A Year’s Up

With less than two weeks of work, and three weeks in total, left in New Zealand, I’m stunned on a daily basis by how quickly this year has gone. Working, travelling, each day lived to the full; but still the weeks have rushed past like a film played fast forward. Though many small moments will have already been forgotten, I do know that every day has played a little part in this experience, and taught me so much about who I am and who I want to be. So, time to take a look back – the first things that come to mind when I think about this magical year.

1. Wellington City
Arriving with no plan and little money, Hayley and I were forced to make the decision which shaped our trip (and Hayley’s foreseeable future): the move to the West Coast. I know that we had moments in that first week which manifested themselves in the flat, shrivelled, burnt pancake we made in Nomad’s Hostel, but I never remember thinking we’d made a mistake. We enjoyed the city and our surging highs and lows, got a job in an unknown destination, and settled into this life of movement and adventure.

2. Monteith’s Brewery
At Paroa Hotel, though we spent our mornings exploring the area around Greymouth, we initially didn’t have a night off together. When this glorious evening came, we decided to celebrate by going to our favourite pub. Not wanting to worry about driving, we walked in the blazing heat for what seemed like the longest hour and a half, laughing at our own commitment to the evening. From this time, Monteith’s Brewery became a comfort – a place of celebration or commiseration; a reminder that although we spent almost every minute together, we still valued each other’s company more than anything. Our world was small in this little town on the West Coast, but it made us think big and feel free, with new perspectives and beautiful places.

3. “Oh Sandie!”
The Kitchingham family was our first real experience of Kiwi hospitality. They invited us into their home in Nelson, going above and beyond to make us feel welcome and help us prepare to walk the Abel Tasman, Sandie sending us on our way with camping gear and peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast. She is a whirlwind of fresh plums and paddle boarding, generosity and micro-management, whisking us off around New World Supermarket and filling our baskets with noodles and snacks after a two-minute acquaintance. We’ll be forever grateful to this family and their beautiful home on the beach.

4. Sea Legs
With a ten-hour bus journey to Gisborne for R&V festival, we decided to take some travel sickness pills so that we could enjoy the winding hills and views of the North Island. However, this remedy seemed to revolve around forced sleep, allowing us to make dazed contact for three minutes at a time, before sending us deep under for a further two hours. At the moment before it took us again, we would simply laugh and pass out simultaneously, stunned by the weight sitting on our eyes. Luckily the effects seemed to have worn off enough for us to enter the New Year on three days of sun and fun.

5. Down South
On our road trip with Ross and Tyson in January, Hayley and I took the chance to sit back and let them lead the way. There are so many things I could mention from this trip: two best friends and two best friends enjoying the excitement of new romance by knee boarding on remote lakes, camping in a stranger’s garden in Queenstown, and discovering “Heisenberg” lettuce. But the one which stands out was simply a moment of silent recognition between Hayley and I – sat in the back seats, beer in hands and music up loud – of how much fun we were having, and how lucky we were: a smile can sometimes say it all.

6. Kaikoura
Swimming with dolphins and free camping on the beach – what more needs to be said?

7. The Tasman Sea
The sunsets and the stars stand out from our time in Punakaiki. Our friend Luc shared his secret path down to the edge of the Pancake Rocks where you could sit, watch the sun go down, and feel like you were on the edge of the world. Coming back from this spot one evening, I decided I wanted to swim in the sea. So, Hayley and I walked down to the beach, and in the now complete darkness, let the waves crash over our naked bodies, laughing with every cold hit of water on our stomachs. Away from the lights of the café, the stars were as many as I’d ever seen.

8. Scones and Salmon
Cheese, spinach, mushroom and red onion – these scones won our hearts at the café. In the minutes before my departure to Methven, we chose a scone to send us on our way, and they’ll forever remind me of those last few weeks in Punakaiki, house sitting on the beach, and preparing to go our separate ways – full of mixed emotions and comfort. The salmon, like Monteith’s Brewery, holds stories of the best and worst times. It became a staple part of our luxury picnic, first put together on Christmas Day in Wellington: this Manuka-glazed smoked salmon and the excitement it brought now seems to be a symbol of appreciating the small things.

9. Snowboarding
I never planned for a Winter in New Zealand, but snowboarding is now a love for life. It’s given me an added sense of purpose the last few months, and that satisfying feeling of learning something new – moments where something clicks and you wonder at how this sport just gets better and better. The movement becomes your whole white world, and for the next few minutes you fly on adrenalin and snow. Onto the surf board for summer!

10. Freedom
Dad once asked me what I most liked about New Zealand, and though I’d never really thought about it at this point, the answer came to me in an instant: the freedom. Although we’ve had to work most of the time out here, it’s always felt like a choice rather than a necessity. And though I know I had the same scope to choose in the UK, there’s something about being in a new place and away from anyone you know – outside influences, welcome or not, are removed. It’s also the space and beauty in this country; the open roads and small population; the empty walking tracks which guide you on adventures. The path is still there, taking you up, down, and round the bend, but you’re free to stop and sit for a while in the sun.

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