part of the trip, prior to arrival in Queenstown, and basing my food planning for the rest of the trip on that.

There’s a chance I might ship my food drops from Wanaka instead of Queenstown. The primary motivation for Queenstown over Wanaka is there’s a Pak’n’Save in Queenstown but not Wanaka, so I’m running under the assumption I’ll be able to save some money buying there rather than buying everything at, say, Four Square or New World in Wanaka. This is also why I’m opting to mail a box to Tekapo since the next stretch from there is 6-7 days and they have even less supermarket options there. I’m fine with resupplying in Wanaka for a 7 day trip, as New World should have everything I need and the money I might save buying in Queenstown could be offset by shipping and storage costs (assuming I’d be charged to receive a package at my accommodation in Wanaka).

Anywho, enough logistics thinking, on to what I’m actually planning to eat!


Oatmeal, rice, quinoa, pasta, and cous cous are probably going to make up the majority of my calorie load. If I can figure out a decent bean situation I would like to bring those in, but they tend to have long cooking times and I’d much prefer to also not heat anything in my pot other than water to save on cleaning. Pasta and steel cut oats and such can be hot soaked in my en-cozied food container, overnight if need be (I tried this with steel cut oats, worked perfectly).


To try to change things up with oatmeal, I plan to bring powdered milk, ghee, brown sugar, protein powder, a variety of dried fruits and nuts, and, of course, chia seeds. I’m hoping I can get enough variety out of the fruits and nuts combinations to help myself not get entirely sick of oatmeal.

For pasta I plan to bring various powdered soup and sauce mixes. I could try to bring dried herbs and spices and such, but honestly the packets will probably be way more convenient and then I don’t need to carry a bunch of little containers for spices, just upend a bag into my hot soak container along with the pasta.

Speaking of pasta, the pasta I plan to use the most if I can get it is angel hair. It should cook enough with a hot soak and fairly quickly, to conserve fuel, and reduce the time between stopping for a meal and eating said meal.


I’ll need to have a variety of snacks for either grazing on as I walk or munching on when I stop to rest. I don’t want to end up getting sick of, or sick from eating too much trail mix. I love me some trail mix, but eating that for 2 months straight is probably not going to be a great idea!


I’ll want to have some fallbacks. Easy food. I am likely going to pack at least one full dehydrated expensive just-add-water meal to each food drop. They’re not cheap, but at the end of a hard day I may just want something stupidly braindead easy just to shove calories in my face. Things like peanut butter and nutella tacos, or whatever. But also keeping in mind that I want to try to pack just enough food to get me to the next food drop or resupply. Both so I’m not carrying too much extra weight, and also so I am not wasting food because I end up with an extra day worth of food at my food drop and don’t want or need to carry it all out.

Extra food

I’ve seen people go both ways on carrying extra Just In Case food. Like if weather stops me 3 days into a 7 day stretch and I have to wait it out for 2 days, I’m going to want something to eat. Fortunately for those days I won’t necessarily need to have the full calorie complement I would normally have since I will be doing low or zero mileage on those days, but some people say to deal with it and stretch food if you need to, noting that going for that last day into town without any food isn’t the end of the world. Mostly you need water, and water I’ll have, I’m not worried about water. One of the problems with packing extra food is if I pack an extra day of food into each food drop, if I don’t use that, when I get to the next food drop I have 2 extra days of food. What do I do with that extra food? Carry it? Throw it out? Hiker box? Share the love? I don’t know. These are things that are on my mind regarding food planning, and I hope to have decently formed opinions on the matter by the time I get to my second food drop source, be it Queenstown or Wanaka or somewhere else, so I can get my food drops ready and shipped out without spending too much time fretting over what should go in them! Get the fretting out of the way in advance!


