New Zealand – Chapter 6

20180313_140410.jpg

My last ten days in New Zealand encompassed 2,000 kms and too many connections to count. After returning to Takaka from Abel Tasman, I felt patient with the journey I was on – and excited to meet the many characters that would make my trip unforgettable. Unfortunate as it was that I wouldn’t have the luxury to stay in any one place for more than two nights, I resolved to make the best of my remaining time.

20180313_124307.jpg

I spent the morning after my Abel Tasman adventure exploring Takaka, perusing local cafes and craft shops. Fatefully, a gallery run by two local artists caught my eye, which I dutifully pulled over to explore. A couple greeted me joyously as I explored their art garden paradise. They soon shared their life journeys and I learned that they had met travelling through New Zealand some twenty years ago – and stuck together when Lolli, the wife, fell pregnant. This wasn’t your typical knocked up story though, this couple was overflowing with joy. They built purpose together in the wake of chaos and found success in life sharing beauty with the world, building their dreams together. Their meeting appeared to be fate, just as ours felt the same. I was inspired as I left their gallery that I, too, would one day chaotically stumble into my muse. I departed Takaka confident that I would one day return – perhaps as an artist myself.

20180313_115312.jpg

That afternoon, I returned to Moteuka soon to stumble into new friends at the local YHA Hostel – and quickly found myself trading wine, chocolate, and stories with travelers from Germany, England, and the US respectively. I was keen to share the adventure of my past week – which soon fell on wanting ears. That night, for the first time in my life, I felt like a proper storyteller – captivated by my own words. I relived the good and bad, relating my journey to a tipsy crowd as it grew in size and curiosity. That was the night that I fell in love with my story. I felt rich with experience and had too many philosophical anecdotes to share. I bid my drinking mates farewell that evening with a belly full of wine and wide smile, excited by my newfound verbal vigor.

DSCF0864.JPG

An epic roadtrip and adventure unfolded over the next few days as I made my way from Monteuka to Wellington to Taupo to Rotorua to Whitianga, and finally – to Auckland. I made incredible new friends hostel hoping around the North Island, pulling over to explore quirky craft shops, day hikes, and every scenic view I could find. I shared dense intimate connections and long drunken nights dancing with strangers I’d never see again. I made friends with every soul that happened to find themselves in the same room as me – yet still found time to get lost in the wilderness at least once a day. It was the perfect conclusion to a grand roadtrip and wonderful adventure.

20180319_135147.jpg

Finally, I rented a casita next to a butterfly garden on my last two nights in New Zealand. Fitting as butterflies are one of my favorite animals, and often a source of inspiration for my poems. If you asked me when I started my journey why butterflies exist, I would’ve said “to be blown around by the wind, victims to cause.” Now, after six weeks of “blowing around”, I’d say their true purpose is to give meaning to the wind and spread beauty. In the absence of meaning, life started to appear a lot more meaningful.

20180319_164507.jpg

 

Six weeks in New Zealand occurred like the blink of an eye. I had no plans when I arrived into the country and would depart with more friends and memories than I could even fathom.

DSCF0542.JPG

DSCF0666.JPG

DSCF0712.JPG

20180318_160141.jpg

When I departed the US, I didn’t know what, when, where, or why – I just knew that I needed a change. However, after hitchhiking in the dark, intimate conversations into early morning, too many blisters to count, straining physical and social challenges, and an incredible adventure to behold I might answer that question a little differently.

20180318_153656.jpg

The longer I travel, the more I realize that personal meaning in life is less important than the pursuit of the journey. Meaning will adapt as you change and grow. Life isn’t about finding the ultimate truth – it’s about finding a set of beliefs that manifest your best self in the current moment. Beliefs that help you jump out of bed, even when you’re tired. Some lucky souls walk their path in a straight line but that doesn’t mean you’re a failure if you’re playing pinball with your purpose. In fact, I’d argue that some of the most interesting people I’ve met redefine their beliefs, and existence, constantly. The goal should be action – not consistency. If you find yourself inactive, it’s time to recalibrate and change your thinking. And not just inaction in body – inaction in mind, spirit, and emotion too.

calvinknowledgeisparalyzing.gif

So, ask yourself – what gets me up in the morning? What am I looking forward to in life? Where do I want to be right now? What do I want from life? Why do I want it? How can I get it?

20180313_124212.jpg

If the answers are work, weekends, not here, and freedom – you owe it to yourself to make a change, and it all starts with your thinking. The goal shouldn’t be to work – it should be to work hard; not to vacation – but to travel; not to love – but to love well; not to exist – but to live.

DSCF0462.JPG

When you take the first steps towards any change, don’t be disheartened when you first meet resistance. Purpose and passion result from pursuit and practice. Pursue and practice and I can guarantee that you’ll achieve more than you ever planned for.

DSCF0806.JPG

So, I say, in my infinite ignorance – be bold, be brave, love well – and get going. And for god’s sake, if you’re unhappy – Travel. Results may vary but you’re sure to discover a thing or two about what life means to you.

B2.jpg

New Zealand opened my eyes to the sense of self I lost in 2017, and helped me regain it. Off to Japan I went…

20180313_115344.jpg

Thank you Nora, Cornelia, Tom, Melo, Jannick, Celine, Kat, Sara, Fish, Tim, Wayne, Becky, Jitske, Mohan, and Chakara for making my trip an adventure. 

New Zealand – Chapter 5

 

20180305_124141.jpgIn the confines of a car, the open road can appear a captive or a catalyst for something great. The difference between the two is good music, a scenic drive, and a healthy disposition to enjoy a journey. Two weeks of solid connections left me wanting more but my keen eye erred to find one traveler along the entire west coast. Day one, I drove 500 kms from Queenstown to Franz Josef – making quick pitstops along the way to publish a post and jump off some cliffs. The drive was scenic, so much so that I forgot to check my speed and got a ticket going 70 kms over the speed limit which I still haven’t paid – whoops…

