I am so proud of us. Not to be conceited, and I know that in the grand scheme of amazing things people have done this is small, but in the scheme of things I have done, it ranks pretty high.
We had some pretty great roommates in our dorm tonight. The backpackers itself had nothing to put it above average, but the roomies were fun. They were all German. The first to arrive was Eric, a young man who had just finished working for a winery, doing something to do with engineering (not my thing). He came in when Bethany and I were getting ready to do our laundry, so all our dirty clothes were out on the floor and, backpacks being as they are, our stuff was everywhere.
Having spent so much time with no one but each other, Bethany and I are becoming decidedly goofy. We chattered away at Eric and told him we'd move stuff to make a little space on the many shelves we had taken over. He said it wasn't necessary and, a moment later, walked out.
We joked about how we had probably freaked him out with our weirdness and Backpacker smell (we had showered, but don't forget about the laundry) and he was probably going to ask for another room. In Eric's defense, he wasn't being a snob at all. He's just bad at leaving. Later, after he returned to the room he never intended to vacate, we were chatting in the kitchen and it happened again. He was just gone in the middle of an, admittedly rambling conversation.
He also complimented our playing when we practiced a few songs in the room, so that got him points.
Later, we met our other roommates, whose names I never got, outside. They're cyclists, just touring around as the wind blows them, or as the cycle track leads. A bit like what we're doing but on bikes and with less structure.
I'm still so tired after this day of rest. Tomorrow, we hike Fisher's Track. It's 15 km (10miles) but I've been assured it's mostly downhill. Then we have a really long hike the next day, followed by 5 relaxing days on the river. I hope. A French cyclist we met in a campground said that when he did it, about 80% of people fell in at some particular rapid. I really hope he just went with inexperienced, uncoordinated people.
Whether we fall in the river or not, I won't have to hike up mountains.
Which I still love doing. Almost all of the time.
Woohooo! We made our first landmark destination!! Bethany woke up a wee bit grumpy this morning, but while i was stiff and sore, i decided my shoulders would be in less excruciating agony if I got up and stretched. It did help, and i also decided that today would be better than yesterday. Partly because we had such a short way to go today, partly because there were showers awaiting us, and partly because if everyday was as hard as yesterday, with my back screaming at me and starting to spasm a little towards the end, I don't think I could handle it. So today would be a good day, I thought.
It has been. Bethany cheered up on the road, as I thought she wood, and we had only a short hike, on pleasantly flattish blacktop, to National Park. On the outskirts of this roaring metropolis (by which i mean tiny burg) was a shop that had a sign saying 'coffee, free wifi'. We made it no further. We indulged in coffee and a big ole greasy breakfast burger that was amazing and delicious. Add a few jalepenos and it would have been perfection!
We found a place to stay, took showers, and are relaxing. The only problem is the internet, which costs $4/50mb. And 50mb runs out in no time, especially if you try to skype my mother...
I love everybody and want everyone to know that, despite my rants about sore muscles, I am happy and healthy and in good spirits. I'm actually really, really happy and don't really understand why people moved away from this kind of life in the first place. Bad move, humanity! There are simple goals - step over that gnarly root cluster - and simple solutions. And nothing else much matters. It's such a relief, after years of studying and working and teaching and socializing, just to be in nature.
Again, pictures are coming soon! Just have to figure out the right way to transfer between a myriad of devices...
I knew the third day would be the hardest. I just knew it. And I was right. Everything hurt from the moment I woke up to the moment I tried to go to sleep but couldn't because I was in so much pain.
Admittedly, my hip muscle was doing better. I can now cross my legs without having to physically pick up the right leg and move it into position. I can bend over without feeling the need to scream. Well, sometimes. It's a work in progress. But everything else hurts MORE. My feet are getting pretty tough. They hurt, but they don't complain too much. They've learned that it doesn't really help. My calves hurt, my thighs hurt, the skin over my hips is bruising from the weight of the pack. My back hurts all over, my shoulders, my neck, my arms, even my fingers hurt. I've begun imagining my mind as this tyrant and all the various parts of my body are the oppressed serfs. The tyrant tells the serfs that this is all for their own good, that's they'll get ice cream at the end of the day (sometimes it's even true), that the hike is almost over, that it doesn't matter if they're in pain - just toughen up and do it. Anything to take that next step. The serfs are not quite in open rebellion yet, but the tyrant suspects that they're having secret meetings and might stir trouble soon. The tyrant is careful not to push the serfs beyond what they can handle.
