I am standing on the edge of a waterfall and I'm being told to jump. Jump off into the small patch of white water churning about 3m below. On the count of three. One, two, three. Nothing. "Okay, this time ... on the count of three." Still nothing. "Okay, in your own time." My heart is beating so loudly I think it might burst out of my wetsuit. I feel a bit sick.
Then I jump.
Since forever, I have had a fear of jumping off high things into water. I once jumped off a bridge from a disused railway line in the National Park. I was attached to a bungy cord at the time. I remember thinking afterwards that the reason I felt so euphoric was because I hadn't actually died. It wasn't what I'd classify as a fun time. It's weird, the so-called life-affirming things we do.
While I stand on the edge of the waterfall, panicked thoughts rush through like freight trains, loud, like the freezing water rushing down this narrow gorge. Because today I am not only going to be jumping off high places, I am wearing gumboots. I have a thing about wearing gumboots when in water. Not gumboots on land -- that's completely fine. But I feel certain that in this situation, jumping into a pool of water, that my gumboots will fill up and suck me down.
Someone once advised to do something every day that scares you. I don't think going to shopping malls counts. I think this person meant walking a tightrope between the Sky Tower and the Hilton Hotel. Or surfing (more on that later). Not going to the mall and wearing gumboots near deep water. I cycle into work, but mostly, I avoid terrifying myself. Also, who has the time?
Gareth Jones, does. He's the owner of Raglan Rock -- Karioi Canyoning. He pretty much spends his life in physically and mentally challenging situations, like clinging to rock faces hundreds of metres above ground, by his fingernails. He courts adventure. He has years of international climbing experience and when he's not getting a charge from some outrageous excursion, he's helping people such as me to get over their fear of jumping off rocks while wearing gumboots. And of crawling through confined spaces.
"Off you go, to the other side." He gestures casually to a partly submerged concrete drain that seems way too small for me to fit through. There is water rushing through it, and to get to the other side, I'll have to crawl. Through. The. Drain. But the problem is, along with jumping off heights, wearing gumboots in water, surfing (more on that later) and shopping malls, the other thing that scares the shit out of me is small spaces. "Sorry, I'm claustrophobic." "No problem. Off you go," says Gareth, smiling.
Actually it is a problem. I have spent a lifetime avoiding these sorts of situations and nurturing, almost stroking, my fears. Reassuring them that I'll keep them close, and never let them go. A sound comes from my mouth, which to anyone else around might sound like a nervous laugh, but it's actually a feeble cry for help. Gareth just smiles.
I may be fearful of small spaces but I am also practical. As much as I would like to, we cannot stand around all day looking at the drain and I realise Gareth is not going to give up. So I bend down, get on my hands and knees and crawl through to the other side. Once free, I am breathless and thrilled. And so is Gareth. He's laughing and whooping, not like "Sucker!" but because he's possibly more chuffed with me than I am with myself.
Once he convinces me to get over myself, it's a riot and I can actually pause to take in the extraordinary beauty of the place, while totally amped.
My heart is beating so loudly I think it might burst out of my wetsuit. I feel a bit sick.
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The gorge, at the back of Raglan, was formed when Karioi (Wahine Moe, or Sleeping Lady) erupted 2.4 million years ago. Karioi means to loiter or idle. We do loiter, occasionally and fleetingly, to lie in a waterfall, and look up at the sunlight filtering through the canopy of bush.
On the night tour, Gareth says, the place is transformed into a fairyland, with glow worms that light up the place like a Christmas tree. As we walk out, Gareth says he'd never have pushed me to do anything if he felt I was seriously freaking out.
You'd think I'd have known better. The day before I'd had a surfing lesson at Ngarunui beach. You might say that a surf lesson is a perfectly reasonable proposition. Unless you're me. In which case its not at all. Fear has a backstory and it's complicated.
It started at Waipu Cove when I was about 6 at a surf carnival. Since then looking up at the face of a wave fills me with dread.
Now I'm about to hurl myself into a cauldron of fear. Our instructor, Ollie MacCleod, breaks the ice by being a very funny guy, which is a good distraction from the anxious voices in my head telling me to just find a bar and order a nice cold beer.
We start out on land by going through the moves. First, hands in a press up position, one knee on the board, then slide the other foot in between and use your hands to balance. Too easy? Then we jump in his van and head for the ocean.
There is a particular sort of person who takes hold of the fearful and calmly steers them into the white wash, and guides them up on to a board till they are standing. Ollie makes everyone in our little group feel like pros. He spends every day either surfing or sharing his enthusiasm and skill with others. It must be like having an endorphins surplus that you can draw from on the average days.
Once up, it feels like I'm flying over the water, not on it. I manage this three times, and the rest of the time is just hilarious attempts followed by epic wipeouts. As much as you can wipeout in white wash.
The interesting thing I discovered about learning to surf -- much like jumping off a waterfall -- is you eventually forget about the wave/water/gumboots or whatever is the focus of your fear. I am so focused on the business of the board and timing it right, that the wave is almost immaterial.
An hour or so later, we flop on to the shore, exhausted, promising ourselves like breathless and excited children, that we'll do it again.
What, where and when
Getting to Raglan:
It's starts here: A Ford Mustang. It's orange and it means business. As they say, the joy is in the journey and the journey, in this case, was fun and comfortable. And even though the sluggish Friday Auckland traffic is a bit of handbrake, and we could barely get the pony to a full canter, this is a lovely beast to cruise in.
Eat and stay:
Solscape Eco Retreat. The spectacular view of the Raglan coastline from our "bach" is mesmerising. Imaginative and beautiful breakfast menu and modern and very cool studio. Paradise.
Solscape Eco Retreat
611 Wainui Rd
07 825 8268
Wahine Moe harbour tour. A sunset cruise on a solid and comfortable catamaran, with fresh-caught fish and chips and great banter from Charlie Young and the crew.
Sunset Cruise with Wahine Moe
Departs from Raglan Wharf off Wallis St
Eat here: Lunch in the sun after a surf class, at the Raglan Social Club. Aaron and Rachel launched the Social Club following the huge popularity of their cafe in Hamilton, The Sugar Bowl. Sit streetside and watch the world go by. We had a haloumi burger and gurnard tacos. Fresh and beautiful. Great service. Open evenings.
23 Bow St
Take a Private Surfing Lesson with Raglan Surf School. Board and wetsuit hire included. Raglan Surf School has been sharing the joys of surfing for 15 years and offers a range of lessons from beginners to advanced. Qualified and friendly crew. Board and wetsuit included.
5b Whaanga Rd, Whale Bay, 07 825 7873
Yes you Canyon!
A physical and mental challenge with plenty of rewards. Wetsuit, gumboots, harness and helmet provided.
Raglan Rock - Karioi Canyoning
33 Simon Rd, Raglan
022 645 3545