Walking Across a Country Raises Money for Eczema Awareness

Day 1 – Thursday 31st October

Sean and Steph Day 1

Kumara Beach, on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, 10:00am Thursday 31st October 2019, Steph and I look out over the Tasman Sea. We see the size and power of the incoming waves, we hear their roar as they crash on the pebbled Strawn beach, as I stand ankle deep in the surf. When we listen they seem to be sending us a message, ‘Turn around and walk in the same direction that we are moving, focus your sights on our sister beach, Woodend Beach, stay strong and good luck.

The speed we chose for walking on the first day was a slow leisurely stroll. We had time on our side, we had day light saving and we were not aiming to break the tape in any record time. on the other side of the Southern Alps. We do not want the destroyers of long distance walking to invade our personal space, blisters, sun burn, sore heels or chaffing of our toes.

When you plan a new adventure on the kitchen table you need a plan B, C and D. Plan D is to change plan C if any new circumstances come your way. We are now using plan D, to our great advantage, and the walk has become an eleven-day walk. This morning Anne van Beek, drove us to Kumara Beach. We had spent the previous night with her and her husband Kees in their beautiful home in Hokitika. Steph and I then walked 20kms back to Hokitika. The wind was blowing in our faces, the Tasman Sea was on our right and thousands of white caps could be seen for as far as the eye could see. At one point when I looked around and I saw Steph doing a civil duty of collecting rubbish and putting it into a small bag. One person stopped his car and asked if we wanted a lift.

At 3:35pm we had completed our first 20km walk. Five hours thirty-five minutes on the road which included half an hour for lunch and two ten minutes breaks for a rest, a mars bar and a drink.

20km today

Day 2 – Friday 1st November

Day 2

Today we left Hokitika and took a country road option on our way to Jacksons. No cars, no milk tankers, no noise, just a lovely 20km walk on the Old Christchurch Road which brought prospectors to the Coast in the gold rush of the 1880’s. They came to pan for gold and find their fortunes in the rich alluvial rivers around Hokitika. Later it became the Coach Road that brought early immigrants and pioneers, mainly from The British Isles, to live and set up businesses in a new land. Today we walked through bush, around the Dillman Reservoir and listened to the forest birds.

20km today, 40km completed

Day 3 – Saturday 2nd November

Day 3

Today we continued along the Old Christchurch Road and Kawhaka Forest cycle track. A back country road and a delightful bush walk where we met and talked to one motorist and a group of four cyclists. Otherwise it was our road. 25km in the direction of Jacksons and Highway 73 which will be our ticket to Arthur’s Pass, Rangiora and home in eight days’ time. Jacksons is a famous landmark hotel where pioneers rested overnight and where horse teams were changed, on their journey to the West Coast. The journey would have taken a minimum of three days on horseback or with a seat in a horse drawn coach. Those walking would have taken much longer.

25km today, 65km completed

Day 4 – Sunday 3rd November

We reached three milestones today;
Donations to Givealittle have passed $1,000
We leave the West Coast
Our feet are fine and we just want to keep on walking

Donations have reached $1,120 a big Thank You to all of you on my different group email lists, who have contributed and to those who are not on my email lists I will contact them personally when the walk is over.

Our time on the West Coast has been wonderful, two nights staying with Steph’s sister-in-law in Hokitika and two nights staying with her nephew on his farm in Kawhaka made the start of the walk so much easier for us. The traditional and almost compulsory West Coast rain has stayed away.

Day 4

When you drive on the Coast you see the film, when you walk you read the book. Watching the film your screen is defined in front of you. Trees, animals, landscapes, no sooner seen than they are gone. Power poles, cars and trucks play their parts then quickly exit left or right. Baby lambs fascinate the passengers who are still in their child restraining car seats, but that moment is over in a flash. When you read the book every step is a word, collectively they become sentences and you turn the page at the next rise in the road. We see the dark green growth on the distance hills in contrast to the soft, light green, early summer, fragile leaves, in the foreground, we hear the waterfalls, we smell the bush, we feel the wind on our face, we sense the inspiration the snow caped mountains create and that inspires us to continue on tomorrow to our goal. The baby lambs looked at us, eye contact, and then went back to their mothers. Your imagination plays tricks on you and you think by extending out one arm that you could grasp a handful of snow. You know you can’t. And we feel at one with all of all of this for the five hours that we are walking on their road.

