Reminiscing of Aotearoa

I remember slowly drifting down from the sky and looking out of the airplane window. White clouds shrouded our view, briefly, to tease us, and our eyes would catch a glimpse of emerald green, rolling hills. I was looking upon Middle Earth – floating from a dream in the clouds into a real life tangible dream as the wheels touched the ground and we landed in a place I had dreamed of going to nearly my entire life. We had arrived in The Land of the Long White Cloud. Aotearoa. New Zealand.

We weren’t here to just spend a short two week vacation. We were here to live. Our working holiday visas we had been granted allowed us to live in the country for a year. 

Josh and I had just been married a mere 5 months before embarking on this journey together. We had sold pretty much everything we had, quit our jobs, and the hardest part was saying goodbye to our families. I’m so thankful to this day that our parents allowed and encouraged us to follow our dreams. 

I will never forget that day of landing through the long white clouds and into a breathtakingly beautiful country that I know God must smile upon, for He did a grand job when he created that place. 

Arriving in Wellington felt like it was just yesterday, although, in reality, it has been nearly six years ago that our feet first touched that soil. 

I have a fondness for travel. It’s in my blood. It’s in my husband’s blood. We crave it. Our hearts leap within our chests just imagining and dreaming up our next adventure. We’re always asking and wondering to ourselves, “Where to, next?” 

We are wanderers. We grow restless when we are in the same place for too long. 

Our wanderlust spirit sent us to New Zealand. I remember the first day of walking around Wellington, or “Windy Welly” as it is often called by the locals, and I felt so alive. I felt like my heart was in my chest and I was on a high. For those who love to travel, you understand this feeling. You can’t believe it. You can’t believe that you are there. You want to soak it all in. Savor it. You can hardly wait to explore every nook and cranny of this newfound place. This place that is new to you. There’s something invigorating about that. Knowing your eyes are about to behold sights they have never seen. It’s unnerving but also exhilarating to be out of your element, and to be away from your dull routine you just left behind. The possibilities are endless when you travel. The world is yours. 

This is how I felt in New Zealand. 

The people of New Zealand truly have my heart and admiration, for they are the most hospitable people I have ever met. I noticed our first day there that they are proud of their country. They have a passion for life. 

While living there, our first year of marriage (I must mention that again) we found ourselves growing. Not only growing up as we were figuring life and marriage out on our own, away from our family, but growing as individuals. Josh and I had days where I found myself walking down the street, “running away” from home because of a fight we had just had (though I was really only running away to the nearest Starbucks). There were days when I think both of us wondered how in the world we were going to do this, and there were other days when we cleaved to each other. I am so thankful for that experience, of living in a foreign country away from everything we both knew, so that, in reality, we were forced to cling to one another. As Lucy tells her friend Ethel in one episode of “I Love Lucy”, Which I often thought that it applied to us – “We’re all we’ve got!” And these two wanderers found delight and happiness in sharing in so many adventures together. Arriving there and not really having a plan. Just winging it those first couple months. Driving around all over the North and the South Island. Doing odd, “backpacker” jobs like apple picking. Cleaning houses. Working at an adventure lodge, albeit one day, but… that one’s a long story!

Our love for each other grew as we were trying to make our way through the first year of marriage. It grew despite this force against us. And it grew because of God. I believe with all of my heart that God sent us to New Zealand and that he had a purpose for it. He wanted us to share in this marvelous adventure together, especially in the midst of a time as being known for being hard – marriage – especially the first year. I think God was sitting back and smiling as he watched our year unfold in New Zealand. 

There were so many close calls, where we didn’t have a job lined up or money was running low, in those first couple months of being there, and we were so afraid that we were going to have to give up and go back home. I truly thank God that that didn’t happen. And at those close call moments, people would magically step into our lives and literally say, “I have a job for you!” This happened more than once. And after the couple of months of vagabonding, God blessed Josh with an amazing job back in the city where we had first arrived in. Wellington. This is where our friends were. Our church family. We soon found a flat that became our home. It had sweeping, panoramic views overlooking the very southern edge of the North Island. We could see ferries coming in from the South and watch them make their way into the harbor. Our flat overlooked the airport, and we’d watch planes come and go from distant lands, perhaps from our own home that was nearly 8,000 miles away. 

It was in this land that I felt like Bilbo Baggins from the trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. I had been afraid to leave my comfortable hobbit hole, my home. But the call for adventure was louder than the thought of sitting in my home, looking out my window, wondering what was out there. It was more enticing than sitting down with my books, and reading about travels, instead of being the character myself and living out my own story. 

And adventures did I have. With my husband – my best friend. One of my favorite memories was hiking 19.4 kilometers in one day on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It was overcoming myself – my thoughts of self doubt and that, many times on the hike, I’d tell myself, “I can’t do this!” It was extremely physically taxing and challenging and tested your endurance and your belief in yourself. But, because I pushed on, with the help and encouragement of my husband, I traversed across volcanoes (not dormant volcanoes, by the way) and gasped in awe as I saw the magnificent, turquoise blue of the three pools of sulphuric water. The views were phenomenal, and the clear blue skies gave us a vantage point to see as far as the eye could see. And the best part is, that I did it. I didn’t turn back. They didn’t have to bring a helicopter to get me. I didn’t give up. I will never forget the sacrifice my husband made as he, weary as he was, gently took my heavy backpack from me and carried both his and mine. It was towards the end of the hike and I, like many times along the way, felt like giving up. His sacrifice gave me strength to finish. I will never forget the tears I cried as we were on the last mile and I didn’t know if I could take another step. And the feeling of arriving at the end of the trail and seeing all the other fellow hikers who were just as excited – it was a glorious sight and a feeling of relief washed over me. And I was proud. So proud of us. 

This is just one of countless adventures that we had during the course of our year of living in New Zealand. 

New Zealand felt like home. I felt like I belonged there. And that, my friend, is a good feeling to have. 

I miss it. My heart longs to see The Land of the Long White Cloud again. 

That’s what traveling and living abroad can do to you. It makes you feel a little unsettled or discontent with where you are living and what you are doing. This is one of the hard parts of having a wanderlust spirit, and I strive to be content with where I’m at and make the most out of where we are, wherever that may be. But when you’ve been to a place like New Zealand, your mind can’t help but drift off to those beautiful memories. Those picturesque pastures dotted with sheep. The green rolling hills. The snow capped mountain peaks. And your heart can never forget the warm, kind people that you met along the way and that are now forever a part of your story. 

One of my favorite travel quotes sums it up quite well: 

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends… The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy 

New Zealand will forever be imprinted upon our hearts. I long for the day when, through the airplane window, my eyes catch a glimpse of the emerald green, rolling hills. And, at last, Middle Earth will be my home again.

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