Times of Travel: Mt Ruapehu De-icing

My knees vibrated like fragile branches under the weight of a squirrel. I ascended the ladder cautiously on our first training run. I was panicking like the fattest pig on slaughter day. Out of my comfort zone from the word “go”. Deep breaths, deep breaths. Squeal.

Since when do pigs fly?

I perched, frozen in motion, at the top of the tower. There was a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was hesitating a bit too long. By this stage it was resoundingly clear to anyone watching that I was terrified.

What am I doing up here?

I had been chosen to be part of a team, made up of select resort lift operators, who’s job it is to manually de-ice the chairlifts and other equipment at Whakapapa ski-field in the North Island of New Zealand.

Why do you need to de-ice, you’re probably wondering – it’s a ski field after all, shouldn’t they be used to a bit of snow and ice?

Ice build up occurs when water droplets in the air, freeze on contact with a cold object – this is called rime ice. Mt Ruapehu is particularly susceptible to it, due to its central location on the narrow island, putting it at the mercy of weather patterns travelling over the coastal waters.

Rime ice grows layer on layer, creating rock hard ice, which sticks like cement.

Image credit: Mt Ruapehu

Most ski resorts suffer a bit of ice build up, which usually becomes the responsibility of the maintenance team to keep under control. Ruapehu is said to have the largest rime ice build up anywhere in the world. Having worked there, I can corroborate on this claim. The job of de-icing is such an undertaking at Ruapehu that they require dedicated teams to manage it. There does exist purpose designed systems that chairlifts use to prevent and remove ice – heat, special antifreeze lubricants and motion, and this may be enough for most European resorts and the like, with a naturally drier atmosphere. Mt Ruapehu is another beast entirely, the most effective way to do this is still the old fashioned way – people power. For this, trustee wooden bats and aluminium hammers are employed with a range of motions unchanged since before the Palaeolithic period.

The ice build up can get so big and heavy that it can damage equipment. A common hazard includes cables that pick up ice like a kofta kebab on a skewer, de-railing it from the sheaves (rollers that it runs on).

The cable can end up laid on the ground from end to end or in sections between towers, and often buried by fallen snow, this can be one of the most dangerous processes in de-icing. Under tension, the cable releases like a sling shot and is liable to cause seriously injury, or worse. The whole ordeal can take many hours of arduous effort, with the utmost care and attention required to protect the crew at work, but this also leaves them exposed to the elements for extended periods.

To give you an idea of how heavy the ice can get – in 2010, two lift towers collapsed under the weight of ice at Turoa.

High Noon chairlift, Turoa

Because of this, de-icers work through the storm, removing ice as it builds up. This means de-icers are exposed to extreme weather; unforgiving cold, high winds and low visibility. The refreeze moves over the landscape in a white fog like an apocalyptic reckoning, a cloud of moisture attaching itself to everything in sight – the chairlift, equipment and the de-icers themselves.

This is the behind the scenes effort that goes into making Ruapehu and similar resorts all over the world safe and operational, before the public ever gets to bite their skis into the freshly groomed corduroy. With that, a special mention should go out to the diligent preparation of the pistes, a labour of love through the night, by the beating heart of every mountain – the snowcat drivers.

You can read more about Mt Ruapehu and what led up to this moment in Times of Travel: Mt Ruapehu.

Feeling fresh in our new uniforms

My legs felt weak and lifeless. I timidly gripped at the cold steel, which penetrated the gloves, closing the distance from my chest. Doubt had been foreboding in the lead up. Conquering this fear wouldn’t necessarily have elevated me to a higher plane of existence (even though it quite literally would have), I knew that, but, this was a chance to untether myself from a shackle I’d be dragging from childhood.

I’m scared of two things unconditionally – deep bodies of water, and heights.

Now, was an opportunity – face a fear, which I can’t control. Mind over matter. If I could teach myself to control my urge to take flight – if I could fight it, something which feels so innately unnatural and distressing, then – If I could do this, what else could I do?

Plus, I wanted to be part of it. There was prestige in it too – you were a de-icer – part of a specially selected crew – picked because somebody thought you were tough enough to handle it. I didn’t want to let that somebody down. I didn’t want to let myself down. For pride or for duty, I pushed on, fraught with perturbation.

I had just watched the first newbie glide up the ladder, clipping his safety harness into each rung as he went. He was a rock climber, and he made it all look effortless, transitioning his points of contact and clipping in with ease. He pirouetted up high on the cable, like a acrobat on a tightrope.

I struggled to reach the top rung of the ladder without feinting and ending up dangling in my harness like a cartoon spider. Success! I had suppressed the urge to be back on the ground – now all I had to do was move.

I went through the motions methodically, making mechanical adjustments as if following a blueprint. Step 1, use hand to unclasp harness from attachment point on top rung of ladder, step 2, raise arm to attachment point above the assembly, step 3, panic, step 4, reduce panic to a gently simmer. Rest.

After much internal foreplay, I had managed to stand erect atop the mechanism, climaxing prematurely in a most disappointing first date with de-icing. It was a win. I still had to get out onto the cable and masquerade as a de-icer a bit longer, play acting the actions I would be required to do later, like a sad puppet. I swung the wooden bat at the ice-less cable, my weathered boots tittering precariously over each side. I wondered how the hell I was going to cope in bad weather, when I could barely tighten my jellyfish limbs enough to remain upright, under the best conditions this simulation could offer.

The whispery clouds rested dubiously on the horizon, the whole reason for my being up here, was obscured by their uncertainty. As I looked around from the top of the tower, each rock, crag and divot, at this point still uncovered by the snow, sunk like a pubescent nutsack, as my own retracted into my body. The terrain looked overly defined, as if painted, and seeming to have its depth drawn further into the earth and away from my celestial zone. I wrapped up my charade, with more whimper than pop, descending the ladder gratefully, back to terra firma. I had to accept the possibility – maybe I just wasn’t cut out for this.

I mulled it over on the journey back to the staff accommodation, where I was living with 55 other employees, all piled in on top of each other – shared common room, living room, toilets and showers, even many of the bedrooms were split between two strangers going in. I was lucky, I came with my partner, so we ended up in a private room. In fact, we really lucked out early on when I managed to haggle our way into the largest room, and only one with a en-suite bathroom, usually reserved for the house caretaker and cook, after he had moved out into private accommodation. One night, he came and placed himself on the sofa beside me.

“How is the new room?”

“Good” I replied.

“Funny smell in the bathroom thought, right?”

“Yeah” (there was).

“Just can’t get the smell of death out.”

“What?”

“Oh, don’t you know?” A wicked smile cracked free at the corners of his lips.

“Know what?”

“The last caretaker died in that room. That’s why the position was open this year.”

“Oh wow, that’s dark.”

“Yeah, they didn’t find his body for two days. He had started to decompose when they did.”

My eyes widened in revolt.

“Are you serious..?”

“Why would I joke about this?” His face let out no emotion. He readjusted his glasses with one finger.

“Ask Sue (the property manager).” He continued.

I believed him.

“Did they change the mattress?” I inquired, grimacing.

“Does the staff accommodation seem like the place they replace mattresses?”

I didn’t answer.

I turned back to what I was doing previously, but my mind stayed on the conversation. He stood up and slipped away in silence.

I spent three days fretting over it. People have died everywhere, I told myself. Let it go. I couldn’t budge the uneasy feeling I got whenever I walked into my room, let alone tried to find a comfortable position in bed.

On the forth day, he told me he was joking…

Man, it was a learning curve. I had fun – sure did – it was a good experience and I’m glad for it. I met some of the coolest, most warm (I like that juxtaposition), and interesting people from all around the globe. I made some real connections. It was awesome. Would I do it again? Hell no! Not if there was a alternative. I had never lived in shared accommodation before, let alone with 55 other people. I had gone from living in a flat with my partner in the UK, to a van with my partner in NZ, to a sardine tin of other humans at Ruapehu – it was an acquired taste, and may not improve with age – but that’s obviously subjective. There’s many anecdotes to be told here, and lessons learned, I’m sure – perhaps another time.

Snowdrift at Staffies

The bus was pulling in through the darkness, headlights reflecting off the glassy frozen tarmac. We all piled in.

I was rolling with it.

A typical de-icing day would start early! 6/6.30am into the staff room for morning briefing and gear up. Everything needed to be checked before heading out – harness’, clips, carabineers and lanyards – tugs and nods passed from item to item. You would always do a buddy check too, for double surety.

The team would trail out into the darkness, which sat heavily on the snow, bundling their gear and tired bodies onto the back of the snowcat – a snow groomer – securing their snowboard by their bindings around the metal railings, which we stood, exposed, inside. Most were fit for work, some would be hungover, dreaming already of that first pie once (and if) the restaurant opens. The machine purred as we rode off into the abyss. Often the scenery would be startling, lit by the eery headlight of the snowcat – jaunty icicles hung from rocks and overhangs like colonies of glacial bats. We trundled along like a rag tag band of warriors, heading into battle on the back of a fearless red tank. The air was thick with choking diesel fumes, which blew into our faces. Sometimes, people would hold their gloves over the exhaust to warm their hands. They’d be surprised as they burned and shrivelled dry like a dehydrated prune. It would melt holes in jackets of those pressed against it. Despite, people would still choose to chew the toxic excretion, and punish their gear, as a better alternative to the biting cold.

Into the abyss (imagine this in the dark!)

Operations would be carried out in ‘riding gear’, with travel between lift towers to be made on snowboard – ski boots were not appropriate footwear to climb the towers, though some did anyway. Exceptions were to be made on days in which the most severe weather made riding too dangerous, in which the line would be walked. Beyond that circumstance, we would be dropped at the top of the lift tower, strap into our snowboards, and ride to our allocated tower. There, we would fasten our boards to the ladder on the tower, climb it and remove the ice, then ride to the next free tower and pick it up, radioing in our location. A series of other safety measures were in place, implemented through radio communication, to make sure the lift was locked-out at the drive station, and safe to be worked on.

This first few days I got my bearings, were “glory days”. Small storms followed by sunny days. These were celebrated moments. The towers would heat up under the layer of ice and one big hit would often undermine the whole formation, sending it to earth in a hail storm of shattered ice.

Spot me?

I was cutting my teeth on the grindstone. The view over the pinnacle ridge was breathtaking.

The best thing about early mornings, was undoubtably watching the sunrise, a resplendent kaleidoscope transforming the horizon. The best view overlooked Mt Ngauruhoe, which is the volcano that modelled for Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings, whilst it reigns over its kingdom, beneath the lavish display, palatially.

The first and most beneficial thing I learnt was to trust my equipment. I practiced lowering myself into precarious positions and hanging in my harness. Learning to trust in my gear was a massive mental victory, which began to help me to override the fear of heights. The snow, which now covered all the rocks, also aided me, in blurring my gauge of depth. When the floor was solid white, it created a false sense of security, like hovering over a giant pillow.

