Imagine dropping everything for six months to hike through the wilderness of New Zealand solo. Through a mix of intent and circumstance, Laura Waters ended up doing just that, walking the new 3,000-kilometre Te Araroa track from top to tip of the Land of the Long White Cloud. It made for an impressive yarn in the recently published book Bewildered, so we asked Laura about her life-changing journey.
What was your journey to get to such a big adventure?
I had always loved the great outdoors but I hadn’t walked further than 65 kilometres, on the Overland Track in Tasmania. For years I’d always thought that there had to be more to life than what I was doing. I wanted a challenge to push me to my limits and see what I was capable of. It just so happened that the discovery of a new long-distance trail in New Zealand coincided with a time where I was suffering crippling anxiety after a failed relationship and the hectic pace of modern life. It was the perfect time to leave everything behind and throw myself to the wind.
What is it really like to travel solo? Any things you want to tell other travellers who plan a solo journey?
It’s scary to begin with. I actually coerced a girlfriend to come with me but she pulled out on the second day with an injury! I didn’t think it possible that I could tackle the journey on my own but since I was already there I thought I’d just give it a go and see how far I could get. You have to rely on yourself and make decisions and that is scary at first, but with every challenge, you grow more confident and learn to tune into your gut. I believe solo travel has many benefits. When you’re not talking all the time, your internal monologue quietens down too and life becomes more mindful and meditative. In that silence, clarity and epiphanies arise.
What was it like coming back to your ‘old’ life afterwards?
Not good. I’d never been happier than I was on the trail with one bag of belongings, one outfit, no makeup, no mirrors and no advertising. When I returned home I lasted four months before giving up my corporate job and launching myself into writing a book about my journey. I realised I was in control of my life so I simplified it, spent more time in nature, and did the things that nurtured me and made me happy.
What big life lessons about wilderness and about travel have you learned?
That walk changed the course of my life. Nature only does what is necessary, it doesn’t create drama and ‘noise’, and now I try to keep my life simple too. I realised there is often more fear in the imagining of things than in the reality of them. I feel stronger, wiser, more confident and more centred. For the first time in my life I feel like I’m being me.
This story first appeared in Vacations & Travel magazine, autumn 2020, issue 114