20180305_161032.jpg

Over the course of the next three days, and 900 kms, I saw the best, and worst, that New Zealand has to offer. I stayed in an overbooked resort overflowing with kids from “Kiwi Experience” buses, perused through run-down Westport (a town that hasn’t changed since the Great Depression), fell asleep at the wheel in line to cross a collapsed mountain pass, and detoxed in a sauna at a delightful B&B in Takaka – all the while, enjoying the company of strangers, hitchhikers, hostel owners, and vagabonds. I met an artist finding purpose (searching for love), an environmental activist stumbling through her next chapter in the wake of love lost, a hostel owner rationalizing retirement, and a jewelry maker who appeared to be more a philosopher than a craftsman. I made rock jewelry and walked miles along empty beaches collecting perfect pebbles. I ran out of gas while debating the merits of nuclear energy with a cross-gender hitchhiker from Germany. I met locals and travelers alike and met them how I could – for once; instead of how I wanted. And, of course, I drove. And drove. And drove…

DSCF0733.JPG

The road felt lonely, however. I missed my German muses, Melo and the gang, Tim and Becky, Neil, and Fish – my new friends. Somehow, I knew that the rest of my travels through New Zealand wouldn’t be as deeply connective as the past three weeks. The more I pondered on that fact, the more restless I became. There’s merit in allowing an excess of time to stumble upon connections when you travel; allowing days to bleed into conversations and adventures, moments into memories. For the first time in my adventure I was a solo-tourist – lost with a need to always be farther down the road.

DSCF0770.JPG

In an attempt to slow down and refind center, I opted to spend an afternoon in Motueka exploring the city and polishing rocks. I soon found myself grinding down quartz crystals into necklaces to gift to friends yet to be found. David, the rock smith, was keen to quickly get philosophical. We discussed how rocks are like people, and how each one acts differently under a grinder and drill. We discussed the merits of rocks as medicine and the vibrations we call life. We discussed art and love and energy. All the while I played the role of the novice, mused by this craftsman’s understanding of life. Perhaps David was just a crazy troglodyte but I felt inspired – and departed his workshop with the promise to return in one week to collect my creations.

20180307_165326.jpg

I stumbled into a conversation with a social worker from Switzerland the night before I met David, who’s name I never caught. My initial intrigue in her quickly manifested into a healthy debate regarding quality of travel and fulfillment. I assumed the stance that quantity yields quality, purpose leads to perfection, action to adventure. She argued the opposite, that purpose is a derivative of the past, not an actionable future. That adventure is a disposition, not a destination. Smart girl; she got me thinking. We argued into the late hours of the night. Her parting words were to check out the Golden Bay, and with seven days to burn until my jewelry was complete, I didn’t have anything better to do.

DSCF0752.JPG

The mountain pass to Takaka was destroyed by the prior week’s cyclones. Five large mudslides resulted in two crossings a day (7am and 5pm) which each took over three hours as the NZTA worked on rebuilding the road. The result was a quiet Golden Bay. Most shops were closed due to the lack of tourism – and the hushed main street of Takaka was largely occupied by the local bohemian crowd that camped in the woods full-time. I was finally off the main tourist path – mingling with locals.

DSCF0782.JPG

I stayed at a B&B-Spa my first night in Takaka which also served as the local watering hole on weeknights. The Belgian owner urged me to jump into the sauna and I soon found myself surrounded by naked locals. Their playfulness and calm demeanors spoke to the quiet artsy lifestyle that so many in the area enjoyed. I was surrounded by farmers, craftsman, and bohemians alike. None of them earned much and only one was well travelled but their contentment was palpable amid giggling fits and acapella jam sessions. I couldn’t help but think “Where the hell am I?” Better yet, “What secrets do these hippies possess?” I fell asleep intent to fully explore and understand the Bay.

DSCF0795.JPG

The next day, I drove the entire west and east coast of the Golden Bay, stopping occasionally to kick sand and skip rocks. I drove over 50 miles on dirt roads in my tiny Yaris searching for the local’s secret to life; always assuming it was right around the next bend only to meet another magnificent vista. A quick pitstop at a café in the middle of nowhere quickly yielded an hour-long conversation with an LA expat – we discussed politics and travel. Upon my departure, she bellowed out “you were my only customer this week” with a cracked smile. 200 kms and ten hours later I arrived back to Takaka, slightly perturbed that I had yet to discover the “local secret”. I parked myself at Telegraph Hotel, the local pikey pub, that night to contemplate my next steps.

DSCF0785.JPG

I awoke the next morning to the hotel owner banging down my door, upset that I might miss checkout. I was disappointed at the lack of hospitality, but more upset that I didn’t have a reason to jump out of bed; this just wasn’t going to work, I needed something to do. I promptly grabbed a cup of coffee and strolled into the DoC in search of a local track to hike. To my surprise, Abel Tasman Coastal Track campsites were hardly booked due to track damage. Less than three hours later, I was on the trail again.

20180309_150157.jpg

Each step down the track felt like a step in the right direction. As I climbed Gibbs Hill, I felt the pressure and pain of my discontentment from the past week start to bleed away. Soon my mind moved onto thoughts of the past, as if the track were an abusive therapist. I gave in to the strain and pain provided by each step and my too-heavy pack. My discontentment with the pain soon turned into gratitude for the ability to explore the wilderness. I felt myself transported back to Routeburn, Roy’s Peak, Matukituki, and all the prior month’s hikes. I felt bliss. And then I got lost….

20180309_174744.jpg

Five hours into my hike and lacking a trail map, I found myself on Goat beach with no idea of where to go, turbulent waves crashing before me. It was growing dark quickly and two attempts to backtrack yielded no fruitful results: no trails missed, no signs, no markers, nothing. Shit. I parked my backpack on the beach and yanked out my GPS hoping to gain a bearing.

20180309_191601.jpg

There was no GPS signal. There was no phone service. I had no map. I was lost. After two minutes of panicking, I found myself searching for a solution as the sun disappeared behind the horizon. I juggled thoughts of backtracking, making camp for the night, and wishing I had stored a bottle of rum for such an occasion. Surely some spirits would lift mine. At last I resolved to carry on down the beach, backpack in tow, in search of a safe place to spend the evening. It took about twenty minutes for me to accept that I was lost – at which point I was overcome with a sense of peace. Not a minute later did I catch a glimpse of the trail from the corner of my eye, hidden by the bush. I was walking the path the whole time, thinking I was lost. It was only after I accepted where I was, enjoying each step, that I saw where I had to go.

20180310_195506.jpg

I threw on my headphones, unsure of how much farther I had to trek, and grooved out the entire six minutes it took me to stumble into my campsite for that evening. It was just around a bluff the entire time.

