07 June 2014

The Rich, Sweet and Never Ending Journey

When people asked me why I was going travelling, I blindly said “to see the world”.  I didn’t really know why I was going but I knew I needed to. There was a pull or a push, I’m not quite sure which. My dad was convinced it was some failing on his part and my mum was thrilled that I was going to her dream that never quite happened. 
I wanted to see the world yes.  But that definitely wasn’t my main motivation.  In fact, I don’t think I realised why I went travelling until about a year after I got back.  A friend who I met in New Zealand emailed me and asked me why I decided to go overseas.  The truth is I needed to find out what I believed in.  What I was passionate about.  What I stood for. I needed to build my values and my dreams so that I could go out there and live by those values and follow those dreams. 
I had spent most of my teenage years inside my own head, worrying what people thought and just trying to fit in.  The last thing I wanted to do was to stand out.  I was so constantly pained by what others thought of me that I sometimes feel that I wasted chunks of my life.  My mind was always busy talking at me with negative crap and I had no self-esteem and no real respect for myself.  I still struggle now!  I recently got a really high grade for an assignment and the first thing I thought was that it must be a typo.  If I get congratulated or rewarded I always doubt whether it is genuine.   The truth is that in a desperate attempt to not stand out, I followed other people.  I was a sheep!  I shared other people’s opinions and agreed with other people’s beliefs and It was time that I developed my own. 
I always admire people who can be in relationships from a young age and still grow as a person, even though you are with somebody else.  I didn’t feel that I could grow as a person while I was still living the same life.  I needed to remove myself from the situation and go off into the world to start my journey of self-discovery.  Who was I when I wasn’t trying to be like everybody else?
What I didn’t realise is that once you start the journey, it doesn’t ever end.  The journey of who you are is a continuous and wonderful lesson.  A lesson that becomes full of such richness when you start to pay it attention. 
After returning home after four years of seeing and experiencing some absolutely incredible things and meeting amazing people, my heart was so open.  I had spent the last month in India in an ashram and I returned home feeling full of clarity, love and surety.  The ashram had provided me with a lot of new information that was buzzing all around me.  This information was like a truth I had always known.  It was like coming home.  But the theoretical home coming was very different to the physical home coming and the real lesson was only just beginning. 
The new me arrived home to the old world.  I had a lot of new information to process, new values to put into practise and a new found knowing.  But I didn’t know how to deal with all of that in a whirlwind of being reunited with friends and family in a conditioned culture.  The only way I knew how to socialise was to go out drinking and before long I was worrying about getting a job and having enough money.   I was doing my regular asana practise and going to meditation sessions.  I was having early nights and discovered yoga in cooking and walking to work.  But in between this I was slowly but surely giving myself away.  I was allowing my Self, my light, to be clouded over again.  My job which provided me with financial security was so far removed from my Dharma that my energy was gradually moving off balance.  My boyfriend who I really loved was also creating an imbalance as I felt pulled between the old and new world. 
The issue was that I could not work out how to get my Self back.  Before long my yoga practice had been replaced with nights out in restaurants and all my time spent with my boyfriend and friends and I was living and working in the city. I was enjoying life and having some lovely experiences but I was also fading inside.  A light that once shone so bright was not visible anymore and I feared that it would go out for good if I didn’t act.  I found myself in tears on a regular basis but I found it impossible to articulate what was wrong.  Mostly, I think, because I hadn’t given myself enough time to process the information I had received.  I knew something was amiss but I could not really piece it all together.  I didn’t give it time to resonate with me.  This incredible, life changing experience coincided with my grand return to an old and strange world. 

The process of change was gradual inside but the actions were sudden.  After a contemplative holiday to The Gambia where I was given space, love, inspiration and wise words from friends I returned home and turned my life around.  I started a MSc in a subject I am passionate about, I quit my job and moved to the countryside and away from friends and family and broke up with my boyfriend.  The rapid volume of change nearly broke me and the on-going hurt of breaking up with somebody I loved because I simply knew it wasn’t right is still there.  But every now and then I get glimpses of something special, something familiar.  It happened this weekend when I was surrounded by nature and conscious souls.  It happens when I step off the hamster wheel.  It happens when I am away from technology and back to basics.  I know that I need to keep following the signposts, staying conscious and keeping my heart open.  The journey is hard when everybody around you seems to be walking in the opposite direction but one of the main lessons I have received from this journey is not to change direction if it is right for me.  Stay strong and true, even if it means being different.

07 May 2012

Holy Cow

I would often think about things so much that by the time they actually happened, I've played them over in my head so many times that I have no reaction to them.  I would either replay past events or second guess future events that never turned out the way I had imagined.  I would wind myself up and create unnecessary misery for myself by getting frustrated or upset about small and trivial things.  I am sure whoever is reading this can relate to at least one of these poor relationships with our minds, the voices in our head or the running commentary that seems to be with us every day.  It was in 2007 that I discovered yoga and a few years later that I realised it was yoga that would be the cure to this disease and the friend that would break up the negative relationship with the mind.

I spent my last few days in Hanmer Springs wondering what the future has in store.  Would I ever come back to Hanmer?  Would I carry on traveling and fall in love with more places.  During my last couple of days I felt like my senses were hightened, like I had one more chance to absorb my surroundings before leaving those images of orange and red forest floors, snowy mountains and glorious blue sky.  I had one last desperate walk through the forest just minutes before I set off to the airport, trying to absorb what I saw, trying to savor it.  Take it with me somehow.  It really felt sad to be saying goodbye to a truely beautiful part of the world.  But there was a feeling deep inside me that was itching to leave.  I was so ready to go home and see my amazing friends and family and it was only when I got on the plane and sighed a huge sigh of relief that I realised this to be true more than I ever realised.  As much as Hanmer was a great location and my job and my bosses were 5*, I really needed something more.  Something spiritual and deeper.  But before I joined my spritual path, it was time for some good old fashioned belly laughs from Lee Hobson.

I landed in KL airport in the morning, an airport that I am all too familier with.  I've spent the night sleeping on a pastic chair in this aiport.  I've even spent hours doing laps of the carpark with my baggage trolley to pass time and distract me for many hours of waiting.  And waiting.  So rather than rush out of the airport and into the big city of KL, I did what any old friends would do.  I sat and had a coffee.  Me and my pal the airport.  After jumping on the bus en route to KL Central my excited belly kicked in and the thought of seeing a familier face was feeling like a medicine.  After a change of vehicle and a few more minutes, a quick Malay lesson from Mr Taxi Driver, I was pulling up outside The Hobson residence.  I hadn't seen Lee for 3 and a half years, after meeting him in Thailand and then again in Borneo at the beginning of my trip.  He is currently teaching in KL but luckily for me and not so luckily for him, he had been attacked and had his jaw broken, meaning time off work!  Unluckly for me and luckily for him, he had just had the top and bottom jaws seperated after being wired togther for the best part of a month so he was learning how to talk somebodies ear off again (like riding a bike) and I was wondering if there was a mute button already just seconds after plonking my bum down at his kitchen table.  It was so great to see him and our first night out watching the rugby and eating and drinking, laughing and having a tropical downpour was the perfect welcome back to Asia.

That night Lee's friend Matt also arrived, from Paris, and we soon set about organising a trip to Pulau Weh, a small island off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, where we would spend a week diving and generally relaxing before returning to KL and my onward flight to India.

After a flight, a ferry and a motorbike ride we arrived at Lumba Lumba dive school on Gapang Beach but soon decided that the unfriendly welcome and the flocks of tourists was really not the reason we had chosen such a tranquil island.  The next day we hired some scooters from a place on the beach and set off in the sun to get a feel of the island.  The roads were windy and hilly and the sun was beating down.  Every corner we turned we had a view of the turquoise water and lush greenery.  It was only when we came across Stefan Sea Sports that we knew we had found the place that we would call home for the next week.  Stefan was the sort of guy that you immediately warm to.  His friendly welcome, hilarious humor and clear passion for all things under the sea, we were sold.  Unfortunately, Stefan was leaving the country for Malaysia the next day due to his visa running out and was leaving his dive school, on this picturesque beach in the safe hands of his employees.

