Welcome to Wanderlust Wednesday, a weekly escape for those who wander, but not because they are lost. Today’s excursion: A trip down memory lane and the reason I traded big city life in New York City for small town living in New Zealand.
Wanderlust (noun; wändər ləst): A strong desire to travel.
Yep, that’s my general state of being in a nutshell. You name it, I want to go there. Beach, mountains, city, farm, and everything in between. I want to see it all. Taste it all. Experience it all.
But for obvious reasons, traveling isn’t in the cards right now. For me, there are still too many unknowns to feel comfortable hopping on a plane any time soon, and under these COVID-19 circumstances, I’m simply not ready to jump “all in” the way I like to when I travel. So for the time being, I’m feeding my wanderlust a bit differently these days. From reading amazing travel articles and scouring beautiful Instagram accounts to immersing myself in extraordinary experiences and photos shared by others, I’m traveling virtually and living vicariously until it’s safe to hit the road and explore again myself. After all, I’d rather travel unconventionally than not at all!
Which is how this idea for Wanderlust Wednesday was born.
I’ve spent the better part of the last two years traveling on my own, including five months traversing both North and South Island New Zealand, a month driving across southern Australia, and a number of trips throughout the US peppered in between. I spent the majority of that time traveling alone, which means I’ve accumulated a whooooole lot of photos and videos, and experienced allllll the emotions along the way. I attempted to get Parched off the ground a number of times over the course of those travels, but as I explained in my previous post, the timing wasn’t ever right. I wanted to share my hilarious encounters with sheep and poignant moments of self-discovery and unexpected (scary!) challenges I was facing, but I just couldn’t get the words out. I was experiencing too much too quickly, and was so exhausted at the end of every day that I simply didn’t have the energy or mental capacity to give those moments the justice they deserved.
I’ve beaten myself up quite a bit over this, feeling like I missed the opportunity to share significant moments in my life because I didn’t do so right as they were happening. But the truth is that my experiences are no less significant today as they were then! And just because I didn’t share what was happening as it was happening, doesn’t mean I can’t do so now. If my time in quarantine has done anything for me, it’s made me even more appreciative of the adventures I’ve had and even more eager to share them.
So welcome to Wanderlust Wednesday, a weekly “trip” to somewhere special in this magnificent world we call home! Be it a place I’ve previously explored or a brand new destination we’ll discover together, my hope is that each Wednesday journey provides a brief respite from reality and a chance to satisfy our wanderlust, even if how we do so looks a little bit different for a while.
I thought long and hard about where to take you on our inaugural Wanderlust Wednesday excursion, and given that I’m recently back in the US after living in New Zealand, it was a no-brainer that that’s where I should start. But then it dawned on me that in order for you to really understand my fascination with the country, I should probably begin by giving you the back story on how I ended up there in the first place! So let’s go back in time about 15 years, to the day my love affair with New Zealand began (and long before I had the slightest inkling that it would become such a significant chapter in my life history).
I remember it like yesterday. It was a typical day of work. As head of marketing and investor relations for a hedge fund, I was joining my portfolio manager for an investor meeting on the 48th floor of our offices at 101 Park Avenue. I had accompanied him to dozens of these meetings, always held in the same small conference room, adjacent to the big and handsomely furnished office of our seed investor, and encircled by giant windows offering expansive views looking west over Manhattan. But this occasion was a wee bit different because instead of stepping off the elevator to familiar surroundings, I was greeted by stunning new artwork adorning the walls that literally made my jaw drop open. Everywhere I turned there were massive canvases of the most beautiful place I had ever seen in my life. I was sure they were paintings created by some brilliant artist with the ability to translate his or her interpretation of paradise onto a canvas. But they weren’t. They were photographs. Of New Zealand. And they were real.
I was immediately enthralled. New Zealand wasn’t a country I learned anything about in school, I just knew it was somewhere way over there next to Australia! So I went down a rabbit hole, reading everything I could get my hands on about this place that was visually heaven on Earth. And in doing so, I learned that the seed investor of the hedge fund I worked for had traveled to New Zealand back in the 1970s and fell in love with it himself, long before it was a popular tourist destination and when it was still somewhat undiscovered land. The instant connection he felt to the country prompted him to buy heaps of land, which over the years he developed into luxury lodges and elite golf courses in areas across New Zealand renowned for their unbridled beauty. Those photographs hanging on the walls of the 48th floor? They were photos of his properties. Which are all it took for me to decide right then and there that I would visit New Zealand one day.