Otira is the Manchester of New Zealand. It has one of the heaviest rain fall counts in the country. Manchester is on the wrong side of the Pennines, Otira is on the wrong side of the Southern Alps to enjoy a dry, sunny climate. Today we were offered our second lift from a motorist. We had planned to spend the night in tiny Otira, barely a hotel and a railway station and we had said we would be in for a meal between 6:00 and 6:30. When we arrived there was a notice on the door saying, ‘We are closed until tomorrow’. We moved on to Arthur’s Pass for the night.

19km today, 84km completed

Day 5 – Monday 4th November

Day 5

It is a mixed metaphor but today we reached a milestone, during our morning walk we had walked our first one hundred kilometres.

Plan A was to shuttle our two vehicles over a ten kilometre distance which would have allowed us to walk ten kilometres before lunch and to then have both vehicles with us at lunch time. We would repeat this process in the afternoon. I visited the Police Station in Rangiora to ask if we needed to inform anyone that we were going to walk on public highways. The female police officer told me that we didn’t, but that unattended vehicles were being damaged along those highways. The early pioneers did not think of leaving bus shelters nor did the developers of the sixties and seventies think of building coffee shops or motels conveniently placed at twenty-two kilometres apart for our convenience and our walk.

We turned to Plan B. Our plan of walking a set distance each morning and repeating that in the afternoon had to change to finding a safe place to park our vehicles and walk onwards 6 kilometres and then back to our vehicles in the morning and to walk five kilometres westward turn around and walk back to our vehicles in the afternoon. Plan B had the following important benefits;

  • It allowed us to do the walk
  • It meant that we would walk the full distance of 234 kilometres
  • It meant that we were taking no risk with damage to our vehicles
  • Thanks to family and friends whose homes were well placed and spaced we will walk to the compass pointing east on the first three and last two days of the walk a distance of 103 kilometres. On the days we will be walking in and out from our safely parked vehicles, we will be walking 65 kilometres in the direction of Woodend Beach, making a combined total of 168 kilometres of the full 234 kilometres in that direction.
  • We were able to do it with the help of friends or family homes along the way, one public camping ground and the car park attached to one motel.

Only two double-axel trucks passed us in our first hour of walking. There were long moments when we didn’t see any vehicles on Highway 73.
One person offered us a lift today.
After breakfast we drove to Cass.

23km today, 107km completed

Day 6 – Tuesday 5th November

Day 6

This morning we left Arthur’s Pass and it is all downhill from here. Once you leave the Coast for North Canterbury the climate and the scenery change immediately. The landscape opens up for miles on either side of the Waimakariri River reaching to lower peaks on the North and South where the snow had melted weeks ago. Our direction is east or as a relative Denis, said, ‘keep heading for the land of the Rising Sun. We will. We drove to Cass. The artist Rita Angus painted the Cass railway waiting room. It is a treasure among New Zealand paintings.

On our walk today we were passed by mates from our club the Kaiapoi Walkers Group. They could not stop for a catch up because Steph and I were negotiating a long difficult bridge as they passed and for once they were in a stream of fast moving traffic. During the day three drivers, two young Maori men and a young Indian man stopped and asked if we wanted a lift.

Steph and I have never felt we needed to summon up the energy to push on, quite the contrary. We both feel that the more we walk the more we want to walk and the easier it becomes. Our body physiology is a wonderful thing. With prolonged exercise, the muscles, the lungs and the heart talk to each other and make life easier for you.

