My day started at 5.30am in the living room of a friendly local who offered me some floor space after I hadn’t had much luck with the old thumb. With a fresh start my fortunes changed and I soon found myself zooming towards Kaikoura in a large truck who was half way through his delivery run down the East Coast. The scenic coastal route made for plenty to talk about and look at, from the endless coast that was cheekily hiding it’s bounty of kai below the surface to the rolling hills that eventually turned to mountains. One in particular caught my eye as we edged closer to Kaikoura - Mt Fyffe.
Some 6 months earlier I’d been told the best views around were to be had from the top, I’d dismissed the comment at the time as I already had an agenda. Today though? I had nowhere in particular to be and like that, it was decided. Today I was going to climb Mt Fyffe. After a quick coffee I approached a couple of friendly locals and explained to them how’d I’d recently finished my degree and was spending my summer hitchhiking around New Zealand with nothing but the bag on my back! They were more than happy to give me a ride to the “start of the track.”
I believed they knew what was up even though I had my doubts when we rocked up at the end of a dead end road with minimal signage. Chomping at the bit I didn’t let this deter me as I boosted ahead in the mid morning sun. After 45 minutes or I had my concerns as the trail started to turn and I soon found myself walking down hill, it was now that I got out my phone and after some research I realised I was on a completely different track - so much for local knowledge! I only had myself to blame as I walked back down, it wasn’t all lost however, the track was very pretty with a wide range a trees, plants, and bird song. As I had no transport and the actual start was 20+ kms away I decided to chance my arm with some friendly door knocking. I struck gold at the first house, and felt relieved when they told me I wasn’t the first person who it’d happened to! Being the good kiwi folk they were they readily agreed to drop me off at the start of the track in exchange for helping them load up the flat deck with various pieces of farm equipment.
By now it was 1pm but I was finally off! After walking up the old 4wd track towards the hut for half an hour I should have of realised that I was in for a real climb and done something about my pack situation. Instead I trudged ahead with everything I had with me, including my laptop, an extra change of clothes, tent, and a range of other non essentials. Hindsight's a wonderful thing though isn’t it?
Being that it was an old 4wd track it was pretty open and easy on the feet - the downside was there was minimal shade which meant after an hour and a half into the steep climb I was drenched in sweat and felt like I was slowly cooking. It was around this point that I caught up to a group of 10 who were doing the trek as part of their YWAM (youth With A Mission) course. The majority were from the USA and it was great talking with them about what they had been doing on their course and the adventures they were having. From having their first hitchhiking experiences, and sleeping under the stars, to the enthralling landscapes of New Zealand, they were having a blast!
I readily tagged along, it was nice having people around again that I could exchange stories with. As we continued up the track we slowly left behind the lower levels of bush and the mountain side began to open up and we could see over the scrub and out to sea. Way below we could see the small town of Kaikoura bustling along surrounded by farmland. From this height the paddocks began to look a lot like a patchwork quilt with the different colours, shapes and sizes.
Sometime around 4pm we made it to the hut where the YWAM team were set to stay for the night. My original plan was to keep going from here all the way to the top and to stay the night on the peak. I was convinced otherwise with the promise of a big shared dinner, cards and a night shared with new friends. We begun setting up camp and getting dinner underway - spag bol was on the menu and we even had the luxury of cheese on top thanks to the Americans.
As the sun was beginning to get lower in the sky I couldn’t help but slip away with my camera and tripod to begin capturing the views. Firstly the golden light began illuminating the tussocks as they danced in the gentle breeze. Then the high clouds begun to reflect a soft pink hue that slowly grew with passion as the performance wore on. The sea’s blue green hue slowly changed to a steel blue that exudes strength and power. It was about now I was joined by the rest of group who has been pulled from what they were doing as the sky begun to open up even more as the clouds on the horizon were swirling together with hues of red, orange, yellow purple, pink, and many more. The colours seemed to dance together, intertwining like ancient glacial rivers.
Then out of nowhere we were pulled to what was going on behind us as ever so cheekily a full moon begun to rise mere minutes after the sun slipped over the horizon. We all sat in silence through the whole ordeal, the only sound being the shutter of my camera as it clicked away sporadically as I remembered I’d want to relive this moment in the future. Eventually as the stars begun to shine through and the temperature begun to drop people started to disappear back to camp to warm up.
