When some of my friends asked if I would like to go tramping with them, my first response was, “Excuse me?!” Tramping: the Kiwi way of saying hiking, because Kiwis like to have fun with words.
My second response was, “Of course! I’m a little sickly, but I’m trying this thing where I never say ‘no’ to New Zealand adventures (unless said adventures have significant moral, legal, or health ramifications. Don’t worry, Papa, I’m staying safe).” The vans carrying tramping club members were full, so my friends and I decided to tagalong in my wonderful flatmate’s minivan/station wagon/vehicle thing (dubbed “Swag Wag”). The low-riding Swag Wag was tightly packed to fit six international students, six hefty backpacks, one tent, six sleeping bags, and 4 sleeping mats. We figured we would head over to the aptly named Paradise on our own time then meet up with the trampers for a night of camping. In the morning, we would sneakily join whichever hike seemed most appealing and sort of creep along behind the guided hike. One of our company, Tuna, is a hardcore outdoors enthusiast. She’s that girl who recently spent a month in Patagonia, hiking, climbing, not showering, and, when roped-in on a mountain with a bunch of guys, simply pooping off the cliff side. Tuna is going on a “hard” level, overnight trip. I have much respect for Tuna. A few others in our group wanted to go on a “moderate” hike. I heard about a short hike that ended at a waterfall and thought, “That is for me!” If I owned hiking shoes, I would leave them at home. I’m just bringing my Chacos and my swimsuit. I plan on spending the whole day in the healing waters of nature’s bathtub.
Naturally, our plans never go quite as expected. Such is life.
We drove first to Queenstown and had a lovely time wandering the picturesque city. For dinner we dined at an adorable Old English-looking restaurant called The Cow.
A source within the tramping club caravan informed us that, due to the likelihood of rain, the club would be camping for the night, not at the regular campsite, but at a shelter. After some meandering driving over dirt roads, find the shelter. The structure is tiny. We are all wondering how the tramping leaders are planning on fitting 100 students in there. Thing is going to be a hotbed of germs and microbial disease. We set up camp on the grass outside. We get ready for bed. I take out my contacts and decide to sleep in my full-length pants because the satanic sand flies are back. Guess who never shows up? That’s right. The tramping club. Oh well. Even without the loud and rambunctious antics of 100 students, we get to enjoy a sleepless night of itching sand fly bites and six people squeezed into a four-person tent.
The next morning, we make it to the other campsite and the trailhead, but are too late; most of the trampers have already left on their respective hikes. That’s ok because we’ll just go on our own self-guided hike. We decide to hike to the waterfall where I and another girl will splash around while the others continue on. We begin a hike that gradually becomes more strenuous. We come across a still lake and a hermit’s hobbit hole. The group finds a large egg under a log on the trail side. I’m thinking big bird baby or small dinosaur. Someone (Hint: the group member with a Y chromosome and testosterone) decides to smash the egg because, hey, that sounds like a good idea. Some egg juices (mmmm) sprayed back onto a girl who had failed to run out of the way in time. The resulting smell was somewhere between extract of sulfur and death. Or perhaps sulfur wrapped in death. Oh, the things one finds in the woods.
The waterfall is supposed to be an hour away. Or so I’ve been told. It has been two hours. I’m starting to blister with these sandals. I don’t think I’m prepared for this. I’m pretty sure my group has no idea what the heck we’re doing. I bet the waterfall isn’t even on this hiking trail. Wow, I’m starting to feel a bit feverish and lightheaded. Curse this sickness…. When my skin is burning and I almost pass out on a near-vertical hillside, I think maybe, just maybe, it’s time for me to head back to the trailhead and just take a dip in the river near the campsite. My flatmate decides to go back with me. We return to the trailhead, I go for a glacial swim, we ward off sand flies, and we both start to crave vegetables. Figuring that we have time to kill, we decide to take the car and go on the hunt for a veggie stand. The ensuing mini adventure carries many of the hallmark features of a road trip: stunning view, windows down, frequent photo stops, music blasting, and a cool drink in hand.
I spy a sign that reads “Glenorchy” and, thinking that I’ve heard that name somewhere before, I suggest that we go there. Now, I’m in love with Glenorchy. It is my new favorite town – a small and friendly haven situated next to the sea glass Dart River and surrounded by craggy hills. Although we just came from Paradise, I think Glenorchy is the real utopia. I sit at outside of a café, sipping coffee, shooting photos, and alternately drinking in the surreal view and reading my novel. I feel utterly content. This is the environment in which I truly thrive. I do love the great outdoors, but I also love having access to a toilet at the end of the day. I wish I were the sort of person who loves going on month-long hiking trips. But I love showers. And I have to acknowledge the truth. I’m much happier exploring small towns, sampling new foods, chatting with locals, and taking in views both natural and man-made. I still enjoy hiking, but I’ve realized that I prefer day hikes, week-long hikes at most (and only if I’m rafting on a river where I have the opportunity to semi-clean myself every day).
In Glenorchy, my flatmate and I found our vegetables. At Foxy’s Café, a beet root, walnut, and feta salad provided all the veggies a veggie craver could ever need. It was the best salad I have ever eaten. A gem within the gem that is Glenorchy – a meta-gem, if you will. I also searched for the Glen Roydon Lodge, where the cast and crew of The Lord of the Rings hung out during their filming around Glenorchy. Yes, much filming was done around Glenorchy and in Paradise. My nerd senses were tingling. The scene in which Boromir is shot and slain (I know I’m going into medieval fantasy mode when I start using words like “slain” instead of “killed”) was filmed in Paradise. The Dart River looks very Middle Earthian. The area around Glenorcy served as parts of Lothlorien, Amon Hen, and Orthanc, and was also featured in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Essentially, Glenorchy is a film geek’s dream. Driving around Glenorchy and Paradise I can understand why filmmakers chose this place as the backdrop of their fantastical stories. The landscape is both beautiful and diverse. One can spin in a circle and see snowy mountains, clear rivers, marshlands, dark hills, and rolling pastures.
On returning to the campsite, I needed time to process the sights and experiences of the day. I went for a short jog and then a long meditative walk. On the way, I climbed a rock that overlooked a cow pasture with mountains in the background (those cows don’t know how good they have it). I formed a whistle with my hands and demonstrated my skills as a cow enchanter/whisperer: all the cows looked at me in a motionless stare while I whistled, and all began moving simultaneously a few seconds after I stopped. This event combined with my affinity for woven baskets and a desire to wear turbans leads me to believe that I was probably a snake charmer in my previous life. I also sang Jackson Browne and Ingrid Michaelson songs loudly and unabashedly to the cows. I think they were less impressed with my singing. I don’t blame them.
At the campsite that night, I may or may not have slightly broken my friend’s nose in a particularly fierce round of sleeping-bag-worm-wrestling (easier to set up, but not quite as fun as, sumo wrestling – watch Charlie’s Angels and you’ll know exactly what I featured at my 18th birthday party – no casinos, trips, or girly spa days for this momentous age celebration, no, I’ll take some sweaty and hilarious fighting in fatsuits, please).
Not keen to sleep in the crowded tent again, my flatmate and I set up shop in the back of the car where we were able to peek out the rear window and see the stars. The drive home was a fitting ending to a rather idyllic weekend adventure; in a place that resembles Lake Chelan, we stopped on the roadside with burgers, swam in cool water, dried off in the sun, and listened to the euphonious tunes of “Wagon Wheel.”