Sleep did not find me easily that night. It was a difficult day on my body and mind. I had journeyed over mountains and through forests; through blame and into acceptance; through misery, past mindfulness, and towards peace. I quietly whispered to ghosts of my past in the confines of my sleeping bag, attempting to make peace with 2017. I talked to my dad for the first time in months, hoping his spirit was close by. Hoping he could see his son travel the world. Hoping he felt loved. Hoping he was at peace. I received no answer except for a calm wind that teased my tent and eased my heart. I don’t think I was alone that evening; sleep found me easily after my prayers and I awoke to soulful glow.

20180310_123151.jpg

My next three days on the trail can only be described as bliss. I hiked fast with strong knees, passing many, and enjoying the company of those that could keep up. I napped on beaches with crystal clear water, waking up to crisp ocean baths. I built a giant fort and stumbled into a hippy commune where I was able to nab a bottle of wine, which I promptly drank that afternoon. I made camp on sandy beaches and slept under a sea of twinkling starts as mist from nearby waves painted my tent.

DSCF0818.JPG

My last night on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, I made camp on a quiet mile-long beach blessed only by my company. I danced and did yoga to the beat of the break. I spun sticks and made driftwood art. I built a camp I was proud of even though I was sure to depart the next morning, begrudgingly. I strolled the beach looking for purpose, only to find more sand. I enjoyed the solitude in peace with quiet. I tried to write but my company was more interesting than anything I could say. Damn, that was a great beach.

20180313_084516.jpg

The hike out and fateful water taxi ride back to my car seemed like a blur as I was intoxicated with presence. Thinking back now, I can clearly recall every bend and step I took on that trek and everything that has happened since.

DSCF0828.JPG

The four days I spent on the Abel Tasman coastal track were a turning point in my travels; perhaps, in my life. I seemingly stumbled upon secrets to being present and fulfillment within oneself. My solitude transformed from a fear into a privilege. My purpose transformed into self-fulfillment, through effort and experience. It didn’t matter what I would do with my last week in New Zealand – I was content. Rest assured, though, my newfound disposition wouldn’t detract from the experience.

DSCF0839.JPG

New Zealand – Chapter 4

20180305_121425(0).jpg

Ten hours later, I awoke from a writer’s haze with ten pages of content and the owner of the café fiddling with the Wifi, indicating it was time I leave. I gallivanted down the cobblestone main street one last time, bought some trail mix and bananas, and took to the road. After an hour of head-bobbing-bus-dodging-mountain-pass-driving I settled into the next chapter of my trip and threw on the audiobook “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek. Fitting, given my goal for this adventure is to find my “why”.

DSCF0673.JPG

I drove five hours the first day, stopping with local tour groups to take short walks and stretch my legs. I couldn’t imagine sitting on a bus all day seeing New Zealand through a window with an occasional pee break – with no time to chase animals or jump in lakes or pick up hitchhikers. In just three short weeks, travelling had already jaded me.

DSCF0697.JPG

It was nice to be alone again – on the open road. With the wheel at my fingertips, everywhere to go, and no plans – I felt free. I felt the opportunity of the journey that lied ahead and inspired by what I could turn it into. Another challenge, another chapter.

DSCF0689.JPG

Night one, I stopped at a small Indian operated hostel near Fox Glacier. It was attached to the local sports bar so I obviously had a beer or two – and then a bottle of wine, and then chatted up an older well-travelled English couple and some aussies, and then got lit with a chick from Portland. It was good; maybe I drank too much.

DSCF0703.JPG

The next morning, I hit the road again – refreshed, and slightly hungover, on new connections and stories to share. Rain slowed my progress towards Arthur’s Pass but painted the rigid glacial mountain tops with dangling clouds – which was a sight to behold. Two hours into my ride, I spotted my first hitchhikers just outside Franz Josef – whom I duly slammed on my brakes for.

DSCF0711.JPG

Tim and Becky were real travelers. Their backpack shoulder straps were adorned with bohemian sleeve guards, and their smiles were as bright as their shoes worn. Fatefully, we were both heading 200 kms north, so I told them to “jump on in” – words which seemed to escape my lips just a little too fast. Tim was a vivacious Belgian that laughed almost too much – but was an absolute joy to be around. Becky, conversely, maintained the quiet temperament of a German watching the speedometer more often than the surroundings. Tim was tall and lanky with an unkept beard, Becky clean and short with tight lips. We made small talk for an hour and I learned that they were both creators from Europe – Tim an artisan furniture builder and Becky a newly trained boat builder. Our conversation soon thickened to discuss politics, marketing, fate, spirituality, and lifestyle. Four hours later, when we arrived at Arthur’s Pass, we hadn’t solved any of the world’s problems but it was apparent that we were well aware of them.

20180301_164009.jpg

The duo asked if I wanted to join them on the first section of their ten-day adventure down Te Araroa, NZ’s equivalent of the PCT, when we arrived to Arthur’s Pass – and having enjoyed their company, I agreed to tag along. I guess the feeling was mutual. We grabbed supplies and went in search of the trail head. I was eager to get back into my hiking boots.

20180301_183031.jpg

The notion of trekking with seasoned hikers initially intimated me as I didn’t want to slow the group, but I quickly found a comfortable pace between Tim’s long strides and Becky’s brisk steps. The initial ascent was brutish as, once again, I had loaded my pack with much too much, but I was determined to deliver a gourmet meal on the trail to my new friends. The trail wound its way through the mountains of Arthur’s Pass shifting between overgrown mossy rainforests, thick pines, and wet open meadows dense with tall grass. Our pace was firm but we were slowed by the muddied trail which quickly crusted out boots and knees with dirt.

20180301_181329.jpg

Upon arrival to Lagoon Saddle hut we explored the area noting the large “No Campfire” sign and lack of all basic amenities. A small sign on the hut door indicated another structure had been erected across a nearby stream which had recently fallen victim to a mudslide – making the trail to the hut rather treacherous with weight. The sister hut was sketchy – comprised of rusted metal panels and felt more like the set of a horror film than a proper DoC abode. It had a mattress, however, and with the addition of our wet boots and stinky sleeping bags, soon felt like home.

