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Mt Cook & Kea Point: 10 Years Of Pilgrimage – Part Two


“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” – Sir Edmund Hillary

Our journey began here – yesterday and ten years ago. Having spent three years studying theology and philosophy, I naturally spent a further four years training as an accountant. Qualification under my belt, I elected to leave the big smoke far behind me. I travelled Asia for a month and a half, visiting family and enjoying epic adventures with my sister, who has no equal on land or sea. I then hopped over to America and drove the West Coast, top down and volume up, freedom flying through my hair again and scratching the itch under my skin. Then, finally, I made it back to the land that first sang to my soul. Just in time for the start of the rugby world cup 2011.

No amount of mediocre performance from England could dull the joy of being back here, nor the happiness at finding the country much as I’d left it all those years ago. I felt like it had been frozen in time, untouched, just waiting for me to return. I delighted in taking my travelling companions back to old haunts, including, of course, Aoraki Mt Cook. I went twice during that world cup, in between matches, taking the different friends I was with just to witness them soak it in while we tramped about together. I marvelled all over again, treading the track to Kea Point each trip and breathing the wonder of the snowy mountain scenery. September and October saw flakes in the air and a bite in the wind. Dramatic to say the least.

Also dramatic was witnessing the All Blacks take it home at Eden Park and win the world cup – just epic. I was pretty sure this was where I wanted to be. But I’d started this madcap mission after a secondment to work in Australia fell through – so to Australia I went. I loved Sydney. I unashamedly followed the beaten path and moved to the beach. The Northern Beaches deserve a series of posts unto themselves. Two things of moment happened there in the first 2 weeks – I nearly died from anaphylaxis and I met my partner in crime, who’s been a part of my adventures ever since (watch this space for a blog post titled Life of Cai).

Much as I loved Sydney and becoming Tom Cruise in Cocktail, shimmying Boston shakers on the beach, I still itched. It wasn’t just wanderlust-  somewhere else was calling me to call it home, and I knew where it was.

January of 2012, my mother chose to join my cousin on a trip to New Zealand for her sixtieth birthday and I flew from Sydney to join them. I jumped in a car as soon as I landed, driving through the night to reach Queenstown, where I now call home. We had less than a week, but I wanted to show Mum the best of New Zealand and try and communicate just why I was wandering – why I was out here. Our road trip took us to Marlborough… via Mt Cook. We walked to Kea Point. In the rain. Myself in flip flops (/jandals – and yes, after several trips there, I should have known better). Mum loved it despite the lack of view. The scenery was still as seductive as ever. 

I went back to Sydney and picked up my beach life. But it seemed a little pale compared to the mountains and lakes I’d been loving the week before. I agreed to meet a friend back in New Zealand for the snow season, and I decided I’d stay. But first, there was an Ozzie road trip and, of course, Bella… 

Have you ever felt a call to a particular place? Known where you belonged? Travelled far just for a particular feeling? Stand by for part three tomorrow – I seem to have a lot to say (here’s the ending) 🙂

Mt Cook & Kea Point: 10 Years Of Pilgrimage – Part One

299384_952657130680_1286931103_n“It is an act of worship just to sit and look at high mountains.” – Sir Edmund Hillary

I’ve been neglecting you all, and I’m sorry. Time isn’t just flying – it’s a peregrine falcon in a dive. I don’t know where it goes. It did stand still for a moment, however, and let me make an escape on the Easter weekend. I hope you all managed to take a break too. I’ve missed a couple of posts, so here’s a two, no, three-parter. I did a lot of thinking on the weekend, and it wants to come out in words.

Aoraki Mt Cook (‘cloud piercer’ in Maori) sits majestically in the middle of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s the tallest mountain in the country, at 3,754 metres, and a four hour foray from my humble abode in Queenstown, through breathtaking scenery. Sir Edmund Hillary cut his teeth there – he’s the one famous for climbing some other mountain and being the only New Zealander to appear on a bank note in his lifetime (he insisted it be Mt Cook that appear on its background).

As I skipped along the track to Kea Point and a view of the peak, I realised I’d first stepped on its slats ten years ago now, almost to the month. I counted the number of times I’d visited this sanctuary in that time, hoping to count to ten (much as you might raise an eyebrow, I do appreciate a little order and symmetry in life). Although I tried to distort the stats by counting times I’d driven past and enjoyed the view from afar, the number of times I actually went into the wilds of the national park and trod to Kea Point came to eight. I realised both how much my life changed in between those trips and how little my experience of Mt Cook did. No matter how many times I’ve dropped by to say hi, the mountain has always taken my breath away. The glacier may be receding and my life may be ever-changing, but the important things don’t change. Nature reigns there, in all its glory, and the national park remains a place you can find beauty seeping through all your senses.

My first visit was during my gap year, around this time back in 2004. I’d finished school, spent six months living in Singapore with my cousin’s family, working for a shipping company, and was now with one of the best travelling companions to be found, scrambling across the islands without a care in the world. 2004 was the first time I’d truly felt free – New Zealand was the first place. That trip to Mt Cook we couldn’t afford to both eat well and sleep in a bed, so we decided to share a buffet dinner and to drive through the night. First, we walked to Kea Point. Darkness fell as we approached the end of the track and you could see the stars standing out above the monarch’s snowy silhouette. The bad news was that my camera battery died the moment I called upon it. The good news was that I already knew I’d be back someday. We hit the road after midnight, the plan of driving through the night slightly railroaded by running out of petrol and having to camp outside the nearest town’s petrol station until it opened at 7.30.

I didn’t return for seven and a half years. In the meantime, I went to Cambridge, gained a degree, and transitioned easily into the big-city-life of London Town, working for Ernst & Young. But both freedom and New Zealand remained on my mind. When I decided to change career and country / quit, there were many who called me crazy. There were some who accused me of wanting to relive, or at least recall, the glory of my gap year, and who warned me it would never work. There were others who couldn’t believe I was swan-diving off the corporate ladder and into oblivion. Even I wasn’t sure what I was doing. Initially, all I knew was that I wanted to be in New Zealand for the rugby world cup, so I went…

Have you ever stuck to a decision that made other people call you crazy? Do you have a place of peace you can always go and find beauty / a boost? I’ll be back tomorrow – I’ve found ten years is too long to squeeze into one post (here’s the second) :p