Te Araroa: Part Seven

The date was November 19th, 2016...

The last three days had been full of so many different stories, different adventures, and a million new faces. After leaving Taupo, and my hiking partner behind, I found myself in freezing cold rain, on snowy mountains, in small towns on the west coast, on uneven roads, surrounded by explorers from all walks of the Earth, all within seventy-two hours of venturing out on my own.

I joined my newest friend Nicole, an adventurous Canadian who had been traveling for a few years, whom I’d met while hitchhiking from Matamata to Rotorua. She was also from London, Ontario (talk about small world?) and was finding her own adventure through road tripping. She had a small stature, medium height, blonde hair, and a bright smile that made you feel accepted and safe. Seeing as she was on her way down south, I figured I would ask her about joining in on the trip for a few days. It would give me a good chance to make new grounds and figure out a game plan from there.

On the first day, Nicole and I found ourselves in a small town called Turangi, where the weather was grey and there was no sign of any $5 pizzas in sight. We decided to take our saved pizza money and put it towards a swim at the local pool for $3, so we pretty much saved some in the process. It was a good time to take advantage of their showers while still getting a good few hours of swimming in.

Afterwards, we went to our campsite. It was nestled deep in the mountains, about a twenty minute drive away from Tongariro National Park. There, we met some very interesting people from the US. They were all in New Zealand for different reasons, and it was fun to listen to them talk about different States and which were worthy of visiting. After some dinner and good conversations, we set up our tents and prepared for a very cold, very wet night.

I remember being in and out of consciousness so many times, I wasn't even sure if I fully fell asleep that night. I was beyond chilled that evening in the mountains that the next day I went to an outdoor store and purchased a fleece sweater so warm, I was confident I’d be able to survive the South Island. Later I would find out that that confidence wasn’t powerful enough, and the South almost killed me. But hey, we’ll get to that.

We explored Turangi and it's borders the next day, joined by an American named Eric - a tall, handsome fellow with big dreams and an even bigger smile. We walked down to Lake Rotopounamu, and though it was raining fairly hard we still enjoyed it's beautiful sights. Afterwards, we went to a hot spring park and walked around, basking in the steam that formed all around us. We laughed, and ran around, sneaking into parts of the park that were a bit dangerous and not publicly acceptable. It’s okay though, we weren’t caught.

That night I thought long and hard about who I was and where I wanted to be - as this trip has been making me do a lot. I've realized so many different things about myself. I've taken time to contemplate my last love, my last life, and the last time I truly felt happy.

It's amazing what traveling does to you. You grow so much as a person in such a short amount of time. There is a point when you look in the mirror (when you can find one) and wonder who the person is that's looking back at you. It's like you thought you knew them, but in a mere month they'd become completely the opposite of what you'd ever expected.

I woke up that next morning with a new outlook on life. I felt a weight lifted somehow, like my past couldn’t grab me anymore. It couldn’t control me. 

I felt a different form of adventure the moment I went off on my own. My eyes were bright and my soul was open knowing that every moment was a moment I chose for myself. My cheeks were sore from how much I was smiling as Nicole drove the car through the mountain side of the North Island. We made it into Tongariro National Park, where a very special mountain resided. A mountain I’d been excited to see since I’d first entered New Zealand.

Mt. Ngauruhoe. Also formerly known as “Mt. Doom”.

Call me a nerd all you want but Lord of the Rings has been one of my favourite trilogies for as long as I can remember. From the scenery to the storyline, that damn story has it all. And I wanted to be as close to it as possible. Though my Lord of the Rings fangirl was poking out, I knew it was too cold and snowy to partake in the mountain climbing that day. I would have to make my way back up North to walk it when the time was right.

Nicole and I traveled past the mountains and came to a winding road with green hills and sheep galore. It was one of the most beautiful roads I had ever seen, regardless of it's damages caused by waterfalls, rain, and rockslides. We passed fields of cows and hills so high that I was impressed of the animals that stood at their tops. Sheep that were sheared and some that were still puffy. We saw unique grounds and grass... oh the grass.

We made a quick stop in Whanganui on our way to the next campground, and I'm really glad we did. The town had such an essence to it. It was full of culture, people, food, and beauty. We stopped there for a few hours to explore it's streets, then began our journey south again. Levin, a small town about 100km away from Wellington, was the last spot on our list for the day. After a quick peek around town, we arrived in the evening and looked for our campsite.

Upon arrival, deep in the mountains at a free sight for vans and campers, the first thing I noticed was a young gentleman playing the violin - later to be found as a fiddle - in the shelter on the grounds. I was absolutely astonished by the randomness and pure eccentric emotions I received when I opened the car door and listened to him play. Was this real life?

That feeling grew even more when we all got together that evening and three people improvised a cover of Zac Brown Band with the fiddle, a guitar, and a banjo. It was in that moment when I stopped and thought "Who has this ever happened to?"

Camped out in the mountains of New Zealand with a dude who plays the fiddle, while another plays a banjo and the last one, a guitar? I was living a life not many people have lived, and I loved every moment of it. I’d never felt so free, so happy, and so utterly blissed.

The next morning I was sitting with a stray cat in my lap, eating a nut bar, admiring the trees, when two dogs ran up out of no where and started barking. The cat ran off and I stood up to say hello to the dogs, only to turn and see a lone man on a horse - another dog at his side. With a swift whistle, his dogs stopped barking and instead started frantically running around me, licking me and jumping.

The previous night I’d listened to a three man band and less than twelve hours later I was having a conversation with a true hunter on his morning stroll to find wild pigs. Seriously, what is this life and why has it chosen me?

When I look back at who I was before this journey I see a naive girl with no self confidence. Someone who couldn’t trust the person she’d loved most because she couldn’t even see the beauty she held within herself. A woman who, at any moment, felt like people could find better than her. That her heart was always on the line because she didn’t have much to offer. A woman who deserved more from herself than she could possibly imagine, found through the pain of lost love, the pain of lonesomeness, and the pain of a thruhike. I've lived many different ways, and I've loved many different people, but I have changed in the last month of traveling. I have become more of the person I've always wanted to be, and I'm not sure if I could ever see myself being someone else. I’ve realized my worth and that if someone loves me, than they love me for who I am now, and who I was before. This is the life I've chosen, and it came with good reason.

A reason I'm just starting to find.