• Barbara Murphy-Shannon

A Hitchhikers Guide to New Zealand: A Glowing Experience! Chapter 1.

Updated: Aug 9

I am desperate to find her even if it kills me.

The plane touched down in Auckland New Zealand on a beautiful summer day in November.

As we approached the hostel I read the sign on the door— Closed.

“What should we do?" I asked Beth

We decided to kill some time and go walk around downtown. The city is clean and quiet. It comes to my attention that all the women are dressed like Madonna. Big hair with a bow, long shirts with ripped tights cut at the calf in commando boots. I had to laugh.

We went shopping and figured out our US dollar is worth twice as much as the New Zealand dollar. We wanted to be sure we had a place to sleep tonight so we headed back to the hostel around 4:30 pm, it opens at 5 pm. It cost $6 NZ=$3 US a night, a bargain. I was jacked from the long flight and went to bed as soon as we checked in.

The plan for today—take the bus to the airport to fly to Christchurch on the South Island and tomorrow hike through the South Island. What a town Christchurch is. It’s like an old English town with quint shops and lots and lots of parks. A beautiful river runs through the center and trees are lined up along a walking path. It almost doesn’t feel real it’s so beautiful.

I decided to wake up early to call home before we head out today. I talked to my brother Danny and told me the date his wedding was planned for June 15 next year. He wanted to make sure I’ll be back in time. I told him that it shouldn’t be a problem.

We took the bus to Russell Rd out of Christ Church then started hitchhiking rides to Arthur’s Pass (about 90 miles). Hitchhiking is very acceptable here in NZ. If a car doesn’t pick up, they’ll give you a sign of Hello! We got our first ride to Darfield (20 Miles) shopped in-store, and bought a sweater for Taryn and mittens for Debbie. The next ride took us about 5 miles. When we got to Sheffield the wind was so powerfully strong. Trying to walk in the wind was ridiculous. It was a fight just to stay upright.

It was taking forever to get a ride because there was no one on the road. We didn’t anticipate a lack of cars. Finally, we got a ride from the forest department. Al who was driving the car was a man in his forties with a face that showed he has lived many years in nature. Shorty was a college advisor and Heather was a student writing her dissertation on snow measurements in the Alps. Al offered to let us stay the night at the forest department camp. We accepted and offered to help with the expedition.

Once at camp we loaded the jeep up with all the equipment they needed up the mountain. We drove until the road ended and walk the rest of the way. It was a very steep climb. I stayed with Al and Beth stayed with Heather. John, another forester, and Shorty took the Jeep up the backside of the mountain with all the equipment. Al is very friendly, intellectual, and fit. It took all I had to keep pace with him, but I did my best. Reaching the top, we had to go into the bowl where the snow was …remember this is summer. A little different from Hawaii.

The temperature was dropping, and it started to rain. My body started to shiver I was so cold. Beth was freezing too. This doesn't feel like summer. Look at these crazy guys in shorts. After all the equipment was in place we started walking down the ridge. Al and John and Shorty were ahead of us. When we reached the edge, they were already at the bottom. They had run down the dirt edge. We all said what the hell, so Beth, Heather, and I ran down the edge too.

It took just a few minutes to get down compared to going up. Al and us girls walked down to Basecamp, or should I say we ran after Al (man this guy is fast). We had coffee and talked for a while and warmed up before dinner. John made pork chops, mashed potatoes, and coleslaw salad with pineapple. What a meal for free. I washed the dishes and Beth dried them. We met Ethel and John and David, a Scientist from Wellesley Ma. We talked about home, and I asked about NZ. He said it was a great place to live. After dinner, they help us plan our trip. We hope to do a lot in 2 weeks’ time. I hope all NZ people are this friendly. I could definitely see myself living here. Heather invited us to her flat in Christ Church. David invited us back anytime to stay as long as we liked.

It’s Friday and ate breakfast with everyone. Ethel took us to the visitors’ center where we met yet another forest worker named John. He drove us down the mountain to the main road so we could start hitching. It was very cold and started to rain on us. Beth climbed into the parcel box to get coverage (what a nut). Again, very few cars came by, and none picked us up.

We decided this wasn’t working so in the next town we took the 10:30 am bus to Franz Josef. We arrived at 5 pm and checked into the hostel. It was a long ride, so we went running. Did fartlek training (8-2 poles/ 1pole) and had chicken and rice for dinner.

It was around 9:30 pm when the hostel manager and an old man in big black boots and overalls invited us to take a walk through the woods to see the glowworms. We said, sure. It was a longer walk than I anticipated, and it was so dark. I couldn’t see 2 feet in front of me. We all held hands like on a trust walk and help each other up the trail. The trail was wet and humid. When we finally stopped our guide asked us to turn off any flashlights. I stood there looking into the darkness…waiting…waiting. Then like a flick of a switch the entire woods were glowing.

New Zealand’s famous glowworms are one of the many wonders this beautiful country has to offer. What makes these creatures so unique is their bioluminescent glow that illuminates many caves across New Zealand. Technically, these glowworms aren’t actually worms. They are the larvae of a special kind of fly known as a fungus gnat whose tail glows with a blue-green light provided by an organ equivalent to a human kidney. This light is used to attract its prey into a snare of sticky threads, but when scattered across the ceiling of the forest resembles a star-filled sky.

This is a true story that chronicles my rebellious journey when I was 24 years old backpacking around the world looking for solace after the end of an abusive marriage (ok to escape). An intensely graphic and heartfelt memoir of self-discovery is about how getting lost can be where you belong, how traveling to new cultures and meeting new people helps you heal (they don't judge), how to find your voice and remember who you really are, and want to be. It is certain to inspire anyone who has ever woken up in a life they don’t want to be in. Many life lessons and some bad decisions (sorry Mom) along the way. Buckle in! It's going to be a bumpy ride. xoxo, Barbara Barbara Murphy-Shannon, Psy.M. is a Business and Marketing Coach. Love to hear your thoughts. Reach out at Barbara@barbaramurphyshannon.com