4,000 Miles of New Zealand

On our first night of camping in New Zealand, we went for a night walk on the beach. The beach (pictured below) is on the Karikari peninsula in Northland, New Zealand, where Alex and I would spend the next six days road-tripping / camping / glamping with Alex #2 (my friend from middle school) and his wonderful partner Annabeth. We arrived late to the campsite, which meant that by the time we had finished our scrumptious vegan meal of couscous and vegetables, it was dark and I was tired, feeling a cold coming on, and ready to crawl into my tent. But fortunately I also suffer from acute FOMO, so when Alex and Alex and Anna suggested we go for a walk, I reluctantly agreed.

We switched off our flashlights on the beach and were plunged into the kind of darkness you can’t find in the tri-state area. For a minute we walked in blackness, the sound of the ocean on our left, Alex tucked under my arm inside my jacket against the cool wind. As our eyes adjusted, the beach reemerged before us. No moon, but enough starlight to paint the silhouette of the dark hills surrounding the beach and light up the water with the glint of its reflection. The water was calm, small waves breaking around knee height, and we let the cold water wash up over our ankles. Looking down at the water around our feet, it was a perfect reflection, pinpricks of light on the black water mirroring the night sky.

Except that the water was not calm enough to be a mirror, and the pinpricks of light didn’t shimmer like a reflection—they moved on the waves. We were standing in a sea of bioluminescent phytoplankton, flowing around our feet. Stars above, stars below.

Upon this realization, we all regressed something like 20 years in age. For the next hour we were kids playing in their first snow. Alex was wearing jeans so I gave her a piggyback into the ocean to where the waves broke. There we stood, 15 yards from shore with the plankton spinning around us, until an unexpected wave soaked my shorts and we retreated to shore. On the beach we discovered that the plankton that had washed up on the sand sometimes responded to pressure, lighting up our footprints. So we walked the length of the beach, seeking out little patches and stomping through them like kids through puddles, leaving temporary trails of light. Only when the incoming tide forced us did we reluctantly trudge up the dunes back to our tents for the night. The next day, I woke up sick but happy.

A lot of people ask us what our favorite part of the trip has been so far, and, after months of annoyingly saying, “Uhhh, it’s all been really great. It’s really hard to pick…” this moment has finally given me a frontrunner. No photos to share sadly. New Zealand consistently laughs in my face for picking up a camera, daring me to try and capture its grandeur in a puny photo, and this particular scene was pitch black. But then again, there’s something reassuring that this moment won’t risk the diminution that might come from a confusing dark photo of some specks of light (not that I didn’t try).

We’ll be sad to leave NZ later this week. It’s kind of the best place ever. More natural beauty than you shake a stick at and a government agency that maintains over 950 huts out in the wilderness so you can access it all. More extreme sports than anywhere else I’ve been and comprehensive nationwide accident medical insurance that patches you up for free when you, with no experience, try them out. In a few hours on the road here, you can pass through green rolling hills, across Martian red desert, beneath towering mountains and past ice-blue lakes, all the while listening to podcasts from the comfort of your tiny rental car.

They say that the best way to see New Zealand is by car, which is something we took to heart. I recently calculated our total mileage and was shocked. Say we had started in Miami, where do you think we could have driven to? Alex guessed Rhode Island (why would we drive to Rhode Island?) Try ALASKA. Yep, unless my math is terrible, which it’s not, we put roughly 4000 miles on our tiny rental cars since we arrived, which would get you from Miami to Prince Rupert, which is in BC but pretty much in Alaska, with a couple hundred miles to spare. (That’s also 60 hours of car time… and podcasts… seriously, I would probably confuse Ira Glass for my father at this point).

Needless to say we’ve covered some ground. From South to North, we visited Stewart Island, Bluff, Invercargill, Milford/Doubtful Sound, the Catlins, Dunedin, Queenstown, Wanaka, Mount Cook, Fox/Franz Josef Glaciers, Arthur’s Pass, Punakiki, Christchurch, Kaikoura, Wellington, Hawke’s Bay, Taupo, Auckland, Cape Reinga. (We just posted lots of pictures!) Which only leaves Marlborough, the Bay of Islands, Nelson, Hobitton (that’s probably like the 10th biggest city in New Zealand), Abel Tasman National Park, Rotorua, the Coromandel peninsula, Waiheke Island, the Cook Islands… the list goes on. Even though we’ve spent more time here than any other country thus far, we will leave here with the longest list of things to come back for.

We'll also be sad to leave the life that we've built for ourselves in Dunedin over the past couple of months here. In between our frequent road trips around the South Island, we’ve lived a life of unemployment: crashing at our friends' house, cooking vegan food, being outdoorsy, and having no set plans—pretty much the opposite of life in NYC. While we do miss the pace of life in New York and having our own place and eating meat, we are trying to experiment with other lifestyles, and to that end New Zealand has definitely been our greatest success. Much of this is owed to Alex #2 and Annabeth, who in their own laid-back, vegan, environmentally conscious, community-organizing way, have served as excellent other-lifestyle-models. It’s also been a function of the style of travel. In New Zealand we've been able to slow down, develop a sense of place, and start doing the things that we would normally do in New York (cooking and working out and watching Netflix), but doing them differently. So in that way, it's been a break from our break, and now we return to life on the road…

…Which brings me to our updated itinerary! We’ve loved the Pacific and have decided to stick around for the remainder of our trip. We’re hoping to lock down the details soon, but here’s what we have so far: 

  • Early- to Mid-April: Australia—Sydney, Cairns, Great Barrier Reef, Adelaide/Kangaroo Island, Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, and back to Sydney 
  • Late April to Early May: South Pacific—Samoa, Fiji, and Vanuatu 
  • Early- to Mid-May: USA! USA! Road trip from LA to Seattle – hit us up if you’re around
  • End of May: A quick stop in NYC, NJ, and Philly
  • Early- to Mid-June: Dublin and London
  • After that: TBD, but probably home


- Cole