Longterm traveling isn’t all rainbows and butterflies (though these sunset photos aren’t helping my argument). Logically, I knew this going into my long, length-TBD trip. Before I left, I’d been reading travel memoirs like they were going out of style, skimming through travel blog posts in my free time. Seasoned travelers warned me that every day wouldn’t be filled with limitless excitement, like on shorter trips. And still, like most things in life, I’ve had to learn lessons on my own in order for them to sink in.
To be clear, New Zealand is a wonderful, amazing, beautiful (dare I say magical?) place. I honestly visualize myself into a Zelda video game when I’m driving through the countryside in various parts of the country. It really does live up to the hype.
And still, after being anywhere for a while — even a magical land — all aspects of “real life” still follow you wherever you go. Things like the past. Faraway memories don’t disappear, even on the other side of the world. And present day life becomes less about “let’s see awesome things every second!” and more a mix of everyday stuff as well. Seeing cool things can still be on the agenda; the daily itinerary just isn’t jam-packed.
After being in Wellington for three months, I had nearly three weeks to explore more of the North Island. And it was great: I got to see cities I hadn’t visited before, spend more time in Auckland, and catch up with friends made on my Europe trip.
I also had a lot of solo time on the second half of this trip. Which is a complicated issue. I’m a total introvert, and relish in way more alone time than most people. There’s a delicate balance, though, between enough time to think and decompress and write–and too much isolation, finding yourself having mini-conversations in your head. Just joking. Sort of.
By the time I got to Taupo, the last stop on my holiday from my working holiday, I was feeling a bit maxed out on alone time. Being an introvert is tricky, though. I can have the awareness of not wanting to be alone, and yet, my inner voice will still urge me to keep to myself–not wanting to be bothered with the effort of making new friends. I have to be in a certain mindset to be outgoing around strangers, and if too many conditions aren’t met, I end up standing in my own way.
Now onto my time in Taupo. As I mentioned, I wasn’t feeling 100% myself. I’d been alone too long but was too stubborn to break that pattern. I’d caught a cold. (I know, I know, cry me a river.) My knees weren’t feeling so hot (which I later realized was made worse by lack of yoga, which has been doing wonders now that I’m back in Wellington). The main attraction of Taupo is an hour and a half away: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The goal of doing the difficult-yet-best-ranked one-day hike in New Zealand loomed over me the whole time in Taupo. Not wanting to do anything stupidly risky until at least the end of my time in NZ, I decided to put it off until I was in a stronger state. Which made me realize, I’ve never had to choose to not do something physical that I wanted to do–another interesting realization, since I wasn’t a very physically active child. I didn’t love exercise until high school swimming, and my love for running didn’t come until my mid-twenties. Even hiking has only been a recent addiction, within the past couple of years. I had to tell myself these facts to fight off an adult temper tantrum from putting Tongariro on hold. That, amongst reminders like: Everyone in the world does not climb mountains. You will not be a failure if you can’t do this. Your time spent in New Zealand will not be wasted, either. (It’s not fun to live in a perfectionist’s mind sometimes.)
Grappling with these thoughts, I did head out on a long hike to the much anticipated turquoise Huka Falls. This was a 90-minute walk, full of many hills–leading to another learning point. The runner in me wanted to leap over the hills. Instead, I took baby steps up and down each one to take care of my healing knees. I gritted my teeth, feeling slow as a turtle every time someone passed me. I realized how much of my identity used to be tied up in being faster–passing others on walks and hikes every chance I could, feeling proud, smug even. On the other side of this scenario, I looked at that old version of me foolishly. “Slower” may not have been my preferred method of travel, but perhaps it was teaching me things I needed to learn. I observed individual branches of ferns. I constantly looked up and saw new formations of trees. I breathed in the sweet honey smell of the beech trees. I was fully present.
And making it to the Huka Falls was my reward. I loved it so much that I repeated the long hike the next day. (Another lesson learned: don’t overdo it.) Again, again, again, I relearn this lesson: that I don’t need to push my body to its limits to prove anything to anyone. Even far from any competitions, I’m still learning.
By my last day, I woke up unsure about what to do with a free morning and afternoon until my bus ride back to Wellington. At the perfect time, I got a text from my new Irish friend Jen: an invitation to fill a spot on a sailboat. Sign me up.
On the sailboat, wearing hilariously large (but warm!) ponchos over our layers, we sailed through patches of rain, laughing, rocking through the waves, to arrive at the Maori carvings on Lake Taupo. I remembered that my desire for alone time sometimes needs to be vetoed. That being around [good] people will bring me back to reality and out of my own mind. That travel is full of highs and lows and then more highs and more lows, an endless rollercoaster. Just like real life.