There was something mesmerising and I stayed out even later to capture what has to be one of my favourite images with the lights of Kaikoura below and the lights of the stars shining above.
It was around now that I hatched a plan with one of the other guys - Sam to make a bid to the summit for sunrise. I wanted to get going at 4am, he was pushing for 4.30 - with neither of us willing to budge he mentioned he’d be able to catch me up, and like that the secret competition had begun.
Seeing as I had lugged my laptop all the way up with me it was around that I whipped it out, much to the jeers of the others - “no wonder you were slow” “typical Aucklander” “what were you thinking” I told you, hindsight is a gift. I should have stashed it along with a whole heap of my other stuff in a dry bag down the bottom, lesson learnt! I soon shut them up as I begun to process a couple of my images from what we’d just witnessed to share on Instagram. There’s something wrong about the fact that we can be half way up a mountain, seemingly miles away from civilisation yet still have enough reception to share exactly where we are and what we are up to with all the people sitting at home watching tv.
DJFHEIUSFLGSDB.JKSD!!! I forced my eyes open and jumped into action, I’d already packed a small bag with water, muesli bars, and something warm for the summit. All I needed was my camera and to quickly slip on my boots and I was off! It was still relatively dark but the full moon was illuminating the track so I had no need for my head torch. As I walked through the wildling pines I became aware of something fluttering overhead, to this day I don’t know exactly what it was, I feel like it was bats, but it could also of been the shearwaters which are known to roost up here.
Walking in the crisp air of the early morning has to be one of my favourite things. I was making good time and still had no sight of Ben who thought he’d be able to catch me. But the soft orange hue out at sea was telling me I needed to increase my pace if I was to make it to the top to see the little orange ball creep over the horizon.
It was a constant struggle not to keep on stopping to snap ‘quick’ pics - I wanted to capture the entire process but I was aware that if I dilly dallied too long I might miss the grand finale. Around 5.30 I finally caught sight of the summit as I passed the 1500m mark. I also caught sight of Ben who was just leaving the treeline - I don’t think I could’ve moved much faster than I did at that point! I think we all know that feeling, nothing else matters, not the burn in your calves, not the imminent cramps, not the slightly ill adjusted pack strap, not the rubbing on your left foot, not the loose shingle underneath, or the gasps for air - determination sets in and it’s a race to the summit!
As I took the final steps over the crest of the summit I was engulfed in the most intense orange, and I quickly bagged the trig. Dropping my bag I went about setting up my camera as my body slowly returned to a normal pace. It must have only been a minute later that I greeted Ben and we shared a bit of banter about the race up - secretly I was filled with glee.
It’s moments like these that we feel most at one with ourselves, and the world around us. Looking out over the sea watching the wind gust rippling over the waters, the farmers on their quad bikes getting ready for the dawns duties, the slow stir of a town below waking up, the dawn choruses of birds waking, the subtle hints of warmth at the touch of first light. It’s hard to let ‘stuff’ occupy your mind and it’s in these moments we are truly free to discover who we really are.
Ever so slowly the little yellow ball crept over the horizon as Ben and I sat in silence eating our muesli bar breakfast. The wind rattled against the tent fly we set up to shelter us from the wind, water bubbled in the billy, and all felt right in the world.
Then as I looked around something I’d never experienced before happened - To the east I could see the sun hovering over the horizon, and behind me to the west I could see the moon slowly sinking below the mountainous horizon. It was like the two were doing a little dance, teasing each other with short glimpses of each other. The sky all around was the most fantastic shades of orange and yellow to the east and pink and purple to the west, crowns - both encrusted with shining balls - one made of rock, the other gas.
We enjoyed it while it lasted and before long it was time to continue on our way - Ben was continuing on the loop track and I was beelining to the bottom. I had to get to Christchurch to meet with my good friend Geoff Reid so we could take on the Catlins, but more on this next time...
Talman is a kiwi adventurer who has recently been set loose on New Zealand on a mission to discover the heart of what makes New Zealand great. Follow his adventures with Earth Sea Sky as he hitchhikes, walks, and drives his way all over! He’ll be sharing in our newsletters and over on social media: Instagram: @Talman Facebook: @Talman Madsen Photography Snapchat: @Talman1