"be careful what you wish for…" is exactly what i was thinking when i found myself on all fours scrambling up a volcano, repeating "don't look back, don't look down." i wanted an adventure, and oh man did i get one! this was so far from what i had imagined, i kept wondering "how did i get here?" every time i stopped to take a breath. but let me back up a bit…
after six weeks of tranquility on waiheke island, i felt the need for something different so i boarded a bus going south. beautiful rural scenery of mountains and rolling green hills, farmland and pastureland, animals happily grazing, orchards, vineyards, barns, fences, streams and rivers flowed quickly outside my window. four hours later, i saw mount maunganui ("the mount" as the kiwis call it) up ahead and knew a brand new chapter had begun.
it wasn't long after i arrived at the house on tui street, where sophia, liam, and basil, were living, a party got underway in the garden with their housemates and friends. the welcome i got from everyone made me feel like i was instantly a part of the family. no easing out of my isolation here. this was full on, and i was loving it!
next morning feeling hungover, a bit sluggish, a bit rough, followed basil around as he gave me a guided tour of the town center and the gorgeous beaches that stretch on for miles. the mount, a fairly steep 20-minute walk up to the top, seemed daunting that day. little did i know it would be nothing compared to what was to come.
a few days later, we piled into a car for a four-day road trip stopping every now and again to take in breathtaking views of lakes, rapids, and long stretches of empty beaches. there were also curious spots, like the bubbling mud pools, and the teeny town of whangamomona that declared itself its own republic in 1989. i got my passport stamped and am now officially a resident. however, the highlight undoubtably was tongariro nature park and the alpine crossing made famous by the "lord of the rings" trilogy, parts of which were filmed there.
although i never saw these movies, i was game to go to the park and see the natural wonder everyone was raving about. the fact that we would be trekking for six hours didn't seem too overwhelming. being one of the most popular tourist destinations, we started at 5:00am, hoping to beat rush hour. glad we did because by sunrise, we were at the base of mount ngauruhoe, where the sky turned into a rainbow, and we were practically alone, sweeeet!
then this is where it got a little confusing. nobody mentioned going up ngauruhoe, an active volcano (last erupted 1977). don't think it was part of the plan, or maybe they just never got around to telling me, but when the sign read three hours return, the guys were raring to go. i hesitated, but then thought why not? it would be an opportunity to face my fears of heights, of falling, and possibly others i didn't even know about. it was also a chance to test my mettle. so bring it on!
we made our way up, reaching for the big rocks and trying to avoid the gravel that would slide us back down. slowly climbed up, two steps forward, one step back, on an unstable surface with no hope of sure footing anywhere and nothing to hold onto. oh yeah, i thought, my life these last eight months, playing out in the physical plane! as i made that final push with tears streaming down my face, my arms and legs turned to jello, and i felt i had nothing left. that's when i swear i was lifted by an angel. no, really. a great big heave ho, and i was on top.
the views were seriously nuts, unbelievable. all i could do was stare, shake my head, and say "WOW!" a food break, a water break, a cigarette break, and soon it was time to head back down, which for me was even scarier because there's no way to avoid looking down and seeing just how steep it is. slowly, ever so cautiously, i inched my way, but after the umpteenth time landing hard on my butt, i just stayed down and "sledded" the rest of the way in a sitting position, pushing with my hands and braking with my feet when i was going too fast. maybe not the most elegant way, but it worked. at the bottom, it was hilarious how much debris came out of my shoes and pants pockets.
afterwards, it would be another 4-5 hours of trekking, up and down, up and down. the spectacular mountain ranges, emerald lakes, and otherworldly terrain were soon lost on me as i was so exhausted, i couldn't fully appreciate it anymore. the final hour was absolutely agonizing as every part of my body was screaming and my legs threatened to give out, but in the end, i did it! made it to the finish line 12 hours later. as we all hugged, i felt immensely proud, and knew my angel was smiling on us all.
looking back on that day, probably the most physically grueling one of my life, i am truly grateful for sophia, liam, and basil because it's definitely not anything i would have ever dreamed of doing on my own. their patience and shouts of encouragement as i tried to keep up helped me so much. the climb or the crossing, either would have been pretty special, but to do both in one day was quite extraordinary. thanks you guys!
though being on my own, having space and stillness prior to this had been healing, so was sharing this experience, a most unforgettable one. thank you for putting me up and for putting up with me, for the amazing road trip, and of course, for your friendship. see you at the base of mount egmont in five years? i'll bring the sleds.
p.s., please keep in mind these photos do not begin to capture what i saw, but here they are anyway on google.