Last month I travelled to Wellington to speak at Webstock Mini conference and to volunteer behind-the-scenes at the FullCodePress international website-in-a-day event. Between the conference and the geek-a-thon I had a day to myself. Rather than visit museums and city sites, I wanted to get out to see some of the countryside.
This is my story of how I got lost in the jungle, and survived. Just. (Read Part 1)
In Search of a Summit
After wandering around the back streets of Paraparaumu looking for something — anything, really — that read “Hiking Trail,” I finally stumbled upon a gate with some signage that gave me hope. Granted, the font used was rather small, and the sign was so covered in mud that it was barely legible, but it was a start! The sign read:
Nikau Reserve entrance
That was enough for me! I’d finally found a path to follow that was lined with grass and dirt, rather than the concrete that I had persisted with to this point. With the adrenalin in my veins overriding the pain in my leg, I opened the gate and began my journey to, well, I had no idea — hopefully the top of a hill.
Calling the “path” ahead of me a path would be extremely generous. It was more like a paddock that a tractor had travelled over a few times to clear the grass out the way — a marshy paddock. I pressed on, and the rain came down harder, the ground got muddier, and the grass got higher. Eventually I abandoned all hope of having a trail to even look for, and started exploring the paddock.
Which was fine — I was having fun. This was an adventure, and a far cry from spending the day in front of a computer. Besides, I could see a hill up ahead that was thick with lush green ferns and towering trees. It looked like a real Middle Earth-style rainforest, and I wanted a piece of it.
Dressed For The Occasion
A babbling creek kept me company as I meandered my way through the mud. For the first 20 minutes I managed to maintain a healthy distance from my watery friend, but I eventually reached a point when I needed to cross. It was a short jump, and I felt confident that I could make it. What I didn’t take into account was the stability of the river’s bank …
I gave a short run-up to give myself a buffer on the other side (you know, so I could high-five myself after clearing the creek by this much) and took a flying leap. Legendary decathlete Daley Thompson (man I loved that game) would have been proud of the distance I covered, and I’m sure my landing was graceful.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. It turns out the entire paddock on the other side of the creek was basically just one big swamp, and my left leg was now submersed up to my knee in mud. And this was the only pair of jeans I brought with me.
Funnily enough, I was still having fun. I waddled my way to firmer ground, and pressed onwards until I hit a fence … and that was it. What had started out as a barely navigable path had deteriorated into a marshy paddock, and this was what the locals called a walking trail?
Well, I wasn’t settling for that.
From Field to Forest
I followed the fence line with my eyes and saw that it ran across the creek (which by now had expanded into a fully fledged river) and climbed up a hill covered in luscious, thick forest. The change in landscape on the other side of the river was dramatic — the hill was covered in enormous ferns standing shoulder to shoulder, dwarfed by a thick canopy of towering trees that were probably hundreds of years old. This was my hill.
I saddled the wire fence and precariously shuffled across, and this time my water-crossing attempt was more successful. I began working my way through the forest, casting aside vines and ducking under branches, David Attenborough-style. This was exactly what I was looking for! The real New Zealand.
My goal was to get to the top of the hill. It wasn’t enormous, but it was big enough for me to feel a sense of accomplishment. Then I would turn around and retrace my steps back to the train station. Hopefully without falling into the marsh again.
At One With Nature
At this stage I was unconcerned with the following facts, but in hindsight I probably should have been:
- I had no way of contacting anyone should I run into trouble (I hadn’t enabled roaming on my phone, as it was expensive and I was only in the country for a few days).
- I had no GPS (I had my iPhone, but it was useless as a mapping device without a network connection to load map data).
- I had no compass.
- Nobody knew where I was.
- I was alone.
I did have a basic sense of where I was, based on the noise of the cars that I could hear in the distance (the highway that ran north-south along the coast) and the position of the sun in the sky. I figured as long as I could hear the car noise, I’d know that the coast was near.
It only took me 20 minutes to make it to the top of the hill, and it was a fun climb. In Australia, trekking through unmarked bush can bring you into contact with any manner of poisonous beasties — deadly spiders, the most poisonous snakes in the world, scorpions.
New Zealand, however, is refreshingly devoid of these inconveniences. With this inside knowledge, I could pretend to be a pioneer who was setting foot on a land of untouched beauty for the first time. Knowing that nothing was going to drop down from the trees and kill me had me telling myself that it was easier to press on than to turn back. Besides, the canopy was so thick that I had yet to find that stunning view that I’d promised myself.
This Way To Success
After about an hour of peeling back vines and spiky branches that were becoming increasingly impenetrable, I was relieved to notice a bright pink arrow attached to a tree. “Ah ha,” I thought. “The trail! Finally I have some guidance.” I thrashed my way through the forest until I spotted a second arrow, and then a third.
The thing is, the arrow didn’t seem to point anywhere particularly related to any trail that I could see. I figured that the trail they were marking mustn’t have been followed in a very long time, and that the arrows were in urgent need of remarking.
I climbed the second, larger hill, and stopped to catch my breath. There was still no view to appreciate (all those damn trees in the way!) and I was a little puzzled that the pink arrows were daring me to venture downwards into a steep ravine. I peered over the edge and found myself staring at a severe drop-off that I remember thinking would have possibly been a fun descent … if I were abseiling. However, climbing down without ropes and a harness would have been suicide.
It was at this point that I had two realisations.
- This isn’t fun any more.
- I can’t hear the cars.
At Odds With Nature
I’m not one to panic, but even an optimist like me can identify when things are looking dire. Here I was alone, in a foreign country, lost in the jungle, covered in mud, unable to orient myself, with a phone that didn’t work, a packet of chips and a few mouthfuls left in my bottle of water. It was nearly 3.00pm and nobody knew where I was.
It dawned on me how genuinely stupid my predicament was. Seriously, who goes hiking in the jungle by himself, literally carving out his own trail, and doesn’t expect to get lost? Grim questions flashed through my head: What if I can’t find a clearing before it gets dark, and I have to sleep on the ground or something stupid? How would anyone find me? It’s wet — would I have enough warm clothes to survive a night? What about food and water? I could really be in trouble. I thought of my wife and daughter back home in Australia, and began imagining newspaper headlines reporting my demise.
“Some trail!” I shouted out loud.
Next issue, Part 3: The Two Trails