My name is Meghan! But that’s too formal for me- I usually go by Meg or even Meggo. Here in New Zealand, my temporary home for 5 months, the Kiwi accents makes all the vowel sounds slightly wonky- at least to my American ear. So here, the Kiwis call me “Meag.”
My first few weeks in this country have been truly spectacular, but this past weekend easily takes the cake for my favorite New Zealand adventure!
Myself and eight others decided to go on a camping trip. The plan was to drive five hours to the base of Mt. Cook which has the tallest peak in New Zealand. The view of the mountain from the ground is stunning and an absolute must-see while in NZ. Sources say, however, that in order to get the full experience, you have to hike to The Mueller Hut via The Sealy Trans trail (AKA The Stairway to Heaven AKA “the hardest hike of my life.”) We would camp one night on the base level, and one night up in the stars-not in, but near the hut. (Reservations for the hut have to be made far in advance and none of us have time for planning like that.)
Before our departure, a Sealy Trans/Mueller Hut- survivor left us with the following tips:
1. Bring water- LOTS of it
2. Don’t forget toilet paper
3. LAYERS LAYERS LAYERS
4. Leave early in the morning to beat the midday sun
5. Bring the best camping gear that you’ve got
We tossed a rainbow of equipment into the trunks of our two cars. We had it all - sleeping bags, tents for 10, backpacks, sleeping mats, Jetboil stoves, and an abundance of pb&js, couscous and oats. We were officially ready to take off on our adventure.
At just about sunset we made it to our destination. Just as we pulled into the site, droplets of rain began to splash on the windshield. The drops fell far and few between at first, but then it really started coming down. We were all on the same page - “set up camp as fast as possible!” All I can say about that is, “easier said than done!!” Somehow, we failed to check the status of any our tents before setting off. We ran into quite the problem because of this little oversight. We were working with broken poles, a missing rain fly and not nearly enough pegs. Not good! In a few moments time, we went from having enough tents for 10 people to having enough tents for a comfortable 5. Even though just about everyone was pointing fingers at this point, we were able to laugh this one off.
Strike One: “5. Bring the best camping gear that you’ve got”
Was it a blessing in disguise? Now there were fewer tents to lug up to the top of the mountain the next day, but we were also going to have to squeeze 5 people into a 3-Man and 4 people into a 2-Man tent.
That night, my friend Tayla and I “took one for the team” (volunteered) to sleep in the car. It would be at the top of the mountain the following night that we push our tents to their limit of maximum capacity.
In the morning we did an additional day hike around the base of the mountain! It was so incredibly beautiful. Plus, the trail was quite flat unlike the hike waiting for us later that day. This was what we called our warm up, but to be honest, I don’t think anything could have prepared us for the hike that was to come.
Later that afternoon, we finally mustered up the courage to take on the Sealy Trans trail. We hoisted our heavy packs up onto our backs and got ready to make our way up, up, up.
If our plan had been to leave at the hottest hour of the day, then we really hit the nail on the head! Of course this was not our intent, but the show must go on.
Strike Two: “4. Leave early in the morning to beat the midday sun.”
The trail started with 2,200 uneven, inconsistent, man made stairs. Every few hundred steps there were some carved out words of encouragement…or was it discouragement?
“1642 to go”
Eventually, with the help of A LOT of water (yes, we did listen to tip #1), Beyoncé playing in the background, and the remarkable views pushing us forward, we made it up those 2,200 steps which put us just short of half way there.
On the next leg of our journey we navigated our way up steep alpine rock faces. It was the type of climb where all four limbs were essential in making any type of forward movement. We stumbled around, through, and over boulders, loose rock and just about every other terrain you could think of. We followed the “trail” which was really just the occasional orange marker protruding out of the ground. The orange markers popped up about every 50 meters. You couldn’t help but wonder if there was ever going to be an end.
As we ascended closer to the top of the mountain, I was nearly brought to tears by the sheer beauty of the land around me. Not only was I, hands down, in the most beautiful place that I had ever been, but there were also New Zealand’s only Alpine Parrots soaring above us, displaying the dazzling red underside of their bright green wings. AND on top of that, I was making these life long memories alongside people who merely two weeks ago I called strangers. I was speechless, utterly and completely speechless.
I shook off the awe and carried out the climb. We were in the homestretch and let me tell you, it was well worth the day of climbing to get up there. We stood at the top and stared in astonishment at avalanches of snow fall on surrounding mountains, crystal blue water glisten in glacial lakes below, and the sun set behind the mountains. We had finally made it to the top!
Little did we know that when the sun set the temperature was going to DROP and the wind was going to pick up- big time! I’m not talking about nice wind-chime-wind here. I am talking 70 mph WINDS. It was cold. Our crappy tents were really in for a test up there. We could do nothing, but remain positive!
Strike Three: “#3 LAYERS LAYERS LAYERS”
Unfortunately, our positive vibes could not beat those border-line tornado winds. All night the tents struggled against the powerful winds and flying rocks. They put up a good fight until one of the tents collapsed at 4 AM, leaving 5 of the 9 of us tentless. In a moment of desperation, they snuck into the hut and slept on the kitchen floor! Not one of us got a wink of sleep that night. As miserable as it sounds, however, each of us agreed that we would not wish to change a single thing that night. We laughed all night long at the absurdity of the conditions that we were facing.
We were cold. We were tired. And we were hungry. These words are typically the characteristics of misery, but in our case these words characterized our pure happiness.
This weekend was magnificent. Even with all the hiking and hard work I exerted to get to the top, I was confident that the muscle that would be the sorest the following days would be my smile-muscle. (I know- that is too corny!) Despite the fact that we got 3 strikes, I NEVER stopped smiling from the start to the finish. I wouldn’t change a single detail of this story and I know I will remember and cherish it forever.