Please contact us and we will help you to organize your trip! It's free and without commitment.
Ask a question ...
Read the post
Share the pageSave
Add to my trip
The trip in New Zealand.
1Meeting With Loïc, Passionate of Hiking.
2His First Great Hikes.
3Why Did You Choose Te Araroa?
4The Difficulty and Condition of the Tracks.
5The Challenges and the Dangers to Be Faced.
6Memories at the End of the Trip.
7Unforgettable Encounters With Travelers.
8What Is the Level Required to Do the Te Araroa?
9Feedback about New Zealand
Meeting With Loïc, Passionate of Hiking.
Loïc's interview with Kiwipal was scheduled long before he left for New Zealand. I was wondering if he would follow his dream. After all, it is not given to everyone to travel more than 3000 km on foot ... And yet, Loïc succeeded and here is the long-awaited interview!
Guillaume : Could you introduce yourself to the readers of Kiwipal?
Loïc : My name is Loïc Jaffro, I'm 31 years old. I grew up in French Picardy, in St Quentin in the Aisne. I did long studies with preparatory class and two engineering schools. One in Physics-Chemistry (ESPCI), the other as Environmental Engineer (ENGREF - School of Ministry of the Environment). I worked as a Research & Development engineer. I cracked very quickly. I could not stand the life of a laboratory rat.
Guillaume : How did you solve this problem?
Loïc : I went to West Africa, Sierra Leone, well after the civil war, and long before the Ebola epidemic. In a very remote area to work with a small NGO, to give access to drinking water and help sanitation, but mainly to give formations around managing access to water, sanitation and hygiene practices. Back in France after this experience, I decided to spend a year living my passion: popular education with children. I spent a year planning trips and preparing discovery classes. On topics related to science or the environment.
Guillaume : Was-it just temporary?
Loïc : I thought I would do this only one year ... But I've been doing this for six years now. I am now an Environmental Teacher for the Teaching League, for a part of the year, and during the other, I have set up holidays about
His First Great Hikes.
I have a great admiration for those people capable of falling and rising immediately, keeping their motivation intact, with a fierce determination to go on an adventure again and again. Loïc's path perfectly illustrates this state of mind.
Guillaume : How did you approach the great walks?
Loïc : My first great hiking experience was the crossing of the French Pyrenees from west to east, from Hendaye to Mérens on the GR10. I had never really hiked before. But I did, with inadequate material, too heavy, sometimes unnecessary. The following year, I crossed the Alps on the GR5. The following year, I made the tour of Brittany by the GR34, or trail of the customs officers, from Mont St Michel to Brest. Having made a little tour of the long paths, I then made loops in the Alps: the Tour des Ecrins, the Tour du Queyras.
Guillaume : Always in France, but abroad?
Loïc : I did that at the end of summer, but I was looking for where to spend the winter in the sun. Two and a half years ago, I went hiking during the winter in the West Indies. In Guadeloupe, I had a serious accident, by the sea, during a hike: an enormous wave series threw me on the coral rocks.
Guillaume : What a deadly situation, you were completely isolated?
Loïc : Without mobile phone coverage, a 3-hour walk from the first road, I had to do the first aid myself and wait a long time for the rescue. On the balance sheet: a helicopter evacuation, a broken shoulder, many wounds, some deep close to the spine, and very numerous on the skull ... about thirty stitches, just on the head ... and I do not count the rest...
Guillaume : I imagine that one no longer consider hiking after such a horrible experience.
Loïc : This experience made me aware of three things. First, life is fragile and it takes only one second to be in danger. It's a chance to be healthy and on both of his legs. Secondly, I discovered in myself a survival instinct. I came to realize that I can endure and do much more than I thought. Third, we must neither postpone our dreams. One must live in the present.
Why Did You Choose Te Araroa?
Going for adventure on the slopes of Te Araroa is not a decision to take lightly. The trail has been open only for a few years and the testimonies nevertheless indispensable to prepare such a journey are still rare. Fortunately, that was exactly the challenge that suited Loïc.
Guillaume : The call of the hike manifested itself after how long?
Loïc : After my accident where it took me three months to move again, followed by three months of depression (surely post traumatic), I took several months to regain my fitness. I decided to challenge myself. I looked for where to travel during the winter ahead. I have searched for the longest or most difficult long-distance treks.
Guillaume : Did you immediately think of New Zealand?
Loïc : The great Trans-American treks were very attractive, but living in the northern hemisphere, they don't allow to flee the European winter. I then discovered the Te Araroa trail, recently opened in December 2011 (we were back then in 2013). It was a little too late in the year to attack the trail the following winter, as it takes time to prepare for such a journey and put money aside.
Guillaume : What attracted you to the idea of following Te Araroa?
