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>> Towards the Within <<

p1090693You know you’re in a good place when you no longer are interested in looking back, you prefer to enjoy the journey. It felt good to feel the sunshine on my face again. It was such a challenge to stay awake on the bus ride home, I was that annoying person that kept passing out and waking up far too near to the stranger sat next to you. Luckily for me she was nice, and offered me sweets and snacks for energy. I was being picked up by Michelle to return to her lovely home for a restful night’s sleep. I had the following day to recover, and to nest into the cottage again, along with the thoughtful items I’d been given from friends and family including those sensory items like incense and candles, tasty chutneys and glazes, photographs and books that would ultimately make it feel more like home. img_20170106_200639_900

I’ve struggled since the residency finding time and headspace to be as creative as I would like. Now that I am comfortable with the job routine it’s clearing my mind a little, and gaining a workspace in the cottage has enabled me to access the progress of the artwork so far. I know that as soon as I get the fire burning I will be up and running again. I have made a few taster sketches of pieces I want to work on, including delicate studies of venturing through the cave, particularly with very low light. img_20161222_205026_605

At work we offer photography tours, which I always love to guide, I enjoy learning from the artist’s, and can feel that deep creative connection which reminds me of why I am doing the job in the first place. When exploring and taking time to sit and look at the incredible surroundings, although a daily occurrence, it is still a meditation that I do not take for granted. Of course the connection is stronger when the customers are having the same intense feelings (which is fairly often) -it’s a beautiful thing to be part of that with them.

Yosuke Kashiwakura is a Japanese photographer who had booked in to take photographs of the glow worms for a National Geographic article. Myself and Heath took him down to the main glow worm cavern and watched him setup his sweet looking camera, with limited English we let him figure out what he wanted, which took no time at all. He had Heath stand down stream of the river, head torch glowing, and created an astonishing portrait shot of him. Capturing the cave formations the glow-worms were clustering in an around, and Heath standing enigmatically in the distance.

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The Christmas celebrations were complete at home and I felt a strange emptiness as it approached Christmas Eve back in New Zealand. I was working and the sun was shining, I was afraid I was masking emotions of the first experience of Christmas time without loved ones around me. I decided that because everything was ‘upside-down’ to what I was used to in the UK that I would embrace the surreal couple of days ahead and try and make it memorable for different reasons. Having previously enjoyed spontaneously exploring with Heath I asked if he’d like to join me on a Christmas Eve exploration- a chance to locate those areas that have drawn curiosity, and to experience the cave in quite literally, a new light. We enjoy each other’s easy company and are able to talk and climb freely, stopping from time to time to reflect and enjoy a celebratory beer. The glow worms really put on a performance, the best we’d ever seen, they began to gently light our faces as we opened up to each other. It was a real buzz to find areas even Heath hadn’t been to before, despite his growing up with the cave in ‘his garden’. A particular highlight after crawling over stalagmite formations was an inviting tunnel in blue and copper hues, we took it as far as we could.

p1090703It’s an addiction- the natural high of exploration, wanting to fulfil curiosity, playing around down there for what turned into around a 5 hour trip. The last area on my ‘checklist’ was to take a dip in the crystal clear water of the Lime Cave, and of course to see where it lead to. It was very muddy! But freeing all the same. My thoughts were heavily distracted in the best possible way as the night drew to a natural close and Christmas Day arrived.

I was kindly invited to Bevian (Heath’s father) and his partner Myra’s home for a Christmas lunch in Te Awamutu, along with Michelle and Stefan. I still fall in love with the landscape and immense amount of space around New Zealand properties (that is out of the cities I mean). They were all sitting in the sunshine of the garden as I was presented with kind gifts and a tasty BBQ lunch.

dsc_1398After a little deliberation I headed back to Heath’s in Pirongia. As kind as the offer was I was concerned at feeling like a spare part due to his kids and girlfriend staying there. Nobody likes to be the gooseberry, but I knew for the first time I didn’t want to head back to the cottage on my own and that I needed to be around people- I run away too easily. Well the bottle of wine stopped me driving anywhere and as I relaxed Colette and Heath were great company and a phone call from Hendrik was comforting after so long not hearing each other’s voices. I left early morning, still feeling heady and emotional and enjoyed a long drive in the sunshine of Boxing Day. I still struggle with the shift from closeness and then the emptiness upon parting…even if I’m not so sure on what I want in the first place.

