-The Alchemist by Paul Coelho.
Perhaps the most impactful message I took away from the fable was the idea that life is with you, not against you. “Life wants you to achieve your destiny…When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” I would not call myself a pessimist, but it is easy to remember moments of bad luck and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This idea has stuck with me – believing that the forces of nature and all the happenings in your life are pushing you towards your destiny. It gives me a peace of mind.
I could not have picked this book up at a more perfect time. It is a fable about a boy traveling through the unknowns of the world, following omens and gut feelings, to find a treasure- meeting thieves, kings, teachers, and a lover along the way. Alongside him, I was living out of a backpack, trekking through the greenest and bluest of lands I had ever seen in New Zealand with one of my childhood best friends, Minami. Hands down, the land was the most beautiful creation by Mother Nature that I had ever seen.
Two planes, a bus, and a ferry ride later, I found myself in a small harbor city called Picton.
After a rainy night in a quiet hostel, we walked around town, window shopping and browsing books. A bus ride took us to a slightly larger city, Nelson, where we situated our gear and food for our Abel Tasman Great Walk. Cost and space were the main criteria, formulating meals of dense power bars, pasta, and soup packets for the hike. The night before, we tested what would be our dinner on the trek.
We left a bulk of our belongings in a locker at the YHA, but both of our backpacks were completely stuffed. With just enough underwear to last the length of the trip, we took an early morning shuttle to the starting point of the great walk, Marahau.
Things I remember from our first day: being astounded by the first view of the beach, then being greeted with that same exquisite scenery around every corner, forests dense with ferns and trickling creeks, birds eating our digestives, cute bridges, and my sore shoulders from my backpack 15 minutes into the hike. A continuous thought running through my head was how everything was green and/or blue. The weather was a comfortable chill and the sand flies only ended up eating me alive at my ankles.
When we got to our first “hut” at Anchorage, we took a small day hike around the Pitt Head Lookout.
Although the beds were pretty comfortable, my light sleeping tendencies were really against me. I couldn’t tell if I slept 2 or 6 hours during the nights. Having to pee in the middle of the night was also a chore. Regardless, we set off after sunrise in the mornings around 8AM. High tides forced us to take an hour-long extra trail. After the tides were gone, we went ahead and did some cool poses (Minami is very bendy).
The second day was just as beautiful as the first.
12km later, we arrived at our next hut, Bark Bay. The warden of the hut generously shared some of her freshly caught mussels, and we steamed them in our little cooker. They were so fresh and just salty enough from the ocean water. We also made friends with a cool German.
Our third day only required about 3 hours of hiking before getting picked up by an aquataxi. We leisurely walked alongside the beach and took long snack breaks.
The aquataxi couldn’t come all the way up the shore due to the tides, so we had to trudge through the water to step onto the boat. Nonetheless, it was an exhilarating and freezing ride through crystal clear waters past small green islands back to the starting point where we took a shuttle back to our hostel.
We were back in Nelson, showered, and slept like babies. We returned our gear the next morning and caught a taxi to the airport to pick up our first rental car. I volunteered as tribute to be the first to drive.
Our destination was a small, lesser known town with not much to do called Greymouth. We stopped by the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks. These limestones supposedly look like stacked pancakes due to rain, seawater, and wind eroding them into layers. You can judge.
Greymouth is mostly known for its gold mining history and as a stop of the Tranzalpine train – an expensive but picturesque mode of transportation to the opposite coast. The train road through the famous Arthur’s Pass, switching back and forth from claustrophobic tunnels to breathtaking views of the Southern Alps of NZ.
We had an exciting night in Christchurch – grocery shopping and making a heaping salad.
We rented our Jucy car the next morning and starting making our way south to Lake Tekapo. Known for its dark sky reserve, we had booked a star gazing tour, but the clouds made it quite obvious that that was not going to happen. We packed sandwiches to eat en route and found a cozy lakeside hostel. The clouds made the lake even more beautiful in an ominous sort of way. The water was so crystal clear.
Took a little detour the next day to see Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. NZ has very beautiful lakes incase you didn’t catch it.
Then we settled into Queenstown for the next few nights, aka, the “mecca for raging” as said by my bff Natalie. For the first time, we were staying put for a lil while. We spent a full day wine-tasting in Cromwell, graciously planned by one of Minami’s friends. After 4 wineries and dozens of Pinots later, my aim into the spittoon was mediocre at best. My huge sweet tooth gravitated towards a Noble Riesling dessert wine.
