My New Zealand Obsession

South Island, near Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

I am obsessed with New Zealand.

Last year, my kids, my husband and I were lucky enough to travel to New Zealand around Christmas time — a dream more than 30 years in the making for me. I have been fascinated with New Zealand since 1983, when I saw a movie called Utu — Maori for “revenge.”

Now, eight months after our visit, I am still incapable of shutting up about it.

I scroll through my photos, noting the bright green foliage that is summer of the land under the land Down Under. There are no palm trees in New Zealand, but there are four different kinds of ferns, and some ferns grow into trees, spreading out like giant fans above our heads. Thick mosses squish as you press down, having formed over many millennia. Primordial forests dot the land here and there, so thick and lush that it was not difficult to imagine a dinosaur pocking its head out from under a log that had fallen so long ago that a tree had grown over it, and since then, another tree had grown over that tree, which in turn had flowers grow from wines that encircled it.

Life, in its many abundances, found a way to prosper again and again. New Zealand is chaos theory and logic, all wrapped together, weaved into a tapestry of unsurpassed beauty of unspoiled blue lakes, waterfalls, fiord lands, ancient mountains, and strange flightless birds (and I do mean strange — kiwi birds are actually birds without wings!).

And have I mentioned the fact that the people are the nicest on this planet? No? Well, they were. Random strangers on the street, not just the people in the hospitality industry, were helpful, polite, nice to such a degree, that by the end of my trip I have wanted to take each person I met home with me, just stuff them all into suitcases, pack them away. “Uh, no, I am not smuggling these people out of the country, I have no idea why this elbow is sticking out of my carry on!”

I think about my trip every day since I have gotten back home, reliving random little bits of adventure, wanting to turn to my son or daughter and say, “Hey, remember when we were Queenstown, in the supermarket, and there was this ice cream, they don’t sell it here anymore, but they sold it there, do you remember the name of it?”

I talk to anyone who is willing to listen about our trip, and a few people who aren’t willing to listen, and are sorry they asked out of politeness. I’ve talked about the trip and shown pictures at lunches with friends, to strangers, at dog obedience classes, even at a funeral. I talk of blue glowworms in a cave, winding rivers, rugby, possum/alpaca yarns, manuka honey, venison pie, and pavlova desserts. It seems I do not an off switch.

Here’s the strange thing — I consider myself a fairly well-traveled person. After all, I am an immigrant from Belarus, I speak Russian fluently, I’ve been to Italy after I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree, my husband and I have traveled to Ireland and cities in Canada, and we have been to Mexico a few times. I am a widely-read person and have a circle of friends of different creeds, colors, philosophies and outlooks on life. And yet, this trip had affected me so much and so profoundly that I cannot stop thinking and talking about it. Constantly.

I have only one regret — I didn’t get up early enough when we were on a boat, The Fiordland Explorer, the day after Christmas, to see the stars that far south in the Southern Hemisphere. It was after five a.m., and although I saw a few stars, it was already getting light. Why, oh why didn’t I get up at four?!

On the second day back after our trip, I took a bite of the candy bar I brought back from Auckland. Swallowing the chocolate with the honey center, I yelled up to my daughter through the closed door of her bedroom, “Riva, do you miss it?” “Yes!” she yelled back. There was no need to be clearer than that.

Writer and storyteller, immigrant, wife, mom, knitter, collector of jokes, lover of cheap, sweet wine.

Writer and storyteller, immigrant, wife, mom, knitter, collector of jokes, lover of cheap, sweet wine.