A Mountain Baptism at 7000ft

I’m not one for spontaneity – and that’s not exactly a good thing. But when my lovely friend Becky (who you might remember from this stellar interview) suggested we go climb a mountain, who was I to say no?

Let me set the scene for you. During the university break, I escaped the mundanity of urban routine to the wine-soaked town of Cromwell. It just so happened that Becky had traveled to the town over. Naturally, we decided to meet up and go on some good old fashioned adventuring. And so it was that one balmy Saturday morning, Becky and I jumped into my car and set off towards the shadow of the Remarkables, a flask of mulled wine in one hand and a drink bottle in the other (because, y’know, we’re responsible drinkers).

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the New Zealand landscape, the 7000ft Remarkables are an aptly-named mountain range located on the southeastern shore of Lake Wakatipu and a ten minute drive from the adrenaline capital of Queenstown. During the winter months, the Remarkables are blanketed in a powdery layer of snow and transform into a gem of a ski-field. But at this time of the year, travellers are treated to a rustic canvas of alpine undergrowth and jaw-dropping views.

One of the features that lured us to the Remarkables was Lake Alta, a small glacial lake nestled amongst the peaks. Symbolic of new beginnings in the coming months (stay tuned!), Becky had joked that we might baptise ourselves in the water when we reached it. I liked the idea but nevertheless snorted in response. Me, swimming in a glacial lake? Please.

Famous last words.

Under a crisp blue sky, we parked at the base of the deserted ski resort and began our ascent. After the initial revelation that I am embarrassingly unfit, we settled into a comfortable yet spritely pace. I have never really been heavily involved (or even lightly involved, to tell the truth) in any sort of hiking, but could certainly understand the appeal to it. A highlight for me included navigating our way up an almost vertical rockscape and questioning every step of the way why I had made the conscious decision to impose this upon myself.

I don’t think I am likely to forget the sensation of busting my gut to reach the summit – practically crawling on hands and knees – for the stupendous Central Otago landscape to fall into view. Having actually earned the view was unbelievably rewarding, and I had to take a moment at the top just to breathe and take in the sight.

With clothing clinging to our clammy skin (how’s that for an alliteration?) we climbed down from the peak and descended upon Lake Atlas. I don’t think I’d ever laid eyes on water so clear. Sheltered from the wind by the surrounding crags, the surface of the lake was undisturbed and inviting, the water a tremendous tinge of turquoise (blimey, I’m on a roll).

Without further ado – or warning – Becky began stripping off. When she were naked and her clothes crumpled at her feet, she began wading shamelessly into the lake. Apparently this whole re-awakening/baptism business was more than an entertained thought.

“Take the damn photo!” she demanded while I gawked, my camera buried in my pocket. Her voice betrayed the cold. Laughing, I got my act together and began snapping away madly. Unencumbered by expectations, Becky extended her arms and embraced the invigorating mountain air.

I was next. Once Becky had clambered back out of the lake and dressed herself, there was really no excuse I could avail. Surprising even myself, I climbed out of my deliciously cosy clothes and waded tentatively into the depths. The biting, mind-numbing water sucked hungrily at my legs, and the possibility crossed my mind that I might not actually be able to convince my limbs to walk out again. It wasn’t just cold, it was painful. But still, I made myself stay put, and the endorphins that skyrocket afterwards were second to none.

Becky and I rewarded our efforts by opening the flask of mulled wine we had brought. Basking in the sun on a slab of stone lakeside, we sipped away, soaked in the landscape and discussed new beginnings. If hiking up a 7000ft mountain and taking a glacial plunge was what it took to experience such satisfaction… well, maybe I could get used to this.

If these photos have tickled your fancy, then be sure to check out my Central Otago Vlog featuring more footage of the hike – and subscribe to the Ginger Passports YouTube Channel!

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Vlog: Central Otago Edition

If I had to name the one place in New Zealand that I think every traveler (and Kiwi!) should visit, I wouldn’t have to think twice. To me, that place is Central Otago.

I spent the last week and a half exploring this stunning, sun-drenched region for what may very well be the last time for a very long while in light of my upcoming relocation to England (😥). Some of the highlights – as featured in this vlog – include enjoying the prismatic palette of Cromwell, taking in the awe-inspiring views of Lake Dunstan, hiking up the 7000ft Remarkables to swim in a secluded mountain lake and enjoying the delicious offerings of Scott Base Vineyard.

I’ll keep the details to a minimum – I’m saving that for my upcoming blog posts on the experience. But if you’re getting restless in the mean time, check out the interview I held with Becky Finley i.e. the star of this vlog.

