In April, I left New Zealand.
After five months of blissful, life-changing, and wonderful experiences, this month, I packed up my backpack and said my goodbyes.
Let’s dig into what happened.
When I left you last, I was kicking back and relaxing in Ōpunake, on New Zealand’s west coast, with my partner, Dave’s, half-brother and family, who were due to set off back home to the U.S. We spent this time unashamedly offline, determined to soak up as much time as possible with them, not knowing when we would see them next, but suspecting it would be years rather than months.
And while it rained non-stop while we were in town, we were still more than happy to play with our nephew (who had just learned to crawl!), cook inside, head out on walks, and share recollections of family scandals while tipsy on New Zealand wine.
After saying our sad goodbyes, Dave and I hit the road and drove to Stratford: a Shakespeare-themed town with plenty of personality. “Smile! Thou art on camera!” the town signs called out to us as the local glockenspiel performed a scene from Romeo and Juliet.
Stratford marks the start of the remote Forgotten World Highway, one of New Zealand’s most scenic driving routes. Of course, it drizzled for the vast majority of our road trip — summer is well and truly over now! — but the rolling hills were just as impressive under a blanket of grey.
A particularly memorable stop was the quirky independent republic of Whangamōmona, as well as Taumarunui, which offers the perfect base for hiking, cycling, and canoeing around the area.
I mentioned in my previous monthly summary that Easter proved to be quite the tricky event to navigate in New Zealand, primarily because I’d had no idea when it was. When I came to book accommodation for that period, I’d discovered there was absolutely nothing available, unless I could justify $1,000 a night or staying in a 16-bed dorm.
For much of April, then, we were moving every day, zig-zagging across the North Island to spend one night in whichever poorly-rated motel in whichever small town had availability.
When we reached Tūrangi, I had grand plans of tackling the eight-hour Tongariro Crossing hike again (and writing an actually useful post this time around!), but with my high levels of travel burnout keeping me in bed for more hours than I had spare to walk it, it made sense to pass on it. Even Dave was like, “Uh, no, I don’t have the energy for that.” Instead, we stayed closer to town and set off on a couple of hour-long strolls to ensure we were spending time in nature each and every day.
When we made it to Taupo, I was so happy to be back. I love it here!
Unfortunately, there was no accommodation available in town for more than a night, so it was more of a fleeting glimpse than I would have liked, but I still made the effort to soak up the relaxing vibes while I was here. Let’s face it: I definitely needed them.
My biggest highlight was my afternoon walk out to Huka Falls and back: just look at that gorgeous shade of turquoise!
I had just one week left in New Zealand by this point, and I knew I wanted to spend it in two of my favourite places in the country: Mount Maunganui and the Coromandel.
It was a joy to be back in such a wonderful part of New Zealand. I really could see myself living here at some point in the future.
I used my time in Mount Maunganui to try to clear my head: these days, whenever I feel adrift, overwhelmed, and on the verge of a primal scream, my antidote is a long, quiet, solo walk. Each morning, before breakfast, I would therefore drag myself out of bed and take a four-hour walk around the base of the Mount, listening to podcasts, meditating, and coming up with a plan of attack for the next six months.
When I wasn’t walking, I was scrambling: trying to find out if my sketchy-looking mole was cancer, booking additional, unrelated medical exams, gathering further evidence of my relationship with Dave (specifically: annotating every transaction of a year’s worth of activity in our joint bank accounts and calculating the exact dates I entered and left every country I’ve visited over the past ten years), giving an in-depth interview to a major publication, house-hunting in New Zealand, rewriting 20 of Never Ending Footsteps’s oldest blog posts to make them more useful, researching new business ideas because it’s a year into the pandemic and things are still terrible in travel blogging, moving out of my U.K. home from 12,000 miles away, researching accommodation for my next destination, signing up for another few days spent offline with family in Auckland, plus several projects I can’t yet share publicly…
All while trying to recover from driving 12,000 kilometres, or 7,500 miles, over the past 145 days.
When I last spent time in the Coromandel, back in December 2020, I’d fallen in love with its beautiful beaches and stunning natural attractions. Now that I was back in the area, I was eager to repeat every experience I’d had there.
We based ourselves in the most adorable town of Hahei and had a particularly beautiful day back at Cathedral Cove. It was still void of crowds and still as incredible as before, and just like my previous visit, I spent my time on the beach simply looking around me in awe.
I love New Zealand!
Returning to Auckland felt strange.
The last time I was in the city, I had just left Managed Isolation and was taking tentative, worried steps into a world turned normal.
Being back felt like closing the circle on our New Zealand adventures. We hung out with Craig and Linda, our friends who were the first people to see us after we left quarantine. We spent several days with Dave’s aunt and uncle, and Dave’s parents sweetly flew up from Christchurch to spend some time with us and send us off.
Because after five beautiful months in my favourite country in the world, it was time to move on.
Yes, this update is coming to you from Australia!
On the 19th April, Australia and New Zealand opened up a two-way travel bubble, which means that people in either place can now travel freely between the two countries without needing to quarantine. At the airport, I witnessed some of the most incredible scenes of my life, as families came together for the first time in over a year, grandparents met their grandkids, and partners reunited. Everybody was celebrating, the cabin crew were as emotional as the passengers, and there was free champagne for all.
I found myself moved to tears on multiple occasions as we took to the sky and touched down in Melbourne.
And then I promptly got sick.
Is it any wonder, given how aggressively I’ve been burning my double-ended candle?