Settling back into work for the next few days the time had come to plan my upcoming days off. I would be heading down to Apiti on the Sunday so decided to book myself in for a treat 5 hour cave tour, with another company here in Waitomo. It is of course great to experience, compare, research, but mainly just for the love of adventure and to see some more beautiful places so nearby. The tour was a 7am start (ouch) and included an abseil to start the trip, something I haven’t done since I was 11 years old on a trip to an adventure park near Corfe Castle 🙂  followed by ‘tubing’ which is essentially floating through the cave tunnels in a big rubber ring. The group I was in were fit, young men, meaning that we were powering through the trip and gaining access to other areas due to our speed and ‘skill’. Tight squeezes in darkness and of course the glow-wormies were in abundance. Not so much of a diverse mixture as our cave but an enjoyable experience all the same. If I’m honest, somebody carrying me back up afterwards would’ve been nice rather than the impending final rock climb (I’ve never been good/happy with vertical climbing) it was safe to say my body was done.

15940490_10154469719949737_4247798651540657387_nI’d been following (that does sound pretty creepy doesn’t it) an interesting caving chap on Instagram as I realised after caving all around the world, posting incredible diary photographs along the way, Nick was now in the Waitomo area- I was very keen to meet. I obviously wanted to pick his brain about all of his incredible discoveries and adventures and plus it was a good excuse to get out and have a pint. Nick was sat looking pretty intriguing as he studied his notebook, scribbling down his finds of the day. As I approached, conversation came easy (of course we did talk about a cave or two) he’s an interesting and passionate character who I think will be a lot of fun to be around, we’ll meet up again and hopefully do some exploring together sometime. As perfect timing had it, my friend Luke who is now back in Southampton knew of a girl heading to New Zealand from our home town, called Lauren. Lauren and I exchanged messages on Facebook and the evening I was with Nick was when her Kiwi Experience coach was staying in Waitomo (good hey!) So she came over for a chat and drink, a lovely sociable bouncy character spending a year in New Zealand on a Working Visa, I’m sure we’ll meet up again for a yarn.

15965061_1214016078676654_8092223788433813616_nThe day had arrived and I took the long scenic drive down to Hendrik’s tavern with a good mixture of excitement and anxiety thrown in. It had been around 2 months since we last saw each other, and although in reasonable contact, things change and feelings can change, it’s just the way it goes. Trying to be realistic I kept this in the front of my mind and was happy to spend time with him regardless. Things were a little different in the sense I now know I am staying here for a time, so the road ahead is less uncertain in that sense. We have a great connection and are very aware of living our own lives and yet, when we come together, it’s magic. After a short meeting I headed down the road to start work on reinventing the Apiti Tavern road sign, complete with updated logo and directions. I should’ve relaxed the day before, I have felt very restless of late, haven’t been sleeping well and emotions have been up and down, trying to make sense of what I really do want and need, recent situations and people close to me have made me question this.

p1090743I returned back to the pub, calling it a day and looked forward to some quality time together. To my surprise I was cooked a beautiful seafood chowder and we saw the night in with red wine. This was the start of things to come, the following day we exchanged gifts and later on he had booked us into the local Makoura Lodge, in a beautiful secluded dip of land was our very own Riverside Cabin for the night. Complete with huge fire pit, BBQ and super comfortable lodging. I was overwhelmed at the thought and effort- it left me a bit speechless. It’s fantastically exciting to share hopes and ideas together I love hearing his enthusiasm for the pub and what he intends to do, it’s really quite great how well it’s going there for him, it’s lovely to hear someone talk about something they are passionate about. Oh, and he said he took time to listen to Dead Can Dance (that’s special).

