Here I am, a month into my stay in New Zealand. Writing this blog post from the garden of our hostel in the balmy 14 degree winter sunshine. Not bad at all.
I have been reflecting on how sad I was to leave Asia… In fact, I haven’t at all, because I have been too happy here these past few weeks to even think about it. But yesterday a friend reminded me of the post I wrote about saying goodbye to Asia so I re-read it, to see how I was feeling then and how things here in Auckland are comparing.
After moving from place to place in Australia, I was ready for a rest. The hostel where I’d booked my first few nights was only meant to be a pitstop and I’d planned to move on straight away, but I am still here. I feel at home. There are plenty of long termers here from Europe and new people coming and going which keeps it fresh. Many people return here after travelling around the country. I do feel a certain sense of guilt that I’ve not yet seen much of what the country has the offer but there’s no rush. It’s not going anywhere. All in good time – especially once the season starts to turn to summer so I can see it at its best. Auckland is a chilled, laid back city, which suits me. It is clean and safe, lacking the pollution of London. I am tentatively putting down roots here and feeling comfortable doing so.
While in many ways Auckland feels like being at home in the UK, the volcanoes peeking up through the city are a spectacular and constant reminder that I am somewhere special. This morning I felt compelled to take a photo of the gorgeous Mount Eden village neighbourhood with its stepped green volcanic backdrop. You can always spot people at the top. The city’s inclines from areas such as Ponsonby, with its appealing vintage shops and quirky bars, afford glimpses of the stunning skyline, especially striking when lit up with colour at night time.
A drive across the suspension bridge provides a breathtaking sweeping view of the city, the calm blue water and the countless white yachts. Just a short drive away are wide deserted beaches, plentiful forests and jutting rocks. All of which have spiritual significance to the indigenous Maori people, who first landed in New Zealand from South East Asian territories around a thousand years ago. I love how this pride in the beautiful natural surroundings and its cultural heritage underpins the feel of this otherwise super-modern city.
I feel open and connected in this country, in a similar way to how I did in Asia. I’m meeting interesting people and having great conversations. Things are flowing and falling beautifully into place. The people here, for the most part, seem genuinely happy. I like how they will shout a cheerful ‘thank you’ to the bus driver when disembarking at their stop. It may be something to do with the equally amiable weather. I’m not yet keen to venture down to windy Wellington – which has in recent days been suffering earthquakes – though I hear the people there are very open and friendly too. Maybe it’s just the Kiwi way.
Now I have received delivery of my suitcase which I sent myself from home, I am feeling much more comfortable; no longer making do with wrapping up every day in my one warm fleece and long cargo trousers that I was carrying with me through Asia, while my shorts, bikinis and sundresses lie in retirement in my backpack. I no longer look like a hobo or a badly dressed student. I have an actual choice of clothes, shoes and boots – proper covered shoes, not flip flops – and also my hair straighteners. Phew. This is exciting stuff. Blow-drying and styling my hair feels like a real luxury now. I used to do this every morning and not think anything of it.
There are other formerly commonplace things, which I now consider to be an indulgence, following my Asian travels. Things like curling up on the sofa to watch TV, going to the cinema, browsing familiar shops, having a good internet connection so I can watch videos and download documents, being able to buy proper English breakfast tea and Marmite, strict levels of cleanliness, reliably powerful and hot showers, not having to pay through the nose for decent wine (I’m looking forward to learning more about New Zealand’s tasty vino) and paying for transactions with my credit card. It is indeed the little things.
Cooking for myself is another treat I have missed. Last Sunday I went to our local large supermarket and bought lots of fresh vegetables. This week I have been busy making pasta dishes, a mixed bean chilli and a self-concocted recipe of creamy pumpkin and spinach on brown rice. The food in Asia was heavenly but it’s so nice to hang out in a kitchen again, cooking meals and singing along absent-mindedly to the radio. I remember talking to someone a few years back who lived in a Caribbean hotel with her family, for her husband’s work. While ordering room service or eating for free in a restaurant every day sounds like bliss, after a while she missed preparing her own meals, on her own terms. It’s a freedom we don’t often appreciate.
So, here I am, having another nice relaxed day. Looking for work and hoping something good comes through soon. And in the mean time enjoying my free time. I still get the sense here, as I did in Asia, that I don’t know what’s round the corner. Anything could happen. My fear that things could feel dull and mundane now I’m back in Western society was, I’m pleased to say, unfounded. This is crucial. It keeps me feeling excited and optimistic and looking forward to what comes next.
Now, read my full guide to backpacking Auckland.