New Zealand in winter: when you already know it’s going to be beautiful and dealing with disappointment… (a confession).

Anecdote one:

Walking around a truly pretty lake, after another delicious camper van lunch, looking at the Southern Alps, and being disappointed. Disappointed because it was a wee bit cloudy and we couldn’t see the tip of Mt Cook, disappointed because the lake was ever so slightly rippled and not reflecting the mountains, and disappointed because, well, the walk was really just a stroll around a pretty lake. Wow. What spoilt brats we are.

We’ve always struggled with this in our travels – expectation vs reality. Whether you live in the country or not, you’re often inspired to go to a place often because of the images you’ve seen. So when you go to a place and you can’t get the same image, because almost no one can get those perfect conditions, and images are constructed and edited anyway, you often need to check yourself and check your attitude and check your gratitude and start again. 

Top tip: If it's not looking great, make it black and white.

Top tip: If it's not looking great, make it black and white.

Anecdote two:

Getting trapped in a place for a day or two because it’s snowed really hard and the road is closed. Sounds amazing. Well, it sounded amazing, before we were there. When were faced with it, it made us feel uneasy, and a little stressed, and also made us feel really really bloody cold. We avoided this, and actually didn’t get trapped, but were forced to leave early, and we missed out on some stuff. We actually missed out on Milford Sound, which was a little disappointing. But then you check yourself, and your attitude, and you balance it with all the unexpected things that blew your mind, and start again. You travelled in winter after all, and you’re glad you did because you turn the corner on the Queenstown to Glenorchy road, and see the brightest, whitest, pointiest, shimmeriest, most beautifulest mountains you’ve ever seen, and they keep going and going and going. And you have such a good day. And then the next day you get to keep going and seeing more beautiful places. And you are blessed.

Anecdote three:

The west coast is wet. 

Anecdote four:

The west coast is quiet. We past only three cars between the glaciers and Haast. 

Anecdote five:

The Lewis Pass is stunning. Mauve, red, black, brown, white and scratchy.

Anecdote six:

Why so excited by the sight of snow? I’ve seen snow before. Ben’s lived in the snow before. But for a reason I have not yet figured out, every time we saw a dusting of snow on a hilltop, or clumps of snow in shady spots beneath trees or hills or over the mountain passes, we truly lost our shit. It was thrilling, and like we were experiencing it for the first time. 

Truth:

Your experience is what you make it. You take yourself wherever you go. Let yourself ride your emotions – the highs and the lows – that’s when you grow.

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Freedom camping: not always easy, but always the better story… (a truthful account).

I could tell you our best freedom camping spots, but I’m actually not going to, because part of the fun and the challenge is figuring that out. We had nights where we tried freedom camping and failed and ended up in a campsite. And we had nights where we were planning on heading to a campsite, but changed our minds and just stayed where we were. We also had moments where we took a random turn, with a sign that said ‘Lake Something or Other’, just to see if it was any good (it was totally average, by the way). Our best nights, looking back, were either spots we freedom camped, or remote DOC campsites – but when were on the road, we needed those easier nights at a campground too. But if I’m honest, it also took us a while to not judge what we were doing, and how adventurous we were being. 

At least with the campervan, you have the option of both – sometimes we pushed ourselves to be totally wild and free, and other times, we really enjoyed being able to plug in at a campsite, have a real toilet and shower (no offence little camper toilet, you were handy really) and have a totally safe and secure sleep. I’m not embarrassed to say we loved these cosy nights at a campsite as well as being in the totally wild, snowy and windy mountains at Mt Cook. We owned and loved both experiences. And the camper means you can make your trip exactly what you want it to be. We loved the vanlife and the vanlife loved us and we will absolutely do it again and we could quite possible even live in one (if we could bring our cat).

Campervan: cosiest thing ever… (a romanticised account).

So, it’s official, a campervan is probably the cosiest thing ever. It’s a tiny little house, on wheels, and it was exactly what we wanted it to be. Everything has a little place, and you have everything you need, and you don’t need as much as you think. Wake up, unmake the bed, skip a shower because it’s really rather cold, being July in NZ.  Make breakfast, stare out the window with your coffee, pack everything away into its perfect little place, and start driving. You pull over for lunch when you feel like it, stare out the window with a cup of tea… or a beer… or a wine… maybe drive some more, or maybe not, maybe read a bit… or maybe not… and let the hours roll past, let the landscape roll past, let the tunes roll past and let the good times roll.

We travelled in our camper a lot differently than we would overseas. We’re the kind of people that like to have some down time most days anyway, but we still felt that the entire trip moved at a slower pace. In saying that, our first few days boosting it down the North Island disappeared on us, but once we decided it was time to slow down, we really did slow down. And when we decided to stop, we really stopped. The first night of living this dream was in Kaikoura, on our country’s sublimely ragged and gnarly east coast – perfect pipe waves in front of us, and a pretty perfect range of mountains behind us, with a fresh dumping of snow. We spotted a gypsy bus from a distance and pulled off the main road to check it out, and sure enough, perfectly prepared nooks along the shore, private and isolated, yet comforting in there being just a few other campervans 100 or so metres away. That would’ve been enough, but there was a little left over fire pit too that had us like kids in a candy store. Literally, jumping in my seat with excitement at having found this spot. That was it. That was what it was all about. And I’ve just realised I’ve used the word perfect, like, three times. I’m not going to edit them out.

