But sheer determination saw her make it to the summit – something she considers one of her proudest achievements.
And she encourages anybody thinking about doing it to give it a crack – especially if it’s for a good cause.
In 2017, the Mental Health Foundation is organising a Kilimanjaro summit trek to raise money and awareness for mental health in New Zealand. And we would like you to join us on this incredible adventure.
“It was just amazing reaching the top. Spectacular. I hadn’t expected it to be such a profound experience. It’s something I still think about today and go, ‘Wow, I actually did that. If I can do that, I can do anything’,” Marama says.
The mother-of-four completed the five-day trek in September 2008, when she was 48-years-old. She decided to complete the climb after her new partner invited her to come along with him and two friends.
“He sent me a text saying, ‘Meet me in Zanzibar’. I thought he meant meet him at a local café, but he was serious,” she laughs.
So Marama packed her bags and headed to Africa to climb Mt Kilimanjaro.
“When I got there I bowed my head and did a karanga to introduce myself to the mountains. Even though the language and customs are different, the local guides knew I was talking to my ancestors. That was profoundly important to me.”
She says the animal and plant life was extraordinary. “We saw monkeys and other incredible animals. The scenery went from tropical to alpine desert as we climbed up the mountain and there was this extraordinary fine sand that got into everything.”
However, the climb was no walk in the park. “It wasn’t easy. At night the temperature would drop to –20◦C and it was pitch black at night, like nothing you’ve ever seen.”
By day three, the air started to thin out as she got closer to the summit, making it harder to breathe. “I had to call on every reserve I had. I pushed myself to limits I didn’t think I had in me. I had to dig deep into myself to keep going. But when I got to the top, it felt amazing.”
There were times on the final ascent when Marama didn’t think she could make it. “You’re down to 50% oxygen, your legs are screaming. But then my partner would encourage me and give me a barley sugar and it would help me through.”
When she made it to the top she did another karanga in recognition of her grandmother, who was known for her steady determination. “My whakapapa got me through. My old people gave me the gift of resilience and bravery and sheer bloody-mindedness.”
The group stayed at the summit for 20 minutes, which is all that’s allowed. “It was so powerful and inspirational and such a hugely spiritual experience. I would definitely do it again.”
Marama, an avid tramper, prepared for the climb by walking some of New Zealand’s Great Walks and climbing up and down 14 flights of stairs at work each day to get fit.
“You really need to prepare by walking and climbing so your body is ready for it. It’s physically tough. It puts strain on every part of your body but you have to fight through the pain.
“I would highly recommend it. Be bold and brave and just do it.”
In November 2016, Marama was on the Inca Road on Machu Picchu in Peru and had an epiphany. "I decided to resign from my job as Pou Ahorangi – CEO of Te Rau Matatini – to pursue a new direction, as yet to manifest itself. That's what happens when you climb high, altitude changes attitude."
Our Mt Kilimanjaro challenge is proving to be so popular, we've already filled up one team of 20 people. We've now opened up a second team, which already has three people signed up. Both teams will travel and complete the challenge together, so sign up now to forge new friendships while sharing the experience of a lifetime.
If you’re keen to get active and raise money for us but can’t see yourself getting to Africa to do it – or need some build up events to prepare for the big trek – there are other fundraisers to take part in.
Visit our Get Involved page to find out how to take part in other events.