We have continued with our leisurely one hour walks, a rest followed by another one hour walk and during each hour we take turns to be the font walker. Our code for the changeover is either a Fred Dagg or a Prince Philip. Fred Dagg was one of the best New Zealand comedians and in one sketch he was a farmer wearing a black vest, shorts and gum boots. His frequent instruction to his dog was, “Get in behind”. Fred also had seven sons and he named all of them. Prince Philip always has to walk behind the Queen so when I take over from Steph it is a Fred Dagg move and a Prince Phillip move is when Steph takes over from me. At our rest breaks we find a log, a stone or some grass to sit on by the side of the road.

Tonight we are staying at Castle Hill in the home of Bert McConnell, a fellow tramper with the Kaiapoi Walkers. Castle Hill is designed on an Austrian village lay out, it is set at the foothills of the Southern Alps. When I asked Bert for his address, street name and number, he replied in his rich Northern Irish accent, ‘go into the village, turn left and keep going until you find my name outside my house.

When I looked in front or behind me again today I saw Steph doing her civic duty of picking up more litter and in two days she has picked up $5.50.

23km today, 130km completed

Day 7 – Wednesday 6th November

Today we reached another milestone. We have now walked one hundred miles.

Just like you can’t avoid the flu, today we couldn’t avoid the rain. Not heavy but as trampers, we walked through it. An in-joke for Allan and Wayne.

We are now in lime country. Lime stone monuments were formed under the sea from discarded fish scales. When the earth was pushed up by volcanic action the sea was pushed aside and the enormous lime stone structures that had been formed on the sea floor dominated this area. Today they stand tall and proud to represent how they were formed millions of years ago.

Day 7

If you stop and take a 360 degree panoramic view you will see forty shades of green all around, you will see a conversation of colours, dark brown on the distant cliffs above the bush line, a darkened hue below, green fields, grey shingle, dashes of white snow, yellow gorse shouting out in the middle distance that they provide the balance of colour, yellow buttercups at your feet that look at you and say that they are more beautiful than that obnoxious weed over there, the silver of the fast flowing waters of the Waimakariri River and the light brown of the newly tilled fields. These colours have been arranged by the best floral artist we know, nature, mother nature. Privileged is a word that can be overused but Steph and I feel privileged today that we can walk freely in this amazing wilderness that is less than a one-hour drive from where we all live. A wilderness untainted by bricks and mortar and may it always remain that way. This is not suburbia where bricks and mortar are in abundance, this is not Sydney or Seattle where bricks and mortar reach to the sky. This is a piece of paradise between Kumara and Woodend Beach. We are privileged to walk here free because in the Egyptian Dessert, Steph was on a tour where armed soldiers were needed to guard the tourists.

We are careful with approaching vehicles. We step aside and stop and give them good time to judge where we are and where they are. We know that it is their road and our goal is that no vehicle has to think of crossing the median central line when they pass us. We then wave to each other. On the right, stepping aside and sharing a bridge where there is no shoulder.

It was important today to give extra room to those monster trucks to avoid an unwelcomed and unwanted cold shower from their rain induced spray. Today we were again offered another lift.

22km today, 152km completed, 82km remaining

Day 8 – Thursday 7th November

Day 8

We left Bert’s Alpine resort, a place fond in the hearts of club members because when we have a tramp starting from his house he invites us in with trays of warm homemade scones.

Up to now we have been counting the distances we walk each day and the total walked. We now move into counting the distance left to walk and it’s amazing to say but those numbers are going down far too quickly.

The safe place to park our vehicles today is the Springfield Lime Quarry. Thank you Jim for giving us the contact. At the quarry we met Jack and Jake, two great young men who were very interested in what we were doing. Before leaving we saw Jake drive a dozer the size of a small house. Steph made the comment that with the young people we met on the Coast, the young people who offered us lifts and Jack and Jake, the country has a bright future.

A slow car moved past us and Steph gave the thumbs up sign. The young male driver read this as the hitchhiker’s sign and offered her a lift.