Fast forward about a decade to 2016 – and two years into my second job as a wine writer for Parade Magazine – when I was invited by Wines of New Zealand to attend the country’s first ever Sauvignon Blanc conference as a journalist. The conference was to be held in Marlborough, the epicenter of the country’s Sauvignon Blanc production, followed by several weeks of eating, drinking, and exploring New Zealand’s beautiful and diverse wine regions. That invitation was literally a dream come true.
So at the end of January 2016, I embarked on a 3-week adventure that would ultimately change the course of my life. It started with the Sauvignon Blanc conference in Marlborough, complete with gorgeous lunches and wine tastings at various wineries across the region, a stunning coastline train trip, an ultra-posh garden party, and a fancy closing night gala set among grapevines, which today remains one of the most impressive events I’ve ever attended and one of the most incredible nights of my life. From there I flew up to North Island and enjoyed a beachside bash in Gisborne, an “Amazing Race” adventure through red wine country in Hawke’s Bay, visits to wineries throughout the quaint and lovely regions of Martinborough and Nelson, and some city fun in Wellington. After that I jaunted down south to Central Otago, where I enjoyed 1x1 time with winemakers, a personal driving tour through various sub-regions of Otago, and some relished time on my own. A return back north to Auckland followed, my trip concluding with a day of wine tasting out on breathtaking Waiheke Island before boarding my flight, leaving summertime in the South Pacific, and returning to reality (and freezing temperatures!) in Manhattan.
It was a jam-packed, whirlwind of a journey, and I got home feeling completely overwhelmed not only by the beauty of New Zealand, but by the casual and undramatic nature of its culture and the kindness of its people. I had been living such a frenetic life in NYC for so long that I had forgotten what it was like to actually stop and allow myself to simply be. I had been working for such a long time in an industry where money and power were the be-all and end-all of one’s existence, I was deeply impacted by the work-life balance that Kiwis not only enjoyed, but encouraged. And I had been fighting so hard for equality as a woman on Wall Street that I was blindsided by how women were championed all throughout New Zealand, and blown away by the tightknit community of women who seemingly supported one another’s endeavors and celebrated each other’s successes. I was literally on a high from my New Zealand experience, and as I got back into the groove of daily life in NYC I kept waiting for that high to wear off. But days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, and before I knew it over a year had passed and I was still thinking about New Zealand.
Every. Single. Day.
I couldn’t get it out of my mind, and I longed to go back. The only other time in my life that I had been impacted so significantly by a place was when I was a young girl and visited NYC for the first time. I remember my mom letting me walk a block on my own to the corner bodega, those brief feelings of freedom and independence so palpable that I knew in that instant I would live in New York one day. Because I had to. Which is exactly the way I felt about New Zealand. I knew I needed to return for longer than just a visit as a tourist. I needed to live there and to experience real Kiwi life. I needed to know if everything I thought and felt about the country from my brief three-week excursion was reality, or if I was just holding on to a the experience because of its uniqueness and the amazing people I met along the way. I needed to see for myself if day to day New Zealand living was what I made it out to be in my mind, or if I had just created a fantasy world for myself because life in the Big Apple had become so challenging.
So the wheels started turning and a plan began to form. It took over a year to come together – mostly because I knew I couldn’t leave NYC before I was fully and truly ready – but in February of 2018 I left my friends, my job on Wall Street, the apartment that I loved on the Upper East Side, the network of wine professionals I had worked so hard to cultivate, and nearly 15 years of city life to make my way to the small town of Blenheim in South Island, New Zealand to work as a cellar hand in a winery. And the greatest adventure of my lifetime began.
There’s a whole lot more to the story, and many more details to delve into along the way, but that’s the foundation of how my obsession with New Zealand began. So I warn you in advance that to start, many of our weekly Wanderlust Wednesday excursions may focus on this country that I love so much, so prepare for a bit of Kiwi overload! I promise I’ll mix it up along the way, but I’ve kept to myself the gorgeousness of New Zealand and the details of my life there for way too long, and now I’m ready (and pumped!) to relive some of it with you.