Once I first arrived in Rotorua, during December 2017, I found myself unexpectedly portraying the New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. In that occasion, I managed to make it to the first line in front of the stage, and ended up shooting side by side with a smiling Indonesian photographer, Cinzia, who had been living in Rotorua for ten years, and also spoke Maori. We became good friends, and she introduced me a little to the local Maori establishment. I was hungry for stories regarding the native people of these islands, but eventually found nothing worth at the time, and decided to keep travelling south. Few months later, though, I received a call from Cinzia: she suggested me to join her and her friend Ata in a fundraising event in the southern region of Otago, applying as a crew volunteer.
That’s how I ended up pitching tents in the far-out camps of the Great New Zealand Trek, an event which, in 13 stages, has taken horse-riders, mountain-bikers and hikers to cover almost the entire length of New Zealand.
After a few months travelling with my mates Pietro and Fabrizio, I departed from them. Leaving behind the adventures of the Fiordland, they drove me all the way to Ophir, where I met with Cinzia and Ata. After a fairly emotional goodbye to my companions, I was thrown straight into a bare, western-like landscape – way different from the lush Southern coast. Briefings of any necessary sort took place on the first evening, and after a dark night out, the camp woke up in the golden light of a beautiful dawn, and all participants eagerly started to walk, cycle or ride their way down the trek, the sight of which got lost among the hills not far away.
Of course, as a crew member, I had no chance of walking the way myself. Once all participants had left the camp, we had to pack everything up, move to the next location, and put everything back together. It would have been lovely to participate to the trekking myself, but I must admit I equally enjoyed being an insider. I grew fond of the beautiful people of my crew, and occasionally borrowed a bike or a buggy to explore the trails backwards, at the end of the day, after we got the job done.
After a week of intense back-country life, we crossed the finish line at the Rodeo Club in Lawrence. A fancy dressing party took place, and all participants and crew celebrated the endeavour. An amount of 35,000$ had been raised in this edition of the event, taking the grand total to roughly 350,000$ since the first edition in 2006. Another considerable sum was gathered for a beard shaved after years. All donations go to research into Multiple Sclerosis.
I never participated to such unique event, and, to be honest, all the credit goes to Cinzia. What a great way to explore the stunning desolation of the Otago region, and breath the atmosphere of a land of pioneers. Moreover, I hitchhiked with the girls all the way back to the North Island, as their place, Rotorua, was also the destination of my next adventure.
Photography: Matteo Fabi