Dutch youth walks ‘journey’ of NZ
He was chased by dogs in Waitomo, had his kayak washed away near Whanganui and his knee has given him a lot of pain, but DirkJan Laan cuts a picture of contentment.
The 18-year-old from Holland is four months into his quest, to walk the length of New Zealand, following Te Araroa (The Long Pathway), the well-publicised long-distance walking track.
Some sections of Te Araroa, a 3000-kilometre route from Cape Reinga to Bluff, are not completed, which Dirk-Jan found out first-hand. Nevertheless, he has relished the challenge.
He spent two nights in Plimmerton last week, a guest at Moana Lodge, after walking from Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay and the historic Taua-Tapu Track, in a matter of hours.
The keen outdoorsman is no stranger to New Zealand, having visited family here twice before, so the decision to tackle Te Araroa was not a difficult one to make.
‘‘I’ve been looking for a hike like this, somewhere long-distance in New Zealand, and I have spent maybe two years planning it,’’ Mr Laan said.
‘‘I spent a lot of time on Google, because there still isn’t a lot of information on the track, but I was still able to do plenty of planning.’’
Starting on October 15 at Cape Reinga, Dirk-Jan has been blessed with excellent weather – except for the flood near Whanganui.
‘‘I was staying in a hut and [made preparations] to sit on the roof, because the only way to get back was by water, and my kayak was swept away.
‘‘I was nearly going to have to be rescued.’’
Some of the walking has been on roads, which has not been ideal, and some sections of the North Island leg are ‘‘ poorly maintained’’.
He cites a ‘‘notorious’’ stretch south of Te Kuiti where you have to literally cut through bush.
But he has loved meeting people and enjoyed New Zealand’s beautiful landscape.
‘‘People have invited me into their homes – this has happened eight times, I think.
‘‘I was chased down the road by dogs near Waitomo and it turned out their owners were Dutch.
‘‘They invited me to tea and then a night’s sleep. ‘‘I was very grateful.’’ A knee injury sustained 10 days into his planned 158-day odyssey slowed him down and put paid to many of his plans for the South Island.
He was supposed to be halfway down the South Island by now – but instead, his mother collected him in Picton on Thursday and drove him to Queenstown.
From there, he will walk to Bluff, leaving New Zealand in mid-April.
He is disappointed about missing much of the South Island leg but hopes to walk it in the future.
But for Mr Laan, walking every step of Te Araroa wasn’t the point.
‘‘ For me it’s been about a journey and not the end destination,’’ he said.
‘‘I’m trying not to think about what happens when I reach Bluff.
‘‘Because of my knee, I had some bad days and there’s been a real mental challenge for me. I’ve noticed a real change in my own thinking.’’
Moana Lodge was an excellent stop-off to charge the batteries, he said.
Owner Helen Chipper said the young man endeared himself immediately by making a cheesecake on his first night’s stay.
One step at a time: There has not been a lot of time for rest for Dutchman Dirk-Jan Laan, despite a knee injury slowing him down. Some parts of Te Araroa have required him to walk on New Zealand’s roads.
Intrepid journey: Dirk-Jan got the chance to relax for a day at Plimmerton last week, with his fourmonth journey down the North Island at an end. This week he will begin his walk from Queenstown to Bluff.