I haven’t pitched my tent for two weeks now. The only form of a travel plan I have is which direction I’m headed in so I have no idea where I’ll be staying each night until the sun has almost set.
Pitching for the night and packing up in the morning means less time on the road and paying full site prices for half a day, so I start sleeping in the car in secluded spots and I learn to sneak into camping grounds during the day to shower and keep my food cold.
By Monday I’m in Punakaiki on the west coast and the weather has darkened again along with my mood. I drag myself out of the car to walk around Pancake Rocks and become fascinated with a cavernous blowhole in the middle of the cliffs. The ocean swirls inside it, charging back and forth and roaring with almighty rage like a trapped animal and I feel like we could be related.
Next stop is Franz Josef which is home to the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. I finally set up camp for once at a backpackers and take warm refuge inside for what ends up being four days, hiding from responsibility and the miserable weather. The trips to the glaciers are fascinating and I have a ton of fun taking photos, but most of me just wants to curl up under a blanket and do nothing.
Have I grown tired already?
The week disappears and I realise I leave for Australia in just two weeks. On the fifth day the skies are graced with sunshine once more, so I dye my hair the colour of pine trees to refresh my stagnant mind and finally tear myself away from the backpackers, heading south to meet Constance McDonald in Wanaka.
My spirits start to lift as the scenery grows increasingly stunning; Haast Pass grants me a glorious and satisfying view back at the southern alps where I’ve come from; heading into Otago, valleys surrounded by enormous ranges with crystal lakes beneath them have me speechless; but as I reach Lake Wanaka I’m completely blown away. This must be the New Zealand everyone’s been telling me about.
It’s so overwhelming that I don’t even know where to stop for photos; so I don’t. I hate the fact that I’m not capturing this because I know I won’t be coming back any time soon, but it just seems so pointless to stop - I can’t do it justice anyway.
I wake up in the car on the edge of Lake Wanaka on Sunday morning. The lakes are my favorite place to sleep because the view from the windscreen is an endless stretch of silky water and it appears as if you’re floating.
I find Connie at her beautiful home in the afternoon where we drink wine and get to know each other. We discuss topics I’ve never spoken out loud about before like feminism, nudity and self-love. She shows me her scrapbook full of intriguing personal clippings and I listen to her stories of heartbreak and ideas of social aspects that are new to me. This girl is mesmerising, so delicately passionate and full of energy, it’s truly inspiring to listen to something fresh for once.
We stay up late on the couch planning our sunrise swim and photoshoot tomorrow and she invites me to stay the night. It’s the first bed I’ve slept in in six weeks and I’m ready for the best sleep ever, but it’s quite the opposite; I lay awake all night thinking about Connie and how she completely lives her art, and don’t sleep until 5am.
We hit the road around 8:30am, meandering down dirt track through the valley towards Mt Aspiring. We’re too late for sunrise but the morning glow still illuminates the mountain ranges which stretch forever into the distance and wild brown cows gallop alongside the car.
We stop at Wishbone Falls, a huge cascading waterfall where rainbows hover above the surface of the pool below. We both strip off with no hesitation and shoot some beautiful portraits of each other in this place where surely magic is made. I can’t help but look at her; fiery orange hair contrasted against such smooth, pink skin and she exudes womanhood, a nymph of the waterfall gliding through the mercury pool and I could swear rainbows appear where she walks.
Just when I think it can’t get any better, our next stop is Motutapu Gorge, a turquoise, crystal clear pool which runs through a narrow corridor in the rock. As we start to undress again without question, a man stumbles upon us from no where and we giggle like school girls, slightly embarrassed but proud in our femininity. We swim in the ice cold glacier water and we are like fair maidens of old times, natural bodies mixed with natural waters. Heavenly!
Back at Connie's house we try to warm up and feel our limbs again and she insists I stay again tonight, but I've already made the decision to leave. My time in New Zealand is running out and if I don’t force myself away now, I’ll stay forever. It’s a tough choice to make but deep down there is consolation, for this wild little town is the deciding factor that I'll return to this incredible country.