New Zealand 2020
“Osteoporosis is one of the most common chronic diseases. It causes a person’s bones to become more porous and fragile, greatly increasing their risk of suffering a fracture. Sufferers of these serious yet largely preventable injuries often experience severe pain, long-term disability and even early death. The burden to health systems, economies and society is also huge – and on the increase… 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50 will experience an osteoporotic fracture.” – The Global Burden of Osteoporosis: A Factsheet
We will also be raising awareness and money for osteoporosis while on Te Araroa. This 'silent' disease is prevalent, (with over 140, 822 osteoporotic fractures a year in Aus, with an expected 30% increase by 2020) debilitating, expensive for our society (predicted $3.84 billion in Aus by 2020) and largely preventable.
My connection to this disease is personal. I was diagnosed with osteoporosis (OP) at 24. When my scan came back indicating that my bones were frail I felt lost. I had no way of gauging how fragile I was, how this would affect my life or how I could move about without the constant fear that one badly placed step could lead to a serious fracture. As you can imagine this was quite a shock and has had a huge impact on my life.
Now at 29, I’ve learnt a lot more about bones and my body. Through research, doctors and personal trial and error I’ve made my body stronger and increased my bone density through diet and exercise (at this young age I’ve been advised that this is the best course of action - I may need to consider medication when I’m older). I have gone from OP to what is technically termed ‘osteopenia’ - put simply, my bones are a little denser and stronger! My future and bone health is brighter than 5 years ago and I now believe I’m strong enough to walk 3000km with a pack, or at least give it a good go :)
My hope is to give this ‘silent’ disease a voice. When I was first diagnosed I knew basically nothing about OP and associated it with old people… a perspective so far in the future that it could not possible apply to me. Bone loss is a natural part of aging, but there are lifestyle choices that can help reduce the likelihood of developing OP.
For these reasons, we will be raising money for OP research.
We reached out to Dr. Peter Ebeling, head of the department of Medicine at Monash University. Dr. Ebeling encourages people to know their bones, and stresses the importance of bone care in younger people (sufficient calcium intake, avoid smoking etc). For this reason we have decided to make a donation to his research.
We will personally contribute a $500 donation to start it off and when we commence walking we will encourage others to donate through a button on our website. Finally, 20% of our total merch sales on tour will also be donated to OP research.
We are Explorers Interview
Check out our very first interview with Tim Ashelford from We Are Explorers for our upcoming New Zealand tour and debut album.
Did we come across as an incredibly attractive and relatable duo with effortless aplomb, a pair of young Robert Downey Jnr's, wide-eyed optimists whose casual grace on and off the mic are sure to steal the worlds hearts?
Or just delusional idiots?....Only one way to find out! Read the full interview below.
Talk about the tour of a lifetime! Harp and fiddle duo Mickey and Michelle are taking on the 3000km Te Araroa trail and linking a series of folk music gigs across New Zealand.
It’s a rad idea. They’ll be getting their heavy instruments (the harp weighs 20kg) transported between gig locations and spend the rest of their time hiking, getting to know the countryside and the locals. I had a quick chat with Mickey and Michelle to see how they’re going ahead of their October start date.
Tim – So how are you guys, how are you feeling about the project?
Mickey – Oh it’s a bit daunting.
Tim – Obviously it’s pretty tricky logistically.
Mickey – Yeah that’s the most challenging part definitely. I’ve actually toured all of NZ with a jazz band I used to be in, so I sorta know what to do, have the contacts and stuff, but working it out for ‘on foot’ is a different matter.
Tim – For sure, and you’ve gotta trust people with your instruments?
Michelle – We’re still figuring that one out I suppose, I think there’ll definitely be some people we don’t know transporting our stuff around, we’re even looking at couriers.
Mickey – The folk community’s pretty trustworthy and small, everyone knows everyone – we feel like New Zealand’s so small that no one’s really gonna run away with anything.
Michelle – Well we hope!
Tim – New Zealanders are pretty friendly people.
Mickey – They can’t get too far can they?
Michelle – Firstly, what are they gonna do with a harp? And secondly, the violin is left-handed (which is very uncommon) so once they realise it’s worthless…
Tim – I like how you’re going to go to really small towns that don’t get many performances.
Mickey – Yeah they’re really sweet, generally the further away you get from the city, the more appreciative the audiences get. They don’t have those opportunities as often.
