I find that today of all days is a perfect reason to write about love. It’s Valentine’s Day and I’m not swooning over the person next to me, I’m swooning over my view. I live in Lake Tekapo, one of the most beautiful and dramatic landscapes I’ve ever come across. And it is here, in New Zealand that I found love. Not with a person, mind you, but with a place. I think we all have a place that takes our breath away, that makes us a better person, where our hearts and mind feel at ease. Mine is New Zealand.
This love affair started five years ago when I arrived on my first solo trip of my life. I came to New Zealand from the U.S. to work and travel for a year under the working holiday visa. My goal was to experience something spectacular and well, New Zealand did not disappoint.
From a hot water beach to The Hobbit film shoots to kayaking in caves to unreal sunrises to the Rugby World Cup, New Zealand blew me away- it still blows me away. That year provided me with a new appreciation of natural beauty of the untouched and the importance of getting outside. I found myself completely speechless more than once, whether I was following wild horse tracks on 90 mile beach or taking a bus along the South Island’s West Coast. The country at the bottom of the world took my breath away.
I don’t know what I fell in love with first; the people or the landscape. I’ve said this many times and I’ll say it again; I believe Kiwis are real-life CareBears. The first person that I came in contact with was at the Auckland airport. She asked me if I needed any help to get where I was going and I asked her the cheapest way to get to the city center. She basically held my hand and took me over to the airport bus stop and told me all the info I needed. And she smiled. It was then I knew I was in a different place. Airport staff are never happy.
As I traveled the North Island for a few months, making pit stops here and there, I started to notice something different about how I was traveling. I wasn’t trying to go to the cities and be around thousands of people. I was getting out to small, rural regions to experience the land. And looking back now, it made all the difference. The happiest I’ve always ever been is when I’m close to nature. My move from Wellington to the South Island assured me of this.
I moved to Queesntown, the epicentre of crazy. And as much of a party town it can be, it provides you with the best in outdoor activities and views. The short version; Queenstown changed my life. I learned to live on very little but enjoyed my life exponentially more. I went hiking, running and exploring more than I ever had. I met people with similar interests and had a wonderful life. I began to appreciate all aspects of life, not just the ones that I was able to purchase.
Then it all changed.
It was 2012 and I had been living and loving New Zealand for over a year at this point. I had picked up a job that sponsored me to stay another year and I knew the moment I saw my new visa in my passport, I didn’t want to leave. I had found my forever home. It’s funny how life sometimes doesn’t see it that way. Months later, my position was made redundant and I had two weeks to leave the country before being deported. I went from thinking of settling down to thinking about running away. I was crushed. My dreams of staying in New Zealand crumbled within minutes.
I left New Zealand crying on a plane to Australia, not knowing what I was doing. But as life took one dream away, it provided me with another. For the next three years I lived in Australia and Bali before returning back to the states. I found myself thinking and talking about New Zealand often, as if it were a past love that I never had the chance to say how I really felt. Circumstance had taken away the one place that mattered the most to me.
Then one day, as chance would have it, I was told about a work visa Americans under 35 could apply for to live in New Zealand. I couldn’t believe it. I was about to get my chance to go back to the one place I loved more than half of my family. I signed up the next day and waited patiently to hear back from the organization. After a tumultuous visa process and a lot of lies and money later (from them, not me trying to buy my way in to the country), I stepped out of the airport and into the fresh air in Auckland. I had made it back.
I knew this time I’d make the effort to say I love you. To say thank you. And I have.
My home is New Zealand. Always will be.
About the author:
Jen Heuett is the creator of Travel + Trust & Wanderlust, an online community to educate, empower and inspire women to travel solo. Her words can also be found on Huffington Post, Mind Body Green, and Travel Hooligan, her first travel company that inspires young adults to utilize the Working Holiday Visa in Australia and New Zealand. When she’s not traveling the world, she’s enjoying the Pacific Northwest and her mom’s tacos.