Friends! I’m back, after an amazing couple of weeks away. The things I’ve seen! The digital sabbatical! (After no work calls on the first day, I figured all would be well. A good thing too, as from Christchurch on I had almost no coverage anywhere. No texts or calls, no emails, no news. I looked at my phone maybe every other day and let it drain down to dead in between. Glorious.) I hope you played nice with our guest posters (thanks again everyone).
I’m going to take some time to gather my thoughts into some kind of narrative, but in the meantime I shall leave you with my final story from my trip to Queenstown in August (yes, the one in which I went skydiving – it’s hard not to love your work when it brings such opportunities your way) in which I embark on a magical, once-in-a-lifetime frolic through the mountains where few get to go.
Picture this – it’s as perfect a day as anyone could wish for. Queenstown is beautiful year-round, but stunning weather elevates it beyond tourist trap to breathtaking beauty.
I’m staring out the window of a very nimble helicopter as we ascend the mountain slopes behind the airport, the houses, river and lake receding below. I’ve got dorky headphones on to help drown out the deep drone, but there’s no disguising the lightness and vibrations that are most decidedly unlike any aircraft I’ve sat in before.
We disembark on an untouched peak within the Remarkables, where all I can see is the sparkling of snow crystals dotting the ground all around us, glittering well into the distance where the snowy horizon meets azure sky. Our guide, Peter, cracks a joke about “bringing home diamonds” to his wife.
If your only experience of snow has been of overcrowded beginner ski slopes, then snowshoeing offers an entirely different perspective.
There’s the absolute silence. The crisp, clear, oh-so-pure mountain air. The knowledge that as you turn to look back over the trail you’ve forged, that they’ll remain there until next snowfall (or at least until the wind blows fresh snow over your path). The only signs of life were a series of rabbit prints, and, from a distance, another group traversing the slopes. Cross-country skiers favour this terrain, and school groups come up here, even building snow caves like this one…
We strap on the massive snowshoes – it feels kind of like snapping your feet into some kind of giant animal trap – and cut a swathe across the slopes, 1,000m above sea level (the others chuckle at the barely-there imprints I leave in my wake). A pause here and there to marvel at the views, with Peter pointing out shadows where there’s a risk of snowfall, spinning yarns about people who’ve survived avalanches, explaining why the snow appears blue in particularly deep spots.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more genial host than Peter, and he’s not short on cracker stories, from working security for Duran Duran to working with underprivileged students.
Seems he’s a pretty sharp tourism operator too, not only running these walks but also riffing on Bear Grylls mania by starting something called You vs Wild. He’ll even serve you up morning tea on the surface of a frozen lake, producing packets of bikkies, a stack of cups, a thermos, and sachets of tea, coffee, and sugar from his seemingly bottomless backpack.
Best of all, though, is that he’ll expertly dig out a series of perfectly rectangular ice blocks from the ground, forming a frosty seat of sorts to park your (hopefully well insulated) behind upon. And of course, we take everything that we brought onto the mountain back with us, packed neatly away into a Tupperware container, leaving nothing behind.
It’s all too easy to get caught up in the pressures and stresses of modern daily life. But as Peter puts it, there’s no better way to rebalance and recharge than to step away for a day or two and immerse yourself in the heart of our earth as we no longer see it.
“It puts it all in perspective.”
(Here’s a shaky video of the latter part of our descent from the Remarkables.)