Interview: This Year’s Most Inspirational Hikers in New Zealand
Hiking through Middle Earth with Nans and Taylor.
A Frenchman and a Canadian walk across New Zealand… Any travel story sounds like the setup to a joke. Perhaps because it’s so far from everyday life, which is exactly the point of backpacking. Taylor, our said Canadian, studied for 4 years before deciding to embark on a journey to New Zealand where she could tackle hikes and “slay as many orcs as possible”, despite using crutches for lengthy walks. Nans, from France, left his movie-making job behind to come to –surprise, surprise – Middle Earth. Of course, you don’t completely base a decision on a fantasy movie.
Despite living thousands of miles apart, the backpackers happened to meet each other in New Zealand with the same goal in mind: to do a Great Walk. Now they are well on their way to completing all 9! We talk to the Nans and Taylor about their quest through Middle Earth.
Life before New Zealand.
One of the great things about the people you meet when backpacking is meeting people from all walks of life. So, who were Nans and Taylor before they came to New Zealand?
Taylor, from Canada, just finished studying English Literature at university.
Nans, from France, was a movie maker who did advertising for local companies.
Why come to New Zealand?
The Lord of the Rings is often a drawcard for New Zealand. After all, about 6% of visitors say it is the main reason they come to New Zealand. For the other 94%, we were likely to be introduced to New Zealand through the movie trilogy, but we realise there’s so much more here. As Taylor says: “Of course, I knew there was more to the country than just the film locations, but my initial intention was to come here and slay as many orcs as possible.”
And Nans agrees: “It’s very simple. New Zealand is a dream country if you like hiking and mountain biking, which is my case. The landscapes are so amazing here!” Plus, it allowed Nans to continue his YouTube Channel, Retour En Salle (in French), where he does video reviews once a month for a newly released movies. New Zealand makes the perfect filming location for a review about The Hobbit, which uses New Zealand as a movie location… Mind blown!
Arriving in New Zealand: Getting set up!
“I don’t know her but she’s still following me…” says Nans. “No, Ok, I’m kidding. We met in Auckland at the beginning of our journey.” The pair met each other by both getting a starter pack with Working Holiday Starter. “Working Holiday Starter helped us when we arrived with paperwork, job and travel advice, etc. We were introduced by Robin, our contact and “help man” here in New Zealand.”
By also being booked into the same hostel, they quickly became friends realising they had similar travel goals. “There was never a plan to travel together from the beginning,” says Taylor. “We just happened to independently plan our calendars the same way for the first couple of weeks. After that, we knew we were compatible travellers with similar interests, so we didn’t have any problems planning future trips and activities together.”
Tackling the Great Walks of New Zealand
It’s not much to ask: the best way to see New Zealand’s landscapes is by doing multi-day hikes! Not only that, but multiples of multi-day hikes! But if anyone can demonstrate how much doing the Great Walks is worth it, then Taylor can. She has now tackled more than half of the walks, whilst using crutches! Despite having hip surgery due to being diagnosed with a bone cancer, osteosarcoma, 6 years ago, she has not let that become a barrier. “I’ve been doing my best to not let it slow me down, so I’ve become quite agile of crutches,” she says.
It’s clear that the Great Walks have had a similar effect on the pair. “When you start one, you want to do them all. They are all different and it’s really a good way to discover New Zealand… And yourself too,” says Nans.
Taylor agrees: “It was never our plan to do all 9 Great Walks, but once you’ve started, it’s difficult to stop (at least for us).”
Which Great Walks are truly Great?
Of course, it all comes down to taste. The Great Walks are so diverse that none of which are the same. But the backpacking duo found the biggest highlights in the Routeburn Track and Tongariro Northern Circuit.
“The first one we did was the Routeburn Track,” says Taylor. “When you see that kind of massive landscape stretched out before you, untouched and so beautiful, you just want more and more of it. That’s what made me realise that multi-day hikes were maybe the best way to experience New Zealand, in its true form.”
On the other hand, they both agree that Tongariro has stood out to them the most. “Walking on Mordor, for a Lord of the Rings fan, is amazing,” Nans says. Although they had mostly sunny weather, they got to appreciate why New Zealand weather is usually described as “4 seasons in a day”, creating the perfect ambience for Mordor.
“You are traversing the very same shadowlands as in the films, with Mt Doom (Mt Ngaururhoe) in clear sight!” Taylor says.
But there’s more to New Zealand than climbing mountains!
The day in the life of a backpacker usually involves the odd skydive or visiting Hobbiton in Matamata – twice in Nan’s case! As for Taylor, she enjoys horse trekking. “Every time I have money to spare, that’s usually where it goes. I went on a horse trek in Paradise with Dart Stables. It has the kind of landscape that makes you feel wonderfully stupid when you try to capture it in a photo. My pictures are bleak in comparison to real thing.
“But as much as I love being outdoors and off the radar, it’s also nice to kick back in cities like Wellington and Queenstown, where there are so many things to see and do that don’t cost a thing. Te Papa museum, for instance.”
Now it’s time for you to take the plunge!
Backpacking in a faraway country can be a scary prospect. But fear can feel like such a silly thing once you have made the jump to start travelling. Nans and Taylor both say that the people they have met, whether they are backpackers, expats or locals, have been friendly, encouraging and helpful. The very fact that these 2 strangers became travel buddies on day 1 of their trip shows how easy it is here.
We couldn’t say it better than Nans: “It’s normal to be scared. It’s a new experience, a new country, and maybe a new language too. But when you face your fears you will do the things you won’t regret… You will meet new friends, will have new experiences, and the Kiwis are so friendly. For me, travelling in New Zealand was my best decision so far.”