Te Araroa in 78 Days by Mina Holder

Mina in her cold weather gear standing with clouds and mountains in the background

From the June 2015 issue of biv/mail.

On 1st February I completed my run from Cape Reinga to Bluff, following the Te Araroa trail. The trail is officially 3,000km but my GPS clocked up 3269kms! I ran/walked/crawled/kayaked the complete length of the trail in 77 days, 10 hours and 44 minutes! Very excitingly this attempt has been registered as the ‘fastest known time’ (fastestknowntime.proboards.com) for a female to complete the full trail.

Side of the campervan from the front to the back with NZ plain ito the side and sea in backgroundI don’t come from a sporty background, in fact I did largely nothing resembling exercise until I was 25. This is when James (my now husband) signed me up for a half marathon for a laugh on his part. After three months of grueling training, and vowing I would never run again, I completed the half, and the immense sense of achievement meant I was hooked! Over the next couple of years I went on to run trail marathons and ultras, and completed the Marathon des Sables in 2012 (this is a 250km footrace in the Sahara desert where competitors carry everything they need to survive the seven days). When I arrived in New Zealand I heard about Te Araroa and thought what an amazing thing to have – a trail the length of the most beautiful country in the world. After some research I discovered that two men had managed to run the complete length of the trail, since its official opening at the end of 2011. No woman had as yet… a seed was planted! After lots more research and talking things through with James we made the decision to give it a go. I then spent a year training hard, saving and planning for the biggest challenge of my life which started on the 16th November 2014 up in Cape Reinga!

Selfie of Mina, Adama dn James in warm gear with mountain range in backgroundI was supported by my husband, James, and brother-in-law Adam the whole way. They took it in turns to either run with me or drive the support campervan, which was kindly loaned to us by my mum and step-dad. In the North Island we were able to get to the van each evening, except for two nights where we stayed in huts in the Pureora and Tararua Ranges. The South Island proved more of a logistical challenge in terms of road access points, as there were many sections where this was not possible. This meant we had to carry all the kit and food needed to complete many multi-day mountain sections. Whilst crossing the Richmond Ranges, for example, we were away from the van for five days with a bag weighing in at 15kg! The slow going nature of the (often insanely tough) ranges, combined with the additional weight proved to be a real challenge. James and Adam were incredible and I can’t thank them enough. Without their invaluable support I would have most certainly turned to custard on day eight.

Mina running at dawn through rolling peaks and valleysThe main motivation for me to relentlessly push on were the two charities I had chosen to support – Starship Children’s Health and New Hope Rural Community Trust. I was specifically raising $10,000 for Starship to fund the purchase of a 3D transthoracic scope, which will be invaluable to children with heart conditions. A few weeks after completing my run I managed to reach my target for the scope, which is beyond brilliant! A huge thanks to everyone who contributed and supported me in making this happen. With this new scope the child needing an image of their heart pre- and post-operatively no longer require an additional anaesthetic, as they did for the old 2D scope; how fantastic is that?! For New Hope I am still raising money to fund the further education of orphaned children in India who are cared for by this amazing organisation. By funding their further education or apprenticeships it genuinely helps secure the chance of a bright and independent future for children who have started life with such sad stories.

Mina on a grassy high plain in the South IslandIt is hard to reduce my experience of Te Araroa into words. It was immense. Immensely challenging, but also immensely beautiful. I felt every emotion possible, somewhere along the way. How tough was it? Well! As with any challenge it had its moments of immense struggle where I used every ounce of will power to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Physically the first twelve or so days were the hardest, my body was adapting and every body part took its turn to loudly complain during this time. After 90 Mile Beach my hips screamed at me for the following four days! I was amazed at the way my body changed, and thankfully, stopped complaining too much! Anything over seven days of consecutive marathons was an unknown as to how I would cope; it would seem the human body is an incredible thing and capable of so much more than I would ever have thought.

Running  with support person  with Lake Tekapo and Mountains in the backgroundThe evening of day eight was probably the lowest moment of the whole run. My body had not adjusted, we weren’t ‘in the swing of it’ yet and I was in so much pain I could not conceive pushing on for another 72 days or more! My highlights (there were so many) were: the exceptional beauty of the Tararua Ranges, the isolated and rugged nature of the Richmond Ranges, the stunning Waiau Pass, running along the unbelievably spectacular ridge-line down to Lake Tekapo on the Two Thumb track and, of course, reaching the sign-post at Bluff with family and friends cheering us in!

James and Adam resting on brown grass, Mina in a lower photo lying exhausted on same grass The signpost at Bluff with a pair of worn shoes over the Cape Reinga sign and Mina looking up at them

We have all reflected on how lucky we were not to pick up any injuries (other than cuts, bruises and scrapes) along the way. We were also exceptionally lucky with the weather, only being held up for one day in Pelorus Bridge with torrential rain – in which the Pelorus River rose almost three meters; I’ve never seen anything like it! There were so many sections that would have taken so much longer, or been impossible to safely navigate, had the weather been different.

I am a fairly ordinary person and I believe that if you have a dream, however big it might seem, it is more than likely possible to achieve. I’m a 34 year old primary school teacher and, like I mentioned earlier, showed no signs of any athleticism for most of my life. For me, if I have an idea about something, the first step is to say it out loud. The more I told people about my idea of running Te Araroa the more it became a reality, the more offers of help I received for various aspects of the planning and the more I felt committed. It did take most of what I had to give but with the most incredible support team behind me I somehow pulled it off! Although it still seems slightly unreal I’m rather amazed and proud of the achievement and cannot thank everyone who helped make it happen enough. Have a dream? Say it out loud!


Time: 77 days, 10 hours, 44 minutes
Rest days: 3
Total distance: 3,269km
Total ascent: 82,940m
Total time on trail: 828 hours 37 minutes
Total weight loss: 6kg


Distance: 43.6km
Ascent: 1106m
Time on trail: 11 hours 5 minutes
Te Araroa signpost with misty mountains in the background


✔︎ Being out in nature all day every day
✔︎ The astounding beauty of New Zealand
✔︎ James and Ad for making this dream possible!
✔︎ The people we met – locals and other hikers
✔︎ All the support we were given by so many amazing people
✔︎ Not looking in the mirror
✔︎ Eating custard everyday
Mina, James and Ad in front of  the Starship sign on  their camper van


Swollen feet with sores between my toes
5 – 6am alarm every day (or earlier!)
The sheer amount I had to eat was quite stressful
Not being able to call family & friends enough
My general aroma!
Random contracting leg muscles through the night.

If you would like to find out more about

my challenge and the incredible

charities I am supporting please visit


or to see my photos visit



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