When my last band toured there we had played in Melbourne and Sydney and been watching people drinking and trying to pick up, but when we played in New Zealand people hung on every note, and they wanted to buy our merch and a beer afterwards!
Plenty of times we didn’t have a place to stay that night and people would invite us back to theirs to sleep on their couch. It was really lovely and we’re kind of hoping to tap into that – we’ll be seeing so much of the countryside and then we’ll actually get to meet the people who live there. Instead of sitting in a hostel every night with a bunch of other tourists.
Tim – Yeah that’s beautiful. The fact that you’re hiking through their country, I think that people will respect that.
Michelle – Yeah I hope so!
Michelle – So the hike’s called the Te Araroa Trail, Mark, Chief Executive of the trust for the hike, seems really positive about it which is wonderful.
Tim – Did you talk to him about your plan to do a performance in a hiking hut? How’s that gonna work?
Michelle – That’s my dream. The huts that I’m used to are the Australian Alps huts. You get the occasional schmick glamour hut, but most of the time they’re half falling down.
Tim – And you’re not even allowed sleep in them!
Michelle – Yeah usually they’re there because someone died, so they thought it was a good place to put a hut. But I do know that the huts in New Zealand are a bit more upper class.
I just love this idea that you’re on a hike and come upon a hut and there’s a concert there that night. Obviously it needs to be a good hut, and maybe near a road? Or we’ll get a troupe of people to carry our gear, I don’t know…
Tim – Yeah and you’ll have to be careful you don’t suddenly get 200 people rocking up.
Mickey – Our first sold out concert!
Tim – So did you have the idea after hiking the Australian Alps Walking Trail? (Michelle spent 6 weeks walking the AAWT in 2017)
Michelle – Definitely after. That hike definitely sparked the whole long distance thing, the longest I’d done before was a week hike (to prepare). I just got lost in the whole long distance thing, and the lifestyle. I didn’t want to stop. So I thought ‘let’s go for 6 months’.
Tim – Did you consider doing more thru-hiking in Australia?
Michelle – Well we’ve done the Larapinta, which is two weeks, but generally in Australia it’s not quite set up in the same way. For the AAWT I did food drops, driving 20 hour round trips. You can’t just set off and walk through towns. So I guess that’s what was appealing about New Zealand. It’s quite close despite being overseas and it’s well set up. The trust has been amazing. It made sense considering we’re gonna try and take musical instruments.
Tim – Yeah we don’t quite have the thru-hike culture in Australia, partly because everything’s so spread out.
Michelle – The thing is, I also really love that about Australia – there’s so many places to explore that aren’t really well set up.
Tim – Though I’ve heard with this track that there are sections that are pretty out there.
Mickey – Yeah there’s a Facebook group, some of the comments are like ‘I’m so lost’ or ‘I’ve run out of food and water’.
That’s cool though, we love getting out to super wild locations. We don’t want to be able to walk to a Maccas, so that’s definitely some of the appeal of the Te Araroa, especially on the South Island.
Tim – Yeah on the South Island you’ll be deep in the hiking for a bit then coming out of the wild for a bunch of concerts right?
Mickey – Yeah! That’s part of the appeal, mixing business with pleasure. When you do a long music tour it can get a bit repetitive, playing at another pub or bar or concert hall, playing the same songs again… with the same other people the whole time. It can get tiring.
With hiking we’ll get to play a gig every 2 weeks or so.
Michelle – Also when you’re touring you don’t often get to see the country you’re travelling through.
Tim – Are you full-time musicians?
Mickey – Yeah a combo of composition, teaching, performing, we don’t play 7 nights a week. It’s cool to get a break from that in a way.
We’ve got a few musical friends (with smaller instruments) who are pretty keen on the idea. Maybe it’ll become a wacky musical pilgrimage of sorts.
Tim – Michelle you were diagnosed with osteoporosis at 24 and told your bones were the strength of an 80-year-old’s. How’s that tie in with your trip?
Michelle – Yeah I’d like to raise money for it. Awareness is the main thing though.
Mickey – Specifically for younger people. Osteoporosis really gets thrown around as this older person’s disease but there needs to be more research into younger people and prevention.
Tim – Is hiking good for it?
Michelle – Yeah, it’s weight-bearing exercise. There are quite specific exercises that are quite good for it. In terms of bone density, bone is living tissue, so you need to stress it in the right way. Swimming for instance, doesn’t really help osteoporosis. So it’s impact and weight bearing, which suits hiking pretty well!