Despite having desperate desires to start publishing the hundred articles I currently have in drafts, I instead found myself knocked down with a nasty cold (not COVID) — I can blame my 6-year-old nephew for that — and sleeping for 12-15 hours a day, wondering if I have mono again.
Sometimes we don’t realise how hard we’ve been pushing ourselves until we stop and give our bodies a chance to catch-up.
So why am I even in Australia?
Well, why not? Now that it’s an option for us.
In reality, this is most likely a temporary visit, borne from a need to troubleshoot the finer details of what a move to New Zealand would entail before fully committing to settling down there. We miss the family we have in Melbourne, too, having not seen anyone there for well over a year. And now that the travel bubble is open, it feels like a fun option for a few months.
But who knows what the future holds? I’m keeping my options open, for sure.
For now, though, I’m simply looking forward to a life that’s a little more stationary for a while.
Countries Visited: 2
Australia, New Zealand
Places Visited: 10
Auckland, Hahei, Melbourne, Mount Maunganui, Stratford, Taumarunui, Taupo, Tauranga, Turangi, Whangamomona.
Distance travelled: 3,105 kilometres / 1929 miles
Highlights of the Month
Stopping: So far, stopping has meant non-stop sleeping and falling unwell, but I’m sure I’d be worse off if I was still trekking around New Zealand. It just feels so good to be on my way to recovery, freshly motivated and picturing a life full of friends and co-working spaces. I’d love to tell you I’d learned a valuable lesson about burnout and pushing myself too hard, but I’m sure I’ll end up doing it again in the future, too.
Laser tag: Have you guys ever played laser tag? Haha. I never had before, but I tried it out for the first time this month and it was quite possibly the most fun I’ve ever had. I wish I’d discovered it when I was a kid, as it would have been more appropriate for me to spend every week playing it then, as opposed to now, when it feels a little creepy.
COVID updates: Every month, I give a quick COVID update from the destination I find myself in, as I know plenty of you guys are interested in how other countries are handling the pandemic, as well as my own personal situation.
Has anything changed for me now that I’m in Australia? Not really.
Much like New Zealand, Australia closed its borders last year and has subsequently been free of COVID, for the most part, for a significant amount of time. And just like New Zealand, their vaccine rollout has been slower than slow. If I wanted to get vaccinated in Australia, I doubt I’ll have access until this time next year.
But as I always say: it’s all good! There’s no rush! I’m happy to wait while the countries that need the vaccines most gain access to them first.
I have highlights and lowlights that are COVID-related this month: in my personal life, my dad got his second vaccine this month and my mum is due to get hers by the end of May. I’m hoping my sister will be able to get her first this month. Once all three of my favourite humans are fully vaccinated, I’ll be letting out a huge sigh of relief.
And I’ve been utterly heartbroken by the scenes in India, which you guys already know is a country that I fell so deeply in love with. I’ve personally donated to Mission Oxygen to help supply oxygen concentrators to Indian hospitals, but I still I feel so helpless and devastated by it all.
Lowlights of the Month
You know what I’m going to say here: Burnout. Deep, unrelenting burnout. The kind that makes you fall asleep at the dinner table at 7 p.m. The type that has you hiding away from the world; has you wondering if you’ve developed chronic fatigue; has you bursting into tears over the slightest criticism, the hint of another task to complete, another commitment you don’t have the bandwidth for.
I’m so grateful for all of the experiences I had in New Zealand, but I didn’t travel across the country in the most sustainable of ways. If I’d known how much work I’d have on my plate over the past five months, I’d have… well, you know me. I’d have probably done it all over again because I seem to have a nasty habit of breaking myself at least once a year.
But it’s all good, honestly. I’m starting to recover from my cold, I’m starting to sleep a little less, and I’m starting to publish my New Zealand content on Never Ending Footsteps.
Incidents of the Month
We got banned from Uber: So we’ve been using Uber all over the North Island, but this month, we were banned from the app.
Unbeknownst to us, it’s currently a requirement for you to wear a mask in Ubers in New Zealand, even if the town you’re in has never seen a single case of COVID-19 before. We had no idea, especially as none of the drivers who’ve picked us up were wearing masks. And you tend to forget about them when you haven’t worn one for months and nobody around you is wearing them.
Well, we finished up one of our trips and suddenly received a notification.
Your driver has reported you for not wearing a mask.
“But he wasn’t wearing a mask, either,” I spluttered. Most of all, I was frustrated there wasn’t a way that we could report him back. And there has been no COVID in the community in New Zealand for months — the risk to anybody was non-existent.
So now, if we want to use the app again, Dave needs to send Uber a selfie of him wearing a mask to prove that he is capable of wearing one, which is a vision that makes me laugh an awful lot.
My Next Steps
Pause, glorious, pause! I’m so excited to have zero travel plans for May.
Once I’ve recovered from this cold, I’m going to be arranging to meet up with all of my friends and family in Melbourne, catching-up in cafes, heading back to my favourite restaurants, and basing myself in the centre of the city.
In May, I’ll be staying in two cool warehouse-style apartments. One of them will be in Richmond, which is known for it’s super-legit Vietnamese food scene, and the other will be in Footscray, which is known for it’s super-legit Vietnamese food scene.
Bets on which country I’m currently missing most?
So when I’m not turning myself into a giant banh mi, I’ll be working through my recovery. Resting, eating healthily, finally quitting alcohol, joining a gym, sharing all of my favourite experiences from New Zealand, and getting to know Melbourne better than ever before.