For the Love of New Zealand

 

When I think about our recent three weeks in New Zealand, I take a deep breath and my shoulders relax. The myriad combinations of mountains and water are stunning from start to finish. Jagged mountains surrounding the sounds (actually fiords because they’re created by glaciers), or the stark, rocky Remarkables (used in Coors commercials because they evidently evoke the Rocky Mountains more than the actual Rockies), or the majestic mountains in the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park— they all have their unique beauty. Almost everywhere on the two islands, there are mountains in view, thus the 1,000 miles we drove on our own, and the 2,000 miles we drove with tours over our three weeks there were a dazzling display of the country’s assets. The numerous glacial lakes, with their vibrant aquamarine colors were a glorious addition to many of the hills.

New Zealanders are devoted to sports and the outdoors. Our guide, originally from Australia, commented on the dominance of the New Zealand rugby team over many years, which is striking in and of itself, but considering that the population of the country is only around five million, it seems like an implausible (but clearly achievable) feat. The temperate climate also makes it appealing to be outdoors. I found that temperatures regularly felt about ten degrees warmer than the thermometer indicated. In February (summer), when we were there, temps were often in the 50’s and 60’s, occasionally slipping into the 70’s on the South Island. I would think that I needed a light jacket, but was usually surprised at how mild the air felt. In the North, closer to the equator, it is regularly much warmer.

 

Several friends had mentioned that were it not for family in the states, they would consider living in New Zealand. Others stated emphatically that New Zealand is their favorite country. This is high praise coming from well traveled people.

The people are uniformly open and friendly, too, from our experience, particularly our native New Zealand guide and her family, who we were fortunate to meet. One friend exclaimed that New Zealand is where mid westerners go to take lessons in being nice.

The history of the Māori, of course, has its disturbing and unsettling aspects, although Te Reo is now taught in the schools, and the names of many places are written in Te Reo Māori, or in English as well. 

I was astonished at the ease with which drivers navigated the narrow, winding roads, especially through mountain passes and where the mountains kiss the sea or a lake. I was pleased to pull over when I could, to let the more experienced drivers scoot by. We came upon one accident during our tour in the van, along just such a mountain-to-sea curvy road. I moaned inwardly (along with my empty belly) as I knew we were an hour from any town and was sure we would be there for ages while it was sorted out. Our guide hopped out of the driver’s seat, bringing a neon vest for someone to wear, and a cord to attach to the vehicle that was blocking the road. “Once photos have been taken, since no one was hurt, it’s all about metal and money,” he stated. The vehicle was pulled off to the side in minutes, and we were whisked away to our dinner with time to spare.

On our last day, after taking a bus to a boat through gorgeous Lake Manapouri, to a bus to a boat in Doubtful Sound we were treated to rainbows all day long because the weather was a fickle mix of rain and sun. On the way back it was raining more solidly and we realized that we had hit beauty saturation. Waterfall? Ok, nice. Steep, jagged mountains down to crystal clear water? Yeah, yeah. I hadn’t thought it was possible to reach a point of indifference to sights so unmistakably spectacular. Our daughter reminded us that longer travel is different than brief travel. True, we had been staying most places one night with a few two nighters slipped in there, and that’s tiring in itself. Still, I loved it all, and would not have traded our kayaking mornings or the swim with hundreds of dolphins, the hikes in the rainforest, or our biking days.

 

I can only look at photos, and drink in the peace and majesty of this magnificent country. Although I had mostly dreaded the extensive plane flights, I now see them as an opportunity to watch movies, catch up on reading (and snoozing,) —a means to get back to the extreme beauty that defines New Zealand. Plus they pronounce my name in the most adorable way- with Meg sounding like Mig – which distinguishes their accent from that of Australia. This once in a lifetime trip has inspired me to re-evaluate that phrase. Perhaps once is not enough.

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About Meg

Meg is a licensed independent clinical social worker with over thirty-five years clinical experience. She holds a Master’s Degree from the Boston University School of Social Work and a Bachelor of Arts from the State University of New York at Binghamton.

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