To say that New Zealand was good to me would be a monumental understatement. It pushed me, tested me, and rewarded me with the greatest experience of my life. At the beginning of my journey when I picked up my Defender, I pulled out onto the road I just sort of thought to myself, “right..now what, shit man c’mon, you have spent years planning this, now what?!.” Throwing all my gear in the back, grabbing a bunch of food and setting forth for the mountains, I could not have been more elated and at the same time nervous about what lay before me. 16 days of camping, hikes, and general unknown was slightly daunting, but I have come to embrace this feeling. Knowing that I am not complacent, knowing that I am embarking on an adventure that I have designed around pushing my boundaries, that’s what this trip was about. Sure I could have hired a corolla and stayed in hotels every night, sure I could have eaten out every night in restaurants, and sure I could have confined myself to the comfort of familiarity, but that’s not why I was there. I was there for the adventure, I was there to find out things about myself that I didn’t know. And sure, when I was standing over my stove by my defender, in -10 or so conditions at 10pm, watching my pot and waiting for water to boil so I could eat some noodles, yeah sometimes I was thinking about a comfy bed and a juicy steak. But that is precisely what I wanted to feel. I felt at home for most of this trip, but I wanted to doubt, I wanted to question myself and I wanted to miss the creature comforts. It would be so easy to fill this blog post with all of the amazing things I saw, but I don’t want to exclude the details. Those brief feelings in between the grand ones, uncertainty, elation, despair, gratitude.
Now my trip had its challenging moments, sure, however I was amidst the most awe-inspiring landscapes I had ever seen and, for the most part, I felt as if I had it all to myself. The only time I really felt like I needed company was when I would be hiking someplace and thought to myself “damn if only there was someone standing way out on that ridge line over there.” But in all honesty, I found that to be the extend of the downsides really. So why did I do this trip alone? Well for starters, i’m no expert on this topic, but this is what I can decipher from my experiences. When I plan a trip, from the get go I plan it solo. Now this isn’t for any particular reason other than I don’t really feel the need to reach out to people when I am going travelling. If I want to go somewhere, I’ll go there, be it with friends or alone. There are obvious advantages to travelling with friends and I am sure I will experience that more often at some stage in the future, but for now let me try and shed a little more light on why I, more often than not, prefer solitude.
Being alone served me many great lessons, chief among which was that I was forced to make decisions rather than excuses. I was willed into making difficult choices when I was faced with my weaknesses, choices that would lead me to overcome these demanding moments and ultimately allow me to grow from whole process. It wasn’t always so easy, but I was continuously occupied. Navigating airports, catching flights, figuring out where i’ll be camping that night, cooking dinner on the road, setting up the rooftop tent in finger-chilling temperatures, packing, reorganising, remembering all the little jobs I have to do before I crawl into my sleeping bag for the night. If I did happen to find myself in one of these tough spots, I would just reiterate to myself “well, deal with it. Find a solution and push on.” Forcing myself out of my sleeping bag in the dark into temperatures well below 0 wasn’t straightforward. But, once you strip yourself of all those things that keep you in that rut of complacency at home, you’re left only with who you really are, you’re left to witness how you truly react when faced with hardship. There is nobody else to lend a hand, nobody else’s morale boost to ensure you’re motivated, it all comes from you. Now I don’t mean to sound as if I am putting a negative spin on this because truthfully, as exhausted as I felt at times, I was thriving. Relying solely on myself to move me from place to place, pushing myself up mountain ridges, singing along to ridiculous 90’s throwbacks on the stereo (who doesn’t), all of these things kept my morale up and I have returned home a stronger, more independent person.
When you’re at home living day to day, everything around you (to an extent) is the same. Same room, same people, same job, same roads, same everything, thus it can be very difficult to progress and change as a person when everything around you is staying the same. When you travel however, every day is different. Everything around you is changing, and you’re forced to adapt, overcome and be present in every situation, to focus on now. I was once afraid of change, petrified in fact, I now fear NOT changing, not progressing, not pushing to get to where I want to be next. It may seem daunting at first, but standing amidst the mountains, realising that I was completely alone, yet not lonely, was almost beyond liberating.
I met a number of people on this trip, One gentleman though was particularly humble and was quite fond of a chat. I regret that at the time I didn’t even learn his name but after a little google once I reached Christchurch, I found his name to be Sam Cutler. Now some of you may know this name, I however had never heard it until this encounter. He struck up conversation with me at the beginning of my trip in Auckland airport while I was waiting for a connecting flight south, He sat next to me at the gate and asked me where a “young lad like me was off to”, so I told him about my plans for the next two weeks. He nodded along and smiled, and then goes on to completely overshadow my adventurous plans by telling me is the former tour manager for the rolling stones. No, i’m not making this up. A little dumbfounded, I paused and said, “..really?” he again smiled and nodded, “yep.” He went on to tell me a few stories about his past (I can’t begin to imagine some of the stories he has to tell), his present, his future, and most of all, his writing. I have read extensively about Sam since our encounter and I am absolutely kicking myself that I didn’t make better use of my time with a man that has seen as much as i’m sure he has. Nevertheless, what a privilege it was to share stories with him. After learning about my solo venture ahead, Sam went on to tell me that he has been living out of his bus in Australia for 8 years, on his own. 75 years old, living out of his bus, writing, and to quote, “just living man.” Upon reading more about him after our interaction, I am fascinated that a man who has spent so much time in the spotlight, managing some of the biggest names in music history, has now retired to the solitude of his bus, and the road. Though i’d been awake for over 24 hours or so when we spoke, I saw the look in his eyes as he told me about himself, I saw the history, the adventure, the lifetime of memories he is keeping with him. And now after all that, right now, he doesn’t need anyone. Just his bus, and the road.
Despite not completely understanding who he was at the time, I saw something of myself in Sam. I remember sitting on the plane to Christchurch later that day looking down on the southern alps, contemplating what experiences lay ahead for me, wondering where i’ll end up someday, but most of all, realising that my adventure is only just beginning.
I feel as if a part of me resides in New Zealand now. I only spent a mere 16 days there but damn, what an insane 16 days it was, It lived up to and went beyond every expectation I held. I exhausted myself and made the most of every fortunate day I was there. I look forward to returning in the not so distant future, this time with perhaps grander ambitions, but that’ll have to wait.
As well as the images below, I put together my best attempt at a short cinematic feature of my travels to this amazing part of the world.
Thank you New Zealand, & thank you defender. Until next time.