Loïc : I immediately liked the idea of a trail of such a length, just created and knownby very few people. It was a challenge for me: four to six months of walking, the need to be completely autonomous over long sections, the complete absence of civilization without mobile networks, a very changing weather ... In short, an adventure wilder than anything I had done so far! But I was confident and convinced that I could fulfill this challenge.
The Difficulty and Condition of the Tracks.
The beauty of the landscapes of New Zealand naturally pushes you beyond your limits. But the difficulties are not rare on a several thousand kilometers route! And from the postcard to reality, one must expect to face the unexpected every day.
Guillaume : What is the real state of the Te Araroa, is-it really practicable in its totality?
Loïc : The path is totally practicable. The part on the northern island is the most recent. So there are sections where tracks' creation is still being negotiated with the owners and the breeders. Changes are made each year to eliminate the last kilometers on the road. The trails are practicable to the extent that the mapping is clear, the sign-posts visible, although sometimes very distant (several hundred meters on the South Island).
Guillaume : Presented like that, it's rather reassuring ...
Loïc : Every year, it improves and it will only get better and better. But you just have to completely change your vision of the hike and forget the regular markings, the groomed trails, the bridges to cross the streams ...
Guillaume : One must be trained and have a solid experience of hiking?
Loïc : A good part of the trail is classified as a tramping track, which in New Zealand means that you must be totally self-sufficient in terms of orientation, weather hazards, physical difficulties, first aid in the event of an accident . You may be stuck for several days by rain in a shelter or your tent. Spending entire days with water in shoes, constantly crossing streams, struggling in mud against roots, in forests.
Guillaume : At such low-speed, one barely move!
Loïc : About 1 or 2 km per hour only..., but this is quite practicable, even if it is necessary to be vigilant, in good physical condition, with a constant vigilance regarding safety and orientation. There is no equivalent in France where our trails are true highways compared to Te Araroa. It's more a cross-country following the marks of the first person who paved the way.
The Challenges and the Dangers to Be Faced.
Most of the great hikes have their share of surprises, good or bad. Loïc having walked for a hundred days, I was certain that he had faced at least one major difficulty, but I did not expect him to have been in a truly dangerous situation... I was wrong!
Guillaume : Can you tell us the biggest difficulty that happened to you during your trip?
Loïc : Tens of kilometers north-east of Levin, on the northern island, the day I was finishing the first 1500 km (half of the trip), the weather that was supposed to be nice , changed suddenly.
Guillaume : We will recall in passing that New Zealand's weather is known for its instability. People often say that one can have the feeling of living several seasons in the same day.
Loïc : The wind blew as in a storm in the late afternoon. The rain created torrents in the early evening and during all night. The next morning the rain had stopped, but the rivers had risen a few meters. A bridge over a forest track had been partly washed away and two thirds of the road surface had simply been torn off ...
Guillaume : What were your options?
Loïc : I was in gorges where many rivers crossed the path. I was engaged on this section for almost two days so I kept walking. From the first crossing of a river, I understood that the day was going to be difficult. The torrent was impressive, but not impassable. I had to study the best place to cross. Prepare the backpack so as not to get it wet, and not losing everything if the current was to carry me away: the emergency torch light, my knife, the minimum to light a fire, a whistle and a survival blanket.
Guillaume : For those who read us, I remind you that crossing a flooded river puts you potentially in danger of death, and that many travelers died in similar situations.
Loïc : I had to cut a perch in a small tree trunk to have a “big shepherd's cane” to help me cross the river. The current was very strong, and it was very dangerous. It took me an hour of time, reflection, preparation to cross this first torrent. After a few kilometers in the muddy forest, I reached the main river, which was even worse.
Guillaume : What a bad scenario! Especially since you had already used your energy during your first crossing.
Loïc : The trail in normal times, requires you to set foot in the water and go up the river, passing from one bank to the other, borrowing the bed of the river on about ten kilometers. But on that day the river was much higher than normal. I had to find where to cross where this was still possible and where the current was less strong.
Guillaume : But at this point, you no longer had any other option to try ...
Loïc : In 5 hours of walks I had only traveled 6 km. There were only a dozen left, but the river was the real obstacle! There were only two possible options: either going back, which meant walking two days in the reverse direction (and crossing the two previous rivers once again), or to find an emergency exit to leave these gorges.
Guillaume : You had to improvise, all alone in the middle of nowhere ...
Loïc : I searched on the map to find a way out of the valley. I was able to find a very small track, which was steep. The weather was in the rain. It was absolutely necessary to leave these gorges. As you said, every year many accidents involve hikers and rivers. It is the leading cause of accident, and even death in New Zealand related to hiking activity. It took me an entire afternoon to extract myself from these gorges and find a way to pass on the other side of the mountain. It was the most dangerous day of the whole adventure.
