Edmund Hillary Retirement Village resident Kathy Hey has always been a keen hiker, and has ticked off the Tongariro Crossing, Mt Taranaki and a number of New Zealand’s Great Walks over the years.
In 2000 Kathy and her husband Roger decided to do the 800k El Camino walk over the Pyrenees and across Spain over 35 days and found it an incredibly moving experience.
“We started from St Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees on the first day and stayed in a motel that night after walking 5km.
“The next day we wondered how we would manage to walk the remaining 795km – would we make it?
“Then, 30 days later, when we saw the 100km sign to finish the walk, we felt very sad because we didn’t want the journey to end.”
In November 2008, Kathy and Roger were at a friend’s birthday party when Kathy overheard two of her friends talking about planning to go to Nepal.
“I said ‘is this is a blokes’ do?’ and they said ‘no it isn’t, would you like to come?’
“I looked at them and said ‘yes, I’d love to go!’ It was something I had always wanted to do.”
Four months later, Kathy found herself with her four friends arriving in Kathmandu, preparing for a 13 day trek to Annapurna Basecamp from Dhampus.
Unfortunately, Roger was unable to join them due to his Parkinson’s which he’s had for a number of years.
“We were living in Tauranga at the time so at least twice a week I would go to Mt Maunganui early in the morning and walk up it two to three times and around the base.
“That was part of my training and on another occasion I walked the Tongariro crossing with my son Graham and his wife Sophie and my grandson Kayin.
“It was part of Kayin’s school trip so I tagged along with them and that was the second time I’d done the ‘crossing’.”
The training paid off.
“We were up hill and down dale, across rivers and steps and all sorts of challenging places. Fortunately I was fit enough and I didn’t get any altitude problems, though we were all tired at the end of each day.”
Kathy said it wasn’t just about the trekking for her and her friends, but getting to know and enjoy the people they met, particularly their wonderful guides and porters.
Above: Kathy, second from right, at Annapurna with two of her friends, Raj, the guide and Buhdra, the porter. Below: Her well-used map with milestones reached highlighted in yellow.
Some of the memorable sights they saw were the people themselves, many of them carrying incredible loads on their backs, including a large mattress, a big roll of corrugated iron, a crate of chickens and even an elderly woman.
“The porters were lovely. If we felt tired after lunch, Buhdra the guide stayed at the back of the group and he sang as we walked or climbed. His singing was very melodic and stirred and flowed with compassion.
“He was of the Buddhist faith and it was with gratitude we received his ‘ministry’ of caring and nurturing – it was so lovely.”
Equally memorable was the landscape itself. On reaching their destination, which, at 4150m was higher than anything in New Zealand, Kathy was awestruck by her surroundings.
“We became engulfed in the mountains and the snow all around.
“There was a huge world outside with all sorts of things going on there but we couldn’t see any of it. That was very powerful.”
Completing a Nepalese trek was a fantastic life ambition achieved but it was the El Camino walk with Roger 23 years ago which resonated at their joint 80th birthday celebration earlier this year.
Kathy compared turning 80 with reaching the 100km mark on the marathon walk.
“At the start it was hard and we didn’t know if we could make it but reaching that milestone was emotional because we loved it so much and we didn’t want it to end.
“Many of the guests were in tears, as was our family too!”
While aware of the poignancy, Kathy is wonderfully positive and remains active, regularly walking around the village which she is committed to a number of times a week.
From her apartment in the aptly-named Everest apartment block, she also walks over to and around Stonefields and occasionally walks up Maungarei – Mt Wellington.
“I am looking forward to the Walking for Wellness later in the year.
“I find it an incentive and a worthwhile goal to work for and achieve. I’m hoping it will be a fun time and being involved in the larger Ryman initiative, such an event is very encouraging and positive for our health and wellbeing.”
Meeting Peter and Alexander Hillary recently, along with her next-door neighbours at the village, Rodnie and Bryan Whitlock, was a real thrill for Kathy.