Settled into the meat shack, I wrestled with a small fire while preparing a beef mince dish with fried bacon and feta cheese, to high expectations. It was horrible. So bad, in fact, that I couldn’t help but laugh as I gagged it down. So much for the heavy pack and gourmet meal. To my defense, however, I didn’t have much time to coordinate the menu. My European counterparts prepared a delightful pasta dish of cottage cheese, feta cheese, scallions, garlic, and a splash of Chardonnay – accompanied by the rest of the bottle which we shelped up the hill. We sat around the campfire late into the evening nibbling on dark chocolate with small raindrops tickling our noses, bouncing between life stories and soothing silence, stoking the fire often.

DSCF0720.JPG

In the morning, no one was in a rush to say goodbye. Over the course of just one day, I had entered these two hitchers lives as a savior only to become part of their cohort – part of the clan. I smile just writing that. Tim and Becky were a joy to be around – I hope to see them again.

My arrival back to the car was bittersweet but I was excited to resume my road trip. Five hours later I arrived into Tekapo, a small lake town that claims to be the second-best star gazing spot in the world. The city turns off all public lighting at 10 p.m. to eliminate most of the local light pollution. After driving in the rain for most of the day, I didn’t have high hopes for my stay – but after an insane sunset and bottle of wine, the view was spectacular.

20180302_193646.jpg

I made camp in a large holiday park right off the lake. Upon my arrival, I befriended a traveler from Holland named Neil. Still riding on the high of my time with Tim and Becky I didn’t give Neil the time day as we set up camp, but upon my return from the city with a fresh bottle and full belly I stumbled upon a wanting soul to converse and watch the stars with. Neil, initially, appeared to be your typical blonde-hair blue-eyed pretty boy traveler.

We quickly stumbled through the pleasantries of our adventures through New Zealand, sharing pictures and reminiscing on summits climbed. Neil had the disposition of a traveler, but the depth of his stories and the breadth of his gaze soon proved that there was a wealth of experience hiding behind his eyes. Within an hour of talking, and drinking, we were both sharing stories of lost loved ones, trials of the past, and the reasons behind our travels abroad. How great it was, again, to be in good company, and better yet, how soon.

Image result for calvin and hobbes under the stars

We were both running towards the future with many lost loves, too many to count. Our laughs echoed throughout the campground deep into the evening, making sad stories merry, sharing more wisdom than two twenty year old’s should ever possess. The stars twinkled above. The full moon painted the mountainous landscape many shades of silver. We conversed late into the night, enjoying the view before us.

Before retiring for the evening, I convinced Neil to write, to share his story if only but with himself; and he convinced me to live more boldly, to say “Hi” when I didn’t have to – not a bad outcome I’d say. Neil described our meeting as fate – interesting how often that word keeps surfacing on this journey. Perhaps we’re all just looking for something bigger to believe in. Perhaps there is fate. No comment; it’s too soon to tell.

20180303_114615.jpg

My return to Queenstown was brief in the wake of such profound connections; music blasting, the mountains and 200ks flew by. I was excited to reconnect with my German travel mates and share stories from our week apart.

DSCF0681.JPG

Melo and the crew were staying outside the city at Twelve Mile Delta – our preferred campground while in Queenstown – but I opted to hire an AirBnb for my last weekend in the city given the rainy weather forecast and total need for a shower. After dropping off my belongings and returning the car, I found a quaint café on the lakefront to enjoy a coffee and write the tale of Melo.

20180214_102458.jpg

My last weekend in Queenstown was quiet. I reconnected with the German crew which had increased in size and sat on the boardwalk, eating a giant cookie in celebration of Melo’s 26th birthday. I learned how to lawn bowl in an attempt to pay frisbee golf one afternoon. I had a chance to satiate my palate with some decent sushi and delicious confectionaries. I even stumbled upon AJ – the pianist that hosted a free concert in front of my tent on my second night on the South Island. Overall, it was an enjoyable relaxing semi-boring weekend which presented adequate time to reflect.

My AirBnb host, Fish, was no stranger to travel himself, having visited over 80 countries throughout his life. We spent a few hours sharing travel stories and adventures the night I parted with my German friends – and even touched on characteristics of different cultures, as Fish reminisced on how the world has changed. We talked about my blog and why I write. He made fun of my total lack of followers – and then smoked me out as we watched the sun set behind Queenstown. The night ended with a rum and whiskey tasting resulting from conversations on Cuba’s nightlife and Irish versus Scottish whiskey.

20180304_203808.jpg

Fish challenged me to write more, to share myself more boldly – to be more open and amicable to the story I’m writing, and living.  He made me recognize how far I have come – better yet, how far I still have yet to go. He made me realize that anything worth doing takes years of doing and that passion is a result of practice and patience. He reinforced that my greatest enemy and ally in this life is me. Most importantly, he helped me rationalize that we’re all just trying to live the best life possible – and while different for everyone, we can all occasionally meet on common ground, even if just for the moment. I felt inspired; perhaps it was just the bud. Regardless, I wrote well into the evening.

Image result for calvin and hobbes on life

Fish dropped me off at the airport the next morning after a quick pit stop to grab some pies at Ferg Bakery. I jumped in my rental and hit the road again, no stranger to New Zealand’s driving laws. Little did I know how incredibly different the next chapter would be…

New Zealand – Chapter 3

It only takes about 30 minutes of hitchhiking in the dark with a bottle of wine in hand to question if you’re homeless, a vagabond, or in for a night of fun. Luckily, I found Melo in Queenstown that afternoon and had good company to contemplate life with on the side of the road. Our conversation soon proved that I had made a good decision to reconnect. A few cheers, and swigs, later we found ourselves en route to the city excited to enjoy the local nightlife. It’s funny how good company can easily make a bad decision appear great.

Untitled1.png

We strolled into the town confidently, chests touted, in search of Melo’s travel mates from his prior months in New Zealand, Janick and Celiene. Thirty minutes later, we discovered them stumbling along the boardwalk, beers in hand, enjoying each other’s company. What aspired to be a night clubbing soon turned into a night of drinking and laughing on the shore of the lake. We bumped into some local buskers and I had to opportunity to spin fire for the local crowd and new friends. Our night ended at the infamous Ferg burger and a short taxi ride later we found ourselves stumbling back to our tents, entirely drunk and content with the evening.

