Tarawera Trail Hike, 35km plus the 8km walk from the city Rotorua to the trail head.
I have developed a love hate relationship with the jungle. The past few days have been far from love. The thick moist air densely pours into my lungs, the constant mist sprinkles my hair and face, the humidity squeezing out every drip of salt in me out of my pores, spider webs string across the trail, trees grow in very direction, weaved bark and moss to create a claustrophobic cage. The density. Thickness. Each part of the jungle weaves together and any space is filled with moss. The native Cabbage Trees falling, brown and black, their dead remains pour and slide across the landscape. Trees growing straight out the hillside each of their moss covered branches reaching towards the lake like desperate fingers searching. A jungle so dense that as I walk I hear the thick, pounding, familiar noises of a waterfall and when I look down into the valley I only see bush curtaining the beauty. Just a rumbling. So dense that I walk along the trail and I know there is a lake on both sides of me, I know I’m hiking out onto a peninsula but the green refuses to show the blue. All while the clouds seem to sink heavier on me.
I’m never alone. The birds sing tauntingly to me as I walk or startle me as they fly away after I startle them. Their is always a noise. One bird seems to sing the opening tune to Sesame Street while a swan on the lake pounds it’s wings into the still water to show it’s territory, a rabbit scurries by, a dead branch from a Cabbage Tree falls, and a gust of wind rumbles through the forest disrupting each still twig, leaf, branch. Sometimes there are human-made view points, the jungle cut down the hillside so people can see beyond the green. So I can see the astonishingly still water that’s begs to be compared to glass, the hills that shake wildly with the faintest breeze. One open window, but then the trails carves back into the hillside.
The jungle wraps me tightly with it’s vines, trees, moss and the birds squawk as my guards. Stuck. Then I see a lighter green moss, vibrant, illuminating the gloriously white roots that weave up and under the green. Almost perfectly flat and three feet wide, a natural trail that is too beautiful to step on. The path is tunneled with trees encasing it, curving and stretching, connecting. For a moment the dead Cabbage Trees don’t matter, the birds are simply chirping and not taunting and the green in front of me is all I need to see. I’m instantly reminded of the beauty. My feet step on the soft moss, a break from the sand gravel mixture that I’ve been walking on all day. The green moss and white branches lead me to a pocket in the jungle, richly green. The forest floor vibrant and not brown with dead Leaves and trees, the plants alive with a green that is made from the clear water twists and carves through it. Twin Streams, a half way point on the trail. The two streams danced playfully next to each other as they paralleled each other to their converging point. Their crystal blue water lit up the hole in the jungle. Opened the air. Brightened the green. I stood where the streams merged back into one and sat on the moist moss. Gently and tactfully took off my blister-inducing sneakers, peeled off my socks and hesitantly put my feet into the perfect water. The cold water poured over and under my feet through the gaps between my toes. I didn’t move or make a sound. It was too beautiful to be real the water too clear the timing too perfect. A heavier breathe or a quick move would make it all disappear. So I sat where the twins reunited. My eyes lost in the bottom of the stream, looking at every single pebble and rock. Watching clear pour and carve through dense greens. Clear waves that whitened in the rapids. I got up and put on my painful sneakers, grabbed my Camelback bladder from my bag, and filled it with the clearest water I’ve ever seen. I looked at it through the thick blue plastic feeling like I had captured something like this water was meant to stay in the streams, this water was too good for me it wasn’t meant for consumption, just beauty. The humidity and hills of the jungle made me. I pulled out my Aquamira to purify it, but it felt like I was infecting it. I poured the yellow chemical mixture into the crisp water.
I left Twin Streams and was reminded of the love I have for the jungle. How the leaves flake and cocoon around me, encasing me blissfully in green. I see all the little things, the patches of different mosses, the interconnected branches roofing over me and I hear the leaves crinkle and crack as they flow with the wind. I embrace the rolling hills and don’t look for the blue that’s impossible to see, rather I just look at the green in front of me. At the end of my walk the jungle opened up and the forest floor began to be a thick moss with thin white trees growing straight up, delicately, intricately, peacefully. I found myself in the fairy land I have always dreamed of growing up. I breathed lightly and stepped gently as I watched the curtains if thin, transparent, webbed green moss float in the air and hang from the branches. The trees stopped and the moss transitioned into sand. All I could see was blue with a green border, Lake Tarawera; contradictorily calm to the forest. The wind lost in the bordering green leaving the blue lake still. I felt a warm moist breeze through my cold, wet, sweaty shirt and saw steam rising from where the cliffs met the lake. The hot springs. I sat down right at the trail end and cooked my meal of tuna and couscous, each bite deliciously salty. As I ate I dug my feet into the wet sand. Digging deeper and feeling warm bursts erupt under my tired, tender feet, then hot bursts so I covered them with sand and let them heal in the warmth. I ate and watched the sun fill the clouds with the final colors of the day and the lake sink into a dark blue.
That night I slept on the deepest moss I’ve ever felt, so soft that my body didn’t ache from having no sleeping pad like other nights. My body sunk into the earth. Still and content. All the aches from the day soaked away in the hot spring. The air was cold as I ran back to my tent to swiftly slide into my sleeping bag to capture the warmth. Cocooned again. The next day I’d have the same battle and dance with the jungle. I woke up to see the clouds filled with pinks and oranges as the sun rose over the densely green hills and later felt the clouds drizzled onto my sweaty face. I saw Twin Streams again and I saw all the dead Cabbage Trees.