p1090737To be with someone whose eyes light up when yours do, whose heart races when your blood also pounds, who is enticed and inspired by the same forces that drive you forward, is a gift many of us never truly get to experience. Because we settle. We settle for the person we love over the person who could push us- to be bigger, stronger, greater versions of ourselves. We tell ourselves that love is enough. That it conquers everything. But we forget that love shouldn’t be the thing that conquers our lives – we should be. And we should do it deliberately, triumphantly, by the side of somebody who shares all our joys and successes. So how do we meet such a person? That’s simple – we do more of what we love. We give ourselves up to uncertainty, to searching, to pursuing what we want out of life without the certainty of having somebody beside us while we do it. We throw ourselves wholeheartedly into the things that we love and we consequently attract people who love what we love. Who value what we prioritize. Who appreciate all that we are. We throw ourselves into the heart of possibility instead of staying comfortably settled inside of certainty. Because we owe it to ourselves to do so. We owe it to ourselves to live the greatest life we are capable of living, even if that means that we have to be alone for a very long time. At the end of the day, love is wonderful but it isn’t enough to make up for an entire lifetime of compromising your core values. You don’t want to spend forever gazing into somebody’s eyes expecting to find all of the answers you need inside of them. Wait for the person who is gazing outward in the same direction as you are. It’s going to make all of the difference in the world.’

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Soundtrack: The Orb – COW (full album), Clannad – The Hunter, Throwing Muses – Teller

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The next Glowing chapter

Glow Worm Caving AdventuresThe next chapter sees me in a settled location, much like I have been at Earthskin for the past month. This makes it a little tricky when it comes to blog writing as it all becomes information and sensory overload, also it gives me a hard time remembering all of those smaller details that ultimately play such a part in the overall impression of a place. So, towards the end of my residency at Earthskin I was trying to decide how to spend my time in the last couple of months left in New Zealand, and how to sustain myself for that time (money was getting a little tight after so long without a job). A quick dabble in job searching and I landed upon an un-missable opportunity, to work as a tour guide again, but this time in a cave! But this was also much better as it was a new business, on a family farm with tour groups no larger than 8 people (slightly different to Hobbiton experiences). After an enthusiastic few emails back and forth we arranged to have the first part of the interview, which consisted of joining a tour and seeing what the job really entailed. It was extra important to make a good impression as this was the first person the business were planning to employ outside of their family. The interview involved wading through deep river around the impressive gorge, this was going to be unlike any cave experiences I’d had before, far purer, more natural and unspoilt. p1090326 With the cold water and mud rushing in my gumboots (wellies) the idea that this could be an ‘office’ was surreal, but exciting. Heath, one of the sons of the caving family was one of two tour guides working for the company. He seemed an easy going, quiet type that took going through the cave in his stride, he had been exploring the family cave as an adventure playground since he was 5. He was also responsible for putting in the roped pathways that ran through the surrounding forest and at the top of the river for the harnessed dry tour, as well as planning the whole guiding route. I enjoyed the tour very much and soaked up the changeable surroundings and challenges, as there was water wading, climbing and crawling though tight squeezes throughout. Feeling optimistic I chatted with the family afterwards and agreed we’d have a follow up interview via phone or Skype, it was time to get on the road (in my wet underwear) and hit the Auckland traffic en-route back to my beautiful abode in Muriwai.  Just a couple of days later I had an informal chat with Michelle on the phone and was later offered the position. Thrilled and also reasonably anxious at all the changing of plans for the immediate future. Accommodation was all sorted for me, as the family members living some 5 minutes away from the farm had a cottage/out house that would be just perfect for me to stay in. img_20161002_111909 In deep isolated green rolling hills I found my new home. It is a working farm that has awesome views from my simple deck and also the sounds and smells you’d expect from a farm. There are around 6 farm dogs sharing the land beside me, beneath a beautiful tree that fills my bedroom window lookout. If I’m really lucky the dogs take it upon themselves to form a choir and let me know of their presence (!) It’s simple, but it’s all I need. I have weeded the garden and began to grow a garden of my own complete with veges, herbs and flowers, as it’s now springtime here. I like nothing more than to sit on the deck with a glass of wine of a sunny evening, enjoying the view and feeling grateful for the place I am in and the truly memorable experiences I am having.

