Aoraki, Aotearoa New Zealand
May 9, 2021


There are places in the world that don't need a map, don't need a tour guide, don't need a plaque. When you get there, you know.

For weeks now, I've been seeing road signs for Aoraki, New Zealand's tallest mountain, and one that sits sacred, at the center of Maori stories and worldview about these islands and the world itself. Folks talked about it with reverence and awe, and I thought a few times about trying to make the trek in Horace the Van, even with his old engine.

Last night, I pulled into a campground by Lake Pukaki, its waters long and narrow, tapering up into the Southern Alps. I've been driving through those mountains for days now, and besides a few viewpoints, hadn't thought that much of them.

But down at the far side of the water, rising up in white, was Aoraki. I didn't need to check my phone to see if that was really it. Didn't need a map or a roadside sign. I knew, deep in my bones. That towering mountain. That was it.

I've felt that way a few times in these travels. The giant forests of Tōtaranui. The cliffs and ice-blue carved rivers of Glenorchy. The horizon-filling waters of Lake Taupo.

They've hit something in my bones, something we all instinctively know from millennia roaming around the savannah, navigating by landmarks and stars.

I feel my body saying remember this place, feel my neurons sear in the image, the feeling, a map of how to get there.

I sat for hours, just staring, the sense of awe never wavering. Watched the sky turn orange, crimson, fluorescent pink. Saw the last light to hit this island creep up the face of Aoraki, until finally, the day was gone.

Night came. Huge winds picked up, and blew strong all night rocking the van - and me - in and out of sleep. And in the morning, I knew it was time to move on.

But also that I'd be back - and that I'll always know how to get here.

Have a landmarked week,


p.s. The best thing I saw all week was this fascinating explanation of a rule in English that nobody ever taught us, that we all know, and that I didn't even know I knew. Language is cool. :)

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