Hitching on the Highway

“There really are no rules. Smile in a big cheesy way. If they shrug it means no room in the car. Carry a sock full of stones. I’ve never had a bad hitch though.”

Sweet as. Let’s do this.

Whakapapa Village is about a four or five hour walk away from where I live/work. It has lots of hikes and is at the base of Mt. Ruapehu, the large volcano. I don’t have my own car, so getting there is a bit difficult unless I hitch.

I figured it was high time we gave it a try.

Rachel, my English coworker, joined me as we set out for the junction that would put us in the right direction.

“We’ll give it 20 minutes before we head back. It isn’t the best time of day.”

Five minutes later, a Frenchman with long hair and California tan pulled his car onto the gravel shoulder.

I mean he also ended up taking us too far, but all good. We were a bit amused by the fact that we were on a stretch of road less likely than before to have people who would pick us up and was frequently without traffic.

I put the Disney playlist on shuffle.

“LIFE IS A HIGHWAYYYYYY. IM GONNA RIDE IT ALL NIGHT LOOOOONG.”

How fitting.

Eventually another sweet Frenchman picked us up. He was also headed to Whakapapa Village and we were able to begin our actual hike to Taranaki Falls.

It’s a lovely waterfall. If you ever head this way, be sure to take a look. I was able to scramble along behind it and you have beautiful alpine views for the whole way back.

“I’d like to be back by six so I can go climbing with a couple of the firefighters. But that depends on whether or not we can get a ride huh?”

“Yup.”

We stood on the edge of the street watching the empty lane stretch up the mountain.

So what we were learning from this at that point is the nicer cars are less likely to pick us up, camper vans have converted seats, and obviously don’t bother with the shuttles unless it’s Tracy, our lodge’s shuttle provider. We figured she’d probably stop for us.

“Someone will stop eventually. We aren’t stuck here.”

“Unless there is no one to stop.”

Fair enough.

Before too long, a Polish couple pulled up. They were ultimately headed the other direction, but we got to the crossroads, saving ourselves at least 7km of walking.

“It should be pretty easy to get a ride from here.”

15 minutes later: “YOU HAD THREE SEATS IN YOUR CAR, ARE LITERALLY GOING DIRECTLY TO OUR HOME, AND ARE CLEARLY A BACKPACKER. We’re two females for crying out loud. We can’t do anything to you culturally speaking! I swear to God I’m picking up hitchhikers whenever I can.”

Then a nice Canadian couple, who were headed to accommodation down the street from Howard’s Mountain Lodge, slowed for two ladies with their thumbs up and somewhat desperate smiles.

“Thank you so so so much!”

We swapped stories about the North Island, passed on advice about the Tongariro Crossing, and expressed deep gratitude for their willingness to give us a lift.

I made it to climbing by 6:30.

Not bad for our first hitch, ey?

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I’m liking these campervans more and more. Although my favorite is still the “Death is Hereditary” one.
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A small water chute on our way to the falls
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Unedited and unbelievably beautiful

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These were growing behind the waterfall
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Totally worth hitching
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Taranaki Falls
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“I Choose this Madness”

“You are weird!”

I have never been so happy to hear those words together. An Australian friend had walked out on me splitting wood, after I had brought the group some cookies, asked them to take part in a personal project of mine, and explained my old school to them.

I was seen.

The day before was very difficult. I felt slow as I continued training, I made mistakes, and I went to bed just wanting to be back in California. I slogged through the moments wondering if all the things I believed about myself being an interesting individual worthy of being seen as an equal to everyone was really true.

After all, so much of the world seems to want to shove it down my throat that “You’re young. Wait till real life starts. Too many people think they are above average when in reality they just need to learn to work hard and understand they aren’t being coddled anymore. Life is hard. You’re young. Wait till real life starts.”

Those words played through my head on repeat. I struggled to fight them off, but went to sleep with tears in my eyes.

Tomorrow would be better. I was sure of it.

I woke up knowing that I had to start my day with my full routine. I meditated for ten minutes, practiced a qigong exercise for another ten minutes, and did some body strengthening exercises. I told myself I was going to have an amazing day. My life is beautiful. I am interesting and worthy of being known.

I am not here to take people’s bullsh*t.

And my day was absolutely fantastic.

My work was more efficient and better quality. I met people from Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, and France. I baked cookies. I attended fire training again and was told to put on a uniform so I could participate in the exercises that weren’t potentially dangerous. I used one of the hoses and learned techniques to deal with the pressure of the water.

I went for a walk alone under the stars and breathed deeply.

“I am mad/but I choose this madness.” – Gloria Anzaldua

Perhaps the Greater

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“I can’t wait to do the Tongariro Crossing!”

“You girls want to go tomorrow?”

Yes.

The Tongariro Crossing is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. You traverse volcanic fields to see sulfurous craters, ringed by snow streaked mountains. The Emerald Lakes sparkle against the dusty background as you slip and slide your way down loose rocks to meet them. One of my favorite parts was the mist that slunk across the ground to meet the opposite mountain peaks. It curled around us as we made our way up and over the last bit of high elevation before beginning our descent home towards the Blue Lake.