20180220_120000.jpg

After hostel hoping the next morning in search of a free shower and wifi, we settled on our plans to travel to Wanaka to catch Roy’s Peak at sunrise and then depart on a three-day trek up Matukituki Valley. The weather forecast had worsened, however, so I opted to rent a car for our journey up to Wanaka to spare our group two long days and two sore thumbs. While I enjoy hitchhiking, hitching a couple hundred kms in the rain with four people isn’t exactly ideal. I picked up the car, we packed up camp, and departed on to our next adventure.

Image result for wanaka

After a night of camping in the rain and a two-hour scenic drive we found ourselves in Wanaka, aka – Heaven. Imagine a quaint mountain town abutting a giant clear glacial lake; gelato shops, cafes, and bars lining the main boardwalk; mountain-bikers sending every jump-like-barrier with towering mountains in the backdrop. Imagine sunny days posted up on beach with free wifi and a gentle warm breeze from the west. Imagine being thirty minutes away from some of the most epic mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, skiing, and off-roading New Zealand offers. Imagine… Queenstown wasn’t looking so hot anymore.

After a rainy day of laundry, showers, burgers, and getting kicked out of cafes we pitched our tents just outside the city excited to hike Roy’s Peak the next morning. A cyclone from the past three days left a fresh layer of snow on the peak which only strengthened our resolve to beat the sun to the summit. Next thing I know, it’s three am and time to hike.

IMG_20180305_113142_786.jpg

I felt like a spring rabbit when we hit the trail head. My empty stomach and tired body were ready to hit the mountaintop to enjoy some well-deserved granola and coffee. The first thirty minutes were grueling, however. The 12% grade, new-mooned darkness, and sheer persistence of the track had me looking at my watch every 90 seconds. Eventually, I submitted to the misery and began to enjoy the fire road that winds eight kilometers up to the 1,600 meter summit. Our group quickly found its stride and an hour in we started passing other sunrise-seeking wanderers. Two hours in and six kilometers later we hit snow. A fresh centimeter turned into two and then five and then twenty. Soon after we lost the track, and taking Melo’s lead, spent the last thirty minutes directly ascending towards the summit. At 6:15, we were the first to hit the peak.

DSCF0608.JPG

It was dark with a clear sky. In the absence of the moon we could see the outline of the horizon and twinkling lights of the towns below. The frigid wind chill soon rendered my gloveless hands unusable, and I surrendered to an unpixellated experience. Our group huddled up behind the weather station at the peak to seek refuge from the blistering cold, and soon warm coffee adorned our aching hands. Thirty minutes later we were joined by the second group to summit, a couple from France. They quickly requested shelter in our huddled-up coffee corner to stay warm, which we happily granted.

28423826_10156012303689870_812871239593522782_o.jpg

The sunrise was magnificent. Three days of cyclone ridden overcast yielded rows upon rows of mountain ranges dusted with fresh snow. The horizon transformed from dark blue to purple to red to orange, light consuming every inch of the valleys below, over which course our group of six had grown into thirty ambitious souls from around the world. A diversity of languages, and cameras, enlivened the summit. We took some pictures, enjoyed the view as the sun breached the eastern vista, packed up, and headed for departure – the trail we couldn’t find now decorated with fresh snowy footprints.

IMG_20180305_113616_534.jpg

Descending was fun. We laughed and teased and tripped all the way down the mountain passing group after group of winded trekkers, stopping halfway down the track to enjoy a snack and reminisce on the morning’s death march. At 10 am, we arrived at the carpark – now overflowing with campervans and RVs alike. Our ambition, which had turned into effort, was now just a memory. It was a beautiful day – and it had only just begun. Kicking it lakefront that afternoon never felt so good.

IMG_20180305_114641_574.jpg

The next morning, we quickly stopped at the grocery store to resupply for the three day hike up Matukituki Valley. The journey to the trail head was treacherous in our little Camry. Stream crossings soon turned into full-on river adventures, and gravel quickly turned into boulders – but luckily we made it in one piece, passing a graveyard of car parts along the way representing less fortunate souls. We parked the car, loaded the packs , and took to the hills.

20180223_143927.jpg

The hike up the valley was spectacular. Epic peaks and glaciers fell into nine kilometers of quaint pastured fire-roads intertwining with a turquoise glacial river. Livestock sheepishly skirted the trail offering numerous opportunities to attempt to start a stampede; all unsuccessful. Two hours later we found ourselves at Aspiring Hut, the halfway point to where we’d camp that evening. It was at this point that I felt my resolve start to wither. My pack became heavy and every step felt fruitless.

20180224_103048.jpg

The next two hours were hell. I bounced between being upset with the weight of my pack, pace of my counterparts, distance we had to travel, and state of my mind. I projected and then injected and then introspected – and finally resolved that I was just out of shape and on a long-ass hike. The last kilometer of the trail entertained a 700-meter ascent to the Liverpool hut; a combination of climbing and clinging on for dear life. I was tired but this track wouldn’t get the best of me. Turns out we all survived; and while tired, even had enough energy to enjoy the view. However, all I could think about that night was how terrified I was to descend from this hut/death trap. Advanced track felt like an understatement – I can’t wait to do another.

20180223_141323.jpg

The next morning I delayed getting up, much to my travel mates chagrin. I told them to go on – thinking they’d take me up on the offer. I had given up – I was scared and tired with well worn blisters. Much to my surprise, though, they stayed – and deferred the day’s plan. I was shocked and embarrassed, but entirely relieved – and very grateful. The hike down was actually fun on fresh legs – root clinging and butt scraping. I took pause at the bottom to thank my group – my friends. My mind had gotten the best of me the night before, but Melo, Janick, and Celiene helped me get the best of my mind. I got by with a little help from my friends. We made camp at Aspiring Hut that night and enjoyed a feast of instant rice and dehydrated lamb.

IMG_20180305_120446_435.jpg

The hike out was hilarious. 100 kph winds with heavy rainfall found us often blowing around the track with our butts in the mud. An unfortunate soap spill from the night before left my pack soaked with dish soap – and I quickly turned into the pillsbury doughboy. Sheep tumbled across the fire road. Cyclones shifted into dust devils whipping the river around the track. Rain guards frolicked in the wind like neutral flags begging for an armistice. Everyone ambled on at a tilt trying not to fall – at points dropping down just to survive. And survive we did – with smiles on our faces and mud on our butts. We clawed our way to the carpark, loaded up the Camry, and hit the road ready to cross some rivers.