The best time to de-ice, was always on the glory days, baked in sunlight. Believe it or not, warm-ish yet stormy days actually sucked way more than freezing cold ones. At least with the re-freeze, the layer of ice would armour you in a – very broadly speaking – insulated layer, which wouldn’t turn your gear into a sodden mess until you breached the warm, welcoming air of the staff room. The worse ordeals were the warm-er storms, hovering just above freezing. Whilst it drenched you to the skin in frigid rain, it would chill you to the bones with unrelenting winds. The winds could get well over 100km an hour, permeating even the most robustly dressed de-icer.

I would loathe these days. My hands became numb and refused to respond to the neurons firing through my brain, telling it to move my muscles. Grasping at the unforgiving cold of the steel with my newly autonomous mitts, furthered the pain, as the gusts threw me around like a weightless marionette. My snowboard boots connected to the ice encrusted tower like magnets on wood. When you were at the top of a lift tower, hanging off your harness, you are alone. Wet, cold and fed up – that’s a miserable combination. These were the toughest moments. I’d battle invisible enemies, as my head told me to climb down and save myself in the warmth of staff room. SAVE YOURSELF, YOU FOOL! Why was I punishing myself?

When I did finally squelch into the haven of the staff room, the first stop was the drying cupboard (a small, enclosed, heated room with racks and rails) to hang my jacket and gloves, and enjoy a short moment of respite. We never had long to recover, before break was over and we were suiting back up. The ironic thing – the break was never long enough to dry our gear, only melt the ice, which puddled on the floor on the room. Pulling on my warm, wet jacket, felt gross, but it wasn’t as bad as the cold, attaching itself to the saturated conductor, as soon as we reentered the the unsympathetic air.

Admittedly, it was embarrassingly late in the season that I picked up my top tip: bring spare socks.

A memorable event, where the line was walked, happened in the thick of a fearsome storm. The Far West T-Bar was in the periphery of the resort. As the name implies, it was as far out as you can get – it was the Wild West.

The cable was de-railed and buried deep in the snow, weighted down by immense ice build up. It was clear, through the morning briefing, that this was no ordinary day. The storm was tearing through the seemingly impenetrable bleached backdrop. “It’s Siberia out there”, the supervisor gulped. The snowcat driver, despite being incredible well familiarised the landscape, ordinarily reading the terrain using geographical markers, got lost two times in the fog, and we suffered on the back of the groomer, huddled together for warmth, as a consequence. I questioned why we would even be out here in these conditions – it seemed like a kamikaze mission. The battleground was stark and hostile. I felt like we had been well and truly fucked. Was nobody thinking about our safety or our health? It sure didn’t feel like it. Who was the dumb bastard being sent into the line of fire without anything more than a silent protest?

“If you’re gonna be dumb, you better be tough”.

Our gear was laminated by the freeze before we arrived at the lift. We looked like a lost expedition, whose frozen corpses had been preserved in the permafrost.

Arriving, grateful to depart the claustrophobic confines of the snowcat, and get moving as soon as possibly to warm up. Parameters set, we walked the line. The cable was like the torqued string to a bow. We had to stay either side of it, never stepping over it, where it lay, buried beneath the surface. Everything was a bit different, everything was being done incrementally. We walked cautiously and stopped by our tower. We were to only de-ice one tower at a time, working down the line, with the other de-icers standing clear. Once the tower above us was cleared, we would be radioed for the next man up to step into action. This was to minimise risk, with fewer people in the cross fire, if the vibrations from the de-icers swings was to prompt the release of the loaded cable and send it up like a inverted guillotine. I wasn’t long finished with my tower, safely on the ground when the cable raptured. Pieces of ice rained down like arctic cannonballs. A fridge sized jacket of ice, blown apart into car tire sized projectiles, sprayed everywhere like a shotgun shell. Smaller, fist sized shrapnel hit my shoulder and back as I curled into the brace position.

“Call yourself in safe!” a panicked voiced stabbed through the radio.

“I’m hit.” crackled over multiple transmissions coming in at once.

“I’m hit! My arm!…” a second time, clearer.

It was very dramatic. I almost expected severed limbs and arteries pumping warm crimson gore all over the sullied snow.

Whilst the damage was accessed we called ourselves in from the top. Everyone else was ok. The force of the cable releasing had ironically knocked off a lot of the ice from the towers. A job well done?

We regrouped, ready to tidy up the loose ends, as the injured de-icer was evacuated on the back of a snowmobile. There was talk of whether a helicopter was going to have to be called in from Taupō, which never came to fruition. He was ok – he escaped with minor injuries and his arm wasn’t even broken, gratefully. After an initial genuine concern, the jokes began to pour on in heaps. A lot of fuss for nothing! And the rest, to which you’ll have to use your imagination. It’s all banter. You know that phrase? Usually when people say “it’s just banter” – it is – sometimes it’s not, it’s a shade darker. There’s a fine line.

Social politics can be difficult. I don’t know what I expected working at a ski resort would be like. Lots of young people with a diverse range of personalities. Suddenly having to deal with a abnormally large amount of coworkers was educational.

Working the regular day to day as a Lift Operator was pretty straight forward in itself – set up, shovel snow, run the lift for public, shovel more snow, smile a lot. I enjoyed creating an experience for people. Everyone comes to ski or snowboard and have fun! Making a garden flourish beautifully is easy if the flowers are already there, you just need to water it.

There were around 50 lift operators in the department, nearly all under the age of 30 and the grand majority under the age of 25. It doesn’t take a lot to create a commotion.

In moments, I felt like I had gone back in time, to school days, with frivolous gossip dripping from loose lips, and watching the cliques group together, it was a scene straight out of the movie Mean Girls.

The de-icers were, in some respects, another breed entirely. Although not adverse to their own tones of gossip – It was a mans world. That said, I should note, there was one female de-icer, who was as impressive as any person I’ve ever met – a good ol’ fashioned, tough as muck farm girl, who would throw picnic style tables on her back and carry them like I could lift a cold pint to my lips – with ease. But, if you were a de-icer, apparently, you had to live up to a action hero stereotype, brave, dumb and emotionless – and that didn’t always sit well with me. We’re human. We’re sensitive. But, when you’re surrounded by all males, where the role doesn’t just ask you to be tough, it demands it, it begins to harbour a culture of, dare I say it – toxic masculinity. It shunned compassion and promoted bravado. I would have thought, due to the nature of the work, it would have harboured kinship and camaraderie, to some, without a doubt, it did, but, there was a ruthlessness to it too. If someone messed up, it was dog eat dog. I observed that mentality with disappointment. There were those who would step on other people, or put them down to look good. I know that exists everywhere. Im a little older, little wiser now – I deal with things better. Still plenty to learn. But, even then, I didn’t like that. I like to see the true personality of a person, I believe, beneath the surface, we’re all filled with inadequacies and insecurities. That’s the beautiful side of a person. When the boys snowboarded together, it was called riding as a wolfpack. Sometimes, I felt like a dog blending in among wolves.

As the season progressed, I started to feel more and more confident – and comfortable – whilst I manoeuvred my way around the tower like a macaque through the trees.

Image credit: Mark Hemmings

It was a strange sensation. Something which once struck fear throughout my being, was now so tackled with so my dexterity and vigour. I felt at ease looking over the highest towers to the ground below. I could hang upside down if I wanted to, from any height in my harness, to get those hard to reach places. No sheer dread, just… enthusiasm. I would choose the highest tower I could, for that extra rush – it would still give me a tickle in the goolies, but I wasn’t scared anymore – I started to seek it. It was exciting – thrilling – addictive!

Somewhere inside me, I had decided I needed this. I needed a challenge – an obstacle to overcome. I had battled, and defeated, the fear of heights I had been harbouring it since a small boy. Something about it felt coming of age.

As high as the hurdles were, I had made it over the bar. As the season drew to an end, and the final swings fell through the air, it wasn’t relief which filled me, It was melancholy. I was going to miss it.

Riding out to the Wild West on a glory day
Wild West – Yee haw!
Rising sun over Pinnacle Ridge from tower top
Mt Ngauruhoe and I

You can watch the de-icing process in the link below. This video is not my property – it was shown as an introduction to de-icing by the department manager at Whakapapa. The video was filmed at Whakapapa, Mt Ruapehu.

De-icing at Whakapapa, video by Ben Dymock


Look out for next In times of travel, where I’ll be stepping back into Ruapehu once more, with a guide to the Crater Lake at its summit.


What is life without community? I would love to connect with other nicecissists out there. Seeing as you’ve got this far, that’s probably you! Reach out, drop me a message and let me know what you think in the comments, and of course, give me a follow for more – nice!

The devil on my shoulder

A poem amount the fragility of mental health, anxiety and depression.

Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

Work, work, work away,

Get up early, break of day,

So little time to play,

The devils on my shoulder,


Scheming up something malicious,

Whispering softly, don’t act suspicious,

Turning a kind man into something vicious,

The devils on my shoulder,


The devils on my shoulder,

Turning my heart colder,

It’s not me, it’s the devil I see,

The devil on my shoulder,


Work, work, work away,

Relentless torment makes my heart sway,

Leave a man in disarray,

The devils on my shoulder,


I try so hard to fight against,

The devil fights back with cruel intent,

Overcome by his malevolence,

The devils getting bolder,


To punish as he sees fit,

His willing servant, I do submit,

What evil will I commit?

The devils taken over.


Original poem by © Darius the Mate


What is life without community? I would love to connect with other nicecissists out there. Seeing as you’ve got this far, that’s probably you! Reach out, drop me a message and let me know what you think in the comments, and of course, give me a follow for more – nice!

The new normal

Lies fragment lives, can we believe our eyes?

Are we witnessing truths demise?

Everywhere, bastions rise around serfdom cries

Accept and submit? Your liberty dies.

Nothing to hide? “Ok” then if our data is spied?

Question, who decides of what we see is comprised?

Everything we choose freely, a sweet goodbye.


Original poem by © Darius the Mate


What is life without community? I would love to connect with other nicecissists out there. Seeing as you’ve got this far, that’s probably you! Reach out, drop me a message and let me know what you think in the comments, and of course, give me a follow for more – nice!

Tip to save time, priority check rhyme

There’s far too much to think about,

To fraternise with drama,

I’d rather sit and ponder, a little longer,

whilst I figure out my dharma,


I’m not here to make friends,

If I make friends, It’s a bonus,

Place less emphasis on what people think,

And let what you think of people be the onus.


Original poem by © Darius the Mate


What is life without community? I would love to connect with other nicecissists out there. Seeing as you’ve got this far, that’s probably you! Reach out, drop me a message and let me know what you think in the comments, and of course, give me a follow for more – nice!