I was simply amazed throughout the entirety of the day. The contrast of the snow, the smell of sulfur, the fact that I was literally on Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings, all of it took my breath away…along with the elevation and large amounts of uphill hiking. One of the later legs of the trip provided a kaleidoscope of golds, reddish browns, blues, and lichen greens along with a desperate desire to reach the next restroom because the last one was over four hours back. We joked and sang as we heaved ourselves over the next ridge. They cursed me under their breath when I ran up a hill because of how excited I was. We got geography lessons about how if you happen to find yourself in a pyroclastic flow, you’re f***ed. (High temperature, high speed death cloud of ash.) Those of us less geographically and geology inclined have taken a liking to Amy’s original phrase “I’ll igneous your rock.”

Off to watch Lord of the Rings. May the Force be with you.*

(All photos are unedited.)

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We hiked to and over the low point between snow capped Mt. Ngauruhoe to the right and the slopes of Tongariro to the left.
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Clouds best served with volcanic craters
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Up to Mt. Ngauruhoe
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Icy footsteps in snowy places
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Shaped by erosion’s hand
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If you placed your hand on the stones you could feel the volcano’s warmth.
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One of the Emerald Lakes
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My favorite part of the hike
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Blue Lake seductively revealed only a small portion of herself to us, hidden largely in the shroud of mist.
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Over the volcanoes and into the lands beyond.

 

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Lichen is the Earth’s way of bringing color to the grey surfaces of the world.
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“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” – The Fellowship of the Ring

*Definitely a Gandalf quote.

My Humming Heart

“The previous owner didn’ like backpackers, but we want to make it a place that’s real backpacker friendly. Then we’ll still have the lodge bit an all that, a course. So you’re comin’ in in the middle a this transition. We’re gonna teach you the new system. Much more efficient that way.”

When I applied to Howard’s Mountain Lodge in National Park, I knew very little about it. The ad didn’t even have the name of the lodge. I had no idea where exactly I was working until I was accepted. I was aware it was in Taupo area, but not where specifically. On top of that, I did not apply for anything else. I sent my resume to only this place, trusting that perhaps it would be the right spot for me.

It is.

Howard’s Mountain Lodge has just shifted owners and it is being moved towards a safe, friendly, efficient environment for families, school groups, and backpackers alike. Basically it is in the process of remaking itself into something better suited to a brighter future.

“National Park needs a heart. These hostels and lodges should all have at least an eight outta ten on their reviews. We’re gonna make this lodge have a heart. You wanna hear a hum when you walk into the lounge. It’s a place to relax and have fun, you know.”

My new little home is gorgeous. I am able to amble National Park’s entire circumference in about three quarters of an hour, less if I am intending to make it back from the store before the rain soaks through my jeans. There is a sizable play structure which I intend to claim as my makeshift jungle gym on dry afternoons. Blue skies gives you the chance to see the stunning peaks of Mt. Ruapehu and Mt. Ngauruhoe. They take my breath away. A nearby hostel has a full on climbing wall, (which kinda boggles my mind considering this town has a population of literally less than two hundred). I am currently working on negotiating a pass that lets me climb frequently. My goal is to be able to climb routes that are at least New Zealand grade twenty before I return to California. Once I figure out hitchhiking, making friends with people who have cars, and the local shuttles, I will have access to a wide range of hikes nestled within the mountain slopes.

To top off these exciting things, my British coworker and I have learnt quite a bit about the lodge’s new booking system by checking in a wide range of delightful guests. As expected, Chewbacca and Han Solo proved a bit of a challenge as we downgraded their rooms, upgraded them, put them in separate bookings, and then sorted out their payments. McGonagall was charged extra for the cat hair, and Merry and Pippin are enjoying their shared dorm room.

Luke Skywalker checks out tomorrow.

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Our hike yesterday left us feeling as though an elf was going to glide past us on the path.
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Seaweed moss (as I have come to call it) is a personal favorite aspect of this area.

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Seaweed moss believes in a diverse community with many shapes and colors. Be more like moss.
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Still working out what this plant is called, but I love it.
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It’s a jungle out there. Cheers.

 

Worth a Thousand Words*

*Supposedly

I walked over 20 kilometers today. For those of you as tired as I am, that is two 10k walks. For those of you who are American that is over 13 miles.

But man, was it worth it.

This is one of the few times where I am going to let the photos speak more than the words, but I joined the Wellington Quaker Walking Group as they tramped up to the top of one of the surrounding hills. I continue to stand by my claim that Wellington is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

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Quaker Walking Group
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Petone Beach
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Well above the aforementioned beach. (Unedited)
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Another reason why I stand by my claim
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The best roads are the ones you cannot see the end of. (Unfiltered)
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My favorite fern
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This bloom is in the orchid family. I absolutely love it. It reminds me of a delicate bird. And my little girl heart is validated by the fact that there is actually a green flower.
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Maori carving has joined my list of favorite art forms
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Blue skies, blue roof, blue wall, blue gate.
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Perhaps my favorite photo of the day. She’s beautiful, isn’t she?