It is a baffling thing to experience one’s own home as a visitor; to see the place more familiar to you than any other anew, with a completely fresh perspective.
I am becoming somewhat familiar with this unusual sensation, having now experienced it on more than one occasion. The first was when I was seventeen, having returned from a year in Sicily, where – falling in the time before social media or Skype became a part of my life – I had been almost completely removed from any reminder of home or even my own mother tongue for one whole year. I can recall in most distinct terms the sense of reverse culture shock I had upon my return, and how truly bizarre it was. The cultural confusion as I readjusted to what had, not long ago, been normal to me – not kissing people’s faces when meeting up with them, or not answering a question with a gesture (which none could interpret) rather than a word.
I experienced this most recently – though I confess to certainly a lesser extent – when visiting home just last month. It has been almost exactly three years since I flew away from New Zealand’s shores in pursuit of a new life and home in England, even if only for a finite period of time. Home England has well and truly since become to me, which was always going to create a wealth of confusing feelings when returning – not for good, mind, merely for a visit – to my truest home, New Zealand.
Despite my feelings being confusing when visiting, they were all positive. It was lovely really, to realise that while I am not quite done with my adventures on this side of the world just yet, when I do eventually go home for good, it is a move I will make happily. I experienced New Zealand as if for the first time, and it was not hard to appreciate why it has the reputation of one of the most beautiful, and most liveable, places in the world. It made me realise how much I took for granted when I did live there, and I felt like a tourist myself, walking wide-eyed through the very places I grew up and know like the back of my hand. I couldn’t stop exclaiming at the most ordinary – by a New Zealander’s standards – things. After three years of living in London, what was once ordinary now strikes me as quite the opposite. Here are some such aspects which blew my mind a little bit during my visit.
NEW ZEALAND: THE PLACE WHERE...
... The view out your aeroplane window takes your breath away
Whether flying over the green coastal regions of the North Island, or the mountainous inland areas of the South, I couldn’t deal with the beauty of these views
... Catching up with girlfriends looks like the cover of a romance novel
Two friends and I headed to Mangawhai, just 80 minutes north of Auckland, to enjoy the beach and go for a walk. We saw three other people for the entirety of our wanderings, had a snooze in the dunes, and looking back on the photos I took of my beautiful friends (of which they were completely oblivious) as they walked the length of the beach ahead of me, it looks like an engagement shoot, the setting is that beautiful. It was unreal.
... Coffee is not a drink so much as a way of life
Cafe culture in New Zealand (and Australia, to be fair) is on the same level as pub culture in the U.K. and the coffee is nothing short of world class. Also, coffees can be ordered in small, medium, large and BOWL size, and I was all about embracing the bowls, having been deprived their glory these past three years. Lastly, coffees in New Zealand are often accompanied by a chocolate fish or jaffa, two common sweet treats we have which I miss pretty much as much as I miss my parents.
... We have our own kind of Christmas tree
In the Northern parts of New Zealand, coastline is densely populated by pōhutukawa trees, which bloom bright red in the lead up to Christmas, making it known as New Zealand’s Christmas tree. It was just starting to flower last month while I wad there.
... Dusky pink takes on a whole new meaning
Central Otago, the place I love more than any other (so much so I got a tattoo for it) is known for its rolling golden brown hills, and when the sunsets hits their slopes, the light is unlike anything you’ve ever seen
... The country’s ‘big smoke’ looks like this
As with most countries, residents from around the rest of the nation look upon our biggest city and its inhabitants with something akin to scorn, but living in London, whose population alone more than doubles that of our whole country, I have a newfound appreciation for the seaside city I grew up in.
... Coming down the plane steps is like stepping into a painting
Granted, Queenstown airport is significantly more picturesque than many around the country, but still... HOT DAMN.
... The horizon is as sharp as a razor edge
I wasn’t even aware I’d been missing a discernible horizon until I saw New Zealand’s again, where the line between sea and sky is as crisp as they come. In the U.K. and all over Europe and the other parts of the world I have been, land/water and sky both gradually merge into a haze of grey, swallowing the horizon almost completely.
... Iced chocolate and iced coffee is made with ice cream, not ice
What would be considered an abomination by many, but the only way I consider iced chocolate should be drunk (I am my mother’s daughter, and this point is one she feels is of up-most important in life).
... Chilled-out island life is a 30 minute ferry-ride away from our biggest city
Wineries, beautiful beaches, cruising around windy roads on a scooter, and your only worry being finishing your ice block before it melts... Waiheke Island is truly a little slice of paradise right on Auckland’s doorstep
... Our history is short, but its relics are gorgeous
Despite the presence of Maori people in New Zealand for centuries before European settlers arrived, sadly no buildings or structures predating colonisation exist, the oldest building in the whole country being a missionary station built in 1822. In Central Otago, there remain many ruins of old schist buildings from the gold rush days, such as these remains of Lindis Pass Hotel.