Times of Travel: Mt Ruapehu

Chateau Tongariro and Mount Ruapehu. Image credit: http://www.chateau.co.nz

Hike, ski, live and be free! How often do you get to ski down the side of an active volcano? No, this isn’t the new James Bond film. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or avid photographer, keen to get some postcard ready snaps, this majestic mountain, as seen above in front of the picturesque Chateau Tongariro, has something for everyone. What can thrill seekers and sightseers enjoy alike? Venture up the brand new Sky Waka 10 person capacity gondola, offering 360 degrees of Mt Ruapehu and out over the horizon onto Mt Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom, The Lord of the Rings) and Mt Tongariro. Need to warm up? How about toasting those ski legs in front of the fire, whilst sampling some of New Zealand’s delectable craft beer culture in the local Tavern – make sure to check the quiz night out.

Mt Ruapehu, as viewed from the track to Tama Lakes

Mt Ruapehu, situated in the Tongariro National Park, is an outdoor enthusiasts playground of epic proportions. I love this place – it’s properly my favourite spot in New Zealand – and that’s saying something, given how packed to the rim with an exhaustingly long bucket list of other extraordinary natural places, this modestly sized country has to offer.

Central North Island just had it all for me – sandwiched between NZ’s largest city in the North of the island, Auckland, and it’s Capital city in the South of it, Wellington, this UNESCO dual world heritage site is conveniently situated for excursions from both ends. It’s closest large town, at 1.5hrs drive north, is Taupō, sitting on the extensive Lake Taupō, it is in and of itself a stand out destination to visit. The region is full of life – most of it under the surface. From the bubbling geysers of Rotorua, to the prominent coned stratovolcanos of Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Taranaki, it’s hard to miss the central North Islands volcanic presence, much of it encompassed by the Taupo Volcanic Zone, active for the last two million years and still going strong today.

Bubbling geysers of Hells Gate, Rotorua

My first encounter with the area, was with the tramping of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. You can read about it here;

Times of Travel: Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Red Crater and Mt Ngauruhoe,
Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The hike sits in the shadow of its impressive neighbour, Mt Ruapehu. This active stratovolcano is the largest in New Zealand, standing at 2’797 metres in elevation – it is also the North Islands highest point. It hosts the ski resorts of Whakapapa and Turoa. I had been desperate to work my first ski season, so having been thoroughly charmed during the course of the Tonargiro Alpine Crossing, I applied to work at Whakapapa.

Mt Ruapehu’s north east side, viewed from Tama Lakes

Whakapapa, pronounced “fakapapa”, laying snug on the northern side of Mt Ruapehu, has 12 lifts, spread over 1360 acres, with a top elevation of 2’300 metres.

A month or so later, I heard back. I powered up for an interview without much second thought, despite the distance from Wellington, where I was then working, and was more than frilled to secure the job. The manager divulged to me, that as soon as I had told him I was coming from Wellington, he knew I was keen as mustard, committed, and unlikely to let him down – it was much a done deal. I was pumped. I knocked back a couple of Macs that evening to celebrate – I mean, I probably would have done that anyway, but, why just drink, when you can celebrate, right?

Enjoying a Macs Three Wolves IPA in the back of the van. Read about more Kiwi favourites at; NeversayNOmad.

I was all ready to go – first season, brand new snowboard and bindings set up, about to blow the cobwebs off my wealth of two-holiday experience. I was packet fresh and ready to get some air! Yewww (and all that). But, there was still a surprise in store – I had originally been hired for the job of “Lift Operator”, a pretty to the point job description, I’m sure you’ll agree. But, Ruapehu isn’t just any ordinary mountain, it’s a fricken volcano after all – before I continue, let’s just touch on that again… – you’re literally snowboarding down the side of an active volcano! Primed and ready to go at anytime – complete madness. It was a mountain of extremes, and now, manifold winter seasons down the line, in many different places around the world, I can say resolutely, Ruapehu is up there as the most bipolar mountain of the lot.

Predictably unpredictable weather, world class terrain, fun times, Herculean challenges, and a cast of characters, with equal polarity. But, the main character in this story, is the mountain herself. It’s not a place to be taken lightly. Sadly, it’s a place where people loose their lives every year, including during my time there. Mother Nature is a powerful force and must be respected. Don’t be deceived by its majestic beauty, it can be as deadly as it is awe inspiring and alluring.

Standing in front of the Pinnacles

The company itself, Ruapehu Alpine Lifts sorted us out abundantly for gear. By far the most generous resort I have ever worked at in terms of PPE and perks.

The first chairlift up the mountain was a jarring introduction. Our induction was being held in the “Knowle Ridge Cafe”, the highest restaurant in the Southern Hemisphere. It was preseason and yet to snow heavily. I could hardly believe the topography of the mountain. It looked, well, just like a volcano. Prolific volcanic rock structures jutted jaggedly, many metres high, away from the earth in every direction. I just could not get my head around it snowing enough to fill it all in, but I was assured by the locals, it would come!

Sunrise from behind the Knowle Ridge Cafe, taken during an early morning start de-icing

During the induction, we were let in on information surrounding a tragedy befalling an employee, which had occurred during the season of 2012. A ski instructor had been last seen heading off by himself after work. He wasn’t reported missing for two days. His body was found near the Pinnacle Ridge, challenging terrain, which wouldn’t have been in itself an issue for this experienced skier, however, he must have fallen down the wrong side of the ridge. The next day was his day off, and the following day the resort was closed due to weather. Without a radio or having told anyone his intended whereabouts, his absence wasn’t alerted to until his coworkers noticed his equipment missing from the staff room. He was only 25 years old.

This set a stark warning – Mt Ruapehu is a place to be underestimated at ones own peril.

All you need to do is Google “Mt Ruapehu death”, and you’ll see an exhausting list of fatal misadventures.

In 2017, the year of my time at Ruapehu, a man went missing at the Crater Lake. His last location could be identified by his skis and polls, left resting by the lake edge. I watched the helicopters fly overhead, as they repatriated his body. The lake, which holds two volcanic vents, is formed by melted snow and ice, filling the crater with warm acidic water and steam. It’s nestled around Ruapehu’s three peaks, Tahurangi – 2,797 metres, Te Heuheu – 2,755 metres, and Paretetaitonga – 2,751 metres. The man had slipped and fallen into the Lake during bad weather. His body was later reclaimed. In response to a second man losing his life after falling into the lake, in 2018, within the space of 12 months, local iwi Uenuku, Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāti Rangi placed a rāhui (temporary access ban) on the surrounding area.

The maunga, the Māori word for mountain, Ruapehu, means “pit of noise”/”exploding pit” in Māori.

Crater Lake

There have been over 600 volcanic events documented at Ruapehu since 1830. Phreatomagmatic eruptions have occurred around 50 years apart, and can go on for several months. There have been notable eruptions in 1895, 1945 and 1995 through to 1996. These major eruptions, have over the last 2,000 years, been active through the Crater Lake at the summit. More minor phreatic or hydrothermal eruptions, happen a decade or longer, on average, apart, with notable eruptions occurring in 1969, 1975, and 2007.

The infamous catastrophe of the Tangiwai disaster, where 151 people were killed when a railway bridge support gave way, the result of a lahar, caused by the collapse of the temphra dam (temphra is a material produced during a volcanic eruption), which was holding back the Crater Lake.

Wreckage of the Tangiwai disaster, which happened Christmas Eve morning 1953

Lahars are landscape changing debris flows, caused when the water level rises in the Crater Lake through volcanic activity. A rise in the water level can cause to the temphra dam to break under pressure, or overflow. Debris of mud, hot water and rocks pick up astonishing speeds, travelling at tens of metres a second, melting the surrounding snow and ice, which feed into the lahar, growing it in size and force, and picking up more debris. Lahars can be extremely destructive forces, destroying any structures in its path, and carving new features into the rock face.

With the last Lahar occurring during 2007, as of 2017, during my time at Ruapehu, it was right on top of being due for another event. Scientists, having been dispatch, had recorded small activity changes at the Crater Lake. The mountain authorities were on high alert, and primed to react. Special training in the event of a lahar was given to all lift operations staff, and indoctrination in the importance of assertive life saving action in the event of a lahar, to protect resort guests, and self. Whakapapa’s fantastic terrain, with its variable valleys and warren-hole like runs, is in part thanks to lahar pathways, pushed out of the rock through past eruptions. Some of the resorts lifts were built in these volcanic footprints, granting access to the great runs it offered – one such lift was the newly installed (to 2017) Delta Quad chairlift, right in the groove of a lahar run out. As I greeted some pink cheeked customers at the load of the Delta Quad lift, my welcoming smile dropped as the siren rung out across the mountain. I spun my neck to look toward the Crater Lake – it was the lahar warning alarm.

Top of the Delta Quad chairlift. It’s terrain to the left of the photo, carved by lahars

You can read about my journey to the Crater Lake, learn more about the Tangiwai and other disasters, lahars, and the aftermath of the terrifying moment my bubble was pierced by the lahar warning signal, in Times of Travel: Mt Ruapehu Crater Lake, coming soon.

Ruapehu’s location, in the centre of the narrow New Zealand landmass, means that it is affected by weather coming in from all sides, across the ocean, largely at the mercy of severe weather patterns. It suffers from rime ice build up, where moisture in the air freezes on contact with a cold object. It builds layer on layer, creating rock hard, cement like ice, which encases, before it consumes, the lifts and lines entirely. In 2010, two towers on the High Noon chairlift at Turoa bent double and collapsed under the weight of ice build up.

High Noon chairlift, Turoa, 2010

This means that somebody has to clear the ice, before the lifts are able to be run. One of those somebodies ended up being me. Together, with a group of selected Lift Operators, a de-icers job is to climb the lift towers and manually remove the ice by force – with clubs – B grade baseball bats, and occasionally aluminium mallets. These operations would often – due to their nature – be carried out on days in which the condition of the weather would not permit the mountain to be open to the public, exposing de-icers to extreme weather; high winds, low visibility and freezing temperatures.

The Lift Operations manager gathered us all in the staff room. He surveyed the room with his dark eyes and presumptive smile; “Congratulations boys, you’re the chosen ones”. Oh, I wondered what I had won? Naively, I fed off the excitement in the room. My intrigue turned to terror when I heard about what we had been chosen for – I was petrified of heights!

Read about my experience de-icing at Mt Ruapehu in Times of Travel: Mt Ruapehu De-icing.

Thank you for reading, my fellow Earth worshipper!

You can watch the de-icing process in the link below. This video is not my property – it was shown as an introduction to de-icing by the department manager at Whakapapa. The video was filmed at Whakapapa, Mt Ruapehu.

De-icing at Whakapapa, video by Ben Dymock.


