Some places on Earth seem to have more of a gravitational pull on you than others. If you look at the place on a map and it makes your heart palpitate and your mind daydream, you may find yourself going to great lengths to plant your feet on that very piece of the Earth. Part of this journey for us has been giving in to that mysterious gravitational force and attempting to uncover the reasons behind its strength. Along the way, we have found ourselves alive and awake in places that sang to our souls for so long; places that had affected so many of our decisions up to this point. During a time when we watched our good friends getting dogs, buying houses, and having babies, we struggled endlessly with the fact that we were approaching a pivotal crossroad, dancing apprehensively on the ledge of a dream that simultaneously looked so very attractive and so very scary. Jumping off the ledge was exhilarating and terrifying—resigning from our jobs, selling many of our belongings, packing up our home, and saying farewell to people whom we love immensely. What we learned very quickly was that beyond the scary unknown was a warm expanse where strangers’ eyes sparkled with a familiarity, where we experienced remarkable little moments that made our hair stand on end, and where we were accompanied by an internal thrill that only exists when you take a giant leap to follow your heart.
Our final destination has been the crux of it all. Over the years we have repeated its name in thousands of sentences, made many plans and broken many plans in its name, and wrestled with it as it resonated in our hearts, always knocking and nagging and making a big commotion whenever it looked like life could be taking us someplace else. I have succumbed to New Zealand’s allure for a third time. Brian spent seven months studying in the town of Dunedin on the South Island during his undergrad, and in the ten years since, New Zealand has made appearances in his dreams, compelling him to feel as though going back would feel similar to returning to a childhood home after decades of time had passed. The towering mountains shrouded in mists, the craggy, dramatic black sand coastlines, the rolling hills that look like Hobbit homes, the dense sub-tropic forests that trick your mind into thinking that you may actually run into a pterodactyl or a brontosaurus—this is the magic of these ancient Maori islands, the visible peaks of the giant submerged continent of Zealandia. When we arrived in Wellington, the evening was overcast and misty, cool air whipped over the bays and through the hills; we kept laughing nervously and asking each other if this was real life or if we were in a dream.
On our second evening back, while we were staying in Wellington, half a dozen faultlines on the South Island gave us a giant welcome (and quite a scare), producing a 7.8-magnitude earthquake just as the clock struck midnight. Our AirBnB house shook like mad for a good 30 seconds, but our host, Hooman, kept us calm and prepared us for the many aftershocks that we would feel. Sure enough, the ground quivered for days. Luckily, we were up on a hill high above the tsunami-threatened zone in a wood-framed house suited to absorb the motion. However, this made for the strangest first week back in the country that had lured us halfway across the world. The city center was shut down, the surrounding highways were flooded, the busses were not running, and we were isolated atop a hill (with a gorgeous view, thankfully) in a wind and rain storm that lasted for days. Brian’s Monday morning interview was cancelled (which was actually a bit of a blessing for him as his suit was held up in a box at customs) and we didn’t have a car, so we spent the week relaxing in first-world luxury and cooking meals with our ‘flatmates’, our amazingly friendly host Hooman, who is originally from Iran, and a super sweet French couple, Mike and Melanie, who are here in New Zealand on a working holiday visa. At the end of the week, after tons of weather (hence its nickname ‘Windy Welly’) and no interviews, we didn’t know how to feel about Wellington; it seemed quiet, small, and maybe a bit melancholy. So, we felt optimistic when we rented a car and hit the highway, heading north to Auckland.