The next day the lads picked us up in their boat from Gapang beach and took us to our new home.  As we approached the shore we, for the first time, got a real view as to what was actually on the beach.  It was a small beach, with a thin layer of small trees, perfect for tying up a few hammocks, there was a cafe next door owned by Lesley, a lovely English lady who had visited the island a few years back, fallen in love and married a local and had since built her own cafe and accommodation.  She was just starting to establish the kitchen, where we spent most of our time between dives and exploring. Apart from that, there was pretty much nothing there and that was exactly what we were looking for!

It was my birthday that day and despite feeling extremely ropy, probably as a result of something I had eaten, a day on the hammock, with an amazing view, nowhere to be and good company (improved by the fact that Lee fetched things for me while I was feeling like crap) was the sort of birthday I could really become accustomed to.  Unfortunately, I was feeling more than a little sick and my head and stomach both showed signs of eruption which over the course of the day, really started to knock me.  I hadn't been sick for a long time so it was very out of character to be at a restricted horizontal angle and looking green.  After a surprising amount of sympathy from the boys, it was decided that a dive would be the perfect remedy!  My main fear being that I would need the sudden toilet in a wet suit but I was prepared to risk it so as not so waste any diving opportunities.  The fact is that simply immersing my head and body in the fresh blue sea carried my headache away and the diving was amazing!  The whole week was amazing even though my sickness didn't go.  The laughs, the diving, the weather and the overwhelming concept that life could actually be that simple was instantly relaxing.  We hired bikes again and drove down every tiny lane we could find, exploring every corner of the island, waving to the kids as we drove by and escaping the evil attacking monkeys on the main road.  We rode to the very north peninsular of the island to watch the sun set and it was the perfect end to another day.  One of those days that makes me question why I would ever give this life up! The week consisted of more diving and more hammock time and the second to last night I decided to take a stroll down the beach to reflect on just how lucky I was to experience places like Pulau Weh.  As I walked down the beach, the sand was glowing a bright silver from the reflection of the moon, the air was warm but fresh and there were a few lads crabbing in the shadows.  I just felt truly overwhelmed by how simply beautiful this lifestyle was.  Not necessary us as tourists but the locals.  Lesley, the lady from the cafe told us how her cook would be late for work if it rained because the Indonesians found it hard to get out of bed when it rained.  Life was slow, nothing happened on time and nobody cared.  I sat myself down on the sand the looked up at the incredible number of stars in the sky with a massive smile from ear to ear.  It was then that I saw it.  As shooting star.  Just when I didn't think that this world could get any more beautiful!

Neither of us were ready to leave our private beach on Pulau Weh but it was time to return to KL where I spent the last week chilling with Lee before my flight to Delhi. We hung out with his friends and checked out a few sights in the city before I was flying high once again excited for the new adventure.  Back to India.  The place it all began.

My first impressions of being back in India was what a difference it makes to be picked up from the airport. In fact, the whole trip, having booked it through the Akhanda Yoga family, was fittingly effortless.  I was driven by a smiley and lovely guy to a hotel just outside of Delhi, where each member of the October 2011 World Conscious Yoga Family would slowly trickle in from their various home countries all over the world.  Having various degrees of jet lag we all scuttled off to our rooms to settle in and rest for the evening meal.  Jackie and Steph were the first two I bumped into and we enjoyed a quick chat and a chai tea round the streets behind the hotel before meeting up with a few others for dinner that evening.

We really did have a diverse group of inspiring young women (and a few guys) who were all on this incredible journey for completely independent reasons and it was liberating to hear all their stories.  Kat had quit her accounting job to her family's horror to work for Lululemon before deciding to leave Canada on her own for the first time and flying to INDIA of all places!  Jackie who also quit her job to come to India to add Yoga Teacher to her wonderful array of spiritual practices and Aya, a Japanese student who was not only braving the culture but the language barrier too.  It was that first dinner that I felt inspired, connected and at home instantly.

To describe my time in the ashram now, a wee while later would not do my experience justice.  It gets harder and harder to articulate the emotions, the discoveries and the relationships but what I can say from the offset is that I recommend it to just about anybody.

Vishva Ji had a vision once.  A vision that he wanted to build and ashram and help people around the world.  And that is exactly what he does. The Akhanda Yoga ashram is situated at the foothills of the Himalayas in Rishikesh, India.  The ashram itself is a few stories high and, although the area around it is sadly expanding and developing, there is a remaining peacefulness that fills every room.  The breeze from the Ganga river dances in and out of all the windows and is said to be medicinal having picked up not only the positive energy from the river, but also the healing qualities from the herbs and plants living in the mountains.  The garden is a small but peaceful area where fire puja is held every morning.  A simple explanation of fire puja is a worship or an offering to the universe to recognise the significance of fire over the years.  Fire has provided food, heat, light and life over thousands of years and puja is an offering of thanks.

Fire puja was just one of the daily rituals we would perform while we were in the ashram and each manifested deeply inside me as I was taken back to a type of life where we slowed down and were aware enough to show gratitude for the things in life that really matter.  We would wake at 5am for morning mediation which, with the energy of everybody in the room, as India woke up with the sun outside. was a beautiful time in itself.  We would continue our journey up the stairs to the studio where Vishva Ji would guide us through a holistic yoga practice of pranayma, meditation, asana and laughter for an hour and a half when we would all blissfully and silently make our way down to breakfast.  The ashram had a rule of silence between 9pm and 9am which meant the morning yoga session had time to manifest and breakfast was eaten in silence before class would start.

For meals we would all sit on the floor in the dining room with little low tables while the kitchen staff and a member of our group would serve us an Ayurvedic delight.  Once all our dishes were full we would chant and it was time to eat.  Fire puja was next on the schedule before our studying started.  Through the middle of the day, either side of our lunch break we would either study Yoga Philosophy, Anatomy or Practical.  We'd then have dinner before tea and either homework or kirtan and bed.

It was during the philosophy classes that I learnt so much about yoga as a tool for life.  The daily stresses we all go through, the wanting more, the needing and attachment, the disappointment and many more daily feelings and emotions that we don't need to feel.  Being conscious of my own actions and decisions.  Not judging and opening my heart.  It was like a light bulb going on in my life.  It all felt so obvious but yet so profound.  Every day I was absorbing this information and every night I would return to my room that I shared with Kat and Sayaka and we would talk and share.  Kat and Sayaka were my roomies for the duration of the course and they were incredible.  Both so strong and inspiring in similar ways and I immediately felt close to them.  I loved sharing a space with them and Kat's passion for what we were learning was addictive.

One night at Kirtan, a call and response style of singing, accompanied by instruments, we were all sat in a circle, with candles lit and incense burning.  The next song that was selected was Shiva Shambo, a beautiful but powerful melody that came to be our favourite.  As the singing crescendoed so did the thunder storm outside and with a big crack of thunder, the lights went out, leaving only the candles lit and the strong words of Shiva Shambo continuing around the room.  It was a real magical moment and the smiles on everybody's face was enough to know that we had all felt it.

Every morning we would have our yoga session and every afternoon Visva Ji would answer queries or concerns or simply spread his knowledge of postures around the room.  Using volunteers from our group to demonstrate and speak of safety checkpoints and posture alternatives.  Vishva Ji was always smiling. He would float into the room so calmly and his contentment was visible for us all to see.  His yoga classes were not only challenging but fun and his endless knowledge was addictive.  I still wish to this day that I could become his personal student for not only yoga but all the wonderful wisdom that he holds in his beard!  He had all the time in the world for each and every one of us and his playfulness reminded me that we never need to grow up.