As you can see, lots of alone time leads to interesting imaginings. And this is only one of the many dialogues I had with myself on this one day. I spent a great deal of time writing imaginary blog posts. I can assure you that they were quite hilarious, but can't recall the specifics. Ah well.
I had my first fall today. It wasn't bad, so don't worry. Along the path for today were a great many horrible places to scramble up. Most were about 4 feet high walls and required you to step/climb up tree roots. While this would have been massively fun sans pack, it is incredibly difficult hoisting all your weight and that of your pack up steps that are about a foot apart, uneven, and vertical. On one particular horrible spot, I managed to hoist my upper half over the ledge, but my legs didn't quite make it. So i was stuck, halfway up and halfway down this tiny cliff, my backpack dragging my torso to one side. I had to haul my legs up, roll onto all fours, and then push myself to my feet. It was not a graceful sight, although i'm sure it would have been hilarious to a third party.
We made it to the Mangahuia Campsite and beyond. And I have now broken my own record for most miles hiked with a backpack! (Bethany has too, but considering that she'd never gone backpacking before, this is not a big surprise.) We set up camp off the road to National Park Village in a grove of flax bushes. There wasn't really room for the tent, nor anything to hang the hammocks from, so we made a nest of sorts. The groundcloth from my tent was the bottom layer, the rainfly from Bethany's hammock kind of covered us (luckily it didn't rain) and we put all our bedding inside Bethany's hammock, which has a mosquito net, laid it on top of the groundcloth, and curled up inside. It worked. More or less. I was pretty cold for the first part of the night, but things got better when we stopped trying to use our sleeping bags as a bed and started using them as ... Sleeping bags.
First Day with Packs and we were CHAMPIONS!!Wewoke up around 6:20, not too long after the alarm had gone off, because so many people were getting an early start on the trail and walking strait past our camp. No one bothered us, but we didn't really want to be on display. We pulled down the tent first. Being bright orange (I love a. Cheerful tent, don't you?) it was attracting the most attention. With it down, and our voices down, we were less likely to be noticed. We made breakfast - I'm finally coping with both peanuts and oatmeal on this trip. But, for the record, I still don't like them - and probably set off between 7 and 7:30. Repacking my entire backpack every morning, because the tent requires a central location, takes a long time!
Everything hurt. My hip was killing me, my shoulders ached, my calves and thighs burned. Especially on anything even remotely resembling a hill. The flat bits were ok. On the flat bits, I felt like I could really go on forever, at least once I hit my stride and got a good walking rhythm going. Bethany and I decided we were going to write The Flattest Guide to Te Araroa. It wouldn,t even follow the trail, but would simply record our progress as we hiked randomly around New Zealand, choosing our paths based on their flatness. I think it would be hugely successful.
Going uphill, though, was quite a challenge. Luckily there weren't too many hills, though, and we did make good time. We arrived in Whakapapa Village around 11:30 in the morning. Only 1 hour more than the average it took for that walk and on our first day with packs - not bad! We treated ourselves to coffee, relaxed for a while, stopped by the ranger station, and headed on.
We found an idyllic campsite. Bethany spotted a likely looking field across the river from the track, with grassy spots and sandy spots, and dotted with bushes for cover. Apparently, a mother and son watched us, jaws agape, as we crossed the river barefoot with ungainly 50 pound packs and proceeded to scramble over the massive rocks on the other side. Still barefoot, boots slung over shoulders. It was well worth it, though. After another little scramble through the woods, we came upon our camp,shielded from view, with a tent-shaped sandy spot, access to the river, a place to hang our clothes, grass to sit on, bushes and trees for shade. Seriously. Perfect.
