Monday, February 20, 2012

Whirlwind Weeks on NZ's North Island

Hey there, strangers! I write to you from the Bluebridge ferry heading to the South Island of New Zealand after a whirlwind two weeks of exploring the North Island.

Between Auckland and Wellington, I caught my first fish, went tubing through a cave, rode a horse down a mountain, hiked the 12-mile Tongariro Alpine Crossing, rolled down a hill in a big plastic ball and more.

Attempting to kiss my little snapper in the Bay of Islands (had to throw him back).

A rainbow graces our horse trek at Blue Duck Lodge.
Enjoying the amazing, stark landscape of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in the shadow of "Mount Doom."

I won’t lie — I felt extremely lonely for the first 24 hours of my trip. As I roamed my Auckland hostel (my first hostel ever), it seemed like all the other travelers socialized in close-knit groups, and I didn’t have the guts to try to infiltrate one of them.

And then, somehow, I made a few friends, and we hiked up a volcano on Rangitoto Island (in flip-flops…) and later drank cheap red wine on the rooftop of our hostel. My trip had begun.

Auckland as seen from Rangitoto Island.

When I hopped on my first Stray bus up to the Bay of Islands, I made even more friends — British, Irish, German, French, Belgian, Canadian and American, to name a few. And let’s not forget the guy from Lichtenstein.

A night out in Taupo with girls from the Stray bus.

Since then, loneliness hasn’t been an issue. Rather, I’m surrounded by people all the time. And perhaps, of all the elements I’ve had to adjust to in this new life of mine, this has been the most difficult. I like socializing as much as the next person, but I'm used to having much more quiet time to myself.

Wellington was a welcome reprieve. I hopped off the Stray bus to stay three nights and recharge my batteries in New Zealand’s capitol and, although I didn’t do the most exciting activities there, it was one of my favorite experiences.

I loved Wellington's abundant public art.

Which one's mine?

I was able to wander unhurriedly through Wellington’s streets and along its gorgeous waterfront. I stayed with my Kiwi friend Nick White, and his overwhelming generosity took many forms: a cozy couch, a city tour through a local’s eyes, an incredible home-cooked meal, a heap of clean laundry and more.

Nick braves a sketchy-looking swing on Mt. Victoria.

I, too, went flying over the city.
Clean laundry makes me so incredibly happy.

I even ran 6 miles late one afternoon as puffy, crimson-tinged clouds wafted overhead. I’ve had neither the time nor the inclination to run these last two weeks, and the simple act made me feel like myself again.

It made me feel at home.

Part of Wellington's popular waterfront trail.

The logistics of traveling — getting from A to B, booking activities and accommodation, finding food and keeping track of all my stuff — have been easier than I had imagined. Of course, I say this in a place where everyone speaks English, the currency is very similar to American dollars, the tap water tastes great and the food isn’t any more exotic than what I’m used to.

The toughest part so far was saying goodbye to my family when I left on Feb. 5.

The morning was a whirlwind as I organized my gear, showered and packed. I broke a sweat as I tried to zip my pack, and little did I know that it wouldn’t be the last time that day. Far from it.

My dad and brother arrived at my mom’s house right on time, and I scrambled to get all my stuff together as I ate leftover tuna casserole — my favorite meal that my mom had made the night before.

Once I got everything in my dad’s car, it was time to say goodbye to my mom and Don… and my face crumpled into the ugly cry. I hadn’t felt emotional at all up until that point, but I was suddenly gripped with sadness. I tried to make the hugs and last words quick, then jumped into my dad’s car before I could lose it too badly.

The ride to the airport flew by, and I memorized the Seattle scenery as I held back tears. My dad and brother waited patiently as I checked in for my flight, and we took pictures with my pack, which felt so huge and foreign at the time. We said our goodbyes just outside of security, and I couldn’t help but start crying again as my dad hugged me extra-tight.

Finally, I was on my own.

Sweating profusely.

People say that traveling takes a while to feel real. For some time, it feels like you’re just on vacation, and that soon you’ll return home and back to your normal life. I can’t remember exactly when I realized that this is my normal life.

Maybe it was as I kayaked in the moonlight to the darkness of an uninhabited island, where I could see phosphorescent algae sparkling in the water with each stroke of my paddle.

Maybe it was when, on a Monday night, instead of going to bed early for work the next day, I danced like crazy to techno music in a barn in the the woods of Raglan.

Or maybe it’s right now, as I head to another place I’ve never seen, not knowing what exactly is in store for the next few days… or weeks… or months.

Pretty flowers by a waterfall.

