Thoughts on Thirty, Part II

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fanatical about my birthday. Months ahead, I start brainstorming about the most awesome way I can think of celebrating, start badgering my friends to clear their schedules, and try to request off of work. The years when blizzards, exams, meetings, and other “life” things interfered with my plans, no matter how old I was at the time, on the inside (and surely a little on the outside), I’d throw toddler-like tantrums because things didn’t work out the way I wanted.

Fast forward to this year. The year of traveling. I knew I’d be in New Zealand on my birthday, and that’s all I knew. And when it was looking like coordinating anything with friends in various parts of the country wasn’t going to pan out (because life does not stop on February 25th, I am now well aware of :)), I decided to plan the most fun weekend I could imagine for myself. Solo.

After many months of solo travel–which never means being alone for an entire trip, it just means heading to a country alone, and usually making plans based around yourself first and foremost–I figured it was fitting to plan a solo birthday weekend. Wellington weather is unpredictable, so I checked the 10-day forecast as my birthday approached and planned a weekend trip to Picton, the small town and ferry port on the South Island.

Despite missing my scheduled ferry (which just made me laugh, as I’m perpetually running late but have somehow managed to never miss a connection while abroad), I calmly took advantage of a few free hours in Wellington until the next one departed. I took a leisurely stroll to the city center, focusing on being mindful and taking in my surroundings. {This newfound zen came about from a 7-day stretch of hot yoga. I’ve been working on slowing down and being more mindful for months, but hot yoga pushed me to an entirely new level of peace, finding calmness where other unhelpful emotions used to live, and letting go of thoughts occupying my mind that were no longer serving me.}

When my ferry departed that afternoon, after a nice cat nap, I headed to the deck to check out the amazing views of the Marlborough Sounds. Stepping out and seeing a row of tourists gazing up in awe at the mammoth-sized Sounds, I felt like we were pioneers journeying to new land. It was awe-inspiring, and we all stood and looked up in silence, quietly taking pictures, for well over an hour.

I’d heard Picton was the town most people just got off at to immediately get in their cars and head south, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. As I strolled around the modest beach front and noticed the palm trees framing the stunning backdrop of sailboats in between the Sounds, I knew I’d made the right choice to come here. I dipped my toes in the water, gazed out, then lay down on the grass and relaxed. The weekend was already perfect: looking out at the view, hearing a man singing in French and playing ukulele nearby, the gentle waves crashing into the sand, the light breeze rolling overhead.

Later, I picked up delicious Indian takeout for dinner and trekked the bush walk (nature trail) to the airbnb I was staying at, taking note of the chirping cicadas and the smell of pine trees, plus New Zealand’s beautiful silver ferns framing the trail. When deciding on accommodation, I ruled out hostels in lieu of a highly recommended airbnb host named Jan with 3 cats. (The cats sealed the deal.) The cats greeted me at the door, which made me astronomically happy. The day ended with great conversation with Jan and the other couple staying for the night.

The next morning, I woke up and was officially 30. I never thought I’d say that a birthday spent partly with strangers and partly alone would be the best one yet. In summation, I hiked (a.k.a. “tramped”) for 3 hours in the morning with Jan, reaching the summit of the Tirohanga track that overlooks all of Picton, and exploring more fern-filled paradise, passing streams (and a waterfall!) and helping her document mouse/rat/stoat traps because the vermins are taking out the bird population. Later, I took a boat tour to visit an island that’s a bird sanctuary–and we were joined by a dolphin swimming alongside the boat soonafter we left! (Not gonna lie, I started hearing Disney music in my head.) On the island, we trekked to the top to see The. Most. Beautiful. View of the sounds. It was heavenly. Walking back to the boat, we were greeted by friendly little robins who had never been exposed to predators, so they would come right up to us to say hello. The rest of the evening was filled with a relaxing dip in the water, more chilling on the beach, another peaceful bush walk back to the house (with more delicious takeout) and more good conversation with new guests at the house.

I found that I could have the most rewarding, fulfilling day doing exactly what I wanted, both in the company of strangers and in my own company. I’ve said this a few times already, but it was just perfect. Through the lens of gratitude, I’m finding that it’s easy to view life that way, while being mindful, being present, and being happy for the moments I’m able to experience. So if you guessed that I’ll be continuing with hot yoga, and continuing to live out daily life both slowly and filled with adventure, you’d be right. 🙂

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Picturesque Picton.

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Bush tramping. (Nature hiking in kiwi slang.)

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Summit of the Tironga track, overlooking Picton.

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“Peace. Perfect Peace.”

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