In doing meal planning, I’m going to try to take into consideration things like what I actually want in my meals throughout the day. So in the mornings having something heavy in complex carbohydrates, fiber, and some fat will be good. For snacks it’ll be mostly nuts and trail mix. For lunch it’ll probably be a lot of peanut butter tortillas. And at night having something both easy to make and amenable to having protein powder added to get some of those recovery calories. At the end of the day, the last thing I’m going to want to do is put together a complex meal, especially if it’s been a particularly crappy day or I’m camping out in the rain or both!

Additionally I’m thinking about calorie loads and calorie weights over the course of a stretch as well. For the 10 day stretch in Richmond Ranges I’m thinking about things like having more calories in the early days vs later days (since I’ll be carrying more weight and possibly doing more climbing), as well as trying to front load the heavier calories, to try to optimize for shedding food weight early on.

I plan to spend a decent portion of my time in country before hitting the trail working on this and coming up with some “recipes” and daily meal plans and documenting them here as much as I can. This post was originally going to be that, but as I started writing I realized that I’m not ready enough to put that down and also there could be value in writing up my thinking about food planning and not just what I ended up with.

I need to try to avoid the trap of trying to over optimize. Especially since future me might be REALLY upset with past me’s choices. Especially given that the time between future me and past me could be upward of a month and a half. This alone makes me hesitant to ship out all of my food in advance, especially from as early on in the trip as Queenstown. Fortunately I’ll have plenty of time to think about that and figure it out on the way to Queenstown!


I’ve got a lot of thinking to do and planning and hopefully this jumble of words shines some light on my thinking around that. I’m confident I’ll figure something out, and that I’ll be able to adapt along the way when necessary. The biggest thing I keep telling myself is “no plan survives first contact with the enemy” and I haven’t yet made first contact with the enemy, so until I do it’s all academic. That’s not to say it’s not a good idea to think about things, but don’t feel the need to have it planned to a T, and if things go awry on the trail, roll with it and figure something out!

Obligatory Gear List

I’m going backpacking for 3 months. Here’s the obligatory gear list and gear pic.

Sleeping Kit

  • Jacks ‘R’ Better Sierra Sniveller top quilt
  • Zpacks Duplex tent – The Trash Bag (it looks and sounds like a trash bag. A very expensive trash bag)
  • REI Flash Sleeping Pad
  • Sea to Summit Silk + Cloth sleeping bag liner with custom footbox modification.
  • Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Regular inflatable pillow.


  • Giro cycling gloves
  • Outdoor Research wind and rain gloves
  • 2 pairs of Injinji toe socks. Plus 2 more pairs which will be going in my halfway box.
  • 2 pairs of Ex Officio Give-n-Go Sport Mesh boxer briefs. Plus 2 more pairs for halfway box.
  • Topo Terraventure trail running shoes, plus a pair for my halfway box.
  • Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure Hat
  • REI Tech T-shirt, for wearing in camp
  • Some random polyester leggings I bought ages ago to serve as a base layer if need be for my legs.
  • Wilderness Technology Merino wool long sleeve base layer top
  • Columbia Silver Ridge Stretch convertible pants
  • Smartwool Beanie
  • Mountain Hardwear down/synthetic puffy jacket
  • Mountain Hardwear rain shell jacket
  • Packtowl Nano

Cooking Kit

  • MSR Titan Tea Kettle
  • antigravitygear 4 cup screw lid container with cozy
  • Sawyer Squeeze water filter with bottle adapter ring
  • Snow Peak Gigapower stove with igniter
  • Water purification tablets as a backup in case my Sawyer fails.
  • Water bottles will be the ones you can get at a grocery store that come with free water. No sense spending good money on bottles that probably won’t survive anyways.


