coronavirus New Zealand lockdown Kirby Draper epic bushwalk bid
Kirby Draper was almost five months into one of the world's great hikes when New Zealand went into lock down. (trampingsouth.com)"I hitched out to a town, I was sitting down and I was thirsty, and my thought was, 'Where can I find a river to drink from?'"It does strip you back to the bare basics of survival.
"When I finally looked up, I saw I was enveloped in snowcapped mountains. The sun was setting. And the alpine dust which was so annoying was the blessing of the day."It reflected the light and all of a sudden everything was pink, all around me. It was the closest you could ever be to being in a sunset."Ms Draper was fuelled by a fundraising effort, detailed on her blog TrampingSouth, raising $11,000 dollars for BackTrack, an Armidale-based support program for marginalised kids.The 32-year-old had conquered the Tongariro Crossing - featuring volcanoes seen in the Lord of the Rings films - as well as some of South Island's most treacherous peaks, before landing in Te Anau - the gateway to Milford Sound.She had nine days - 227 kilometres - to go as she neared one of the final towns on her journey."Just as I was crossing the bridge to Te Anau, I saw a guy that was heading into the bush," she said.
"He said, "How long have you been out of reception? I'd probably either stay in the bush or brace yourself'."New Zealand was heading towards a lockdown.Ms Draper wasn't unaware of the coronavirus outbreak, checking for details when she had reception in the less remote areas of the walk.But this rapid escalation to a complete lockdown - which included a ban on tramping - could not have been more cruelly timed."I was devastated. A bit of a wreck to be honest," she said."At first I was in denial and then I was incredibly emotional"After a year of planning and five months of walking 10 hours days up and down mountains, to pull the pin nine days out … it hit me like a tonne of bricks."
Ms Draper said she toyed with the notion of finishing, knowing it would mean walking with nine days of food, unsupported."I was getting into a pretty rural part of New Zealand and would have to rely on hitching out to get to a town," she said."A lot of people understandably weren't willing to pick up hitch-hikers because of social distancing."And I decided it would be selfish of me to continue."I totally support the lockdown. I would have been risking my safety which could put pressure on medical resources and it was not the purpose of the walk to create harm. I had to pull the pin."Thinking quickly, she caught a bus from Te Anau to Queenstown, squeezed in a shower, and flew back to South Australia via her adopted hometown in Wellington, packing up her life of four years and getting out ahead of the lockdown.
Barossa Valley Food & Wine experience, South Australia (iStock)Now, back in the Barossa Valley, she's licking her wounds - a task made easier by a huge wave of support."The BackTrack team gave me a call and they have decided they are getting the kids together with the dogs to walk my remaining 227 kilometres in the Australian outback to get me over the line," she said.Come the end of the lockdown, Ms Kirby says she'll also attend to her unfinished business on South Island."It's absolutely the best thing I've ever done," she said."One morning, a South Island robin would jump under the vestibule of my tent and would chirp in my ear, run away and come back."Fantails would often follow me on my walk. If I held out my hiking pole they would land on it."It was the hardest thing I've ever done as well. I've never experienced that sort of physical and mental exhaustion combined."And I will get it done. I just can't not. It's going to absolutely torture me for the rest of my life if I don't."© AAP 2020