I wish I could write more about my experience on the course.  The amazing teachers, Mira, Rashmi, Aruna whose stories and support and passion are worthy of a blog to themselves.  The meditation experiences and the incredible, life changing philosophy.  When I try to write about them I just can't find the words and to try wouldn't give you a fair and accurate account of my experience.  I don't want to put an average label on something that was beyond my vocabulary.

And so the course continued.  With hiking trips to waterfalls and to the Ganga for breakfast, festivals of light (and sweets) and games on the beach.  Nights of music and visits from an 103 year old yogi who could still put his legs behind his head.  We all built such wonderful relationships with each other and with ourselves and all learnt such a lot.  I think every single person on that yoga teacher training course will tell you just how incredible the course was for them.  It was more than any of us could have imagined and we all left Rishikesh feeling grateful, blessed and richer for the experience, as what we learnt will last a lifetime.

Hari Om

14 August 2011


Old chapters are coming to an end.  Maybe a slightly premature end, maybe I won't know that until the next chapter begins.  But the one thing I am certain of, is that time runs away with you, however much you try to slow it down.  You can tie a ball and chain to the ankles of time and they still manage to sprint on, whisking you off your feet in the process.

Mission Live Life. Life style change is one thing I am determined to implement again and again.  Years of conditioning may be deep - we have a need to do everything, want more, think money, work work work.  Sometimes I feel like I have dug myself out of those groves over and over. Like a mountain bike track - you can see those tire marks from the many bikes that have ridden that path before you.  You are following those tire marks, but every now and then you break free.  Create your own tire marks and it feels good.  It's fresh and free.  But before you know it, you have slipped into auto pilot and you are back in those well warn tracks again.

When I first arrived in Hanmer Springs I was determined to stay off those old bike tracks.  Money was needed, yes, but lifestyle was going to be priority.  I got 2 jobs but made it clear to both employees what I wanted in way of hours.  Full time at the housekeeping job at Settlers Motel (9.30 - 2.00 5/6 days a week) Perfect!  And 3 nights waitressing @ Saints.  at first, due to school holidays I was full time at Saints and less work at Settlers until Emmy Lou and Dave left.  As Settlers became more full time, the holidays would be over and my few nights a week would come into place.  I had it all worked out.  I would do yoga and run in my spare time and all would be good.  But it doesn't always work like that and without realising I was full time at both and very tired.  Once the holidays were over things settled down and soon I was forming my own tire tracks again and things were perfect.  I was literally doing yoga every morning, working until 2pm, running or walking in the afternoons or baking and cooking which was a new found hobby.  This was life!  Still saving, paying the only 2 bills I had (rent and mobile) and absorbing everything Hanmer Springs had to offer like the biggest sponge you've ever seen.

The street where I live
 Autumn had, without a doubt , arrived and the trees and mountains were incredible shades of red and orange.  Hanmer Forest was so colourful that I felt like I inhaled it's happiness as I walked to and from work every day.  I spent my half an hour walk each way looking all around me, eyes wide like a learning baby, face aching with a big fat grin.  The sun still shone and soon a few mountains had sparkling white peaks.  I was happy.  Really happy.  And for the right reasons.  I wasn't getting cheap highs as a result of a binging social life, male attention massaging my ego or traveling from place to place feeding my adventurer habit.  I was loving the life I had created.

Unfortunately, the boat was soon rocked, a few extra shits here and there, disrupting my routine (Having a routine seems to be the only way I muster up the motivation to keep exercising).  I then lost my job at Saints and things were good again.  Spin class once a week, mountain biking with my boss from settlers, a sport i thought I was too wimpy for, but is my new drug.  Top bike, top biking buddy and adrenaline/endorphin heaven!!!  (or dolphin heaven as a friend used to say)

View From Conical Hill
Life was amazing.  Afternoons walking up conical hill with views of the whole town and mountains in all directions.  I had freedom.  In the evenings, without the hectic, understaffed, under paid restaurant job, I would watch TV, do more yoga, cook or read books.  I was like a pig in shit.  A couple of times I did have a slight pang of loneliness.  I didn't want to go out and spend money or party but having another presence in the room while I silently read or watched a movie would have been nice.  Occasionally my house mate Siobhan would have a night off from her pub job and we'd cook together or go for a meal which was lovely.  An excuse to get dressed up sometimes.  I went out a couple of times with a guy I met after work one night but soon realised that I valued my own time more than that shared with him.

Kieran came to visit us on his surf trip
 Hanmer continued to be amazing and beautiful even after the cheerful colours of autumn had blown away.  We had visitors which included trips to the hot pools, road trips to the sea and discovering more of Hanmer with the use of an automobile. 

Things then changed again.  I wouldn't say that I began to bike in the old warn grooves of the bike tracks, more that I took a new route.  A loop track that I knew would return me to the track that I wanted to be on eventually.

Mr Biggles
Sally, my boss at Settlers had to go away for a while as her brother became very sick.  They were told there was nothing that could be done for him so Sally would be at his bedside until the very sad day that she wold have to say goodbye.  Alan, her husband was to and from for support and while they were both away, I would mind the motel for them.  I had said from the start that I would do anything I possibly could to help them and I meant it.  Seeing Sally so upset was heart breaking and being in a situation where I had no other commitments was perfect.  I had a crash course on managing the 5* motel and soon moved in upstairs.  I wold stat work at 7am and finally locked the last door (the laundry room) at 9pm.  The phone would still ring up to about 10pm sometimes and as part of my role I was looking after the house too which included the 3 burman cats.  It was full on but I loved it.  A different kind of buzz and adrenaline, although a little stressful with the responsibility.  And I had my fair share of dramas - no hot water, power cuts, broken heat pumps (which turned out to be user error but the customer is always right of course).

I would manage the place for a week and then get my life back when Alan returned, but sleeping patterns now disrupted, getting up for yoga was over, afternoon runs were on hold and things were slowly slipping through my fingers.  Of course I also got my own bad news from home and spent a week with a head like jelly and the weight of the world on my shoulders.  My present and future was uncertain and the right answer was camouflaged like Where's Wally.  Thank you to Siobhan during that time for her patience and my Kinder Surprise.  After days of waking up and only being able to think about what a mess my head felt, after asking advice, pros and cons, lists and angel cards I woke, BANG!  3am, bolt upright in bed.  The answer was as clear as the Settlers Motel glass windows (top cleaners).  And life, once again was semi-normal, although still minding Settlers now and then.  Ian, Sally's brother sadly passed away and she was back with us being strong Aunt Sally again.  She was missed and while dealing with Ian's illness, her frail parents moved out of their home following another big earthquake, they had no water or electricity in the house that Ian was living in.  They then cleaned and packed and rented out her parents house, house hunted, bought and moved in her parents into a new one whilst dealing with every one's emotions and being a rock for them all.  She was incredible and things are finally feeling normal again. 

Simone Heading down the slopes
Salmon fishing in Golden Bay
My free time is back and last week I skied and rock climbed on my day off, back to spin class and doing yoga again.  I have just had an amazing week off work too and hitched up to the Nelson region to explore golden bay.  I hired a bike and biked for miles to the sea, went for coffee with friends, went fishing and ate fresh Salmon every day.  I stayed with some amazing people and we ate together and sat around the log fire in the evenings.  It was like therapy and with the sun shining down hard I feel fully rested and content.  I am heading back to Hanmer Springs tomorrow and snow is on the way again.  Questions still unanswered about this chapter closing permanently or simply being bookmarked, the next chapter will begin for me soon and it is time on e again to sit back on the rollercoaster of fate, buckle up and enjoy the ride.

