The following story is based on actual events, contains swear words and self reflection. If you're opposed to any of these things, we suggest you skip this read. As a disclaimer, we do not recommend attempting this track by yourself or without someone who has been before. It is not signposted and can only be completed at total low tide with the use of headlamps.
Some people just give really good advice. Like our friend Francie - she said, "do scary sh!t". And once in a while we need to just feel the fear and do it anyway. If both my feet are on balanced ground, I think it's fair to say I'm pretty good at doing the scary thing. Put me on the edge of a slippery cliff and it's a complete other story.
Bravery and fear take on all shapes and sizes. I like to ignore mine until the last possible moment before it rears it's ugly head, catching me off-guard. And this story below is one of those moments.
If you follow us on social media you will have seen that last weekend we went on a mission to the Mercer Bay caves out near Piha on Auckland's West Coast. Scottie and Sarah were the instigators of this adventure and when they first told me about how we get there (down cliffs holding onto ropes), I'm fairly certain the words "f%#k that" came out of my mouth. I have a big fear of falling and this sounded like hell on earth to me. And yet somehow I was later convinced to go. There was a lag time between the first planting of the idea and then the execution. The caves did sound cool. A giant sea-bound amphitheater with a natural sky light where they used to hold dances, what more could you want from a weekend adventure...
There is something magical about the West Coast of New Zealand from the top to the bottom of the country. It's wild, untamed and feels like a totally different world. Often the sand is black, there are trees growing permanently sideways from the wind and big sand dunes and cliff faces aren't uncommon. It makes your senses come alive. You can feel the insignificance of humans in a place that stands so large and tumultuous.
And so I found myself at the top of Mercer Bay, on a decent walking track following the one person in our group who had done this climb before. Easy going at this stage, wet underfoot and slippery with the wind howling at the edge of the cliff faces. And a great group of people to share the afternoon with.
We found the start of the "track". I'll use that term extremely loosely. It was OK for about 20m. Then it became a scramble. Initially I was alright, it wasn't until we passed the halfway mark that the legs started to get tired from slowly clambering downwards, all the while looking at the bottom of the cliff. We then came to the 2nd of the rope climbs, and I fell apart. It wasn't pretty. Halfway down the rope and I lost where to put my feet. The rope was slippery and the rocks not much better. Voice shaking, legs shaking, heart racing and vision closing in. Fortunately my team didn't let me down. Guiding my feet to the side where I could sit for a moment and try and get on top of the fear. That was it. I wanted out. The trouble was, no one else wanted out and I'd be looking to head back up this wall on my own and back to the car.
It's at these times that some people say, I made a decision and found my strength. Well, to be totally honest I don't actually know how I continued. It wasn't a great flash of bravery or a firm decision to push myself. In fact I think I was still saying that I wanted to turn back while my body kept clambering downwards. The rest of the way down was a bit of a blur. I do remember sucking back the big breathes while my legs shook standing on the black sand at the bottom.
The caves were, admittedly, pretty cool. You walk through a small one, around into the water to turn right into the large cave. Which as you walked in was like standing in a jet stream of a Airbus A380 and almost as loud. You couldn't hear the person next to you yelling, let alone your friends further in the cave. It opens up to a large area with old rockfall at the base of the cave. Years ago people used to hold dance parties in here with the good acoustics. My only regret was not finding a banger to play loudly on my phone for a quick boogie. With the 4m swell out at sea we had less than 10 minutes inside the cave before the tide started to turn and we had to move quickly to get out. Then it was back with the headlamps, and the scramble back up the cliff. Going up is easier than going down. You don't have to see the bottom so much, and your weight is moving in a more natural way. I still struggled at the ropes, upper body strength isn't a forte of mine but I made it.
I guess the big question is, was it worth it? Well, the photos are awesome. And my friends are amazing. But for me the cave was the side attraction. Finding out that I'm capable of pushing through to the other side of fear when I need to, then yeah, worth it.
Bravery is in us all. We don't always know where it comes from. Our brains are rigged for preservation. Maybe mine blurred the whole thing as a way of keeping me going forward. And I guess sometimes the only way is forward. We can't go back in life. I'm not one to want to sit around with regrets and what-ifs playing over and over in my head.
If you're like me then it takes a bit of time, a nice glass of red wine and a moment to breathe to acknowledge the strength within. Which, as it turns out, can come as a surprise.
Until next time,
Photos were contributed by myself and Scottie T Photography.