German-born Eva Starostka is a tourism student from The Netherlands, in New Zealand to write her thesis and gain work experience.
The first day was very nice and informative. I got to know Michelle, a wonderful lady, full of happiness, knowledge and joy. She made me feel at home. But can you feel home at work? Yes, you can! They are all so laid back... not wearing suits to work as I expected, or, let's say as my mom expected.
After work I realized that I had to pack my backpack and get ready for the hiking trip that was departing in two days from Auckland. Totally stressed out I checked the dossier which mentioned all the important information you need to know for the trip, including the "what to take" list. I started to read it... hiking boots: check (although... getting enormous blisters after walking a few kilometres), spare shoes: check, drink bottle: check, shorts: check, sunscreen and sunglasses: check, insect repellent: check... pause. Then I slowly started to look around my room until I stopped and stared at my wardrobe: blouses, jeans, jackets, dresses, jumpers and some sweatshirts (thanks to my mom who insisted I pack only neat clothes as I will work in the office). Unfortunately I couldn't find any warm hat, waterproof raincoat, and warm fleece, not to mention a backpack of 60 litres or a sleeping bag.
At the same time I heard someone shouting my name. Dan was sitting in the living room with a pile of clothes and a backpack - thank God.
On Tuesday morning Anne drove me to the airport so I could catch my plane to Auckland. The weather was amazing and the sky was so clear. I had an incredible view from the airplane. I saw mountains (which I climbed up a few days later), lakes, forests and the ocean. After meeting Malcolm, who is the other owner of Hiking New Zealand, we drove to the base where I helped with the preparations for the trip. There, I also got to meet Kath for the first time (our guide for the trip). Kath... wow... she has such an amazing personality. Her smile, happiness and openness reminded me of a hippie from the 1960s.
Let's hit the road
Sitting in the taxi on the way to the Sky Tower in Auckland, I was very excited and curious. What is it going to be like? What will the Singaporean girls be like? Are we going to have fun with them?
The first impression was great! But what were their names again? Oh gosh, why am I always so bad at remembering names? It was something like cauliflower and char, but never mind; I tried to avoid using them until I was sure of their names.
After a short chat we hit the road to Rotorua, where we got the chance to enjoy the overwhelming smell of rotten eggs (sulphur smell due to the thermal activity underground). But Rotorua not only attracts visitors because of the smell, but also because of its history, hot springs, lakes, forests and much more.
We stopped at a shelter next to a forest lake close to the Whirinaki rainforest to have our first lunch together and to pack our backpacks for the next two nights. Our first lesson on how to pack our backpack went well. I felt like a little kid again. "Kath, should I take these socks or the other ones? Should I wear the waterproof pants? What about my hat and sunscreen?" Whatever question Kath got, she always answered right away and gave us advice.
Once we were finished packing we drove to the entrance of the Whirinaki Forest Park. Kath showed us a map and explained where we would be staying the next couple of nights and days. It was time to start the walk!
We entered the park. I was overwhelmed right away. Magic. I looked around and felt like a tiny human, NO, a little ant, walking between humongous trees, beech trees. Wherever I looked I saw different shades of green I hadn’t considered possible. During the hike the colours changed constantly from green to brown. I have never seen such a contrast of green and brown before. It was breathtaking. We were in another world, or in a movie? Couldn't be true!
After approximately three hours we arrived at Vern's camp where we decided to stay overnight. We collected firewood, lit the fire, prepared our sleeping places and started to cook. During dinner we had a chance to get to know each other much more, especially while making up the craziest stories about men with long black hair riding unicorns on an island. With the sound of crackling firewood and the river, I fell asleep.
When all hope is lost Hiking New Zealand can save your day
"Wakey, wakey... WAKEY, WAKEY!!!" Ok, I guess it's time to wake up.
After having breakfast and packing our backpacks we started our next walk. We followed the valley beside the magnificent Whirinaki River until we met Arne from Germany, who came into our way. Arne was hiking by himself and was apparently lost, only because he didn't want to get his shoes wet. After Kath explained to him the way and offered for him to join us, he finally decided to be part of the powerful group of women (until then he didn't know that we were a bit crazy). A few hours later we stopped. We stopped right in front of a river. Finally it was time for lesson two: river crossing. While I felt like jumping up and down, Arne seemed a bit concerned and was looking around to find another trail in order to avoid the water. He had no success. Also, jumping didn't really help. Our shoes were wet, really wet. But it felt great. We enjoyed every single step we made in the river. At least I did.
Early in the evening we arrived at the Mangamate Hut, where we again collected firewood, which was quite hard as it was pouring with rain and each piece of wood we found was wet. After eating dinner Kath introduced us to the card game "shit head" (only because she was the best in that game).
Walking through the river made me feel like a hero
It was 7:45 am when I put my shoes on. Still soaking wet. We didn't mind, actually we couldn't wait to jump into the water again (which was freezing cold). It didn't even take us half an hour and we were back in the river. We felt powerful. In reality, we felt like heroes... nothing could get in our way. And yes, even Arne felt like that.
We arrived at the track exit after about five hours, said goodbye to Arne and drove to Rotorua, where we had a swim in a natural hot river hidden in the bush. This time we felt much more comfortable in Rotorua as the rotten egg smell seemed to match our smell after hiking 35 kilometres without a shower.
To be continued...