It's amazing how much time you have when pulled away from the world of work and technology. We spent 8 hours just relaxing. I cannot remember the last time I did that. We washed our clothes and ourselves in the river, played some music, played some cards, did yoga and stretched, took a nap, made and ate dinner, put up our tent and went to sleep. There was so much time, I almost didn't know what to do with myself, but I'm sure I'll get used to it.
We did our first day without packs. Thank God. I honestly don't think I would have survived otherwise. It was a difficult trail without added weight, and I still almost gave up at every new flight of stairs. There was one hill, well really a mountain, going up the Red Crater that looked simply impossible. I thought all the people on that trail were just going up for kicks, to see the view. But no, that was the trail. Virtually straight up a scree slope. 2 boys at the bottom told us we were going the wrong way, since we'd chosen the more difficult way to hike (north to south). I couldn't help but agree with them as we walked, scrambled, crawled and clawed our way to the top.
It was worth it. There were many spectacular views on the Tongariro Crossing. The Blue Lake on Mt. Tongariro, Ngaruhoe, which is perfectly conical, and snowclad Ruapehu in the distance, the first glimpse of Red Crater, which epitomizes this primeval landscape. It really does seem to belong to some bygone age. With the exception of the lakes themselves, all the colors are muted. But what an array of colors nonetheless! So many shades of brown, exquisite in their minute variations, impossible to capture on film. There were other colors that stood out due to the austerity of the surroundings, muted purples and pinks, yellow sulfur around the lakes, whites and dull greens. A stark, stern environment, but beautiful.
Bethany made up a story while we ate lunch on the peak of Tongariro (the smallest of the three mountains), about how the tribes from Blue Lake and Red Crater were rivals and had a huge war over territory. Given the flat, stony expanse between the two places, the story of an ancient battlefield was all to easy to believe.
When we finished the hike, we cooked dinner over our little cookstove in the parking lot. Yes, in the parking lot. It's got nice flat surfaces. Then we packed up all our things, grappled our terrifyingly heavy packs onto our backs, and set out for the Mangatepopo Hut. We didn,t quite make it tat far and instead camped off the track. From where we stood, the track was invisible, and so we though we were safe. Not so much. Anyone taller than 1 foot, which is pretty much everyone over a year old, could see us as they walked by. We were too tired to care and decided to just get up early in the morning.
Higlights from the day - up, up, up. Up stairs, up scree, up mountains. Ow my hip. Oh, that's incredibly beautiful. Ow, I'm sore, but my knee's doin ok so that's a plus. Time for food. I love food! This is the best apple I've had in my entire life!! More walking. More beautiful. Campsite! Sleeping, phew.
As promised, a quick recap of all the things that went wrong for poor Bethany. You think I have bad travel luck? Check out this girl!
First, her ukulele was stolen during her layover in Las Vegas. Apparently, she was watching a movie on her phone and, when she began to collect her things to leave, it was gone. She inquired around and one woman working at a desk nearby said she’d seen the middle-aged woman sitting next to Bethany just walk off with it.
Things got worse in San Francisco. After standing in a train station waiting for the trains, which were mysteriously not running, to start up again and getting in a tizzy about missing her flight, Bethie finally arrived at the airport to discover her wallet – with $500, passport, and other IDs- had been stolen, probably in the chaotic press of bodies as people loaded the late and therefore over-crowded train.
Unable to fly, Bethany had to get a train back to Oakland, where she’d been staying. I got a call from the station and dealt with a complicated array of emotions. Surprise more than anything, I guess. I was so ready for Bethany to arrive in the morning, to see my wonderful best friend walk out of the “Arrivals” Gate and for our adventure to begin. I was also quite disappointed, of course, and wanted to make sure Bethany was doing all right and reassure her that all would be fine.
Which of course it was. With a few exceptions, the terrible stresses of travel, the panic that arises from a missed flight or leaving something important (like a violin…) on a bus, turns into a hilarious story a few years, or sometimes even a few weeks down the road. When I described the Misadventures of Bethany to Dad’s friend Dean, his response was, “Well, at least the ukulele is gone” and to burst out laughing. He was on a roll that day, cracking jokes and doing hilarious impersonations of various odd people he had met over the years.
