Atawhai Charteris recently became one of the youngest men to walk the length of New Zealand from Cape Reinga to Bluff, which is approximately 3000kms. In some respects, he is an ordinary teenager, who is finishing school, living in the surf town of Raglan, hanging out with his friends and looking for that next ‘sick’ wave. But what struck us about Atawhai, is that there is nothing ordinary about him. He has a thoughtful and insightful outlook on life for someone so young. He wants to take responsibility for his own decisions, doing what makes him happy and not necessarily what is expected. Atawhai explained that his adventure was about inspiring people to seek “authenticity” and to “celebrate a connectedness with people in real life”. Concepts some of us are only beginning to grapple with in our later years.
This adventure was spurred on by a desire to do something "radically different" from what he was doing and something which scared him. Seeing a world in which negativity & hatred is highlighted in our news and social media feeds - he wanted to embrace the positive stories of every day New Zealander’s and those unsung heroes caring for our people and our beautiful environment. A talented film maker and photographer with a captivating style- he has documented his experiences in ‘The Southward Project’. We supported Atawhai in this endeavor and so spent some time with him recently to hear more about his journey.
Documenting his experiences through film and photography, is what Atawhai loves -”visual storytelling and the cinematic side of film”. Therefore, he wanted to help the community in his way, and worked with Forest & Bird on highlighting their conservation projects along the way. As a filmmaker, his hope was to capture a story that inspires humans to consider their relationship with adventure while promoting the preservation of wild and uncharted places. Atawhai spoke of the diversity in the landscape of New Zealand; “its ridiculous, you can be in farmland and then over the next hill is bush, mountains, and then around the corner and you are at beaches!”. Living in a comparatively small country which is not densely populated, the natural terrain retains a rugged untouched beauty, and navigating the landscape was both physically and mentally tough. The support from Torpedo 7, an outdoor adventure equipment company, was invaluable for Atawhai, as they provided him with all the gear he needed to be safe and prepared in the environment.
Walking the length of New Zealand allowed him to meet & connect with many people along the way - “we were all going through the same struggles; hungry, cold and sore”. He had limited access to the internet, and reflected that connecting with people in “real time” is what it was like in his grandfathers’ era. The reliance on devices in the current world, particularly cellular phones has become prolific, in which any spare moment is filled with scrolling and updates. How is this affecting us and our ability to connect? To be in the moment? The New York times recently posted an article, in which New Zealand physiotherapist Steve August identifies increasing negative effects on our physical state from what he calls the ‘ihunch’- slumped shoulders, head down and an unnatural posture, which is a result of constantly looking at devices. Amy Cuddy, professor at Harvard Business School and author, stated in summary of this article, “your physical posture sculpts your psychological posture, and could be the key to a happier mood and greater self-confidence”. We reflected with Atawhai on ‘The Southward Project’, in that one of the underlying premises of his journey, was about connecting, but also disconnecting.
So what next for Atawhai? He said he has been “loving having time to relax”, after the physicality of his trip. He will focus on finishing his last year of school, whilst working on collating the footage from ‘The Southward Project’, which will take time to edit and tell his story. He is working through film release options, but said he would like to have a photographic exhibition in his home town Raglan. Atawhai has also been invited to speak at a few public events, a new challenge for him, which he is embracing. Nothing is set in concrete for after he finishes school - university is an option, but he just wants to figure out what he is really passionate about and do it.