What an amazing place Hamner Springs and an inspiring country New Zealand.  Does out relationship end here?

My next adventure will be incredible with 2 1/2 weeks in Malaysia visiting Lee and a month in an Indian Ashram before returning home for my first family Christmas and first UK Christmas in 5 years.  I better buckle up good for this ride!

23 April 2011

The Countdown to the Signposts of Joy

After 17 days off for both the injury and our volunteering in Christchurch, getting started again was always going to be an interesting experience as we were a little out of shape from no exercise and all the free pies and cakes we’d indulged in both at Neptune backpackers where we'd been working in Greymouth and the piles and piles of backing sent from all around the country to the student army in Christchurch.  Shalane and I decided that all the Kiwi Grannies must have had a bake-off.  Reading my blog entry for that first day back amused me. I have always found it interesting that the human mind always remembers how lovely experiences are but manages to gradually fade out the hardships.

Just outside Arthurs Pass enjoying some wild apples for Brekkie
Arthurs Pass is surrounded by tall mountains, as far as the eye can see and as a result is pretty chilly for most of the day. We had been staying in our tent at the DOC campsite and as we set off with all our layers on and spare socks on our hands to stop our fingers from freezing off, it did feel really good to be back. I’d missed walking and was eager to get back to the stress free bush lifestyle. After the chaos that surrounded Christchurch, the bush was even more of an appealing place to be. However, it wasn’t long before I was welcomed back with sore knees, a painful foot and knotty shoulders from my heavy bag and was reminded quite quickly that it wasn’t a gentle stroll. After some rather relaxed road walking we were soon climbing, enphasising once more our loss of fitness. That evening we lit a fire in the hut and laid out all our maps and notes and devised ourselves a “get to bluff” plan (which was obviously always the plan but we had to get to the fine details).

So off we set, with some long hard days ahead, goals set and a Bluff to get to. The daylight had changed substantially in those 17 days and we were now leaving at 7am, if we were lucky, which meant a later finish and less relaxing time. The days were colder and there had even been a dunp of show no the mountains so we were happy to walk until later in the day but it took a lot to shift my body clock, as it still felt done at 3pm. We knocked out a 38km day that next day, despite me carrying enough food for a small army and we reached Lake Coleridge in 3 instead of the 5 days we had predicted. We had a food drop here but instead of stopping for our usual rest day at the food drop location we decided to push on another few days, as part of our grand plan and partly because our next hurdle was to get around the Rakaia River. The River is huge and with no foot bridge, the only way to cross safely was by car and Te Araroa advised any trampers to hitch around this section of the trail. We were on the side of the dry, dusty road, tumbleweed rolling by with 1 vehicle every half hour when a nice guy, who had driven past us and thought to himself “they’ll be there all night”. He turned around and came back for us, despite having only one seat in his car. So, both Shalane and I, tucked up in the front seat were driven to safety on the other side of the Rakaia River but in the process were even further out of our way. After another attempt to hitch on a dead end road with no traffic, the school bus arranged to pick us up in the morning before the kids jumped aboard.

The view of the valley we had just walked from Turtons Saddle
 That night I realized how much I really was going to miss this lifestyle. The trek so far has been the most challenging, mentally and physically testing but most fantastic thing I have ever done and waking up in the countryside every day, getting the blood pumping and the muscles working before most of you are even eating your toast in the morning is an incredible feeling. I decided then that I was going to have to savor every second of these last few weeks because although I might not love it every day, I was going be sad to see it come to an end. The next day only confirmed those feelings and as we climbed, the very long climb up Turtons Saddle on stunning farmland, I looked back into the valley that we had just come from, sweat pouring off my forehead, heart pumping fast and felt amazing. It’s always a great feeling to see where we’ve just come from, especially when you are now standing on top of the world with not an inch of civilization in sight.

One thing I have decided is that I’d prefer a short, steep climb to a long but gradual one any day! After walking up the Clent Hills Saddle the next day, which can I tell you, felt like it went on forever, I was more than ready for some flat ground. It wasn’t just the incline either, we were now officially in Tussock country so after following a winding river, crossing it so many times I lost count which resulted in very wet feel all day (although on the positive note, the water was so cold it numbed my fractured foot and reduced the pain) we had tussock, hidden streams and rabbit holes to contend with and by the time we got to the top, we couldn’t wait for some down hill. We were both surprised to find a gigantic wall of scree waiting for us on the other side (see video) with nothing but steep scree up and down. I knew it couldn’t be as bad as it looked because it looked like a wall of death and luckily it wasn’t too bad. With a path cut into the scree, we followed the orange markers up and over ridge after ridge until finally reaching Manuka Hut. We were tired an achy as the footing on tussock land was extremely draining and the strength of our knees and ankles were put to the test with every step. The rain had kindly just held off enough until we reached the hut and we lit a fire, tucked in to some food and laid back and relaxed, ready for our rest day the next day where I planned on doing absolutely nothing!

Crossing the 'not so scary' Rangitata
 Our next major challenge was another river crossing and we had been advised by Te Araroa that this was also a safety zone and that we should find alternative transport around. However, having met a lovely couple in the hut the previous night, who explained they had walked across the river with no dramas, we decided to give it a go. The Rangitata River is a braided river and we counted 42 braids, non of which were more than waist height, so we certainly weren’t in any danger, however it was a long and tedious crossing as it was roughly 3 kms of rocks and gravel and we were so happy to reach the other side and walk no some flat ground. Well, for 5 minutes when we put up our tent for the night.

The view of our trail from the top of Stag Saddles, the hightest
point on Te Araroa
3 hours of more rocks and gravel really tested my patience. My foot was not enjoying it and neither was the rest of me. It was very draining as you have to watch every single step and I longed for some normal ground. After a steep climb to Crooked Spur hut we were up and away from all things river and all things rock and we stopped off for some lunch in the baking sunshine. The next couple of days to Tekapo were tough but great at the same time. Stag Saddle was the highest point in Te Araroa and after a breathtaking climb to 1925m Shalane recorded a quick birthday message for her Gran. After hours of tussock terrain with bogs, prickly bush and streams, with twisted ankles and strained knees we scrambled like mountain goats up a steep trail with no path, just sporadic orange markers if we were lucky and we were ready for some road walking. When we eventually reached Lake Tekapo and Sue Speedy from Lake Tekapo Holiday Park was like an angel sent from heaven. We turned up to pick up our food parcel, which she had very kindly stored away for us and from the second we arrived I felt like I’d been picked up and wrapped in a big warm fluffy hug. She instantly asked her husband to drive us to our own cabin, with money for the showers in hand and our bags taken off our back before we could say thank you please. We were soon warm, dry, clean and fed and with a cup of tea in hand and Shalane and I both agreed that we didn’t realize we needed that as much as we did. We felt like every tense, bag carrying muscle, every alert, marker spotting eye, route planning section of our brain and tendon in our over worked ankle just relaxed, past out and slept and it felt wonderful. The holiday park and location was beautiful with amazing views of the lake and surrounding mountains it is definitely somewhere I would love to go back and visit when I finish Te Araroa. I would also like to take this opportunity to say thank you for the very kind donation they both gave to Indigo Foundation. Their effortless kindness that day was just amazing.

