That’s right, for the 10 month anniversary of my travels around the world, today marks the first day I will set foot in Australia.

I am writing this post in advance of my landing and have scheduled it to appear while I am probably still in-flight over the Tasman Sea!

But this post is less about Australia, and much more about my final days in New Zealand. After over 7 months there, I still have several stories to share. This story is about leaving and why it was so difficult to go.

What I’ve been up to this last month

Goodbye to the extravagant scenery

The main motivation behind my visit to New Zealand was to see “Middle Earth” in all its glory. And boy did I see it—from Hobbiton and Mt. Doom on the North Island to Fangorn Forest and the Misty Mountains on the South Island, New Zealand truly is straight out of Tolkein’s imagination.

Along the way I discovered New Zealand has so much more beauty than what was shown in the Lord of the Rings films.

There are pristine pink sand beaches, enormous limestone rock formations, thick, green native bush, red and black volcanic wastelands, giant dunes easily mistaken for the Sahara desert, too many fjordland waterfalls to count, receding glaciers carving huge valleys, and the clearest, bluest waterways teeming with marine life.

The rational side of me knows I’ve seen beautiful places before and I will see more beautiful places in the future.

My emotional side, however, still has this longing to keep seeing more of New Zealand or to see what I’ve seen all over again. This is the result of spending most of my life dreaming of visiting New Zealand—and then, as if all of a sudden, I’ve visited it. Dream fulfilled.

Dreaming of a place for so long becomes like a state of mind. It was my crack. And even though I’ve “quit,” I’ll always be an addict.

I guess this is why I will be clinging to the memories and photos for years to come. Or maybe I’ll just go back.

Goodbye to the way of life

I’m having a difficult time explaining what I mean by “way of life” but there is something about the way of doing and thinking things here that I admire so much.

New Zealand is how I imagine America would have been like in the 1950s but with modern day smartphones and internet (albeit internet speeds circa 2001). People aren’t old fashioned, per se, but it’s almost like they’re in this post-war mentality of “everything is just dandy!”

Perhaps it’s because I’m in a post-graduate school reality outside the ivory tower where people don’t actually think so negatively about the direction of the world or about the complexity of social problems or about the political corruption everywhere.

Then again, perhaps it’s a culturally-specific apathy I am picking up on.

Since I arrived here, I have heard complaints from immigrants and citizens alike that New Zealanders tend to be pretty apathetic about most things.

While I witnessed people protest against the police department's participation in the Auckland Pride parade, Maori locals express concern about stigma against their people, and farmers stand against the government's use of 1080 poison in the nation's forests, there is a general sense here that things will work themselves out.

People have this Hakuna Matata-like saying, “she’ll be alright,” in which they seem to just shrug their worries and problems away. Whether it’s an everyday hiccup or a nation-wide environmental issue, people seem to feel it doesn’t matter or things will just work themselves out.

A restaurant forgot to book your reservation? “She’ll be alright.” The insurance company hasn’t called about your claim placed two months ago? “She’ll be alright.” You have nowhere to sleep tonight because the government doesn’t provide enough emergency housing for its citizens? “She’ll be alright.”

I certainly find this mentality frustrating at times, especially given my background is in social justice in which I try to find the source of and solutions to social problems.

And yet, I’ve also found it to be quite a relief in many respects.

Life really simplifies a whole lot when you stop worrying. I still believe making an effort toward change, standing up for what you believe in, and fighting for your rights has a time and a place. It's the American way. But sometimes things do sort themselves out on their own. And sometimes it’s good to sit back, relax, and enjoy and focus on the good things in life. She’ll be alright.

Goodbye to the volunteer work

Volunteering at Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) definitely satiated my desire to have a positive impact on people’s lives and influence change despite the general apathy around me.

I could focus all my social justice-y energy when I walked through the Bureau doors and sat down with a client or assisted the manager with writing a policy document to send to national headquarters.

My energy was expended in the perfect way there. Moreover, I had the opportunity to aid people with a diversity of issues.

In graduate school, I was encouraged to narrow my topic of study down to a miniscule subject. At CAB, I had the chance to be a jack of all trades—to help anyone about anything.

I helped a social worker find furniture and financial support for a woman moving from rehabilitation into a new home. I helped a man identify a proper therapist who could talk to him about the sexual abuse he experienced as a child. I helped an immigrant identify his employment rights and file a formal complaint about an employer who illegally terminated him.

This work was utterly fulfilling. Jenny, the Bureau Manager, and the other people I worked with were wonderful, too. I already miss that place.

Goodbye to the friends made

During my time in New Zealand, I made friends with many locals and other travelers.

I met Les the foreman on the Cook Strait ferry who called to check up on me frequently throughout my time in New Zealand. I still think of Michaela from Christchurch as one of the coolest kiwi chicks I met. And I am still in touch with my German road trip buddies, Birgit and Harry.

I also hosted several travelers as Airbnb guests in Jono’s home, including an English couple, Lynsey and David, whom we have hung out with several times since they began housesitting in nearby Hastings.

I’ve grown to really like many of Jono’s friends who apparently like me a fair bit, too!

They ended up encouraging not one, but two separate goodbye dinners in my honor. When Jono’s work mates could not attend the first one, they planned a second one so they could be sure to see me off as well.

Living with Jono has meant meeting almost all of his family including his father, aunts, uncle, brother, and sister.

We spent the most time with his sister Amanda and her family. She became a very close friend in the short bits of time we got to hang out. I am also in love with her four children, Emma, Addy, Paige, and Ben. I feel a little heartbroken thinking they will be the ones who change the most between now and when I see them again.

Yes, there, I said it—“when I see them again.” I do hope to be back one day.

I suppose these are my thoughts right now because I’ve not only made great friends in New Zealand but I’ve also developed a relationship of the romantic kind.

If you’ve been following along with my posts, then you might have guessed I’ve become a bit smitten with a certain Kiwi. Jono and I met in December, traveled Northland together in February and March, and lived together for nearly 4 months.

We were very realistic the whole time, never forgetting the fact of the impermanence of my stay and the obligations we both have to our respective home countries.

This didn’t make it any less difficult to say goodbye. In fact, it took days of hesitation to click “purchase” on my ticket to Melbourne. As realistic as we were about things, our relationship inevitably grew and deepened.

For now, we’re going to go with the flow. Time and distance will tell what the future holds for my romantic life and his.

All I can do is stay in the present. And the present looks like kangaroos!