Today marks one month on the road for 20-year-old Queanbeyan man Joash Taufa’ahau, who is over 500km into an approximately 1,400km adventure hiking the length of the NSW coast to fundraise for food waste charity Oz Harvest.
This is the first leg of what Mr Taufa’ahau hopes will be a 4,000km journey around the perimeter of NSW, but if he is to walk through desert terrain, he’ll need different gear and a companion for safety.
Paused at a service station outside Forster to down a Powerade and answer a phone call from Canberra Weekly, Mr Taufa’ahau said he has averaged 35km a day so far.
His longest leg was 86km, completed in less than two days on just over two hours’ sleep.
Walking well into the night on that occasion, Mr Taufa’ahau found himself on Crowdy Bay Beach at 2am, 40km north of his destination in Taree.
“It’s a beautiful wide beach, and looking up at the night sky, it looked like a cathedral, honestly,” he said.
Halfway along the 15km stretch of sand, fatigue hit and he decided to put his feet up.
“I was like, ‘You know what? I’ll just sleep under the stars tonight.’”
The plan was to sleep for five hours and keep walking at 7am, so Mr Taufa’ahau lay down, elevated his legs, and closed his eyes.
Soon painful insect bites made deep sleep impossible and he said the best choice was to keep walking.
“Maybe that’s endurance or pure craziness.
“There’s really no option to sleep, and by having no option you’re left with one option, and that is to keep going.
“Giving up or stopping for a rest will just make life harder.”
Mr Taufa’ahau said when his body was the most exhausted, his mind became energised.
“I started talking to myself, started making knock-knock jokes to myself and I would just laugh so hard!
“Physically you have to switch off while you’re walking and just let the body do what it knows how to do.”
Raising money for Oz Harvest to fight food waste
Before embarking on his Australian expedition, Mr Taufa’ahau dreamed of walking the Pacific Crest Trail, from Mexico to Canada, until the pandemic made his plan impossible for the foreseeable future.
Looking for a local alternative, he chose his home state of NSW, and although the solo adventure was a personal mission, he said he wanted to make it mean something.
Having worked in hospitality since age 14, Mr Taufa’ahau said he was disturbed by the shocking amount of food wastage in the industry, which is why he chose to raise money for Oz Harvest.
“I see food getting wasted and I see people going hungry,” he said.
Food waste costs Australia a whopping $20 billion each year, while five million people experience food insecurity, according to Oz Harvest.
For the past 16 years, the innovative Australian charity has rescued and redistributed food to those struggling to afford it, especially during times of increased need like the COVID-19 recession.
In Canberra, Oz Harvest saves over seven tonnes (7,000kg) of food from going to waste per week, and delivers nearly 22,000 meals throughout the region.
Its service saw a marked increase in demand during COVID-19, prompting a new Cooked Meals Pilot Program in collaboration with the National Convention Centre.
The kindness of strangers
Although he has happily slept in all sorts of places – public parks, behind a bakery, and on the beach, to name a few – Mr Taufa’ahau also put a call out asking locals along the east coast for a place to set up his little red tent.
Plenty responded, and Mr Taufa’ahau said he has enjoyed meeting new friendly faces and sharing a meal.
In chance encounters along the way, people have stopped on the side of the road to offer him money or a cold drink, and others have paid for his dinner unprompted.
“I’m definitely not begging for it but it’s the kindness of strangers.”
Mr Taufa’ahau’s go-to energy boosters are peanut butter and Red Bull, but he fuels up on something more substantial when he can, after speaking to a dietician who recommended high calorie, high fat meals with plenty of vegetables.
He said he was surprised by how well his body was coping with an intense itinerary, and he had no injuries or sickness to report.
“I haven’t neglected self-care, physically I’m still feeling very good and your body does adjust.
“My legs know the next day they have to walk.”
He doesn’t walk on Fridays or Saturdays, to allow his body to recharge along the way.
A way of life, not a break from reality
Mr Taufa’ahau said he would typically go bushwalking a few times in a normal year, and he had always enjoyed it.
“In the Pacific, where I come from, you just carry a knife and a few things when you go out in nature.”
He said making do with the bare essentials reminded him of trips home to the Solomon Islands.
“For me, this is how I want to live so it’s part of my reality,” he said.
“When I go to the islands, it’s not a holiday for me, it’s going home.
“Same with this trip, the experience is part of my life.”