Sunrise over Ruateniwha, Twizel
Shalane and I hadn’t seen too many mountain lakes on our journey so far and this section of the journey certainly made up for it. With Lake Tekapo, Lake Ohau and a few smaller ones in between, and not forgetting Lake Hawea. We’d woken in the morning near Lake Ruateniwha, a small lake just south of Twizel and the sunrise over the lake was stunning. It was one of those mornings that made you feel lucky to be on this planet. Our next big challenge awaited us from Lake Ohau, which is another area I would love to return, with some peaceful camp spots by the lake with million dollar views that you could imagine staying at for days. The challenge was in the form of an unmarked, unsigned, uncut route that we were unlucky enough to get to in low cloud and rain. After climbing through an incredibly lush forest, which was damp with moss and rain from the night we headed up towards what we thought was our trail. After a while we noticed that we were following markers, which not only were a different colour to our usual bright orange, they were in fact leading us in the wrong direction. We had spotted a couple, camping by the saddle in an odd spot and after speaking to them, discovered they didn’t have a map and were a little lost themselves. After speaking to one of them, we had a rough idea where we were but were relieved to spot a tour guide taking his group up to the saddle. He pointed us off into the white out, confirming yet again that the direction we were going in was not marked or a trail in any way. By this time we were freezing cold and the clouds were so low and thick that we had to come up with a fool proof plan that meant we didn’t get lost and we didn’t get stuck as there were a few landmarks to avoid, such as bogs and cliffs. For the next few hours, Shalane and I navigated our way down to the valley with our map and compass, waiting for the clouds to blow every now and then to reveal another clue that might just confirm that we were on the right track. We stopped regularly to ensure we were definitely where we wanted to be but with the cloud cover constantly changing what was in view, we could only move so fast. We climbed over huge boulders and clung onto clumps of tussock to hold us upright on steep mountain edges. We stayed high enough to avoid the bogs that we could see below us and when we were sure we’d past the cliffs, the only way was down. The clouds were still thick but clearing and we’d seen enough in the gaps of clouds to know we were at least heading in the right direction. After more tussock and falling down more holes, we made it down to the valley and the feeling of relief to be on the home straight felt pretty damn good. We even saw one, lonely orange pole in the distant, to confirm once again that everything was going to be ok!

The view down to Ohau before the clouds set in

We walked for 10 hours that day with hardly any breaks. The low visibility in the morning had meant the day was now a long and tiring one and by the time we’d reached the Ahiriri river, we were ready to drop! We decided to cross the river so that the next day was made easier and we had our eye on a bright green , flat, riverside camp spot on the opposite side. It looked like it was made especially for us as all the surrounding land was brown and uninviting. We crossed a few braids of the river, each getting a little higher as we became closer to the main braid. There had obviously been a little rain upstream as the river was flowing fast and we held onto each other for a couple of the crossings. My blood was pumping by this stage as I was so exhausted from a long few days and mentally exhausted from the challenging morning that all my remaining energy was going into crossing the river safely. Every step was vital, as the undercurrent swept my feet as I tried to put them down and the water up to my thigh was strong and fast. On the last crossing, just a few small meters from that bright green patch of grass with our name on it, we couldn’t go any further. We hadn’t even reached the half way point when the current became dangerously strong. Our feet were getting swept away so much that we couldn’t put our feel down securely and the water was nearly at our wastes. It was Shalane who made the final and very sensible decision to turn around and get out of the water. We got to dry land and my legs were shaking from adrenaline. It was far too dangerous but the alternative was not fun. We had to retrace our footsteps all the way back, through the other strong braids (which now seemed like small puddles after attempting the last one) and back onto the dry bank, where we decided to set up camp and evaluate our choices the next day.

Lake Hawea
The decision was made to detour 6kms to a bridge and back up to our trail head. I think we were freaked our enough by the strength of that current to not want to attempt it again and on looking at the river that next day, there was nowhere that seemed crossable. The next section of the trail was through some really stunning farmland with rolling green hills and a very user friendly path (at first at least) which generally followed 4WD track through some really beautiful land where we were lucky enough to see about 8 stags. It was roaring season so they weren’t hard to miss and it was amazing seeing so many big beasts in one group up in the hills. By the time we reached Lake Hawea, we were more than ready for a rest day and not only did we get a rest day but we got top treatment in a really amazing location. Lake Hawea is absolutely stunning. The water is bright turquoise and the lake appears to go for ever. Lake Hawea Holiday Park is situated on the lake front and is designed in such a way that you feel like you are still camping in the bush. The park is filled with trees and bushes so still feels really natural. We were greeted by Sarah, the owner and Mike the Manager who were really excited about what we were doing and soon had us feeling relaxed. The holiday park is somewhere I would love to go and spend a few weeks. The views of the lake make you take a deep breath and just relax instantly and with amazingly hot showers, laundry and a BBQ, kindly provided by Sarah and her husband Richard, we soon felt like different people. The size of the holiday park was incredible too and with cabin, tent or caravan options, you can feel like the only ones there if you go at the right time of year. With views of the mountains too it would be somewhere I’d love to go all year round to just stop and look and enjoy. There was also a house that they rent out, just up a slight hill which meant amazing views. It would have made a brilliant place for the family to come and visit (hint hint mum). On our rest day we had a quick interview with the local newspaper, kindly organized by Mike and Sarah and Shalane and I picked some blackberries and that night Mike made us an apple and blackberry pie and we all had another BBQ with Mike, his wife Lorraine and Helen and her husband, a couple who also worked onsite. It was a lovely end to a lovely rest day.

From this moment on we felt like it was a countdown. We had been so well looked after in Lake Hawea but we knew that from that moment on, it was just days with Wanaka and Queenstown coming up soon, two places we had heard so much about for so many months, we honestly felt like we could see the end. Every day from now on was a day closer to Bluff and although I was going to miss this lifestyle, there was a lot about it that I was ready to leave behind. I was sick of smelling so bad that people even commented, I was sick of wearing trekking clothes and I was sick of people seeing me as just a trekker. I noticed over the 5 months of trekking that when I am wearing my backpack, trekking clothes, with my hair looking dry and sun damaged people do treat me differently. I become a backpacker or a tramper and they speak to me like I’m just a tramper. Although I am perfectly aware that image and materialistic things are not important, I also realized that, in the eyes of other people, those things define my personality. I was basically craving some normality. I wanted to meet some people my age and have a talk and some banter that wasn’t trek related and I wanted to become a non-tramper again.

The walk along the river to Wanaka was beautiful and when we arrived in the town, we decided to go to the information centre and try to arrange our rest day in Queenstown. We called a few places to get some tent spot prices and I spoke to somebody on the phone who really reminded me of Kieran - a guy I know from Byron Bay in Australia. It wasn’t him but his identical voice twin! A few minutes later, we had somewhere booked and we were on our way again. We walked around the corner and right there, in front of me, was Kieran. It was honestly one of the strangest coincidences that has ever happened to me! I hadn’t been in touch with Kieran since I left Byron Bay so had no idea he was here and to think he was on the phone just a few minutes before actually seeing him was spooky. We had a quick catch up chat and number exchange, with a promise that we’d visit him when we finished walking and we were soon on our way again!

Thanks Shania
 We walked all the way to Glendhu Bay that day. From there the trail was fantastic. It was well cut, well marked and there were huts along the way. Which was good as it was looking like rain. The track was the Mototapu track and the land is owned by Shania Twain and I have to say Shania – nice work! The trail was climb after climb after climb. We sweat and our leg muscles pumped and the views were worth every drop of sweat our bodies gave. It was a brilliant track. On our last night in Rose’s Hut we met Kim. Kim was from Belgium and I have to say, is my favourite hut sharer so far. Not only did he not snore or move around lots in the middle of the night but he was also a long distance tramper so he understood our need to get up early and go to bed early and we could talk to him about the trek and he really knew what we were talking about. He was spending the whole year living in his tent or in huts and tramping around the whole of NZ. Kind of what we were doing but he had the freedom to hitch and go wherever he wanted and it sounded brilliant. Not only that, but Kim was hilarious! He had me clutching my stomach with laughter and to top it all off, he was kind enough to share his chocolate and cheese with us! What more could you want in a hut buddy!