I decided to buy Bethany a new ukulele as a late Christmas, early Birthday, cheer-you-up present. I was also somewhat selfishly motivated. We won’t be much of a two man band without a second member, eh?
After replacing her passport, switching the Visa, getting her flight refunded and changed, and hyping herself up again, Bethany set off once more. Only two weeks behind schedule. I got a Facebook message from her saying she was waiting to board in the San Francisco airport. Surely, this time I would see my best friend in the morning, I thought. And what a nice silver lining, I added to myself. I got to feel that delicious anticipation twice. Everything was going according to plan now!
In the morning, I arrived at the airport with Dad around 7:30. Her flight came in from Guangzhou, China. I wasn’t sure of the flight number or other details, but on the board there was only one flight from Guangzhou and it had “landed”. It took longer than expected and Dad went to sit in the car so we wouldn’t have to pay for parking. Then the flight said “processing”. Excitement building. If they were “processing” passengers, surely Bethany could come through the gate at any moment! Then they finished processing and Guangzhou disappeared from the board. A bit worrying. After waiting another 20 minutes, just in case she was the last person on the plane or had gotten slowed up in security, I found the help desk and asked. The lady told me she couldn’t tell me about specific passengers but not to worry- a few other people had been asking about that and they just appeared to be slow that morning.
Great! It was now getting on in the morning, well after 9:00. I decided to get a coffee and something overpriced and carb-loaded to eat. I pulled out my iPad, which I had been checking periodically I swear, and saw half a dozen skype notifications.
I got to talk to Bethany for all of a minute before my wifi at the airport got cut off. She was stuck in China, unable to contact anyone via facebook or email because of web restrictions. She would be there the next morning. Bethany’s blog, adventurefishing.tumblr.com, is a better place to hear her descriptions of China first hand.
Since I didn’t have to worry about being sensible and helping Bethany get over jetlag, I decided to stay in Auckland that night and go to a little party with friends. It ended up being a very little party –more of a roommate hangout plus a few extras (such as myself). The following morning, I hauled mself off the couch and walked several blocks to the bus station. I didn’t even get lost once! But I did get within 50 meters of the bus stop only to watch the bus away as I was arriving. The second bus just drove past without a second glance despite the fact that I was clearly standing expectantly at the stop. Finally I caught the third bus, and whizzed off to the airport. I walked to arrivals and there she was, having just disembarked. All’s well that ends well.
We spent the afternoon hanging out at the beach, giving each other back massages, giggling, catching up, wading in the water and exploring caves. Bethany got stung by an annoying little jellyfish or two and we saw more starfish than I have ever seen. Way more. 30 times as many starfish as I’d ever seen. It was amazing!
Can you wish upon a starfish? Our hike is really about to begin now and I could use a few wishes, I think. We drive down to Tongariro today, start hiking tomorrow. I’m a bit nervous. Our packs are heavier than any I’ve carried before. 5 months on the trail. Maybe I am actually as crazy as people keep saying. I don’t know. But we’re going to do it. One step at a time. And walk out the other side, stronger and reduced to our truest selves.
After visiting Grandma Elfie, Dad and I spent the rest of the week driving, biking, and hiking around the Coromandel Peninsula. The drive alone was incredible! Cove after cove, beach after beach, extraordinary view of green mountains plunging down into the crystal ocean after extraordinary view of green mountains plunging down in the crystal ocean. I took picture after picture of the scenes flashing by my car window, and their beauty is more a testament to the New Zealand landscape than to any skill of mine
We stayed at the Lion’s Den Backpackers in Coromandel Town, which I thoroughly recommend. There were single rooms, double rooms, and dorms. We opted for the dorm because it’s the cheapest and I found the perfect bed – up a ladder and built into a nook a few feet below the ceiling. I love nooks. This one had a bed and a lamp to read by and plenty of space at the foot to put some things. It was perfect.
