10 reasons I'm excited to revisit New Zealand

I know a lot of travelers like to check off countries and destinations like a to-do list. I've met expats who have goals of visiting 100 countries -- or even every country. [and that's totally fine, if that's what your'e into.] but I'm the kind of person who believes an amazing destination is worth revisiting.

with that in mind, I'm SUPER excited to tell you that this year I get to revisit what is probably my favorite destination to date: New Zealand! Husband and I will be going back for two weeks over his holiday break this December. to be honest, we have been plotting this trip for a long time. we knew we wanted to go back to NZ from the moment we arrived there.

rather than try to take in two islands [like last time] we are going to focus our travels in the areas between Queenstown and Tekapo. this will allow us to return to some of our favorite places on the south island, but still explore new locations we didn't have time for on the last trip. our itinerary isn't quite rock-solid yet, but in my enthusiasm I've assembled a list of 10 reasons why I'm so so so excited to go back to New Zealand...

1// the campervan experience

on our last trip to New Zealand, we initially had planned to caravan around the south island in campers. that plan got scrapped in favor of renting a car and some tents [and filling in the gaps with apartment and hotel stays.] thanks to gale force winds and torrential rain, our camping experience was memorable... but less than ideal. this time around we won't have to worry about snapped poles or lack of sleep because it sounds like there's a firehose pointed at our tent.

I'm looking forward to just driving into a campground and being set. no grappling with tarps or trying to squish sleeping bags back into their cases. no tying ropes to trees and using logs and rocks to "stake" down the tent. and no lugging baggage in and out of apartments or up and down stairs. plus, driving around in a camper van just feels like one of those things you have to do while in New Zealand.

2// hiking deeper

we aren't going to do any of the major overnight tramps or mountaineering, but my list of hikes keeps growing and growing. this time we are making fewer stops and will have more time to spend in each location. so that means we have the chance to go out and see more of each place. we hope to cross off a few hikes we missed last time, go over at least one we've already done and enjoyed, and of course explore new mountains for fantastic views.

3// the wine. duh.

I won't claim to be an expert on wine [or really even that picky] but any time I am faced with a choice, I go right for the New Zealand sauvignon blanc. specifically, from the Marlborough region. in 2015 we visited a place called The Winery in Queenstown which has over 80 NZ wines available at the push of a button. [no really, you literally swipe a card and push a button to dispense the amount of wine you'd like to try.] I wouldn't be opposed to visiting an actual vineyard. but, let's be real. I'll be happy just to sip vino from a coffee mug at our campsite picnic table.

4// exploring Mount Cook

the biggest disappointment of our last NZ trip was missing out on Mount Cook. we got to see it -- from the car and from our "perfect" campsite -- but only from a distance. we never even made it into Aoraki National Park. after a sleepless night and frantically breaking camp at 5am to avoid getting caught in a sleet storm, we were forced to change plans and leave for Queenstown early.

I think I made Husband pinky promise that if we ever went back to New Zealand, we would go back and actually see Mount Cook. so we are. hopefully the weather will cooperate this time around and we can hike the Hooker Valley Track, and maybe even make it out to see the glaciers.

5// vacation for two

this trip will be the first vacation that Husband and I have taken together, alone, since our Christmas 2015 trip to Singapore. two years! I suppose we can count the 3 days we spent in San Antonio this summer... but other than that, all our travels have been with friends and family. not to say I don't love them or we didn't enjoy our time together -- but I'm looking forward to having some time away that's just the two of us.

6// the greenest greens and bluest blues

the natural colors in New Zealand are the most vibrant I've ever seen. on our last visit, it became a running joke that anytime I would step outside I couldn't help myself but comment on how blue the sky was. or how blue the water was. I kept taking my polarized sunglasses off and on to be sure my eyes weren't being fooled. all the shades of nature in New Zealand are hyper saturated -- the green of the leaves and the yellow of the grasses and even the black volcanic rocks.

