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The one place that has held on and won’t let go

Cliché, I know. So, so typical to think of New Zealand this way. Everyone loves En-Zed. But I can’t help it—Kyle and I both left this small, rather unassuming country way out there kinda by itself in the Pacific, knowing we’ll be back at some point.

It’s been the one place that was genuinely hard to leave (with most everywhere else, even if we’ve enjoyed it, it’s felt like it was time to move on). We both boarded that return flight a bit reluctantly.

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What is it about this country? Well, we were only there a week, and only on the South Island to boot, but here’s a few theories I have—for me, anyway:

• It felt oddly similar to the Pacific Northwest. Nowhere else on our trip has been remotely like this, so it conjured up paradoxical feelings of both homesickness and a deep wanderlust to explore every nook and cranny of this wild country.

• It’s laid-back—I’m all about laid-back. People in fleece pullovers and flip-flops, beers on patios with no hurry to go anywhere. It felt like a North American ski town.

• Temperate weather with low humidity. Even though I’m Texas born and bred, I’ve grown a whole new appreciation for a general lack of heat since moving to the PNW. New Zealand had ideal summer weather, in my opinion.

• Stunning topography around every corner—I even annoyed myself with how often I’d say, “Would you look at that?!”

• Great driving roads. We’re that classic pair who enjoys Sunday drives and exploring back road detours while having meaningful conversations, and New Zealand provided this backdrop in spades.

• Friendly people—we loved both the locals and the other tourists (we met people from Brazil, Germany, South Africa, and everywhere in between).

• It’s small and unassuming—no major Eiffel Towers, no Taj Mahals. I’m surprising myself with how much I appreciate the quaintness of some places. It’s turning out the less it has, the more I tend to like it.

• It’s kid-friendly—our kids were able to easily walk along the “major” roads of Queenstown because they were no big deal. Waterfronts, grassy expanses to run, hiking trails…. all family-friendly. This was nice after months in Asia.

• The whole Lord of the Rings bit—I’m not a massive fan, but Kyle is, and I admit, I did grow a fondness for the epic movies after being there. We saw all sorts of filming locations tucked around bridges, walking trails, and mountain backdrops.

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Because we were only there a week, we devoted our time to the South Island because it’s a bit more rugged and outdoorsy (with no offense to the North one; we hope to go there eventually). Christchurch, the main town, isn’t anything to write home about, but as soon as we hopped into our car rental with a trunk full of groceries and headed out, we were good to go.

Driving is a fantastic pastime here, and a great way to see random spots on the island. Some people take the train, and I get the appeal—but with kids, driving was the way to go for us.

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Eating out is expensive, so we just didn’t. Our house rental in Arrowtown, just outside of Queenstown, was perfect for dining on the deck surrounded by English roses and mountain views. Could not get better.

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We hung out in Queenstown, the main southern town on the South Island, went hiking, explored a bit of Arrowtown, and mostly just… hung out. The perfect antidote after a few packed months in Asia.

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We then rented an RV using a relocation service, which for three days of use, totaled about $60 (not including gas, which was about $200). Not bad, considering how much we’d spend on both transport and lodging.

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I feel like a walking cliché, but our week in New Zealand truly was epic. Just epic. We’re already daydreaming about coming back here for several weeks at a time. Maybe a whole month. I could write a book in a month, right?

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31 Comments

  1. Sarah M

    New Zealand has been been #1 on my to-go list for a loooong time. My husband and I are pretty big LOTR fans, and every year we have a marathon around Christmastime. There are so many scenes that I think, “just LOOK at that place, it’s gorgeous!” and repeat how much I want to go there. But then again, especially with your bullet list, I wonder if it’s so close to British Columbia (where we live) that it might be a bit of a disappointment to us because it’s so similar to home?
    Sarah M

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I hear you, but yeah, it’s still worth it. I’ve said recently that my top 3 most beautiful places in the world are NZ, Tuscany, and the Pacific Northwest. As an Oregonian (transplant), it did feel like coming home a bit, but it was different enough to feel new as well. Does that make sense?

  2. Fiona

    Yes and Amen. 🙂

  3. Morgan

    I’m with you all the way. Spent in year in NZ in high school and have considered myself part Kiwi ever since. I’ve been back once since then with my husband, and we are tentatively planning a month there in 2016 so we can introduce our kids to one of our very favorite places.

  4. Andrea Enright

    I’m a former Oregonian, now New Yorker, and I’ve been following along for quite some time now! I absolutely love this trip you’re on and feel personally invested in it. In fact, I feel a bit guilty because you are doing all the grunt work for a future around-the-world trip I plan to make!

    Love hearing your insights and definitely digging the vibe on New Zealand. Bumping that up on my to-see list! And definitely got that reference “what Sisters is to Bend, Oregon—Arrowtown is to Queenstown!”

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Ha! Well, I’m happy to do the grunt work for you. 😉

  5. Kim P

    These pictures are gorgeous and your descriptions confirm for me. I have always wanted to vacation in New Zealand. I have an aunt, uncle and cousins who live there. One day soon.

    Not sure a book could be written there in a month. Too beautiful to stay focused! I would need to be tied to a chair.

  6. Aimee @ Simple Bites

    I wanna go, wanna go!!

    Bucket list, for sure.

    How about we meet you there and I can write my next book, too. 😉

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Done and done, my friend. 😉

  7. Kim Atkinson

    Yes!!! We feel the same way about NZ! We travel alot with our family and NZ was one if the first places in the world we would move in a heartbeat! As Canadians now living in Fiji we are excited to be closer to the magical land of the kiwi!

