Episode 14: Land of the Tangy Blue Cheese

Last time on Mobilis Divers: Noelle moped about her broken laptop while Chris happily settled into his new job. Both still dreamed of New Zealand.

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This week, we’re going all the way back in time to the Christmas holidays. For Chris’ winter break, we spent three summer weeks in Aotearoa (Land of the Long White Cloud – aka New Zealand for us uninitiated). It was not even close to enough time. Three *months* might have let us start to scratch the surface.

I suppose if I could find one word to summarize New Zealand it would be: green. And spacious. And clean. And endlessly beautiful in every direction.

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Yeah, it really isn’t a one-word kind of place. But if you forced me to sum up a whole nation in two syllables, I would have to go with: nature.

Nature. Nature. Nature. All we did for three weeks was revel in the magnificence that is the New Zealand landscape. We lingered in botanical gardens, gawked in wonder at glow worms, watched dolphins play lazily in the bay and walked our feet off over the rivers and through the fjords.

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A little glow worm waiting for a fly to bump into his sticky trap. Please watch this video. It conveys the magic of these creatures in a way words never could.

Nature wasn’t the only good part of the trip, though. We also met some wonderful Kiwis who welcomed us into their homes with world-class hospitality and damn fine food and wine.

Sharing the highlights with you is somewhat challenging as there were no lowlights to speak of. I am racking my brain trying to remember the not-so-wonderful parts of the trip, and all I can come up with is that the cherries were unreasonably expensive.

If you are planning a trip to NZ and have the financial means to keep yourself in cherries, by all means, do so. I’m sure they are delicious, as everything there seemed to be. If, however, you are one of the 99%, don’t worry. You can still have a (relatively) good time on your visit. Here are some of the ways we distracted ourselves from our cherry-free existence

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Walking is always my favorite way to take in the country and learn how it all fits together (stopping to take pictures of birds and bugs is always an added bonus). Chris and I actually met walking in the mountains, but our dive holidays have outweighed our walking holidays by a fairly significant margin since then. So we opted to explore the Queen Charlotte Track for part of our trip.

We were not disappointed. I am sure our cameras got bored of seeing nothing but brilliant green and dazzling blue for five days, but we certainly did not. It is some of the most stunning country I have ever had the pleasure of exploring.

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Lochmara Lodge was undoubtedly my favorite spot on the trail. Along with hidden art installations, a night sky observatory, a hammock nook, beehives, llamas, glow worms and a bird sanctuary, they also had the divine inspiration to build the Bath House – a small building with a balcony overlooking the bay, where individuals or couples can spend an hour soaking their weary feet while drinking wine and chatting with passing birds. It was an absolutely decadent experience.

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Even this exquisite bath and its restorative sea salts, however, could not save my feet from some gnarly blisters that had hobbled me the day before. So we decided to split up for the final day of the hike and meet up back in Picton (the small tourist town everyone starts and ends the trip from). It gave Chris a day on the trail by himself and me a morning alone at Lochmara. It’s an experience I will not soon forget.

Chris set out in the early morning hours that day, and I went outside to see him off. The water in the bay was completely calm and still, and there wasn’t a person was in sight (a happy reprieve from some large and hectic families around the place the evening before). I jumped at the chance to take one of the resort’s kayaks and poodle around, basking in the alone-ness of it all.

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I spent about an hour or so slowly gliding over the glassy water; and I adored every minute of it. Solo time time is one of my favorite things. Friends and family and fiancés are great and all, but I find endless joy in spending time on my own. I always end up doing the littlest things that make me immensely happy, and I soak them up with no rush or worry about what other people would rather be doing.

As I have taken to doing in moments I do not want to quickly forget, I spent some time paying attention to each sense in turn, developing the full experience into a living image I can return to later. Dozens of eagle rays floated around below me before settling in to their morning sun spots for a nap; small boats passed by in the distance, waves from their wake eventually clapping against my little orange kayak; a cargo ship melted into a cloud that was forming over the mouth of the inlet; the morning breeze gave me a chill as it moved across my wet legs; a cheeky seal jolted me from my zenned out bliss as it popped up to breathe a few inches from my hand.

I finally forced myself to go back to the hotel, where I sat for hours at the window overlooking the bay. I ate a massive fry up, played solitaire and did the crossword puzzle – all blissfully alone.

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Although I revel in these solo moments, I am immensely social and also love spending time with other people, especially my parents. They joined up with Chris and me for half of the trip, and we had a grand ole time exploring what the North Island has to offer. In Auckland, I even persuaded them to partake into the electric scooter trend sweeping the globe. With one of them now currently suffering from a bad back and the other a broken wrist (unrelated to said scooter), I feel retrospectively lucky we all survived unscathed and intact.

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My dad, ever the seafood fan, spent much of the trip drooling over New Zealand’s famous green muscles.

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My mom discovered giant carrots and potatoes, while admiring the athletic tush of a nearby parsnip.

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And we all ate an ungodly amount of this cheese.

Kapiti blue cheese
From the Kapiti dairy, makers of heavenly cheeses and delectable ice creams.

Every time we went to the store we thought it may be our last chance to get more of this blue beauty, so we stockpiled it for the next visit. Problem was: we went to the store most days, so we had to get rid of the previous package to make room for the next. Ah, cruel fate!

New Zealand is also known for its quality white wines and we did our best to make a dent in the overwhelming supply while we were there. Although I am sure many Kiwis are bored of the Lord of the Rings association by now, I was nerdily pleased with vineyards such as Lothlorien, who embrace fans wholeheartedly. I’m a big fan.

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Before our trip to New Zealand, the one thing I was most looking forward to was our visit to Hobbiton movie set. It was as beautiful as I expected, but also much more magical than I could have foreseen. Movie sets are usually fun and interesting to visit, but this one is in another ballpark. It is alive with flowers, vegetable gardens, birds and breezes. It genuinely feels like you are in the Shire, walking around among homes you’ve known for years.

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We booked a hobbit-style feast after our walking tour, and it did not disappoint. Every detail was designed to make the experience authentic (as authentic as a fictional place can be). I fully felt I was in the Shire, so much so that I would not have been surprised if I’d seen Merry and Pippin sneak in to steal a leg of lamb from the banquet table.

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It is a testament to the consistent beauty of the country and its glorious landscapes that none of these experiences stand out as the one thing that we most enjoyed on the trip. Each place was unique and delightful in its own way. Each one revealed more of the country’s geographical variety and the depth of its culture and heritage. Each day I found myself wanting to stay there longer, to see more of the countryside, to drink more of the wine and to eat more of their tasty morsels.

Except for the cherries, of course.

kiwi to be continued

In memory of the comrades we lost on this journey. May they rest in peace.

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