7// sweatshirts, not sweaty shirts

it's been over 90F [feeling like over 100F] every day since I returned to Taiwan. summers here can be brutally hot and humid. summer in New Zealand, however, is pleasantly sunny and in the low 70s. on our last visit it was even colder -- one day it snowed! I know Taiwan will be cooler by the time we leave [and likely grey and rainy] but I'm still looking forward to sweatshirt weather. and even fleece-and-hat weather.

8// a return to Lake T

when we pulled into our campground at Lake Tekapo in the pouring rain, I don't think any of us realized how hard we would fall in love with this place. our rental car had been broken into that morning [and then we dealt with wildfire detours on the drive from Christchurch] so the time we planned to spend here was cut too short. but "Lake T" was the New Zealand we had dreamed of and more.

we managed to squeeze in a hike up to the summit of Mount John in the half day we had to spend in the area. and oh the views! those few hours ended up being some of our favorites spent in New Zealand. so obviously, we plan to return. and this time we will spend more than one measly night on the shores of Tekapo.

9// mountain views

I love mountains. if you've read this blog for any amount of time -- you know that I love mountains. the best way I can explain it is: they just call to my heart. and what is New Zealand full of? mountains. [ok, and sheep.] I can't wait to wake up and stare at mountains with my morning coffee. to watch the sunset light their peaks orange and red. to climb them and feel like I'm on top of the world...

we can start taking bets now how many times Husband will call me Fräulein Maria.

10// did I mention the wine?

I did. but it's worth mentioning twice.

really, I could list dozens more reasons I'm excited to head back to New Zealand. friendly people, tasty food, incredible plant life, lack of language barrier... you get the idea.

would you ever return to a place you had already visited? even one as remote as New Zealand? for me, it wasn't even a question of whether it was worth the trip again. I can't wait to revisit Queenstown and Lake Tekapo, finally make it to Mount Cook, and see what Wanaka, Makarora, Glenorchy and Mount Aspiring have to offer. [if you've ever been, please let me know your recommendations for hikes, holiday parks, and eats!]

I know there are plenty other amazing places on this planet to explore. but New Zealand stole my heart in a way that I'll probably always want to go back.

linking up with Follow Your Sunshine, SilverSpoon London, Adventures of a London Kiwi and Erin Out and About for the monthly travel link up, 


my expat story: year 3

if our first year in Taiwan was all about adjusting, and the second year was about growing -- then our third year in Taiwan was all for exploring.

[photo above from a somehow-never-blogged visit to Taroko Gorge, October 2014]

my arrival in Taiwan for our third year began with having to plan what is commonly referred to as a "visa vacation." due to my early summer departure, certain persons not knowing the visa regulations, and weird global politics about recognizing Taiwan as an independent country... I had to take a solo trip to Hong Kong to apply for a new residence card.

my first experience with solo international travel was pretty mixed [mostly because of some creepy dude who forced me to take a photo with him then stalked me around town for an hour.] that being said -- I managed to navigate myself around Hong Kong, eat some tasty tacos, visit a monastery garden, and watch the sun set from Victoria Peak. oh, and get my new visa.

"one of the greatest dangers of expat life is that even living in a foreign place can become familiar over time. some days, even living in Taiwan, I have to force myself to look at things as an adventure."

back in Taiwan again, we were gearing up to start the search for a new school and a new country to call home. and so, I was determined to get in as much Taiwan as I could before we left. one of my friends and I established what we fondly called "scoot adventures" where we would hop on our scooters and drive off to see our city. usually, I wanted to go dragon hunting. one of the most magical afternoons we spent all alone inside a temple on the outskirts of Hsinchu. these are still the best dragon photos I've shot in all my 5 years in Taiwan.

that fall was when I really first started treating Taiwan like a travel destination. it seems silly now, but I hadn't really thought of our "home" in that way. but once it clicked in my brain I did my best to take advantage. in October, we had visitors. that meant exploring new places [like the temples and pagodas in Kaohsiung] and returning to old favorites [hiking through Taroko Gorge again.]