There’s only one river crossing on the road to Matukituki Valley that you should worry about, and on a sunny day it’s really not that bad. It was not a sunny day, however, and the waterfall feeding the now-river was raging. I had worried about this crossing on arrival as it had almost ripped off our front bumper and now we had to decide if we wanted to risk floating down the river or camp in the howling wind for the night. This was not a decision for a coin toss.

Fifteen minutes of stick probing and nervous pacing later I asked my travel mates to jump out, told them to jump into the river and push if we got stuck, and gunned it. Anxious spectators who had smartly parked in the non-4×4 lot had their cameras trained, ready to post “Camry floats away in New Zealand Fjord”. But we made it. The few who watched even applauded. I smiled and laughed, unsure how our little sedan managed a submerged engine bay. The rest of the flowing rivers felt like trickles compared to that initial crossing, tunes blasting and our heads bobbing. This was Melo and Janick’s first multi-day hike and would surely prove not to be their last.

20180222_164012.jpg

We hit Wanaka, devoured giant burgers, bounced around town that afternoon, hired an AirBnB for the evening, and I made my travel companions a Mexican salad in celebration of their first multi-day hike as we watched the closing ceremonies of the Olympics. On our last day in Wanaka, we relaxed on the beach in quiet enjoyment – it was a spectacularly sunny day. My new friends were headed for Tekapo to meet up with two of Melo’s mates from home – and I planned to take a road trip up west coast. We resolved to meet in Queenstown five days later for Melo’s birthday and had a roadside goodbye.

20180305_121425(0).jpg

It was sad to say farewell to my new German friends, but I was ready for a solo adventure. My travel companions had challenged me physically and mentally – and I departed their company wiser, entirely content, and completely lost. So, I did what I do best – I found a cozy café and I began to write. Words poured from my fingers and my journey started to take shape on paper. Perhaps my blog would find some life after all. Interactions were starting to feel less sparse and more wanted, and I stumbled upon a satisfaction with having people in my life just for the moment. This is why I came to New Zealand – this is why I left my life back in the US.

 

New Zealand – Chapter 2

It only took thirty minutes and two wet socks for me to realize the weight on my back and distance I had to travel. In the past, my resolve may have faltered but the pain only made me walk faster. I only stopped twice on my way up to the Routeburn Flats Hut – once to tighten my laces and once just to take it all in. The rain was dense, as was the forest. Ferns lined the well-appointed trail, bowing to the rain, beading sweat. Moss encrusted trees provided shelter between river gorges with narrow suspension bridges and glacial waterfalls. The rain made the forest come alive.

DSCF0414.JPG

Two hours into my journey, I was greeted by a massive river valley and the Routeburn Flats hut. One second I was walking in an enchanted forest and the next I was greeted by the great plains and surrounded by towering glacial mountains. I quickly acquainted myself with the hut and fellow trekkers trying to dry off, made myself a quick meal – noticed the sun had finally decided to make an appearance and took off exploring the meadow.

DSCF0472.JPG

Tall grass happily greeted my newly blistered feet, surely a result of my wet socks and heavy bag, as it couldn’t have been my total lack of training… I walked deep into the river valley with waterfalls on both sides, camera in hand. My electronics soon felt like a burden however, so I soon returned to camp to grab my journal and pack my devices.

The weather looked like it was going to hold so I returned back to the meadow, again, this time with no sandals or camera. I jumped over a river, paused for a second to feel the kiss of the wind, and took off running. I just ran. It was the first time I ran since knee surgery and breaking my leg. I felt free with the wind in my hair, my feet dancing between unkept grass and a narrow muddy unmapped tracks, and my lungs fresh and on fire. I ran.

DSCF0430.JPG

Soon I stumbled; I tumbled. I laughed on my back looking at the sky, hidden in the tall grass. I sat up only to be pushed back down by a strong gust of wind – perhaps nature was trying to tell me something. I stretched a bit and decided to meditate in the wind – calming my mind and warming my soul. In that moment, freedom felt free and my mind flowed. It was time to journal.

I made my way back through the meadow with the biggest smile on my face – I must’ve seemed crazy to the other hut dwellers who were still trying to dry their socks and stay warm – emerging from the meadow barefoot covered in grass and mud stains. And then, I began to write. Words were easily founded and I felt relieved to acknowledge the past few days. Fate started to seem like reality – and the universe felt kind.

DSCF0419.JPG

My artistic trance was soon interrupted by a kind voice asking “May we join you?” I looked up to greet the brightest smile and most piercing blue eyes I had ever seen. Their names were Conny and Nora – and contrasted with the backdrop of the mountains, I felt my heart jump. They asked me what I was writing. Nothing much, I suppose. I closed my journal to greet their smiles and aching backs.

We chatted for an hour about life and travel. We shared advice about trekking. We said goodbye hoping our paths would cross again. I felt mused by their presence and drew the landscape – anxiously awaiting our next interaction.

DSCF0480.JPG

The next morning I awoke with the vigor of a dog in pursuit of a cat. I made breakfast, patched my blisters, pulled out my hiking poles, threw on fresh socks, and took the trail. My pace was fast but my steps felt light – even with an aching back. I had to catch these two German girls. Three hours and a brisk wet morning later, however, I realized I must’ve passed their hut before they even started walking. I laughed to myself on the ledge of a mountain peering into the clouded abyss that hid the Routeburn Valley. Out of breath and on top of the world, I felt at home. I resumed my brisk pace enlivened by the adventure of solitude.

14 kms later I found myself greeted by Lake McKenzie hut – a 60 bunk abode sitting on the front of a turquoise lake surrounded by rocky mountains and short-lived waterfalls from the day’s rain. I made lunch and posted up in the corner of the hut with my laptop to write, only to soon be interrupted.


Writing feels like a job when you’re travelling but it also feels right. It allows me to relive crucial moments and feel the wind in my hair, once again. It allows me to find lessons through reflection and acknowledge the insane and mundane in every day. It allows me to realize why I am living and helps me figure out how I want to live some more. Before this trip, I’d write because I wanted to – now I write because I need to. I write because life is a journey worthy of recognition and sharing, even if it’s just with oneself. I write because thirty years from now I want to look back, acknowledge my life, and have a basis to evaluate my growth. I write because I can. And so, I write.

