Do you ever think about how life is really just a collection of moments? The big ones might mark the miles, but there is significance in every step. Small moments, though often uncredited, comprise the majority of our lives. When I’m home, it’s easy to let these moments get lost in the mix of obligation. But when I travel, I find myself in a state of presence where every moment really seems to belong to me. This is one of the things I love most about the travel experience. I have realizations abroad that I very well could have had at home, but I’m usually not present enough to indulge them.
This is a story about small moments. Not to say my time in New Zealand didn’t include milestones, but as these always steal the spotlight, I can’t say I feel like documenting them. Not when my experience included so many gems amidst the mundane. Each one is a precious, worthy thing to explore (a statement that goes double for New Zealand).
In case you also feel called to explore the wonder of life’s smaller moments, I’ve included a few journal prompts meant to help you do just that. Now, onto the adventure...
I arrived in New Zealand with a sense of finality. This place was to be the last stop on what was literally a trip around the world. For the past six weeks, I had been traveling eastward. My feet had touched ground on five continents during my circuitous route to the southern hemisphere.
The thing about traveling for an extended amount of time is that you drop into this mindset where tomorrow’s logistics don’t matter. Before I left the States, I was obsessively counting down the days until my trip. But upon reaching my first country, I couldn’t care less about the one that was to come. It felt like time was working differently abroad, but in reality, I was.
A shining example of this happened before the plane even touched down in Auckland. Having just spent Halloween in Perth, Australia (a story for another time), I hadn’t managed to put two-and-two together about flying from Australia’s west coast. What I had pegged as a quick flight to the country "next door," turned out to have an equal flight time as heading from New York to Los Angeles. Apparently, it takes some time to fly across the sixth-largest country in the world, the peculiar stretch of the Pacific Ocean we call the Tasman Sea, and into New Zealand’s most populated city.
I landed in Auckland on a Spring November morning. Yes, you read that right. My personal travel theory is to not think too hard about the abrupt changes that accompany a new place. When I arrive somewhere, I merely accept new time zones, daylight patterns, seasons and traffic laws. In this regard, I am a sheep - but we haven’t gotten to that part of the story yet.
I should clarify that it was we who arrived in New Zealand, a mother-daughter duo on a mission to circumnavigate the globe. The ordeal included vastly different climates and cultural norms that somehow, we were always prepared for, despite carrying only a backpack. (On second thought, there’s no mystery here, it was just my mother’s expertly planned packing list.) After weeks of travel, we had reached our final destination, where we were about to see some familiar faces.
Soon after us, my brother arrived. Though we had come from Perth, he had made the more arduous journey from our home state of Colorado. Meeting up for this final week abroad, we were now a travel trio. We hopped in our rental car and drove, on the left side of the road, to the home of Charlie, our expatriate family friend. It’s always nice to know a local.
I’ll try not to gush about Charlie for too long. The kid who grew up in the Rocky Mountains; ninety minutes and yet a world away from my suburban front door. The teenager who bought a one-way ticket to Alaska the same week as graduation. The nomad who hitchhiked across South Africa on his own. The man who landed carefree in New Zealand and asked a sheep rancher for work. The husband he became to Anna, that rancher’s daughter. The father he became to Walter, their son, who was turning one while we were in town.
Prompt: Come to think of it, Charlie might just be the most fearless person I know. Who is yours, and what have they done to inspire you?
So our New Zealand adventure began, very appropriately, on a sheep ranch. Eleven-hundred acres of brilliant green hills, all tended by this Colorado mountain kid that I grew up with. It was beautiful, and I would know. By this point in my travels, my eyes were well used to seeing beautiful things.
Driving the ATV around the ranch felt like bobbing in an endless green ocean, riding out the waves. Up and down, up and down. Rolling hills in every direction, for as far as you can see.
Charlie says sheep are “barely smart enough to keep themselves alive.” From the little I witnessed, I’m inclined to agree. The spring weather had dotted the ranch with patches of mud. My job was to drive around and look for sheep who had tipped over and gotten themselves stuck. I couldn’t help but think of those old life-support necklace commercials - “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
A precious moment occurred when Charlie told me to dismount the ATV and quietly climb to the top of a hill. I was rewarded with the sight of a tiny, wobbly lamb, estimated to be less than an hour old. The precious cycle of new life brought on by spring.
Speaking of springtime babies, little Walter’s birthday was approaching. Anna wanted to get a watermelon as the base for an alternative “cake” made out of fruit.