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And there were more of those nights, where we knew we were amongst the luckiest people on earth, being in this country, belonging to this country, and just living our damn life. But let’s not lie, there were a few nights that weren’t so perfect – for instance, it gets really really windy about 10.30pm (yes, we’re well and truly in bed by then) when you’re parked up high on a cliff to get a sunrise over the ocean. And the camper does rock and roll a bit (quite a bit) in high winds. When you’re freedom camping, very alone, in a very dark, very small place, with no other campers in sight, and no cellphone reception… it’s not always the best sleep of your life either. But those who have travelled will know, you don’t come home from an adventure and feel fulfilled in your soul if everything was easy. And actually, if there’s no adrenalin, and no challenge, then there’s no adventure anyway.

There was this other vanlife affirming moment for us – after a three hour fun and challenging and windy and icy tramp up the Diamond Lake track over Lake Wanaka (do it, it’s gorgeous). We got back to our camper, took off our boots and layers while the fresh air blew through the camper, the kettle boiled and the baked beans heated up. We were tired and exhilarated, with our blood pumping but cold exposed skin, with sniffly noses but warm muscles, with frizzy beanie hair but happy hearts. What a simple moment, thinking back on it now, but damn it was awesome. And we totally felt sorry for everyone without a camper. 

The Journey's End

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Our Journey

 

22 buses, 7 flights, 7 cars, 6 trains and 2 boats

a few taxis but countless rickshaws and tuk tuks

 

38,000 km give or take, 

over 11,000 by land in 22 weeks almost to the day

 

But the journey of our lifetimes will not only be measured nor remembered this way

 

 

6 countries, a few upset tummies, leeches and a few homesick tears

One experience of bed bugs followed by numerous and perfect beachside beers

 

 

Our linguistic journey began with Namaste 

and took us to Jullay and back again to Namaste

 

After crossing our first border from, India to Nepal,

‘thank you’ which was Danyavad instantly became Danyabad

 

The closeness between Thailand and Laos was felt in this way too

as the ‘hello’ greetings of Sawadee Krap and Sabaidee proved

 

But then this sameness across regions is equalled by the differences make no mistake

 

 

From saris, lungis, kaftan pant suits and, let’s face it, old fashioned trousers

To longyis, jeans and kinda cute, but unusual, day time pyjamas

 

Parantha and daal, dosai, curd, lassi and chai

Green curry, red curry, the unidentifiable, tom yam and pad thai

 

Laab, barbeque, papaya salad and sticky rice

Lok lak, whole fish, amok and sweet pepper fried

 

 

We followed the mountain ranges and traced the rivers

Crossed the deserts, jungles, highways and religions

 

We saw prayer flags, temples, stupas and shrines

We experienced culture without borders, and different notions of the divine

 

Below is a summary of our journey and what we did find...

 

 

 

Top Three Buildings

#1 The Taj Mahal, Agra, India (Without any hesitation)

#1 The Taj Mahal, Agra, India (Without any hesitation)

#2 Thikse Gompa, Leh, India

#2 Thikse Gompa, Leh, India

#3 Amber Fort, Jaipur, India

#3 Amber Fort, Jaipur, India

Top Three Landscapes

#1 The Himalaya, Pokhara, Nepal

#1 The Himalaya, Pokhara, Nepal

#2 The Ganges, Rishikesh, India

#2 The Ganges, Rishikesh, India

#3 Leh-Manali Highway, India

#3 Leh-Manali Highway, India

Ben's Favourite Food

Aloo Parantha with Curd and Pickle (the Indian Breakfast that changed his life)

Aloo Parantha with Curd and Pickle (the Indian Breakfast that changed his life)

Mikayla's Favourite Food

Noodle soup from the streets of Bangkok

Noodle soup from the streets of Bangkok

Cambodian Fish Amok

Cambodian Fish Amok

Favourite Drink

Indian Street Chai (without hesitation)

Indian Street Chai (without hesitation)

Favourite Street Food

Chickpea, samosa, daal and curd, Pushkar, India

Chickpea, samosa, daal and curd, Pushkar, India

Favourite Sari

Woman on the ghats in Rishikesh

Woman on the ghats in Rishikesh

Favourite Music

Ganga Aarti, Rishikesh

Ganga Aarti, Rishikesh

Favourite Festivals

#1 Women's Festival, Varanasi, India

#1 Women's Festival, Varanasi, India

#2 Ganesh Festival, Pushkar, India

#2 Ganesh Festival, Pushkar, India

Favourite Unexpected Moment

Tibetan Buddhist Puja at Diskit Gompa, Ladakh, India

Tibetan Buddhist Puja at Diskit Gompa, Ladakh, India

Wow, how far we have travelled, from here...

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To here...

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And beyond

 

We had good food and bad food, met good people and met bad, 

 

Learnt good histories and sad histories, and saw futures both good and sad too

 

We learnt that the most important thing in life is education

and learnt a lot about ourselves too

We carry our experiences home with us

and have a new life to pursue

 

There were challenges, trials, hurdles and disappointments for sure

But without them it wouldn’t have been an adventure at all

 

Our journey was life-changing, in ways we could never have known

And we go forward now with love in our hearts, hope in our minds, breath in our bodies and peace in our souls

 

एक साथ एक साथ

Otres Beach, Sihanoukville

The final two weeks of our trip, and a place to truly unwind and reflect on everything we've seen and done over the last 5 months. We have very little to show for this time, except a light tan and freckles. We've done nothing but swim, read, eat and drink...and it couldn't have been better!

 

Photos by Ben Journee

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The Big BC (Beach Chalet) where we practically lived for the entire 2 weeks

The Big BC (Beach Chalet) where we practically lived for the entire 2 weeks

For our last few days the weather was moody and wild and the beach was quiet and it was all a bit romantic 

For our last few days the weather was moody and wild and the beach was quiet and it was all a bit romantic 

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Otres Market 

Otres Market 

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Fire show at Otres Market

Fire show at Otres Market

Images speak louder than words?

Images speak louder than words?

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