What is life without community? I would love to connect with other nicecissists out there. Seeing as you’ve got this far, that’s probably you! Reach out, drop me a message and let me know what you think in the comments, and of course, give me a follow for more – nice!

Is coffee good for you?

You can probably guess where this is going and where it’s coming from. I love coffee. I drink it even though it stains my teeth and makes me need to poop. Sometimes I drink it because it makes me need to poop. I love the smell (talking about the coffee now…), the taste – its bitterness, uniqueness -, the process – grinding the beans – the ceremony of it all, the feeling of regularity it gives me – the routine. What could be better than a hot cup of coffee in the morning?

I desperately want coffee to be healthy.

I drink it anyway, regardless. However, I’ve been travelling around in my van for a while now. I have become estranged to my coffee press. I’d managed to organically phase out coffee drinking to near nothing (I still drunk tea like a good Brit – but green tea, mostly), without thinking about it. Organically – like how I prefer the smooth and aromatic Arabica coffee, I didn’t realise I missed. Arabica coffee makes up 60% of the worlds coffee production, in comparison to Robusta, which is stronger and more bitter.

Image credit: Flickr/Christian Kadluba

⁃ Did you know? Coffee is the second most widely traded commodity after crude oil.

Anyway, It’s quite easy when it’s out of sight, out of mind, spending a lot of time in and around nature. Whilst remaining travelling, I’ve recently reunited with the city. City life and coffee go hand in hand. I mean, coffee doesn’t have any hands, so it just wraps it’s aroma around you instead. In fact, coffee goes with everything. Coffee. Yes, coffee. My love, I didn’t forget you.

Sorry, back to cities. Cities and coffee – they’re two peas in a pod – well actually coffee is a seed, not a pea, and not a bean, they’re actually the seeds of a berry. So, coffee is actually a fruit you ask? You betcha!

Sorry, I’m getting sidetracked, I need to focus – time for a swift coffee!

Barista; How do you take your coffee? Me; Very seriously.

Recently, I’ve started to ‘treat myself’. I feel naughty when I pick up a little ‘treat’ coffee from a café. I’ve ended up drinking it everyday (Alright, alright, settle down. I know there’s going to be a lot of people thinking “Pump those numbers, rookie!”). I hadn’t even thought I could feel responsible drinking coffee – until my partner said “Matcha green tea has more antioxidants than coffee.”

Hold up, what was that?

“Yeah, matcha green tea is really good for you.”

No, no, no. Not that. The other thing. The comparative. You said it as if – coffee is good for you.

So, I wondered – is coffee good for you?

Coffee is rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants can supposedly fight cell damage and reduce the risk of serious health conditions like cancer and heart disease. It also contains vitamin B2, B5, magnesium, potassium and caffeine. Antioxidants also fight inflammation, which can help with other conditions.

It should help you lose weight, as magnesium and potassium help the body use insulin and regulating blood sugar levels, whilst caffeine can aid fat cells in breaking down body fat and lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

It may give you a short and long term memory boost, as caffeine affects the areas of the brain responsible for memory and concentration. Caffeine can also decrease the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Caffeine stimulates the release of dopamine and serotonin and has been attributed to notably reducing depression by blocking receptors in the brain from mood reducing chemicals.

Several studies have indicated that coffee drinkers may even live longer, which doesn’t seem like a surprise, considering all the diseases it may reduce the risk of.

That said, there’s a lots of maybes in there. So, you’ll have to use your own initiative on this one.

It’s widely ascribed to negative effects from caffeine, such as addiction, anxiety and disrupting sleep (which itself would feed heavily into any ill effects one might be exhibiting).

That said, we didn’t come here to procrastinate on whether coffee is bad for you. You’re here because you saw the word coffee and it lit up your brain like the warm glow emitted through a coffee shop window.

⁃ Did you know? Before coffee, beer was the most widely consumed beverage. When most water was unsafe to drink, people turned to beer, which was drunk all day.

Fancy a coffee or a beer at 7am?

Don’t answer.

Used coffee grounds can even be used as a great exfoliator for you skin. Now you can enjoy your next cup of coffee whilst rubbing your last one into your face.

Don’t try this as your local coffee shop.

Do – enjoy drinking that next cup of coffee, guilt free – it’s good for you!


What is life without community? I would love to connect with other nicecissists out there. Seeing as you’ve got this far, that’s probably you! Reach out, drop me a message and let me know what you think in the comments, and of course, give me a follow for more – nice!

North face of my mind

Image credit: Jimmy Chin

If I don’t make it back alive, at least I laced my boots and I got out.

I may have not quite paved the way, but I’ve walked the road and mapped the route.

My name may not be recognised, my story, not regaled,

but, I hope those who remember me, can recount a honest tale,

Those who’ve made me feel hard to be loved, are let go, dispersed, as pollen in the breeze.

From barren earth, a forest grows, now to walk among the trees.

To ask untold questions, into the silence, why is there sadness in a budding rose?

To know it will be gone tomorrow, lingers in my resting woes.

Why do we have the urge to climb to mountain peaks, where there’s nothing to be found?

To continue to ask the questions, why, when we can stay down on the ground?

We all have our own hurdles, set in our mind by human nature.

In my head, there’s 8,000 foot mountains to be climbed, where hope crumbles like paper.

To get lost on this mountain, body be entombed within the snow.

Lie inside my head for eternity, stuck behind eyes which no longer glow.

Still beneath the dying stars, that disappear without a sound.

King of my own destiny, never to be crowned.

Suffocating from this altitude, where the oxygen is thin.

High above the clouds, life ends, before it can begin.

I want to breath again, I want to live,

Understand, which parts of me to hold back, which parts of me to give,

I want to learn to accept, that which cannot be defined,

To attempt the treacherous descent, from the north face of my mind.


Original poem by © Darius the Mate


What is life without community? I would love to connect with other nicecissists out there. Seeing as you’ve got this far, that’s probably you! Reach out, drop me a message and let me know what you think in the comments, and of course, give me a follow for more – nice!

Friendships made, friendships lost.

A poem I wrote for a friend, who was feeling hurt, whilst finding it difficult to navigate a challenging friendship.

Friendships made, friendships lost. Can be thrown away, but at what cost? Many years to form, so quickly gone. So little time I mourn, the friendships done.

I don’t need you, if you don’t need me. You think I’ll be here? Just wait and see. A point to prove, but at what cost? Friendships made, friendships lost.

Sometimes its better to push them away. You know it’s no good to watch it decay. You can build it back up, but just keep in mind, when you bring them back close, don’t look on blind. Cover your eyes, at what cost? Friendships made, friendships lost.

Keep them in your life, but take control. Voice your opinions, stand up, be bold. In doing this, it’s ok to keep them there, but don’t forget, the ones who truly care.


Original poem by © Darius the Mate


What is life without community? I would love to connect with other nicecissists out there. Seeing as you’ve got this far, that’s probably you! Reach out, drop me a message and let me know what you think in the comments, and of course, give me a follow for more – nice!

Coffee and kittens

Somewhere in China…

Bitter coffee,

caffeinated thoughts,

a living fidget in clothes,

happy, distraught,


A kitten runs gingerly,

the motorway is alive,

which way to go,

flattened or to survive,


I meow into the paper cup,

I should stop drinking,

I’d have better luck,

at stopping thinking.


Original poem by © Darius the Mate


What is life without community? I would love to connect with other nicecissists out there. Seeing as you’ve got this far, that’s probably you! Reach out, drop me a message and let me know what you think in the comments, and of course, give me a follow for more – nice!

Happy chemicals

As covered in my post The dopamine epidemic – dopamine is the feel good chemical, important in influencing motivation. When we experience a taste, touch, sound, or a visual, dopamine travels as a neurotransmitter in the brain, making us feel a pleasurable sensation. It helps us form habits, for better or for worse. Having properly regulated dopamine levels, is crucial for stable mental and physical health.

But, what about the other D.O.S.E chemicals?

D.O.S.E is an acronym, which stands for dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins.

Let’s take a look.

Oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the love hormone. It is a neurotransmitter, that is released into the bloodstream as a hormone during lovemaking, childbirth and when the nipples are stimulated during lactation. It has been described as having an important role in lust and love emotions, including orgasm and maternal behaviour, as well as also being connected to recognition and social bonding. Women usually have higher levels of oxytocin than men.

Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus and secreted by the pituitary gland, found at the base of the brain.

During labour, oxytocin is released into the body, aiding contractions in the womb, causing a release of more oxytocin into the blood, causing further contractions, and so on.

Image credit: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk

Breastfeeding stimulates the release of oxytocin from the brain. When a baby latches on to their mothers breast, the nerve cells send a message to the mothers brain, letting it know to release oxytocin. Oxytocin will then connect the signal, to contract the muscles surrounding the milk glands, pushing breast milk into the milk ducts. As with labour, as the stimulation continues, more oxytocin is released, the milk is let down, more stimulation, more oxytocin, more milk. The perfect cycle of give and take. This breastfeeding process is called the “let down reflex”.

That’s different to the reflex you get when your mother-in-law texts about coming over at the weekend.

Oxytocin can also help create strong emotional bonds, that are especially potent with a mother for her baby, establishing a desire to nurture. Low levels of oxytocin may affect a woman’s ability to let down milk for breastfeeding and has been linked to autism spectrum disorders and depression.

Oxytocin can be administered as a drug – often to induce labour. There is also a nasal spray and over the counter medicines.

It would have played a role in early human survival, as it does now, by connecting humans via social bonding. Humans don’t come out the womb running – a mother who protects and nurtures her offspring will lead to lower infant mortality rates, meaning more productive hands for the tribe later on. Beyond reproduction, social bonds are needed to synthesise an urge to protect one-another against predators, hunt in groups, form more elaborate social structures – furthering brain development and pushing humanity into the future.

Serotonin, most of those young-once will be somewhat familiar with this one. At least, there’ll be those who know what I mean, you know what I mean?

UK acid house scene started in 1988, image credit: Dave Swindells

Anyway, what’s serotonin all about? Found most prevalently, with 90% of the bodies total, stored in the gastrointestinal tract – the digestive system-, this chemical neurotransmitter sends signals between nerve cells. It is also produced in the central nervous system – in the brainstem, certain skin cells, taste receptors cells in the tongue and stored in blood platelets.

It is important in many natural functions in the human body. Found primarily in the intestines and stomach, it helps regulate proper digestion and healthy bowl movements. It is also helps to excrete upsetting food more quickly from the body, by vomited or diarrhoea.

Blood platelets release serotonin, causing arteries to narrow and form blood clots, to help heal wounds. It is also a factor in bone health, as excessive levels of serotonin are connected to the weakening of bones.

Serotonin is key in mood stabilisation, with normal serotonin levels attributed to lower anxiety, improving focus, and calm. Levels affect sleep and wakefulness. High levels of serotonin may decrease in libido, with lower levels causing an increase in libido.

