Almost 365 days later…

It’s finally time. I’m coming home. And I’m not all that excited. In fact, I’m terrified. This past year was meant to be a year of self-exploration and discovery, of opening doors and finding my way to a better future. Instead, I am heading home uncertain about what will come next.

This blog has been an experiment for me, not just in writing about my adventures, but in sharing my thoughts with others, and putting them out into the universe for everyone to see. But the most personal – and most painful – lessons I’ve learned, I’ve kept off the page and close to my heart.  These were the defining moments for me. The photos and descriptions of my adventures have captured the beauty of Australia and New Zealand perfectly, but the true and most lasting impact of this year has come from within.

I’ve redefined how I view my relationships with family, friends, and men. I’ve realized how important it is to surround myself with positive influences, people who inspire me and genuinely care about me. And once again I have been reminded, the hard way, how important it is to listen to my intuition.

I’ve discovered a newfound respect for my health and well-being, and a deeper compassion for those around me, knowing that we all have personal struggles not easily revealed. I’ve realized being broke is no reason to stop experiencing the best of every day, and that money isn’t worth losing sleep over, that it will all work out in the end.

When I first left Edmonton, I was deeply dissatisfied with so many areas of my life. I hated my job, and I was crushed when another job offer fell through at the last moment, with no explanation. My dating life was either non-existent or filled with one jerk after another. I was stuck in a rut, doing the same thing, with the same people, every day. I tried to fill myself with retail therapy and fell into an all too common consumer purchasing trap. I needed a change, and with it, a change in perspective. I needed to believe in myself again.

When I started my blog, I wrote that I wanted this year to be “not a destination, but a new way of seeing things.” I’ve accomplished that. And I am actually ready to return home.

But what terrifies me about the return is reverse culture shock, where you have difficulty reintegrating with your home country after having been away on extended travel. The fear isn’t so much that I won’t be able to fit back into my old life, but that I will. I don’t want to return to the same existence, to fall back into the same patterns. I don’t want to forget the lessons I’ve learned.

I thought in my travels as one door closed another would open, that along the way the answer would reveal itself to me, if not with a brilliant insight, then at least gradually over the year. It hasn’t happened.

I’ve had a few ideas – Give up my career! Work in a coffee shop! Go back to school! Start my own business! Write a book! Travel to Bali! Thailand! All great ideas, all with good merit, all with pros and cons. Somehow, none of them seem right for me, right now.

This is my opportunity to hit the reset button, and once I do, I have no idea where it will lead. Any ideas?

New Zealand: south island impressions

On arrival in NZ, I checked into the hostel in Wellington and promptly fell asleep, the time being well after midnight. Awaking early the next morning, I caught the bus to Palmerston North, where Reganne met me at the bus stop. She had to work during the afternoon, which gave me plenty of time to scrub the “backpacker” smell from me, and we enjoyed a nice meal and catch up that night.

I preoccupied myself while Reganne was at work the next day, and that night Matt and Reganne took me out to their typical Wednesday’s “quiz night.” The next day we chilled out at home, giving me a chance to get caught up on my TV favourite True Blood.

Friday I decided it would be best to head down to the south island and see what there was to see, so I headed back to Wellington to finish the hop-on, hop-off tour I’d started in April.

The trip from Wellington across the ferry to Picton was an uneventful three hours. From there we drove to Kaiteriteri, where we were bumped from the normal tour accommodation due to a midget conference – the little people of NZ – and no, I’m not joking. Instead we were moved to a Christian camp for the night, which was passable, barely.

I was dismayed to find the tour group to be quite young and resigned myself to the next two weeks being filled with 18 year olds talking about how drunk they got the night before and how they thought they were going to be sick the next day from the windy roads on the bus. Still, I vowed to be sociable and make the most of my time.

We spent the morning in Kaiteriteri, where I enjoyed the scenic view of Sandy Bay from a cafe, drinking a good cup of coffee. Then we headed to Westport, where we stayed at Bazil’s Hostel, a friendly and welcoming place that reminded me of where I first stayed in Cairns.

That night was yet another rugby match: Australia vs. New Zealand, who were competing to move onto the finals for the world cup. New Zealand’s All Blacks team won, leaving everyone in good spirits. I had a bit too much wine but ended the night harmlessly enough,  joining some girls in the common area to watch Bridget Jones.

From Westport we headed toward Lake Mahinapua. On the way we stopped at Cape Foulwind, a pretty walk over the headlands with stunning views, including a seal colony basking on the rocks in the sun. We also did a blustery, cold walk called Truman Track, which proved how ferocious the ocean could be as the tide comes in on a windy day. Our lunch stop was at the Pancake Rocks, which were so named for the rocks’ shape and formation, though the rocks didn’t look very pancake-like to me.

Eventually we ended up at our accommodation, a farmstead-type place in the middle of nowhere. The group meal left something to be desired, and the rooms weren’t much better. Because we were miles from anywhere, our tour guide had us participate in a theme party to keep us entertained. The theme: anything but clothes. I went as a paper bag princess, and I received a few compliments on my gift bag/tiara outfit, though I was more impressed with the creativity of some of the other costumes. It’s amazing what you can do with a shower curtain and some chicken wire.

My mood improved as we arrived at the Rainforest Retreat in Franz Joseph. The hostel offered proper facilities, including a decent communal area, a restaurant/bar with a roasting fireplace to sit beside, and an outdoor hot tub to soak in with a view of the mountains.

I headed over to the hot pools in the early evening and thoroughly enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere. The hot pools were perhaps the nicest I have in seen in Canada, Australia, or New Zealand so far.

