Epic journey . . . Walking the length of the country, 17-year-old Niall Phillips visited the Timber trail near Taumarunui in the Pureora Forest Park. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

by Shelley Inon

A Fairlie teenager is the youngest person to walk the length of New Zealand unaccompanied.

Seventeen-year-old Niall Phillips said the main reason he started was “to explore New Zealand, and see the country in a different way”.

“After a while of walking my motivation changed and I focused on more of the experience and challenges that come with the trail, good and bad.”

His mother Jackie Phillips felt his motivation was perhaps a little deeper than that. Her husband died unexpectedly when Niall was only 12, and she felt it was his way of processing his grief.

“He’s a bit of a character, not a normal kid at all,” Mrs Phillips said.

“He is very much a realist, seeing things in black and white.”

She said she would “never” have let him go if it were not for his satellite communicator which allowed him to use Bluetooth to make text messages and phone calls when he did not have reception.

Thanks to the technology it afforded, Mrs Phillips could also identify where he was on the map at any moment.

Niall walked the Te Araroa trail (which means “the long pathway”).

He said there was an app you could get on your phone which you followed.

He started his journey in October, making his way through the South Island from Picton to Bluff, finishing the first leg just before Christmas.

He had to stop until March so he could raise funds for the second leg of the journey, which he felt was lucky as he said if he had kept going he would have been “a walking skeleton”.

Niall had weighed 70kg before leaving Picton, but by the time he reached Bluff through the difficult terrain, he weighed 62.7kg.

During the second leg, from Wellington to Cape Reinga, he felt he had not lost such worrying amounts of weight due to the densely-populated nature of the North Island.

“There were far more takeaways to eat.”

He believed the experience has taught him what to worry about.

And his appetite has grown a “wee bit”.

He has been recommending the trail to his friends and hoped to encourage his mother to make the walk.

Mrs Phillips said she would “definitely” like to try the walk herself, but it was hard trying to find the time around her busy working life.

Niall said he would not have made the journey without the support of his family, as they had helped all they could so he could achieve his goal.

Mrs Phillips had driven to Hanmer Springs with a food hamper when he needed food on his South Island stretch.

“We’ve got each other’s backs,” she said.

For now, Niall is coming back home for the winter season to work in the ski fields, and to raise much-needed funds for future trips.

The next in the pipeline is to cycle throughout New Zealand and abroad.