If you’re someone who’s learning how to talk the talk of natural resources stewardship, you’ll eventually get to walk the walk.
Forest and Rangeland Stewardship student Connor Flechsig finished a 52-day trek across New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail to reach Lincoln University in time for the start of classes. He joined 24 other CSU students who are spending a semester studying abroad in Christchurch.
For those who know Flechsig, tackling this challenge isn’t surprising. He scrambles up and down Colorado’s mountains frequently, and has hiked over 200 miles of the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails in California. This new endeavor was by far the longest distance he’s covered in a single stretch, and he did so with minimal impact.
Flechsig naturally adhered to the Leave no Trace principles of wilderness travel: take only pictures, leave only footprints. His photo album will be memorable, but the 900-plus miles of actual footprints he left behind brought authentic purpose to his studies.
A light footprint
When Flechsig arrived at New Zealand’s Auckland airport on Dec. 29, his backpack weighed in at only 14 pounds of gear. Adding just five to 15 additional pounds of food at a time between supply stations qualified him as a low-impact hiker on the country’s new overland track that spans its North and South Islands.
“It’s a reflection of my lifestyle in general,” Flechsig noted. “I don’t own a bed back in Colorado, so it wasn’t about choosing what to take or what not to take, rather just continuing how I choose to live.”
The Te Araroa trail passed by the airport, so upon disembarking the plane, this CSU student embarked on a new adventure, experiencing the whole gamut of what New Zealand offered. He traversed through small towns, farmlands and forests, and climbed over rugged mountain ranges. To get his feet wet, he also kayaked down 100 miles of the Wanganui river, made taxing river crossings on foot and sometimes tramped through hours of rain.
“It’s intense how variable this country is,” Flechsig said. “In the span of a day you feel like you’ve crossed a continent in terms of different landscapes and different ecosystems.”
Despite the variable terrain and weather, it wasn’t entirely rough going. He preferred his tarp for a roof on most nights, but a hut pass came in handy for shelter during the inevitable, torrential storms. When dry, the buoyant trekker felt even lighter when discovering how generous local Kiwis (New Zealand residents) and other travelers were with their own resources and time.
“When you hike something like this, you find your faith in people restored,” Flechsig said. “On the North Island, my heart was filled by people complemented with scenery, and on the South Island, my own time in the mountains was complemented by beautiful moments with people.”
A new education
As a student majoring in natural resources management with a minor in watershed sciences, Flechsig checked off every resource box, from the ocean to mountain peaks. His training also gave him the added awareness to notice some of the ecological issues the country deals with, from invasive species control to water quality to balancing land use and wilderness.
“I got really excited for my studies here, because I walked through so much of the land without being able to translate what I saw,” he said.
Flechsig’s new education began on the trail. He asked many questions, and was impressed with the amount of knowledge Kiwis related about their country.
“It was uplifting to hear about their awareness of issues affecting their ecosystems and all the action and research being done to address these problems,” he said. “This inspires me to keep learning and contribute to the body of knowledge that addresses the same issues we also deal with back in the U.S.”
The intrepid traveler made it to Christchurch as expected and immediately moved on to his new academic adventure with classes in agricultural forestry, and water and soil sciences. Even though he updated his accommodations to an apartment, he still lives day to day with the same 14 pounds on his back. The only extra item this minimalist had shipped to him was his laptop.
Flechsig’s cross-country quest isn’t over. During an upcoming school break, he plans to continue trekking down the South Island portion of the Te Araroa Trail, and will do so with a different perspective.
“I’m not sure where I want to go with it,” he confessed. “I’m not too worried about calling myself a true through-hiker by completing the whole thing, because at the end of the day, it’s more about what I’m able to experience while I’m here.”