It’s pretty common for people to judge those who travel often. We hear horror stories from other travelers about friends who have ghosted them because they are jealous of the travel life, parents who try to talk adult children out of traveling based on fears for their safety, and family members who assume the traveling family is rich, entitled, and stuck up.
We don’t know any of those people. (At least we think we don’t.)
We are so incredibly grateful that our parents, extended family members, and friends have been nothing short of supportive of and excited for our travels. We stay in close contact with our families, often sharing updates from each other daily, and call our parents as often as possible. They listen when we need to complain, want to hear about the incredible things we see and do, and stay up-to-date with the places we go. Being so far away from anything or anyone familiar for this extended period of time would have been infinitely harder without the constant friendship and support from those we love most.
As much as we love exploring the world, being so far away from our families is definitely the hardest part of traveling full-time.
We’ve signed up for a travel alerts on flight deals from airports near our families just in case any mistake fares are posted for an area we plan on going to, and have told everyone that we have an open door policy anytime someone wants to meet us somewhere. Last November we were thrilled that my mom jumped on a deal to fly from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Auckland, New Zealand, for 50% off the typical rate. She has always wanted to see this country, and her spring break happened to fall during the exact time we’d be settling in to a 2-month stay near Auckland. Coincidence? I think not.
We saw my mom on a spontaneous trip to the United States for Christmas and New Years, but that didn’t stop us from being irrationally excited to meet up with her a mere two months later across the world. The thing is, traveling is so meaningful to us that it means the world to be able to expose our daily life, struggles, and wins with those we love most. My mom’s visit is the second time we’ve met family members abroad, and we feel so grateful for everyone who has shown enough interest in and support of our lifestyle to actually do it with us!
We only had a few days in Auckland before my mom arrived last Sunday morning. We didn’t have much in mind to do with her yet, but she had some plans of her own. She asked to see whales, visit Hobbiton, and see Maori culture in Rotorua. That pretty much designed our itinerary! We filled in some gaps between those big excursions, and had a jam-packed week of New Zealand fun.
Mom arrived at 9:00 am. We brought her to our AirBnB for a nap while we went to church at noon, then woke her up for lunch at the apartment. We chatted for hours, and finally dragged ourselves out to Hunua Falls. Mom was completely enchanted with the first bit of nature she saw in New Zealand, and then equally happy with the gorgeous drive down the coast which ended in fresh and delicious fish and chips.
We checked out of the AirBnB at 10:00 am and made our way to a shopping center to get Mom a haircut, buy her sunglasses, and exchange some USD she’d brought along. At 1:00 pm we went on a 5-hour whale and dolphin safari cruise through the Hauraki Gulf. We didn’t see any of the native Bryde whales, but did find our boat in the middle of dolphin pods three times. Mom and I originally sat at the exposed bow of the ship so she wouldn’t have to walk too far to reach the best viewpoints, but frequent wave splatters eventually made up flee toward the stern. The dolphins seemed to understand that we were there (and immobile), and made quite the show for us dancing and jumping through the waves of our boat’s propellers. They are incredible animals! That night we drove down to Hamilton.
The first thing we did in Hamilton was visit the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints temple. We were surprised to learn that the single New Zealand temple is currently in the middle of extensive foundation upgrades and not available to visitors. Our disappointment didn’t last too long, as we found a museum dedicated to the history of the Church of Jesus Christ in Polynesia. It’s fascinating! We spent almost 2 hours there, and I left feeling so proud of the shared history we members of the church have.
We reluctantly left the church site to drive to Matamata, home of The Shire (aka Hobbiton). It’s the filming location of the Hobbits’ shire from the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, and is currently maintained for guided tours. We liked the movies well enough, but we aren’t die-hard fans of LOTR. We found the shire to be completely charming, anyway. The extensive set and attention to detail was incredible, and our 2-hour tour was absolutely full of beautiful and creative things to see. I have so much admiration for Peter Jackson and the entire LOTR crew who made the shire come to life, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in living in this fairy land some day! (If only…)
One of Mom’s goals for this trip was to experience Maori culture. (She is a sociologist, after all.) There are lots of dinner theater Maori performances in Rotorua, but we opted for the more immersive tour of Whakarewarewa Maori Village. It’s the only village where Maori are currently living, and local members hold tours and performances to teach outsiders about their way of life. We were completely enthralled in their performance of the haka, and loved hearing about how the incorporate the rampant hot water mineral springs into their cooking, medical, and bathing routines. The Maori people were all so pleasant, kind, and happy, and I couldn’t help but feel like my Mom could fit into this culture very easily!
