Life is Fragile and the Land Restless: 24 Hours in Taupo

How to spot a soul sister: You meet her on the back of a songthaew (a shared taxi converted from a pick-up truck) in Thailand and realize you’re both on your way to volunteer at the same hill tribe village in the mountains. You bond over a common desire to find meaning in the mundane, while planting papaya trees.

Four years later, you both live in different countries. But when the opportunity arises to drive hours out of the way to meet each other and reconnect after all this time, despite not really knowing each other and the fact that you both have only 24 hours to spare, you both say yes.

While soaking in thermal pools and walking among otherworldly, bubbling craters, you realize that this place and each other’s company is exactly what you both needed. That you’re both propelling each other forward on your paths. Sometimes you have a gut feeling and you go with it. You “trust the must,” as Katie says. 

So here we are, both thousands of miles away from our shared birth home — the U.S. — and a bus ride and a long flight away from our chosen homes, Wellington and Hong Kong.  We try to catch up on each other’s news from the last four years while the impossibly powerful water of Huka Falls roars behind us,  mirroring the inundation of stories we rush to tell.

We walk further into the bush, attempting to identify the calls and songs of the birds endemic to New Zealand. Katie tells me their names are onomatopoeic; the Maori named each bird after the sound they make. I try to listen for “tuis”, but I don’t hear them. Maybe I need a few more years in the native bush before I can recognize the chirps as more than just sounds, but as concepts and species.

Under a shady tree we share a picnic and our dreams, for what we will do and who we want to be. Katie wants her own business. I want to tell more stories. We both want to figure out how to hang onto the ever-fleeting feeling that we are on a good way.

Further down the trail, we dip our toes into the warm waters of a natural thermal spring. Then, slowly, we wade in. Depending on where we’re sitting , the temperatures range from lukewarm to scalding. We settle somewhere in between. Perched on two slippery rocks, Katie tells me about the five love languages, while the sun tints our shoulders pink and the mineral-rich waters soften our wet skin and wash away the excess.

Later, at a place called Craters of the Moon, we walk casually along a boardwalk through a park, like it’s any other park. But it’s not. It’s a geothermal phenomenon of bubbling craters and steaming vents–a patch of kinetic land and volcanic activity in the center of the North Island. The land here is constantly shifting, collapsing, and reforming, rendering an atmosphere rife with uncertainty. It’s a completely natural cycle of rebirth and, yet, as a human in this environment, there is unease. The steaming vents, like giant diffusers, gush sulfurous gas into the air and have a odd way of calming anxieties. Again the risk of scalding heat is in close proximity. You can not veer off the path or make a misstep here.

The last eruption at this park was in 2002. The entire park which we are now walking through was covered in a 5cm layer of mud, ash and pumice. Since then and until the next eruption, subtle, ongoing movements change the geology of this volcanic landscape undetected.

I pass a sign that reads: “Life is fragile and the land restless,” and it sticks with me. The volatile and temporary state of the land exists in us in the same way. On this earth and in our lives things can seem both desperate and hopeful, fatalistic and full of potential simultaneously, and depending on the day.

“Come back in a month,” the sign continues, “and you might find a thicket of kanuka has been replaced by a crater, barren and steaming.”


Huka Falls, Taupo


Mt. Ruapehu



A tui.


Sailboats on Lake Taupo.




Craters of the Moon















Katie and me at a hill tribe in Thailand, 2013.

Katie and me at Craters of the Moon in Taupo, NZ, 2017.


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