It's day three. You've set your alarm for 5:30 am, but in this remote region, the habitual rhythms of civilisation don't apply. Your body feels the natural call of daybreak and rises with the sun from slumber. In a strangely wakeful daze, you prepare the mornings sustenance in the same methodical manner as the previous days; heat the water, tear the packets, oats in a bowl, coffee in a cup, consume.
As the sky shifts in luminosity at the glacial pace of sunrise, you stuff the final items into their designated compartments and heft the bulging bag onto your back. The first step you take is accompanied by a swirling mix of excitement and nervous determination, aware of the countless steps that are going to follow that first. Your muscles settle into the rhythm of walking that the previous days have established. It doesn't take long for the meandering path and the stillness of morning to clear your mind of thoughts, the mental chatter crumbling away with each inhalation of the crisp, clean air.
In front of you, the looming shape of Mt. Ngauruhoe calmly watches over its fiefdom. A silky sheet of cloud drifts over the peak, diaphanous and pearly white. It comes close to caressing the rocky contours but instead passes over, leaving a sliver of space. The dusty ground and sharp, volcanic rocks scattered along your path are initially bathed in a cool, otherworldly blue, but as the sun behind you reaches the horizon, these hues develop warmth and depth. A golden shroud of light creeps down the mountain, like a rising tide soaking everything with life.
Having crossed the first plateau, a steep climb interrupts your leisurely cadence. As you scramble up the rugged incline, more concentration is necessary to navigate the path. You rise steadily, feeling your legs reluctantly adjust to this more demanding section, and the ground recedes faster than you expect. From the shoulders of these giants, you're able to survey the ground you just travelled through in its entirety. With a deep breath, you take a moment to appreciate the land from this new, lofty perspective. Nothing moves.
You turn and press onwards.