Toiletry / First Aid

  • First Aid Kit
  • Emergency blanket
  • Oral rehydration tablets
  • Ibuprofen
  • Sudafed
  • Antacid tablets
  • Floss
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Deodorant. I’ve been told I’ll end up throwing this out. I am going to try to find a travel size and try not to use it before I do that.
  • Condoms
  • Small nalgene with squirt bottle top for … sanitary purposes.
  • Small bar of soap


  • length of paracord
  • compass
  • Earplugs
  • Bic ball point pen (for writing in hut logs, filling out postcards, keeping score in card games, etc)
  • Deck of Bicycle playing cards. Extremely versatile entertainment tool. I have a book of card games on my Kindle in case I get tired of Crazy Eights
  • Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles
  • some duct tape wrapped around trekking poles
  • Cuben fiber patches and some gear tape
  • Needle and thread
  • Glasses, sunglasses and case for said (prescription)
  • Princeton Tec Byte headlamp
  • Passport, passport card. I probably don’t need the passport card, but it’s a backup.
  • Spare credit card
  • Wallet: credit card, debit card, insurance card, driver license, some cash
  • Hot pink mini bic lighter
  • Various stuff and dry sacks
  • Some extra ziploc bags
  • Small foam pad for sitting on

And last but not least:

The Pack

I used this pack in Japan in April last year and it was on my back for 8 trail days. The 9th trail day I had there was a day trip, so I left the main pack in my hotel room and took my day pack. To be honest, that day pack sucks for carrying any amount of load, like 3L of water, battery, kindle, and some snacks. Which is why I’m not taking it with me on this trip.


Typing this all up makes it seem like a lot, and the photo above makes it look like I have way more stuff than I can possibly fit in the bag, but the perspective on that photo is strange and makes my tent look way bigger than the pack, when in reality it’s actually rather small.

One of the things I’ve been worried about is the actual physical size of 10 days worth of food that I’ll have to carry on the Richmond section of the trail. That I wouldn’t be able to fit it all into my pack. I’m still a little worried about that, but the 2 bulkiest items in my pack, my tent and my sleeping bag, can be attached to the outside of my pack, so that frees up a whole lot of space inside the pack. The tent is a wet item to begin with, and my sleeping bag is in a dry sack, so it should be fine! If need be I can also do other shenanigans to tie stuff to the outside of my pack, but I think I’ll be fine.

The reason I have 2 pairs of headphones is because I am not sure if the EarPods will survive sweat and/or rain in the quantities I’ll be exposing it to, so I’m hedging with some “sports” headphones. The reason I don’t just use the sports headphones exclusively is because I don’t think they’re going to be very comfortable for long term usage. Headphones are going to be very important for me on the trail, as I learned in Japan. If I’m having a shitty day, I can turn on The Sprocket Podcast and it helps distract me from whatever is ailing me. Or some music. Or something else. Since I already had the Sennheisers and they weigh almost nothing, I figured I’d bring them along. The lightning to 3.5mm adapter was coming along regardless. If I need to get new headphones along the trail, I’m betting I’ll have a much easier time finding a pair that work with a 3.5mm jack than a pair that works with lightning. I’m not bringing my AirPods because it’s one more thing to keep charged, and using bluetooth on my phone for extended periods of time will consume a lot of power.

Speaking of power, I’m not really sure if that battery is going to be enough. I know the Kindle will easily be able to last the distances I’ll be covering without needing to be recharged, and the Garmin says on the 30 minute low power setting it gets 30 days of battery life, but I’m skeptical of that. The real question for me is how much power my phone is going to use. I intend to record the hike using Strava, and take a non-trivial amount of pictures. It’ll be in airplane mode most of the time, especially considering I probably won’t even have cell service most of the time. So I’m hoping I can get 2-4 days worth of usage out of a charge of my phone, and I can charge my phone 3-4 times with the battery. But we’ll see. I should be able to test most of this out with the first stretch of the trail. I may end up getting a second battery for longer stretches, or if I don’t want the extra weight, just not track with Strava. The highest priority for power is obviously the Garmin, as it’s my literal SOS button, and the second highest priority for power is the Kindle. Though I won’t have to do any field recharging of the Kindle, I’m confident of that.

