Newsreader Sam Hayes has never been one to shy away from an adventure, but even she couldn't have been prepared for the highs and lows of the past 12 months.
After winning Dancing with the Stars NZ last year, she courageously attempted to conquer one of the highest peaks in the world and to top it off, has found love along the way with an old friend from the other side of the globe.
"I'm in a really good place," she smiles as she catches up with Woman's Day an Auckland café. "It's definitely been a big year."
After taking out DWTS back in July, Sam, who's just turned 35, admits she suffered a bad case of the blues when it all ended. With the excitement and adrenaline of the hit Three series over, it was hard to find much to smile about.
"I was in a real funk," she recalls. "I felt physically and emotionally exhausted, and just really down. I missed the cast and the crew – you make all these deep friendships, but just like that, it's over. I've since found out it's a real thing – actors and musicians call it the post-show blues."
Six months on, though, it's clear her blues have more than lifted. She's still buzzing from her epic mountain climbing adventure in January, when she spent two weeks in the Andes to take on the formidable Mount Aconcagua.
With minus 35-degree temperatures, furious blizzards and frightening altitude sickness, it was an experience like no other. And while Sam was forced to turn back on the final day of the ascent, she says she still can't believe she came so close.
"I've been to Antartica three times, but nothing could have prepared me for the cold," she says.
"There were 70 people on the mountain that final day and I'm told only 10 made it to the top – we were pushed to the absolute limit. There were a lot of tears, but there was also an amazing sense of accomplishment. It was absolutely incredible."
And the person behind this unforgettable experience was Sam's new boyfriend Jeroen "Jay" Blaauw, who has recently moved from his native Amsterdam to Auckland to be with his lady love.
While Sam has kept her Dutch beau out of the limelight until now, she tells us they first met four years ago when she was travelling in Brazil.
"I was making a cup of tea in the kitchen at a hostel in Sao Paulo and in came Jay," she remembers. "We were just friends back then, but we travelled around a little bit together and he even tried to make me climb a mountain too!"
The pair stayed in touch on Facebook, but Sam jokes he came perilously close to being axed from her friends list several times over the years. "It was only his amazing photos of mountains and nature that saved him."
And it was after she commented on one particularly stunning image last year that led Sam and Jay, an IT consultant, to reconnect.
"We just got chatting after that," Sam tells. "First we messaged, then we started talking on the phone and video calling. Thank goodness for modern technology."
It was during Sam's bout of the blues that keen mountain-climber Jay, 35, suggested she could join him on his Mount Aconcagua adventure.
It was a big call for someone who'd never even considered climbing a mountain before.
"I immediately dismissed the idea because I thought there was no way I'd be able to do it," she says.
"I love hiking and skiing, and the outdoors, but this is the highest mountain outside the Himalayas. It seemed crazy to even consider it."
However, Sam found she couldn't stop thinking about the climb and even just the idea of such an epic challenge made her start to feel a little brighter.
"I suddenly had something to aim for again and I felt more purposeful. I was motivated and excited again."
Sam turned to legendary Kiwi climber Dave Williams for advice and help with training, and together they summited Mount Taranaki and Mount Ruapehu in preparation. But that was nothing compared to what was waiting for her in Argentina.
"We spent over two weeks in the Andes, making our way up Mount Aconcagua," she explains. "It was all about acclimatising to the altitude. We were sleeping in tents, then climbing higher and higher each day, and it just got exponentially harder.
"There were no showers, no toilets and it was absolutely freezing. There was often a relentless headwind and at times I couldn't feel my toes, my face or my hands – I didn't even know if they were still there."
The biggest challenge, however, was the altitude sickness. At 6000m above sea level, severe headaches and migraines became the norm, and Sam was often left gasping for breath.
"I'd wake in the night in a panic, with my body desperately trying to get enough oxygen."
Virtually every day a member of their group was helicoptered off the unforgiving mountain, but Sam – with Jay at her side – held on until the final day, when they were just a few hours from the summit.
"I tried so hard, but in that situation, you have to take responsibility for your own safety and know when you've reached your limit, yet still have enough energy to make it back to camp," Sam tells.
"I saw a woman who looked a bit like a zombie starting to career off the side of the track. Our guide grabbed her in the nick of time, saving her from falling potentially hundreds of metres. I remember thinking, 'That will be me if I keep going'."
While she made the heart-wrenching decision to turn back at 6700m, just 250m below the summit, she and Jay had agreed from the beginning that in that situation, the other person would continue if they could.
"But he refused to go on," says Sam. "He could have kept going, but he insisted on coming down with me. And for that reason, my mum absolutely loves him."
And Sam's mum has got even more reason to be pleased. Sam and Jay announced last week that they're expecting their first child, due in Spring.
- BodyBalcony fall survivor AJ Pouoa: 'How a night at a friend's house left me paralysed'
Woman's DayToday 2:10pm
- PetsCelebrities and their pets: Dominic Harvey and Sydney silkie Kanye
Woman's DayYesterday 4:35pm
- FamilyChristmas with Cordis Auckland: Four delicious ways to celebrate the festive season
Now To LoveYesterday 1:44pm
- RoyalsThe Cambridges reveal how their children reacted after hearing where they were going for their date night
Now To LoveYesterday 11:50am
- RoyalsPrince Charles follows in his mother The Queen’s footsteps 66 years on to present this special honour
Now To LoveYesterday 9:15am
- FamilyTheir daughter's last words: Psychic's message to grieving parents
Woman's DayYesterday 8:35am
- CareerAnnie Whittle on her role in the heartwarming movie Bellbird
New Zealand Woman's WeeklyYesterday 8:20am
- At homeI sold my house to live in a van and I've never been happier
New Zealand Woman's WeeklyYesterday 8:00am
- BodyKiwi parents' confusion about meningococcal disease prompts awareness campaign
Now To LoveNov 18, 2019
- RoyalsPrince Charles and Duchess Camilla begin their royal tour of New Zealand
Now To LoveNov 18, 2019
- TVBachelor Australia's Matt Agnew and Chelsie McLeod have broken up
Now To LoveNov 18, 2019