About a year ago, my good friend and thinkPARALLAX’s Senior Project Manager, Elizabeth, took a leap of faith and moved her life across the world to begin a new chapter in Napier, New Zealand. Since she left, each day brought new photos from her that seemed too beautiful to be real, and her stories about New Zealand’s brilliant mix of nature and culture created images in my mind of a surreal, fantastic world full of unknown wonders. She urged me to come visit and experience it for myself, but I couldn’t imagine how that would be an attainable goal, until PARALLAXploration.
As soon as I got off the plane in Auckland, it was immediately evident that this place was like nowhere I’d ever been before. The air was crisp and clean, having been sifted through the countless trees and other flora making up the lush, green landscape around me. Design, signage, and street names paid homage to the indigenous Māori people. Instead of hearing sirens, traffic, and loud conversations, the air was filled with the melodic sounds of native birds. Part of what makes New Zealand such a unique place is its isolation. Because it’s so far removed from the rest of the world, it has a high rate of endemism: 80 percent of New Zealand’s plant life and 70 percent of its avian residents are found nowhere else in the world. I was completely struck by the beauty of this place, and it was apparent that New Zealand’s citizens were equally taken by it.
Perhaps the most inspiring thing I witnessed on my journey through New Zealand was the pride its people have in their country, the care they have for one another, and the ways in which they express these sentiments. From integration of the indigenous Māori culture into everyone’s lives to accessible and beautiful public spaces for all to enjoy, I could feel the love for New Zealand and its people everywhere I went. Historic buildings were preserved with modern shops built into them; cities and streets were named using Māori words; trash receptacles were abundant, completely ridding the country of virtually any litter; large, clean, and well-functioning public restrooms were present in parking lots, parks, and everywhere in between; the national rugby team (the All Blacks) performed the traditional Māori Haka, or war dance, before each game. In the cities, you could find people enjoying a drink in public beanbags along the waterfront, and in rural areas, brown signs along the highway pointed out frequent natural beauties to pull off and view — for free.
In addition to the country being easy to explore and experience, it was equally easy to learn about. From big cities to small towns, everywhere I went in New Zealand had i-SITE centers that provided information, recommendations, and answers to any questions I had about the country or that specific area. The residents of New Zealand seemed happy to welcome visitors, and eager to teach them about their culture. In addition to this, Te Papa, a fantastic museum completely free of entrance fees in Wellington, hosted a wealth of information and exhibits on the topics of New Zealand and Māori history and culture.
Before embarking on my trip, I had a preconceived notion that due to New Zealand being so far removed, design and culture there may be a bit behind the times and not quite as “cool” as in America, but I was quickly proven wrong. In the big cities like Wellington and Auckland, contemporary, forward-thinking design was abundant. Large murals were painted on the sides of buildings, hip bars and restaurants were on every corner, unique architecture was seamlessly integrated with the more historic or art deco buildings, and Māori culture could be found in the beautiful patterns and subject matter of art and designs everywhere.
With so many natural and man-made wonders, a vibrant culture, and such hospitable and accommodating surroundings, you’d imagine everyone living in New Zealand would constantly be hard at work to keep the country running as such a well-oiled machine. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the people living there seemed to keep a great balance between work and life. Hardly any businesses were open before 8:00am, and with the exception of bars and restaurants, almost none were open past 5:00pm; it was even impossible to acquire an early morning coffee. I was happy to see that the permanent residents of New Zealand were able to find time to enjoy their beautiful country in the same way I was lucky enough to.
On top of learning so many new things about New Zealand and its culture, I experienced a world of new things I never thought I’d have the chance to do. I climbed 1300 feet to the top of Te Mata peak, listening to the call of the Tui and chasing sheep along the way. I bounced across a swing bridge over the Hutt River in Kaitoke Regional Park amidst glowing silver ferns. I trekked through 1000 feet of caves, climbed up waterfalls, and rode a zipline under the glow of bioluminescent fungal fly larvae after abseiling deep underground through pitch darkness at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. I met and had the pleasure of staying in the home of a native Kiwi and discovered unique things about her culture and mine through a long and revealing conversation. I sampled freshly caught Kenna — or sea urchin — and sipped on locally produced wine. I took a dip in natural geothermal hot springs. I witnessed six sunrises and seven sunsets, and survived the longest flight of my life (a true accomplishment for this aviatophobic). Through it all, I came away with a deep love and admiration for this new place I’d been so fortunate to explore, and a new perspective on my own life and an appreciation for all of the things around me that I may have previously taken for granted.
Kia ora, New Zealand. Thank you for everything and may we meet again soon.
Click below to check out my photos from my New Zealand adventure!