On a side note, I had packed pretty minimally for this trip to my surprise: 3 pairs of leggings, 1 “jegging”, 1 pair of shorts, probably 4 tops, a jacket + rain jacket, and the necessary underclothes. An $8 laundry load was much appreciated at the hostel, and I welcomed my new clean clothes with open arms. The same day, we rode up the gondola to get a postcard-perfect view of Queenstown and ziplined down what they claimed was the steepest zipline in the world. I believe it. It was pretty epic to say the least.
Our third day in Queenstown wasn’t spent in the town. Instead, we drove 4 hours east to Milford Sound, which is a UNESCO world heritage site (“World heritage sites are places that UNESCO has recognised as having outstanding natural or cultural value for everyone.” aka very big deal ppl). The fiord was carved by prehistoric glaciers, and its massive enclosing mountains reflected in the clear sound waters.
We departed this precious little town the next day and caught a plane to Auckland where I was unimpressed returning to multilane highways and humans everywhere. We met up with Minami’s boyfriend and spent the night in a cheap airbnb.
The next few days, we did some cool stuff that we couldn’t capture on camera such as touring the Waitomo glowworm caves. Our tour guide took us down deep into the caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites. He gifted us with a beautiful rendition of the Maori anthem to display the exquisite acoustics of the cave. We boarded boats in near pitch black darkness to drift under what seemed like thousands of stars hanging over us. These were actually a species of glowworms that have luminescent tails during their larvae stage to catch prey.
We were lucky enough to catch sight of a Kiwi bird at a lil Kiwi house near the caves. Their fat bodies and waddle were quite amusing. Unfortunately, it started to rain cats and dogs outside as we ran for cover in the bird park. Nonetheless, we still spotted the beautifully colored Kereru bird and the badass Tuatara lizard that apparently has a third eye and can hibernate in the fridge. Parakeets flocked to our hands during our feeding session even though all the seeds were sopping wet from rain.
Unfortunately, the rain cancelled our much anticipated hike at Tongariro National Park. No worries, we took a day trip to Lake Taupo and Lake Rotorua instead. I had my first NZ pie during our hike at Huka Falls (near Taupo, known for some hot springs). The pie was 10/10, the fart smell from the sulphuric Lake Rotorua was not.
Cancelled hike plans pushed us towards another gem: Hobbiton. Unfortunately, I had never seen any of The Hobbit or Lord of the Ring movies, but I would still recommend. It was a secret little world in rolling hills and everything hobbit-sized that tickled my heart. Our tour tickets included one free beer from The Green Dragon.
After a twisty and dark drive into the night, we arrived at Cooks Beach to a cute studio airbnb. We dozed off sipping sweet mulled wine and watching The Hobbit.
Since we drove in at dark, we got a look at the beach in the morning. Surprisingly, I was an early riser during this entire trip. Before the other two awoke, I took a solo sunrise walk to the beach with a hot cup of tea, greeted by fellow early risers and their insanely cute dogs. It was blissful.
We drove about 20 minutes to the famous Cathedral Cove. After a hike through a jungle-like vegetation, we arrived to a windy, slightly rainy, and picturesque cove.
Spent a while at the cove and trekked back to our car just as the clouds decided to sob hard. We found perfect cover in a cafe for lunch where I ordered probably my 10th hot chocolate of the trip. Again, the sweet tooth.
We drove through a storm back to Auckland to spend our last night in an airbnb with heated bathroom floors, heated towel racks, and a view of the lake from every bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. It was aight.
I got to reunite with my UCLA pal Xiao on our last day over brunch at Ampersand (automatically hip with that name). Our final NZ adventure was to Cornwall Park where we hiked up a peak to see a gorgeous 360 of the city.
Then we headed off to the airport where I spent my remaining NZ dollars on an XL milkshake (…did I mention my sweet tooth?). We said goodbye to this beautiful land of green, blue, sheep, alpacas, feijoas, and Krispie biscuits. It was worth every second of months of planning over Skype with Minami, every dollar, every sand fly bite from hikes, every terrifying one lane bridge, and every passive aggressive drivers passing us on the highways. It was long, but it was short. I don’t have enough money to pay rent now, but it was 1mill% worth the adventure. For all the laughs, efficient grocery shopping, braving the roads, pushing our “el cheapo” rental car to the limit, wine lessons, picture taking, music taste, perfect planning and just as perfect spontaneity, thanks Minami!
I’ll be back to achieve my dream of petting sheep.