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When Eiji Kitai reaches Bluff in about a fortnight, he will take the final step in a four-month, 3000km journey along the Te Araroa (TA) trail that began at Cape Reinga last September.
After taking two months to walk 1700km to Wellington last November, he took a five-month break to return for his summer job as warden of the Greenstone Hut in Fiordland National Park.
He started the 1500km South Island leg at Ship Cove, in the Marlborough Sounds, early last month.
"Before I started, I was worried about the weather — heavy snow and rain — but actually the short daylight hours are more challenging," Mr Kitai said.
"Almost every day I have to get up in the dark, start walking around daybreak and keep walking until pretty much sunset."
It was unusual to be on the Te Araroa trail at this time of year.
Since emerging from the Motatapu Track — connecting Glendhu Bay and Arrowtown — on Monday, he enjoyed the luxury of his own bed for three nights, although he spent a day walking from Arrowtown to Queenstown.
He got back on the trail yesterday, and will soon pass by the Greenstone Hut. That is where his inspiration came from, as year after year he spoke to passing Te Araroa walkers.
The 50-year-old said he had struck deep snow only once, while descending from Stag Saddle — the highest point on the trail — near Lake Tekapo.
The highlight of the South Island so far came last Thursday, when he awoke to a "stunningly beautiful" landscape after overnight snow at Stodys Hut, near Lake Hawea. Walking between eight and 10 hours a day on average, he had lightened his pack to about 21kg for the South Island leg, and swapped his tramping boots for trail running shoes.
Although the journey was "tough" at times, he had enjoyed every moment, he said.
The main reason he and wife Chiharu immigrated to New Zealand 20 years ago was to enjoy tramping.
"On the TA, I get to do that every day."
After reaching Bluff he will have a couple of weeks’ rest before starting his winter job for Air New Zealand at Queenstown Airport.
He is keen for people following his progress to donate to the Routeburn Dart Wildlife Trust. His walk has already raised more than $1200, and he hopes to hit the $3000 mark by Bluff.
Follow Eiji’s progress on his Facebook page: ‘Keep on, Keepin’ on — Eiji’s Te Araroa Walk’.