When I began exploring New Zealand, I did not know what I wanted to get out of the experience. I couldn't have told you why I was there or what I was really going to do for the next five months. All I knew was that I wanted to see as much of the country as possible, using hitchhiking as my primary mode of transportation and staying in as many backcountry huts as I could. I didn't know it then, but those two goals encouraged me to experience a side of New Zealand that I hadn't known existed.
Whether I was riding shotgun with a total stranger or playing cards with a group of foreigners in a backcountry hut, I could not escape the focus on community that seemed to run through every chapter of my time in New Zealand. Every day, I was a part of a community of traveling strangers who would flit in and out of each other's lives. Despite the fleeting transiency of those relationships, they were built on a foundation of mutual trust, respect, and responsibility.
Of course, I didn't just come to New Zealand to understand their sense of community. From Cape Reinga in the far north to Stewart Island in the south, New Zealand is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. There are thousands of kilometers of well-worn trails, acres and acres of wilderness areas, and hundreds of huts just waiting for you to call them home. Spread across one of the most diverse landscapes in the world, it is hard to go wrong in New Zealand. My goal was to do what made me happy. For me, that meant spending more time in mountains than on beaches, more time in the backcountry than in cities. It meant finding solitude, but also rejoicing in the company of total strangers. It meant ending the day huddled around a wood fire whenever possible. It meant following my curiosity. It meant pushing my physical and mental limitations. It meant reading as often as possible, though that became much more difficult after my Kindle broke. It meant eating clean and living cheap.
Over the course of my time in New Zealand, I hitchhiked over 4,500 kilometers with 102 strangers hailing from 22 different countries. I hiked about 1,000 kilometers through deep forest, along alpine lakes, and over jagged ridges. I slaughtered countless sandflies. I felt physical exhaustion and fear. I spent over forty nights in huts. I read dozens of books and listened to countless podcasts. I ate oatmeal and cous cous far too many times. I met people from countries I hadn't even known existed. I struggled with a presidential election and politcal reality that I felt so removed from. And, of course, I handstanded in just about every locale I could think of.
If you haven't been to New Zealand, definitely think about adding it to the old bucket list. Whether you seek mountains, adventure, or culture, this is a place for you.