I’m home now, and it’s weird. My brain is still 16 hours ahead, The Squad has separated, I haven’t learned anything about native New Zealand trees in three days, and life doesn’t make sense anymore. Okay, I’m being dramatic. But I’m rereading my old blog posts and writing this one because I need closure and I need to remind myself that yes, I did just spend five weeks in New Zealand, and yes, it was the best five weeks of my life.
Here are my last thoughts on my spectacular summer from humid, hot, and boring South Florida:
I love firsts but I am not good at lasts.
Everything about my summer in New Zealand seems so poetic and laughably wonderful, so it makes sense that on one of our last full days together in New Zealand, The Squad experienced a few poetically beautiful Moments, which ultimately distracted us from the terrifying concept of Leaving.
On the Friday before our departure, the Hostetlers took us on a hike in the Ahuriri Scenic Reserve. We passed through the parking lot where we left the GatorWaka on our very first day in New Zealand, when we hiked up into the Port Hills for the first time. This made me sad. At the beginning of July, that hike marked the beginning of a grand adventure, with five weeks sprawled out in front of me like some golden path to self-actualization. And suddenly, I could measure the time until my departure with mere hours. I faced the first last that really hurt: our very last hike. We made our way to the opening of the reserve, and began walking.
It started through the woods, then up into a rocky cliffside, and then leveled out to a grassy pathway. It was a little windy, but not too cold and not too cloudy.
The view was beautiful, as always, but what really tugged at my heart was that I could see so many things we’d experienced from the top of the cliff. I could see the Kaitorete Spit (the narrow shore that separates Lake Ellesmere from the Pacific Ocean), which we’d visited just the day before. I could see the Rapaki Marae, where we stayed to learn more about the Maori culture, an evening that I will always remember. I could see Quail Island, where we helped with restoration projects. I could see the colors and views that made me fall in love with New Zealand in the first place. It was the perfect way to bring our trip to an end.
On Saturday, we started off our day on a sustainable farm, where we learned about renewable energy and got to feed sheep. We left to visit the Lincoln Farmer’s Market and then the Riccarton Bush Farmer’s Market, ate one last lunch at Hillyer’s, and then visited the Willow Bank Preserve. We saw all kinds of animals – exotic and native – but my favorite memory is getting to see kiwis for the first time. There are only about 55,000 kiwis left in the world, so it’s rare to see them in the wild. Being able to see them at the Preserve was a treat. They’re nocturnal, so they’re kept in a massive chamber with a reversed photo period. Even in the dark, we could see them scurrying around in the artificial forest, foraging through the soil and leaves.
At the same Preserve, we watched a Maori presentation and ate a delicious dinner together. Dr. Hostetler presented us with our class gifts, matching orange and blue t-shirts with the famous New Zealand phrase, “Sweet As,” written across the front. It was an emotional night – I shed all the tears I needed to shed – but it was, of course, another special day.
The next two days were for packing and preparing. I don’t want to relive the feeling of dread that tugged at my gut as I crammed all of my belongings back into my suitcase, or the pain of having to say goodbye to the Hostetlers and The Squad, or the most panicked series of flights to get back to the United States I’ve ever experienced (there were delays, there was a lot of running, there were more than a few tears from yours truly…). It’s been a rough few days. But the whirlwind has settled, and I’ve finally sat down to record my final thoughts.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to study abroad with such a fantastic professor and nine wonderful students in the most beautiful, unique, and inspiring place in the world. I’m thankful for the best summer of my life, and for every single one of the times I yelled “best day ever” from the top of a mountain, the middle of a forest, the back of the GatorWaka, or over a flat white during a tea break.
Thank you, UF. Thank you, New Zealand. Thank you, Squad. And may you all have many more adventures in the coming years.
“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Wishing you well,