  8. Colleen Higgs

    We felt similarly about New Zealand. It would be breath-taking no matter when you visit, but after living in Asia, what a breath of fresh air! The wide open spaces and luscious green landscapes were so good for our northern souls. (We’re Canadians. We’re used to our space -personal space and so much more.)

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Yes—it’s quite the contrast to Asia. 🙂

  9. Liz Schandorff

    Hi Tsh – I hear you just visited our fellow MAFers in Uganda, the Forneys. If you’re interested in visiting Port-au-Prince, Haiti, feel free to email us – we have two guest rooms and would be happy to show you around. 🙂

  10. Kathy Ericksen

    The pictures are stunning! Thanks for sharing all.

  11. Shannon @ GrowingSlower

    Wow! We took a hike here in North Idaho this morning, and though there’s nothing in bloom right now, it does look strikingly similar to your pics from NZ! I love the idea of renting an RV for simple travel with kids, too. Thanks for letting us all live vicariously through your adventures! I’m storing away lots of ideas for ‘someday’. 🙂

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I’m glad! You never know when somebody will show up.

  12. Claudia Koehler

    Hi Tsh, thanks for those amazing pictures! They make us even more excited as we will be touring NZ for five weeks in just 2 weeks time. After 8 years serving with MAF in Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea it is hard to leave so we chose something special to do after we say our good-byes here. I´m glad we have so much to look forward to in NZ. Thanks for sharing your stories. Very inspiring!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      That’s a great idea!

  13. Alissa

    10 years ago, we got so far as to buying guidebooks and counting vacation days in planning a trip to NZ. And then, we decided to move to Bend, and that trip got put on the back burner. Kids and vacation restrictions have held us off, but I would love to put NZ back on our family vacation list and save the $ to make it happen!

    and yes! you could totally write a book in a month… assuming you weren’t trying to do it while exploring NZ at the same time! =)

  14. Marcia at Organising Queen

    New Zealand has always been on my list but it’s so darn far away!

    I know if we go I’ll never want to leave.

    Your photos remind me a lot of Ireland, actually 🙂

    (I have a long and deep love affair with Ireland)

    Glad you enjoyed the South Africans! I’m South African too 🙂

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I do enjoy Ireland, but I never saw snow-capped mountains there. I can see similarities, but there’s also a subtle difference, culturally and geographically…

  15. Rebekah McKenzie

    I’m not even a little bit surprised that you’d love to return. We spent 11 days driving all over the South and North Islands…and cannot wait to go back. We’ve talked about it weekly, in the 5 1/2 years since we’ve been back in the States. The serious plan is to go in 2 years…my husband wants to pursue his PhD at Victoria University in Wellington. In the meantime, we’re going all “blue bike” on our belongings and lifestyle! Leaning out everything but the bank account. 🙂 Thanks for the update! Love following your travels.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Oh, I love to hear things like this, Rebekah! 🙂

  16. Sarah

    We honeymooned in NZ almost three years ago and I probably still think about that magnificent place every week. We still talk about when we can head back and what we would do (spend more time in Queenstown). Looking at your pictures brought me back to my time there all over again!

  17. Marla Taviano

    What an amazing place to write a book!! (or not do anything at all) Stunning!!

  18. Melissa Rank

    Hey Tsh! When will you be in Turkey? Are you interested in meeting up with some readers while in Istanbul? I know you are still working while on the road, so we’ll try to make it interesting enough for you to at least get a blog post out of it.

    There is a pretty new incredibly lovely park on the Asian side in an area called Göztepe which might be fun for your kids. If you come during tulip season it’s incredible! It’s a nice change to the tourist district. Also, the islands are lovely and quite accessible. Biking around them and hiking up to the monastery is quite fun. I’ll try to think up some other ideas for you.

    Happy travels to you.

    Melissa Rank

    • Elaine Thomason

      Melissa,

      I visited Istanbul for the first time last November and fell in love with the place, and plan to return in the next couple of years. I took a side trip to one of the islands (can’t remember which – got on the wrong ferry’!) and enjoyed it it so much. Now, I have added NZ to my future travel plans. Sounds and looks beautiful.

  19. Eunice Fuchs

    hi there!
    My husband and kids moved to NZ in July 2014. Many of your observations are related to kiwi culture and way of thinking! We are fascinated by this country and its life ethos…. So far we are staying here for quite come time!

  20. Sherri Pengjad

    I feel you!!! I studied abroad for a semester in Christchurch and studied a bit but mainly traveled all over NZ and fell head over heels in love! I’ve traveled all over the world since, but still say NZ is one of my favorite countries. Whenever I travel to a beautiful place I often say, “This reminds me of NZ!” How I dream to go there one day with my hubby and kiddos! I hope you all get to go back too!

  21. Meryl

    Just discovering your blog now so apologies for the late comment 🙂
    I’m a New Zealander born, bred & living here myself… It seems worth pointing out that one of the reasons you may not have found Christchurch that amazing is that the city was destroyed in the major earthquake of 2011. Rebuilding will take years, but eventually the new city will have risen from the ashes of the old.
    Glad you enjoyed the South Island!

  22. melanie

    Just came across your blog while hunting for something completely unrelated ! LOL I am Kiwi in Canada. We arrived here about 10 months ago on a student visa, with our 3 kids. Reading your blog bought tears to my eyes as I am quite homesick. However Canada, while so much more culturally different to NZ that i could ever have imagined, is an amazing country also. Kiwis are big travellers by nature, maybe because we feel our isolation and have a desire to check in with the rest of the world. However being away has made me appreciate our little piece of Kiwi paradise even more.

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