If you followed along with Southeast Asia, you already know the story of our cutesy made up holiday, Julycation, and how it led to planning on three big trips of the year. New Zealand was the second destination on our list, although I’d say that the trips did not fall in order of importance. We both had always been intrigued by this land of hobbits and kiwis and, other than our first weekend away in the DR, it would be the first destination that was entirely new to both of us.
New Zealand is a fantastic juxtaposition to our flurrying around in Southeast Asia. What Thailand is for the startling and unique differences in tastes, culture and sound, New Zealand is in its calm, approachable demeanor. It’s English speaking, it’s laid back and it’s beyond safe (in Waiheke, we were told of the one burglary they had – last year. They caught the guy, but now the islanders lock their car doors…) Pair the sense of normalcy and the baseline of not stepping too far outside of a comfort zone, which many travelers crave, with the most dramatic topography you could possibly imagine, and you’ve got quite the spectacular destination.
We arrived late in the evening of our first night to settle into the Hilton in Auckland, a beautiful waterfront hotel in a fantastic location with a really cool sense of place: the whole building is made in the image of a ship, with yacht-like fixtures throughout the lobby and rooms. We spent a brief morning walking around the city, falling a little in love with Auckland and the fact that it’s a major city that doesn’t feel too rat-race-y, then took the short 40 minute ferry ride over to Waiheke Island.
Just moments after stepping into our transfer, we passed a big sign to discourage speeding that read, “Slow down. You’re here.”
I smiled, it was the perfect reminder to set the tone of the upcoming days in New Zealand. Slow down, what’s the rush?
The rush, for me personally, was the chaos of life that occurred in the wake of our return from Asia. A series of events unfolded that sparked in me a constant barrage of thoughts and questions streaming through my head for 30 days and nights, most of them relatively sleepless.
In the rubble and the wake of the actions of others, what could I try to grasp at and learn? Was there failure – was it my failure – and how could I shield myself from that kind of hurt ever again? How do I protect those I love and what I’ve built? Who do I need to be in this moment? Am I capable of being that?
Life felt under siege.
That first weekend back we’d sat together in the rows at our church as a guest speaker delivered a message about Moses leading his people to the promised land and how surprised they all were when they encountered giants. How could something so clear and so promised be faced with conflict of this caliber?
He continued to define just how wrong we are to look at the giants of life as obstacles. They are opportunities.
In fact, sometimes what appears to be a giant is actually the removal of an obstacle. It took a little while for me to wrap my head around that. To understand that the appearance of a set back could actually be a set up.
A set up for what, exactly?
From what I’ve seen in just a month, a set up for more than I could have ever imagined. April 2018 is a point on a timeline that I will forever be able to point to and say, “This is what got us here today.”
So I took the sign in Waiheke as the first of a few signs I’d see along the way through New Zealand: you’re here. You’re right where you need to be. It’s all going to be okay, why don’t you slow down, even if just for a bit?
We did just that on this quirky little island, equal parts lackadaisical Martha’s Vineyard and hippie-chic Grayton Beach (for our 30A-er friends).
We stayed for two nights at the Boatshed, a boutique property that feels more like a luxury B&B experience, complete with awesome views and a soundtrack that made my indie-loving heart skip a beat. If I could have a beach house, it would look just like the Boatshed. In the meantime, I’ll be happy just to tune into their playlist.
Should you ever search for a place to slow down and take it all in, it’s wise to choose one that is known for its wine production. Not only did it have spectacular vineyards, it’s also known for its incredible olive oil and oysters. We ate like kings, especially thanks to Ananda Tours, who took us on a gourmet food and wine experience to the best of the best of these spots, a highlight being our time at Stonyridge, where their connections allowed us to sample a $350 bottle of award-winning wine for just $10.
The morning of our departure, our same driver, Chris, picked us up to take us to the ferry. He’d spent his entire life on Waiheke, one of the under 9,000 residents of the island.
“It’s a little like a vacation clinic, Waiheke,” he said. “You do all of that crazy stuff that comes with planning a vacation – rushing around to get it all in order just so you can get on a plane and leave town – that you need a chance to settle down before it all begins.”
Waiheke the vacation clinic. I like that. And I highly recommend it.