Lion’s Den also had a great communal space with a full kitchen, a giant dining room table couches spread around for relaxing, an eclectic array of books, and lots of pamphlets on things to do in the area. There was a great veranda complete with a hammock, comfy arm chairs, and dining tables under the grape-hung trellis. There was even an outdoor shower, around the other side of the communal space from the veranda, and it was a treat. There were different colored glass bottles built into the concrete wall surrounding the shower, making a beautiful pattern as the light filtered through them.
Since I was enjoying the ambiance of the Lion’s Den so much, we decided to stay an extra night. This gave me a day to spend doing whatever I wanted to do. It turned out that what I wanted to do was torture myself trying to ride a rickety bike with somewhat flat tires up a windy gravel road on a hot day. Lion’s Den has bikes you can borrow for free, but they aren’t terribly well looked after. Perfect for a quick jaunt to town for groceries, less so for mountain biking. I started out eager, all full of pep and verve, but didn’t make it to my destination – a grove of kauri trees and a waterfall- in the end. After slogging my way up a massive hill, I decided it was better for the bike and my sanity to turn back and see if they had a tire pump at the Waterworks tourist attraction I had passed a km or so before. After I talked to one person, who directed me to find another, who then went to find his boss, I discovered that they did not in fact have a bike pump. I hadn’t really been holding my breath on that one, was just too desperate to pass up the chance. But they did have an air compressor which took care of the problem in no time after it had been set up. I was very grateful that all those people were willing to take a little time out of their day to help me.
After our two days in Coramandel, Dad and I headed up to the very northern tip of Coomandel, a place called Fletcher’s Bay. The drive maintained its stunning caliber, and the hikes we went on were even more spectacular. I remembered my camera for the 6 km hike, but forgot it the following day on the 20 km hike from Fletchers Bay to Stony Bay and back. Stony Bay had certainly earned its name. It was… stony. There was a massive Pohutakawa tree overlooking the beach. The trunk split right at the base and one of the limbs went out almost sideways. I just ran right up it without a second thought and had a snack overlooking the ocean.
I was quite pleased that I managed the 20 km hike with minimal soreness the following day. The first hike that we do (in 2 DAYS!!) is 18 km and, since we’re doing it without packs, I know I can handle it. It’s Day 2, when we put the packs on, that I’m a bit worried about. But we’ll take it one day at a time and everything will be juuust fine.
Because of Bethany’s adventures and delays, a comedy of errors I will do my best to describe in another post, Dad and I ended up having nearly 2 weeks of unplanned travel time together. We spent a week relaxing with Jan and Lyle, as we were planning on doing with Bethany anyway, then decided to head up the Coromandel Peninsula on a little trip. The catalyst for this trip was the desire to visit the spot where the ashes of Dad’s mother, “Grandma Elfie” to me, had been spread. This required a couple quick texts to relatives, several phone calls to potential places, and a rather lengthy visit to a wonderful Buddhist flavored book/music/knickknacks and jewelry shop. But we did find the spot, near a beautiful stupa.
We were met at the gate blocking the driveway to the retreat by Dharma Mudra, who told us and everyone else to call him “DM, Danger Mouse”. He was a bald, aging, surprisingly muscular cockney, with clean stained clothing, a welcoming smile and a rickety truck. I got the best seat in the world – standing on the back of the truck, my hands gripping the support bars, laughing as I ducked under low-hanging branches or when we turned a corner and I caught a glimpse of the valley and ocean below me.
We met a couple of men on the road, one of whom Dad knew through his mother’s involvement in the Buddhist community. It often seems to me that I spend my life leaving places and people; I made wonderful friends in Elementary school, but some moved to different cities or went to different High Schools and many of us drifted apart. The same thing happened in High School and in College, at various jobs I have had and with various hobbies I’ve pursued. I am always leaving. It’s interesting for me to see that come full circle and to watch Dad interact, however briefly, with the past.
DM showed us the stupa and Grandma Elfie’s final resting place. They had planted a kauri tree to mark the site. It was very peaceful sitting there, in the shade of the forest. Very quiet. I wonder if the solemn feeling I notice at graves are the feelings I bring with me, or if the place is imbued with its own solemnity.
