In January, New Zealand had its first community case of COVID-19 in more than two months.
Three guests from one of the managed isolation hotels in Auckland tested positive several days after leaving quarantine.
Fortunately, there’s been no further transmission within the community, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ve had yet another lucky escape. Seriously — it feels like New Zealand has been dodging bullets for months now!
It is, however, a reminder that nowhere can be entirely pandemic-proof and we shouldn’t allow ourselves to get complacent.
When I left you last, I had rung in 2021 with Dave’s family, with little idea of what the new year would have in store for me. Dave and I have a long-held tradition where, every time the clock strikes 12, we turn to each other and announce, This is going to be our year.
It felt a little too much like tempting fate to say it in 2021, so we dampened down our optimism and set off for Christchurch instead.
I’ve become a full-blown cricket fan over the past couple years, and it’s a sport that brings so much joy to my life. So of course, I jumped at the opportunity to spend time in the sunshine with Dave and his dad.
The Pakistan cricket team had travelled over to New Zealand for a series, and we bought tickets for the first two days of the test match in Christchurch.
With beautiful weather, happy people, and the largest crowd I’ve ventured into in over year, it was yet another reminder to count my blessings.
“How did we get to be so lucky?” I asked Dave as we wandered on to the ground at lunch to surround ourselves with a thousand-odd people.
We were in Christchurch for admin reasons, primarily, to get those tasks done that we couldn’t safely do in the U.K. Dentists, hairdressers, doctors, and catching up with our friends in the city.
I’m not much of a fan of Christchurch, though, so I was out of there before you could say fuck the easterly.
(Many afternoons, a cold easterly wind races across Christchurch, causing the temperatures to plummet and my teeth to start chattering.)
Onwards to Wanaka!
Wanaka is one of my absolute favourite spots in New Zealand; a town I adored when I spent a couple of weeks there a year ago, and it’s somewhere I could see myself being very happy. Dave and I spent two weeks in town this time around, trying it on for size.
I mentioned in my previous monthly summary that one of the joys of New Zealand travel right now is the near-absence of international tourists. Nowhere was this more prominent than when I scrambled to the top of Roy’s Peak: arguably the most famous viewpoint in the country.
In pre-pandemic times, you typically have to queue for 30 minutes[!] to take a photo that makes it seem as though you’re the only person there:
But when we made it to the top, we had the entire viewpoint to ourselves for a full 20 minutes:
It was a pretty special experience; well-worth the five hour trek to the top and back.
When I wasn’t wincing at the prices of real estate, I made sure to do all the other touristy things that makes this part of the country so popular with Instagrammers, like posing in a lavender field:
And checking out #ThatWanakaTree:
We even got to hang out with Simon and Erin, who we last saw in Wanaka almost one year ago to the day, back when all of our travel blogs were thriving and we had no idea what was about to hit us.
From Wanaka, I made my way up to the northern coast of the South Island.
We were based in Takaka for several days, there, and used it to help us explore some spots in Golden Bay we hadn’t visited before. This is the hippiest of hippie enclaves in New Zealand, all about the yoga pants, dreadlocks, and super chill vibes, and I loved it.
One particular highlight was Te Waikoropupū Springs, one of the clearest bodies of water on the planet, with visibility measuring as far as 80 metres (260 feet).
One day, we trekked along the final day of the Abel Tasman Great Walk, and it only left me itching to return next summer to help me complete my Great Walks set.
We rounded off the month in Nelson, a sunny town that’s one of my favourite spots in the South Island. And as much as I love Wanaka, Nelson feels just that little bit more liveable.
While we were there, we busied ourselves with day trips to beaches and islands, ventured out on plenty of hikes, and filled our stomachs with all the delicious food. The fact that all three were so accessible made Nelson feel all the more like somewhere we’d could base ourselves in the future.
And that was the month!
Countries Visited: 1
Places Visited: 8
Ashburton, Christchurch, Hanmer Springs, Nelson, Oamaru, Reefton, Takaka, Wanaka
Distance Travelled: 1652 km/1026 miles
Highlights of the Month
Wanaka vs. Nelson: I love both of these New Zealand spots, and had so much fun trying to work out which one might be my next home.
At the moment, I’m Team Wanaka and Dave’s Team Nelson, but we still have a few more places to check out before we make our big decision.
Gamestop-related shenanigans: This was so much fun!
I’m super-sensible when it comes to my personal finances. I prioritise my emergency fund above all else, throw as much as I possibly can into low-cost index funds, and even aim to put half of my income into my pension.