You can help regulate healthy serotonin levels by getting plenty of exercise and sunlight and boosting your intake of foods that contain tryptophan, such as nuts, cheese, eggs, red meat, salmon and tofu, among others.

Endorphins are chemicals the body releases when it is under stress or in pain. They’re primarily produced in the pituitary gland and carry messages throughout the brain and nervous system. There have been over 20 types of endorphins identified in humans. Beta-endorphins are the ones that contribute to pain relief.

When we feel pain or stress, endorphins act on the opiate receptors in our brains – they reduce pain and result in a feeling of pleasure. They’re also released during other activities, such as sex, exercise and eating. Certain foods, such as chocolate or chillis enhance secretion of endorphins. That explains why we love these two foods, and perhaps, why we crave them more than others.

If you’re a runner, you may have experienced the coveted “runners high” – that euphoric feeling where you’ll be overloading with happy chemicals, feel light and full of energy. This is actually a result of multiple hormones, including endorphins and dopamine. Endorphins are released to help quell that muscle ache, setting off a dopamine release, which gives you that happy feeling.

The London Marathon

For those who are super curious to know what it feels like, as I was – and I can only say that I have legitimately felt that runners high once, and I run a lot (long distance too, which, I would have thought, increased the chances of experiencing this phenomenon maybe a tiny, weeny bit. Alas! It had eluded me thus far – but, not for much longer!).

My experience was this – it finally happened closing in on the 15km mark, on a sun lit run through the beautiful city of Perth, Australia. It was Boxing Day, and I had just had a dry Christmas for the first time since I was 15, maybe earlier. I had been laying off the booze for the past few months, and I felt great. As I approached the foot of a bridge, my podcast, which had been playing through my headphones, switched to the next queued track. Queen’s eclectic “Don’t stop me now”, channeled the spirit of Freddie Mercury straight through my speakers and into my soul. As I mouthed along to the anthem, the words reverberated through my psyche – “don’t stop me now, i’m having such a good time”. As I peaked the rise of the bridge, I looked around at the twinkling gleam, dancing off the idyllic blue water. People passed underneath, on their boats, enjoying their day off with the family, beaming smiles illuminated faces. Their gestures hooted exuberantly. The Aussie way of life is truly awesome, I thought. I was really appreciating the moment. I started to feel oddly whimsical. A giddy laughter bubbled up from inside me. I felt light, yet powerful, as if I could sprint, and wanted to. I was full of energy. I felt simply transcendent! It really did feel like an overload. I laughed and laughed. It was real unsolicited laughter, why? I felt so good I wanted to cry. I did cry a little bit. I had no idea where it was coming from – it was pure euphoria.

I felt like a bit of a nutter, running down the descent of the bridge and out onto the road, laughing and crying away to myself. I was grateful. I had finally felt that runners high! And man, it did it not disappoint. When I set out that day, I hadn’t really set a goal that I wanted to achieve. I’m not sure how much the “runners high” played into it, but I ended up running 42.2km. I haven’t felt it since – but when I do, I’ll know about it. The body is amazing.

The pain relief from beta-endorphins is said to be stronger than morphine. The word endorphin comes from endogenous, meaning, originating in the body, and morphine, which is an opiate pain reliever used in medicine. Endorphins = the natural painkiller. Use them wisely and to full advantage.

The over arching trend in advice, when it comes to getting enough of any of these happiness chemicals, seem to be simple enough – ample exercise, sex, deep connections, sunlight, sleep, and healthy, considered food choices. So, all the good stuff then – as if it wasn’t obvious.

Now, go and enjoy life.


What is life without community? I would love to connect with other nicecissists out there. Seeing as you’ve got this far, that’s probably you! Reach out, drop me a message and let me know what you think in the comments, and of course, give me a follow for more – nice!

Times of Travel: Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Type: hike

Distance: 19.4km

Time: 5 – 8 hours

Difficulty: moderate (summer)

Peak season: November – May

Location: Tongariro National Park, North Island, New Zealand

Mount Ngauruhoe

Covering 19.4km of the Tongariro National Park – New Zealand’s oldest national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site -, is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which used to be know simply as the Tongariro Crossing, but after many underprepared and ill fated attempts, it was changed to incorporate “Alpine”, to assert the necessity of proper preparation when undertaking the hike, especially under winter conditions. Located in the middle of the North Island, it is a 330km drive south of Auckland, the largest city, and 320km north of Wellington, the capital city.

This one-day scenic “tramp”, as the kiwis call hikes, passes through spectacular volcanic topography – multiple craters belonging to Mount Tongariro and the phenomenal coned vent of Mount Ngauruhoe.

The walk is a Linear A to B, between car parks. It is advisable to prearrange transport to get you back to your vehicle at the end of the day. We hitched a lift back, but during the busy season, this might become easier or harder depending on how much of a serial killer you look. The Mangatepopo car park, on the western side of Mt Tongariro, is the usual starting point, leading to Ketetahi car park, in the north. This is the route usually taken, as there is more descent travelling from Mangatepopo to Ketetahi – and the route I would advise during the busy season, to avoid swimming up stream amongst rushing rapids of fellow hikers, pouring over you from the other direction.

Image credit: tongarirocrossing.org.nz

It took my partner and I, five and a half hours to complete the trail – west car park to north car park, and another hour + to get back to our car at Mangatepopo. The closest town with a supermarket and (fast) food establishment open late is Tūrangi, 35 minutes north, so factor this in if you’re planning on starting or finishing your day here. We push a fast/medium-fast pace and stopped occasionally to take pictures. I estimate that fit hikers could comfortable do it in 5 hours, with anything up to 8 hours being a reasonable timescale, depending on pace, size of party, time spent resting and detours. Bottom line, leave 5 – 8 hours to enjoy it, it’s worth catching your breath.

I’ll be honest, I’m writing this a few years down the road, so I can’t remember precisely how long it took to do this, or how far it was to reach that, but, what is more easily defined, was that it could be broadly dissected into three sections, minus detours – climbers are discouraged from sumitting Mount Ngauruhoe, due cultural taboos within the local Maori Iwi’s (tribe) customs. I’m not sure if this was the case when I hiked it, but due to the many summiteers, making the tramp up, I’ll have to give the benefit of the doubt on this one. I will omit this detour, out of respect. Breaking it down into what it feels like: a long flat walk, followed by sections of climbing and descending variable terrain, whilst taking in the many wonderful visages and vistas, this is the what it’s all about, then, a lengthy descending walk out.

We were running a bit later than we wanted – we had planned an early rise but as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, and my thoughts turned to that first cup of coffee, I was rolling out of bed, at the pace of a stone blowing in the wind – quite still.

Eventually, I managed to pull myself together and we made our way to Mangatepopo car park, after a light breakfast in Tūrangi. We got on the track at the dark depths of 10am – a late start in hiking terms. I would advise to get off earlier – 8am should be perfect. The car park was near full with dusty 4×4’s, but the track was all but deserted. We concluded, we better haul arse if we wanted to get back to the car before sundown. And with that, we headed off.

Much of the first hour or so was easy walking, on flat, muted earth, with the occasional boardwalk in areas. At around the hour mark, you’ll hit Soda Springs, the first detour – a short walk and you’ll be under the trickle of this mini oasis. We were still pushing the pace, so we opted to enjoy it from afar, and powered on.

Devils Staircase

There is a short but steep climb, known as the Devils Staircase, from the Mangatepopo Valley to the Saddle, with the first up close look at Mount Ngauruhoe, to greet you in all her glory. Mount Ngauruhoe, which is met on our eastern flank, is a secondary, and newest, vent of Mt Tongariro. It is an active stratovolcano, which stands at 2’291 metres in elevation. This majestic cone will be familiar to fans of the Lords of the Rings trilogy, as the ominous Mount Doom.

Mt Doom sits behind the eye of Sauron, The Lord of the Rings

There were multiple paths up, with one, straight up the lively scree. As we arrived, we witnessed a helicopter departing, later we would talk to other hikers who had witnessed the person falling, and toppling, head over heels from the scree ascent up Mt Ngauruhoe. A poignant reminder of the dangers foolhardiness can entail. Since then, I read that the signage has been removed, in part, due to safety precautions, with the large amount of accidents that emergency services have to deal with at this remote location, but primarily, at the request of the local Iwi, which believe a mountain embodies the spirit of their ancestor, and summiting it, is like standing on their ancestors head.

Parental instincts kicking in, gently placing a hand on my rucksack like a newborn – apparently

From here, we crossed the South Crater, a wide flat section, where we enjoyed the views of Mt Tongariro on our left and Mt Ngauruhoe on our right for some while, as well as giving our legs a rest from any gradient, before making our way up another climb, for the Red Crater.

The view is vast, and beneath the awe and wonder, I couldn’t help but feel a low level terror, looking down into menacing florid hue, the hot blushed rocks, of the observably named, Red crater. This is the highest point of the crossing, detours not counting, at 1’886 metres in evaluation.

The next notable feature, is in the descent toward the stunningly vivid Emerald Lakes, in which, dropping off sharply, made it hard not to simulate ski turns as we traversed our way down over the volcanic pieces of scree, animated underfoot. It’s well worth the effort, as the unique pigment, attributed to the leeching of minerals from the surrounding rock, make for a vibrantly rich, striking and dramatic display, evoking that inestimable wanderlust in me, that reminds me why I started travelling in the first place.

I took moment to breath it in deep here – this was my personal high point -, it’s worth noting, not to breath in too deeply, otherwise you get hit with a nostril full of sulphur.

The proud new parent pose – lioness cradling one overly sheltered rucksack

Continuing, we passed once more, a picturesque sight, of the Blue Lake, it’s bold and lucid navy circumnavigated onto the final stretch. We zigzagged in lush grassland, through densely packed forest (which was a surprising endnote), passed an under appreciated waterfall, descending all the while, triumphantly to the Ketetahi car park. High five!

Far from done, we honoured the walk by stretching out and downing some water, before getting our thumbs limbered up to hitch a ride back to our van. This proved trickier than we thought, but we ultimately prevailed, grateful for the kindness of strangers. By chance, were being given a ride by a friend of the person who had been airlifted to hospital in Taupo, in the helicopter we had observed, earlier in the day. After giving our humble thanks, we were dropped off at the top of the Mangatepopo car park road, so close, yet so far! Savouring our extra kilometre of glory, we walked down the dusty track, with the light of the setting sun.


What is life without community? I would love to connect with other nicecissists out there. Seeing as you’ve got this far, that’s probably you! Reach out, drop me a message and let me know what you think in the comments, and of course, give me a follow for more – nice!

Times of Travel: Preface

For the last five years, I’ve been travelling, living and working abroad, with my longtime partner in crime – the Bonnie to my Clyde, NeversayNOmad.