After visiting Grandma Elfie, we were invited to share a cup of cool water and some biscuits with DM and a friend of his, an Australian with magnificent long white hair and beard who spent a lot of time travelling, especially in India. He told us that there was a retreat going on (which I knew), that was only for men (which I didn’t know), and that if we wished to return we should call and drive up rather than walk. I got the distinct impression that his disapproval was directed at me rather than my father. He was friendly enough, though, and even offered us a ride back down the mountain. Because DM had to drive the truck down anyway so as to leave the tiny parking lot at the top of the massive hill (mountain?) empty, so I opted for the rushing wind through my hair, glorious view, and rush of adrenaline.
Ugh. This is the third time I've tried to write this post. First, got halfway finished, got called away to do something, and forgot to hit save. Then, I got halfway finished and my computer decided to randomly restart so it could install updates I neither want nor need. Try number three, I might just write one sentence and post it quickly before anything else goes wrong.
Dad and I went to a bird sanctuary on an island just north of Auckland and it was good. Boom, done.
I was a bit stressed out when we left for Tiritiri, but that disappeared after a short walk. I had spent the past two days hanging out in Auckland with some friends and, due to some bad planning and lack of coordinating on my part, ended up meeting Dad rather later than expected. He was not pleased. The following morning, I had to get up early because we were spending a week in the Coramandel Peninsula directly after visiting Tiritiri and, as per my usual, I had procrastinated and not packed.
As soon as we got off the ferry, Dad and I try to sneak away from the crowd gathering around to hear the rules of the island, which we already knew. Unfortunately, volunteers had already dispersed to all trail heads and were blocking our escape. They were very quick. I wonder if they have assigned posts, if they practice maneuvers and discuss strategy in their spare time.
When we did manage to get past them, which was before we strictly should have as the ranger was still taking questions, we quickly headed down a side track and hoofed it to put distance between ourselves and other people. I know I'm a tourist too and could maybe have a pleasanter attitude towards the hoards of people overrunning tourist sites, especially considering that the people I actually do strike up conversation with often turn out to be interesting, amenable people. But I generally want to distance and my fellow tourists. Maybe I'm a snob.
As I said in my one-sentance summary, Tiritiriri Matangi is a bird sanctuary. Sadly, while I managed to get several pictures of lovely landscapes, few birds were kind enough to sit still for a portrait. I generally remembered my camera's existence seconds after a bird had exploded out of - and back into - the surrounding foliage. I will have to recall the birds we saw -dozens of Tui, a couple wood pigeons (which are huge by comparison to everyday city pigeons), some pukeko, a takahe, a north island robin, several red-crowned parakeets, and others unidentified by yours truly - the good old fashioned way. With my brain.
The land was incredible in itself. I am being spoiled by the density of New Zealand landscapes. Closer to the center of the island, along its spine, were high meadows. Along the slopes were trails though the dappled light of lush forest. And around the edges of the island were either cliffs dropping down to provide excellent views, or the beautiful beaches to walk along and enjoy the sun and the surf.
The day ended much as it had begun - with us scrambling to find something. This was not my fault this time! (I have to point these moments out.) Dad had left his glasses on a grassy knoll near the wharf in the morning after taking them off to apply sunscreen. So for the ferry ride back to the mainland, the two of us positioned ourselves to be the first ones off the boat. Excited children step aside - we're on an important mission. When we got ashore, there was an entire family of Indian people standing on our knoll, chatting away, children underfoot and no one paying attention where they put there feet. Dad asked if anyone had seen his glasses and, while they had not, many eyes made light work and they were soon found, mercifully undamaged.
I am a twenty-four year old Masters student who is about to finally complete years and years of schooling. The last thing on my agenda before I get my degree in Elementary Education is to finish student teaching... in New Zealand! After what I am sure will be an incredible learning experience, I will go on a 2000 mile hike with my wonderful best friend. I am taking this opportunity, before my career, before my "life" takes off, to step back from everyday life and explore a beautiful piece of the world.