Follow Mickey and Michelle’s preparation on Instagram @mickeyandmichelle or check out their website to read their blog and learn more about osteoporosis.
If you’ve got a place in New Zealand for Mickey and Michelle to stay or perform, make sure you get in touch!
Finding the Opera House Hut has been Michelle’s dream since 2016. She did all the planning, bought the maps and prepared all the food herself; so it is only natural that I, Mickey should be the one to tell this story.
I had nobly left Michelle for two weeks of rehearsals and gigging in Sydney, and the National Folk Festival in Canberra with my beloved Squeezebox Trio. We were a huge hit, and some young women even told us they’d started a cover band after seeing us perform in 2015! But enough about how marvelous we were (which we were), the point I’d like to impress upon you is how I had boldly let Michelle do all the work, while enjoying the rockstar life – only to be whisked away after our final performance to Mt. Kosciuszko.
We drove from Canberra to Thredbo on Easter Monday and jumped straight onto the chairlift that allows you to skip 550m of elevation. We needed the boost as we had bigger fish to fry the next day and little remaining light - it wouldn’t be Mickey & Michelle if we didn’t start a hike racing sundown and the inevitable ‘head torch walk’ into camp.
This was the first time I had been back to Kosciuszko since my first hike on the AAWT and I’m pleased to tell you this time I didn’t feel like vomiting. The first day wasn’t too long, 6kms till we went off the track to Wilkinson’s Creek for an early sleep before the big adventure really began.
Next morning and it’s Michelle’s birthday! Hooray, I gave her some socks my mum knitted and we celebrated with a lavish breakfast of oats and chia…well at least she liked the socks. But we were going to need our energy if we were to find the fabled Opera-House, named so because it cost more per square meter to build than the actual one in Sydney. It was built by the SMA in 1966 to manage water aqueducts, accessible only by a tunnel from Siren Song or helicopter. The tunnel is now prohibited by the Snowy Hydro so there’s no track to it (now you see why Michelle likes it..)
There are supposedly three ways to find the hut:
We chose the rock scramble.
We were nervous because the man Mish had bought the maps from warned her off trying saying it was dangerous and difficult, but on the other hand the weather report looked great and she had heaps of birthday luck, so it felt like pretty even odds.
We set off early that morning, passed the absolutely beautiful lake Albina (which I had really wanted to get close to after seeing on our first hike), and down LNC. What can I say about that rock scramble, except that it was probably my favourite time hiking! I don’t have particularly long legs, nor am I very tall, so while I am not genetically predisposed to flying up a mountain, I wildly excel at rock scrambling and I loved every minute of it. Jumping from rock to rock, using the downhill momentum and my balance to make huge combinations of rocks for lengthy gains. All the while being surrounded by the ongoing waterfall really draws back to the platformer video-games of my childhood. I could’ve done it all day, hell, we did! (It was slow going at 0.5km an hour!)
I’ve attached a video so you can get an idea of the pace but please do know I am showing off for the camera, moving faster and taking riskier leaps. That being said in the whole 7 hours neither of us fell in the water once, or had any sort of (serious) accident.
All good things come to an end, or a waterfall, in this case the latter. Unfortunately that meant a one hour scrub-bash, that would’ve been a 45 minute scrub bash if we had’ve started on the correct side of the waterfall. The great thing about scrub-bashing is absolutely nothing, actually I take that back; the great thing about scrub-bashing is the gnarly cuts you get on your arms and knees. Chicks dig grazed knees!
After a short descent down the final dam, we made it to the Opera House in all its glory. Not only did it have a mattress, but also a fireplace! We made a pizza and slept the sleep of the victorious that night.
The next morning we had to climb back up the 1000 meters we’d descended the previous day. It was much less friendly on the knees, but it was still absolutely beautiful. After 3 hours we had had enough and decided to hike up the highest mountain we could see till we found a sealed path again. This might sound foolish but it actually worked perfectly. It saved us 4-5 hours of the next days hike and meant we could camp on Anton Anderson Saddle, marking the 2nd time in my life I have been the highest person asleep in Australia.
Day 3: Consett Stephens. Last time I hiked this pass I succumbed to fantastic knee pain and nearly to hypothermia. This time I was a lot fitter, more experienced and better prepared right? Wrong! It still beat the hell out of me. The beautiful scenery was instantly devoured by the swirling mists and the battering winds. However the elevated and exposed landscape does allow for some brief pockets of reception, and it was here we discovered that Michelle’s weather report that predicted sunny days and balmy weather in Kosciuszko was actually for Kosice in Slovakia (apparently you should write the whole name of the mountain into google..) Instead we should be expecting days of -6 degrees celcius with snow and rain.
