194. New Zealand

New Zealand: Really this should be called driving New Zealand because we spent more time inside a car or campervan than outside it on this month-long tour. On the one hand that’s a small tragedy, because it violates our number one important (and number one most difficult) self-imposed travel rule: Don’t try to do too much. But the reality is that when you’re confronted with a map of this place, or a guidebook stuffed with superlatives or, finally, the incredible view that’s around every bend in the two-lane road, you can’t help yourself.

And all the while we’re thinking, “this looks really familiar,” because all these little bits of wonder strung together on our asphalt necklace remind us of places we’ve been. Mongolia. Ireland. Oregon. And then a little bird that looks like a dinosaur struts out of some bushes that aren’t actually bushes at all, but giant ferns that grow like palm trees. And I spit out a mouth full of half chewed Jaffas to proclaim that even though this strange land may be populated by familiar people and sheep, it isn’t like anyplace else on earth because there’s just so much of it packed into such a small space. And so we keep driving.

Our campervan plan was a fine one, until the summer weather proved so fickle that we craved a real roof, some indoor legroom and big picture window to sit behind with a glass of duty free brown to just watch the sheets of summer rain wash over the glow green landscape. Pity the livestock but not us, because we found some luxurious comfort in the last quarter of the trip that made this feel like a real honeymoon. Then the honeymoon was over. I’ve always wanted to use that phrase literally!

The funny thing is that now that we’re home I’m enjoying New Zealand even more. I almost like it better in retrospect, because I’m not gripping the wheel to pass another truck or fretting about gathering storm clouds but remembering when the sun was out, hot on my face while I eased into a camp chair plopped in a field of purple foxglove, riven by the babbling blue water of glaciers. I’m thinking about it a lot lately, because New Zealand keeps finding me. When I see something familiar like a snow capped peak in Oregon, or a video of shepherding in Ireland, or a photo I took of an amber field of late summer grass in Mongolia, I don’t think of those places as much as I think of New Zealand. And of how amazing that it can be like everyplace and noplace at all.


 

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