New Zealand doesn’t look all that big when you see it on a map. With a land area about equal to that of Colorado, it seems tiny sitting next to massive Australia. So, we kind of thought 6 weeks would be enough time to see most of what this country has to offer. We figured we’d make it to all the major attractions talked about in the guide books, get to tour both the South and North Islands extensively, and have time to explore the major cities.
Leaving New Zealand we felt as though we’d barely scratched the surface. Our family was astounded by the diversity found in this relatively small place, with each mile down the road revealing something new and different. As a result, we moved very slowly through this country, even looping back to places we loved the most, like Wanaka. In the end, we had to make a choice between trying to see it all or letting ourselves fail in that attempt so we could take advantage of life’s unexpected opportunities.
After some deliberation, we wound up scrapping our plans for driving up to the northernmost region of New Zealand. We didn’t see the famous glow worm caves. No exploring the geothermal activity of Rotorua or walking along the harbors of Auckland. Life is full of trade-offs. We traded our North Island tour for a week with a cat, two dogs, two chickens and a kune kune pig.
The opportunity to pet sit was presented to us by some new Kiwi friends. After a month of living out of suitcases and staying in each place for just two to five days at a time, the Carisches were getting a little road weary. Up until New Zealand, our family had taken a slower approach to this around-the-world trip. Even though we’ve missed out on some things and skipped a few countries we would have liked to visit, spending more time in each location has been good for all of us. It’s allowed us to meet more people, connect with local organizations and let the girls adjust to each cultural transition. So, when this opportunity came up to stay in a free house for a week in Ramauti Beach, the idea of slowing down and doing something off the typical tourist track felt like the right thing to do.
Our first stop after crossing on a ferry over to the North Island was the capital city of Wellington. We joined in on the celebrations for Anzac Day, a holiday marking the remembrance of Australia and New Zealand’s World War I veterans. We watched vintage army vehicles and marching bands dressed in period clothing weave through city streets lined with spectators. We even caught a glimpse of Kiwi director Peter Jackson as he strode down the parade route. A WWI buff who’s collected a museum’s worth of army vehicles and uniforms, Jackson loaned the city his memorabilia for the event. Our Wellington tour also included a day at Te Papa, a free museum dedicated to New Zealand’s history. Before leaving Wellington, we took a drive up to the top of Mount Victoria for a view overlooking the city.
Sailing through the Cook Strait on the BlueBridge Ferry and coming into port in downtown Wellington.
Celebrating Anzac Day on April 25 with a parade and our good buddy, Peter Jackson.
Having fun at Te Papa museum and around downtown Wellington
Views of Wellington
When we left Wellington, we drove just an hour north of the city to the home of our new friends, Drew and Ant. We spent an evening laughing and talking with them over dinner and drinks before they left for the week leaving us in charge of their house and pets.
Every day we fed the cat, the dogs, the chickens and the pig. Our first morning there I woke up to the sound of the pig’s loud grunting, sat bolt upright in bed, and yelled “The pig is in here!” She was actually outside our bedroom window, but by the sound of it she could have been in the room with us. When we weren’t taking care of the animals, we pretty much lived like locals. We saw some beautiful sunsets, explored nature reserves in the area, ran the dogs on the beach, and found great music at a local café. Brian got to satisfy his masculine primal instincts by heating the house with a fire in the stove every night. The girls had a big yard to explore and a playground just down the street. I even learned how to make homemade yogurt and managed to keep Drew’s bacterial cultural alive while she was away – quite a feat for me.
Watched beautiful sunsets from the beach at Queen Elizabeth Park with Kapiti Island out in the distance.
Spent a day at the Nga Manu Nature Reserve learning about eels, feeding the resident birds and walking through an ancient forest.The dogs, Pico and Piper, will be missed. Cireden, a special breed of kune kune pig, didn’t hesitate to let us know when it was time for her early morning breakfast.
We know we missed out on some very cool parts of this country, but in letting go of our desire to see everything in New Zealand we gained a very unique experience. It underscores a life lesson we’ve slowly acquired throughout this journey: we can’t do it all. Even when we think we’re managing to do it all, we’re actually missing out on some incredibly important stuff. A work meeting used to take priority over my kid’s school field trip. Sports practices and gymnastics class came before family dinners. Laundry and kitchen work had to get done before I would ever think about sitting down to read a book or do some yoga.
Life is full of trade-offs. We have to make choices on how we spend our time and energy, and for too many years I let the obligatory, formally orchestrated, high profile stuff take precedence over everything else. Trying to be “that good mom” who signs my child’s homework sheet every night and makes cupcakes for the class party seemed critically important. Yet, being a good mom by getting down on the floor and doing a puzzle with one of my girls could easily get pushed to the back burner. “Sorry honey, not now. I have to [fill-in-the-blank].” Ironically, this grandiose travel experience has given us a better appreciation for those insignificant, yet incredibly meaningful moments in life. Sometimes “doing it all” means skipping out on the big stuff and focusing on the small stuff.
When people hear we’ve been to New Zealand they might ask, “Oh, weren’t those glow worm caves just amazing?” or “Didn’t you love Auckland?” We’ll have to smile and shrug, admitting we didn’t make it to a lot of those popular spots. We might cringe a little bit thinking about the stuff we missed out on, but then we’ll remember what we did experience. Petting that funny pig’s stiff, wiry hair and listening to her grunt with gratitude. Watching a five-month-old puppy chase seagulls on a beautiful beach for an hour straight without stopping. Listening to an amazing violin and guitar duet over a delicious meal. The Kapiti Coast turned out to be a meaningful way to end our time in this beautiful country. Perhaps not seeing all of New Zealand will lead us to come back here again someday.