Memories at the End of the Trip.
I thought that we could compare Te Araroa to an endurance race, but the experience of Loïc allowed me to understand that the real stake lies elsewhere.
Guillaume : Can you tell us your feelings, the last day before reaching the end of the Te Araroa trek?
Loïc : In the last hut of the trail, a hundred kilometers before the official “end of the trip”, the guest book in which everyone notes his passage is filled with testimonials from previous hikers close to the end. Everyone, including me, were having the same feeling: not wanting to finish, regretting to have walked too fast, feeling the desire to move on, and almost considering retaking the path in reverse.
Guillaume : You had no desire to stop, just to rest somewhere?
Loïc : Walking four to six months, in nature, with oneself, make it possible to build a very special relationship between the world and yourself. It is this state of consciousness that we all want to pursue. The end of the path means a return to civilization, the end of an adventure ... the fear of losing a state of mind that we have forged one foot after another. I was convinced that I was going to live a tide of emotion by reaching the final goal: first of all to exult with joy, to be proud of having reached my aim, to have surpassed the difficulties, to jump, to scream of joy .... But I felt a great emptiness in me, watching the sea and I cried to have to leave the adventure, not to be able to continue further.
Guillaume : The experience in itself was more than enough ...
Loïc : I finally was nostalgic, even sad during the last days, to see the mountains disappear behind me on the horizon. The last few days make you cross a long damp forest and muddy ... before falling back on a very long sandy beach and strangely it just looks like the very beginning of the adventure, as if we were passing the film in reverse. Arriving at Invercargill, there was only 25 km before Bluff, but these 25 km were along a highway...
Guillaume : It's rather disappointing, even if, as you said, the ongoing negotiations with land owners are aimed at removing these unpleasant parts of the trek.
Loïc : It was absolutely horrible as a final part. The civilization return without transition, in the noise and smell of engines, and the very real danger of a roadside. I made two days of break at Invercargill ... and decided not to follow the last kilometers to reach Bluff ...
Guillaume : Why didn't you want to cross the finish line?
Loïc : I realized that it was not important to go there to take a photo under a sign post. I realized that the important thing was not to finish such an adventure. There was no need to finish the last few kilometers on a roadside ... the only thing that mattered was all those kilometers and these days spent, these hundred days of walking, these four months passed. The only thing that mattered was to have walked the path, not to reach the end.
Guillaume : But you must have been proud of this!
Loïc : I did not feel any effusion of joy. These 3000 kms were not a “Way of the Cross” and I never really suffered, I never had a wound, nor even a blister on my feet. It was not a relief to finish and not a sad moment. I had realized my goal, the very one I had d planned for one year and a half ago.
Guillaume : The logic result of a long preparation, I imagine ...
Loïc : From the beginning of the adventure, I had a clear mind about this journey, expecting to walk in very different places with some difficult parts. What I felt at last was serenity, calm and complete relaxation. Being alone with myself for five months in nature, walking during a hundred days, at the rate of 8 to 12 hours a day ... I think it was actually 5 months of active meditation, to find my true nature, with nothing but myself and the rest of the world ... an awareness of my place in the heart of the nature: the sensation that I am merely the expression of life, without separation, nor boundary between me and the rest of the universe. The simple expression of life as a leaf on a tree, the clouds in the sky. One with the universe. I was happy. I was just me.
Unforgettable Encounters With Travelers.
After having spoken of the difficulties, it was natural to speak also of the good memories (which fortunately are the most numerous). I often say that one comes to New Zealand for the landscapes, but one comes back for the people. Loïc is in a good position to give his opinion.
Guillaume : On the human level, what was your best meeting in New Zealand?
Loïc : Difficult to choose. Each encounter is different. From the person we meet for a brief moment on the way, to the guy in a campsite with whom we spend the night discussing ... Those who walked a few days by my side ... All travelers in Working Holiday Visa, who seek to discover the world and their true nature ... the brief encounters that we would have liked to see lasting ...
Guillaume : But if you really had to choose?
Loïc : Since I have to choose, I would say: Maria and Andreas, two Germans, whom I met at the very beginning of the adventure, in the subtropical forests of the North Island, which I found at the top of Pironga, near Hamilton, where we were blocked for 24 hours during the storm, and with whom I kept contact throughout the journey even when they were far behind me later. First because they are two very special people, very different, but I found that they went very well together ... that I found their relationship very beautiful ... just like them. Andreas made his demand to Maria, during Te Araroa, during the crossing of the Richmond, one of the most impressive sections, but dangerous ... after 1800 km of walking together ... It was very beautiful to make such a request at a mountain top. One must be very strong to share such an adventure with a beloved one, so far of the daily routine!
