About the Author: “My name is Prune (yes, for real…ha ha), I am French and I started to explore the world 5 years ago. My next adventure will be to attempt to thru hike the AT next year. I hope being able to share my adventures with you, the good and the bad, all along the trail.” You can find her YouTube at Prune Travels (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1Fn9Em-g_GnnXvPMaBiYWg)
During my time in New Zealand, I was working and living with a couple who were rangers for the Department of Conservation. So I was volunteering occasionally to see some of their work. It was a great feeling to work in the forest, called bush over there, and to play a part in the animal preservation.
They took me a few times with them to show me their work place, a huge forest in the North Island.
Most of the time, it was for night work: catching and monitoring native bats, or collecting kiwi eggs.
Of course, I was always with one of them to guide me and keep an eye on me. But, it encouraged me to do more!
Here is the story of my first solo night hike.
December 2017, it is summer, I’ve got a few days off for Christmas and New Years Eve. So I decide to drive North and to hike the Pinnacles in the Coromandel area. It is a beautiful rocky summit, perfect to see the first lights of 2018.
On the 31st, I go to the campsite at the bottom of the track and set my alarm for 2am to do a 3-4 hours walk to the top before dawn.
Of course, I didn’t sleep at all since everyone at the camp was celebrating New Year…
It’s 2am, I fold my tent, pack everything in the car and start walking. It is great ! I can hear the Ruru (local owl), I follow a couple of possums on the track, temperature is cool and the air is fresh.
I’ve been happily walking for about 30 to 45 minutes when something happens.
A few meters further, just next to the path, I hear something growling. I freeze. What on Earth can be growling here?! This is New Zealand, there is no bear, no wolf, no big cats… As everybody says, “In New Zealand, nothing can kill you but yourself”.
I hear that sound again, and as I stay still, alone, in the middle of nowhere, I try to think of what it could be. I run the beam of my headtorch in the bushes, trying to glimpse a body shape or shiny eyes. But nothing in sight. Whatever it is, it is now stomping in the bushes. But still nothing to be seen.
A deer? I should see its head above the leaves…
A wild dog? Not likely. It would have ran away or attacked me already…
A boar? A boar! That could be it! “If a pig charges you, you have to climb up a tree”. Ok, but damn! The trees around me are like tooth picks! I’m 160 lbs… Ah! Here, a rock. Barely higher than my knees, but somehow I believe it is better than nothing.
I’m holding tight on a branch to keep my balance on this silly rock. I must look ridiculous…
Why was I suddenly afraid of the dark forest? Because I knew that if I got hurt, there would be nobody to find me for at least the next 4 to 5 hours. No phone coverage. I didn’t want to get hurt, alone in the dark.
So after all of this, I started to think I should turn around. But I didn’t want to! I came all the way here to climb this mountains, to see the sun rising from the top!
As I am trying to decide what to do (on my rock still), I can hear the animal walking around. It is not ahead on the track anymore, it is behind! Now if I turn around I might bump into it!
If only I could see it to be sure of what it is!
I use my emergency whistle to try to scare it away. It doesn’t work…
I jump off my rock, stomp my feet and jump back on my spot, trying to tease “the beast” and have it to show itself. It doesn’t work…
After 3 hours like that… No ok, only 20 minutes. But it seemed much more (hahaha).
So after a few minutes, I hear the steps going away. Then nothing. I jump, I stomp, I shout, nothing moves.
I grab my knife (what was I gonna do with it, I don’t know. But it made me feel ‘safer’ I guess) and carry on walking up the track.
After a little while I start to relax, put my knife back in its sheath and enjoy the hike again. I cross swing bridges without seeing the river, I climb steps without seeing the mountain.
Somehow, I couldn’t see much but it was beautiful. The feeling was beautiful.
At last, I reach the last stretch. The sky starts lighting. There are some people moving in the hut here. I speed up. I don’t really want company right now. I want to enjoy the last 30 minutes in the quiet mountains. I hurry up rocks and ladders. Behind me, I can see lights along the winding stairs. They look like a shiny snake.
I am the first one at the very top of the Pinnacles, soon joined by the other walkers who spent the night at the hut just bellow.
The first sun rays show up, and everyone quietly wishes a happy new year to the other brave hikers around. This is the most beautiful New Year of my life.
Time comes to walk back. I follow the same track, but it is so different! When I walked up, I could only see what the beam of my light allowed me to. Darkness was beautiful and mysterious, but didn’t offer lots of sightseeing.
Now I can see the rivers I crossed on the swing bridges. I can see the mountains and valleys bellow. The different shades of green surrounding me were stunning.
Despite the scary episode, I had a great time! I had no regrets coming here, hiking on my own in the middle of the night. This moment was magical!
I drove back home after a nap and told the story to my mates, the wildlife rangers.
Suddenly, they laughed. I could have been hurt! What was so funny?
“What you just described… It sounds like you encountered a kiwi bird!”
Damn! Yeah, I definitely feel silly now ha-ha-ha.
I will soon be walking on the Appalachian Trail. I’ve been asked if I would have to walk at night. If I would have to do it and how safe it is. Especially as a woman…
I don’t think being a woman is what bothers me.
In France, in UK, in New Zealand, there is no dangerous animals to be afraid of. There is no big risks in walking by night.
But I don’t know if I would feel confident enough to do the same in USA. Bears or snakes are things I’ve never had to deal with before. I’m still a bit nervous at the idea to have them around, even during the day. I don’t think I would be comfortable enough to walk on my own at night knowing I could bump into them without seeing them coming.
But who knows? Maybe after a few days, weeks or even months, I will enjoy some nice night walks in the quiet forest of the Appalachian Trail…
Do I recommend night hiking? Yes! Definitely! It is something to do, or at least to try. It is so peaceful…
But stay safe. Know where you are going, and let someone know your exact plans. If something happens, you don’t want them to look for you in the wrong place.