Together, we’ve toured and explored a modest amount of countries in the continents of Europe, Australasia, North America and Asia, with an endless list of amazing places still left untapped and plenty of ventures in the pipeline, were hoping to be marvelling for many moons to come.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, China

In “Times of Travel”, I will write a series, detailing some of these adventures – great hikes, days that will never be forgotten, experiences which have changed me and expanded my horizons. Part diary, part travel guide, I will outline one event at a time. These will include travel recommendations, often in story form.

The endless horizon, European Alps

It all started in Back in 2016, with a trip around New Zealand. We bought, converted and lived in a van for the first time, whilst we traversed jaggedly up, down, back up, then down, around, left, right, up, and down, down, down (to the end of the Earth, almost literally) and back up again! With scenery straight out of The Lord of the Rings, or rather, the scenery of The Lord of the Rings straight out of New Zealand, you know you’re in for an experience worthy of the big screen.

Hobbiton, Matamata, New Zealand

This small nation boasts larger than life hosts, the Maori, Polynesian seafarers, who settled the island about 700 years ago. They named it Aotearoa, “the land of the long white cloud”. New Zealand is made up of two main islands – North and South, which are incredibly diverse in their ecology. These majestic landscapes are truly deserving of being called one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Coromandel, New Zealand

News Zealand’s smaller island is its most populated, with over 75% of the nations near 5 million (London alone has a population just shy of 9 million – closing in on double of that of NZ) inhabitants living on the North Island – its bubbling with activity in more way than one. The North is home to most of NZ’s active volcanos – theres 12 active volcanos throughout New Zealand, 5 of the areas of activity being on the North island, with 1 offshore from the mainland, on the Kermadec islands. There are no active volcanos on the South Island.

Roy’s Peak, Wanaka, South Island, NZ

The power and unpredictability of these geological forces, was brought to the forefront by the 2019 White Island eruption, where 22 people lost their lives.

The area of greatest volcanic activity is in the Taupo Volcanic Zone, central North island. Very much alive, it has been active for the last 2 million years. Lake Taupo, the zones namesake, is a flooded caldera and sits atop the the largest volcano in the zone – Taupo Volcano. South of Taupo, marking the southern boundary of the zone, is Mt Ruapehu, an active stratovolcano and home to the Whakapapa and Turoa ski resorts – a place I spent 4 months working, playing and learning. I will relive one paradigm shifting job role, as a de-icer (I will explain exactly what that means, I promise), at Mt Ruapehu’s, Whakapapa Ski field, which tested my resolve, whilst opening my eyes to the possibilities of a life lived – and worked – within the extremities of nature. It’s an experience I will be eternally grateful for, which reaffirmed my love, passion and commitment to the great outdoors – but, was not without its challenges.

Mt Ruapehu, Tongariro National Park, NZ

But first, we will get moving In times of travel at a stones throw away from Mt Ruapehu – situated in the Tongariro National Park – it looks down on the Tongariro Alpine crossing, a 19.4km moderate difficulty hiking track, where I will start this series in the next blog.

Start of the trail…

Thanks for reading – keep an eye out for In times of travel, from nicecissist, for more Earth worship.

What is life without community? I would love to connect with other nicecissists out there. Seeing as you’ve got this far, that’s probably you! Reach out, drop me a message and let me know what you think in the comments, and of course, give me a follow for more – nice!

The peace paradigm

Childhood, a finger tip away, to jump and laugh, dream and play. I can almost touch it, yet today, never further, or more astray.

Long summer days, they never ended,
games came so easy, imagined, pretended.

This fortunate generation, no innocence lost, drenched in mud and fire, grateful for the youth, far from the lethal mire.

I thank you deeply, selfless and valiant, those who came before, and opened up for us, cooperations door.

The grass is green, and I am free. Guilty, I can’t help but feel, for being sad at the falling leaves, it’s weakness of my will.

All things which once we’re simple joys,
so naively received, freedom from responsibilities, faintly dared conceived.

Of bliss, of purity, best left for the children of the time. My duty is to prolong and preserve the peace, I enjoyed as a paradigm.


Original poem by © Darius the Mate


What is life without community? I would love to connect with other nicecissists out there. Seeing as you’ve got this far, that’s probably you! Reach out, drop me a message and let me know what you think in the comments, and of course, give me a follow for more – nice!

The dopamine epidemic

As touched on in my post Musings, metrics and mentors, d.o.s.e is an acronym for the four main happiness chemicals – dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins.

The better we know how we work, the better we know when and why were likely to feel these happiness chemicals, and how to influence them. Ever felt that tingle when your phone vibrates? that’s dopamine. You may have also noticed the euphoria you can occasionally feel with high intensity exercise, caused by a release of endorphins. These chemicals often work in tandem with each other, endorphins will prompt the release of dopamine, and it’s this cocktail of chemicals which is responsible for the “runners high”.

Today, let’s take a closer look at dopamine.

The dopamine epidemic

Dopamine – it’s everywhere, both in terms of how often its being transmitted within the body and the opportunities presented to catalyse them from the outside, all around our modern society.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter – a chemical that carries signals between neurons. It’s like an information courier.

Neurons that use dopamine as their primary neurotransmitter are most commonly found in the midbrain, which has an important role in motor function and managing sensory input. It impacts the way you move and feel. Getting the right amount is an important health consideration. Dopamine can influence everything from our motor functions, to how well we sleep, concentrate and retain information. It is vital in learning.

Dopamine is the motivation chemical, it enthuses us to keep seeking that feel good sensation. It’s strongly linked to anticipation, like when you get that tingle after your phone vibrates, or start to salivate as you raise that slice of pizza toward your mouth.

It pushed evolution forward by driving us to replicate acts in expectation of repeat sensations, forming habits.

It’s a very important player in the history of human survival. In part, thanks to this sensation, we are guided to choose flavoursome nutrient-rich foods, which would have helped early Homo Sapiens to build fat, insulating against lower temperatures, and aid in brain development.

Homo sapiens and a Neanderthal man
Image credit: Kevin Webb, The Natural History Museum, London

Sex, there may be nothing more intrinsic and rudimentary to our survival as a species. Again, it’s no surprise then that sex causes large releases of dopamine.

Music too has been reported in studies to raise levels of dopamine when listened to.

When thinking about what might be the most visceral and instinctive pleasurable sensory experience, undoubtably music and love making go hand in hand, at the top of most people’s list. So, throw on some Marvin Gaye and let’s get it on – we’re all sensitive people.

It’s our sensitivity that may support formation of self destructive habits. There’s truth to the saying; too much of a good thing. Dopamine is infamous for its role in addiction and compulsive behaviours and a major underlying factor in junk food abuse and obesity, with the multitude of health concerns it entails. Now, more than ever, a child’s rate of exposure to harmful consumables and unsolicited advertisement sits at an unprecedented level. With more and more time spent on mobile devices, this trend is only likely to increase. According to the World Health Organisation, 38 million children under the age of 5 years old were recorded as overweight or obese in 2019.

Imagine out loud – what springs to mind?; “ba da ba ba ba”?

Yes, those large corporate advertisers really know exactly how to tickle on those dopamine receptors, and I’m not lovin’ it.

Image credit: McDonald’s crime Organisation

As the barriers in society break down, and knowledge becomes public property, so too has risen the awareness of sex addiction. Pornography addiction, an unfortunate and hard avoided byproduct of the easy accessibility, scale and extremity of content options and endless niches available online.

We have all felt that short buzz of excitement when a notification pops up on our smartphone or laptop. The hand held device – possibly humankind’s greatest threat in the dopamine epidemic. The culture of instant gratification, accelerating our plastination. Now, with the tech giants monitoring our every online movement and the footprints we make near permanent, sophisticated and devious algorithms set neat little traps in an attempt to capture our attention and wallets.

It’s hard to miss the excruciating amount of advertising that surrounds us, on tv, radio, billboards and now, relentlessly, in the palm of your hand. If you use Facebook, you’ve probably noticed how eerily the adverts hide in plain sight – so quietly amongst your newsfeed like a tiger in the reeds. They’ll often stop you in the middle of a 15 second video to show you a 25 second advert.

They know all about the new pair of shoes you had searched recently, or about the hotels that were available in Sicily, after you had searched for flights to Palermo. Algorithms work the shadows – the mafiosos of the internet, shaking you down for every penny they can – these wise guys are very organised.

Just as video killed the radio star, online shopping has near decimating the high street retailer. The speed and ease we can purchase exactly what we want from the comfort of our sofa, makes basketing that next impulse buy, as easy and “click”. My personal guilty pleasure is eBay. It ticks all the boxes, the watching, the waiting, anticipation building, all for that timer count down in looming red. My heart pounds like a bunnies back legs as the clock reaches the 10 second mark. I place my bid – the rush! Win or lose, its exhilarating. I curl around my prizes, like a Arthurian dragon, atop the shimmering treasures guarded within its lair.

I excitedly receive my parcels, carefully opening and examining the contents, before placing it in the dark recesses of my cupboard, to take its place among the rest of the hoarded collection. Pokemon cards, retro video games, memorabilia of every type, oddities large and small, you name it, I’ve bought it. The most practical buys, of vintage clothing, merely decorate my closet, at the benefit of the 6 or 7 regular items I repeatedly dress in. The rest, it remains lost, floating deep within the cosmos, suspended in time. I had been acting out this sort of addictive behaviour since I had become an official adult, with newly acquired disposable (that’s a very subjective use of the word disposable…) income. I started buying all the stuff I wanted, but never had, when I was a kid. But, it wasn’t really about the items themselves, it was the thrill of the bid which had me hooked.


Lisa Courtney, Guinness World Record for Largest Pokemon collection.
Image credit: Paul Michael Hughes

Notable addiction risks include gambling, alcohol, recreational and prescription drugs and caffeine, among others. Whatever it may be, if it has an addictive quality, it’s likely dopamine reinforcing those bad habits.

So, what did I do about it and what can you?

I believe the most ravenously addictive, because of its subversiveness, scale, accessibility and market hold, is our attachment to smart phones and all the apps which play off our senses with their bright colours, lights and instant rewards, asserting repeat behaviours. I was also using the Facebook app, scrolling in autopilot, multiple times a day. It had breached outside the prescribed usual toilet browsing. I noticed, as I unlocked my phone, my thumb would unconsciously hover over to the Facebook tile, before I really thought about it, it was open, on screen – it’s reassuring glow let me know I would be entertained in the momentary. But, I perceived my gainful information intake as minuscule. I would get sucked into watching funny videos for tens of minutes, an hour, even multiple hours. I felt dirty afterwards, a sense of shame, in the waste of productive time and at the ease in which I let it happen – again.

