Just out of a long-term but unhappy relationship, wracked with anxiety, self-doubt and generally unfulfilled in work, she was looking for something to bring meaning to a life that had lost its lustre.
She says: “Looking back, I’d wanted to do a challenge, an adventure, for years but it was never a conscious search. Just a feeling that there must be more and an urge to push myself and see what I was capable of. One night I was reading in a hiking mag about this new trail that had opened in New Zealand and immediately thought ‘that’s it, that’s my challenge’.
‘‘It was just fortunate that the trip arose when I was dealing with some tough emotional issues where I needed to escape my life and wipe the slate clean. It took about a year from seed to setting foot on the trail.’’
Without giving too much away, when Waters’ hiking companion dropped out on the second day, she decided to carry on alone. The next five months were a combination of fear and bliss as she battled both her own demons and the wild, rugged landscape but also rediscovered herself at the same time.
She says now: ‘‘Mainly, the best thing was feeling so deliriously happy and light in being. I’ve never been happier than I was with one bag of belongings, one outfit, no makeup, no advertising, no ‘noise’. I had no demands other than just to walk and to find food, water and shelter. Time as a notion ceased to exist. I lost my human identity and became part of the environment around me. It’s a magical place to inhabit.’’
As hard as the walk was it was another struggle when it came to write about it: ‘‘I literally had no frigging idea what I was doing … I wrote a load of crap and then cut the shit out of it. Then I worked with an amazing editor who gave me an education. Basically, I just kept trying – like I did on the hike – until I made it. What can seem overwhelming and difficult at first is often doable if we just persist long enough.’’
It’s a story that has resonated with her readers, many of whom have been inspired to take up walking in the bush or to think about changing ways of thought and even relationships. Looking back now, Waters says the person who started the Te Araroa trail and the person who finished it are two completely different people.
‘‘One was unhappy, to put it mildly, gripped with anxiety, directionless and plagued by self-loathing and self-doubt. The person who walked off the trail after five months had a calm confidence and a clarity about who she was and what she wanted in life. She was rewilded.
‘‘I caught up with a friend from the trail earlier this year and she said that she almost didn’t recognise me. ‘You look more like you now – if that makes sense.’ And, yes, it made perfect sense. After that hike, for the first time in my life, I finally felt like me.
‘‘It’s great that I finally reached that state but also scary that I might feasibly have gone through an entire lifetime without knowing who I really was. It made me wonder how many others there are out there living lives that don’t feel like them.’’
Apart from more hiking and maybe another book, Waters wants more people to connect with nature and think about the planet and our impact on it.
‘‘There is another way to live,’’ she says. ‘‘Less stress, less consumerism, less fear and judgment and more simplicity, authenticity and care for Planet Home.’’
Bewildered by Laura Waters, Affirm Press, $29.99
Originally from London’s East End, Keith Austin has been a journalist for more than 35 years. Keith is passionate about food, drink, travel, writing, photography, humour and soccer. But not in that order.