Image result for journaling comic

Gabby presented herself to be a humble traveler but soon appeared to be much more. A Chicago native that immigrated to Israel, she had the grit of soldier and the lust of an adventurer. We quickly became friends around the hearthstone, drying our socks and warming out feet. Soon, her very blistered and opinionated partner in crime, Lina, joined in our conversation. We shared our adventures (a theme among travelers) and aspirations for life while Lina complained about her feet. I felt for her though, mine weren’t in good shape either.

And then the German girls entered the hut, Nora and Conny. My conversation buddies all of a sudden became my captives as I just wanted to escape to say “Hi.” But I played it cool, I think; waving and continuing a conversation about travelling around Israel – a country I look forward to visiting in May. But the conversation stumbled on – so I started to plot my escape, at one point even venturing outside in the rain to jump in the freezing Lake McKenzie trying to take my leave. It didn’t work though, as I was followed.

That evening though Nora and Conny joined our communal table for dinner and not two seconds after they sat down did I start peppering them with questions; their joint laugh livened the tired and wet common area, and their smiles still glowed. Our conversation lasted deep into the evening – laughing, eating chocolate, and speaking on the world, jobs, life, and why we travel – until the lights finally clicked off. I asked if I could join them on their hike the next day and bid them goodnight.

20180217_155159.jpg

In the morning my blisters were well worn and hurting, but I didn’t care – I had cool new hiking buddies. My initial plan was to turn around at Howden hut and hike back to Glenorchy but Nora and Conny offered me a ride to Te Anau and every step down the mountain felt like a step closer to their car. We passed and crossed dozens of waterfalls on the trek down the mountain, starting the day in our raingear only to strip down to our shorts an hour later. I shared the journey of Burning Man, breaking my leg, and my many encounters with mystics in the past months – knowing these girls must think I was crazy. But they listened with wanting ears, so I told my tale.

DSCF0487.JPG

Eventually we hit Howden hut and I peeled off my socks, wet from walking directly under a 300 ft waterfall (pictured above). The blisters were bad and I had 40 kms to go on my journey back to Glenorchy. The girls looked at me again, compassionately, and offered a ride to Te Anau – so I did what any rational backpacker would do; I flipped a coin.


It came up heads and I gave the girls a look of disappointment, although I was smiling inside excited to enjoy their company a bit longer. They smiled, I smiled; we packed up lunch and began the trek back the carpark at the Divide chatting about art and culture. These girls felt like my people and it only validated my decision to continue my journey with them.

received_1610254835717732.jpeg

The manager at the Backpacker’s Lodge in Te Anau took pity on me in a fully booked city and provided me a tent site for the evening. Good thing I had my tent. And so, a day hike turned into an evening which turned into a few.

20180218_151546.jpg

In those few days we ate pasta and drank wine and took pictures and cruised around the Milford Sound laughing all the way. Our last night, we made dinner, drank (maybe) too much wine, and talked about love and life. Conny and I spoke well into early hours of the morning – and she made me realize how much I still have to learn, discover, and accept about life. The final morning, I wrote them a poem; they made me German pancakes. We said goodbye. Bittersweet, but it was a needed step to continue my journey. At the time, I was upset that our adventure had to come to an end – but now I’m just grateful I had the opportunity to travel with these two wonderful women.

DSCF0542.JPG

It’s difficult when you meet someone you know you will like to not act a little weird or quirky. Excitement and intrigue have a clever way of making us seem brash, brawning, and over-zealous. Rare it is to encounter a soul enticing enough to inspire excitement just by their sheer presence. Rarer yet it is to inspire wanting. It took me a few days to get over meeting Nora and Conny – Nora’s penetrating bold blue eyes and tempered disposition – Conny’s warm flowing smile and generous laugh. They both reminded me of loves lost and loves to come.  I could say more but, suffice to say, a smile says enough. Wherever you two are – I wish you well and much happiness.

So I bought a bus ticket, and a few conversations, a cup of coffee, and a beautiful bus ride later I was in Queenstown and in search of Melo.

New Zealand – Chapter 1

It’s hard to describe the feeling of freedom. I think it’s different for everyone. To me, freedom is the feeling of well-worn wet socks, glacial lake showers and windy mountain passes, the capacity to carry my house on my back – and put it down wherever feels like home. New Zealand, unlike many places, provides me such freedom. I am a traveler – a nomad seeking vision, a vagabond with purpose, a free spirit looking to connect.

I’ve never traveled by myself – and up until stepping off the plane in New Zealand, I kept asking what I was doing; better yet, why? The rain greeted my face outside the terminal like a breath of fresh air. I was captured by a compulsion to point my boots in one direction and walk until either my soles retired or resolve faltered. Luckily, Auckland isn’t a massive city and I was able to seek shelter before experiencing either. That didn’t stop me from walking in the rain all day though, much to my wanting chagrin.

DSCF0282.JPG

Auckland is a charming city, especially in the rain. The city feels like San Francisco without a depraved and searching social life or a walkable Sydney, but it carries the charm of a mountain town. The downtown blends into charming suburbs with remnants of times past – and it only takes a ten minute wander out of the downtown to find quiet cottaged streets rich in history and lifestyle. A quick stroll down Queen street or to the pier serves as a rich reminded of tourist ridden city life, which might feel like too much – if it weren’t so closely juxtaposed by the congested charm of High Street which feels more like Potter’s Diagon alley than a busy retail corridor or Karanghape Rd, your local bohemian inspired center for debauchery. And then there’s Ponsonby – aka, where New Zealand keeps all of its yuppies – but where you’ll also find the best coffee and ice cream in the city. And when the City becomes too much, a five-minute jaunt will almost always land you in a quiet park where you can enjoy an espresso and contemplate life or the tabloids – your choice. Overall, it’s a charming city – busy, bustling, exciting, livable and visit-able.

DSCF0374.JPG

Two days in the rain served as a needed dampener to send me in search of wifi enabled cafes so I could plan my next month and a half. I landed without a plan but I resolved to find my next step. After a rainy walk down to the DoC (Department of Conversation) office, I lucked into booking my first great walk: the infamous Routeburn, but I only had three days to get down to Queenstown and over to the track. Next thing I know, I’m booking my first hostel, a plane ticket, and off to the airport.  Not without enough time to enjoy my first, and last, sunny day in Auckland however. The city came alive in the sun and the quiet parks became vibrant. Sad to say goodbye, I left for the airport in search of a wild adventure.


