I sat inside with a cup of tea, on the bench near the heater in the center of the room. The people around me seemed to already know each other. An older gentleman across the table from me was saying that no one in the hut was a Kiwi and that was a shame. He then suggested that we should all sing a song from our country. He and his son, Etienne were South African. Another couple was English, another Australian and a woman who was originally from Spain but had been living in New Zealand a while. I had been quietly listening and drinking my tea, feeling vaguely like I had crashed someones private party. Etienne turned to me and asked the standard opening question’ “So, where are you from?”. So the conversation turned to me for a while. Etienne’s father wanted me to tell them something about America, something special. Another person asked me if I knew any Obama jokes. Ah…I did. So I told them about the headline on the cover of the Onion. “Black man roaming the country asking for change.” None of them had heard it before and they all laughed. All native English speakers, so nothing lost in translation.
The hut journal from my night there:
Etienne and his father were both living and working in New Zealand. Being white, they felt that they were not wanted in their own country. After applying for 1200 jobs in South Africa, the father got the first job he applied for in New Zealand. Working with a bunch of other expatriate South Africans. He says there are 8 million South Africans in London. That should tell you something.
Etienne and his father sitting outside the hut:
I stood outside, transfixed in the cold watching the changing light over the mountains separating Lake Taupo from the littler, closer Lake Rotoaira.
Two time sequences from the sun setting. First, the wider(ish) views:
The closer view looking right from the hut deck:
As the sun was setting, people kept arriving and soon the hut was completely full. It was pretty hot inside, and busy. I was really tired and just wanted some quiet time alone. So I went outside and set up my tent. It was cold, but I figured with my long underwear, sweatshirt, and sleeping bag, I would be o.k. I had grabbed a solo bed near the door and next to the window. A nice one, I thought, as it wasn’t in a lineup of beds, side to side. I made an announcement that I was going out to a tent and someone could take my bed if they liked. A small group of people with headlamps on were gathering around the table for a game of cards. I had been ready for sleep for hours. My hips were sore from carrying the brunt of the weight, and my shoulders were sore from the rest of it. I think it was around 9pm when I headed off for the tent, seeking solitude and sleep.
It was slightly windy as usual, but not that bad. I slept for a few hours and was awoken by the cold. So I put the fleece on as well. I was completely entombed in the bag, zipped up around my head and tucked in. I have felt somewhat suffocated before in these bags, but not that night. I was happy for the total encasement. Despite all the clothes and the sleeping bag, I could still feel a draft around my legs. I wasn’t quite shivering, but I was too cold to sleep. The little travel clock my sister had leant me had a digital thermometer as well. It read 40 degrees, 3am. Thinking I didn’t want to end up one of those silly people they find frozen to death in their tents on the side of a mountain just feet from a warm hut, I gathered my bag and went in. A mattress was still leaning up against the wall near the door so I pulled it down under the stoves, wrapped myself up again and fell asleep.
The next morning I left behind the tent and walked back up the trail an hour until I could see Mt. Ngaurahoe. They day was sunny and clear. And Mt. Doom was out for all to see. I knew Roland was on the track somewhere, so I sat near the blue lake and rested a while. I bundled up thinking I would nap in the sun, but before too long I was too cold. Walking is the best way to fix that so I headed back to the hut. The track was jammed with people today. When I got to the hut they were streaming in. That’s when I remembered it was Saturday. Like an unbroken line of ants they continued to descend the switchbacks to the hut for the next two hours. I was really glad I had done the walk the day before.
A cloud trying to disguise itself as steam:
The sign for the walk back to the carpark said it would take an hour and a half. Since most of the signs before seemed exaggerated, I decided at 1:30pm that I wanted to try to catch the 3pm bus back, as opposed to the 4:30pm one. I had had enough of lounging around in the sun at the hut and wanted to get back to the hostel, mostly to do a load of laundry. I had lost hope of finding Roland in this crowd.
After about 45 minutes of walking, the track descended into the bush, where it continued under a canopy of green. Track maintenance was going on along a large portion, so big white bags filled with wood and other materials were sitting at different points along the way. Since there were multiple signs warning one not to approach the helicopters, I assume all this heavy equipment was brought in that way. Every time I turned a corner thinking the carpark would be there, the path just continued on. There was a lovely stream rushing by, with baby waterfalls. But 3pm was quickly approaching and I started to worry I wouldn’t get there in time to catch the bus. This time the sign was spot on, if not slightly underestimated. Maybe a ranger’s practical joke?
As soon as I emerged from the bush I saw Roland. I waved but he looked right through me. Perhaps not recognizing me? I walked closer, doublechecking and he walked away. Funny, I have definitely done that with new people I have just met. Not recognizing them the next time I see them when I am not expecting to see them. I hit him lightly on the arm with my hat and said hello. He looked surprised then recognition passed across his face. I asked him how the hike was and he sort of dismissively said “It was just a walk.” Ah, the Swiss. Hard to impress people with the Alps in their backyards. Later he said he had been annoyed by the constant stream of people, and couldn’t even walk at his normal pace.
The bus driver remembered my name as I got on, most likely because I had made a point of telling him the day before that I was not catching the bus back that afternoon. I didn’t want anyone wondering where I was. When I got off the bus and said thank you to him, he said “You’re welcome, Beth.” A friendly touch.
I was so tired that night I was in my bed by 8pm, reading Dervla’s travel book. I was sound asleep shortly thereafter. And arose at 6am with my three dormmates who were getting up to do the crossing themselves.