Just like that, you board a plane. The extradition of self, physically and mentally from the fully immersive experience that is South East Asia, commences.
I watch out the window as the plane climbs higher into the atmosphere, the dusty cities of the third world quickly begin to fall away. Not more than a few minutes have past and the region that we have spent the last 130 days criss-crossing is no larger than a mere speck on the ground below. And then it is gone from view completely. This rather ordinary and mundane mode of transportation suddenly feels like a time travel machine.
We are en route to New Zealand. Having eaten our way across land borders and binged ourselves on temples, shrines, and local customs that are quite apart from our own, I am awash with exhaustion, giddiness, and a slight feeling of apprehension. Of these exhaustion is the easiest to define. The constant motion of travel and unfamiliarity of place takes its toll over time. Routines are non-existent and each new destination is its own puzzle of place to solve. It is a constant loop of the same decisions but different place; what is the transportation here, where and what do we eat, where do we sleep, where is the ATM, how to say hello, goodbye, thank you…we are constant strangers to our surroundings, always exploring and at the ready.
Back to it, giddy with excitement for New Zealand, a place that has been beckoning the adventure seeker side for quite some time. It will require an entirely different mindset on arrival. We will no longer be the obvious outsiders by appearance alone. We will drive a car. We will cook for ourselves. We will be able to read all the signs. We will stretch our currency as far as it can go and still feel very far behind. And we will hike, climb, paddle, and camp for all but four of our 37 days in country.
Arrival in New Zealand. Supermarkets overloaded with a grotesque amount of variety, the onslaught of cash registers, credit cards, and orderly and abiding traffic flows. Where the previous struggle was simply identifying what flavor the toothpaste is, it is replaced by navigating an entire aisle full of boxes and brands, all touting very similar yet different benefits while brushing with them. We are constantly looking over our shoulders as we walk on the street. Sidewalks here are intended and maintained for pedestrians rather than as additional road way lanes for motorbikes. You mean we can actually walk in this area without fear that we shall be mowed down? Is this heaven? No, it’s
Iowa New Zealand. Here we are, in the place that is renowned for Sauvignon Blanc, pristine lakes, jagged peaks, volcanic mountains, even the sheep, and we are praising the asphalt. That’s the South East Asia effect for you.
One tent, two sleeping bags, a camp stove, two pairs of hiking boots, and a handful of assorted necessary outdoor gear purchased, plus one rental car later, and off we go to circumnavigate the North and South Island. No longer two bags each, the only thing that is considerably lighter about our luggage is our wallet.
If home is wherever you set down your tent for the evening (now raise your hand if you thought we were jetsetting), New Zealand provides an ample and sublime landscape that is both backyard and playground. When the skies are clear, the night is illuminated by the moon and stars too numerous to count, as the sun rises over the mountains, the horizon turns pink for minutes that are fleeting. The glaciers rumble and purr as shelves of ice break and drop away. Volcanic steam rises and drifts, obstructing crystal clear water pools that fill ancient craters. It is rather impossible to compare New Zealand to any other place that we have been, as it is simply like nowhere else at all.