We are now in the foothills of the Alps, still beautiful and amazing.

We walked towards Springfield and we are now back in domestic bricks and mortar surroundings, 9 to 5 working hours and of all things new to us again, a pavement. We saw a Café sign and decided to re-join city life and have a coffee. In the shop we met Paul and Nelleke, tourists from Holland. Again I was given a donation by a stranger. Again humbling but grateful. I have decided that during this walk that for any donations from strangers I will match their contribution, just saying ‘Thank You’ doesn’t seem enough.

Steph continues to do her civic duty along the highways.

Washing in cold water, cooking and eating a meal prepared on a small camp burner, having morning tea sitting on the best log you can find, using a sleeping bag for eleven nights is part of this experience. Steph has slept every night in the camper. I have slept on top of beds or sofas in my sleeping bag. On the first night in a camp site I wanted to try and sleep in my Camry car. The passenger seat folds back to almost a horizontal position. I have now slept that way for three nights and wouldn’t mind repeating that again sometime. Three solid nights of sleep. We find this going much easier than we thought it would be, and Steph has said that age has nothing to do with it. I am a few car sleeps away from being seventy-six and Steph of course, is thirty-nine, or a few years younger than me, take your pick.

23km today, 175km completed, 59km remaining

Day 9 – Friday 8th November

Last night I was rocked awake around 3:00am when the nor’wester blew in. My car and other vehicles in the camping ground did a few beats of Jail House Rock. Nothing serious and back to sleep. In the morning the rain followed the gale and we waited half an hour before starting our walk from Springfield to Sheffield. We are now between the foothills of the Southern Alps and the Plaines of North Canterbury. The hills are much lower and they have bush or grass to their tops. The farm lands are bigger and greener and stretch for miles. At Sheffield we left Highway 73 for Highway 72 and met real traffic for the first time in nine days.

Day 9

When Steph asked me if she could come on the walk I said, ‘Yes’ but added that I was still waiting for replies from two accommodation places and the trip was not yet a certainty. When Steph said, “I have a camper” Christmas came two months early this year. We now have two vehicles and could plan the journey. In the planning I found out that Steph was a nurse. A second Christmas present and I said to her, “That is a bonus if anything happens to me, I will have a nurse there”. I’m not sure what medical text book her reply came from but she said, “If anything happens to you, I will tell you to get over it, get up and continue walking”. On the positive side Steph had brought a wonderful medical kit with her. We got on well during our time on the road, sharing the roles of Fred Dagg and Prince Philip, we laughed a lot, we looked out for the traffic passing both ways and thoroughly enjoyed the accommodation provided by her friend Marilyne and her family members Anne and Kees, Mark and Deb. I think Steph knows half of the people on the Coast and is related to the other half. I had planned where we would stop for nine nights.

Steph made the trip ten nights and changed seven of those I had on paper, and all for the better. Her friends and family knew where to buy their properties. I made apple crumble for the trip, she eats some. I made a cake, which forgot to rise, she took one look at it and said, ‘I would not eat it even if she was starving’. Steph came on the trip to test her ability to walk the Camino de Santiago, a thirty-four day, 780km walk in Spain. As it is a pilgrim route of the middle-ages it is fitting to say, “God Speed, Good Luck and I know Steph, that you will be able to do it”.

Without your offer Steph, I was about to postpone the trip until next February and from what I know now it would have been impossible to do alone. I had planned to do it alone, because how many other people have ten free consecutive days.

20km today, 195km completed, 39 remaining

Day 10 – Saturday 9th November

Another milestone for today, we passed the 200km mark. We were also joined by fellow trampers, Elaine and John and in Cust we walked into a third member Keith.

On day eight Steph picked up a blister. She followed the advice of Jean and the blister caused no more discomfort. The advice came from a military doctor and it was to push a needle and thread through the blister leaving the thread behind overnight. That allowed the moisture to drain away slowly. Thank you Jean. We left Highway 73 are now on Highway 72 where we meet real traffic.