I decided to make a change, and I moved Facebook into the archives, to the “App Library”, accessible but out of sight. It was still there if I wanted it, but it wasn’t in my eye line every time I opened my phone. Pretty simple, I know, I’m not preaching any profound self help, 7 step tutorial here. This is one small act for man, one giant leap for mankind. I know what a big difference this seemingly insignificant act made to my day to day. It was the acknowledgement that there was a problem, and taking (any) action, which is the important note. After sending it to timeout, initially, I would find that I would still look for it instinctively, then, when I remembered where I had put it and why, I had a chance to respond with the slow thinking part of my brain. When this happened, I checked notifications for no longer than 30 seconds, but very quickly I would find that I would choose to refrain completely. Now, I have it almost entirely phased it out. It’s not that social media isn’t without its uses – for me, it’s a very practical way to stay connected to friends and family over long distances. Now, I was able to do that without falling victim to the algorithms – wasting unnecessary time I could be using for more fulfilling things.

Small things can make a big difference.

My new disposition is to be present, acknowledging what is “real” and what is not. Asking, what can I see in front and around me – what is it I can touch and feel (not my smartphone – I know I will use it, but when if I do, to write notes or read articles, for example, I am thoughtful and deliberate. I question, what is important? Will it bring more quality to my experience or is it a distraction?). When I lust for those new hiking boots or that shiny road bike, I contrast my feelings toward my current boots or bicycle. Why am I coveting this new thing over my old one? I feel indifferent to my current gear, but the glossy pictures on the companies website tell me need the new product – the smiling models, they’re so happy, I want to be like them, I want that. Acknowledge the intrusion – “I recognise you”. Question, will this truly make me happy? Or, infinitely more probable – will my desires shift onto something else once I get it? The human condition is to never truly be satisfied. Instead ask, what can I get rid of and still be comfortable, safe and happy? What essentials increase my quality of life? Focus on them for a minute – we don’t replace our parents once they’ve served their purpose of raising us into adulthood, do we? The relationship may be repurposed – so we may get the privilege to dutifully serve them. There’s an immense beauty in age and character. You just need to look for it. The aesthetics of torn jeans or aged leather offer timeless style in contemporary fashion. The Japanese have a word for the beauty found in imperfection – Wabi-Sabi 侘寂 – this could be found in repaired porcelain or the broken and craggy contours of the natural environment. Why then, in the modern world, are we so quick to replace things that have served us well, at the drop of a hat?

My trusty cap – plenty of life in her yet.

Too much dopamine is reported as being linked to mood fluctuations, aggression and poor impulse control. Beyond external influences, it has been correlated with ADHD and may lead to or be caused by mental illness’, such as mania, hallucinations and schizophrenia.

Having low levels of dopamine can make you less excited about things, kill libido and motivation. It’s linked to some mental illnesses including, depression, psychosis, and schizophrenia and the onset of the development of Parkinson’s disease.

Some ‘go to’ ways we can regulate dopamine and encourage the positive health benefits include; eating well – plenty of protein, less saturated fats, and incorporated probiotics, regular exercise, getting outside in the sunlight (why not kill two birds with one stone? Road running is as easy as slipping on some trainers and going for it), listening to music and making sure to get enough deep REM sleep. If you’re still needing a boost, you may consider supplements. Your body requires several vitamins and minerals to create dopamine, such as iron, folate, niacin and vitamin b6.

Most importantly, remember to talk to someone if you’re feeling down, or if you know someone who may need support, reach out. Don’t regret words not spoken.

Look out for the upcoming blog, where I’ll be pulling apart and looking into the other D.O.S.E chemicals, trying to understand what’s happening inside our bodies.


What is life without community? I would love to connect with other nicecissists out there. Seeing as you’ve got this far, that’s probably you! Reach out, drop me a message and let me know what you think in the comments, and of course, give me a follow for more – nice!

Poems for mourning


A poem for an elderly loved ones passing.


Time is a constant, in the end it gets the best of us all, feel sorrow not, you’ll walk, but first you’ll learn to crawl.

So, grieve now my child, shed all and be rid of your tears, for I have lived life to the full and seen out my later years.

Remember me not for what you saw but for what I was the year before. Remember me not for where I am but at where I was when your life began.

Remember all the good I’ve left, on this earth, as you lay me down to rest. Remember I’m not truly gone, but in all of you I will live on.


Below is an alternate version I wrote for those who have lost a loved one tragically.


O’ to be so cruel, with reasoning unclear, why life can be pulled from this world before ones time feels truly here.

Yet time is a constant, in the end it gets the best of us all, feel sorrow not, you’ll walk, but first you’ll learn to crawl,

So, grieve now my child, shed all and be rid of your tears, for I have lived life to the full and now unbound to mortal fears.

Remember me not for what you saw but for what I was the year before. Remember me not for where I am, but at where I was when your life began.

Remember all the good I’ve left, on this earth, as you lay me down to rest. Remember I’m not truly gone, but in all of you, I will live on.


Original poems by © Darius the Mate


What is life without community? I would love to connect with other nicecissists out there. Seeing as you’ve got this far, that’s probably you! Reach out, drop me a message and let me know what you think in the comments, and of course, give me a follow for more – nice!

Take to the sea

Fruitful endeavours make for positive reflections,

Take the first step and self aspire, push yourself in the right direction,

Hardships overcome are the foundations of stronger institutions,

Give a little more for a more fulfilling contribution,

Broadening knowledge by not simply accepting preconceived notions,

There may be lands beyond the sea, but first we must have courage to cross the ocean,

Don’t be scared to venture into the unknown, there may be many routes to your destination,

Deviation from your expected outcome may lead to revelations,

Wisdom is the accumulation of knowledge through practice,

If we all choose to use it in the right way, we can strive for a world free of cruelty and malice,

To keep the negative karma at bay, ensure the purest of intentions,

You’ll see doors open in your way and unlock a wealth of new dimensions.


Original poem by © Darius the Mate


What is life without community? I would love to connect with other nicecissists out there. Seeing as you’ve got this far, that’s probably you! Reach out, drop me a message and let me know what you think in the comments, and of course, give me a follow for more – nice!

Moments

Life is but a moment, would you really remember the day, unless dated and stated and filed away.

A flicker in time, so brief is the way that we bounce through existence, not long do we stay.

But we aren’t created vacant, there’s ways to be immortalised. We are sentient beings, can think and philosophise.

Although not tangible, not able to be touched, it exists in our minds like trust, love or lust.

The body is weak, but the mind is mighty, holding the knowledge accumulated ever so tightly.

But nothing is forever and even that goes. The body breaks down as must the mind thus corrode.

The outcome is set, as we enter we leave. From darkness to darkness, broken by the journey we weave.

But when we are gone, what does remain?Some leave no trace, some mark the world with a stain.

Grasp it and hold it and make of it the most. So you can look back void of regret as your final moments draw close.


Original poem by © Darius the Mate


What is life without community? I would love to connect with other nicecissists out there. Seeing as you’ve got this far, that’s probably you! Reach out, drop me a message and let me know what you think in the comments, and of course, give me a follow for more – nice!

Musings, metrics and mentors

Happiness and contentment – how can I get more of both? How can I keep it?

(Before you get your hopes up too high, I definitely don’t have all the answers. Unfortunately, theres more debate out there than solutions.)

Questions like these, I ask myself ceaselessly. It’s unlikely we’ll ever find definitive answers, especially in the latter. Humans have been searching for thousands – if not, many tens of thousands – of years, with varying degrees of insight, and as long as we are here, I believe we will keep seeking them out.

“What we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean.” – Sir Isaac Newton

What’s the difference between happiness and contentment?

Both are momentary – happiness is an emotion, contentment is a state of mind.

Contentment, a state of satisfaction, found in happiness, or simply the lack of troubles. Happiness is a chemical response in the brain to stimulation.

Happiness can be broken down and examined further, by attempting to understand what’s really going on. There are four main chemicals that induce the feelings of happiness we experience – dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins, also known as D.O.S.E. These, we can learn to manipulate, by understanding their use and causes. I plan to expand on this in later blogs and outline the simple changes I have made to influence how much D.O.S.E, I am getting and when. Attempting to be happier, by being more deliberate. This includes, ironically, removing sources of easily accessed dopamine, to fill up space for more fulfilling activities with longer lasting benefits.

For many, including me, as quickly as we find that happy place, the walls start falling in around us, as the parameters of what makes us happy shift. These fleeting emotions, start making their passage elsewhere, and often the act of acknowledging their prescience can be the catalyst of their decline. Soon, we want it again – more and more, until we’re devouring so much stimuli we’re positively glutinous. Whatever our smorgasbord of gratification may be, we fill up so much space, perpetually fixated – literally filling our bellies, emptying our wallets, moving our lives around to chase that elusive white rabbit.

We never stop wanting more. It’s very human, or should I say – animalistic. An evolutionary tag along from our primal past. The moment we abandon our instinctual urge for more, more, more, we begin to threaten our existence. Whether it be in our caveman duty to hunt and gather, build shelter or collect wood – our instincts get us up and moving – progressing. Today, we must earn money to shop at our local supermarket, furnish a home and pay the bills. One thing that’s stayed the same is the inherent desire to escape death, to make it through the day – in the literal sense, whether that be to outrun a lion or not get hit by that car -, and to transcend time, in name and/or spirit. Our ego, has maintained the tradition of conquest and endeavour through the ages, carving the names of great men and (less aggressively) women into the annals of history.

If you could ask any one of a number of great leaders, land grabbers and dictators, whether it be, Alexander, Caesar, Saladin, Queen Victoria or Mao, I wonder how many of these powerful people were satisfied by their success and how many still held yet greater aspirations? Did they think of the missed opportunities, the loses, the avaricious pursuit of grander heights?

I would say, likely, yes.

And it’s not just warmongers and the power hungry with insatiable appetites for more. If Alexander Fleming had not the yearning of knowledge, we would not have the benefits of penicillin. Where would we be without antibiotics? Or what of Thomas Edison and the light bulb? Of so many things, we would be, quite literally, in the dark.

So, why is it that we put so much emphasise on being content? Is it not healthy to desire more? Is it not our nature?

Without jumping to assumptions, I don’t think many of us will be riding horseback into the red midst of battle, spearheading the appropriation of land in the third world, or starting the next world religion, anytime soon. But, you never know.

So, what’s it all mean for the rest of us regular folks living in the modern age?

If we reside in comfort too long, it can anesthetise our drive. I used to view comfort as the enemy of success. In certain contexts, I still do. But there’s a paradox here.

What if, happiness is success?

Changing our metrics of success can let us be more happy with what we have. Look inwards and let happiness be the metric you use to measure your success, and not success be the benchmark of happiness. Like shining a mirror on Medusa, you’ll turn to stone the unhelpful perception of your own success.

But that still leaves the question, how do we get more happiness?