This meant that we had to cut our hike short if we were going to avoid getting frozen. After a brief bed-repair job at Whites River hut, we made our way to the charming Horse Camp hut, which is now my favourite hut of all time. We desperately wanted a fire, but didn’t have kindling, so with MacGyver as inspiration we blew up a lighter in the fireplace and soon enough we had fallen asleep reading a book in our cosy, warm hut.
The final day was a doosy! Two separate rangers drove by to warn us that the snow was a-coming and it really put the fear of god into us. We walked out onto the highway and hitched a couple of kms with two lovely men named Matt and Dave, then we were back into the belting winds on a race against time to get to the Thredbo chairlift before it closed at 4:30pm. It meant a 25km day with very short breaks, but we made it with 15 minutes to spare!...only to discover the chairlift hadn’t been running at all that day because of the intense weather. Fortunately there was a maintenance man at the top who had just finished his shift and gave us a ride down the mountain in time for a shower and a pub meal!
Thanks for your interest! Here’s a rundown of what this page is about:
Mickey & Michelle are going to walk the length of New Zealand starting this October 2019. This 3000km hike is called Te Araroa, which means ‘The Long Pathway’ in Maori.
To make it more difficult (and fun!) we’re going to bring our instruments and do a musical tour along the way. Yes the idea is a little eccentric, but we wanna give it a go because it combines two passions of ours.
The other aspect of this adventure is raising awareness - Michelle was diagnosed with Osteoporosis when she was 24. This has had a huge impact on her life, and one of the reasons she got into hiking. We hope to inform people that you can get this disease at a young age, and raise awareness that being active can really help to improve/prevent it.
One of the biggest hurdles will be getting our instruments around. We can’t carry them with us as they’re too heavy (Michelle’s harp is 20kg in its flight case!).
We’re hoping to tap into a few networks, including the Trail Angels and Folk Clubs of New Zealand to help us, and also just get the word out there on social media.
So that’s where this space comes into it – we’ll be posting bits of our preparation, music and hiking related, along with fun stuff from past hikes. I guess this is a music/hiking account? Surely that’s a normal cross over?
We also have a newly finished website with all this info and more on it: www.mickeymichelle.com
If you or any of your contacts, especially in New Zealand, are interested and want to help out, please get in touch and/or share this page!
Okay, we’re back on the AAWT. Having already completed two weeks from Thredbo to Canberra, it was time to tackle the middle third from Thredbo to Hotham. After our first composition bootcamp as a musical duo, we caught a tram, then a train, then a bus and a car to Thredbo. We had allotted two weeks, and tried extra hard not to die, as our families would be twice as sad if we died before Christmas.
Mish’s dad Mick came with us for the first day. This meant that there were essentially three people with the same name and height… much confusion ensued. Our first day took us to Cascade hut where we spent our first glorious night reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on my Kindle.
Then came the second morning. Mick left in the pouring rain, while we bravely slept in until it had passed. It was a 20km day, no great ascents or descents, no bush bashing, no navigation, a little too easy if you ask me… That's why when the opportunity came for a 4km round trip through dense scrub to Tin Mine Waterfall, I was chomping at the bit.
Well folks, we never did find that waterfall, but on the plus side, I managed to lose the Kindle. Devastated. Not only about the pollution to our beautiful landscape, but we had only read the first chapter (which Harry isn’t even in). Now I know how Hugh Glass felt when he was crawling his way through America after being mauled by a bear with no food and profuse bleeding….Kindleless.
Anyway, we made it back to camp with our lives and though my pack was 200gms lighter, in reality it much heavier as the responsibility of providing our entertainment every night was now resting squarely on my shoulders. I knew the only way to atone for my mistake would be to concoct an original story far better than J.K. Rowling’s original masterpiece, as we walk up a mountain every day. Did I rise to the occasion? Yes, but more on that later.
Day three, we crossed Sam who was hiking the whole of the AAWT in the opposite direction. His brother was the one who was the avid hiker but pulled out just before they started with an injury. Sam who was originally the tag-on, decided to hike the 650kms by himself. Together we climbed… some mountain…oh I don’t know what it was called, they all blend into one after a while. (Mt Pilot, Michelle's edit)
Shortly afterwards we met Annie, who had hiked the whole AAWT, then decided to turn around and walk back again! I’d call her a nutcase, but she gave us a bottle of wine (from her own food drop), so she’s actually incredible.
