#12 Solo bush journeys in Te Urewera and Fiordland – Mark Jones

Mark is an outdoor education lecturer at the Auckland University of Technology, who has been on some epic journeys over the years. In this episode we focus on two of his most memorable trips in New Zealand. ‘Salt and Pepper Hikoi’ was a 17 day traverse of Te Urewera. His kaupapa was to get all of his calories from the forest, while travelling a long distance through some of the most rugged bush in New Zealand. His most recent adventure was a gruelling 40 day solo traverse of Fiordland.

Mark landed a job as an outdoor instructor in his twenties, which opened up a whole new world of adventure. During his time working at the Outdoor Pursuits Centre (now known as Hillary Outdoors) near Turangi, he developed a diverse set of outdoor skills and was also surrounded by inspiring people in the outdoor community. 

Mark and a couple of mates (as a team they were known as ‘Adventure Philosophy’) completed two impressive Antarctic sea kayaking trips and a sea kayak mountaineering trip into Tierra del Fuego, Chile. We chat about these overseas adventures but the real focus of this episode is on two of his more recent bush journeys in New Zealand. They’re some of the most inspiring Kiwi adventures I’ve come across lately. 

I haven’t met Mark in person yet but after watching his short film ‘Salt and Pepper Hikoi’ I felt connected to his kaupapa and was curious to hear more about his adventures. 

Traversing Te Urewera: Salt and Pepper Hikoi

Mark’s short film ‘Salt and Pepper Hikoi’ documents his 19-day solo journey across 194 km of rugged New Zealand bush country, stocked with only salt and pepper.

His kaupapa was to get all his calories from the forest and his diet included eels, huhu grubs, venison, trout and a range of shoots and berries which he caught and gathered. 

Many of you may have been to Lake Waikaremoana and some of you will have been lucky enough to venture off into the more remote parts of Te Urewera. I’ve always talked about Te Urewera as the Fiordland of the North – full of steep terrain, limited tracks and thick rainforest. But while there are many parallels with the rugged terrain and style of travel, Te Urewera has an even deeper cultural history and is home to the Tūhoe people.

If you enjoy this trailer, click on the link to the full length film (36 minutes) at the bottom of this blog.

Movie trailer – see bottom of this blog for a link to the full length film

Antarctic sea kayaking expeditions

Prior to Mark’s more recent bush journeys in New Zealand, he completed a couple of impressive international sea kayaking adventures. He’d been inspired to get a sea kayak after reading ‘Dark Side of the Wave’ by Paul Caffyn.

Along with two Kiwi mates – Graham Charles and Marcus Waters – he set his sights on a sea kayaking expedition on the Antarctic Peninsula. None of them were sea kayakers at the time but they thought it’d be an epic adventure and they were excited to add to the adventure legacy that New Zealand has such strong links with.

Turning themselves into sea kayakers!

“In January 2001 three men set out to paddle down the length of the Antarctic Peninsula, the point below South America where the Antarctic continent points a finger north. It was to be the southernmost sea kayak journey ever attempted, a 850 kilometre expedition through the freezing waste of ice, rock and ocean that makes this one of the most inhospitable coasts on earth. The Frozen Coast is the story of this ultimately successful journey, undertaken by three New Zealanders: Graham Charles, Mark Jones, and Marcus Waters. Beginning at Hope Bay on the northern tip of the peninsula, they spent the next five weeks battling down this perilous coastline, negotiating huge expanses of broken ice, avoiding collapsing icebergs, dodging the potentially lethal katabatic winds and constantly struggling with the cold and wet. Eventually the trio succeeded in reaching their goal – the Antarctic Circle at 60 degrees South. This book is a gripping account of a great adventure and a fascinating insight into one of the most extreme sea kayak expeditions ever undertaken.”

From the back cover of The Frozen Coast, the book that they, along with Sarah Moodie, wrote about their expedition.

Traverse of Fiordland in 2021

In the second half of the episode we chat about Mark’s most recent solo adventure – a 40 day traverse of Fiordland.

It’s a trip he’d always dreamed about but by the time he found himself setting off from the South Coast track, he was in his mid-50s.

We chat about the many faces of Fiordland.

Mark’s Fiordland traverse is one of the most inspirational NZ trips I’ve come across in years. I felt pretty emotional watching Mark’s GPS fly-over and thinking about what his internal journey must have been like. Absolutely amazing route…check it out below!

GPS fly-over of Mark’s route

In this episode you’ll hear about…

  • Mark’s teaching philosophy and career as a university outdoor education lecturer at AUT
  • ‘Salt and Pepper Hikoi’ – a solo traverse of the Te Urewera National Park (hunting and foraging for all his calories along the way!)
  • His recent 40 day traverse of Fiordland National Park
  • Expedition planning and an insight into Mark’s personal adventure planning style
  • Some amazing international sea kayaking expeditions in Antarctica and Tierra del Fuego, Chile. 
  • New Zealand’s adventure legacy – Kiwis doing expeditions on a world stage and getting inspiring stories out there to add to our unique tapestry of adventure

If you’re anything like me, this episode will have you itching to get out into the bush for a long mission. 

So why not get out there and plan an adventure into one of our amazing Wilderness Areas? You can use the new FMC Wilderness Area mapping tool to find out where they are and get inspired.

Listen to full episode

This episode is sponsored by Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand

Podcast music: Wild and Free by Hope Social Club and other pieces by Evan Phillips

Episode links

Fiordland journey

Te Urewera traverse ‘Salt and Pepper Hikoi’

Mark’s Antarctic sea kayaking expeditions

New Zealand Geographic articles, on two different sea kayaking expeditions.

Auckland University of Technology – Outdoor Education programme

Episode sponsored by FMC

Shout-out to FMC for sponsoring this podcast! For each episode we share something about FMC that links in with the interview.

Wilderness Areas might be FMC’s biggest success in their 90 year history. The concept of keeping some areas without huts or tracks had been around for a while, but FMC’s 1981 Wilderness conference really kicked things off. FMC made detailed proposals for 10 Wilderness Areas, which they’ve actively campaigned for ever since. Out of the original ten, four remain to be gazetted, so the advocacy continues. 

Wilderness Area is a legal classification for land that is preserved in a state as close as possible to its original natural state. New Zealand now has 11 Wilderness Areas, four in the North Island and seven in the South Island. 

In Wilderness Areas, you can travel for days with no huts or tracks, having to rely entirely on yourself and what you bring. They are protected from helicopter landings and any other form of motorized access, cannot have roads built through them, no livestock are allowed to graze on them and they cannot be mined. Each must take at least a day to reach on foot, no less than two days to cross and generally be at least 20,000 hectares in size. Wilderness Areas are extremely rare in the world these days – they are enclaves of the true natural environment.

The FMC recently launched a new Wilderness Area Mapping Tool. For the first time ever you can clearly view the boundaries of all the gazetted and proposed Wilderness Areas on an interactive TOPO map. Layers showing all National Parks and other Public Conservation Land are available and there are links to more information about each of the Wilderness Areas. 

Check out http://fmc.org.nz/wilderness-areas to learn more.

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