Enjoying the beauty of New Zealand without any plans | VailDaily.com

Enjoying the beauty of New Zealand without any plans

Betsy Welch
Vail CO, Colorado
Betsy Welch

“It’s time to move on, time to get goin’.

What lies ahead, I have no way of knowin’.

But under my feet, baby, grass is growin’.

It’s time to move on, time to get goin.'”

Tom Petty

I need a plan. This makes me grumpy.

My Slovenian friend tells me, “You Americans are so obsessed with planning. Why don’t you just wait and see what happens?” This frustrates me because generally any statement that begins “you Americans” or “your country” is then proceeded with an unattractive fact or unfortunate event in history that I am meant to feel partially responsible for, be it the killing of the American Indians hundreds of years ago or the election of George W. Bush more recently. I have grown used to gently reminding people that I participated in neither national tragedy, but the fact that my Slovenian friend thinks that I, of all people, am obsessed with planning gets me more fired up than when a drunk guy at a bar tries to pick a fight with me because “you Americans” call your baseball tournament the World Series, but it’s really just American and has nothing to do with the world.

Really ” as if I had anything to do with this? My planned planlessness, on the other hand, I will defend with my right hand over my heart.

My grumpiness about having to formulate a plan is half-hearted. The reason that I need a roadmap right now is because my dad is coming down under in a few weeks, and I need to get myself to Australia. If my journey thus far had been as I loosely imagined it on the trans-Pacific flight over, jetting off to Oz would be old hat ” just another travel day. I was fairly certain then ” without planning it, of course ” that the month that stretches out between Christmas and my birthday would be littered with boarding passes, ticket stubs and topo maps. In fact, even the customs agent who interrogated me last time I was in Australia would tell you that I should have been to Southeast Asia and back by now (she read my entire journal looking for “evidence” ” a long and unpleasant story that I hope does not repeat itself when I re-enter that country next week).

Little did I know that come Jan. 27 I would be spending my birthday with the same people I celebrated Christmas with ” the people who have opened their homes and hearts to me ” in the only place in New Zealand where I can run into someone I know in the supermarket or get honked at by a friend while I’m biking down the road.

A special person led me to this special place, and I’ve let my days here turn into weeks and could easily watch them drift into months. Wanaka, on the South Island, is a small town not unlike Vail in many ways. Its playground ” and population ” ebbs and flows with the seasons, but locals will tell you that each one is spectacular in its own right.

I’ve met quite a few American and British expats at the local watering hole, and their stories of stumbling into Wanaka on holiday 20 years ago and never looking back sound strangely familiar.

As a traveler, I know that I have been blessed to be able to call this place home for the month. I have a bed (with clean sheets), a fridge (where I don’t have to label my food so that other hungry travelers mistake it for their own), a bike and access to a car (invaluable), but, most importantly, I have friends ” people who have taken time out of their lives to show me the mountain trails, secret surf spots, best bunny huntin’ grounds and so much more. When I leave for a few days to go hiking, I am excited to tell my friends back in Wanaka about my trip, and they genuinely want to hear about it, see my pictures and go out for a celebratory beer.

New Zealand, small but mighty, stretches out before me and, without rushing or pressuring, beckons me to explore beyond this lovely little lake and these strong, sunbaked mountains. Time to get that thumb sunburnt and those shoulders sore ” “time to get goin’.” My friends, I know, will be rooting for me all the way, and they’ll be back home in Wanaka next time I swing through town.

Contact Betsy Welch with suggestions, comments and publishing contracts at betsyjwelch@gmail.com.

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