Friday, May 1, 2009

Hiking, fever and caving

Covering March 20th to 25th

Friday I got up early and took a bus out to the Tongariro National Park to do the Tongaririo Crossing - a one day hike through a volcanic landscape, passing Mt. Ngauruhoe, famous for portraying Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. I met up with the canadians and after a brisk few hours we arrived at the foot of Mt Ngauruhoe and decided to start the ascend. We knew we'd be pressed for time. The climb was extremely taxing but who could resist climbing Mt Doom?
The further hike wound through landscapes ranging from mordor to mars with a huge range of colours in between.

It was windy at the crater
Some people wanted to feel more... liberated. Who am I to judge.
Trying to look peaceful on a ledge like that was not easy.

I'd been struggling with a slight fever all day keeping it down with painkillers, but about two hours before the end of the track it came back full force. It literally knocked me off my legs.
My canadian companions went ahead to catch their bus and I found myself sitting alone on a rock wondering how the hell I'd ever get myself to the end of the track. This time I didn't hear no guardian angels, and despair crept into my thoughts. I hated myself for not being able to complete the track, and I wondered what I'd do if I didn't make it to the bus.

Eventually, a group passed me and asked if I was ok. I explained my situation and they said that, if all else failed, they could take me in their car. I followed them on as my last painkillers had set in, and just having someone in front of me at a steady pace was so much easier than walking alone. As it turned out I caught the last bus, and in the evening the canadians drove me to Te Kuiti. When we arrived I was sweating with fever and all my strength had left me. With no-one there to look after me (the canadians drove on), fever hallucinations was not something I cared for. Who knew what I might do!
I didn't care for a dorm in my state. I wanted to be alone. I wanted a fortress. A place where I could make my stand against the fever.
I spent four days battling what turned out to be a foodpoisoning. I was on three different prescription drugs, each designed to deal with a different aspect of the ungodly things my body was doing. I shan't trouble you with them here, but they were nasty! The self-prescribed painkillers I'd been taking the first day turned out to be a big mistake, as the doctor told me they'd probably made it worse. Sleep was hard to come by which made the whole experience much harder to cope with.
Sunday morning, I realized to my dismay that my brother's birthday was the day before.

The owner of the backpackers took me to town whenever I needed to see the doctor or buy food, which was very kind of him. It was always offered and never expected.
Each evening I had myself a divine barbeque and I was treated to four majestic sunsets. New Zealand lamb is some of the best I've ever tasted, and it was very cheap too. On the fourth night, two american girls arrived and their company lifted my spirits somewhat.

The night between tuesday and wednesday I had my first untroubled sleep and woke up as healthy as ever. Literally overnight. A strange feeling of accomplishment came over me, and I wondered at it as I couldn't really think of anything I'd done to kill the fever except take my pills, rest and wait. I realized that this was the first time in my life I'd taken care of myself completely without help from my family, and yet I survived. To my body at least, I'm a decent mechanic.

It felt like the disease had given me tabula rasa - a clean slate. I'd had so much time to think and relax that I felt like a new person. Suddently the thought struck me that I could now replace a lot of the good advice I'd been offered with my own experience.

Feeling completely fresh I did what I came to Waitomo to do. I went caving. The Waitomo area is renowned for its caves and there are many tours available. I wanted to do an adventurous one, but I didn't feel like getting wet in icy water right after my feverish ordeal, so I skipped out of the one I'd originally settled for. Instead, I booked a tour with a guy who called his company Green Glow . That turned out to be a real find. This man had just started out his caving tours. In fact, it was so new that I was only the seventh group. Best thing of all? The only person in the "group" was me! The caves he's using were laid out in a way that gave complete freedom of choice for what to do. Instead of doing a preset trek, it was completely up to me what I wanted to do. We started out doing 3½ hours of rockclimbing, then two 30 meter abseils, and then we went into the caves. Even though his flyer said 'tours up to six hours', we were having so much fun that he decided he'd show me the whole thing. We ended up spending close to 8 hours.

The sexy caving look. How could you possibly improve it?

...By adding a helmet of course!

I half expected Gollum to be hiding somewhere around here.

Whenever I've booked a tour in NZ, I've had that nagging feeling that if only I'd had more time I would have done differently. I would have hooked up with a group of locals going to the glacier, or found a fellow dive enthusiast, or met up with a group of rockclimbers. This was the first tour that really felt intimate. Here I had an enthusiastic kiwi who was showing me his backyard. That feeling alone was half the trip, and for 100$ this tour gave infinitely more bang for the buck than any other tour in the area. If you want to see caves in New Zealand, this is where you should do it!

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