As we turned in, some of the older campers referenced The Waltons - while younger campers queried what 'Goodnight, John-Boy' could possibly mean. Sleeping bags rustled, zippers zipped, and we slowly dropped off to sleep. Fortunately, there was not a snorer among us.
The next morning dawned beautifully still, and we moved in silence to the beach to witness the pinks of sunrise ripple on the glassy water. As far as meditation went, this was pretty Zen. Desperate to ask questions, to know what was next, slowly we learned to accept the bare minimum of information - and, after breakfast, we compliantly boarded our 10-foot sailing cutter. Ordinarily, this is where we’d learn to sail - but, with not a breath of wind to be felt, we tackled rowing instead.
We had a crack at rock climbing. Suited up, harnessed and helmeted, we assembled in front of four ropes secured about five metres above us. In the course of this challenge, we learnt a new four-letter C-word - 'crux'. In climbing parlance, the crux refers to the most dangerous or difficult section of an ascent. 'Crux' became our new curse word.
Looking back, I’m so glad I was one of the first waves to climb because watching subsequent climbers would’ve freaked me out. Admittedly some clambered up confidently, but many were clearly intimidated. Some clung to the cliff face and cried. Others were frozen halfway up, halfway down; and a few just let go and spun helplessly against the cold, hard rock.
But lunch that day was a jolly affair. We had risen to a significant challenge and we'd all made it up and came down triumphant. But instead of letting us bask in boastful glory, just on dusk we were given our marching orders - hike to Davies Bay for an overnight camp.
"We moved in silence to the beach to witness the pinks of sunrise ripple on the glassy water."
In spite of the picturesque nature of our campsite, the night was rough. Several people discovered roots beneath their sleeping mats – arriving in darkness, the flies were pitched in haste. And who knew that paradise ducks are not only nocturnal, they are also querulous and are especially fond of squabbling at night?
Following orders, at 5:45am we rose and hiked to the Grove Arm lookout. In spite of the wretched sleep, to walk in darkness is magical. There were glow-worms. The light drizzle was not unpleasant and the sound of birds waking was soothing. As we arrived at the viewpoint, the cloud lifted and a rainbow appeared on the distant shore. When the sun finally rose, golden in the east, all thoughts of thirst and fatigue evaporated. Temporarily at least.
At some point, the days merged and blurred. We clung to stately kahikatea on the high ropes course, we abandoned our egos while navigating a maze blindfolded and each morning we clocked faster times on the run. We looked inside ourselves more deeply than we’d ever dared to before, until finally it was time for the challenge we’d all been anticipating with varying levels of trepidation.