By David Bleecker

The group’s spirits are high as we leave the North Island (Te Ika a Maui) of New Zealand, en route to the South Island (Te Wai Pounamu) via the Interislander ferry. Our last week was mostly spent trekking, caving, biking, and camping through National Park, a large area of protected wilderness in the heart of the North Island. Our five-day excursion was led by Blue Mountain Adventure Centre (henceforth referred to as BMAC).

Our first night was spent packing and preparing for the events of the next week, and we headed out early the next morning to start our first day in the park. With our backpacks loaded up, we set out on our first day of trekking. The weather was beautiful, and most of our time was spent on the designated trail. Towards the end, we were lead off the trail by Paddy and Tina, our two guides for the week. We camped that night at a remote spring, where we drank from the crystal clear water that bubbled up from beneath the earth.

Day two started bright and early, and we saddled up our backs for another day of trekking off-trail. Unfortunately, the beautiful weather of the previous day was nowhere to be found, and shortly after we departed, the rain and wind picked up as we gained elevation. By lunchtime, most people were soaking wet, but everyone pushed on with no complaining. Our guide Paddy told us previously about “type two fun”, when an experience might be unpleasant at the time, but will be remembered fondly after it’s over. Day two was definitely a “type two fun” sort of day. After roughly eight hours of trekking, we finally arrived at our campsite.

Day three began on an unpleasant note, with everyone in the group needing to put their still wet gear on from the previous day, but spirits picked up once we started moving. Thankfully, we only had a short distance to trek that day, and got to absail (a controlled descent down a cliff via rope, pulley, and harness) down the side of a gorgeous waterfall. After arriving back in civilization around 1:00 pm, we took BMAC’s vans to our campsite for the night, a hay barn a local farmer kindly let us use to get out of the rain. After setting up the tents, the group headed to a nearby cave system, where we kitted out in jumpsuits, helmets, and headlamps, and were lead by Paddy and Tina through a fascinated active cave system full of glow worms, tight squeezes, and the occasional cave Weta. Tired after a long day, the group headed back to the barn to make dinner and get an early night in preparation for the next day’s activity.

Waking up the morning of the fourth day, we were grateful for the shelter of the hay barn, as a powerful rainstorm had swept through over the night. After a quick breakfast, the group kitted out in gear for a day of mountain biking. After a brief drive, we worked as a team to get the bikes off the trailer and prepared to embark on the renowned 42 traverse, a 42-kilometer trail with numerous steep climbs and descents. Unfortunately, the previous night’s rain had turned the trail into a mud pit, and the group decided to turn around after six kilometers (and five hours of slogging through the muck). We piled into the vans around 3:00 pm and headed to our final campsite of the trip, right next to the river we would be rafting the next day.

After a 7:00 am wakeup, the group made a quick breakfast then put on the wetsuits, fleeces, water suits, and splash jackets BMAC had provided for us. We spent about an hour getting a thorough safety briefing, then split up between the two and four-person rafts that were provided and started rafting around 11:00 am. The next five or so hours were a blast, as we took in the wild beauty of the river between moments of exhilaration going down the rapids themselves. We ended our rafting adventure in the mid-afternoon, and after a quick change into dry clothes headed back to BMAC headquarters to finish our trip. After spending a few hours cleaning and returning the gear we used over the week, we ate a delicious dinner of lamb chops, mashed potatoes, and apricot cake for dessert. The fact that our group of 14 ate every bite of the 22 pounds of mashed potatoes we prepared is a testament to how hard we had pushed ourselves over the week.

Our last day in BMAC was spent repacking our backpacks, eating breakfast, and doing some culminating activities to reflect on the action-packed week we had just had. After a few final checks, we got back into the van and car and embarked on a 4 1/2 hour road trip to the capital of New Zealand in Wellington. We spent two nights at an awesome hostel in the city and got a brief taste of the food, fun, and culture in the city before boarding the ferry to head to the South Island, our final stretch in New Zealand.