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Interview: Paper Girls with Becky Finley

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I’m 22, I’ve spent the last 3 years travelling 22 countries and 20 states in 5 epic vehicles. I love hiking and eating and sitting on a boat in my bikini, and I haven’t experienced a full winter in 4 and a half years. I’ve had 5 tattoos, 2 broken hearts, 14 jobs, and over 100 hours in a plane. I can probably speak like 20 words in other languages.

How do you fund your traveling?

I work like a dog! I work and travel; I arrived in Sydney with around $1200 when I was 19, and my first week was spent exploring and finding a job. I worked at Taronga Zoo for 2 months, and ended up with maybe $4000, which I spent on several months backpacking in Asia. Then I restart and work again. The main thing is I truly believe I can get awesome jobs, so I do. I’ve worked in the zoo, promoting in a bar in Laos, as a rock climbing instructor, an outdoor adventure guide, an artist liaison and music booking agent, renovating a house on the beach in Hawaii… I don’t work for minimum wage because I’m worth more and after a days work my employers believe that.

What would you say are the most underrated and overrated parts of traveling?

The most underrated is the fact that you are only responsible for yourself, and you have so much time to just be whoever the fuck you want to be. You become entirely selfish and it’s really healthy and wonderful. The most overrated is the perception of how expensive and glamorous travelling is. I spend less travelling for a month than most people do at home in a month. Unfortunately, travellers contribute to the glamorous perception of travelling themselves, we all post pictures on yachts, but I’m less likely to take pictures of my hands swollen with bed bugs, or post about shitting my pants, lost on the way home from some dodgy street food. (I always want to post this but don’t want to be overly obscene).

Have there been moments where you have feared for your safety overseas?

In general, no. Mostly I put an enormous amount of trust in foreign strangers, which they totally deserve. I have done same insanely stupid shit though. I only feel scared after when I am looking back at the stories. Like, when I volunteered in Cambodia, it wasn’t through an agency, I just found a handwritten note in a hostel. I got on the back of this boys bike, he had one leg, because he had lost the other in a land mining accident that had killed his brother and sister. The ride alone was over an hour, he could barely balance us both, and he had a helmet but I didn’t. We got to this little village, I had no idea where I was, and no phone. No one had seen a white person for three months, and I was told the road was built on the bodies of those killed under Pol Pot. The boy who picked me up was the only one that spoke English, and when I asked if I could walk through the village, he said yes, but to be careful. The men followed me and leered, and he said some of the dogs were “bad”. I slept in a room in the house on stilts, with a bed frame but no bed, and a rat that scurried up the wall when I entered. The boy said the police came to sleep in a hammock under the house while I was there, because otherwise I wouldn’t be safe. At the time, the experience was really wonderful, the kids were so sweet and all called me ‘teacher’, but looking back, it could have ended pretty differently.

What is your opinion on souvenirs — and how do you regulate the acquiring of keepsakes when you’re backpacking?

I love souvenirs, not so much of places, but of life changing experiences or spectacular people. Regulation is super easy – do I want to carry that? Jewellery and tattoos are my go-to souvenirs. Also little scars and holes in my clothes are always cherished. I do buy souvenirs for other people; a point of pride was managing to bring my brother back a cobra in a bottle.

What is something you have had to sacrifice in order to live a nomadic lifestyle?

This is really hard to put this into words. If you have ever read Paper Towns, you might know what I mean when I say I feel like this lifestyle has made me a paper girl. I guess I feel like I’m often seen as the sum of the crazy experiences I have had, instead of a real life person. I often find myself in relationships where I am put on this adventure-girl pedestal, and expected to do no wrong, because I am just a character. My last ex told me, as I was lying in bed with a broken back after a sky-diving accident, that I wasn’t fun anymore. This sort of thing has been recurring for me; not that I stop being fun, but that I am not allowed to be human, and handle things badly sometimes. I feel like I have to be pretty careful now to select people in my life that aren’t fare-weather friends. Of course, travelling has also given me a family of the absolute best friends I have ever had.

How has traveling impacted your personal identity?

The biggest thing might be the family it has given me. The people I love that inspire me daily to be the best, and feel loved and adored and constantly supported. Travelling allows me to constantly reflect on who I am and who I want to be, as I head to a new place and dream up a new life. I feel like I have lived so many lives in the last four years. I feel like everything is possible, and anything is likely. Functionally, when I left for my first adventure, I called myself a Kiwi, and now I feel like an American. I feel out of place in the land I grew up in, and like I have explored many facets of my identity and found a place and people I want to call home. My travelling also led me to what I am now studying, and I already identify as an anthropologist. I don’t think I knew what anthropology was before I travelled.

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