I was reminded of the difference between a traveler and a tourist on the plane as I sat next to a Denver based CFP touring New Zealand with a group of 15 other companions in search of adventure through bus windows and isle seats. I give her credit though – travel is not for the feint of heart. She shouted to me as I departed from the plane “Does your mother know where you are?”

Landing in Queenstown felt like coming home. You’re greeted by towering mountains that seem to just drop off into crystal clear valley lakes. A 10 minute bus ride will land you smack dab in the center of the worst planned and most youthful city in New Zealand. I sprinted to Black Sheep hostel, wanting to fully explore the entire city, which didn’t take long. The downtown is young and fun – full of buskers, lakefront cafes, towering backpacks, distracted drivers, and kids with too much credit all surrounded by towering mountains. It’s just wonderful. After taking in the local fairs for a couple hours I retired back to my hostel with a bottle of wine and KFC chicken sandwich unsuspecting of the night.

As, what I’d consider to be, a typical American – I always attached a negative stigma to hostels. The congestion, the depraved youths, shared bathrooms, slow WiFi – how could they ever be charming and safe and cool, right? How wrong I was… Sure, sleeping in a dorm room with 5 other smelly backpackers takes a night or two of adjustment but it only takes a week in a tent to appreciate the luxury of a dry bed and warm shower. And then there are the social spaces – the number one reason to stay at a hostel. The tabled lawns and massive well equipped kitchens, the shared lounge and accompanying board games, the tight dorm rooms and communal bathrooms – all of these spaces force interaction and respect. Quality interactions people yearn for in life – interactions hotels seldom provide.

Posted up at one of the larger communal tables at Black Sheep Hostel, I began to drink, write, eat, and be merry. I was soon joined by one of my dorm mates – a 19 year old au-pair from France visiting New Zealand for a year to “find herself”. It didn’t take her long to realize she was in good company – although our interaction comprised more of hand gestures than dialogue. We were soon joined by a kind gentleman from Japan who was taking vacation in the South Island for two weeks before returning to work in Sydney. Finally, Melo joined us; a stout dark German with good English and a better wit. We all spoke on our adventures through New Zealand and the world – and our plans.

Image result for what do you do comic

So often in the US we become accustomed to asking people “What do you do?” – as our jobs seem to so narrowly define our lives. In New Zealand the custom is to ask “How long have you been here?” – as it’s a pretty good barometer for happiness, purpose, and passion. Travelers only a couple of months in usually are in transition; those three to nine months in are happy with drive; those over nine months in are usually crazy, broke, rich in life, and have the best stories.

While none of my new friends were over nine months into their journey, we all had ambition to realize such lifestyle and find such purpose and passion in our travels and selves. As the night drew on and wine bottle drained, broken English soon turned into hushed whispers and hearty laughs. I don’t think much was said, but it was said well. Eventually the four became three and three became two – and Melo began talking about his goals in New Zealand. Looking back it feels crazy but I trusted this guy the moment I met him – and soon his goals became mine and our goals became a plan to meet after my trek up Routeburn. My goal to travel with a total stranger would soon be realized – I had a goal and a plan and purpose. Soon after, the wine was gone and it was time for bed.


I greeted the warm morning swiftly packing up my backpack and wishing my dorm mates well. Queenstown felt groggy in the morning after a night of partying but that provided me needed time to buy food and prepare for my 10 plus days in the mountains. Melo and I soon met to finalize our plans – he pointed me in the direction of the best camp site near the city, and I was off to hitchhike, for the first time, in search of a place to crash for the evening.

Having never hitchhiked I felt weird standing right outside the city looking for a ride so I decided to walk along to lakefront path for a few kilometers to prove I wasn’t a lazy backpacker. Soon I found myself with a sore back from a backpack weighing way too much and no path to continue down the road, so I did what any rational person would do – I threw my thumb up, feeling like I was throwing caution to the wind. It was awesome – I was nervous and excited and on a mission. It only took thirty minutes for a cute French girl to save my stranded soul – and deliver me to Twelve Mile Delta campground.

DSCF0407.JPG

After walking around the campground for thirty minutes and taking a quick dip in the lake I decided on a quiet embankment to make camp for the evening. Not long after pitching my tent, for the first time mind you, I was joined by another backpacker, Alex – an opinionated tramp from Birmingham with an affinity for death metal and being a vagabond. He had been backpacking for over 8 years working odd jobs here and there to fund his wanderlusting habit. We shared some beers and reminisced on our travels, festivals, life, and passions. We talked into the night only taking pause to enjoy a busker who decided give a free piano concert at the campsite for Valentine’s day right in front of our tents. The sun set, the ambient music danced with the wind, the mountain backdrop soon turned red; it was actually quite romantic – and peaceful. I slept well that night ready to take to the mountains with my backpack.

Untitled.png

The next morning I woke up to four campervans surrounding my tent – and a wagon somehow parked in the eight feet between Alex and I. (So that’s what he ruckus was the night before…) I took it as a sign that I was ready to get off the roads and onto the trails. I packed my kit, said goodbye to my new friend, and hit the road in search of a hitch 60 kilometers north to the Routeburn trailhead. Not twenty minutes after throwing my thumb up did a kind couple from England take pity on the size of my backpack and offer me a lift to Glenorchy, the next town up the road. I soon learned about their sons who had also both taken vacation in New Zealand backpacking only to find it too lovely to leave. They were in the country for six weeks visiting their kids – and I think I reminded them of their oldest son.

As we approached Glenorchy we were greeted by rain. They looked at each other, then at me, and then back to each other. Next thing I know they’re driving me all the way to the trailhead – 30 kms past the city. “We were going to check it out today anyways.” Steve kept saying. I kept my mouth shut and smile wide as the rains drops grew bigger.

The landscape was beautiful, even in the rain. Blurred river valleys with massive rock beds bled into rolling farms dense with sheep, and then mountains shot up out of nowhere only to disappear into the clouds. Could this be heaven? We arrived at the car park too soon for me to answer that question.

DSCF0416.JPG

I thanked the too-kind couple for saving me a wet hitch, grabbed my hefty backpack, and ventured to the rainy Routeburn trailhead ready to conquer the world. It was at that moment that I felt like my adventure had begun – and I was overjoyed. I took to the trail.

“It feels good to be lost in the right direction”