I had hardly heard of New Zealand before b insisted we ought to catch the good weather there while we were in Australia. I was reluctant because I thought we would spend an unnecessary amount of money. Of course, his timing was completely right, and every cent was well spent (minus the sweets and extra iced coffees).
We flew from the Gold Coast area and landed in Queenstown on the South Island, our gaze instantly widened at the overwhelmingly big mountains. Until this moment, it hadn't occurred to me that I had never actually seen mountains up close. The hues of brown and jagged edges were so beautiful, I had a few hard blinks before I could convince myself they were real. I felt so little, but so safe at the same time; the mountains always wrapped around us, protecting us.
The trip was pretty spontaneous, so we had booked nowhere to stay. We nervously surfed the web once off the plane, and quickly realized finding a place to stay would be harder than we imagined. We thought we'd have a better chance if we went into town, so we hopped on the next shuttle bus. We were glued to the windows, framing the unbelievable landscape, and for a while, didn't care that we didn't have a place to stay for the night. We were here and it was a whole new world.
The gentleman at the accommodation desk in town had re-affirmed our doubts: nothing was available. Queenstown was a small town, and our only option would be to camp out in a tent for the night. Half amused, half apprehensive, we agreed. Luckily, a kind group of friends getting off the bus earlier had later lent us a tent and a sleeping bag, relating to our booking mishap. Kiwis are some of the kindest souls I have ever met.
Knowing little to nothing about tents, we made some Canadian friends who helped us pitch ours and ended up spending the rest of the night together. We wobbled back to our tents later through the inescapable darkness, and shivered our way to sleep.
Green, fluffy mountains straddled Queenstown and felt like they were only a short stroll away. Small boutiques and cafés lined the little streets. Opposite the river, the intensely blue water lined the bottom of colorful mountains.
Excited to explore the country, the next day or so we rented a camper van and began our drive through both islands. Initially, the thought of living in a van for a few weeks made me fairly uncomfortable. Alas, most of the time I found myself too busy being mesmerized by our surroundings to care about not sleeping a queen sized bed every night. "I want to stay here," I would say, countless times, to b within the first few days.
Some days were rough. I would feel sick for hours while b drove along the curvy mountains. Some curves were so sharp, we hardly saw the other side of the mountain while making each turn. Some nights we struggled to find a camp site to stay in, and we never knew where we were sleeping ahead of time. But there was always beauty surrounding us. One night we looked up into the sky after a long day of poor planning and tiredly losing our direction, and could have sworn we saw every detail in our Milky Way for the first time. We hiked up and down trails, branches crunching under our every step, and fell in love with the plants, birds, and trees. We pointed at sheep, cows, and peeking mountains along the road, with excitement I could only parallel to a child's. We met people every single day from all around the world; students, wanderers, teachers, passionate creators. Some a little older than us, some a lot older. In New Zealand, we were all fellow hikers and nature lovers. We met a couple from Canada who were traveling for about a year on bike, and we exchanged stories about different continents and life back home. Sitting alone one night in the common room of a beautiful family campsite, I befriended a boy who was an adopted orphan, pitching a tent every night to save money on rent for his trip to Europe. The campsite was his home. Everyone inspired us.
We drove around till dark one evening, worried we wouldn't find a campsite to park in. We were parked by a curb, nothing but land and farms surrounding us. Two Isreali boys pulled up next to us and together we found a piece of private land to park in. We drank wine and ate pizza at a restaurant down the road, while they told us about their times together in the army and what Isreal is like. "A lot less bomb-y than you see in the news," one of them said. In turn, we got to park legally on the restaurant owners land. It wasn't a campsite, but it was an experience. The land was just that, just land, and was next door to a farm. The shower-head hung on a tree and overlooked a damp piece of wood, out in open. During the night, the sounds of cows and sheep nearby made my belly ache from laughter. It was the kind of funny huffing and puffing I had only ever heard on t.v. In the morning, we drank strong Isreali coffee just outside our vans and watched the cows walk along the road, their tails and ears wagging. We all explored Cathedral Cove beach that day. I changed into my bathing suit behind the bushes, and dove into the silky water, uncontrollably laughing every time it took me under a big wave. I felt like a kid again, being helplessly washed up by the ocean. There I ran into a polish couple I had met a few days ago, and it felt nice to run into familiar faces in a foreign place. Traveling is like that.
During the day, people amusingly asked to take pictures of our spray painted (breast!) van. We happily let them, smiling stupidly for their cameras. We made stops along the coast, set up a couple of chairs and a table, nothing fancy, and cooked outside. We piled our van with endless pears, peaches, apples, dates, and bananas, munching our way through long drives, the sun beaming heavy through the window. One time we spotted dolphins in the water while eating. We had no radio, so I read Cradle to Cradle and The Upcycle, books by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, and did my homework while b drove.
There was one day we drove into a small town where we would hike up to see glaciers the next day, and parked alongside a hostel. In the common room, we discovered around six more American travelers, and all gathered, naturally, in awe that there was so many of us there at the same time. Typically, its many Europeans and Australians, and only one or two American travelers in the same room. I discovered how bonding it was to meet people from close to home so far away. We sat around the dimly lit table, laughing hysterically at each others jokes, relating to one anothers experiences in NZ, and telling stories about back home until we yawned our goodbyes.
Shortly after, we met a man of the Maori tribe background, and he told us about his work and enthusiasm of sustainability. It tied so perfectly at the time to my school work and the books I was reading, I felt really in tune with the universe. He went on, for hours, about his numerous solar powered homes which had trees smack in the middle of his living rooms, and about all the magical gardens that surrounded his homes. I doubted the truth of some of the things he said, but I was captivated by his stories. He was an caring, older man, and we sat politely, soaking in all his wisdom. He said one day he hopes to live in a world in which people can travel for free, whenever they'd like.
Our camper van was due in Auckland. Our expectations of the city were low, many people told us it wasn't anything special. But we arrived in awe, just like we did anywhere else in New Zealand. We loved the architecture. I've grown to realize the importance of having a relationship with nature, but I can still appreciate all kinds of cities, seeing as though I am from New York. We took a ferry to an island nearby and witnessed a bloody red sunset, and ran towards it like kids. It was the most stunning view of the sky we have ever saw during sundown, not even our photos could do this moment entirely justice. It was the perfect sayonara from New Zealand.
New Zealand, was, by far, the hardest to say goodbye to. The more time we spent on the islands, the more I learned and the more I fell in love. I loved how physically far away we were from practically every where else on earth but Australia. I loved that I could drink the water streaming down from the mountains, and how conscious everyone seemed about the environment and the effects their actions had on it. I loved that it was a country of so much to offer: beautiful beaches, lakes, rocky and fluffy mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, geysers, and natural hot springs. I learned about the Maori tribe and how beautiful their culture is. I've grown used to saying goodbye to the people we have developed a bond with along the way, but I've yet to figure out how to feel closure leaving a place I really, really love. It often feels a rug is being pulled out from underneath my feet, maliciously, and that helpless feeling of falling stings my chest. I console myself by consuming my thoughts with gratitude that I was ever there in the first place, and that I will come back one day.
campsite our first night in queenstown, south island
more of queenstown
tunnel beach, south island
crossing a scary bridge going to see glaciers, north island
freedom camping along the otago peninsula and raw tacos
monkey island beach, south island
castle garden in dunedin, south island
volcanic valley, north island
cathedral cove beach, north island
our last night in the van, north island
sundown and the auckland skyline/ auckland sky tower
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