Pinpoint: New Zealand
I visit New Zealand last December because I can. Because that year I felt strong and healthy enough in my own body to take myself to where my favorite movie trilogy was shot. Because I wanted to feel like I was in Middle Earth and have the photos to prove it. But I soon realized I would not do this place justice with any of my photos. Being in New Zealand felt like something else, its own world, separate from all the places I’ve been or am familiar with.
It makes sense since humans only settled on the islands around 700 years ago, New Zealand is one of the newest land masses to be “discovered.” It’s in a self-contained world, with humans populating some parts here and there. We get in a taxi to Queenstown in South Island and I’m surrounded by familiar things, my giant 56L backpack, my two friends. And although outside I also see things I recognize, like houses and cars, they’re set against the most unreal mountains, jagged and ominous and all encompassing. There are houses littered on the side of them, along with the shadow of the clouds, and faint rays of sunlight. I feel as if I’m almost in my own dream, and as I travel through the islands, there are moments when I don’t understand where I am.
It’s the moments I have when I have an alone day, and I take the ferry to Rangitoto Volcanic Island, where no people live but is home to the largest Pohutukawa forest in the world. I hike up the volcano hill, amongst families and tourists and other strangers, past black debris and rock and ash, and growing amongst them are the beautiful Pohutukawa trees, with their vibrant red flowers extending out towards the sky.
It’s when I’m on the Milford sound cruise ship and we line up for a buffet lunch and tomato sauce. We drink coffee and tea and eat from our trays. But step out onto the deck, with my small cup of diner-quality coffee, and suddenly we’re cruising right towards the most awesome waterfall, three times the height of Niagara Falls. The water is pouring down on us, torrents and roaring and we all scream and try to snap photos on our phones. But how can we hope to capture a place like Fiordland, a place that gets almost 200 days of rain a year, or even just a place like New Zealand, which lies at the boundary of two tectonic plates, getting such intense seismic activity that the zone is actually called the Ring of Fire. As soon as the photo is taken the land could already have moved from a small earthquake.
I feel good that I was able to bring myself to New Zealand, to experience all these wonders and magnificent feats of nature. To see trees and bushes growing on the mountainside in the fjords, trying to survive, hoping to stay for a little while, as the peaks and earth is changing all around them. I’m in awe that people have found ways to access and enjoy these places that are so delicate, and that I can too. I climb up volcanos, paddle in kayaks, struggle through sand dunes, brave sudden rainstorms, swat away sandflies, all so I can have my own snapshot of New Zealand. I know that the next time I visit, it could be a completely different place.