The Hunted Climber: a survival tale of a woman’s wilderness encounter

A hyperactive imagination has been mine since birth. From the car window, with my seven-year-old eyes, I used to plan out which house in in each particular area I would run to and what I would say if I was being chased or had an emergency. Thankfully, I’m not a worrier, because I quickly conjure up all kinds of horrible scenarios if boyfriend  doesn’t turn up when he says he will.

Looking toward the wilderness from Tihana Farm

So, you can picture what I imagined, on my morning run into the private-road-locked-gate wilderness, when a truck full of hunters, their dogs, and their quad/four wheeler rumbled up from behind and continued in the direction I wanted to run. A young woman, wearing task-appropriate clothing that also happens to be form fitting, three male hunters toting knives or guns or both, on a road not likely to be driven down by anyone else for days, already twenty minutes running from the farm we were wwoofing at = ??!??!??!?

Did I turn right back around and run the other direction? No way! I told you I’m not a worrier. That I refuse to give up a great experience purely out of (possibly completely unfounded) fear, is a prominent dichotomy that bisects the world. While many people might turn around and feel a huge sense of relief, I (and others like me) would have felt a huge sense of disappointment — that I’d missed out for probably no good reason.

One of the swimming holes near the farm. The flowering yellow tree is a kowhai (koh-fye).

I’m not stupid, though. My hyperactive, imaginative brain was already busy making plans A, B, C, D and  E. I took one of my ear buds out to better hear any noises and turned my music nearly off. I evaluated the best escape path (the river). I gauged the distance down to the water, and the fastest route, and how far ahead I could get of someone chasing me, and calculated whether it would be faster to swim down the river or walk where possible, and thought about how I’d recognize the farm swimming hole. I thought about the likelihood of them wasting their precious hunting time on bothering a woman (not likely). I thought about the likelihood of ever seeing them again, given our different modes of transport (not likely). I thought about what I would say and do if I encountered them again (not likely).

Then I came around a bend in the road, and there they were! They were opening a locked gate that led farther down the road into a logging block and unloading their quad/four-wheeler off a trailer. Having helped teach several women’s self-defense courses at university, I know psychology plays a huge role in these situations. Potential attackers are like dogs — they prey on the weak and anyone that appears lower in the pack order to them. So, I ignored the urge to turn around and run back down the road. I walked right up to them and started firing questions in a friendly and curious way. Are you guys with the logging company? What are you hunting for today? How much farther does this road go? Would it be okay if I ran a bit farther along?

Colored soil and geothermal steam at “Rainbow Mountain”

I also sussed out the first opportunity to mention in a casual, joking way that I shouldn’t run too much longer, was already late getting back to the farm, and they were liable to send out a search party for me. We chatted, they were incredibly friendly, incredibly non-threatening, and I got to see some beautiful, private countryside complete with historic buildings on old homesteads in the river flats!

Aside from run-ins with friendly hunters in the wilderness, what else have I been up to? I’ve enjoyed drives through the country, time to myself, and wwoofing at another farm.

Wish I could remember which tree it is that has this AWESOME bark!

After leaving the awesome town of   Taupo, Boyfriend  and I climbed up Rainbow Mountain or “Maungakakaramea” meaning ‘mountain of coloured earth’. As expected, the opaque jewel lakes, the steaming streaks of red, white, and yellow soil, and the 360 views from the top were stunning. Then we picked up an Irish hitchhiker on the way to a middle-of-nowhere forest. Whiriniki Forest Park was the first place in New Zealand that struck me as more than just gorgeous — it was a place I could stay forever! We followed trails to a fascinating gorge and pretty waterfall before setting our sights on Tauranga.

Those of you who watch the news might be familiar with this NZ seaside town — a huge ship is stranded on its reef right now and making headlines. To my very pleasant surprise, while watching the Italy vs. US rugby game at a pub and blogging, I discovered free wi-fi! New Zealand will come out of the dark ages yet! Free wi-fi spots in New Zealand are like mullets — not that common, but when you encounter one, it makes your day!

Dawn views from the top of Mt. Manganui

Italy creamed the U.S. of course — for reasons I’ve explained previously. In the morning we climbed up Mt. Manganui (now a great viewing point for the stranded ship mentioned above. Bet someone got fired over that!). Not only is the light around sunrise great for taking photos, it’s also beautiful to hike in! Once we climbed down, Boyfriend  dropped me off in Te Aroha. I wish I would have known about this little gem! The town was gorgeous, full of little period buildings, and really friendly! I stayed at a historic YHA hostel there, and played Trivial Pursuit late into the night with Felix and Chris. I nearly won, which felt like a victory in itself, given these boys have cultural confirmation of their intellectual prowess  (one is a lawyer, the other a PhD student) and I don’t.

Operation Wooly Nightsahde Eradication – light green plant foreground and hillside

After an awesome morning run in the forest, Boyfriend  picked me up and we headed for another farm adventure! (Why do we split up? See the last few paragraphs of   Farmville and Recharging). This is the first invitation from a farm host that we’ve been able to accept. Usually due to distance, we have to turn down host invitations. This farm needed people experienced in rappelling to jump on the rope and go down steep embankments to clear invasive plants. Wooly nightshade was our nemesis. We diligently sawed, poison daubed, and tossed over a hundred of these beasts! We also built trail steps, attended a working bee, harvested New Zealand spinach, and helped with other garden chores.

Borage in the garden

We stayed up in a loft overlooking the main room where we ate meals and played lots of games! Farkle — a dice game was most played, followed by speed scrabble and cribbage. I finally satisfied my Settlers of Catan curiosity and ended up bored. Don’t play this three-or-more-player game for the first time with only two players who are each taking on two different roles. For those as in-the-dark as I was, Settlers of Catan is a game along the same theme as Farmville, Dinosaur Park Tycoon, Sim City, Oregon Trail, etc. Roll the dice, strategize 5% of the time. Spend the other 95% waiting for it to be your turn again. Not my style!

We said goodbye to Tihana (Tongan for “beautiful,” I think) and headed up to see the Coromandel!

This photo album showcases the farm dogs, springtime scenes, the steps we built, views from our loft, etc.!

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