A Year In New Zealand – Reflections Of An Unplanned Year In The Same Country

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

A month turned into a year…

This week officially marked one year that I’ve been living in New Zealand. I thought I’d be here for a few weeks but I guess fate had other plans. Here are some reflections on the past year and what I’ve learned about New Zealand.

Arriving into a rainbow in Christchurch one year ago.

Copyright, 2021. Heather Markel.

It was a surreal experience, planning to travel the whole world in 2020, and ending up in Rotorua when the pandemic was declared, and having to pivot my plans. I headed up to Kerikeri in March, 2020, thinking it would be for a single week, while this Covid thing “blew over.” At the end of that week, New Zealand went into lockdown. I had to decide whether to pay $5,000 and fly home immediately, or stay put. Since New York City was the epicenter, I figured I should stay put, assuming that would be for 3 – 4 months, tops. That became 9 months in Kerikeri, and I started traveling around New Zealand again mid-December, at the peak of summer.

I have to admit, I feel it’s a huge accomplishment to have stayed in another country, for an entire year, without the need of a job or a husband! I mean, who ever thought that would happen as a result of Covid? Certainly not me, but boy do I feel lucky. My last extension was about to expire, and, once again, the government will be extending our visas. It’s both humbling, and bittersweet, because I wonder how much longer will it be before I can safely return to see my friends and family, without having to worry about potentially getting Covid? In the meantime, here are some reflections about New Zealand life and culture.

Maori legends are fascinating, and possibly coming true

I have loved getting immersed in some of the Maori legends while here. Recently, I saw the long white cloud (in New Plymouth on Mt Taranaki) for which New Zealand gets its name, Aotearoa. I fully understood, after seeing it, and it’s brother, near Wanganui, how legends of these brothers came to be. Another legend I’ve just heard again this week, is that New Zealand will lead the way, by example, of how nations should act for the good of mankind in the future. As Covid unfolds, it’s eery how New Zealand is emerging as a beautiful leader in compassion, integrity and a definite role model for other nations to follow. A place where the good of the people is prioritized over the economy. (And, ironically, this choice has led their economy to do exceptionally well. In other words, keeping your people safe and healthy first, does not mean the end of your economy!)

Second-hand shopping is cool

Back home, we look down on second-hand stores. At least, that’s my impression. You donate to them, but you don’t shop in them unless you can’t afford new clothes. I don’t think the “looking down” is intentional, it’s just that I grew up understanding that second-hand stores are not for people that have enough money to shop in retail stores. So, it was a bit of a shock coming to New Zealand and finding out how cool it is to shop second-hand. Everybody does it, and, in fact, it’s as if something is wrong with you if you don’t shop in them. Just today, I got a “new” shirt for about $2.50 and it looks like it was never worn. Apparently all the tourists donate their clothes, so Kiwis look forward to brands they wouldn’t otherwise be able to find!

It’s best to drink a large-size coffee

Flat whites are divine in New Zealand. After Colombia and South Africa, I’d say New Zealand is number three in best coffee I’ve tasted on my travels. The thing is, a regular size coffee costs $4.50 and a large costs $5.00. They do the same thing at Tank, the amazingly delicious smoothie store – it’s about 50 cents difference to “super size” your order, except it’s good for you. So, I feel encouraged to drink a lot of coffee while I’m here. 🙂

All Kiwis I meet think I should stay here forever

During my stay here, as a “Covid refugee”, everyone I meet thinks New Zealand is the best place on earth and that I should stay here, forever. Never mind the immigration issues, they just love their country and make me feel welcomed in it.

There’s a “thing” about Aucklanders

Maybe because it’s New Zealand’s largest city, and closer to a financial center than anyplace else in the country, it seems like everyone else looks down on Aucklanders. In face, they have a not-very-nice nickname; J.A.F.A.s At first, I thought these were sandals, like “Jandals”. Nope, they’re not. It stands for “Just Another F-ing Aucklander.” It’s used in good fun, but I have heard some deragatory remarks about them during the time of Covid.

People naturally go out of their way for you

With few exceptions, I have been bowled over by the helpfulness of people in shops and service-based businesses. Just the other day I went to the AA (it’s the auto shop, like the American AAA but here, AA does not stand for Alcoholics Anonymous, confusing!) to see if I could sort out my expired license (I couldn’t.) The woman came around the desk and into the shop to help me with the proper form, and when she realized I didn’t have the required secondary ID, stayed 10 minutes with me trying to think of all the possible options I could use and give me a helpful phone number. Just when I’m ready to give up, I’ve found, repeatedly, others trying to be super helpful.

The Maori culture and New Zealand’s efforts with them is inspiring

I still have so much to learn, but I find the Maori fascinating. Their tattoos, their faces that tell stories of generations of travel, their traditions. Just recently I learned that a film I absolutely loved, “Whale Rider” is based on a Maori legend! In fact, looking at the images from the film, I now see the costumes, the tattoos, everything is Maori, and I had no clue when I watched the film. Throughout New Zealand, cities have Maori names, and I’m trying to learn their pronunciation and respect that, and others do too. For example, Tauranga; it looks like “Tauw-ron-ga” but, in fact, should be pronounced “Toe-ron-ga”. There are many wrongs that have been done to the Maori people, and the government is actively trying to make amends. There is still resentment and anger, and that, also, has to be worked through, but, as an American, looking in on the huge racism problem we have, I find the efforts here inspiring. In all the talk about racism and talk about land being taken from indigenous people, I feel like Native Americans don’t get enough attention. I’m heading on a tangent, but suffice to say, there are layers and layers of depth to the Maori culture, and, also, to how New Zealand is trying to treat them with respect and make things right. There are also Maori gangs, something I didn’t know before coming here. That’s another layer. So much to learn.