I no longer value having solid plans, and knowing the correct date (or even time) isn’t so important. Internet is expensive, so face-to-screen time has significantly diminished while face-to-face time has made a big comeback.

It’s a different life, but a good one, and one that I finally believe I’m capable of leading. In the months leading up to my departure, I feared that I wouldn’t have what it takes to get by. Now that I’ve hiked up mountains and squeezed through impossibly tight cave formations and learned how to jostle for space in hostel kitchens, there’s not much else I fear.

Happy sunscreen.

And that’s what all this is about, right? To see, to do, to meet, to learn. To realize that the world is so much larger than my little, familiar corner. To know more about others and about myself, and to accept that not knowing many things is OK, too.

Bay of Islands sunset.

This new life is absolutely worth every uncertain, fear-gripped moment I’ve felt over the past few months.

And on I go.


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  1. Girl I cannot get ENOUGH of your adventure. And I promise the Seattle scenery is still here waiting for you whenever (IF ever!) you return. You are going to cherish this time for the rest of your life! :)

    1. Thanks, Emily! Every time I start chatting with someone about Seattle, I miss it... but I look forward to returning one day. : )

  2. I am so pleased that you are enjoying this trip so far. You look so happy :)

  3. So glad you posted. It sounds as if you are having a blast. The pictures are beautiful. I can't wait until your next post about your adventure.

    1. Thank you! I've had more fun that I thought possible in such a short amount of time!

  4. What a great couple weeks...Love the pics on the swing...Look forward to reading about the next adventure!

    1. The swing looked like it might break at any moment, but luckily it was fine! And FUN.

  5. Amazing pictures, thanks for sharing your adventure with all of us. Can't wait to read the next post.

    1. Thanks, Andrew. I'll try not to let another two weeks pass by before the next one. : )

  6. LOVE the pictures of the rainbow and the happy sunscreen! :)

    1. That rainbow made the whole scene feel like a dream, and I couldn't BELIEVE how the sunscreen squirted out just like that! I laughed so hard.

  7. Seems like you're having a better time than we anticipated, which is great!!

    First few days/hours are always the worst, really hard... For me, it was a whole week, cried every night. Until a friend told me "Look, when you're in the road, we're your family." Wise words. Then it hit me: We're all like distant family, waiting to be known.

    I couldn't help thinking several times in the past few days "what might Devon be doing now? Zorbing? Hiking?"...

    We enjoy your adventures and updates, so keep'em coming!


    1. I LOVE that: "We're all like distant family, waiting to be known."

      So true, and good to remember when I get those homesick pangs. Thanks for sharing.

  8. I look forward to your next post and to following your adventure. I purchased my backpack (exactly like yours). I have a few questions for you.

    1. Do you ever carry the day pack attached to the main pack or do you always just carry it separately?
    2. I have never stayed in a hostel before. What is the average age of people at the hostel?
    3. Is there always a locker at the hostel to lock your stuff up?
    4. Do you have a safelock (that mesh stuff) for your backpack?

    1. 1. I almost always carry it separately because I usually don't have too far to go with all my stuff -- from the bus to the hostel, from the hostel back to the bus. If I want to cut down on the number of things I'm carrying, I'll attach it. It's nice to have the option.

      2. Average age is early- to mid-twenties, in my experience.

      3. Not always! If there are no lockers, I keep my valuables on me and lock the main pack, keeping it out of sight if possible (like under my bed).

      4. No. Too bulky, heavy and expensive for me. I haven't seen anyone else use one, either. It kinda screams "this bag holds something worth stealing," and those things aren't 100% secure anyway.

      Good luck!

  9. It sounds like you're having an amazing time! I love your pictures :)

  10. I love reading about your adventure and living vicariously through you! ;) I am so happy that everything is working out and that you are embracing your life!

    1. Thanks! That's something I had to remember while preparing to travel... that everything will work out!

  11. Great post and pictures Devon! Looking forward to reading your blog over the next year as I plan my own escape from office life. How is the osprey bag working out for you so far? I have a Deuter 50+15l but I'm tempted to downsize and pick up the farpoint 55 S/M after reading your review.

    1. I loooove the Osprey bag! It's just the right size for me. I've added a few items (jeans, a few tank tops) and depending on how efficiently I pack, it's getting to be a squeeze, but I wouldn't go any bigger. And everyone is jealous/impressed by how small it is (compared to most monstrous packs I see out here), and that's just an added bonus. : )

  12. This land of movie I only saw ice and snow, it did not expect it like this nice ^^

  13. Great post with interesting photos. Surely you've ever had beautiful memories of life


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