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I arrived in New Zealand in March 2016, and I started working on Hot Water Beach almost immediately. I barely had a chance to see any of this new country before settling in, so by the time I finished my job two months later, I was anxious to get out and go explore.
I felt a flash of freedom and excitement as soon as I boarded the bus. Saying goodbye to my home for the past two months was bittersweet; but I’m a nomad at heart, so it was mostly sweet. Finally, I was able to see New Zealand! Finally, I would make it further south than the Coromandel Peninsula! Finally, I would be back out on the road, going where I please!
I had a “plan” for how things would go: My friend and I were meant to do a road trip around New Zealand’s South Island for a few weeks (Fiordland, Milford Sound, Queenstown). Then she would fly off to Australia, and I would find another job on the South Island starting in July. That plan got scratched before I even made it to the bus stop.
Plan B: My friend and I would do a road trip around the North Island for a couple of weeks. After that, I would find a place to live in Wellington for a few weeks and get a job in the city.
Plan B commenced—my friend and I met up in Taupo, bought a tent, and we had a loose idea of where we wanted to go. Our first planned stop was vetoed because of a road closure. We ended up sleeping in her car in an empty campsite, having arrived after dark with hardly a clue where we were. We woke up early the next morning next to a river, and quickly got back on the road.
Our next destination was a hot springs campsite out in the bush. The road to get out there was just gravel and dirt, winding and quite hard to navigate, but eventually we made it to our campsite. We set up our tent and went for a soak in the hot springs, little pools of naturally-fed hot water overlooking lush forest. It was one of the most beautifully secluded places I’ve ever been.
However, once the sun went down it got cold. REALLY really cold. I was quickly reminded that June is indeed WINTER in this part of the world. I piled on layers (a t-shirt, compression leggings, yoga pants, two pairs of wool socks, a sweater, a coat…), gathered blankets and scarves, and bundled up in my sleeping bag inside of the tent. I just couldn’t get warm. The cold from the ground seeped up through the tarp, through the blankets, through the sleeping bag. I ended up moving to the car, hoping it would be slightly warmer there—it wasn’t.
To say I was miserable that night would be the biggest understatement of my life. Hours of darkness passed slowly while I did everything I could to fall asleep and stay relatively warm. I had spurts of almost-sleep, where I began to lose consciousness, only to be awoken after 20 minutes by the chill. I stared out the window at the horizon, attempting to will the sun up from behind the hills with my desperation.
This may sound highly dramatic, but I assure you I truly felt that death was a possibility that night. Not because I logically thought I would die in those circumstances, but because time seemed to stand still, as if I would be stuck in a moment of frozen darkness forever—which to me sounds a lot like death.
As you may have guessed, the sun did come up eventually, the night ended, and I did not die. That night reminded me that not only do I hate winter, but I have no desire to ever become such a hardcore outdoorswoman that I end up sleeping out in freezing temperatures. I will save those adventures for someone else. (Also, please always be smart and bring the proper equipment if you are going to camp in cold temperatures…and like, check the weather before you go.)
My friend and I have very different levels of comfort, it seems, and so we parted ways after that. Not in friendship, just for the time being. She continued her road trip, camping most of the time. I went to Napier and stayed in a hostel. I stayed for a week, actually.
I wandered about town, had a chai latte every day, and admired all of the art and architecture in the city. Napier is one of the most visually-inspiring towns I’ve ever visited. Between the art deco buildings, public art, sculptures, gardens, galleries, and murals, I filled my camera with hundreds of pictures to capture every magical detail of that place.
I had to leave Napier eventually, though, and so I headed to Wellington. It was still my hope to find a place to live and a job there to wait out the end of winter. I imagined how wonderful it would be to live the city life again. I haven’t lived in a big city since Seattle, and I was missing it. I wanted to be surrounded by buildings and people and coffee shops and art galleries. I wanted to meet people and go out for drinks in the evenings. I wanted to feel the energy of a big city.
When I first arrived in Wellington, I began my search for a place to live. I quickly realized it wasn’t going to be so easy and I became discouraged. Not only was I second-guessing my Wellington plan, but I was starting to second-guess being in New Zealand at all. Why was I here? What was the point? What was I doing with my life again? Suddenly the idea of flying back to the States and buying an apartment sounded so good to me. I just wanted to leave.
In order to stop myself from making an impulsive (and expensive) decision to fly back to the other side of the world, I decided to stop thinking and go out and enjoy Wellington. So I went to all of the museums. I went to coffee shops. I stopped trying to plan things. Suddenly I felt relieved, and realized it was okay if things weren’t working out. Anytime a plan goes sour, it just gives you an opportunity to make a new plan—which is exciting! I could still do anything! The choice was mine!
I left Wellington after just 5 days. I loved the city and knew I would return in the future, but at the time, I was ready to keep moving. I took the Interislander ferry to the South Island to begin the next part of my adventure.
The South Island terminus for all inter-island ferries is the little town of Picton. From the ferry deck, I watched as the lush, tree-covered hills of the Marlborough Sounds came into view. My excitement for New Zealand started to come back as I was reminded how beautiful it is. I felt like I was “done” with the North Island, but the South Island was a whole new place to explore.
I secured a hostel-sitting job in Picton for most of July, so I had 2 weeks to wander around until then. I took a bus to Nelson, and somehow ended up staying for almost a week. I stayed at two different hostels, walked up to the Centre of New Zealand, and I spent a day tramping in Abel Tasman National Park. I started to feel reconnected to nature, something I didn’t get enough of on the North Island.
The only place I could think of that I really wanted to go to finish out my 2 weeks (before heading back to Picton) was Karamea, over on New Zealand’s west coast. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get there or do any of the things I wanted to do without a car, but I bought a bus ticket and went to Westport anyways. I would figure it out from there.
Immediately upon walking into my hostel dorm, I met a woman. It was as if she could read my mind, because she instantly mentioned the caves I wanted to see in Charleston, as well as all of the walks I wanted to do further north. Within minutes of meeting, we made plans to go to the caves together the next day and then drive up to Karamea. Sometimes it’s crazy how things seem to just work themselves out; how strangers immediately become friends; and how in the travelers’ world, there’s always a way.
So I spent a week in the northern part of the West Coast, exploring caves, hiking, and once again reveling in nature’s beauty. It was rejuvenating. It is hands down my favorite week in New Zealand thus far. I can’t wait to return to the west coast again (and I can’t wait to share all of those adventures here).
I made my way back to Picton. I spent 2 ½ weeks there, watching over a hostel (and some cats) while the owners were away. In exchange for cleaning, I had the place to myself for free. I cherished that time alone, where I could sleep in and do nothing without stressing about money. I was exhausted from traveling and moving around so much in the previous month and a half—I’m not used to traveling for quite that long without some sort of home base. I needed time to think, and that’s exactly what I got. Things became clear again.
July ended and I felt it was time to go back to work—my bank account was looking low and I can’t enjoy traveling when I’m stressed about finances. Much to my surprise, I was offered my old job at Hot Water Beach. I didn’t think I’d return until the summer season (if at all), but when a good opportunity is laid before you, you take it. So I jumped on it and immediately made the long journey back north. A ferry ride, 12 hours on 3 different buses, and a few nights in two hostels later, I was back at HWB.
Here I am.
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