I often wondered where I’d end up on December 14th while walking the Te Araroa. I’m so happy to wake up in the Tongariro National Park – and to be packed and moving right before the rain revved up again.
Last night’s spot was perfect to look up the valley and watch the thunderstorms. But I literally turn a corner and glacier-covered Ruapehu reveals herself in all her grandeur, a small trail of fog circling like a boa. I saw her flat top all the way from Mt. Puerora days and days ago. The snow is fresh, white, gleaming against the blue gray of her folds. She’s in my sights as I negotiate a severely eroded trail – an accident waiting to happen.
I pass dozens of tourists and arrive at Whakipapa village, and take a miss on the giant castle but grab a snack from the store served by an American on a working holiday. She mentions it rains here more than her home of Seattle. The track ahead will be real messy TA slogging – and with the added bonus of rain coming.
Tom is way ahead, but I think now about some of the things he says. He talks a lot about life and relationships and what he wants out of life. He even has a tattoo on his ribs – yes, he said it did hurt – that is a bit of a middle finger to his family and those who tried to steer him to a more conventional life. He quit his job and sold his house to travel, the marriage ended a year or so ago.
I, on the other hand, like my husband, house and job. I’d just like to figure out how I can do all the things I want to in life, to walk long walks and to keep the rest balanced. Richard and I are great. We scrimped and saved for me to come here. My job is a question as they make no guarantees when I took the leave. Here, alone, on the lower silica rapids track in Tongariro National Park, eating chips and having grapefruit juice on my fifty-fourth birthday, I think it was worth the risk just to see what I can do and to see something new too.
I come upon golden rapids made of iron deposits from lava flows cleaned out in bogs above, thankfully with a beautiful boardwalk for my feet.
Humid, moss covered forests give way to shattered open areas from the last eruption, all with catchy names like ‘slippery gully.’ I see clouds building, but so far no rain. The first part of the trail is decent, then I take a right turn straight into bog as thunder rumbles nearby.
It’s a spectacular view of the mountain as the sky turns black. All my rain gear is on plus sun hat. This is New Zealand afterall. A couple of DOC workers invite me to take a picture of one of the most famous signs in the world. Thunder cracks as I contemplate a hitch. They wish me a happy birthday, but alas, no beer on board.
The storm hits exactly where I was this afternoon with a vengeance, the mountains obliterated in a blueish-black funnel with a smidge of brick red highlight. My body, thankfully, marches towards blue sky. Only a few drops hit me.
And now I sit with a chocolate/caramel ‘thick’ shake – that means ice cream as opposed to only flavored milk. The mountains come back into view. I meet Tom later and we wash our muddy clothes together then meet the others for a birthday beer. The sun appears below heavy clouds for one last showing on the mountains in fanciful orange and pink.
A young man comes out with us. He’s spent a month in Borneo and now a couple in New Zealand. How do people manage this lifestyle, I’d like to know. There is so much to see and do. I’ll need to think more on how to design my life to take myself to these places.
On my birthday, in my mid-fifties now, I wonder if it’s too late.