We really needed ointment for some cuts and bites, and decided to hitchhike into Glen Wills. Fortunately a giant military tank picked us up and we zoomed out of the bush at an astonishing 30kms an hour. This marked the midpoint of our journey, which meant a day off!...well, almost.
We stayed with the Mayor of Glen Wills, aka Gordo, who runs the most gorgeous BnB he built himself. It’s a well known secret among AAWT hikers that 3kms from the track is a cheap night under a roof where the gracious host supplies you with beers and a roast!
But you can’t stay forever, our itchy feet put us back on the track and finally the views came a-rolling in. Mt Wills was my favourite part of the whole thing; cool hut, gorgeous views, tonnes of fun rocks and it was cold! From here on out it was just incredible alpine walking with a bit of tricky navigation and the odd snake here or there. One meany gave us a big hiss and thoroughly scared us, it took us a few minutes figuring out how to get around her/him before we realised it’d run away ages ago.
If you think this story is missing waterfalls and dingoes, you’re about to be satisfied. We saw a waterfall and a dingo! On the way to Cleve Cole Hut we’d heard about the nearby Howman falls. A waterfall provides a great opportunity for upperbody muscle building, which you can see all about here:
I’d like to tell you the adventure ends here, but alas it does not. Mother Nature was not content in taking my Kindle, she is a cruel mistress that demands regular sacrifice. This time it was my hat. It was an early Christmas present from Michelle, but then it became an early Christmas present for some mice, who wouldn’t even have looked half as good as I did in it. They ate my plastic bowl too!
Ahh well, it can be repaired. We found a hitch down from Hotham into Harrietville and it was once again time for a pub meal and wine.
This was the first long distance hike I’d planned since the Australian Alps Walking Track and it could not have been more different. First of all because I was actually prepared this time! Mish and I had completed four additional smaller hikes by now, so not only was I feeling very fit but I actually own gear that fits me.
After some initial research we found that the best time to complete the 230km hike is in June/July, because even in the winter the heat can be stifling. So naturally we began in late August. (Cue badass music).
I’d never been to Alice Springs before, and there is certainly one word that comes to mind: Red. Its red, its just very very red. We stayed one night with our lovely friends Karen & Jacko, whom we know through the folk scene before being driven out by the Larapinta Trail Treck Support (LTTS) to Mt. Sonder. LTTS are a wonderful, yet tiny company. With only four full time workers, you can’t expect a prompt reply to your email, but they are genuinely dedicated to the track and to your safety, having made a pact that each member solo hikes the whole trek every few years.
The first day we climbed Mt. Sonder. The highest point along the hike at 1380m, its technically off of the trail, so while you don’t need to climb it you’d be a sucker not to. Speaking of suckers, we immediately found out how quickly you dehydrate in the Alice Springs sun. The walk simply wouldn’t be possible (for us whiteys) without the water tanks installed throughout the hike. Water was so plentiful all throughout the AAWT that you take it for granted. When we arrived in Alice it hadn’t rained for eight months and it showed! There were 5 or so beautiful gorges teaming with water, but on the whole the place was so dry and dusty, and did I mention red?
You acclimatise though. Before long we’d learnt to leave by 7:30am and get the majority of our hiking finished before lunch, then relax for the hottest part of the day before hiking a little further before dinner. Every now and then we’d get lazy and sleep in, only to immediately be punished by the suns intense heat. If you walk in the heat, you have to replace the sweat you lose by carrying more water, which makes you sweat more….
Perhaps my favourite part of the whole thing was running into three Canberran scientists. They were reading the Deltora Quest series aloud on a kindle, and laughing hysterically at how poorly the series has aged in the 20 years since we were children. However fondly I had remembered the series, it was worth trading in my nostalgia for these three new friends, whose uncanny sense of humour and camaraderie made me look forward to every shared campsite. We even altered our itinerary so we could spend more time with them.
One of the worst things about hikes is that they end, and the Lara was no different. If you walk East to West like we did, civilisation begins to loom in front of you for the last three days, while the splendor of the landscape tends to flatten out and the heat really beats down on you. We walked 50kms in two days to finish early and enjoy and ice-cream while rolling around on the first grass we’d seen in 15 days. Full gallery
Mickey or Michelle, depending who has more to say on the subject :)