Before visiting New Zealand, I hadn’t traveled out of the country in a little over two years, while finishing school. For me, that is two years too many. Travel does so much to refresh your soul and your perspective and though I had gotten that recently by moving states, I was revitalized in a completely different way from this trip. A way that reminded me again of what the world has to offer and left me wondering how to bump my life up a notch to take advantage of certain opportunities. But that’s serious life-pondering stuff. On a lighter note, New Zealand also made me love living out of a backpack. It helped me realize how little I miss the internet, tv shows, and my possessions when I don’t have access to them. It got me excited about things like fabric softener, an electric toothbrush, and super soft toilet paper when I returned home.
It also reminded me of the joy of an unstructured, routine-less day, when you get out bed and ready early in the morning, so that you can just explore for the rest of the day. When I got back I realized how easily I could do that here at home. So in between errands, I took a drive down a mountain road and went on a quest to photograph wild bald eagles (it was successful; nice thing about Washington). I believe that everyday life can be made like life during travel….you just need to get your brain in the right mode (and not so concentrated on what you need to do, when you need to do it) and see your own local area with fresh eyes.
So in short, New Zealand was very good for me. I didn’t get out of the trip what I expected (more on that in another post), but got something completely different and though-provoking instead. Which is the point of travel….always forget your expectations and just open yourself up to what your destination chooses to give to you. In this case, my destination gave me lots of sheep, to which I excitedly chased around but never got to pet, to my deep regret.
I have to give myself a pat on the back for this one. Before leaving, I had read a lot about how the biggest mistake people make for this kind of simplistic travel is over packing, never under packing. Many blogs recommended buying a backpack that is smaller than you think you’ll need. I’m adding my own voice to that, because for me, it worked perfectly.
I was originally planning on buying a 40-50 Liter backpack to fit all my stuff in. But I was having trouble finding one in person that wasn’t a hideous color (why they do this to backpackers, I have no idea), too big, or didn’t have a zipper for easy access to the bottom. I finally found one by chance that I just adored, the Osprey Sirrus 36. Yep, 36 liters…advertised for a day trips or “even a light overnighter.” It was perfect for my month-long journey. Looked good, felt great, and forced to me to take less than I planned, which turned out to be ideal. I packed 7 shirts, 4 pairs of socks, 2 jeans, 1 dress, pajamas, 1 pair of shorts, 2 pairs of shoes (and wore 1), 3 books, 1 swimsuit, various electronics, and toiletries. I used everything I packed at least once and never felt wanting for anything I left behind. And I didn’t lose anything except a cheap water bottle! Very proud of myself.
Overall, I traveled with the backpack, a smaller bag for wallet, passport, Travel Monkey, and camera equipment, and a shopping bag I acquired there to carry food (and later souvenir gifts). Being able to grab all my stuff and just go was such a fantastic feeling.
My Five Favourite Things About New Zealand (in no particular order):
- The hostels: I *loved* staying in New Zealand hostels. Apparently the country’s hostels are up to a higher standard than most others, so pretty much every one I stayed in was comfortable, clean, and had a little character. I’ll be following up with a long drawn-out blog with reviews of each hostel I stayed in, so I won’t blather on about them too much here. But they were awesome and made my journey all the richer.
- Mini horses and other livestock: This may seem like a simple pleasure and kind of odd, but I really like farm animals. And New Zealand is not lacking (especially in the sheep department). Not exactly a unique NZ experience, but getting to pet domestic deer, give cows chin rubs, relax with fluffy sheep, and get nudged by mini horses was a happy part of my journey. My particular favourite was when, from the road, I spied a roadside paddock with several mini horses and order my travel partner (we had just met at this point) to pull over the car immediately. There was a small shack with a big guy inside of it and a couple puppies, several cages full of birds, and taxidermy animals scattered all about. The man asked us if we wanted to ride his flying fox, which he was selling rides on for $20. I said that actually, I just wanted to see his wee horses. He said go right ahead, just jump the fence, but don’t get too close to the white and black one because it kicks. So fence-jumping we went and I got to delight over the horses to my heart’s content for free. That’s the great thing about farm animals…no one thinks they’re special, so you get to enjoy them without an admission or time limit. The man with the horses also tried to sell us a puppy, so I would just like to take this moment to point out my incredible restraint.
- The Waitomo Glowworm Caves: I’ve already written about my experience with the Legendary Blackwater Rafting Co. here, but now that my trip is done, I still stand by the fact that this was the most incredible thing I saw and did in New Zealand. It was also the most expensive activity I took part in, so I could imagine that if you had the money to do several adventure tours, you might have several fantastic memories of such caliber.
- Aioli: Condiment Of The Gods. I know, I know, I travel across what is touted as one of the most amazing countries on earth and garlic mayonnaise ends up on my top five list. This is why travel is unique to each person who embarks on it. But aioli gave me new love for hamburgers and chips as it was often served in place of ketchup and no meal out on the town was complete without it. I just don’t understand why this isn’t more popular in America. Disgusting, fatty, and so so delicious. It should be huge here. I mean, I know that the US does have it…but it’s all fancy and weird…aioli down there is just so simple and amazing. *sigh*
- Kea: I was watching a documentary about the Milford Sound in NZ about a year before I actually went and kea, the world’s only alpine parrot, were mentioned in it. They’re apparently one of the most intelligent birds, and their intelligence translates into intense curiosity, so they are not shy to approach people and their belongings. When we stayed at a hostel in Milford Sound, we lucked out as a whole colony of kea parrots seemed to live right next to it and several in particular amused a group of us for a while. Seeing them in person was very fulfilling and a fantastic photo op!
For half my trip, I traveled alone. This was as I journeyed through the North Island, and I mostly enjoyed it, as solitude is something I deeply treasure, and it was punctuated by delightful random meetings of people from around the world. But once I got to the South Island, I met up with Couchsurfer from England named Jim. I had exchanged messages with him before my trip on couchsurfing.org, where there are various forums for people travelling through the country that allow them to try to connect with one another on the road. Jim’s timing was similar to mine and we both had a certain excitement for seeing penguins on the South Island. So we had agreed to meet up along the way for an epic penguin quest.
But as it turned out, we ended up meeting a lot sooner, in Nelson, a northern city on the South Island. And from there, we traveled together for the next 17 days- the rest of my trip- and were around each other almost 24/7. That kind of exposure to someone else on the road is something that most people, myself included, would be hesitant to have with a lot of close friends and family members, let alone a complete stranger. But amazingly, it worked out really well and Jim and I hit it off. We didn’t kill each other or anything! And another great advantage is that we rented a car together…which honestly is the absolute best way to see New Zealand. The extra money spent on the car is absolutely worth it for the enriched experience you’ll have compared to traveling by bus.
I feel incredibly lucky to have found a travel partner that meshed well with my travel style. Would I recommend always looking for a potential long-term travel companion on the internet? Not necessarily….it definitely could have been a disaster. But Couchsurfing.orgis such a fantastic resource for not just finding a place to stay, but finding people to meet along the way and enriching your trip with global (and local) company. I have rarely been disappointed by the people I’ve met from CS…they always tend to be the most friendly, open-minded, and interestingly unique people. So the next time you travel, keep couchsurfing in mind and you’ll always have a friend where ever you go.