What New Zealand Taught Me

By: Hailee Walls

What New Zealand Taught Me

Sometimes the moments we cherish most won’t happen until we let go and let time go unnoticed.

A country blessed with exquisite beauty from the tip of the Northern Island to the foot of the Southern Island, New Zealand is nothing less than breathtaking. Along the South Island coastline, white foamy waters of the Pacific crash into the protruding rocks on the left-hand side while magnificent snow-capped mountains adorn the right- side horizon. All the while, the road is cut through luscious rolling green hills. In a place with this much untainted nature, it’s easy to understand why nature lovers and adrenaline junkies from all over the world dream of being a Kiwi for at least a moment.

The awesome landscape, the valued life forms, and the escape from industrialization taught me a great deal about myself, about life, and about others. The long car drives down the islands supplied me with many hours to sit and reflect – to evaluate how I feel in such an environment. The exploration into nature – the days spent in the glowworm caves, in the family vineyards, in the Rotorua rainforest, and in the Mt. John observatory – exposed me to many things I had never seen or considered before. Who knew that people have to set up rattraps in certain rainforests to keep the natural inhabitants alive and that when you look into the sky you are actually seeing the past?! I had no idea.

However, despite all of the wonderful educational things I learned while exploring New Zealand, I found the most valuable lesson in the most mundane thing of all. It wasn’t the helicopter ride to a glacier, it wasn’t the Maiori feast, and it wasn’t the trip to Hobbinton. It happened on the one day our plans fell through. Or on the days we were driving along the road and we pulled over to see what the beach was like on the other side. It were in these moments that I felt most alive and I felt that we were making most of the time that we had been given.

My first experience with this kind of feeling transpired when we were driving along the South Island coastline. The sun was setting on the horizon and the sky was a vibrant pink that slowly faded into blue. Watching the waves crash into the shore with this kind of cotton candy background, I couldn’t help but try to capture it all on camera. Finally, after begging enough, I managed to get Will, the driver, to pull over so I could get out and run along the beach. That’s when I realized the sand was black! The texture was different, the color was different – it was all just way too much for me to handle. I can’t properly articulate how excited I became. It was something so simple yet so rewarding.

A similar thing happened a few days later when we pulled over just to enjoy the crystal clear waters we were driving along – from a perspective and space other than the moving van. When we unloaded and walked to the shore, some of us took pictures. Some sat and talked. Some looked for rocks to take home. And some of us decided to go for an adventure. Four of my friends changed into wet suits (or just less clothes) and jumped into the waves. Don’t forget it was New Zealand’s wintertime and the water was icy cold…Nevertheless, there were no regrets and they all agreed they never felt more alive for it. But what if we would have kept driving, in a hurry to get to the next city?

The next time this feeling overcame me we had woken up to find out the weather was too bad for us to take the planned helicopter ride over the Tasman Glacier. With nothing else planned as backup, we all agreed to drive into town and just waste the day away and try again tomorrow. We had all settled on watching “Finding Dory” at the nearest theatre. However, as we were driving along, we saw a sign for glacier views and we turn around. Spur of the moment and without second-guessing, we went for it. Next thing I know, everyone is jumping out of the van to go hike a waterfall off the side of the road. Not wanting to exert that much energy, my friend and I decided to walk down the highway instead – just to see where it would take us. I found myself on an isolated road, surrounded by mountains on all sides – no people or cars around to detract from the beauty. It was my first time ever walking in such a wide-open space with the freedom and clarity to really experience the moment and be present. My friend and I leisurely enjoyed our walk and each other’s company. We listened to Father John Misty. We laid on the side of the road and basked in the sunshine. We even had a mini photo shoot, which we couldn’t have done at any other time without it being awkward. All in all, we had the best time just enjoying the day for what it was – although we never saw it coming. Now imagine, if we would have just went to the movie theatre and never took the time to stop and see what was around us for no other reason than, because, well, why not.

Yes, planning is good and, in today’s world, sometimes necessary if you hope to get anything done. But don’t get caught up in your expectations and frustrated when things don’t go as planned. Often, when things “go wrong,” you can go with it and make it all right. Because sometimes the moments we remember most are the moments we thought about least, or not at all, before they happened. That’s what New Zealand taught me.

For more information about the Fiji/New Zealand Study Abroad program, come by the Office of Global Education located in Spidle Hall room 232, or e-mail Kate Thornton.

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