Even when I am in no state of conflict – I’m safe, comfortable and “happy” – I can still be caught unaware by lurking intruders. Sometimes, the unconscious mind sits so quietly that I think it might be gone. It likes to surprises me by opening the door and letting all my urges, anxieties and fears, rush in at once.

“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” – Mark Twain

I recently became interested in digging into some of the ancient wisdoms. I often wonder how many great conceptions have been lost to the sands of time. I became attached to the sincerity of Buddhism.

Gautama Buddha was a spiritual teacher who arose in northern India or present day Nepal, living sometime during the 5th or 4th century BCE. The Buddha was not a disciple of any god, instead he spread a philosophy of how to live. His teachings sought to liberating sentient beings from suffering.

In Buddhism, the aim is to reveal the true nature of reality by deconstructing the concepts that drag down our minds. An authentic happiness will be found through meditation and mental training, that unloads the mind of the external baggage of emotion, such as anxieties, hatred and compulsions. Once a person has purged themselves of all their worldly desires, they reach a level of enlightenment, endowing a state of utter bliss, harmony and ease at the world around – this is called Nirvana.

The first teachings of Buddha were the Four Noble Truths. I’ll attempt to summarise them as concisely as possible.

First, life is full of inevitable and avoidable suffering – to live is to suffer. The Second, was to identify the root of our suffering in the craving of pleasure, material goods, and immortality. As our reality is in a state of constant flux, our unquenchable thirst can never be satisfied. The Third Noble Truth, to end the craving will be the end to suffering. When one achieves this, they will have reached Nirvana. The fourth and final Noble Truth lays out the methods for one wishing to seek Nirvana, known as the Noble Eightfold Path.

What can we take from these time-honoured teachings?

Even if one was to remove the literalism, and manage to incorporate just some of these ancients insights into their modern lives, the resulting sense of greater happiness and contentment may be profound.

The first step is to recognise our weaknesses within the modern world and remove or reduce them. This may be spending less time on social media or learning to appreciate an old t-shirt we had forgotten, instead of buying a new one. The second, is to live in the present. Many of our worries may never come to be (thanks Twain). In an ever moving reality, we must remember to acknowledge what’s real, here and now and what isn’t.

Those who manage to borrow the wealth of knowledge of these bygone intellects and balance it with that of classical scholars and contemporary teachers, will unlock a world of limitless wisdom. Imagine being mentored by Sir Isaac Newton, Mark Twain or the Buddha? Well, you can, with the endless resource of the internet.

But, just remember, there’s no time like the present.

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.” – Master Oogway, Kung Foo Panda

The revolution starts at home

I stood at the edge of the world,
There was nothing else,
Just the reflection,
Of ones inner self,

We need to take responsibility,
How can some still be in denial?
The world is changing too fast,
It’s current state is far from final,

Fossil fuel burns into our atmosphere,
Over a billion car exhausts,
We are all responsible to some extent,
And there’s still time to can change our course,

It starts from the bottom up,
A small act of defiance,
Against the corporate machines,
There’s guilt in our compliance,

Their greed flows black,
Whilst our oceans are defiled,
Pollutants and plastic waste,
Deforestation of our wilds,

A revolution is needed,
in our hearts and minds,
Both eyes open,
No longer moving forward blind,

An unsustainable state of consumption,
We must do more to recycle and reuse,
Countries adopt renewable energy sources now!
To reconcile the abuse,

If the evil of the past shows one thing,
New ages dawn and thought arises,
Once a state of constant war,
Hope, that this long peace symbolises,

A footstep in the snow,
Holds an imprint only brief,
Genocide has existed across the ages,
All for lost and sham belief,

Once fields of broken bodies,
Now new flowers bloom,
A second chance bursting through the soil,
As a child from the womb,

What can I do to make a difference?
How can I change our planet?
It starts with a choice, so powerful,
Akin the bang which began it,

I choose the path of kindness,
Our future is in environmental health,
Love the earth as you would your Mother,
Its wellbeing is your wealth.

Image credit: climate.nasa.gov

Original poem by © Darius the Mate


The awareness of things

The Japanese have a phrase which most clearly expresses the melancholic feeling I get when I think about how beautiful the human experience is and yet, how brief. Mono no aware 物の哀れ, もののあはれ – with the closest translation being “the pathos of things”.

This emotion, so powerful and yet so subtle, for better or for worse, has become impregnated into my psyche, resting in my days so often. This rumination, hits me as I stare off wistfully into the distance of the day. It’s sobering effect can keep me grounded, reminding me to cherish each and every moment, but can fill me with angst, until overflowing. It’s delicate sadness trickles down the sides of the scene. Its found in the transience we experience everyday – we can never capture a moment, only acknowledge it.

I have noticed as I’ve aged, my nostalgic thoughts tinged with more and more shades of an indistinct sadness – as if some of the purity has been washed out. The warmth toned down, and a frigid mournfulness amplified. Perhaps it’s simply the distance change. It’s in times of great joy, excitement or progression, those big milestones, the hurdles leaped, I am sometimes ejected into the realisation that this too will become a moment of immense nostalgic value one day. The observation, this impermanence, brings the truest appreciation.

Another translation of mono no aware can be “the awareness of things”. This is my personal favourite interpretation, although more nuanced, and less descriptive, I feel it so eloquently, yet simple, portrays our continuous stream of conscious.

I noticed the moon hung in the twilight. I pulled my car over and made my way to the waters edge through the salty air. The sand flicked away from my heels as I walked. I love it when you can see the moon in the lit sky, a luminescent face smiling down on the sunset, colourful as a painters pallet. The wind glided over the breaking waves and brushed my exposed cheeks friendlily. Above, the clouds were parted, framing the seascape. It was inspiring. I took out my phone and captured a photo, as I did, the scenery was evolving – 7 vivid stripes vaulted out over the arena. A rainbow above a sunset, I didn’t even realise was a thing. I snapped away, skipping backwards eagerly to fit it in frame. And just as quickly as it came, it started to disappear behind the clouds.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it did, and then, it was over. But did that change the experience – make it any less beautiful? Or did it make it more precious?

The next day, I pulled in at the same spot around sundown. The night was clear and free of clouds, the moon sitting lonelily beyond the ocean. As the vibrancy increased, it remained stuck in the middle of a bubblegum sky which popped out from behind with a theatric dusty pink and baby blue showing.

No two days are the same, but as long as I’m living, I will keep finding beauty. Often, it will keep finding me. Don’t let time slip by – love with intensity, act with unwavering commitment, explore with insatiable intrigue – live – grasp it, savour it, devour it, wholly and unreservedly, breathing in deeply everyday a genuine and profound gratitude.

I would like to bookend this post with a complimentary Japanese acuity – Ikigai 生き甲斐, “a reason for being”. Why we do what we do. A purpose. If not, finding greatest encouragement for a life lived completely in the duality of death and the constant that is time, accomplishing contentment in that which cannot be mastered, then what else is a more pure and true Ikigai?

It all starts with a bang

The world is going to end. We’re about 7.5 billion years away from Earth being absorbed into the sun. Humanity, like all other animals that have come before it, will go extinct, joining the 99.9% of preexisting matter in the ether. We are all doomed. I wanted to write on meaning, happiness and fulfilment, which begs the question – what’s the purpose?

For the record, I do not protest to be a great academic, scientist or scholar and all my fact checking was done through the galactic force that is Wikipedia and Google – not that it matters, as all records will be incinerated along with the Earth and all who might have remembered it.

The world is approximately 4.543 billion years old. In around 4 billion years, the earths temperature will have increased to the point that all life will have become extinct. That puts us existing, somewhere in the middle age of life on earth. We’re in a mid life crisis. As I lay awake in bed at night, the hours fall away like leaves at the end of autumn, mind wild, in the throes of an existential one. As the topic of climate change rages on, like the bush fires that ravaged Australia in 2019, the rainforests are still receding like a runaway hairline. No matter how much we try to comb it over, it’s not looking good. 85% of the earths existence has been during a greenhouse Earth – a period between ice ages, where temperature is high enough to prevent ice on the poles. Climate change is unavoidable, as humans, we can affect it by speeding it up or slowing it down, but some day, we are going to have to face it and the truth – we can’t escape it. If we plan to survive as a species, we will have to adapt and overcome by inventing ways to sustain life and prosper during a greenhouse Earth. Like cockroaches out of the rubble, debris and fallout of a nuclear blast, we will have to find a way to survive in inhospitable and uncompromising environments. The last ice age was around 2.7 million years ago and continues today. The planets climate fluctuates between two states – a greenhouse Earth and a icehouse Earth. During a greenhouse Earth, the continental ice sheets do not appear on either pole, with increased carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. An icehouse Earth, in contrast, is a period such as now, where there are ice sheets in the north and south – the Arctic and Antarctic, respectively – as well as others, that grow or retreat during the glacial and interglacial periods which exist within the course of an icehouse Earth. There have been at least 5 major ice ages. The first was sometime over two billion years ago and the most recent, our ice age, present and ongoing today, started around 3 million years ago, with the current warmer interglacial period from approximately 11 thousand years ago. This tiny thread is woven into the tapestry of the Earths history and if we take a modest patch of 500 million years, it has been in a state of greenhouse Earth for 80%.

Wars have been waged, won and lost, kings crowned and legacies engraved in history, civilisations built and fallen, religions spawned and spread far across the globe, and all the bulk of human intellectual, industrial and technological advancement unleashed like the petrol from the nozzle of the pump, straight into the newest model of motor vehicle digital money can buy. The march of progress has become rampant – its tempo reverberating ferociously. It’s all happened within the proverbial blink of a green and blue, ever moving, terrestrial eye.

And then, there’s you and I.

Kicking off the bedsheets in the midst of another bout of existential dread, that plunders my stuffy throne room of content, in conceiving the demise of the human species, it’s monuments, technologies and ultimately, even its memory, I realise – I repeat the same thought, round and round they go, like the pedal on a bicycle, whizzing in circles in my conscious, powered by human energy – our progress is destined for the centre of the sun. It’s as inevitable as my own death. I don’t know whether that gives me solace or fills me with despair, knowing my mortality is shared with not only everyone that’s ever walked upon, but everyone that ever will, and obligatory, everything which exists within the Earths exosphere. We live in an amazing time, as complex as it is inspiring, teaming with life, love, kindness, creation, beauty and wonder – yet fickle, delicate and volatile, with war, disease, fear, heartbreak and desolation for some.

All this makes it ever so much more precious. There are many ways we could destroy or save ourselves, before we inexorably burn up.

So, what’s the purpose? I capriciously ask myself.

Today, as I sat, the sun lay the might of its celestial gaze on the tiny square of the back of my neck. At around 150 million kilometres away, it still kissed my skin and for a moment, I felt connected. I acknowledged, I am here.