Turangi, NZ

I flew halfway across the world to travel around the North Island of New Zealand with a childhood friend of mine, Kendra. Her family lived across the street from mine in the small town of Ames, Iowa. The last time we saw each other was briefly a few years after my family left Iowa, at the age of 7. We had been AIM friends as little girls and once Facebook became a thing, we connected there and managed to stay in touch over the years. Kendra had been living in Auckland on a working-holiday visa and I offhandedly mentioned how I’d love to visit. The rest was history.

So here I was traveling to a foreign country with someone I hardly knew, but I couldn’t have been more excited. We instantly reconnected and started our adventure by heading towards Turangi, NZ with a pit stop at Huka Falls and Lake Taupo. It was incredibly rainy, but Huka Falls was gorgeous. The water was a cool blue, cobalt color and was crashing through the narrow Waikato River bed. Waikato River is New Zealand’s longest river and it drains Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake. Lake Taupo was an impressive site as well, although the cold wind and rain definitely weren’t fun to battle. So, we kept driving onward to Turangi.

Upon arriving in Turangi, we checked in to our lodge. Creel Lodge was a very comfortable and cozy place to stay. There were flowers blooming all around our cabin, and birds flying and chirping all over the property. We had chosen to stay in Turangi so that we could make it over to Tongariro National Park for the alpine crossing hike. After checking in at an “i-site” (an information hub) we discovered we would not be able to do the hike until a day after we had originally planned, due to poor weather conditions. This meant we had to stay an extra day in Turangi, which wound up being a massive blessing in disguise, as it gave us an opportunity to explore other areas of Tongariro we hadn’t originally planned on seeing.

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CO>>LA>>NZ

October 29th, 2015. The time had come! My trip to New Zealand by way of Los Angeles was finally here. I would be spending three nights in LA with two of my close college buddies, after which I would be boarding a 17 hour flight to Auckland, NZ.

It was starting to get pretty chilly in Denver when I boarded my flight to LA, so the warm California temperatures were slightly comforting to this Florida girl. Upon landing, a friend of mine who had been traveling around the states, picked me up and we headed to over to Venice Beach. Venice was full of interesting characters and fun booths selling various artwork and nick-knacks. After lunch we drove over to a beach in Malibu and walked around the somewhat rocky shoreline. There were quite a few surfers out in the water, but the waves seemed unusually tame for what I imagined California beach waves to be. We meandered along, admiring the luxurious beach front homes and eventually made our way back towards Hollywood, where a mutual friend of ours, who works on a couple Showtime series as a set designer, lived.

From his studio apartment, we could take a walk down Sunset Boulevard or catch the subway to another part of town. Sunset Boulevard was an experience all in its own, from impressive street performers to a questionable man selling baby turtles in jars, the hustle and bustle was all very exciting and very different than my slow paced Denver life. We made several stops in the massive record store, Amoeba, which I absolutely loved! It was so much fun picking out records and jamming out to them back at the apartment! We had a fun-packed few days, catching a bluegrass concert, the Gator football game at the local Florida alumni bar, and celebrating Halloween at a small house party.

My flight to Auckland came quickly and soon I was flying miles and miles over the Pacific Ocean. Flying with Air New Zealand was a novel experience for me. It was so nice! We had pillows and blankets, a personal t.v. with more shows and movies than you could possibly expect to make an easy selection from, and free dinner, breakfast, and wine. After an exceptionally long flight and more sleep than I expected to get, the plane finally touched down in Auckland. To my surprise, I was arriving in the country at the same time as their famous All Blacks rugby team. They had just gotten home from winning the World Cup and there were thousands of people awaiting their arrival at the airport. This caused a bit of a hiccup for me, as I was meeting a girl friend of mine that I had not seen in over 15 years. Somehow we found each other with ease despite the mad house, and my two week adventure of New Zealand’s North Island began.

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My First 14er

I decided I had to hike my first Colorado “fourteener.” It was something that was very personal for me, and I figured I had done enough steep incline hikes that my body could handle the physical challenge.

That morning, Bella and I woke up early so we could get to Mt. Bierdstadt in time to complete the hike before the afternoon storms rolled in. The drive up Guanella Pass was beautiful and I was shocked to see there was snow covering the entire area of the mountain! It was so warm and sunny when I had left Denver. At the start of the hike it was 30 degrees and I couldn’t believe there were people in shorts doing the hike. However, about an hour into it, I had gotten so hot, I was wishing I had a tee shirt to layer down to.