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I am isolated here, I have very little signal, no Wi-Fi, but honestly I enjoy it. Many of the travelling friends I have met along the way in New Zealand have made their way back home or on to new destinations, it is indeed a new chapter. However, within a couple of days of moving in Hendrik took the trip north to come and stay for a couple of nights. It was again really lovely to be able to share another of these spectacular locations I’d managed to land myself in. I hadn’t began work yet but it made perfect sense for us to join on a tour while he was here, to show him how I would be spending my days underground. This time around we joined the other tour-guide Ash’s tour. Full of cheesy jokes and a very approachable character, it gave a different spin on the tour, and of course it was good for me to view it from another perspective. The cave is a short walk away from the office through lush green woodland towards the gorge which is around 30 metres below ground.

p1080768A walk around the gorge begins the tour, negotiating the river and rocks and taking in the sweet surroundings, before heading deep in to the cave. There are parts that the water reaches the upper thigh (you soon learn the technique of emptying water from your gumboot), crawling and climbing over undisturbed rocks, there are no pathways, lights, everything is left just as nature intended. There are a couple of optional ‘squeezes’ to challenge the more eager of the group before we arrive up close and personal with the glow worms. The river then leads us up to the main stunning display of glow worms that we all enjoy in darkness for a good amount of time. The whole tour is unhurried, and is about creating a true experience and memorable escape from reality- can you understand why I enjoy it so much yet?! Buzzing, myself and Hendrik headed back to cook up some food on the BBQ and enjoy some red wine on the deck, a nice start to make a house a home.

p1000387Settling into training in both the office and with guiding I’ve fully immersed myself in this experience and feel I am creating a great bond with the family and the interesting people from around the world I get to meet on a daily basis. I love the can-do attitude here and how hands on everything is. I enjoy buzzing around in the mule around the farm, not to mention cutting the grass on the ride on mower. I spend a lot of time in Heath’s company as he has predominantly been the one training me on the tours. We enjoy a healthy amount of piss-taking and jobs around the farm such as fixing rope, laying water pipe, it sounds dull but with him it really is quite fun. p1090421 We have adventured together through the waterfalls on the river too, it’s nice to get out and around the area with somebody as adventurous and curious as myself. We found the remaining part of his Triumph toy bike he rode as a young boy, just washed up on the side of the river.  Michelle predominantly runs the business and is good fun and easy to learn from, she has been filling my brain with all the finer details that keep the business ticking along. Working 10 days on and 4 days off provides me with enough time to get away and enjoy mini breaks, the next one saw me heading back to nearby Raglan to Solscape, where I visited at the start of my New Zealand journey. It was essentially Hendrik’s birthday treat. We booked ourselves into a mud formed Earth Dome for the night and enjoyed the ambience of the gentle light and flowing round structure. p1090145The following morning we followed each other driving the windy gravel laden roads around Pirongia and Kawhia (yes there was drifting involved) then onto a hike up Mount Pirongia (ok so the morning fry-up may have affected my walking ability somewhat) on a blazing hot day we took to laying in the grass and soaked up the amazing view that surrounded us, it was never very hard for us to create an enjoyable experience together, it was effortless.

p1090171It had become a case of planning the next adventure together and I was very happy to find myself back at his pub in Apiti on my next days off. I was introduced to a traditional South-African braai and had a great time chatting and drinking with his chef/friend Bruce too. It’s fair to say I didn’t need to eat or drink for around 2 days after this visit.

glowing-adventures2So now, I find myself waiting on the outcome of a visa extension application. The future is very up in the air for me at the moment and if I am fortunate enough to be offered the extra time here I know that I have an amazing job to return to and people I want to spend much more time with. Fingers crossed…

Soundtrack: The Imagined Village – ‘Ouses, ‘Ouses, ‘Ouses, Dreadzone – Cave of Angels, Radiohead – Identikit