From Rose’s hut to Arrow town involved soggy feet as we walked the river bed but we were soon up high on a 4WD track with great views of the river below and the trees were looking incredible in all their autumn colours. We really have seen the change in seasons in NZ which has been beautiful, but winter was one season I was not ready to see while living in a tent. We Just before we reached Arrow town the clouds came in and the heavens opened. Actually, it wasn’t the heavens because the rain was coming in from the side with a wind that felt like it was direct from the Antarctic. By the time we arrived in Arrow town we were soaked and freezing and we darted straight for the hand dryers in the public toilet. All tried off and more layers on we stopped in for a cup of tea in one last attempt to warm up. Arrow Town was really quaint and had a real sense of history. A little Chinese settlement that felt more like a scene from a western but well worth a visit. Not long now and we’d be in Queenstown. Queenstown marked a real goal for us as it was the places that we’d decided to spend our celebratory rest days when we finished the trek for good and we’d promised ourselves we’d book some accommodation and massages for something to look forward to when we return at the end.

Our rest day in Queenstown wasn’t really a rest as we ran around booking everything and found ourselves a wonderful en suite room in Reavers Lodge which would come to be the best motivation for finishing the trek that I’d had so far. We bought ourselves treats like real shower gel and hair conditioner and stored them at the lodge for when we returned.

A typical day on Te Araroa
We road walked our way to the next trail which was the Greenstone track which then lead to Mavora lakes. The first section to Greenstone hut was very touristy with a wide, flat path that was almost too easy after the last few trails. We put in some long days and I was really feeling it, having still not adapted to the change in daylight. The trek to Careys Hut seemed long as the scenery was more tussock and more bogs and we were disappointed to find the hut full of hunters. Careys hut is accessible by 4WD so there were 4 hunters, 2 cars and a boat, with a quad bike, fishing rods and rifles! Hardly the back country experience! So we put up our tent and got an early night, ready for the 40 kms we were due to walk, and did walk the next day.

Our Last Beach Walk

We’d started noting every time it was the last time we would be doing something as we counted down the days like a tally in a prison. I was more and more excited about all the things I wanted to do at the end, about working and seeing money actually go into my bank. Now that the end was so accessible I really started realizing how ready I was to finish Te Araroa and not because I hadn’t had the time of my life but because it had taken longer than we wanted, my injuries and Christchurch had pushed that end date further and further and the seasons were changing. We were ready. We had the last stay in a hut, the last river crossing and as we walked further and further south as the mountains became hills and then became flat, we had the last time we’d climb a mountain. The coast was soon in sight and as we walked along Colac Bay to Riverton we could see Bluff, well, the hill near Bluff but it was enough to become incredibly excited. We stopped off in Riverton Information Centre to find out about tides for our very last river crossing on the beach and met a lady whose husband and friend had walked Te Araroa. We were soon all there, husbands and all with a cup of tea, talking about the trek. Dean and Lloyd had walked the entire North Island, with Lloyds wife acting as support vehicle, meeting them at the end of each day and taking them to their camp spot. They had done it incredibly quickly, each day a day hike with not pack and therefore had the opportunity to fly through. Their stories were brilliant and I really enjoyed speaking with them. We turned down their kind offer of a bed for the night as we wanted to make a bit of distance along the beach, ready for the next few days. We wanted to stop off in Invercargill for a bit of shopping and get to Bluff nice and early. That night we camped up in the sand dunes and as I brushed sand off my sleeping mat, drank sandy tea and ate sandy food, I reminded myself, last beach, just 2 more sleeps. We woke to an absolutely stunning sun rise and as we walked along the clean, deserted beach, packs feeling light, with grins on our face so permanent that my cheeks started to ache, we could see Invercargill and Bluff getting bigger and bigger and Riverton getting smaller and smaller. We reached Invercargill and set about buying a few warm jumpers as we had nothing but the smelly clothes on our backs and knew we’d need something to change into when we reached Queenstown. We went wild at the opshop and had a whole new wardrobe by the end of our shopping spree for just a few dollara. We walked along the estuary as the sun was setting on our last night, we put our tent up for the last time, unpacked our bags and blew up our sleeping mats for the last time. We ate our last back country cuisine, I brushed the remaining sand off my belongings again and in the middle of the night, my sleeping mat went down again for the last time. We woke up in the dark and walked along the highway towards Bluff. We could see the township for the majority of the day, teasing us, not getting closer until we turned that last corner. We were nearly there. The excitement was immense, we’d done it, there was no failing now. We found the poor excuse for a walking track that took us off the highway and around the Bluff to the infamous sign posts where we would be jumping up and down in just a couple of hours. We followed the orange markers and they lead us to a 10 foot high, locked metal fence! We could see the markers and the trail on the other side but we couldn’t get through. We walked around through mud and bogs and holes and streams, past a stinky water treatment, sewerage smelling thing and we were cursing all along the way reminding ourselves, last time last time. The trail soon joined the easy walking track that was perfectly maintained and lead us along the ocean edge. The forecast for the day was rain and we had been lucky enough to avoid it so far. We didn’t want our last day to be wet and miserable. On this last section our legs couldn’t move quick enough. I think we were even running at one point! We came around the last corner and there it was, the sign post, the end, the finish line to Te Araroa, 5 months of tramping over with, the adventure of a lifetime coming to an end. I thought there would be tears and dancing and screaming and joy but there wasn’t. I just had a very achy face from smiling so hard for the last 3 hours. As I write this now though I think it has finally hit me. The tears are coming and the realization that I just experienced the most amazing, life changing, bloody hard but so very worth it, 5 months of my life.

Te Araroa isn’t complete yet so we were faced with additional challenges along our journey. We cursed at unmaintained sections, we vowed to complain at every badly marked or signed sections, we didn’t necessarily love Gorse and Prickly Bush, Bush Lawyer or Spear Grass and I didn’t enjoy days of walking on tarmac or tussock but Te Araroa is a great trail.  My advice for anybody who wants to do it would be to not feel like you have to stick to the trail.  In the north island particularly there are alternatives and a great example of that would be Cookie and Nicky, an English couple who chose to go through The Coromandel instead of Auckland.  However, Te Araroa can guarantee you variety and certainly a challenge to even the most experienced trampers.

And my experience wasn’t all about the trail. We met some amazing people along the way who we will be eternally grateful to. Some who know who they are and some who never will, like Wendy from Ngunguru who let us stay in her back garden when we found out all the camp sites had closed down, and the fisherman who gave us a lift to Marsden Point in their boat and who through in a crayfish for our dinner. We’ve seen parts of New Zealand that many people, even New Zealanders will never see and we’ve experienced a lifestyle that will stay with me forever. Not only did I have a fantastic time but thanks to all of you, we have managed to raise AUD $2875.00 to this day for Indigo Foundation which will help run the entire Soloman Islands project for over 6 months.

06 March 2011

Detour to a Disaster Zone

Just a quick note to let you know Shalane and I have recently detoured to Christchurch following the devastating news of the earthquake.  We hitched over from Greymouth having spent a week there with a fractured foot and volunteered for just over a week with the  UC Student Volunteer Army.  I can't begin to tell you how heartbreaking it is seeing so many homes lost and the pure carnage the quake has caused, not to mention the loss of loved ones and the long term stress and sleepless nights the people of Christchurch have had to endure.  However, the attitude and strength, the kindness and generosity shown from all Cantabrions would make me feel very proud if I was a Kiwi and I can only wish every body the luck and strength to carry on rebuilding what was, and always will be a beautiful city.

