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!
If you’ve got a place in New Zealand for Mickey and Michelle to stay or perform, make sure you get in touch!
Photos by Daniel Di Biase
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