After our village tour we visited the most well-known hot spring in the area, Waiotapu Wonderland. The Champagne Pool is famous for the deep orange rim surrounding a turquoise pool, caused by special minerals in the water. Ben and I walked around the pool on our own so Mom and Whit could spare the effort and spend some quality time together, and it was great for he and I to go at our own pace and connect over the beauty of the Earth.
The Waiotapu ticket agent suggest a nearby hot mud spring which Mom would be able to see easily, so that’s where we headed next so she could get an idea of the incredible geothermal activity in Rotorua. She loved seeing hot mud bubble and spout, and we had a fun time talking about which movies this scene could have been found in (my favorite suggestion was Jim Hensen’s Labyrinth.)
I made some calls and arranged for us to spend some mother-daughter time at a hot mud spa as a surprise to her that afternoon. While Ben and Whit hiked to a waterfall and picked apples, she and I spent 20 minutes spreading mud on our bodies then soaking in a hot spring pool. Living like a pig is so fun! And my skin really did feel tighter afterwards!
Thursday was a packed day as we left Rotorua for Matakana. We extended the 3-hour drive with a side trip to Coromandel Peninsula, a nature lover’s paradise. We picked up locally made cheeses and bread then made our first stop at Hot Water Beach. The beach, just off the parking lot after a scenic drive, is named Hot Water Beach for the hot water spring which flows just below the sand’s surface. Beachgoers bring shovels to the beach and dig their own shallow pools which fill with hot water. We lazed in our pool, eating our fresh cheese and bread, and laughed at what an unusual thing we were doing. We (and many others from around the world) had dug a hole in the sand and were sitting in it to each lunch. Sometimes toddlers like to grow up and become adults who dig sand pits!
Our next stop on Coromandel Peninsula was Cathedral Cove. Not far from Hot Water Beach, this gorgeous spot is a secluded beach accessed by a 45 minute paved, windy trail. The reward for finishing the hike (as if spontaneous views of the ocean and spotted islands isn’t enough) is a large tunnel through a portion of mountain which bisects the beach, leading to incredible views of the turquoise water framed by black tunnel walls. Mom wasn’t interested in pushing her bad knee on the hike, so she and Whit stayed behind to enjoy smoothies at the parking lot while Ben and I foraged on. It was great to have some alone time, and the beach was one of the most beautiful places we’ve seen on the North Island.
After Coromandel Peninsula we finished the scenic drive north of Auckland to our new home in Matakana. We’d been eagerly waiting for the day we’d be able to move in, but the arrival was even more overwhelming than expected. And not in a good way. Decor that had once felt charming was now cluttered, a homeowner who lovingly cared for pets now seemed dirty, and a quaint town now felt suffocating.
It’s a good thing my Mom is in town to help me work through this transitional anxiety!
Friday was spent running errands to adjust to our new life in Matakana, New Zealand. We deep-cleaned our new house by shampooing the carpets, cleaning every inch of the kitchen, washing all pillow covers and blankets, ridding our new home of bugs, and hiding away some of the homeowner’s personalized clutter. The reality of renting a home someone permanently lives in set in, and we realized how hard it is to settle in to a place with someone else’s figuritive fingerprint on everything.
Mom was patient and helpful as we cleaned the house, stressed about our decision to live in a “quaint” small town, and signed Whit up for a school 15 minutes away on windy country roads.
Mom said she loved the low-key village day of “real life” issues, bless her heart, and treated us to a pizza dinner at the popular local restaurant.
After a visit to the (locally) famous Matakana Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning, we reluctantly drove Mom to the Auckland airport. We had one last wonderful conversation in the car, then said a tearful goodbye.
I’m devastated to see her go. I can’t explain the feeling, but I had an overwhelming impression that my Mom belongs in New Zealand. Whether we were here or not. The fact that we are renting a 3-bedroom house in the country she fits so well into but had to leave physically hurts. I hate that she had responsibilities at home and wasn’t able to forget the return leg of her flight and spontaneously stay with us for the next 2 months.
We all would have loved that.
But at least we have these beautiful memories.