Shalane and I will continue Te Araroa as of tomorrow and are looking forward to the remainder of the adventure.  I promise I will try and keep my blog more up to date than I have recently :-)

02 March 2011

Sticks and Stones might break my bones and so will Te Araroa

Te Araroa!!!!  No doubt in our minds that the first track from Boyle village to Hope Kiwi lodge was purely a Te Araroa trail.  We've become quite accustomed to the Department of conservation trails with their clear signs and markings, taking us on the most suitable path possible, but when we followed this water logged, muddy trail with badly placed markers and incorrect timings we knew it had to be our trail.

Luckily we were soon back on a DOC trail and the beautiful meandering forest track lead us in the glorious sunshine to a very impressive hut.  Hope Kiwi lodge had 3 separate bedrooms and was HUGE, so it didn't matter at all that we were joined that night by a couple of hunters.

This whole next section was a complete disaster for me!  A few hours into the next day and my foot started hurting so badly that I actually felt sick from the pain.  I was taking ibuprofen and trying to ignore it but this was no minor injury.  I wasn't sure how I did it exactly but knew it had started feeling a little sore the previous day.  It was David's birthday and I was feeling a wee bit guilty that he spent it on his own, flying ahead while I hobbled a good half an hour or more behind him.  Come lunch time, I had to have a serious assessment as to whether I could carry on walking, as the next hut was still a few hours away.  The issue I faced was that it was a few days walk to get out, whichever direction I walked in and I didn't want to delay things any further so I decided to harden the hell up and limp on.  We reached number 3 hut just before the heavens opened and all three of us huddled around the fire with a couple of BCC deserts we had saved for David's birthday.

I rested my food, convinced that a night of rest and a bit of tiger balm would sort out the problem.  I woke up (as normal) in the night for a pee and, forgetting I had a painful foot, got up to walk outside.  The shock and pain was unbelievable, I couldn't believe how much it still hurt and went back to bed a little worried for what the morning had in store.

Harper Pass
We all woke in the morning to the rain still pounding down outside and my foot felt even worse.  I began to get packed and ready slowly but was dreading the day ahead.  David had gone outside and I mentioned to Shalane that I wasn't really excited about a day of rain and pain. That was all she needed to hear!  She wasn't really up for walking in the rain and an excuse to cut ties with David, who had been slowly talking us to death was just what we needed.  He took some persuading but after Shalane completed his crossword while he was asleep, he finally realised there was nothing to stay for anymore.  he walked on ahead and we kicked back, relaxed and breathed a sigh of relief at our new found freedom.

The next few days were probably the hardest I had to face in the entire trip.  The trail, scenery and weather was fantastic and despite the painfully slow pace I was setting and the constant agony I was in, I still managed to really enjoy it and Harper Pass was probably one of the highlights of the trek for it's lushness and pure beauty.  However, unless it was morphine, I wasn't interested! Every time I put my bad foot down and experienced pain, I would try to step back on my good foot quicker.  The result was, that I would not lift my good foot up enough and tripped over any rock, twig or weed that I could possibly find.  Thus, sending me flying and stumbling harder on my bad foot as I tumbled down steep hills and mountains.  When we reached a hut, just one day from Arthurs Pass and found a radio, with a direct line to the Arthur's Pass information centre.  I have to say, I was tempted.   The main problem I was facing from day to day was that my energy was being sucked out of me, like some kind of torture method.  I felt like I was going fast and was putting all my energy into each day but the distance we were covering was a joke and the constant pain, the disappointment each morning that there was no improvement and the knowledge each day that the only way out was on foot was soul destroying.

The last couple of days really were an adventure.  We followed the Waimakariri River through the valley and the sun was beating down.  We stopped for a break on one of the days,  and perched ourselves down on the remains of a tree.   As I looked around I couldn't believe how vast this country is.  We were days from anyway, no roads nearby, mountains for miles and it just felt incredible.  There is nowhere in the UK as isolated and despite wanting to be in civilisation at that moment in time, there was no hiding the pure beauty of a land not ruined by mankind.  We followed a path until the path we were on was no more.  An earlier flood had washed the path away and the next half of the day was spent bush bashing, getting cut and scratched, climbing over fallen trees and under broken branches.  But we didn't mind.  Maybe it was because we were already going slowly or maybe we were still high from our freedom from David. Either way, we were quite content and knowing that we were near was good enough motivation to keep going.

We ended our last day crossing the Bealey river which was still slightly flooded and bloody scary.  It was flowing fast, we were tired and the only thing going for me was that the ice cold temperature of the water made my foot go numb.  We made it to the other side, set up camp and yet again, breathed a sigh of relief.  This time, it was because I could see the road.  I knew civilisation was close and everything was going to be ok.
Hitching to Greymouth

Can we get away with it?  Would they know??

We reached Arthurs Pass the next day, collected our food drop and decided to hitch to Greymouth for food shopping and foot resting.  After a few days of trying to reduce the balloon that was now my foot, the pain still hadn't subsided and I decided that a trip to the doctor was overdue.  I wasn't sure what he was going to say but all I could feel at this point was guilt.  Guilt for poor Shalane having to wait more days for my injuries.  There she was fighting fit and ready to keep trekking, to get to Bluff and to finish this long loooooong trek, but she was stuck in GREYmouth waiting for me.    Again!  When the doctor poked around he revealed that the injury was definitely bone.  A fracture or a stress fracture (later confirmed as a fracture after an xray) and to heal, I would need to do nothing for 6 weeks.  However, the only words that I really heard him say was that I could still trek, it just wouldn't get better.  Hearing those words were all I needed. He gave me pain killers and what felt like his approval, his permission to carry on.  Shalane wasn't quite as enthusiastic which I guess I could understand.  More slow, painful days, more isolation with an unpredictable injury.  It wasn't necessarily a wise choice but I had to try.  There was no way I was ending this adventure in Greymouth!

25 February 2011

What Goes Up, Must Come Down!

It rained heavily all night and with rain at high altitude, it means slippery terrain, bad visibility, heavy winds and of course wet us.  Luckily, we set off to mainly dampness and low clouds as the heavy rain had all come at night.  I wasn't feeling as achy and sore as I thought I would after our challenge the day before so the day ahead was feeling manageable and exciting.

We began by following ridge line before ascending to Purple Top Mountain at 1532m.  However, as we climbed higher and higher we realised the wind was very strong. The terrain was rocky and scree and although a bit wet, luckily wasn't too slippery although definitely not secure.  All our concentration was used on staying upright as at times I thought I'd be blown away. There was one hell of an icy bite to the wind and our legs were a nice shade of pink.   We were all on a mission to get out of the wind and rain as quickly as possible and the adrenaline meant I didn't really think about how dangerous the track actually was.  The wind blew and I stumbled over and heard David shout "we'll have to feed you up with pies" as I regained my balance and kept scrambling.  And we kept scrambling until we were up and over the top and started our descent down to the tree line for a bit of shelter where I took a deep breath and tried to process the last hour.

The rest of the day wasn't nearly as demanding but a steep descent down to Mid Wairoa hut meant we were all glad to rest our knees and enjoy an afternoon to recover.  Due to this section being so long between food resupplying, we can't afford to stop and rest so every afternoon had me trying to rest and look after my muscles and knees as much as possible for fear of pushing myself too far.  The sun helped and as I laid and soaked up the hot rays for an hour I felt ready for a good sleep.