We climbed the Franz Joseph Glacier the following day, which I wrote a separate post about. Unfortunately the weather was too windy for us to do the full climb, so we arrived back at the hostel mid-afternoon. I managed to find an extra free pass to the hot pools for the evening, and after a few glasses of wine thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Heading out from Franz Joseph, we drove into Wanaka, arriving early in the afternoon. I spent the afternoon at a cafe sorting through my photos, and the evening relaxing in my room, since I felt as though I was coming down with a cold. Wanaka didn’t have much to offer besides a pretty view of the lake, so I didn’t feel as though I missed out on too much.

An early start from Wanaka brought us into Puzzle World, which I skipped over, as the attraction seemed to be yet another tourist trap with little actual value or interest, and when others came through the maze and illusion rooms, they confirmed my suspicions.

We arrived in Queenstown around 3 p.m. after stopping to watch a few of the tour group jump from the world’s original bungy site. From there, we were left to our own devices.

I wandered around town for a bit before realizing it was simply a commercialized mountain town similar to Banff, though with a bigger adventure and party scene, and then settled back at the hostel for a few hours to chill out. I finally decided to head down to the wharf, where I enjoyed a glass of wine and pizza while watching performers at the local jazz festival.

I spent my free day in Queenstown on a tour out to Milford Sound. It was a full day, starting at 8 am and not returning until 9 p.m., but I found myself decidedly disappointed with the entire excursion. Though the drive was scenic and cruise-y, the driver yammered on the whole time and didn’t give us time to simply sit back and take in the view. The photo spots were nice, but I found the scenery looked so much like British Columbia, on a smaller scale, that I was slightly underwhelmed. I didn’t want to be underwhelmed, but I couldn’t help myself.

Even the boat cruise, which I was looking forward to all day, barely held my attention. I’m not sure what I expected, but with all the talk of how beautiful and pristine Milford Sound was, I somehow thought I would be shocked by its beauty and remoteness. I wasn’t. The highlight of the day was seeing some seals laying on the rocks in the sun, which offered a better photo op than I’d had on a previous walk.

I set off from Queensland to Christchurch and realized once we were underway that there was a mix up with the bus schedule that would have left me in Christchurch not one night, but three, and with all the devastation from the recent earthquakes and aftershocks, the driver recommended I continue on to Kaikoura.

Kaikoura was a lovely sea-side town, and it was also the setting for me to watch the rugby world cup, where everyone was on the edge of their seats watching the New Zealand All Blacks in their narrow defeat against France. I imagined many kiwis felt watching the game the same way Canadians did in our defeat of the Americans in the Olympic games for hockey. Two glasses of wine all but knocked me out, so once the game was over I took my flushed cheeks off to bed for an amazing night’s sleep.

From Kaikoura we left the south island behind, with a stunning view of the west coast winding beside us. We crossed the Picton Ferry to arrive back in Wellington, where I found out my onward plans to Taupo were abruptly and unceremoniously cancelled, much to my dismay.

Instead of departing on the bus to Taupo as originally planned, I stayed behind in Wellington and took stock of my situation, trying to figure out my next move. I was broke, had seen all I’d wanted to see of NZ, and though I didn’t really want my world adventures to end, resigned myself to the fact it was time to go home. I moved up my flight, called Reganne to make plans for one last visit, and sorted my pickup from the airport in Edmonton.

Franz Joseph Glacier: wind-blown but spectacular

Franz Joseph Glacier

from 27 October

The wind nearly knocked me over as I struggled to walk across the rocks and toward the looming glacier ahead of us. Eventually the rocks piled into high hills, and the path wound steeply this way and that, leaving us to zig-zag our way up one side and down the other.

As I pushed forward against the wind whipping around the mountain and back into the valley, I was all too conscious of the sharp drop at my side. One strong gust of wind, one wrong step… but I tried not to think about it.

After a 45 minute trek, I crossed over the rocky hills and reached the glacier’s bottom. There I strapped a pair of crampons to my hiking boots, which dug sharply into the ice for traction.

It’s been over a year since I’ve seen snow or ice, so I felt a strange contentment tramping through the crevices. Still, the sights were spectacular, and like nothing I had ever seen before.

The guides used ice axes to chip into the side of the formations, creating stairs to scramble up and over, deeper into the glacier. Ropes were screwed into the ice to steady ourselves during particularly steep ascents and descents, but most of the time we were left to climb freely across the ice and newly cut paths. With the sunshine warm at my back, it was easy to see why the water flowed freely in places, and why the ice beneath my feet quickly turned to slush.

Franz Joseph glacier is one of only three in the world that comes down to such a low altitude above the sea, and it is also one of the fastest moving glaciers. Even being on the glacier for just a few hours, it was immediately apparent to me just how alive the ice was, with rocks intermittently falling into the valley and water constantly rushing past.

The glacier is retreating due to warm temperatures, and geologists anticipate with current weather trends, 90 to 100 years from now the glacier may no longer exist. It’s humbling to think such a large mass of ice, spanning over 11 km, may disappear if not in my lifetime, than in the next generation’s.

The guides turned the group around at the half-way point of the normal trek due to extreme winds, and so we began our reluctant trek back to the car park, where we debated how to spend the remainder of our day. I was disappointed, especially upon hearing how amazing the last few hours would have been, where we could have had the opportunity to walk inside the glacier, in hollowed out caves, rather than simply on top of it and between crevices. Still, I tried not to let what I didn’t see mar my appreciation for what I did, and all in all, it was a great day.