Dispatch 5 from Te Araroa / February 4, 2013

Jez Bragg – Completes the Te Araroa Trail

Renowned British ultra runner and The North Face athlete Jez Bragg began an expedition that will take all of his mental and physical energy for the next 50 days: a nearly 2,000-mile run the length of New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail.

The Te Araroa Trail (1898 miles/3054km) opened in December 2011 and runs the full length of New Zealand from the top of the North Island in Cape Reinga to the bottom of the South Island in Bluff. It rivals some of the world’s greatest long distance trails such as the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail in the US. The majority of the route is off-road, through challenging and remote terrain presenting all sorts of different challenges. There are also some short road sections and several estuary crossings as well as a long down-stream paddle on the Whanganui River.

6a00d834f4a66953ef017d40c4ec64970c-800wiAfter 53 days of running Jez Bragg completed his historic journey down the Te Araroa trail!  He sent us these reports from his last two days.

Days 52: Merrivale Road (Longwood Forest) to Riverton
Start: Merrivale Road (Longwood Forest) (2,924km)
Finish: Riverton (2,988km)
Distance for the day: 64km
Cumulative distance: 2,988km
Distance to Bluff: 66km

I guess in golfing or football terms, today was the chip on to the green, or the cross into the box. I completed the tough Longwood Forest section, hit the coast, and started the final part of my journey east/ south east towards Bluff. In doing so I have set myself up for a potential finish tomorrow – yippee!

We started the day just inside Longwood Forest, a dense and mature forest of mainly beech, and it wasn’t until 5pm this afternoon that I finally got out. It did make me feel rather trapped, but I coped reasonably well.

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The forest runs north to south in a long thin strip, covering a rolling set of hills and (of course) the Te Araroa route follows the ridge and the high ground. The tops of the hills are mostly exposed which is great for the views, but not so great for moving at any kind of decent pace because they’re covered in tussocks and spiky cactus type plants. My ankles were sore all day, and the unevenness of the ground was one of the greatest challenges.

I guess I set about the forest task in a rather business-like fashion, focusing on getting the job done, or perhaps I’m just turning into a running robot – that was another thought I had out on the trail! But I was pretty chilled out and moved at a brisk, but not ground braking, pace to make the crossing.

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The guys had very helpfully recced accessed points yesterday, so we had a couple of meeting points for food and drink re-supply planned, to help break up the 50km section. However the sections were still long, and it was another warm one, so I probably wasn’t eating and drinking as much as I should have been. The first in the series of peaks on the route was Bald Hill, and I was up there for about 8am, rewarded with some wonderful views of the South Island’s south coast and my first glimpse of the end point, Bluff. When I caught that view I paused and the emotions started coming, so I quickly started running again!

The last section of Longwood was both bizarre and amazing. Constructed by the Chinese gold miners in the late 19th Century, the perfectly benched track follows a precise contour, and in doing so snakes in and out of all spurs, river cut outs and re-entrants in a quite incredible fashion. Talk about a convoluted way to get from A to B, however I’m sure they had their reasons for constructing it in that manner. Now somewhat dilapidated and overgrown, it offers a great walking route and is a fascinating part of Te Araroa.

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I eventually popped out at the Round Hill car park around 5pm, with the crossing having taken 11 hours – a long day already. But to set up a potential finish tomorrow I really wanted to get close to 65km as a total, so I quickly decided to run the 18km leg around Colac Bay and over the headland to Riverton, to achieve that total. After a few glitches navigating the final section I arrived at the overnight stop about 9.30pm, some 15.5 hours after I set off this morning. Another big day with some seriously tough terrain – that’s the ‘hard tramping for you…..

I’m not going to lie, I was seriously tempted to run all through the night in an attempt to finish the trail at the earliest opportunity, but I came to the conclusion that my swollen feet and ankles are just not up to that, and they need a proper rest before finishing the job tomorrow. So it will be up at 5am for a 6am start with 66km to go until I reach Bluff.

Tomorrow is going to be one seriously special – and I suspect emotional – day. I can’t wait.

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