As a solo traveler and generally independent person, I really, really enjoy my alone time.
Most of my time spent traveling has been spent with other people. My adventures around New Zealand involved spending almost 24 hours a day camping, hiking, and driving with at least one other traveler.
It’s nice to share travel experiences in the moment with a companion. But not every moment.
So how did I, as a solo traveler in New Zealand, get alone time away from my travel companions?
I took a hike.
Two solo travelers trying to make it work
Carolina and I are both solo travelers. We organized our trips independently from others, we boarded our flights and scheduled our accommodation on our own, and we chose the paths we individually wanted to take around the world.
Our separate paths both began in Iceland, where we met, and led to another overlap in New Zealand months later.
There we were, exploring the South Island of New Zealand together after months of solo travel in separate countries.
Carolina and I had been enclosed inside a car and a tent for nearly two weeks straight. I had spent the previous night getting over a cold while Carolina had checked out a local pub.
After a night of chicken noodle soup (aka “Jewish penicillin”), ibuprofen, Emergen-C, and movie watching in a Te Anau hostel, I was feeling much better.
Carolina, on the other hand, had a hangover.
We explored the town of Manapouri in the morning. It’s a small, marine town mostly catering to visitors who book tours out to see Doubtful Sound.
Tours to Doubtful take people across Lake Manapouri and over a chunk of land before they reach the cruise ship that will officially take them around the fjord.
We decided a Doubtful Sound trip would be fairly redundant after our tour of the epic Milford Sound the day before. So we stopped the car next to a park where there was Wi-Fi to figure out a plan for the day and a place to sleep for the night.
The long story short of it is neither one of us could decide on something to do together.
Carolina just wanted to take a nap and use Wi-Fi for most of the day. Meanwhile, I was up for something active and new now that I was feeling refreshed.
There was certainly a bit of fire in our eyes as we discussed the possibilities. The heat was rising as the minutes passed.
But then a light bulb went off in my head.
We’re both solo travelers. Why don’t we just do things separately for a while?
To the Kepler track I go
Carolina agreed. She grabbed her laptop and a sleeping bag and sauntered into the park. Meanwhile, I drove Frogger back up Rte. 95 in the direction of Te Anau.
Earlier, I had seen a sign for the Kepler Track. The Kepler track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. There are 9 of them in all of New Zealand. I had already done Tongariro on the North Island, and walked part of the Abel Tasman on the South Island.
I was ready to hike another one.
I left Frogger at the Rainbow Reach car park and decided a four hour walk to Moturau Hut and back was doable.
Alone in a mossy forest
I entered the track across the Rainbow Reach swing bridge. I love these bridges—they are very common all over New Zealand and never get old to me!
The track took me along the edge of the Waiau River and eventually cut deep into the wood.
I stopped walking several times to take in the changing scenes around me. Every tree, fallen branch, rock, and stump was covered in a thick layer of bright green moss.
Side tracks passed through bogs and wetlands.
Paths wound about through beech and podocarp forest.
It felt good to be here with my own thoughts, hiking at my own pace, not having to talk to or entertain anybody.
Me, myself, and fungi
But I was not alone. Nature was all around me and not only the moss but the fungi!
This entire region is a part of Fjordland National Park. The fjords make the ground moist and perfect for the growth of fungi.
Everywhere I turned there were mushrooms sprouting.
Avoiding other hikers
The Kepler track is a popular hiking track. So being completely alone with the company of nature was only made possible by my headphones.
Yes, I am guilty of putting headphones on while I was hiking through the forest—but ONLY when I heard other people coming.
As an experienced New Yorker, I know how to avoid people even when there’s a sidewalk full of them. Headphones have a beautiful way of assisting with that social urge to acknowledge a person passing you by.
I acknowledged them only when I wanted to. A simple smile, knod, or “hello!” was all I needed to do after popping in my headphones. Sometimes I wouldn’t say or do nothing. Just because.
I didn’t feel bad about ignoring people because, after all, this hike was not about other people. It was deliberately about me.
Swimming in Lake Manapouri
After about two hours of hiking, I finally made it to the hut. The hut sits on the glacier-carved lake with a gorgeous sandy beach. I trotted down to the water, passed by all the people taking a break from their hike, and found a secluded spot a few hundred meters down.
There, I removed my sweaty outer clothes and jumped into the icey water.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh. This was it. I hiked two hours to float here on the waves in solitude. And it felt so, so good.
I dragged my feet through the sand up to where I had left my day pack and arranged myself across the top of a large piece of driftwood.
The sun dried my skin and soon my thoughts turned to Carolina.
Was she able to take a nap? I hope she’s comfortable in that park still. I wonder if she would have liked this hike. I can’t wait to show her the photos of this view!
After about a half hour, I was feeling reenergized by my alone time. It was time to get back to my travel companion.
Reuniting after the hike
I pulled up to the park and caught sight of Carolina’s sleeping bag.
I found her asleep hugging her laptop and face buried in the grass. I lied down next to her just as she woke up.
She greeted me refreshed and in good spirits. I had a clear plan for the evening: shoot down to the southern tip of the south island and spend the night at a campsite down there. She was into it.
A few hours of doing our own thing was exactly what we had both needed.