We began the seventh month of travel in Vietnam, but spent most of the month in New Zealand. I designed our trip plan to give us breaks, to let us settle into some places and experience life a bit more like a local than the average tourist. New Zealand was one of those places. It might seem odd, because New Zealand is an amazing country with very many unique and exciting sites, most of which we did not see. That’s okay, and it was what I intended. We’re going around the world, seeing the must-see’s, doing the must-do’s, but it’s really satisfying to get a glimpse of life in a place, and this is an easy place for that kind of travel. What’s cool is our time here turned out even better than I expected.
We arrived in Auckland on January 12 and I didn’t journal or blog at all for three weeks. I fell out of travel mode and into staycation mode fast and deep. Theo’s long-time friend Nat lives about an hour north of Auckland with his family in a gorgeous rural coastal village. Our first rental house was about a 15-minute drive away. We hung out. We did our thing. We hung out some more. I felt at home.
I will always cherish the friendship Nat and Jenine showed us during our visit. For the first time since leaving home, we had a social life and they were a huge part of that. Nat and Jenine had us over for dinner and showed us their “secret beach” and joined us at the Maori village. We had them over to our place for swimming and dinner, too. (Never did I really expect to be hosting friends over on our world tour.) After two weeks in Matakana, we moved over to a house in the next town. The host - Jillian - was also great. She had us over for drinks and conversation. Her dog came to play with the kids. Our staycationing vibe was so strong I sometimes felt I had moved to New Zealand.
Everything about New Zealand felt so familiar - the language, the landscape, the shops, the music, the food. Yet, every so often I saw or heard something that didn’t fit. Maybe it was a plant, like the giant tree ferns that grow alongside pine trees. Maybe it was a phrase, like “half-twelve” which means 12:30. Sometimes driving on the left was the odd bit. All of these odd bits felt like glitches in the Matrix.
About once a month, I get really tired of traveling. (Some days I think I’ll end this trip by sitting on the couch for a month.) All of the novelty can be a real grind. Changing currency, learning transportation systems, dealing with language barriers, swallowing annoyance at security theater are all becoming somewhat normal, but there’s a definite lack of structure, routine, and stability to our lives as we travel that gets me a little down. It became really clear to me this month that many of us get cranky when we’re in a place without a daily plan. We find ourselves unmotivated to go-go-go but also unhappy with ourselves for chilling out. That lethargy combined with rain near the start of our New Zealand stay to zap the appetite for exploration right out of us for a while, but when I look back on our time in the North Island, as well as our week in Queenstown, I'm impressed. And glad. And grateful.
We saw more stars than we’ve ever seen in our lives. We hiked and swam and kayaked and luged and jet-boated and ate and heard live music. Tori sheared a sheep. We saw a place were pottery clay is harvested. We visited a Maori village and we visited Hobbiton. We intentionally broke back into travel mode in Queenstown. We panned for gold in Arrowtown and cruised the Milford Sound. We went to a festival and saw the Running of the Wools. We threw cow patties.
And I am so excited about what’s coming next! We’re off to the Galapagos Islands for a week, then Costa Rica, Argentina, Chile and Peru. In late spring we head back across the Pacific to Asia. We have our sights on Japan, Korea, China, and Hong Kong. Our flight home takes us through Turkey, and maybe we'll branch into eastern Europe from there, or just enjoy the bookend effect of starting and ending in Istanbul. Whatever comes, I'm going to remember our New Zealand adventure for a long, long time.