The next few months look a little bit different for one Whakatipu school-leaver than what might be expected.
Jessica Dredge, 18, will start walking the 3000km length-of-New Zealand Te Araroa Trail today, setting off from Cape Reinga on her way south to Bluff.
Inspired by her outdoor education teacher at Wakatipu High School, Ken McIntyre, and with the support of her mum and aunty, Jessica wants to explore New Zealand in the best way possible.
‘‘I want to travel … why would I go overseas when we have a beautiful background right here?’’
Many of Jessica’s friends plan to attend university in Dunedin or Wellington next year, but she’s decided to fulfil a different long-time interest and says she wants to go on to work in outdoor education.
Her preparation’s included playing football and netball in school and tramping in her free time.
She’s also using her savings from working to pay for much of her own equipment, including a tent, walking poles, cooking system and lots of warm clothes — some of which are donated by McIntyre.
He’s done most of the Te Araroa himself — at the end of 2020, McIntyre and his wife, Susan, took a term off school for their mission, pulling sticks in Tekapo at the end of January, 2021.
McIntyre says he’s ‘‘incredibly proud’’ of Jessica.
‘‘She knows how to find her own way in the world,’’ he says.
The teen’s both nervous and excited about the challenge, but says she can’t wait to start the walk down Ninety Mile Beach.
‘‘I think if I can do that, the rest will be good.’’
She’s planned about the first two weeks of her trip, staying in the tent and with ‘Trail Angels’ who offer hot showers and camp space at their properties along the way.
If she misses her family and friends, Jessica says she has a satellite device to text her mum or call for help if necessary.
‘‘Plus every piece of equipment reminds me of someone.’’
She’s also been sponsored by a company that’s provided her with a Garmin fitness tracker.
Jessica’s set aside five months to complete the walk, but hopes to be done by May, and aims to have family and friends join her for parts of the track.
Her progress can be followed online through TrackMe NZ.