All good things come to an end and this time around I was totally gutted to be leaving Queenstown. For a third time!
But my six month Nepal, Aus & New Zealand epic was complete (apart from Everest Basecamp!) and it was time to move on. Since being stuck in New Zealand for the 2020 pandemic, I've been nomadic and staying with whoever will host me, dodging Winters and riding out tourist visas. But I've always been conscious that it's not sustainable. It's exhausting and slowly takes a toll on my mental health so at some point I would need a base. When I left the UK last Autumn I'd convinced myself that Kendal would be the place for me. I'd never been. But it sounded nice enough.
That was until Air New Zealand lowered me out of the clouds to reveal Lake Wakatipu. Before the wheels had even hit the runway I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of knowing that I was home. "Awww crap" I thought. "That's the most complicated option!" But at least I knew where I was meant to be for a change.
Walter Peak in all it's glory! Prints available.
Holding that thought in my back pocket, I settled back into Queenstown life and decided to use the next three months too feel out my next big life decision. Various people had expressed how I'd only experienced the town during lockdown which was VERY different to when it's overrun by tourists so "it may not be for me".
This turned out to be nonsense.
OK the main beach in town was certainly a heck of a lot busier. But I had a secret weapon. Living in Central London for a decade! For the last five years, I'd had Tower Bridge and the Tate Modern on my doorstep. Queenstown at the peak of Summer was a breeze compared to the numbers of tourists I was used to. If anything the background cacophony of different languages actually made me feel even more at home!
The borders being open also came with the bonus of being able to pay it forward and host. In the space of a month I had four different combinations of friends (and strangers, who are just friends you haven't met yet) pass through town. This gave me the chance to excitedly rave about the place I love so much. Who I am today has been forged by the last few years of Otago-based drama and to be able to share my passion for the place just helped me love it even more.
That being said. It wasn't quite the Summer I had expected. I naively assumed that I would get back into a rhythm of bashing out hike after hike, getting stuck into the back country and filling my portfolio with beautiful New Zealand landscapes. But Queenstown had other ideas and this trip took on a completely different flavour.
Don't get me wrong. I still had adventures. I've seen some beautiful places and I've taken up mountain biking and cold water swimming. But the previous isolation of UK house sits, a sh**ty time in Nepal and catching Covid in Kathmandu had taken a deeper toll on my mental health than I had appreciated. To counter this I leant HARD into the friendships that now surrounded me. I found myself staying much more local and spending almost every single day in the company of outstanding people. Sharing meals, games and good times.
I also felt a strong draw back towards wellbeing practices. I took up yoga two to three times a week. Sat and cried at the beauty of sound baths. Melted in saunas and grimaced through ice baths. I've even discovered ecstatic dance which is a whole over thing!
But all this work on myself came with an unexpectedly whopping dose of "real life". What do I mean by this? I feel like the pandemic was unique in that it created a two year bubble where I had nothing better to do than adventure my heart out. (Sorry, I know I'm INCREDIBLY lucky!!) This time around, with my Queenstown relationships strengthened, I found myself holding space for much more real conversations. I'd cracked open a heap of my own trauma and in sharing my struggles, witnessed others in return. People close to me were going through really REALLY sh**ty stuff. Depression. Relationship woes. Serious injuries. Bereavement. I found myself supporting and being present for levels of pain that I've never previously been around. It was tough. At times I'll admit it broke me. At one point I completely questioned my faith in the Universe. The chaos and unfairness of it all rocking me to my core. I think I've cried almost every day for the duration of March. But I've been exactly where I needed to be. I've discovered new depths of compassion, both in myself and others, and I wouldn't change it for the world.
A fresh batch of New Zealand! Prints available.
In a whole summer I've only been on two hikes, which on paper feels pretty disgraceful. Hardly expedition artist behaviour! But what I've found in their place has been raw, ugly and beautiful all at the same time. I left for the UK feeling more connected to the human experience than I ever realised was possible. There's no dodging it. Life is messy and tough. So we all need to be there for each other and be grateful for every moment we have.
Now that I know Queenstown is my home (or at least the closest thing I have to one right now) I've found myself referring to this next stint in the UK as "holiday". A weird reversal that warms my heart. So the next few months are a familiar drift around various spare rooms, a quick expedition to Iceland and then it's "go time". I've got a room waiting for me. Rock-solid friendships. It's time to take a deep breath and shoot for Residency. I'm all in.
Thanks for reading!