Unfortunately, I didn't get one and I woke up feeling a bit negative.  There is something really tough about being so many days from civilisation when food supplies are limited and when the shorter exit route is about as inviting as going over Mount Rintoull backwards.  I was feeling a little bit trapped.  Wanting to just pig out on food but having to hold back, wanting to know that if anything happened we could just walk out in a few hours and a little bit fed up.  Because when that adreneline wears off at the end of a tough day, the stress and and reality of what you have just done is exhausting.  However, I knew that if I continued with this attitude, it would only keep bringing me down because the factors I mentioned weren't going to change and in fact, the only way I would change anything is by sucking it up and keep walking, that's exactly what I did.  I spent the day a little bit quiet and trying to give myself a bit of a pep talk.  The day consisted of some rather annoying river crossings.  We must have crossed the same river 10 times in a short distance and with a very steep and exhausting scramble up to Top Wairoa Hut for a break we were all feeling tired.  The wind had picked up and it began to rain, and with a steep and demanding route ahead of us, we made the decision to wait out the weather until the next day.  The rain wasn't too bad but the wind would have made the trail too dangerous.  The next section is what DOC describe as a Route instead of a Tramping Trail, which is defined as often badly marked, no clear trail and for only experienced and very fit trekkers.  Hence the decision to stay put until the weather improved.  The hut wasn't the best to be stuck in! Up high on a hill with steep scree either side, wind blowing the hut so hard that it wobbled and a scramble for our lives if we wanted water.  The weather didn't die down all day and actually, I laid awake all night listening to the howling winds crashing against the flimsy shelter and the rain crashing on the corrugated iron roof and sides.

We set off at around lunchtime the next day after the wind had settled considerably and as we began the climb in the misty rain I realised that the description of a "route" was pretty accurate.  The wind was still pretty strong and as we climbed up over rocks and boulders I was being blown around.  I lent into the wind but then it would suddenly stop and I'd over compensate and go flying.  It was pretty comical but also scary as we climbed higher and higher and became more exposed.  When we finally reached the saddle, the clouds had become very low and the few markers that there were became impossible to see.  We decided that one of us would have to stand at the last seen marker, while the other walked off into the thick fog until they could see the next orange pole and lead the threesome onwards, to avoid us loosing sight of both directions.   Sometimes the wind would blow a gap in the clouds for just long enough, and we'd see a glimpse of orange in the distance.  The wind increased and strong gusts literally blew me over to the floor and the hail on my face was heavy and painful.  My skin was numb with cold and the news headlines flashed through my mind "3 trampers blown off the side of the mountain!"  The clouds thinned after nearly 3 hours of walking on scree, slippery grass and boulders, in wind, hail and rain and to my relief I saw a row of orange poles leading down to the tree line.  We dropped down into the shelter of the trees  and the relief of the intensely strong wind was amazing.  We dropped down into the valley over the next 2 hours and the weather improved all the way to the lovely Hunters Hut.

The next day was a long one but arriving in St Arnaud, although not quite civilisation as we all know it, it felt good.  Everything ached beyond belief but knowing we all had a rest day was an unbeatable feeling.
Nelson Lakes, St Arnaud

After a late start due to me waking up in the night feeling sick as a dog, we plodded on to the swingbridge (not quite as far as David's "schedule" intended).  I think my stomach had a slight shock going from muesli bars every day to the rich foods of the normal world and it took me the whole day to feel right again.   Over the next few days, the biggest challenge was the muggy weather.  It was humid as hell and we were all feeling it by the end of each day so ensured we re hydrated and rested in the evenings.  We met a few more trampers on this section in Upper Traverse (and some noisy inconsiderate ones) and it was nice to chat and appreciate hut life in a different way.  Each hut we arrived at had it's own little quirk.  Whether it be an amazing view or heaps of character.

When we reached Blue Lake Hut we all dumped our bags and ran to the lake, whose name is an understatement!  The lake was electric.  It was an incredible colour and we couldn't resist going for a dip.  Ok, well, we dipped up to our knees, when we discovered how bloody Baltic it was and then sat on a rock and had a good ol' key area wash!  But still, we tried.  I knew the next day was going to be hard and I spent the night mentally preparing for it.  We had a huge pass to climb and it was only advisable in good weather, to experienced trampers and they don't give that advice lightly.  By the next morning, I was up, ready and psyched up.  But the Waiau pass wasn't ready for us!  We stood at the doorway, in the dark, waterproofs on looking out to low clouds, heavy rain and winds.  It wasn't going to happen.We were soon unpacked, fire lit, with cups of tea in hand having agreed to wait out the crappy weather.  We all hoped with all fingers and toes crossed that we would be good to go the next day as neither of us had too many days of spare food and we still didn't know what type of terrain we had ahead of us.
Blue Lake

We woke up the next morning with the same ritual:  Up, fed, packed and dressed, standing in the doorway assessing the day ahead.  We looked like 3 little children waiting for Santa.  But maybe a slight scary Santa as there was anxiety mixed with our excitement. The clouds were low but not as thick.  It was raining, but not as hard.  So we decided to go, do it, make the move.  The pass was so steep and long that we could only go so fast and every time I put a foot forward it would slip half way down again on the dreaded scree.  I was grabbing at random tufts of grass or loose rocks just to try and stay upright as the wind was so fierce.  I was literally scrambling on my hands and feet.  The rain and wind were increasing and I was constantly getting blown off balance and all I could do is keep climbing.  The muscles in my legs were tight and sore and the climb felt like it went on forever.  We eventually reached the top, but our excitement and joy was short lived, as we were faced with a vertical rock face.  By this time the rain was really hard and streams and rivers were forming on the mountains and rocks all around us.  We were in trouble!  Underfoot was slippery, there was water everywhere and we were drenched.  As I lowered myself down, I honestly felt like I should be attached to a harness and all my concentration went into every movement.  Since this day, Shalane and I have spoken about this particular moment, and we will always say that it was one of the best days of the trip.  As scarey as it was, as wet and cold as we were and as out of my depth as I felt, there is something to be said about moments like this one.  Every sense in our body is very much alive and in that moment.  We are 100% in the "now", our mind and body HAVE to be fully connected to ensure every decision and movement  is the right one.  And, as a result, you feel the cold, sharp rock as you cling to it with your hand and every ice cold rain drop as you get increasingly soggier.  You can here your breath as you take one foot off and place it strategically on the small ledge below.  People meditate and search for years for moments like this one and I can honestly tell you I can see why.  It was incredible.  The next few hours we squelched through the mud and crossed the rising, fast flowing river time and time again.  The track had been newly cut so it could have been worse but in places the river had been washed away and we had to literally walk in the river, following it down to our destination.  But where was our destination?  We were drenched to the bone and I was starting to get too cold.  I knew that if we didn't get to Caroling Bivvy soon,w e were going to have to stop and put on some dry clothes, and put up the tent or I would never get warm again.  My heart was pounding and we hadn't stopped for food all day so I was purely going on adrenaline.   We finally reached the bivvy, not a moment to soon but to our horror, the tiny, 2 bunk shed had no vacancies.  We stood at the door, shivering, soaking, miserable and tired and started distraught at the 2 DOC workers looking warm and dry inside, sipping warm tea.  And all they could say to us as they stared back, god knows what we must have looked like but all they said was  "hope ya got ya tent".  They never did find their strangled bodies!!!  Joking of course!
The Descent

We set up our tents in the rain, tore of our dripping wet clothes and got into our warms dry sleeping bags.  Drank tea after tea after tea until I eventually warmed up 3 hours later.  All I can say is what a day.  What an incredible, life changing memorable day.

Nothing like the feeling of putting on soaking wet clothes in the dark in a tent to say GOOD MORNING.  Horrible, cold, wet and horrible.  We stopped for tea on the side of the river when the sun eventually came up but the sand flies were unbelievably bad so we kept on stepping.  I'm sure when I looked at Shalane I couldn't see her skin for black flies.  Yuck!

It was an easy day, just 29kms of long flat valley.  The sun was now shining, the terrain was stress free and the vast mountains stretching as far as the eye can see were stunning.  It felt like a relaxing stroll and just what we all needed to process the crazy events of the previous day.  The next day was the last in this challenging section and as we all hobbled out with painful knees, achy feet and knotty shoulders, all the way to Boyle village, it felt like the events of Waiau pass were on a whole different trip.