New Zealanders are fond of telling you that, unlike in Australia, nothing here will try to kill you. They say this with a curious combination of pride and apology (conveniently overlooking their terrifying natural phenomenon, such as earthquakes and volcanoes, and their shockingly high road traffic and workplace accident rates).
But to compensate for the lack of alligators and sharks, spiders and snakes, that their bigger brother has in its arsenal, New Zealanders have become adept at creating their own dangers. Hence: Adventure Sports.
The internet is a little unclear regarding the origins of adventure sport, but another thing New Zealanders are fond of, is claiming things as their invention. From pavlovas to Eftpos (Efwhaaaat? I know, rest of the world, I know), over-milked coffees to online auction sites – you name it, they did it first. So it should come as no surprise that over the course of fifteen months in New Zealand, I have acquired more bruising and permanent scarring than in the last fifteen years of my life.
And that’s without even doing any adventure sports.
In January we headed to Taupo to embark on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – one of New Zealand’s most popular day hikes – with spectacular views of snow-capped mountains and (toxicology-test-results-pending-)green lakes.
It was a crisp, clear morning when we started the track at seven o’clock. The volcanic risk was apparently “normal” and everyone around us was wearing wooly hats and hoodies. They’ll stop and take those off in ten minutes, C. quite rightly predicted, shivering stubbornly in his flimsy shorts and tee.
For forty-five minutes we followed a trail of backpacks through volcanic desert, like scenes from the trailer for Exodus – but without promise of Christian Bale. Then we reached a crossroads, and C. revealed that a 19km tramp (Kiwi for hike) over mountains and volcanic craters, climbing from an altitude of 1100 to 1900m, wasn’t challenging enough – so we’d be voluntarily detouring up Mount Ngauruhoe.
Staring up at the loose shingle of its near-vertical slope, I was all enthusiasm.After an hour of joyously climbing in two millimeter increments, and occasionally screaming ROCK!!, we paused (for the tenth time) to stare at the ants climbing below us, and I begun to wonder how the hell I was supposed to get down.
The view from the top had better be f*cking incredible, I said to C. with nothing but love in my voice.
The view was okay, but no greater than other points from the main crossing- tell anyone you hate how awesome and worth the climb it is – and remind everyone else that they cast it as Mount Doom for a reason.
And then it was time to go back over the edge. I won’t be so melodramatic as to compare it to the final episode of Black Adder Goes Forth, but I have been substantially less scared in my life. However, once you get the hang of scree sliding, it is good fun. There was the occasional rock-fall that tried to smash us out of existence, and some memento-scarring on one of my calves, but infinitely less cause for an iPod and a flexible vocabulary of cuss words.
Two and a half hours later, viewed from the other side and through a (metaphorical) rearview mirror, it made for a more pleasant spectacle.
The rest of the walk was beautiful – a landscape of the sort I’d never experienced before – a bit more Escape from Egypt, the famous Emerald Lakes, a hut destroyed by the last volcanic eruption – and then after our final ascent I decided to retrieve my aching foot from a constraining boot and – *POP*- something in my ankle gave way. Every step after that was agony. Some bandaging and ibuprofen later, I accepted the offer of some walking poles from an older woman and we managed to hobble on.
Time was getting tight for us to make the last bus of the day and things were getting tense. We were overtaken by everyone we had swept past earlier, and began strategizing for how on earth we’d get back to our car – how much longer we should wait before sending him on ahead, and how long it would take for him to get back.
But then miraculously the pain stopped. We returned to pace, caught up with the woman who had lent me her poles (at a point where she looked like she was missing them), and sheepishly powered on. With twenty minutes to spare, C. sprinted ahead to hold the bus, and was berated by the driver for not carrying me. But there was no need for us all to go down together, and I made it with minutes to spare.
Kiwi recreational activities are stressful.