Tora Coastal Walk

By Nicola Martin,*

OPINION: Sometimes you need to climb a really big hill and take a breath.

In the middle of somewhere off State Highway 53, on the heel of the North Island where ruggedly sunburnt Wairarapa farmland wilts towards the moody Tora coastline, I did just that last weekend.

There’s a certain therapy that comes with walking up big hills. One foot in front of the other, burning thighs and glutes and heaving lungs. When you spend your life surrounded by three small humans and weekly deadlines it’s space to think. Or, if you wish, to not think at all.

The Tora Coastal Walk, which sweeps through more than 1200 hectares of rugged sheep and beef country, is that kind of place. It’s also one that thankfully cell phone towers largely forgot.

The problem of living in a world of constant stimulation is that when we remove it, everything can seem so boring.

Established by the Elworthy and Bargh families, the Tora stretches across five farms in total, expansive landscapes, windswept ridges, river valleys and pockets of native bush eventually giving way to the paua laden Tora coastline.

It’s a walk everyone seems to know about. Your heavy luggage gets carried to each night’s accommodation leaving you with a daypack full of water and lunch. There are comfortable beds to rest your head at the end of the day and gourmet meals of rural proportions served each evening.

Meandering through its remoteness with five friends, mainly from Auckland, who had also escaped their lives, we concluded the locals must think the 20,000 plus walkers who have trodden these hills completely mad.

“They must think we’re so strange. We get in our cars each day. Drive to an office. Tap at a keyboard then drive home to prepare to do the same thing over the next day,” said one.

Yes, I thought.

Many of us have lost the ability to just be.

And if you ever needed an illustration of the sorcery mastered by the digital devices that now run our lives, the perfect picture is served at around 300 meters above sea level to the backdrop of sheep grazing windswept hillsides.

Cell phone reception hits in only two places on the 33km looping track. It announces itself through a cacophony of phones pinging and dinging on day one at the summit of the Buglar and again at the end of day two, on the optional Trig walk.

While we were out walking New Zealand got its first case of COVID-19 and we missed the breaking news. Almost.

It struck home just how connected we all are. We share the same apps and search engines and we all get our news roughly at the same time. And thanks to all that, it seems we have also successfully completely distorted the scale and relevance of what we’re receiving.

The arrival of COVID-19 in New Zealand has shown us the panic a news cycle can create and the keyboard warriors it can give rise to. We’re all so closely connected now that virus victims are just a keystroke away. 

As we clasp our phones in our hands and dutifully check them, our modern world has become full of dangers. We’re fed a steady diet of looming catastrophe where even viruses now have their own digital fatality counters, ticking over minute-by-minute.

We’re always on, we’re always connected or never far from it. There is no longer such a thing as time off. It has completely distorted our daily perspective on the world and as we saw this week as panic buying hit our shelves, it’s become totally destructive.

And, of course, there is the other problem of living in this world of constant stimulation. When we remove it, everything can seem so boring, many of us have lost the ability to just be.

We’re told to eat our five a day and push play for at least 30 minutes but the mere fact we need to be reminded of these things suggests just how far we’ve removed ourselves from the natural rhythms of life and nature

And I’m not suggesting the internet hasn’t become an integral part of our world or that it doesn’t bring just as many benefits as it does blights. And I’m certainly not advocating for digital detox or Facebook announcements telling the world you’re taking a break from social media.

Just that it’s up to us to take our time back. We need to remind ourselves to put a bit of perspective on things. Go climb a huge hill if you need to and take a breath. Just make sure your phone is turned off. You won’t miss much.

*Original article published on, March 07, 2020