Day 10

The descriptions on the Coast and in the foothills were of beautiful open spaces, clear running rivers and unspoiled surfaces. I have spoken to people on the walk around the topic of eczema and I have thought of Ben and I have thought of the descriptions of the effects of eczema. They are polar opposites to the beautiful wilderness scenes. I remember an interview Larry King had with an elderly Hollywood star in which she said that growing old was like serving a sentence for a crime you did not commit. When a baby, young child, pre-teen, young adult or adult suddenly show the symptoms of eczema they have something they never asked for. Eczema has an embarrassment and an antisocial side to it. The red rashes that can spread over the body, the red rashes that seek out the soft tissue such as under the eyebrows draws out from the observer all the sympathy you possess. Scratching isn’t something people do in public but it is the most immediate point of relief for the sufferer. And it can be scratching until the skin breaks and bleeds. It is heart breaking to stop a baby or young child from scratching; it is painful to hold them and watch them cry.

A conversation starter can easily be someone giving the date for their hip replacement or that they are now on the waiting list for a knee reconstruction. Have you ever heard anyone start a conversation by saying, “I now have eczema”.

To suffer in silence is a cliché and eczema is a condition where the sufferer and their caregivers can know what that means.

Thank you Ben for inspiring me to take on this walk, for giving me the idea of using it as a fundraiser for eczema and for me to be able to say one day in the future that I have walked across a country.

Love you wee Ben, Grandad

21km today, 216km completed, 18km remaining

Day 11 – Sunday 10th November

Day 11

The final day, the home stretch, planning and execution now shaking hands. We had made up distances during the week so today we only needed to walk at a leisurely pace from Fernside to The Pacific Ocean, eighteen kilometres. Our final breakfast was eaten on the deck of Marilyne’s house, this side of Cust, overlooking farmlands. Elizabeth and John drove out to meet us and Elizabeth walked with us towards Rangiora. Thirteen of our fellow trampers were waiting in Rangiora to say, Well Done, you are Home Now. Three cars of people we knew stopped between Rangiora and Woodend. We suddenly had to consider a new factor on our walk, it had started to rain for the first time. Four people joined us for the final four kilometre walk to Woodend Beach. We were never alone on this walk, emails and texts of support from England, Ireland, France, Australia and New Zealand were sent and deeply appreciated.

If any of these contacts open a conversation about eczema, they can be assured that a sufferer and their carer will deeply appreciate it.

Steph and I agreed that we would meet all of our own expenses. Ben won’t see any of the money raised, it will all be the property of the Eczema Association New Zealand to use it to improve their delivery of programmes of awareness and support.

Thank You to everyone who has contributed

Thank you to Allan for driving me over to Kumara Beach and back to assess the possibilities of doing the walk, to Anne and Kees, to Mark and Deb, to Bert and to Marilyne for providing accommodation. Thank you to Sue, Jane and David for passing on the updates and thanks also to those who passed them on through their Facebook pages.

The schedule we used was simple, walk at a leisurely pace for one hour and rest for ten minutes then continue for one more hour. Think of giving it a go or of walking or cycling a bit further than you have done before.

From The Tasman Sea to The Pacific Ocean arriving at Wooden Beach was a thrill, a sense of satisfaction, a sense of achievement for Steph and I, and the paddle in the surf was so, so, cool.

18km today, 234km completed, All over

The total donations received by Givealittle for Sean’s ten-day walk
for Eczema awareness is almost $7,165.00. The page will stay open until April 13.

Our sincere appreciation to Sean and Steph. Sean has also agreed to become the new EANZ Representative and can be reached at info@eczema.org.nz or on 0275 295 805

It is not the policy of the Eczema Association of New Zealand Inc to recommend or endorse any product or treatment. It is part of the role of the Association to provide information on a wide range of products and treatments to keep those involved with eczema as fully informed as possible as to all options available. For medical advice, consult your health professional.