Homes away from home
I always enjoyed traveling since I was a kid back in Wisconsin. I remember my family use to drive away from the city into the fields and forests of “up north” to visit my grandparents and spend weekends at a little cabin on a lake. Now, I get to spend my weekends traveling around a country that’s probably the least Wisconsin place I’ve ever been. It’s nice that New Zealand is as small as it is because that means I get to see a lot of it while I’m here. New Zealand is perfect for people who like to get out and travel for a number of different reasons.
First of all, the land here is so diverse! I’ve experienced everything from active volcanoes that look and feel as remote as the surface of the moon to the green-tinted ocean water of the Tasman Sea from the seat of a kayak. Also, it’s pretty easy to get around even if you don’t want to rent a car. Kiwis always like to apologize for how awful their public transportation is but I can say as a person who has been on more than my fair share of Greyhound and Megabus rides that New Zealand public transport is an absolute luxury. The bus driver on a ride between Queenstown to Te Anau on the South Island even narrated our ride with facts about the powder blue glacial lakes we were passing by and giving restaurant recommendations for back in town.
Along with the public transport being amazing and easy to navigate, all of the hostels I’ve stayed at around the country have been wonderful in their own ways. Free coffee, tea, and wifi is more than I can ask for, and most hostels I’ve stayed at have all three. I've been to a few with no wifi but that’s just a product of the region, and you really don’t need wifi when you have good company and mountains to look at. All these things are great but my favorite hostel in Dunedin had a friendly resident cat hanging out in the common area. I was without a doubt a pretty happy backpacker at that hostel!
Traveling in New Zealand has definitely been mostly if not all wonderful and amazing and the best time of my life but it has definitely challenged me. Walking around a city with a huge backpack and lugging around another bag filled with pantry food is surprisingly fun at some points despite how terrible it sounds. I love it, but wearing the same clothes everyday does get old at a certain point. I found that being on the road for a number of days in a row can definitely take its toll both physically and mentally. At the end of my ten day South Island excursion, I wasn’t surprised at all when I felt an urge to be back in my cute little house in Wellington and sleep in a room that wasn’t packed full of people.
I’m well over the halfway point now for my time in New Zealand and I definitely refer to Wellington as my home away from home. Things that were strange and foreign at the beginning of my program have slipped into the ease of my everyday routine at some point I can’t quite place. I’m not sure when, but heading to the vege market every Sunday morning is now normal routine, and so is having tea and conversation with my housemates every night instead of heading to the library like I normally would at home. I can’t remember the noise of crosswalks back in the states when they change from stop to walk because I’m so used to the distinctive shrill chirp which sounds off here. I’m no longer embarrassed of my American accent when I talk in class and “sweet as” is a new addition to my dictionary of slang.
I also don’t know when April turned to May bringing Wellington's chilly wind and rain instead of sunshine as the Southern Hemisphere seasons change from fall to winter. And now the trimester is coming to an abrupt end in a few weeks, threatening all of these joyous moments into non existence because I go home in July. I know this reaction is a little dramatic, yes, but I can’t stop thinking about the strangeness of these changing times. It’s so wonderful to reflect on how much I’ve learned and grown in my experiences in New Zealand, not to mention all of the new friends I’ve made from all over the world. I’m so thankful for this melancholy feeling of losing so much because I know how rich and beautiful my time here has been. I saw a painting by one of my new favorite New Zealand artists I learned about in my lecture on New Zealand art history at this museum in Christchurch. His name is Colin McCahon and this painting had a crude inscription pasted on the bottom as a sort of caption and these words have gripped me: "tomorrow will be the same but not as this is.”