Meet Laura Waters: Hiker, nature nomad & author

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Laura Waters has hiked the length of New Zealand, walked West Australia’s Bibbulmum Track, mountain biked across England, sailed the Queensland coast and scuba dived all around the Pacific. She has also found time to write a memoir, Bewildered, based on hiking the Te Araroa trail.


A good day on Te Araroa trail, New Zealand. Image Laura Waters

A good day on Te Araroa trail, New Zealand. Image Laura Waters

What is your job and what does the work involve?

I am a travel writer, author of hiking memoir Bewildered and a public speaker. I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was a kid, but it took me until my mid 40’s to actually make it happen. There is never a dull moment: from one week to the next, I could be travelling, hiking, working from home or going out to meet people for a talk. I love the variety. My latest project is writing a guidebook to ultimate hikes around Australia (due for release Oct 2022).

How did you get into hiking?

I’ve been doing day hikes with my family since I was a kid but it wasn’t until I was about 30 years that I did my first multi-day hike. A decade or so later (with only the 65km Overland Track under my belt as my longest walk) I embarked on a 3,000km journey from one end of New Zealand to the other. At the time it wasn’t so much a big hike that I was looking for but an adventure to stretch and challenge me. I felt that there must be so much more to life than living within the constraints of a 9 to 5 job in the city. Plus, I wanted to see what I was capable of.


Hiking amongst the wildflowers of the Bibbulmum Track, West Australia. Image Laura Waters

Hiking amongst the wildflowers of the Bibbulmum Track, West Australia. Image Laura Waters

What is the appeal of hiking?

It feels like living for real. You’re not wrapped in cotton wool like we generally are in society. You’re exposed to the elements and reminded of your place in the natural world. You’re free from any drama and ‘noise’ that humans tend to create, away from pressures, advertising influences and depressing world news. I like the simplicity of only having to think about walking and finding food, water and shelter. When I hike for long periods I feel so light in being, that I almost feel drunk sometimes.


Taking a break on the Mototapu Track, New Zealand. Image Laura Waters

Taking a break on the Mototapu Track, New Zealand. Image Laura Waters

In Bewildered you wrote about the physical and mental challenges of hiking the length of NZ. How has the book resonated with readers?

I learned a lot of things on the trail that were relevant in this day and age, but I wasn’t prepared for just how much the story would trigger and resonate with people. When I started the hike I was suffering from anxiety and depression from a toxic relationship and the pressures of the modern world. I was fearful, had low self esteem and doubted my ability. I wasn’t living my life fully.

Apart from the adventure of a long hike, the journey also transformed my personal and world view. I have had so many people contact me who are also struggling with similar things and who want to change their life. I was a little concerned about revealing too much of myself at first, but I knew that the real story of that journey was what happened within me. I had to just bite the bullet and share it. There is nothing unique about these internal struggles; so many of us share them.


Laura’s memoir Bewildered is based on her experiences walking the length of New Zealand. Image Laura Waters

Laura’s memoir Bewildered is based on her experiences walking the length of New Zealand. Image Laura Waters

Can you describe a favourite moment you’ve experienced while hiking?

Ooh, it’s hard to pick one! There was a view in Nelson Lakes National Park on New Zealand’s South island that was so beautiful it made me cry. Waking up in the night while camping alone in a vast alpine valley and looking at the stars and moon was pretty special. Seeing Killer whales and glow worms at Queen Charlotte Sound…I could go on!

What about a least favourite moment? How do you deal with difficult, dangerous or challenging situations?

There were many challenging moments on the Te Araroa trail. I got caught in a snowstorm, where the cold was truly painful. I got blown off my feet on a mountain ridge which was scary. I dislocated my shoulder twice, got lost a few times (never for too long), battled overgrown forests and grovelled about on my hands and knees in the mud so many times to crawl under fallen trees.

It was exhausting at times. But I came to learn that I always found a way past the challenges and that discomfort would eventually end and the sun would come out again. I learned to just face each fear or challenge as I came to it, to assess the situation and deal with it without energy-sapping, blind worry.


Gnarly weather and trackless terrain on Te Araroa trail, New Zealand. Image Laura Waters

Gnarly weather and trackless terrain on Te Araroa trail, New Zealand. Image Laura Waters

How does the hiking community embrace women hikers?

It’s great to see how many solo women hikers I come across on long trails. Supported or not, they’re out there! Occasionally you come across a bit of mansplaining, but generally nature is a great leveller. And there are some great women’s hiking groups too for those looking for guidance or a tribe.

What’s your advice for women thinking about taking up hiking?

Head out on an adventure with others more experienced than you, people who can show you the ropes: friends, bushwalking clubs, Meetup groups, women’s groups, etc. You need some basic knowledge to keep yourself out of trouble – which comes with experience – but there also comes a time when you just need to bite the bullet and have a go. I was full of fears before I did my 5-month hike. I was certain I couldn’t do it on my own but when my girlfriend pulled out on the second day with an injury I was forced to try. Fear is mostly in the head.


Mt Tongariro reflections, New Zealand. Image Laura Waters

Mt Tongariro reflections, New Zealand. Image Laura Waters

What’s on the radar for future hiking adventures?

I was prepping for the GR11, 840km across the Pyrenees from the Atlantic to the Med, when COVID-19 closed international borders. There are so many amazing trails in Europe I’d like to explore: Tour du Mont Blanc, the Kungsleden in Sweden, Iceland. I’d also actually really love to do a long paddle somewhere.

Life is so short. It scares me to think how close I was to just accepting a mediocre life that wasn’t fulfilling me. Without the Te Araroa Trail I might not have cultivated the courage and clarity to quit my corporate job and chase the career and life I’ve always wanted. I now live in a state of motivation and inspiration and I think if everyone did that we’d have a much happier world.

Follow Laura at Soul Trekkers

About the author: Fiona Harper is a Queensland-based travel writer – follow Fiona at Travel Boating Lifestyle


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