Still, operating under the philosophy that your life should be about what you want to be and not what you have been, I decided to quit my corporate office and opera-singing career and backpack solo for three months in the South Island.
I figured Abel Tasman would be the easiest starter tramp, and for three glorious, sun-filled days I was right. On the trail I passed elderly women in white tennis shoes, three baby strollers, and a man hopping along on crutches. I applied sunscreen, stopped for numerous swims in back bays, and pitched my tent under a full moon at night. It was all sublime.
Stung by a bee
On the third night I arrived at Onetahuti Bay to a festive, cramped campsite. I drank boxed red wine courtesy of a young couple from Nelson, and slept the sleep of the exhausted and tipsy. I woke in the morning to an otherworldly sensation – my arms floating upward on water, which had completely flooded my tent. The sound of the downpour was frighteningly loud, but then I heard even louder cursing coming from the tent next to mine.
“You’d better come with us,” the woman shouted. “Only an hour and a half to Totaranui, and then we can get the hell out of here on a water taxi. We’ll soon be watching DVDs in Nelson!”
The rest of the camp was deserted. I jumped out of my tent and got blasted by water. Trying to work fast, I reached behind my fly to unhook it. Immediately I felt a sharp pain in my hand. “I think I got stung by a bee,” I yelled out, trying to be heard over the water.
“Are you allergic?” she yelled.
“I don’t think so,” I replied, though inside I panicked, because I remembered a terrible swelling that sealed my eyes shut when I was 12. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
A wet half an hour of running down the trail with heavy packs, and the three of us were standing at an orange marker, staring blankly off into the surf. There was no trail left, just the ocean, huge swells of it battering the rocks. My arm, meanwhile, had tripled in size and I couldn’t release my grip on my walking stick.
“C’mon, sweets,” the man said. “We’ll go overland. Don’t worry; I do this all the time.”
His partner took my pack off my back and puts it on hers, and we were suddenly plunging upwards into deep, impenetrable jungle, gnarly root systems and thick vines. At one point I slid 10 metres, and was saved from flying off the cliff by my ankle getting wrapped in a vine.
At every step I wanted to cry out, “Wait, I can’t do this, I have cerebral palsy. I’m not strong like you!” But I just kept going. We fought it out for a few terrifying hours and somehow made it back to the beach, to the safety of the water taxi, hospital, and antihistamines.
On top of the world
About a month later I went on a shorter tramp, the Rob Roy Valley Walk near Wanaka. I had just started out from the carpark, through stunning alpine scenery, when my legs started to spasm.
I sat down on the close side of the swing bridge, not even having made it to the trailhead, and started to cry with frustration. But as I rubbed my feet and tried not to glare at the trampers streaming past me, I realised the problem was my boots. They were too heavy on my still-sore ankle. So I threw them into my pack and continued up the rocky path barefoot.
Two hours later, breathless, I sat at the top of the trail in the wildflowers, sunlight hitting the magnificent glacier before me. Suddenly, blocking my light, is the same man who struggled through the bush with me in Abel Tasman. The hardened tramper took a long look at me, feet caked in mud, and said gravely, “Very impressive.”
Maybe it was the rapid gain in altitude, but right then, I felt on top of the world.
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Photo: Erica Crompton, facebook.com/LakeWanakaNZ