Walking 3000km for PNG women

8:13 am on 28 October 2017

"It's pretty trippy, eh," said Finn Egan as he crested the hill to be smacked by the crisp southerly blowing in off Wellington's South Coast.

For Egan, 23, they were the final steps after two months of walking - some 1,700km - from the northern tip of Cape Reinga to Island Bay, at the bottom of the North Island.

He'd scaled steep hills in downpours, traversed mountain tops, strolled along beaches and highway shoulders, scaled deep river gorges, wandered across rolling farmland, and fought through dense bush.

"Oh man I've seen everything," he said on his final day on the North Island, winding through the narrow streets of Wellington, beneath the Beehive and round the waterfront to the wide pavement of Oriental Bay with its coffee, fountain, joggers and trucked-in sand.

Egan is just over halfway through the 3000km Te Araroa Trail, a tramp that traverses the length of Aotearoa's two main islands. He's doing it in an effort to raise awareness and money to help build a women's refuge in Kokopo, Papua New Guinea.

It was there he spent about 18-months working as a volunteer at the local university's teachers training college, an experience he said was incredible in a country that was "sweet," but also "pretty buzzy."

But it was there that he also learned of an endemic problem: its horrific rates of gender-based violence. According to the United Nations, 67 percent of women in the country suffer from domestic abuse, with a majority of injuries presenting to health facilities reported to be the result of domestic violence.

"There are occasions where on the street you actually see things taking place," he said.

In Kokopo, services are provided by the local church, but despite best intentions, they're often inadequate. "The convent has a couple of rooms, but it's really not enough," said Egan.

"They're also working on their training in the running and maintenance of a safe house. Other than that there's not a lot of support."

A small charity, Roar4PNG, was hoping to build a proper safe house with well-resourced support services in Kokopo, and the church had committed to help. But it needed money it didn't have.

Egan, who had returned to New Zealand in June and had six months to while away before starting a Master's degree in development studies, got wind of the fundraising effort.

Finn Egan

Photo: Supplied

He said he had wanted to do Te Araroa, despite having no real tramping background, and the idea of raising awareness - and money -- gave him the impetus to do it.

"I thought, if you want me to help raise awareness or even raise some funds then I'm happy to use it as a platform," he said in an interview on the slopes of the city's town belt, looking out across the eastern suburbs.

So with that motivation, he set off from lighthouse at Cape Reinga on the 20th of August, down the slither of land at the far north along Ninety Mile Beach.

"[It] kind of ruined beaches for me a little bit," he chuckled. "There's only so much sand you can take before it's kind of like, alright get me off this please."

Over the next two months he zig-zagged his way down the island, finally leaving Ninety Mile Beach to confront the towering forests of Northland, winding through mighty kauri before coming out at the Waitangi treaty ground.

From there, he pushed south along the golden coast line to the towers and volcanic cones of the Auckland isthmus.

He walked through the rolling farmlands of Waikato as he snaked along the country's longest river, before climbing into the remote bush and limestone cliffs of the King Country. He continued over the tundra of the desolate volcanic plateau, before spending days kayaking down the Whanganui River.

From there he wandered the Manawatū plains, admired the puns of Bulls, before climbing into the lofty peaks of the Tararuas in the lower North Island. Through all this, he's slept in all kinds of places. From pitching a tent wherever he can ("I've definitely learnt what not to do by now," he said), to the relative luxury of a high-country DoC hut. But he's also struck staggering generosity, with strangers offering him a bed for the night.

"I've met some kooks man, oh I've met some kooky people," he chuckled. "But also some really nice and generous people. Like they've shouted me a feed or let me stay in their house and have a shower. Yeah, nah it's been great."

"There's obviously been some ups and downs - no pun intended," he said, pun definitely intended. "What I've found is it's a lot more of a mental than a physical. Obviously, you have sore legs and blisters and stuff, initially, but after a while all that's gone really and it's more about keeping yourself going."

"By the end I'll be nothing but a pair of legs with superhuman lungs."

For all his efforts so far, he feels he's done well for his cause. So far, he's raised about $NZ5,000 through a Give-a-little page. There's been a lot of interest from people he's met, and one school has held a mufti day to help fundraise. Some women's refuges in New Zealand have got in touch with him to see how they could help too, he said.

"Obviously I'm just one person so if I can just raise five grand then awesome," he said. "That seems like a good step in the right direction."

Having left the city behind, winding his way around the suburban hills, he continued to chat about his time in PNG, and how hoped to go back there at some point. After about three hours, the track crested the final hill, and the wild waters of Cook Strait appeared, a sight Egan described as "buzzy."

But it was only the halfway point. In the distant horizon towered the imposing, snow-capped peaks of the Kaikōura Mountains. Egan still had another two months of walking to do.

As he walked along the stony beaches of the southern coastline, around the jagged brown rocks and stripped bare driftwood and past fishing boats bobbing in Island Bay, stopping only to buy a slice of cake from a couple of kids who had set up a stall, he spoke of the journey ahead.

It would take another two months, he reckoned. Starting in the Marlborough Sounds he would traverse the length of the Southern Alps, eventually finishing in Bluff, hopefully by Christmas. Hopefully he would have raised more by then, he said.

The pile of rocks he spoke of turned out to be a single rock in a hidden corner of a children's playground, but that was cause for celebration nonetheless.

He'd completed one island, and all he wanted now was one thing: a pie. "I've eaten nothing but pastry," he laughed. "I've sampled some great bakeries, though. It's kind of a side project for this."

Finn Egan

Photo: RNZ/ Koroi Hawkins

Contributions and video by Koroi Hawkins