The reason I have the larger, heavier USB power brick is because the smaller, lighter one I have will charge 2 devices, but only one at full speed. If a second device is plugged in, they both go down to half speed. Since I may only have passing access to electricity at times, I wanted to make sure I could charge things as quickly as possible. If I can get a bunch of power into my phone and the battery, that should hold me over. The weight difference between the adaptors I have is not that much, so I’m willing to make that sacrifice.

The deodorant situation. My friend who has done the AT, the PCT, and various other outdoor adventures, the one who is lending me her Garmin, tells me I need to get used to not being clean. And that I’m going to get stinky. And that I’ll end up throwing that deodorant out as dead weight. I am pretty self conscious about body odors and such, which actually was hard for me in Japan, the thought of not putting deodorant on in the morning after doing a bit of cleaning up, even if it is just splashing in a river or lake… I can’t fathom it. But I’m going to try to find a travel size deodorant and then try not using it. If I get comfortable not using deodorant, I’ll pitch it. If not, I’ll pack a travel deodorant in my food drops and swap it out as I go 🙂

I still need to pick up some cheap flip flops for use in camp. I’ve been keeping an eye out for some but haven’t gotten any yet.

Fortunately I don’t need to carry a bear canister or such in NZ as there are no bears in the wild there. Lots of rodents, though, so I will definitely be keeping my food in my tent or hanging it up inside the hut to try to stave off critters.

While I’ve done a lot of work to put together trail notes and maps, I wanted to bring a compass and maps to use as a backup in case my phone dies or whatever. Of course, I’ve never used a compass and map before, so I figured I should get some practice with it. Then I realized I should just make it my primary navigation tool, using my phone as the backup, and the gps as the backup backup. I am well versed in using phone maps for navigation purposes, so I don’t really need the practice there!

Google My Maps to Galileo Offline Maps

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m using Google My Maps as my primary tool for creating my map for Te Araroa, mapping estimated day stopping points, resupply points, etc. This tool has been invaluable for this purpose. It’s very easy to use, allows me to add custom icons to the points on the map to differentiate huts and resupply points and everything else, and, most importantly, it has the ability to export KML.

On the trail itself I’ll be using Galileo Offline Maps as my primary navigation tool. This app has the ability to download vector maps of all of New Zealand, import KML to display on the map, and allows for custom raster map tile sources. Sadly, but understandably, it won’t download the entire set of topo maps for the whole country in one shot, but what it does do is have a cache that can be used offline, so I just need to make sure I have the maps I need to get me to the next place I’ll have internet in my cache, and I’m set. This is easily done by simply looking at the map and sliding around, picking up the tiles I need and caching them in the process. I can then flip to airplane mode, verify I still have the tiles I need, and I’m set.

A problem I ran into is that while Galileo also supports customizing the icons or “Category” thats get displayed for a “Bookmark” (their name for what KML calls a Placemark), it doesn’t support the ones exported by Google Maps. Fortunately, it does support its own categories. As in, I can create some bookmarks, export the KML, import that same KML, and the categories are preserved. This means I should be able to convert the KML from Google Maps into something Galileo can use.

So I wrote a script which does just that. One of the things I noticed in my experimenting with the KML I’m importing into Galileo is that it actually doesn’t seem to care about any of the Style information in the file, it just looks at the styleUrl on the Placemark and uses that to determine which category to apply to the bookmark. This allowed me to quick-and-dirty modify each Placemark and import it into Galileo.

This allows me to turn this:

Into this:

And this:

Right now this is super super hacky. It uses a static mapping of icons from Google Maps to Galileo (including colors), because I’d like to be able to convert back to Google Maps from Galileo, so I came up with a mapping from Galileo’s icons to a subset of Google Maps icons. It’s not perfect, but it works.

It also only touches the styleUrl contents on each Placemark. This means the file is actually completely broken for any other purpose than using it with Galileo. I’d like to change that so it converts it to something closer to what Galileo itself exports.

