I’m lucky. I know it. The word is literally tattooed on my body. As someone who never traveled until she was in her mid-forties, I’ve been making up for lost time, especially in the past few years since I met my husband. The rate of that travel has accelerated recently because last year life acutely reminded us of our limited time here. The Universe, in its wisdom, said, “you’d better go if you’re going” so we prioritized our bucket list and went… to New Zealand.
I remember when I was telling people about the trip, those who had been there immediately lit up with joy, “Oh my God! You’re going to love it! You won’t come back!” Even in the San Francisco airport, as we perused our New Zealand travel book and guides, a young man walking by said, “You’re going to New Zealand? I’m so jealous! You’re going to love it! It’s so beautiful!”
And it was. Perhaps indescribably so.
Herb and I rented a camper van for our three-week adventure, a first for both of us. We’d been told this was the best way to experience the landscape of the country and afford us the greatest freedom. As it turned out, this was true. Three weeks together in a camper is an adventure all its own, but that’s another blog.
The seasons are flipped in New Zealand, so it was early Spring when we arrived. The weather, cool, rainy and unpredictable, proved to be a factor in the trajectory of our trip. It rained that first evening, navigating the “wrong side” of the narrow two-lane highway, our lumbering camper struggled to maintain contact with the road.
We found our way to the first of many “holiday parks,” quickly establishing a ritual of campground set up and nesting. This was at Waihi beach; a couple hours’ drive south of Auckland in the north island. It was so rainy we couldn’t even see what was around us, but Mike the friendly Kiwi Park host put us in a “primo spot” near the beach and gave us a hiking guide in good faith.
We spent our first night negotiating the camper “bed,” probably the biggest challenge of our three week trip. Neither of us is a generous sleeper and we sorely missed our king-sized bed. After meeting a German couple, Bodo and Claudia, both in their late 70’s and happily traveling in a camper smaller than ours, we felt less inclined to complain. The bed didn’t get better- we did.
That first morning, we woke up before the sun, still adjusting to the 19-hour time change. Having coffee, we ventured out to the beach to watch the sun rise. The rain was gone, and the beauty of the morning was astounding. Absolutely stunning. It was the beginning of what I can only describe as an intense and total immersion into nature’s art.
As we drove through the magical landscape, ever changing and miraculous, an explosion for the eyes and senses, we both agreed that New Zealand immediately had us by the balls. It reaches out to grab you without permission or apology- a supernatural assault of spiritual beauty.
As we traversed lush jungles, rainforests, and mountains, driving though vast valleys, lakes and streams, pastures dotted with sheep, we’d gasp in surprise at the ocean as we drove around the corner. There was nothing predictable or staid in this landscape; just an abundance of energy, animate and pulsing alive in every moment.
The landscape in New Zealand was formed by the Pacific and Australian plates (huge, slow-moving blocks of the earth’s crust) colliding and pushing up mountains. Erosion caused by rainfall and ocean waves carved out lakes and streams, and volcanic eruptions and glaciers formed deep valleys and fiords. The result is truly jaw dropping.
Herb and I began trying to think of new words besides “Wow” as we drove through the scenery. Some of these words were: Surreal, Extraordinary, Phenomenal, Spectacular, Amazing, Wondrous, Awe-Inspiring, … you get the picture.
Unyielding in its beauty, New Zealand demanded our full attention and presence. The sheer force of nature was a summons to simply BE- Breathe, Live, and Enjoy.
The magnificent order and unpredictability of life combined in a way I can only describe as sacred.
Perhaps it’s that proximity of nature that makes the people in New Zealand so unhurried, polite and happy. For as many tourists as they host each year, they are remarkably generous and caring.
They care about food, (the food was so wholesome and natural I swear it was the reason I didn’t gain an ounce while eating and drinking with abandon); they care about each other (the murder rate in the United States 333 times that of NZ); and they care about the environment (despite heavy traffic, New Zealand’s national parks look amazingly untouched.) Perhaps that’s because they realize we are not separate from nature- but merely part of it. They live respectfully.
I could provide more details of our day to day traverse from Auckland on the North Island to Milford Sound on the south, (and if you have a trip planned to NZ, I am happy to share our trip notes), but I thought it better to simply show you some of the best moments of our trip in pictures. Don’t worry, unlike your Uncle Harry, this slide show isn’t two hours long. Enjoy. And if you don’t have a trip planned to NZ, please, plan one.
Nature is a teacher and a healer. This trip allowed me the time to immerse myself in her beauty and peace.
I made a conscious decision to follow her example and let myself “be” and simply enjoy. Coming home has been different because that feeling has taken hold in my cells. My mind and body are literally different- there’s so much more space for joy when you realize that life isn’t as complicated we like to make it.
Last night, a dear friend reminded me of the poem, The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver. I hadn’t thought of it in a while, but it perfectly captures my experience…
Here’s an excerpt…
“I don’t know what a prayer is.
I don’t know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, all too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”