26 days and only 4 showers later (ewwww), Nate and I have completed our camping trip around New Zealand. It was by far my favorite part of our travels so far, minus the incessant rain and the regular lack of showering. Our south island experience couldn’t have been more different from our travels around SE Asia. Our two and a half months around SE Asia was mostly a foodie fest interrupted with trips to UNESCO World Heritage sites that generally took the form of ancient temples. We went from city to city, delighted by cheap street food and unique cultures but discouraged by the lack of sidewalks and no shortage of aggressive salesmen badgering nearly everywhere we went (Taxi? Transport? Maybe tomorrow?). New Zealand was immediately a breath of fresh air, literally as well as figuratively. Tears of happiness welled up when we boarded our first bus and the driver not only spoke English but explained to us the bus system with all the jolliness of Santa himself. It couldn’t have been a more striking contrast from our bus experience in Laos.
The culture was very similar to the Midwest in fact, even boarding on Canada-levels of friendliness. I secretly relished being called “mate” as if I’d been inducted into a secret society. Everyone was laid back and barefoot. The small provincial towns dotted around the island with large stretches of cattle, deer, and sheep left me simultaneously feeling right at home and homesick. Unfortunately, the cost of living was not at all like home, meaning that we’d get creative with sleeping in our rental car (6 horrible nights), using sea shells for eating utensils (this really happened), and eating loads and loads of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (this part wasn’t so bad). It was still worth it to see all that this island had to offer within it’s slightly-larger-than-Montana borders.
We turned from being awestruck by man-made wonders of SE Asia to God-made natural wonders that New Zealand offered around every corner. We hired a camper van that would be our home for 16 days. It had a couple of stoves, storage, and a bed big enough for both of us in the back. We got the upgraded pack that came with a solar shower, table, and chairs. Unfortunately, since it never stopped raining, we had little chance to use the solar shower. Nate put together a 16-day itinerary that got us the entire way around the island moving clockwise from Christchurch. We used an app called CamperMate that marked free and pay-fee camps sites, water sources, grocery stores, and loads of things to do.
Once we got started, both Nate and I experienced flashbacks to our childhood as we climbed up tree roots, skipped stones on lakes, jumped over puddles, smashed rocks in rivers, and played with wildlife. Every hike turned into a scavenger hunt and every pebble and shell a treasure. We literally left no stone unturned as we searched for Moari Jade and miner’s gold. Nate actually found a piece of the former! It made me realize why the word rejuvenate shares its root with juvenile: we were kids again. All the carefree, child-like fun without all the zits and stuff. That should be New Zealand’s new tourism motto.
I couldn’t possibly cram all our stories in here, so I’ve compiled another montage. It’s a bit longer than our previous montages, but we had to cram a lot in there! Enjoy!