This is a huge step, though. It means I can now, with minimal fuss, export my Google Map to my phone and use it offline. Something that is going to be incredibly valuable to me on the trail!

Preparing my navigation tools for Te Araroa

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m using Google Maps’ My Maps feature to create a map of the route, accomodations (read: huts) along the way, things to be on the look out for, etc. This has been immensely useful.

However, there’s no way to get this information in the Google Maps app when you are offline. Google Maps does have an offline download feature, but it doesn’t work for the “my places” part of the app. Additionally, the only base maps available are ones that Google provides, which are good, to be sure, but they aren’t NZ Topo Maps good. Between these two faults, using Google Maps as my primary on-the-trail navigation aid was not possible. I did it in Japan, but I also had cell reception probably 95% of the time I was on the trail in Japan. I won’t have that luxury in NZ. I’d be surprised if I had cell reception 20% of the time. This isn’t to say anything bad about NZ, more that I’m going to be in some pretty remote areas, and NZ is really sparsely populated as it is.

So I went searching for mapping apps I could use on my phone. Ideal candidates had to support importing KML, which is what My Maps exports, they had to support custom base maps so I could add the NZ Topo Maps, and they had to be able to be usable with airplane mode enabled. They did not need to have any points of interest or anything already in them, available for offline use, but if they did, bonus. Other available map layers would also be very useful, but not necessary.

There are a lot of mapping apps on iOS, but in almost all cases they fell flat. ArcGIS Explorer seemed at first like a very plausible app. It even allows for freehand drawing on the map itself, which could be handy for on the fly handwritten notes or freehand plotting of a diversion course. Sadly, this does not seem to be usable offline, at least not without a costly subscription to ArcGIS online services, and even then I’m not entirely certain about it.

Another app I came across, with strong recommendations (sorry, I don’t have a source for those) was iHikeGPS-NZ. At first this seemed really reasonable. And the price was pretty good. But after trying and failing to get it to show me any maps for several days, I started looking elsewhere. I did eventually manage to get it to show me maps, though. I had set it to download maps for me which was great, but I couldn’t figure out how to get the map display to actually show me New Zealand at all. Eventually I decided to try importing a KML file anyways, which worked! I could pull up a way point that I’d loaded in from the KML and have it show me on the map! From there I could slide the map around and look at surrounding areas, zoom in and out, everything I needed. There were 2 problems though: first, it was incredibly slow. In fairness, this probably has more to do with the fact that I told it to download the maps for the entire South Island, which are probably very large, and it was probably decompressing them on the fly. This told me, though, that it was probably consuming a large amount of CPU to do this, which would eat my battery life. The second problem was the KML file I imported, none of the custom icons made it over. The UI was also really strange, and overall the app didn’t really do it for me.

I spent a lot of time looking through the app store, searching the internet, and didn’t really find anything I felt confident plunking down the money for. Side note: please please please, Apple, won’t you give us the ability to have a trial period for apps? I don’t mind spending $50 for a quality app if it’s what I need, but I do not want to do that not knowing at all what I’m getting. Screenshots don’t tell me enough, I need to actually use it. Anywho, eventually I discovered Galileo Offline Maps. I wish I could tell you how I found it, but I can’t, so I’ll just have to recommend it! They have 2 versions, a free, in-app-purchases version, which appears to have all of the functionality of the “pro” version, but unlockable via in-app purchases, and the paid “pro” version which has everything already unlocked. Either way it was $3, so I went with the one without in-app purchases! This app is nearly exactly what I’ve been looking for!

First of all, it has support for importing KML. Many of the apps I looked at only supported GPX imports, which wasn’t all that useful to me. It even preserves the “folders” that KML supports, and allows you to organize your tracks and “bookmarks” as they call them, all within the app. There’s a flaw with the out-of-the-box usage of the app with importing KML, and that’s that custom marker icons (“categories” in the app) are lost upon importing KML. I mentioned this as a fatal flaw with one of the other apps I tried. The difference was, in this app, I could still add my own custom icons after the import, which lead to believe that I could probably figure out a way to get custom icons imported. Spoiler alert: I can. I am working on some tooling which will convert the output from Google Maps to the correct inputs to Galileo. Once I have this going, I’ll write up a post documenting that.