It’s the smart, logical thing to do with your money, but I found myself craving more excitement.
I decided at the start of 2021, I wanted to try my hand at trading without taking it too seriously. Nothing crazy; I’d put some money in that I was happy to lose and see where I ended up at the end of the year. And I just so happened to notice the growing Gamestop sentiment on r/WallStreetBets well before it hit the mainstream.
And so, I put it all on $GME.
In at $70, out at $350; I doubt I’ll ever time the market so well ever again. But damn, what a wild ride.
It’s not all wonderful, though: living in New Zealand means waking up at three in the morning to start trading.
I’m absolutely shattered.
Lowlights of the Month
COVID creeps ever-closer: An internet friend of mine died of COVID-19 this month.
I’m unbelievably fortunate to have not experienced any pandemic deaths up until this point, and it probably made me a little blasé to it. In New Zealand, you can go days without having a conversation about the pandemic and it’s easy to forget it isn’t over yet.
In fact, this month, a woman at a guesthouse said to us, “I was listening to the radio today and they were talking about what needs to happen in order to open our borders. Something about herd immunity, whatever that means.”
And I was like, oh my god, you’ve been so isolated from the virus here. To have not even heard the phrase herd immunity? And here I am with my dead friend and my worries about my family.
The pandemic rages on.
(It wasn’t a close friend; we hadn’t spoken in about a decade).
There aren’t enough hours: I’m struggling, guys. I have so many work commitments that I can barely keep my head above water.
And then there’s travel, which as you’ve most likely noticed, is taking up a hell of a lot of my time right now.
Plus emails. Interviews. Consultations. Business opportunities. Chronicling every single flight I’ve ever taken and every hotel I’ve ever stayed in, for my residency visa.
I feel as though I’m only just keeping on top of everything, as long as I do absolutely nothing on Never Ending Footsteps. Which is a problem, because this is my main source of income.
This month, I took a giant leap and hired four staff members to help me out. It’s time to stop being a big fish in a small pond and start making waves.
The importance of health checks: I thought I was being paranoid when I made an appointment for a mole mapping service. It’s fairly common to do so in New Zealand, though, which has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world.
I knew I was young and had little risk, but I also knew I’d spent ten years following summer around the world. I also have a family history of melanoma.
When you get your moles mapped, you stand in your underwear while somebody examines your every blemish, takes photos of them, and maps them to your body on their computer. Then, you can return every few years to compare your current mole situation with your baseline.
Turns out I have an atypical mole. That was a shock. It’s on my back, usually hidden by my bra, and I had no idea it was there. It’s dark, blotchy, asymmetrical, and kind of scary-looking. It looks exactly like the photos of melanomas you see online.
I need to return in three months for an additional check-up, then get my skin mapped every year from now on, as I’m deemed to have a moderate risk of developing skin cancer.
And I’d have no idea if I hadn’t been so proactive about my health.
My Next Steps
If I had to choose a theme for February, it would have to be
breaking myself hiking. I’ve got so many mountains to climb this month!
First, though: we drink!
After I finish up in Nelson, I’ll be heading over to Marlborough, which is the country’s largest wine region and the home of New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc. We’re planning on riding bicycles to as many wineries as we can possibly squeeze in, ordering all of the platters and signing up for all of the tastings. There’s a whopping 30 wineries within cycling distance of our hotel, so there’ll be lots to keep us busy.
Bets on how long it takes for me to fall off my bike?
We’ll need to walk off our hangovers, so we’ll be venturing to Nelson Lakes National Park for a couple of days of hiking.
There’s a hell of a long way to drive as we make our way south to Fiordland next, so we’ll be stopping off in Christchurch and Tekapo along the way. And once we make it there, I’ll be tackling three Great Walks in two weeks. When you take into account the mountainous terrain in this part of the country, it’s going to be a strenuous few weeks. Probably, also, a rather damp few weeks.
We’ll be tackling the Kepler first — a four-day walk over the mountains — followed by the Routeburn — a three-day trek — with only a day of rest in-between.
When we stagger off the peaks, we’ll have a few days in the peaceful Catlins, at the bottom of the South Island, to recover, before venturing even further south to Stewart Island. I’m particularly excited about this!
Once I’ve emptied the contents of my stomach on the ferry ride over, we’ll be jumping on the Rakiura Track to continue our Great Walk expedition, then we’ll have the rest of the week to explore the island. This spot is blanketed in kiwi birds, so it’ll be my best opportunity to spot one in the wild.
And that will be the month! Hiking, mountains, and lots of nature.
And maybe a blog post or two?