What Is the Level Required to Do the Te Araroa?
After reading the testimony of Loïc, one suddenly becomes aware of the considerable effort imposed by such a demanding hike. Like most readers of Kiwipal, I then wondered if I would ever be able to face such a long journey.
Guillaume : In all frankness, have you ever considered giving up?
Loïc : No, I built my personality on the principle that when I set myself a goal, when I say or decide something, then I go to the end. Whatever the difficulties. It is a way of life. A way to be. A kind of coherence between my thought and my actions.
Guillaume : In the end, what is needed to be able to follow Te Araroa in its entirety?
Loïc : I met very different people. Some were more than seventy years old, other barely twenty. Many walked alone, others in groups; Several in couples. Some experienced, others totally beginners, and purists like me who walks every single kilometer, others who stretch their thumb as soon as they arrived on a road. Those who stay on the path and others who make detours to explore some places. Those who walk more than 40 km a day and those who make only 20 km. Those with a backpack of four kilos and others with the triple.
Guillaume : There is no typical profile, but all these walkers probably share similar abilities, starting with the motivation ...
Loïc : I believe that each of us has a unique approach of Te Araroa. Everyone lives his own adventure. I know that many people start at Cape Reinga with the intention to walk the full path, and after a few days they give up, because they do not feel the motivation anymore: badly equipped, carrying too heavy a backpack. .. but what drives mostly to stop the adventure (notwithstanding the wounds), it is a disposition of mind that is not able to support the demands of Te Araroa.
Guillaume : What is the fighting spirit needed to complete Te Araroa?
Loïc : It is necessary to have the capacity to “get lost” in nature, to be alone and in full autonomy, much more than being able to face the elements, the weather, the terrain. One must be able to be alone with oneself. I know a considerable number of people around me who are unable to be alone with themselves,even for a few hours or a weekend. They need to find distractions in order not to be alone. Beyond the difficulty of being alone in front of nature, to face the difficulties of the terrain or the trail, to have free time and financial resources for the duration of such a project, the only thing which is necessary to be able to realize this adventure is to be able to be alone.
Feedback about New Zealand
Our interview comes to an end, but before I left I asked a few practical questions to Loïc. His answers will help you if you are planning an adventure in New Zealand.
Guillaume : I'll finish with some practical questions. Can you tell us what are the main differences between the North Island and the South Island when it comes to hiking?
Loïc : The North Island has forests that one could call “jungle”, beautiful beaches and coastal paths, but also kilometers of roads ... and civilization with it disadvantages but also the meetings with other travelers. The South Island is more about loneliness, the mountains, the autonomy, the lost refuges, the landscapes that we all have in mind when we talk about New Zealand. The North Island is a kind of warm-up, and the South Island is the real start!
Guillaume : If you had to do it again, what would you do differently?
Loïc : I think I would lighten my backpack even more. Yet mine had to weigh ten or eleven kilos without water and without food (almost half the weight of my backpack during my very first experience in the Pyrenees).
Guillaume : What equipment, what ideal weight would you recommend?
Loïc : I walked with people who were carrying less than 8 kg on the back. People who had made great trails in the United States, people for whom the ultra-light march is much more developed than in Europe. It is a real discovery to realize that one can get rid of so much equipment. At first sight, it seems reassuring to keep full of bazaars, but one feels freer and closer to nature with the strictly necessary, and consequently lighter and less tired.
Guillaume : What about walking rythm?
Loïc : I think I would try to walk less quickly ... I completed the 3000 km of Te Araroa in a hundred days of walking. This is ultimately very short. I should have calmed down a bit ... but it's harder than you think to slow down the pace. Perhaps I should have gone off-track sometimes.
Guillaume : Do you plan to come back to New Zealand one day?
Loïc : I prefer the novelty. It would take a life time to explore the South Islands, with its beautiful scenery. But at the present time my mind is still immersed in this great adventure, I must put the photos online, the videos of the trip, to share the daily notes (and perhaps writing a book ... who knows !) I have not quite finished the adventure yet. When I'll move on, I know that I will seek a new challenge elsewhere, different, longer, wilder ... more, more, more ... even though there would still be many things to do New Zealand.
Guillaume : It would take at least a whole book to tell such a trip in detail (I encourage you to write it), and this interview offers only a quick overview of what Kiwipal readers can find on your personal website. I invite them to consult the links below to discover beautiful videos that you made during your journey. And I thank you, of course, for this wonderful interview that will give some the desire to embark on the adventure!
It is not every day that we have the pleasure of interviewing authentic adventurers, for even if Loïc will be too modest to recognize him, it takes a certain courage and determination to walk several thousand kilometers.
If, like Loïc, you have experienced great adventures in New Zealand, feel free to contact me to share your experience!