It does do offline maps, as per the name, but I think it has had some of that functionality disabled since the review I read (sorry, no link, don’t remember it) had been written, and now the app only supports downloading a limited selection of vector maps for offline consumption. I have a feeling this is in large part due to space concerns, and of course impact on the tile provider while it downloads everything. There’s probably also some copyright / licensing issues (despite the fact that NZ Topo Maps are CC licensed). However, there are 2 ways you can get custom raster tiles into the app. It supports a mapsource file which has some metadata about upstream map tile providers. It also has support for bulk importing custom map databases that you provide, built using third party tools. The mapsource file doesn’t make it so you can download the tiles for the whole country at once, but the app does cache any tiles it downloads, and in the limited experience I’ve had using the app, this functionality is enough to give me what I need in an offline experience. I just have to make sure before I leave the internet that I’ve seen the entire map of the section I need, at both resolutions supported by the NZ Topo Maps, and the cache will take care of making them available offline for me. Fortunately, I have plenty of time to play around with this feature before I get too deep into the sticks, and I can always fall back to the vector maps if necessary. Also, if I have some extra time, I’ll look into creating a custom map database that I can import into the app with the tiles I’ll want for the trip, to then worry less about the faux offline mode. The cache settings seem to only care about the size of the cache, not the age of the items in the cache, so I feel pretty confident I’ll be able to rely upon that functionality while on the trail.

It should go without saying that I am not, however, going to rely on this as my sole navigational aid for the trail.

A friend of mine is letting me borrow her Garmin InReach Explorer, which is a handheld GPS device. I’ll load some maps that I can find, along with at the very least the GPX version of the route map, if not my full KML version from Google Maps. This will be a backup navigation aid, however, as it also doubles as my emergency help summoning tool. It is connected to the Iridium satellite communications network which will allow me to summon assistance as well as do some basic (but very expensive) communication while off the grid, so long as I have battery and a view of the sky. I’ll use this also for on demand weather reports for sections of the trail that are particularly weather sensitive. In sections where I’m at risk of losing my pack (river crossings, in particular), I’ll be sure to carry the Garmin attached to me, and not to my pack, and if possible, do the same with my phone. While my phone is water resistant, it’s also my primary navigation tool, among other things, so I’ll probably keep it in a small dry bag (read: ziplock) during river crossings, just in case.

I’ll also be bringing paper maps of the longer, more remote stretches of the trail. Ones where running out of battery is a real possibility, or where a broken navigation device could leave me lost without much of a clue as to where to go. For shorter legs I won’t bother with the paper maps, as I am not going to be very far from a road, and there’s really only one route to follow, so getting lost would be much harder to do. Another thing I want the paper maps for is if I need to divert around an impassible section of the route (weather, landslide, improper gear, etc), I’ll be able to look at them and see what other tracks are in my vicinity, to either route around the obstacle, or at the very least get me to the nearest road where I can attempt to hitch a ride back to a safe place. I’ll of course be carrying a compass as well!

With Galileo Offline Maps, the Garmin, and paper maps / compass, I am confident I’ll be able to find my way along the trail, no matter what happens along the way.

I would like to call out something I wish I had seen sooner, but in hindsight am actually happy I didn’t see sooner, and that is Guthook (via reddit). This seems to have nearly everything I’d want. Offline access to NZ Topo maps. The route itself. Huts and other important places along the way. It even does cool things like telling you how far to the next hut, next water, notes from other users of the app, elevation profiles, etc. It seems very cool, and I may actually pick it up, but I’m glad I did the work of creating my own map anyways, since it has significantly increased my familiarity with the trail, and increased my confidence in being able to do this. I know where my food is coming from, at the very least!