by this point, we had officially put in notice that we were leaving our school in Hsinchu. we loved our community there, but it just wasn't what we needed long-term. Luke and I had started a search for new destinations. they ranged from Chile to Bulgaria to the UAE, and my feelings on these places were just as varied. I was anxious about adjusting to a new country, but also looking forward to [hopefully] a place a bit more western and easier for me to feed myself and communicate.

all of these plans were disrupted when we were contacted by a school in Taipei. emails led to interviews led to offers, and before I knew it we had signed a contract. we were relieved to have our future settled, and to know our transition would be relatively painless. I admit a small part of me was disappointed that we wouldn't be exploring someplace new [or leaving Asia.] but the largest reaction was excitement.

Christmas was uneventful [especially with Husband teaching] but we had some major plans brewing for Chinese New Year break. first, we visited our friend's grandmother in Taipei who cooked us a traditional Taiwanese feast. it was amazing, and delicious, and I felt honored to be able to experience something so special. also: dragon whiskers. but after our feast... we were off to NEW ZEALAND!

I cannot write about New Zealand without resorting to hyperbole. it. was. incredible. we spent 3 weeks driving around the country and soaking in the fresh air and sunshine. our road trip was not perfect -- we had car troubles and got stranded in a gondola, the weather messed with our tent poles and our itinerary. but it was still the most magical place and I spent our trip with a face full of smiles, a hand full of cameras, and a heart full of wonder. Lake Tekapo. Cathedral Cove. Queenstown. Milford Sound. Nugget Point. honestly I have limit myself or else I'd write a whole post just on this trip. so for reference: our travel itinerary links to every post on New Zealand I have published on this blog. [and there are QUITE a few.]

returning to the muggy and smoggy and non-food-allergy-friendly world of Taiwan was, in a word, rough. but I did my best to make the most of the life we had left in Hsinchu. I visited some of my favorite dragons. I started running. we bought a bread maker so I could have gluten and dairy free bread. some days I intentionally got lost. I cleaned out my wardrobe [and a lot of our random junk] in preparation for our move to Taipei. I stressed out about visa renewal and whether I could make it back to Michigan for my cousin's wedding... but it worked out. apartment hunting was a bit of a mess as well, but we finally found a place.

through all this, I was still blogging fairly consistently. my memoir manuscript was struggling -- and would continue to do so -- but the blog was thriving. that's probably why I focused so much more energy on it. in addition to all the Hong Kong, Taiwan, and New Zealand, there was my annual birthday post [this time on turning 30] and a recap of the best and weirdest search terms that led to my blog that year. I published a bit about my writing process, about trying to blog with heart, and put together my first [and so far, only] reader survey.

aaand going back to read the results post is actually making me want to assemble a new survey...

in June, I said my bittersweet farewells to Hsinchu. we boxed up our apartment and sent it to live in the spare bedroom of our future apartment in Taipei, to be unpacked on our return in July. 48 hours later I flew back to the states.

at the end of year 3, I spent some time looking back on the lessons expat life had taught me thus far. it all reinforced that some days are mountainous and momentous, and some days are a major struggle. and occasionally, the only difference between the two is your attitude.

"travel will change you, but only if you let it. keep an open mind and an open heart. anything can be an adventure if you choose to see it that way."

year 3 milestones

first [international] solo travel
drove on the left side of the road
bought a fitbit and started stepping
turned 30 years old
taught a blogging class for kids
went inside a hobbit hole
the dingy/VSCO photo edit phase
camped in Middle Earth
played tourist in Taipei
found my way to the mountains
actually touched a dragon

4 countries traveled

Hong Kong
New Zealand

a few favorite posts

Hong Kong // thoughts on traveling solo
blood moon lunar eclipse
behind the blog: my writing process
the art of getting lost
Kaohsiung // Confucius Temple
some days you will struggle
a mountainous farewell
expat confessions: 3 years abroad
everything from New Zealand

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