Touchdown in Kiwi-Land
Well, here we are. After months of planning, the wheels of the third plane we boarded hit the tarmac in Queenstown, New Zealand. A long journey, and I don’t just mean time spent traveling but also the deliberations and introspection Meg and I went through to even consider this leap. Meg is writing a standalone piece about this transition we are embarking upon but ultimately we (1) left our comfortable professional jobs (2) came up with a crazy scheme to live and work in New Zealand for a year (3) sold our condo (4) planned a wedding and got married (5) put all of our stuff into storage and (6) became proper millennials by moving into my parent’s basement. Phew. It was a busy year to say the least as that wasn’t even the half of it but it was also fun, fulfilling and already the pay off has been well worth the effort.
Queenstown is a beautiful mountain resort nestled in the southern alps. Flying in, our eyes were glued to the window and over the top of our accommodating seat partner. We landed on a crisp spring day with the sun shining through a cloudless sky. Packing our things into our rental for the coming couple of weeks we headed to our hostel to offload and stretch our cramped, travel weary legs. First step, caffeine. Coffee in hand we strolled around town and headed to the boardwalk along the water with an adjacent park.
Greeting us in mighty statue form was William Gilbert Rees. An early European settler to the region of Otago he helped create Queenstown when he wasn’t posing alongside big horned sheep looking majestically into the distance, his beard still in the rough winds affirming his stoic manliness. Okay, so I may have had a man crush on a statue.
Leaving my new idol, we went for a walk around the small park and contemplated the fact that we were actually here. It almost didn’t feel real to either of us. Jet lagged but fueled by somehow mustering up what little adrenaline we had left, we completed our walk and found a nice quiet place to sit down for dinner. The first couple of days were a bit of a blur. Even as I write this there is a bit of a haze clouding my thoughts. Jetlag? We’re not sure. It could honestly be two years worth of stress working its way out of our system. But working its way out is what it’s doing and we can feel ourselves becoming happier by the day.
Doing some responsible stuff – like getting New Zealand phone number’s, working on getting a bank account and putting out some notices of interest for jobs and campervans – we then looked into doing something fun. A hike sounded perfect and we landed on one of the most popular and close to Queenstown – the Ben Lodom saddle.
Ben Lomond Saddle
This hike heads up through the many amazing mountain bike trails of Queenstown (which I have promised myself I will bring my bike back to) and up to a vantage point above the city and surrounding mountain ranges. It is a fairly easygoing hike as the trail is hard packed the entire way but good for shaking off the cobwebs of a long trip. The trail does continue into a scramble to the summit of Ben Lomond but with a late start and tired, travel weary cubicle bods telling us to ease into this whole “outdoors thing” we just went to the saddle.
Coming out of the wood line, we stepped into the open and were dwarfed by the surrounding hillsides and mountains. A great hike to start off our exposure to the inspiring New Zealand terrain.
We took a look back towards the town and the lake below. I also walked along some of the higher mountain bike paths to get a sense of the ridgeline trails. They had some sharp drop-offs on either side. Not sheer faced but it would definitely hurt to take a tumble.
Not running into many people on the way to the saddle we soon saw it was because they had all beaten us there. We met a couple from Boston, another from the North Island of New Zealand and some friends from China. Queenstown is quite the international hub and it has been amazing getting to meet so many people from so many walks of life. Just this morning, we met two guys from Israel that had spent three weeks here and exchanged stories, travel tips and then ended with them giving us a bunch of food and some sand fly repellent!
Anyway, back to the hike. The views on the backside of the mountain were gorgeous and well worth the effort to get to. A single bench sat on the saddle. It was the perfect spot to sit and reflect. We were here, we had made it happen. As scary as it had been at times the serenity of the endless horizon of mountain tops, rivers and valleys below brought a sense of peace.
We have some incredible times ahead of us. Shopping for a dirty hippy van, working on a farm, seeing a glow worm cave, setting eyes on Mt Cook, the list is ever expanding. This next year is going to be the recharging experience we both need. It is an incredible feeling to throw caution to the wind and prove to yourself that you can survive. How will our perspectives change? What kind of life do we want to live? What type of work do we want to pursue? Big questions that these wide open spaces may help bring some clarity to.