New Zealand is exactly what I needed for my soul.
I needed to revisit this incredible country again, the first place I left my heart when I moved here in 2013.
A lot changes in six years, though. While the sheer beauty of New Zealand remains the same and still floors me, I’m a completely different person.
Well, kinda. I’m still a wandering soul, exploring from sunrise to sunset, staying in hostels, rationing my food to try and save money, wearing the same REI travel clothes I bought back in 2014.
But I feel different from the last time I was out here. I’m heaps happier, more grateful, worldly, and appreciative of everyday things.
A good friend of mine just flew back to Sydney again – we met while staying in a Melbourne hostel together (good ol’ 12-bunk bedroom). She wrote a beautiful post about how far she’s come and all the experiences she’s had since 2013. We’re still the same wanderlust girls at heart, but now, we’ve grown and are officially adults. We were both in tumultuous relationships at the time, constantly torn between enjoying the moment and wanting to be with our partners elsewhere. But we were there for each other for a solid few months, journaling and going to cafes to “figure out our futures,” and taking ages at supermarkets together, comparing prices (Australia, you ain’t cheap). We were so little back then. It just shows how we needed time in order to grow up and let life slap us in the face a little to become stronger.
When I moved to New Zealand, I practically hyperventilated and couldn’t stop crying after I got off the plane. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I told everyone back home that I was meant to move – “this was my dream.” I was 23, had just quit my job at Disney (that most would kill for), and tricked myself to believe that I was going to be a badass upon arrival.
Instead, I was a literal mess, mostly mentally and emotionally, and I covered most of it up by hiking on my own, being pretty quiet around my flatmates, and not making friends. I didn’t know what it was like to experience the world until I started living out there – and it was then that I realised how much more perspective I gained while being outside of the California bubble. I was still young and naive, though. I was just a baby bird in the travel sphere, fell into a 9-5 routine again with an office job, and still didn’t consider myself strong. I didn’t learn to toughen up until I continued moving and was forced to make massive life decisions and solve problems on my own.
Since 2013, I’ve worked in over 13 job roles (probably not a good thing, but in all fairness, more than half were temp roles), been to over 70 countries, and constantly have travel déjà vu. Almost everything I see when travelling is connected to something else I’ve seen abroad, whether it’s landmarks, people, or nature similarity. The world truly is a beautiful place when you get out there and explore it. There’s a story behind everything. And my God, I just want to share all these stories with everyone.
Living in four different countries before working on cruise ships also spoiled me. I’m already used to being a “nomad” and never having a permanent address. On the flip side, it’s really hard with that prior experience, because I crave the freedom as a full-time traveler. I miss being an expat living and immersing myself in an actual place.
I laugh when I think about how I went from working only three days a week in Thailand (blitzing around freely on my motorbike the rest of those four days a week) to working 8-12+ hour days for 6-9 months straight, no days off, on cruise ships.
If you want to travel, cruise ships and teaching English are safety net jobs. I’ve had healthcare and accommodation (and food, with ships) supplied, with the security of having a long-term job if I wanted to turn any of those roles into careers.
But really, it’s lightspeed travel when you take a cruise – whether you’re a guest or crew. Yes, we’re blessed with jobs that give us dumb hashtags like “#dreamjob #travelforwork” – but our time on ships is merely a glimpse, a sampling, of different places. I’ve drafted another post on the ultimate pros and cons of working on ships – and don’t get me wrong, it’s an experience of a lifetime. But more on that another time.
My years of travelling constitutes as me picking up a backpack and researching, hiking, exploring, making mistakes, and truly diving into a new country for a long stretch of time. It’s not “we ported there for 3 hours and had lunch off the main street” travel. And while I’ve met so many wonderful people from ships, the experiences I cherish most are the ones when I’m on my own, experiencing things freely without a time crunch.
By the end of this trip, I’ll have driven for 35 days. There’s never enough time to see everything you want to see in New Zealand. Heck, you could spend years and years just exploring your own city/village/town and still find different nooks and crannies every time.
I’ve driven past countless sunrises, sunsets, rainbows, through the heaviest rains I’ve ever maneuvered, on high cliffs and narrow dropoffs, downhill gravel roads, and I’m always in awe of how gorgeous everything is. Much like Iceland, I was pulling over far too often to take pictures, then would be disappointed when I flicked through them at night. Why? Because absolutely NO camera can capture the essence and sheer grandeur of a country. Sure, we see hundreds of photos on our Instagram feeds daily that make us want to jump on the next plane to that destination. But are you really experiencing the true essence of that place just by looking at the picture? You need to get out there and experience it in person. Everyone has a different opinion and different reason for why they choose specific destinations.
New Zealand is just pure magic for me.
I had to stop and admire the backdrop as I was driving uphill the other morning. The sky was painted shades of blue, with the silhouette of a mountain range peeking out above the glassy lake. It was still dark, but the sun was about to rise and there was enough light to see this spectacle that mirrored a painting. Except it was better than a painting. It was freakin’ reality.
Having a car out here is so freeing. It’s so much better than an organised tour (all I remember about my 2014 South Island tour was that I vowed to never do a tour ever again in my life). Renting a car and driving at my own pace, stopping whenever and wherever I please, is the BEST type of travel for myself. I’m stress-free and just living in the moment.
My rental car survived 27 days on the South Island (Eden drove the earlier 12 days before my solo ventures in a different car). After 4,720km, I only walked away with one flat tire. Cue the nagging from my mother that I should have listened to my dad on how to change a tire rather than calling roadside assistance for $165 NZD…
I sadly only have 8 days left in the country, and I’m flying to North Island to make the most of my time. I’ll be revisiting Wellington, which is bound to have me brimming with nostalgia – it’s forever one of my favourite cities in the world.
Thanks for treating me so well, South Island. You are fabulous beyond all words and photos.