Dipping my toes into the beautiful blue water, I looked up at Eric daring him to jump in. The sun danced along the ripples I’d just created and following the rings as they extended my eyes were brought to the skyline and the ice capped mountains in the far distance.
In the background, I could hear a faint rumble from the waterfall just upstream. Walking along wide trails and well built bridges above tourists flowed in and out to check out The Chasm, an incredible spot on the South Island of New Zealand toward Milford Sound. The Chasm is a stunning example of how strong and powerful water can be, carving out the rock around it to snake downstream.
As my travel buddy and boyfriend, Eric, and I were making our way there earlier in the day we stopped for a cup of coffee. Making small talk with the enthusiastic man pouring our cups he burst with excitement when we told him where we were headed. He made us promise we’d visit his favorite spot just below The Chasm and gave us directions to find the hidden swimming hole, ‘just right of the info sign there’s a little trail, it’s easy to miss. You have to take it!’.
Later in our trip, we were lucky to learn about a cool spot near Abel Tasman from the man behind the counter at the liquor store. I’ve had enthusiastic Kiwis beg me to visit their favorite spots, I’ve seen warning signs on Maui that I’m not welcome and I’ve heard it said a few times to keep quiet on the secret of how cool and rugged Idaho is. This past weekend I was asked to not share about a trail I was lead to in Yosemite.
There’s deeper rooted and historical reasons behind these different attitudes and views on land and I’m surely simplifying this quite a bit. I’m also struggling for some of these cases to accept the idea of ownership of ‘secret spots’ on land that should be accessible for all. My connection to that part of the South Island was made stronger because of that afternoon, that pool was a shade of blue I hadn’t had the chance to swim in before.
I understand a fear of exploitation and impact. Just as the Cleddau river carves out the stone around it to form The Chasm, humans have had a visible impact on the dirt, plants and trees surrounding it. It’s an incredible natural wonder and makes a lot of sense that so many people are drawn to visit. If we share all of our secret spots openly, they might be changed.
But maybe more of us can be changed, too. If we’re able to see more and more ‘secret spots’ perhaps it can reframe the picture people have of wilderness being the grand and majestic landscapes of national parks and add value to the winding creek in your neighborhood, the equally challenging peak that stands at 12,000 feet or the swimming hole that lets you interact and engage with nature.
I think moving away from the attitude of protecting a small cherished secret trail or piece of land and instead inviting others to share in that stewardship could be a more sustainable and friendly approach.
I’m still working through this thought in my head and am not at all standing firmly on either side of this one. If anyone has any thoughts, opposition, additions to this conversation, I’d love to hear it!