The Unexpected Conundrum Of Being Able To Leave New Zealand 

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

Suddenly being able to think about the future feels like a foreign concept…

These are strange times. As the birds chirp, and a horse and foal trot past my window, I am aware that my time in New Zealand will have to come to an end. The Covid vaccine has started to be rolled out in New Zealand. With it comes a range of emotions.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Chocolat, you remember Juliette Binoche’s character decided, whenever the strong north wind began to blow, it was time for her to pack up and leave. I’ve had many stirrings, like the North wind blowing inside of me, while in New Zealand, that I must continue onward. As the vaccine became a possibility, I could feel that stirring again. However, I’ve been surprised by the range of emotions to hit me. First, the emotion of “being stuck” came out. I made my life to travel the world, and though I feel I’ve been in the literal best place in the world to survive Covid, it came with a sense of not being able to leave, safely. Now that leaving is going to become a possibility, everything has taken on a nostalgic feeling.

penguins in Ushuaia

The foal I’m getting friendly with.

I went for a walk the other day. Every direction presented me with rolling green hills. Sheep grazed in the distance (no cows, unfortunately), dogs came running to greet me, and I ended up in a conversation with a stranger, who turned out to also have the greatest name on earth, Heather! It was supposed to rain all week, instead it’s been mostly sunny. When it did rain, double rainbows came out to bless us with their presence. It’s rainbow season once again! For the first time in my life, I saw two rainbows in one day – the double rainbow in the morning, and another lovely one at dusk, shown below. None of these things are special. This is just an average day in this beautiful country. And yet, each day feels special.

I am thinking of my travels, so far, around New Zealand. I’ve been around the south and north islands not once, but twice. Though I haven’t seen every nook and cranny, I have seen some great ones. I milked cows in a tiny town called Opotiki that most people outside New Zealand probably never heard of. I tasted wine in Napier and Marlborough. I went to the Antarctica Experience in Christchurch and pet husky puppies. I saw cows not just on every bus trip, but also in Bulls and it’s sister city Morrinsville. I got to have local Maori star legends explained to me under the night sky in Lake Taupo, and see the view from the top of Queenstown. I saw kiwi walking outside at night (and may do it again), volunteered at a local Op Shop, danced at Latin Fit, and became part of a community in Kerikeri. (I even got an article about that published in Stuff, one of New Zealand’s national papers!)

“I thought I’d be happy to go, but I was wrong.”

Koutu boulders. Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2021, All Rights Reserved.

I got familiar with the beautiful Ta Moko (full-face tattoo that some Maori men have) and began learning about their culture, and have tried to learn a bit of their language, though not with too much success. I’ve explored islands, made new friends, seen the Art Deco “not” festival, watched a marathon and the America’s Cup. I bathed in mud, saw where the Hobbit calls home, and discovered there is more in life than just a green kiwifruit (it comes in gold and red, too!). I’ve learned what it’s like to live in a place where lawsuits almost don’t exist, people are laid back, and go exceptionally out of their way to be helpful.

It should not, therefore, come as a surprise, that once the reality of the possibility of leaving set in, I began to question why I would leave this haven to enter the chaos of the world. I’ve been here for 15 months (as you read this, it will be my 15-month anniversary!) and wouldn’t be surprised to be granted another year, which would be unlikely to ever happen again without the current relaxed visa conditions for those of us already in the country. Learning from Covid, I decided that instead of making plans, I should make peace. Time to feel. Time to explore. Time to determine what I want. And so I will continue to enjoy the chirping fantail, the call of the Tui, and the grace of the Pukeko while I delight in my daily flat white, continue to dance away at Latin Fit, rejoice at the time I have spent here, and let tomorrow show it’s path to me in it’s own time.

Queenstown from above.

Photograph by Heather Markel. Copyright 2021. All Rights Reserved.

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