Everyone on the trail was so friendly and always stopped to ask about Bella and how she was handling the hike. I laughed each time and responded, “A whole heck of a lot better than I am!” It was hard. A lot harder than I expected. I have been uber sensitive to altitude my entire life but still managed to underestimate its effects on me at 13,000+ feet. I was also worried about the storms that were supposed to hit in the early afternoon. I had read plenty about how weather at high altitudes comes in quick and about how several people had been struck by lightning at Bierdstadt a few months ago. I thought very seriously about turning around and how no one would know because I was by myself. The problem was, I would know.

So I sat down and snacked on a Clif bar and some apple slices to regain some energy. A fellow hiker, who had already passed me once, was on his way back down and assured me I had plenty of time to make it to the top and back down. So I got up and put one foot in front of the other. Bella and I made it to the rocky summit a little bit later. I had to help lift her over ice and snow covered rocks. It was a great experience in trust for the both of us. At the top, I popped opened a beer, which proceeded to explode everywhere, in celebration. I was so proud of myself and so excited of what I had just accomplished. Not many people can lay claims to an achievement such that.

People have a tendency to quit things when they’re by themselves or on their own. There’s no one there to motivate them or push them to accomplish their goals. On my way down the mountain I had a revelation of sorts. This move of mine across the country had taught me how to persevere through hard times and to be confident in my abilities to fend for myself. I truly believe everyone should do something that scares them at least once in their life, completely on their own. It doesn’t count if you do it with another person, because you will always have that crutch, that safety net of having someone you know by your side. Do something by yourself and make it challenging. Travel somewhere far on your own, move somewhere new, hike a scary mountain by yourself, start a new hobby or take a fun class on your own. If it makes you nervous or scared, that’s a good thing! You will discover so much about yourself when it is only you that you can rely on.

That day, I hiked a 14,000 ft mountain by myself in a state where I knew next to nobody. I struggled with my thoughts, telling me I might not make it, but I did. I trekked straight up that mountain side, through a foot of melting snow, crawled over frozen rocks, lifted my 90lb dog up some of those icy rocks, and even fell flat on my back on that slushy, muddy trail. And I cried. I cried and I laughed and it was amazing.

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Royal Arch Trail

Exhausted. That’s the only word that could possibly describe my mental and physical state going into this hike. It was a beautiful day and I was determined to stick to my goal of exploring different hikes on my off days from work. So, Bella and I began a very slow incline through Chautauqua Park. I’m not sure why I was so worn out, but I had to stop every couple stair style steps up and catch my breath. I was pretty frustrated but figured I had all day so I might as well take my time and enjoy the beautiful sights. The trail winded through many pine trees and up through red colored rocky formations. Towards the end, a section of the trail got to where you were really having to climb over some steep slabs of rock and Bella got a little nervous. It’s a beautiful thing, the relationship you develop during activities which require you to put your trust in an another living being. She was able to allow me to help her down and push her up some undoubtedly scary looking rocks.

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The views from the top of the trail were well worth the hike up and the frustration that came from being so tired. I could see all of Denver and Boulder, and the arch itself was something impressive to look at. As I was scanning the rocks for somewhere to relax for snack time, I noticed a small notebook was tucked into one of the crevices. It was beautiful. Someone had left behind a journal for hikers to write in as they so pleased. There was one story I found that really touched my heart.

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It was simple but inspiring. I had just moved across the country myself, something that I had always wanted to do, but had just now found the courage to do. It was so scary, yet here I was a couple weeks later, confident that it truly was the best decision I had ever made. I don’t know the person who wrote this journal entry, but I want to thank you. Your simple story made me smile and feel like I was definitely in the right place at the right time. So, I entered my own short inscription and put the journal away for another hiker to enjoy.

I broke out several different snacks for Bella and I.  I am a big advocate for dog snacks on trails, because if I get hungry, I know she’s hungry, especially since she does at least twice the amount of running around that I do. It wasn’t long before we were joined by two chipmunk friends. I couldn’t believe how unafraid they were! Bella just sat watching them run around and I offered them pieces of my snacks. I’m sure there’s something to be said for not feeding the wildlife, but they were so cute and cheeky I couldn’t resist. A fellow hiker took an awesome photo of my interaction with the chipmunk that he so kindly emailed me later.

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I gathered our things and we descended back down to Boulder to meet up with a visiting friend from Gainesville. It was a great hike and great day and I would definitely do this hike again, especially with friends or family from out of town. It is challenging, but it’s a wonderful spot to quickly get away and view the city from a distance.

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