I am 22 years old and traveling, looking for a way to empty my loss and open myself to the world again. My reason for travel didn’t start out as this–I was going to come to New Zealand with my boyfriend, and we were going to finally be in the same place again after almost two years of long distance. Before, during, and after our break-up I shut down for a while. But here I am again, a tabula rasa, looking for whatever is in front of me.
All of my moving around in the past few weeks has got me thinking about place. I’ve met so many travelers who give us advice like “stay at the Purple Cow,” or “You only need one day in Christchurch.” Erin and I welcome the hostel tips, but each time I hear how long a place is worth in days I wonder what I am giving up by moving at this pace. How can one possibly do everything in a whole city in one day? Is it worth seeing many places if it means I’ve really known none of them? I believe knowing one place well is more special than glossing over hundreds of others. How can I make up my mind in a day unless I make it to believe I need to see more?
With this in mind, Erin and I agreed to extend our stay in Nelson and bypass Kaikoura instead of rushing through both cities. This has been the best decision of our trip. From our first dinner at the House of Ales–fresh local grouper over asparagus (it’s springtime here!), bok choy, and potatoes with Hollandaise sauce, plus a local bottle of Sauvignon blanc–to seeing a bluegrass band called the Two Oceans Trio on our last night, I started to fall in love with Nelson. We took Sunday to explore and window shop since most stores were closed. After walking through the city center we made our way through Queen’s Park, and then up the hills on the outside of town through well-worn paths leading up to the geographical center of New Zealand. From that vantage point we looked out over Nelson to the snow-capped Mt. Arthur range to the south and the Tasman Bay to the west. Surrounding us from the other directions were steep hills and grazing sheep. Without the typical view of suburban sprawl, nature seems to cradle the city.
I woke up early and anxious on Monday. After talking about it since we began our journey, I decided this was the day to skydive. The hostel manager called the skydiving company at 8:15 am and a shuttle picked me up at 12:00. My nerves settled down in the hours leading up to my jump and I felt serenely calm. Once I arrived at the airfield, everything happened so fast that I didn’t have much time to worry. Within 20 minutes I was geared up and flying up to 13,0oo feet with a Tandem Master and camera man. When it was time to jump we slid to the door, waved to a camera on the wing of the plane, and tumbled out on the count of three. Even though we sped downward at 200 km/hour, time didn’t exist during the free-fall. Before I took off, the woman who explained the process of skydiving to me said she couldn’t describe the feeling, and she’s right. There is nothing like it. The whole endeavor lasted only about six minutes, and when my feet hit the ground again so much adrenaline pumped through my body that it is still hard to process. One thing is definite: I would do it again in an instant!
Tuesday brought its own wonders as Erin and I kayaked and hiked through Abel Tasman National Park, which I had seen from the sky the previous day. The park is gorgeous with golden beaches, penguins, seals, cormorants, and so many more birds! It is the smallest National Park in New Zealand and there is a four-day trek through it that I want to come back and do. There is so much to explore!
Tuesday was our last day in Nelson; we left early this morning to make our way down to Alexandra in Central Otago. As the bus pulled out of the station at 8:30, I felt sad. This is the first place we’ve been that I really didn’t want to leave. It’s the little things about a place that makes me fall in love with it: lemon trees in front yards, cars stopping for pedestrians, art galleries, river walks, public schools with big greens in front, fires on cold nights, and the delicate smell of flowers and fresh spices everywhere. I am excited about the next places we are heading, but the wonder of what else there is to know here tugs at my mind and begs me to return to Nelson.