Sometimes the world works in such mysterious ways that I simply can't fathom it, but can only accept it. Such it was that at the beginning of this year, I made a resolution (or rather, renewed a resolution) to be open to opportunities presented to me and to live more by saying "Yes" (and yes... re-watching Jim Carrey's "Yes Man" film at the beginning of the year played a part in that inspiration). As I talked about in my previous post (An Icelandic Adventure), these last couple years I've been trying to teach myself to live more wholeheartedly, embracing life as far and wide as possible, stepping outside of my introverted comfort zone. And so it happened that right after renewing this resolution, a passing thought crossed my mind: Maybe I should go to New Zealand. I thought about it for a few days, and came to the conclusion that I could never afford to this year in my life as a "starving artist". Until... that very week, I started receiving emails, one right after the other, from three completely different organizations but all with opportunities for me to fly to NZ. I felt like I was having one mini heart-attack after another every time I opened an email to see another opportunity presented, butterflies fluttering nonstop in my stomach. It was like New Zealand wanted me to be there. I grasped my first-coming opportunity. Thus, on April 8th with the combined efforts of AirNZ and Lake Wanaka, I found myself on the longest flight of my life to one of the most beautiful places in the world (and basically pooped my pants the whole way there).
I, along with several other amazing Instagrammers (Chris Burkard, FOLK Magazine, Trey Ratcliff, Johan Lolos, Matthew Vandeputte, Emilie Risteveski, Matt Glastonbury, Mia Glastonbury, Steen Jones, Liz Carlson) were all brought to Wanaka as guests for Lake Wanaka's instameet, which took place over the weekend and had over 100 attenders. It was amazing to meet with so many like-minded adventurous people all in one place, to make new friends and share knowledge and inspiration with each other. The rest of the week was spent adventuring and exploring with my fellow guest instagrammers (plus a strange barefooted wild man tag-along, Geoff... as well as Taylor Swift fan, Eric Johnson). The week was such a surreal experience to explore New Zealand with these people, some of whom I have been inspired by for months, and all of which I can now call friends. I couldn't be more thankful!
Every day was jam-packed with adventure, from the moment my plane landed. I suffered excitedly through 45 straight hours of no sleep on the first day (anyone else not able to sleep on a plane?). I was already nearing 35 hours of sleeplessness when I landed in the morning, but the adrenaline of 4-wheel driving up and around the mountains kept me going for the rest of that first day. I couldn't believe how beautiful the scenery was, I fell in love instantly.
On one of the first mornings at Lake Wanaka, we woke up to fresh snow on the mountains, the first of the winter season. If there's anything that gets me more excited than regular mountains, a mountain with a fresh dump of snow will do it! The transitioning season of autumn to winter is always my favourite, and it was rather nice to experience it twice in one year in both the upper and lower hemispheres!
If you ever visit Lake Wanaka, you have to take an Eco Wanaka tour to Mou Waho island!... Basically a lake on an island within a lake on an island, and also home to the rare (and adorably dumb) Buff Weka, a bird which has been extinct on mainland NZ since 1920. This little uninhabited, peaceful and predator-free island amazed me with its lovely greenery, scenery, wildlife and beautiful birdsong. I would go back in an instant if I could. It had the most perfect views of all the mountains surrounding it across Lake Wanaka... We spent a couple hours exploring the island, which started out sunny but soon turned misty as more snow and rain began to fall on the mountains across the lake. It remains stunning in any weather.
My very favourite day, about mid-week into the trip, was the day we went to Rob Roy glacier. Waking up long before sunrise, we drove an hour through the Matukituki valley to Mount Aspiring National Park, and started trekking through a beautiful river valley as the last of the night sky stars dispersed and the first blue light of day began to glow on the snowy mountains towering around us. My heart soared as the rising sun brought all the glorious details of the mountains to light... every direction I looked stopped me breathless. Some of our group continued along the trail which crossed the river and disappeared into a rainforest (on their way to Rob Roy glacier), but a couple of us stayed back in the valley longer to photograph the mountains in the morning light. I spent about an hour running back and forth in complete awe, taking photos in every direction until I reached the point where I had to stop, put the camera down and just stare and turn in circles while muttering words such as, "Whoa..... Wow..... Ugh.... Dude... Whoa." My vocabulary is pretty top notch in these situations.
We soon continued along the trail, crossing a suspension bridge over a raging turquoise-blue river, and into the lush rainforest for a couple hours of steady hiking up the mountain valley, until we reached the point where the rainforest met with the snow and glacier. It was absolutely incredible, one of my favourite places I have yet seen in this world.
The rest of the week flew by in a whirlwind of plane rides through the mountains, hiking and exploring rivers and lakes, watching the most incredible sunsets, being flown by helicopters into the mountains and dropped off for hours of exploring in complete quietness and solitude in the high, freezing snow-dusted mountain peaks (and unknowingly getting my face sunburnt to a crisp). I was amazed at how many beautiful places there were to explore around Wanaka. I only got to experience one week but I feel like I could live there for years and never grow tired of it.
Of course, I must express my sincerest thanks and gratitude to Carla Munro (pictured below, fairy queen of New Zealand!) and all the other wonderful people working at Lake Wanaka Tourism. I really can't thank you all enough for making this trip possible, it's a week I will remember for the rest of my life. Your kindness, generosity and fun-loving adventurous outlooks on life will stay with me always!
...And to wrap up this post, I highly suggest watching this stunningly beautiful video created by Chris Burkard and his crew during our week in Wanaka. I won't say anything more... the beauty leaves me speechless.