New Zealand was undoubtedly the most implausible, ridiculously far-fetched experience of my life. How was I on the other side of the world? How was Shasta standing right in front of me, after I hadn’t seen her for three years? How was I getting a ski-lift up a 2797 metre mountain? I still have no idea.
The flight there was certainly a challenge, especially for someone who hates flying. Before this trip, I had never been on a plane for more than four hours. I flew from Gatwick to Dubai, Dubai to Bangkok, Bangkok to Sydney, and finally, Sydney to Christchurch. Phew. It took around 29 hours, plus the four-hour drive from where I live to Gatwick. The three-hour flight from Sydney to Christchurch was surreal. I had dreamt of The Meet ever since Shasta left; seeing her through a crowd in the airport, her unmistakable red hair. I used the three hours to mentally prepare myself, and by the time I landed in Christchurch, I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.
The moment I saw her it was like the past three years never happened. I was sixteen again and happy. I had my best friend back. It was exactly as I had imagined, and our relationship had not changed a bit. Somehow, after moving to the other side of the world and starting a new life, Shasta had remained the exact same person I said goodbye to at St Margaret’s Bus Station three years ago.
First stop: Christchurch. The city was hit by a 7.1 earthquake in 2010, and six years later the evidence still envelopes the city. There is street art everywhere – apparently to take the attention away from the crumbling buildings and masses of building works. A Kiwi Brick Lane. An area of shops has been created out of shipping containers that have had one side ripped off to create glass fronts. Musicians play. Frankly the most unique idea and environment I have ever come across.
I quickly discovered the Kiwi way of life revolves around exercise. The regular hikes we undertook made me question if I was in training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. We climbed to heights where the air became almost too thin for my asthmatic lungs to catch. Mums ran past us on steep hills with babies strapped to their fronts, and many OAP’s sped past me. It was a wakeup call, but it was liberating. At home I exercise at the gym to burn calories and build muscle. In NZ, I was exercising for the experience; the calorie burning and muscle building was a happy extra.
In true American-self-discovery-movie style, we hired a car and drove three hours to Lake Tekapo. The drive in itself was awe-inspiring. We literally got on one road and drove the whole way without a single turn. Seeing the mountains in the distance for the first time was one of those movie moments when the little kid sees piles of glistening presents waiting for him on Christmas morning and rubs his tired eyes, thinking he must be dreaming. A crystal clear green screen, but this was real.
|Yes, those are snow capped mountains, and yes, this was a regular sight.
The walks we took were utterly bewildering. We walked along hill-side cliffs, the billowing ocean to our left, rolling hills as far as the eye could see to our right. It made me feel insignificant in a beautiful way. We walked for hours without seeing a soul. It felt like we were the only people on the planet. Explorers discovering an untouched continent. There was something special about knowing that our footsteps would be washed away by the sea breeze and it would be like we were never there.
As cheesy, corny and cliché as it sounds, New Zealand taught me that there is so much more to life than material things. Previously, I would roll my eyes at ‘Gap Yah’ students that travel the world to ‘discover themselves’ and find some inner meaning of life, and perhaps I still do. I didn’t discover myself, I discovered possibilities. I did something I never thought I could or would do and travelled to the other side of the world on my own. Though my anxiety hung over me along the way, I overcame it in order to have new experiences.
I planned to throw myself into exercise and adventure on my return, but the irony is that the extreme hiking and running has led to me injuring my knee, so I’m having to take things easier. The trip has shown me that I sometimes prefer long hikes to shopping days, new sports gear to new dresses. But as I sit here on the bus to London, my boyfriend asleep next to me, I am secretly looking forward to hitting Oxford Street!