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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

It’s hard to compare countries. I love Italy. I love Laos. I love New Zealand. The three countries are totally different as are the reasons that earned them a special place in my heart. More than any place I’ve ever been, New Zealand reminds me of Hawai’i (minus the whole freezing cold thing). The similarities are great, both culturally and geographically. I spent just 5 weeks in New Zealand, 3 weeks in the north and 2 weeks in the south, during winter, and had an incredible time.

New Zealand is known for its natural beauty and, although I only scratched the surface, I was blown away by the scenery. The diversity, degree of unspoilt land, and accessibility was astounding. From beautiful beaches and bays, to snow covered peaks and everything in between, New Zealand has it all.

There wasn’t a single place in New Zealand that I didn’t care for. Auckland didn’t really “wow” me, but I still enjoyed myself. In terms of outdoorsy stuff, BAY OF ISLANDS, ROTORUA, ABEL TASMAN, ARTHUR’S PASS, and MILFORD SOUND were all off-the-charts awesome. Wellington had a great vibe to it, as did Queenstown. Although host to a recent tragedy of an almost unimaginable scale, CHRISTCHURCH was a place of hope, a testament to resiliency, and a great place to visit. Levin and its surrounding beach communities of Waitarere and Waikanae were great even in winter. Visiting summer destinations in the offseason provided a true glimpse of Kiwiana and I loved what I saw.

It’s a cliché, but that doesn’t make it untrue. The people truly make the place and New Zealand was no exception. I am extremely fortunate to have a friend in Gary Maunakea-Forth, who’s originally from Levin. Gary put me in contact with his family and friends who welcomed me into their homes with open arms. Kev and Jo, a wonderful Kiwi couple I spent a few days with in Laos last year, took me in to their home and gave me a week that felt more like being at home than on the road. CouchSurfing and HelpX allowed me to meet amazing people who made my experiences with them ones I will cherish forever.

While I can’t pick a favorite country to visit, New Zealand is the first place that I’ve ever said, “I’m coming back.” Thanks to everyone that made my time in New Zealand so special.

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