I was recently in Gisborne and found it further inspiring that a monument of Captain Cook tells the horrid tale of how he and his men came to Gisborne for supplies. A misunderstanding they had of Maori reaction to them, caused Cook to kill 8 Maori men, among them a gardener who had the highest position in his community. The story is told, and there are monuments in memory of the men that were killed. I wonder how it would look in other countries, if they told the untold stories in their monuments.

We’re all on the same team

I’ve been part of a “team of 5 million.” I can’t imagine this concept in today’s America. Maybe not in most countries in fact. Here, Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister, has, for the past year, called on support from our “team of 5 million” to combat Covid. While the lack of abundant medical infrastructure is one part of the sense of urgency to keep the virus out, here, the success could not have happened if all or at least most, of the citizens complied with the rules. We go into lockdown for 3 cases of community spread, and we do it with pride. (Or, most of us do.) It is that constant drive to keep one another safe that is at the root of this country’s success. 

Like everyone, I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I do know that I have been incredibly blessed to be in this country, especially during the pandemic. When the borders open, I know many of you will want to come. You’ll find open arms, hospitality, and beautiful rolling mountains and blue-green seas awaiting your arrival.

Most of what’s keeping you from what you want – full-time travel, a new business idea, a radical career shift – are your excuses. After one session with Heather, you’ll understand which excuses are holding you back the most, how to get them out of the way, and you’ll leave with an action plan that helps you set the foundation to pivot into the life you want.

You know you don’t like your job, but you can’t figure out how to survive without it. Designed for frustrated professionals the program focuses on teaching you the key steps to shifting your work and money mindsets, and giving you the money and work strategies to pursue, leaving you empowered to quit with confidence and see that it really is possible to live happily without a stable job.

Whether traveling full time was your dream before the pandemic, or after, this session will help you understand how to prepare, what you need to know, and how to get your finances in order to make it happen. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the “How To Afford The Travel Life” eBook. You’ll also get an understanding of both what’s great about full-time travel and some of the challenges. You can also discuss planning help, and how to get the most out of your experience.

It’s always been essential to understand your money, but if you’ve lost your job due to the pandemic, now it’s even more important that you create financial empowerment. In this session, Heather will work with you to first understand your gaps in managing your money, then she’ll help you with the framework on how to ensure you can afford the life you dream of. You’ll get tips to save and budget, and also discuss ways to earn money that will shift you out of feeling like a victim of the times, to seeing the opportunities in front of you to begin making money in a different way.

You want to quit and travel full time, but when can you go? This eBook gives you all the formulas you need to calculate when you can quit and afford the travel lifestyle you want, in under and hour.

Thanks to the pandemic, we’ve all had a chance to ask the question, “what now?” If you’ve decided it’s time to quit your 9-to-5 to travel full time (or take it with you while you live nomadically), this program will help you address the core mindset, money, and planning gaps you have. This is the program that will help you acknowledge and overcome your fears about what’s next, figure out how to afford and sustain your travels, and feel confident about planning your adventure. Book your free session to see if you’re a fit!

You’re finally serious about traveling full time, but you cannot figure out how you’ll afford it. Or, you’re just curious whether it’s really even possible to afford the lifestyle. Bootcamp is for you! We’ll go dive deep into savings strategies before you go, how to save on the road, and how to sustain your travels, as well as look at lots of work opportunities if you want to work while you travel! Includes a 3-day build your budget challenge to get you thinking about how to replace dreams with real logical steps to make it happen.

You’ve dreamed about traveling full time for as long as you can remember, and now you’ve learned that it’s a little more challenging than you thought. Get help getting through the initial shock and changes when you realize you’re not on vacation. Learn how to manage those experiences where you meet parts of yourself long forgotten, and create a plan to help you have the best experience with your journey.

If you want to see every post I’ve written, starting with the most recent, this is the place to start!

If you need some tips on getting started, traveling safe, and saving money while traveling full time, go here! 

I’ve been traveling the globe solo, and many of my posts share thoughts and resources specifically for other solo travelers. If you’re a fellow solo traveler, or you’re thinking about solo travel, this is a collection you will find of interest.

If you’re looking to read blog posts about specific destinations, click the country of your interest below to go to it’s blog page and get country-specific reviews and thoughts.







Costa Rica


New Zealand









Sometimes I write posts where I give insider information on certain cities I’ve visited, which may be more along the lines of places to go, how to save money, etc. If that’s your main interest, check out this compilation of posts.

In 2020, I was traveling in New Zealand as the coronavirus pandemic brewed, and, got stuck there. If you want to read about what this time was like and traveling during this time, check out this page.

At the heart of international travel is learning about the many different cultures and ways of being around the world. The posts compiled on this page speak, specifically, about the cultural observations I’ve had.

Many of my blog posts are about things I’ve discovered about myself or about being, while I’ve traveled. If you’d like to focus on posts that only have self-discovery themes, click the button below.