“Nature defines who and what we are, and no more so for any nation than New Zealand, Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud.”

In the woods above Queenstown
In the woods above Queenstown
In the woods above Queenstown

On my last full day in Queenstown, I had a free day with no fixed appointments. I took the opportunity to hike a bit on my own through the forest track between our hotel and the downtown area. Then I wandered around downtown for a while. There’s something fascinating about watching the lake rise and fall.

Two roads… In the woods above Queenstown
In the woods above Queenstown
In the woods above Queenstown

I try to keep an open mind when I travel. I kind of think that’s the point. I’m frequently surprised when I go places, but usually in the best way possible. New Zealand was the 35th country I have visited in my life, and it was also one of the least surprising yet most impressive. The people, the landscapes, the experiences, and the culture were as welcoming and beautiful as I had been told. The biggest surprise for me was just how beautiful this place really is, top to bottom. I mean, we’ve all seen it in films and pictures, but they really don’t do the place justice.

Getting on the plane to leave New Zealand
View from the plane leaving New Zealand
View from the plane leaving New Zealand

Lots of people ask me where my favorite places have been, and that’s such a hard question to answer.

  • My visit to Honduras in 2009 opened my eyes in ways I can’t adequately describe.
  • Standing in front of Michelangelo’s Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City was a revelatory experience.
  • Driving through hundreds of miles of blooming sunflower fields one early August in the Dakotas taught me an important lesson about timing. It’s also a good idea to fill the tank when opportunity presents.
  • Visiting Warsaw and seeing the determination and fierce pride that allowed the people of the city to rebuild from rubble after World War II impressed the hell out of me.
  • Traveling in Egypt by train, felucca and ship and feeling so small inside the immensity of Karnak Temple offered me a perspective I’ve carried with me since.
  • Looking up at the 630 feet of Gateway Arch in St. Louis from the middle of the grass at its base and feeling the vertigo wash over me reminds me of the men and women who passed this way toward their hope of a fresh start far out from their comfort zones.
  • Sailing a kayak across rough seas in Belize to get to a crab supper was a frustrating but ultimately rewarding experience.
  • Walking the streets of Ephesus in Turkey made history come alive in a hot and sensory way, not to mention that marble is slippery.

I don’t know yet what aspects of my time in New Zealand or indeed of the last six months will join this list. Time has to write the list; if I try, I’ll overthink it.

Title quote: Al Morrison

View from the plane leaving New Zealand
View from the plane leaving New Zealand
View from the plane leaving New Zealand
View from the plane leaving New Zealand

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