Of all things, it was this birthday melon that led me to some deep introspection.
Watermelon season is in the summer, which in New Zealand is from December to March (again, it’s best not to think about it too hard). Since it wasn’t yet watermelon season, we could only get one for an outlandish price. If my memory serves me right, we paid close to thirty dollars for the damn thing.
Rather than being enraged, I found myself bubbling with curiosity. I again credit the travel mindset for this shift. In New Zealand the price of fruit changes dramatically with its respective season. In addition, importing goods to an island will always bring up their price.
The sticker shock is what encourages locals to eat with the seasons. Previously, I hadn’t paid much attention to seasonal eating, but I liked the sound of it right away. Fresh fruit in the summer, hearty soup in the winter, it just makes sense. In America, we seem pretty far removed from this natural way of life.
Maybe it was helping out on the ranch or embracing a November spring, but New Zealand had me feeling very connected to the land. Eating with the seasons is a pivotal part of this, and for the local people, it is a regular way of life.
To me, it makes sense to have to pay more for something that took more effort to arrive on my table. Seasonal eating aligns with my love of nature and never ending quest for mindfulness. As a minimalist traveler, the practice of seasonal eating was the perfect New Zealand souvenir; something I could take with me back home.
Prompt: Curiosity is a helpful lens for approaching cultural differences. What cultural mentality resonates with you, despite not being brought up that way?
I ended the watermelon day outside, flat on my back, staring skyward. And what a sight the night sky was, far away from light pollution on that rural ranch. It was like seeing a whole new set of stars. Wait, I was seeing a whole new set of stars. The southern hemisphere is a trip.
We left Charlie’s house feeling grateful to have had the local experience of ranch life. With sore muscles and full hearts, we set off on a road trip to explore more of New Zealand’s North Island.
We wandered about in small towns, collecting moments the way a kid might collect cool rocks. A park full of poetry. A mural that made me tearful. A funny little bird sanctuary whose exotic residents will flutter down from the roof and perch, unprompted, upon your shoulder. One day, I dug my toes into a black sand beach and tried to wrap my head around the fact that the breeze in my hair was coming off of Antarctic glaciers.
Prompt: What small travel moments does your mind return to again and again? Can you let them take up the space they deserve on the pages of your journal? What about in the forefront of your mind?
These things felt anything but mundane, but I recognize they aren’t exactly New Zealand’s staple attractions. If you must know, we all survived an adrenaline-fueled experience in a glowworm cave that I can’t recommend enough (though click here for my attempt). Also, the Hobbiton™ Movie Set tour deserves an honorable mention.
Leaving New Zealand was hard for many reasons. I was concluding the journey that had finally made me into the thing I had always wanted to be: a world traveler. I had been forever changed by my experiences abroad, and capping them off in such a breathtaking place as New Zealand was unmatched.
But it wasn’t only the adventure I had to say goodbye to.
At the time, I was living in Las Vegas, while my family was home in Colorado. Luckily, we were flying the first leg home together, from Auckland to San Francisco. As a last-ditch effort to get the most out of family time, I insisted they sit with me on the nearly empty plane. Amazingly, the three of us comprised what was probably the only full row on the aircraft.
If people give up the luxury of an airline row to themselves to stay cramped by your side on a twelve-hour flight, this is how you know you are loved. In this style, we returned. First to the States, then to our respective ones. The circumnavigation was complete.
Prompt: Describe an unorthodox way in which you have recently received love, then describe an unorthodox way in which you have shown love to someone else.
Nearly five years have passed since this particular adventure. I have since moved home to Colorado (and Charlie and Anna have had two more sons!). New Zealand has stayed on all our minds, though. My dad even made it out there after we came back gushing about the place.
Of all my travels, New Zealand remains the place people are the most excited to discuss. It seems to be on everyone’s bucket list, and for good reason. I think this is because it’s so far away. Another world, in the opposite hemisphere as America. Exotic, untouched nature and a different way of life.
In a word, New Zealand is wonderful. I use this generic adjective in its truest form, as in “full of wonder.” The final entry in my travel journal ends with the three words I so often run into when leaving a destination…
Take me back.
Sherpani Team Member
The above post is part of an ongoing segment of the Sherpani Travel Blog. We want to highlight personal travel stories from the women in our community. Would you like to share your travel story with Sherpani? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. We can’t wait to read about your adventure!