A full rainbow in Wairarapa, New Zealand

Try saying Wairarapa five times fast.

Surveyor of the great glistening coast

Okay it actually sounds just like it’s spelled, but New Zealand is full of places with these Māori names that seem like a mouthful. Here I am, in The Wairarapa with a near total stranger named Tim as my guide, chauffeuring me through the southeastern coast of the North Island in his old green truck. How the hell did I get here?

Let’s rewind a little.

Tim and I met on Tinder. You think you know where this is going, but let me *record scratch* stop you right there. When I first arrived here, I got on Tinder because I A. didn’t know anybody and B. was bored. I went on a few dates with a few fellas, most nice but fairly uninteresting. Tim, however, was an exception. We had a crap ton in common and he was also a really rad guy, and when I saw his colorful socks and his leather jacket, I knew we had to be friends. When I broke the news that I was heading back stateside, he had the idea to shuttle me out to Wairarapa for the afternoon, to ensure I see some of New Zealand apart from just the city.

Wairarapa is a coastal region just north of Wellington. It is often referred to as The Wairarapa, for reasons unknown to me, but Wairarapa means “land of glistening waters.” The readcation is still in full effect, and I’m knee-deep in a Zadie Smith book, but I thought hey, it can’t hurt to get out and see some things before I fly outta here, right? A little fresh air would do me good.

Off we drove on a late Saturday morning, through the winding mountains of the Hutt Valley. Of course, I got motion sickness. The roads here are very, very windy and I’ve never gotten car sick as often as I have here. God help me. But as someone who has primarily grown up in the desert, I tried to push my nausea aside in order to marvel at the sight of so much foliage. New Zealand looks like if someone smashed Hawaii and southern California together, and then released a lot of strange birds into it. It is so breathtakingly beautiful to drive through the mountains and fields and farms. I felt overwhelmed with the urge to jump out the car and go hug a sheep, but it was very muddy from the rain and not in these leather boots honey!

I honestly didn’t really know where we were going. This was definitely a scenario that I’d been raised to avoid, and that my grandma would definitely shout at me for (don’t get in a car with a man you have met twice, are you crazy?!), but if there’s anything I’ve learned on my solo travels, it’s to trust your gut. So I trusted it, and Tim, and let the universe make up the rest. On this little road trip, we rolled through a few little towns; towns with names like Featherston and, wait for it, Greytown. A fitting name, in Greytown we stopped for a coffee (again, the coffee love runs deep in New Zealand) at a place that claimed to have the best pies ever. While we didn’t try the pie, I did take delight in a magical Jimi Hendrix poster they had above their pie case.

Can we just take a moment to appreciate this clever piece of wit

Also, a delightful small detail I’ve noticed is that when you order a mocha at pretty much any cafe here, you always get a marshmallow or two added to it. I don’t know why they do this, but I’m not complaining.

Behold! Not just 2 marshmallows, but also a chocolate-covered marshmallow fish!

As we continued to drive through the winding roads, now fully caffeinated, we finally came to the coast and could see the ocean. The waves were choppy, but just the right conditions for great surfing (with a really solid wetsuit, I reckon). The drive was filled with Tim and I chatting about gender issues, toxic masculinity, and our own families. Listening to him tell me about growing up and his family, I was struck by the serendipity of our meeting. So often life puts opportunities and people in your path, and you decide what to do with them. When you stay open to what the universe brings your way, the fabric of your life continues to be woven, thread by thread, through these experiences and I appreciate each and every one of them as they come along.

Next stop, Antarctica

Our final destination was a little town called Ngawi. It’s really just a little fishing town full of double-wides, that Tim informed me was known for an incident regarding a local self-appointed sheriff who had shot out the tires of some annoying local teens cruising around. We stopped for a bathroom break, stood near the water and took giant deep breaths of ocean air, and decided to head back to Greytown for food.

Misty mountain air near Remutaka trail

On the way back, I basically hung my head out of the window to help with my motion sickness. As I leaned against the door, hair flying around wildly, Emily Wolfe playing on the stereo, the misty mountain air slammed into my senses like a bolt of lightning. On that road, staring up at all of the beautiful trees, their thin spindly branches hovering over the roads like witch’s fingers, I felt that the world had me in its arms. Over the last few years, I am often called to pause and take in all of the strange delights of being alive. How is it that I’d find myself on the other side of the planet, driving along the jagged, black-sanded coast of a foreign place with a veritable stranger who turned out to be such a cool friend, and connected in more small, weird ways than I could possibly imagine?

These moments of connection really make my heart feel full. I don’t get it as much anymore, but when I first left home on my own, everyone freaked out. I got so many worried conversations from everybody, because as a woman your mere existence invites danger. That’s what people seem to think anyway. I don’t claim to be some sort of wise-woman, but if there’s anything I’ve learned over the last few years of traveling and pretty much doing whatever the hell I want, it’s that yeah, this world is not a kind place to women, but, and it’s a big but, it’s not as scary as you think. Not everyone is out to get you, and trusting your gut often leads to a lot of really important experiences. The fact that monsters exist is one thing. Living your life afraid of monsters is something else entirely.

I don’t claim to understand the ways of the universe on any level. But what I do know is that so far I’ve said yes way more than I’ve said no and it’s worked out like this: in my time of deep heartache, I made a cool new friend, and with that friend, saw a new part of this planet that I would otherwise never get to see. I got to know him a little more, and someone who was once a stranger, is now a groovy new addition to my little global network of interesting friends. Knowing that, despite all of my recent emotional turmoil, I have to stop and thank the universe for giving me one more day to soak it all in. Thank you for this day, thank you for this life.

Happy trails x

Sam

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