How Abbey caves changed my life.
A year and a half ago a chance encounter in a cave changed my life forever. Some may say it was pure chance, or good fortune, that brought us together that summer’s day in New Zealand. Others may say it was fate, the gods or the universe. Personally, I like to believe it was meant to happen and we were fated to meet. But who really knows? One thing I am certain of is that no matter what made it happen, I am bloody glad it did!
The story starts back in 2016, in a salvation army second hand shop in Queenstown, N.Z. I’m with my friend, Trinity, an American from Bend, Oregon. We work together in an Italian restaurant in town. Both on working holiday visas, living the dream in N.Z, on extended holidays. Working dead end jobs only when we have to. Making the most of the mountains, lake and nightlife at every opportunity. Not a care in the world because we are out there to have a good time, not for a long time.
We stand amongst the bookshelves filled with out-of-date lonely planet guides and worn out copies of lord of the rings. Trinity is excitedly telling me about a book she is desperate to find: ‘N.Z Frenzy’. It’s a New Zealand guide book like no other. In a class of its own, a million miles from lonely planet or rough guide. An ‘off the beaten track’ adventurer’s guide. She’s read guide books about her home town, and surrounding area in Oregon, written by the same author. As she’s talking, she stops mid-sentence. She stands gawking with an open jaw, pointing to the bookshelf behind me. There it is! With its bright yellow spine shining out from behind me. The two of us were pretty excited and, I’m not too proud to say, we did some screeching, clapping and jumping right then and there in the salvation army.
What a coincidence!
Perhaps I’m her lucky charm?!
That was my first introduction to Scott Cook’s N.Z Frenzy. On the way home I leafed through the pages, glancing at the black and white photos and reading humorous snippets. It was the north island edition, the island I hadn’t been to yet. The book fuelled my dreams of visiting the north island and planted the seed of a road trip up there.
A year later, December 2017, I’m embarking on said road trip. Travelling with Trinity and another friend, Lorna. N.Z Frenzy is our main source of information and whenever we come to a new area, we consult Scott Cook’s book to see what’s worth visiting. Time and time again we are blown away by the sights we see. The hidden beaches, deserted hiking trails, unknown glow worm caves and incredible camping spots that we never ever would have found without this incredible book.
N.Z Frenzy gets renamed on our trip and is known by us simply as ‘The Bible’. We make jokes about bumping into Scott on a hike or sharing a beer with him up a mountain. We ponder at how he has put together such an extensive book about New Zealand. Because of his adventurous nature, honest writing, love of puns and love of nature this guy has become our hero. On our way up one of many incredible forest tracks we decide we will write him an email after our road trip is over. We’ll thank and congratulate him for writing such a wonderful book. Little did we know, an email would be completely unnecessary by the end of our trip.
By February I am still road tripping with Lorna but Trinity is elsewhere now. Lorna and I continue our travels and our devotion to our Bible, with Rachel, a friend from England who has joined us. We are in the very north of New Zealand near Whangarei. We have followed directions from the guide book to Abbey caves: incredibly vast sandstone caves. We strap on our head torches and delve in. A few hundred meters through dark, curved passages we explore without seeing a soul. There is water gently flowing past our ankles (sometimes getting up to knee deep) and the odd mini waterfall to clamber up. Such an adventure, such beautiful smooth rock walls surrounding us. So far N.Z has provided many stunning caves. Some with rivers running through them, some with glow worms, some with stalactites and stalagmites. But Abbey caves were about to trump the lot!
We turn a corner and hear voices ahead of us. Loud, male, American voices. We sigh at the thought of having to share our uninhabited caves with others. One of the intruders (who we soon find out is big Mike) shouts out to us. So, we reluctantly wade through the stream to where we see their head torches lighting the cave walls. The two guys are eager to talk, especially big Mike. They are excitable and likable and we soon forget our reluctance to share this special place with them. Mike tells us his story. He’s from Phoenix and his friend is from Oregon and has written a guide book about NZ. Slowly pieces are taking shape in my head. I am listening politely, nodding along as Mike talks. Trying to piece together the puzzle. Something here is sounding familiar but I can’t quite tell what the finished picture looks like. A light bulb sparked in my brain when Mike said Oregon. I know Scott Cook is from Oregon. But I don’t even want to let that seed grow in my mind. I tell myself not to be silly, our chats about sharing a beer with Scott were just school girl fantasies. We’re not going to bump into him a few hundred meters inside a dark cave.
But as Mike keeps talking, I can’t help myself, I have to rule out this crazy day dream I’m having.
“What is the name of your book?” I ask Mike’s friend.
“NZ Frenzy” Scott replies.
The screams of excitement in the salvation army were nothing compared to the noise Lorna and I make in that cave. I’ve never met a celebrity or had a public figure that I regard as my hero so I’ve never acted like this before, or since. I screech and shriek and, honestly, my eyes well up with tears! This guide book writer is my hero and here I am in a deserted cave with him! My life hasn’t been the same since that day…
We became fast friends: Scott, Mike, Lorna, Rachel and I. As a group we travelled some of the north island together. Scott took us to some of his personal favourites from NZ Frenzy and some new spots that he hadn’t explored yet. He told us of his idea for a new book ‘Newd Zealand’-a skinny dippers guide. In us he had found kindred spirits who love nudity and skinny dipping. We spent the days on deserted beaches and at remote waterfalls frolicking naked and free. Every night we’d set up camp somewhere beautiful, crack open the chilly bin full of beers and recount the crazy antics of the day. We had ditched our favourite guide book to be guided around by the author of it instead. Who needs NZ Frenzy when you have the real-life Scott Cook?!
Meeting Scott has changed the course of my life. When he asked me to work with him on his new project how could I possibly say no? It’s a dream come true for me. We have now joined forces to create a whole new breed of guide books. The world’s FIRST books of this kind! More about the books in the next blog post…
Making the books has given me purpose and I have found my calling. No longer am I an aimless traveller. I feel like an activist now. I wish to help others throw away some of their worries, find an escape from the pressures of society and reconnect with their natural selves and mother nature. I wish to help put a stop to the body shaming and judgement we force on each other and set people free to have fun with their fabulous bodies in the fabulous natural world.