Two of my great passions are outdoor adventure and travel. When I can combine the two, well, that’s heaven. I find it particularly entertaining when I’m in a foreign land and have to learn a new vocabulary and a different perspective on outdoor pursuits.
Take New Zealand, for example. Kiwis are notorious outdoorspeople with a healthy streak of daredevil. They invented bungee jumping, after all. Who would think of such a thing? They also came up with jetboating. And zorbing—where you’re strapped into a hollow plastic ball and sent tumbling downhill at high speed. Whaaaat? Like I said, Kiwis like to live a bit on the edge.
My husband and I once spent two months exploring the South Island in a van. A very small van, mind you. It was the kind of experience that could make or break a relationship. Fortunately we came out of it unscathed—enhanced, in fact.
When you go to New Zealand, you have to acquaint yourself with a few things that might seem a bit strange. The sky is upside down, so the stars are different. Water spins down the drain in the opposite direction. And they use funny terms for things. Ever heard of a flat white? That’s Kiwi for latte. Want bangers and mash for dinner? That’s sausage and mashed potatoes. Your friend is a bloke. “Bob’s your uncle” means everything is alright. If you’re buggered, you’re exhausted.
And there’s a whole set of outdoor terminology to wrap your head around. Do you like to go tramping? That’s hiking or backpacking. And you do it on walking tracks, not trails. You might go camping in a caravan park (kind of like an RV park). Freedom camping is when you find your own spot. Better pack a jumper—and not jumper cables. I mean a sweater.
There are also times when you say the right word, but aren’t understood. One time we stopped at a gas station and asked for some ice. The attendant looked confused. I repeated the request. And again. And again. I finally had to describe “frozen blocks of water.” The guy said, “Oh, you mean oyce!” We got a pretty good chuckle out of that one. Same word, totally different pronunciation.
One thing is for certain: I highly recommend a jaunt to New Zealand before you’re pushing up daisies (i.e., dead and buried). But you have to realize that it rains—a lot. You’re going to get wet. When we were there, it rained almost every day for five weeks straight. Did I mention that we were living in a very small van?
Coming from Colorado, I had a tough time fully embracing the wet at first. I remember heading out on a multi-day “tramp” (that’s backpacking for those of you who weren’t paying attention earlier) and gingerly hopping across the first stream. It was a nice effort but totally unnecessary. By the end of four days, I was so used to being drenched, I walked through rivers without a second thought.
There are huts dispersed throughout the backcountry. At first blush, these seem like great shelter for those who aren’t inclined to sleep on the ground. We packed our tent and declared that we would not set foot in a hut. Ha! Remember what I said about the rain? After a particularly soggy night, we realized the huts are great. You can build a fire, cook a meal, dry your clothes, and swap a few stories. You just have to embrace the camaraderie.
And there are the bugs. New Zealand has lots of sand flies, whose bites both hurt and itch—a lot. It doesn’t take long to figure out you need plenty of bug spray. And if you’re dropping trow, better do it quickly! The mosquitoes weren’t too bad—except for one time we call “the mosquito incident.” We woke up one night in our van to discover that—despite the windows being closed—the car was filled with thousands of the buzzing pests. They weren’t biting, but the sound was enough to drive us mad. To this day, I’m still not sure what was going on. We ended up smashing so many mosquitoes against the van walls, it took hours to clean the smears.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
I say all of this with great fondness. It’s often the amusing mishaps that stick in the memory banks. Where’s the adventure if everything goes perfectly? Funny vocabulary and rainy weather aside, New Zealand is an incredibly beautiful place. There are few countries in the world where the landscape is so stunning, and changes so dramatically so quickly. You can drive three hours and pass from high mountains to coastal rain forest to glacier. It’s amazing.
The people are great, too. They have lots of beautiful outdoor spaces to explore, and they’re happy to share them. One time we rolled up to my cousin’s friend’s house with hardly any notice, and he took us on a four-hour ATV tour of his ranch. It was living, breathing Middle Earth. To top it off, we got to herd sheep at the end.
My advice? Combine travel and outdoor adventure as much as you can—whether a few hours from home or across the globe. And do it with an open mind. The less expectation you have, the more receptive you are to whatever a place offers. You might get a little uncomfortable at times, but you never know—you might find yourself absolutely captivated by something you didn’t anticipate.