Friday, May 4, 2012


So I've been back in Wellington for a couple weeks since my South Island adventure. I've told people about the trip over and over again, showing them the whole reel of pictures I took on the road. Plus I've been blogging about it. I even have a picture of Queenstown on my desktop. 

Maybe it's the constant reiteration, but the trip's already starting to feel stale. Looking at my pictures makes me feel itchy and anxious. The towns on my computer screen seem tacky and plastic. On the edges of the scenery shots lurks a horde of pushy Asian tourists with expensive digital cameras. The South Island is still extraordinarily beautiful, but I feel like I didn't experience a real part of New Zealand. I felt like a camera-slinging American jerk.

For the past two weeks I've been carrying this itch around inside myself, worrying that I'm on the path to ruining my own experience abroad.

So the other day I met a friend for tea. He's a history major at Victoria - a really intelligent and thoughtful guy. We talked about the man-made illusion of wilderness on the Kepler Track and how every hostel in the South Island was crawling with Germans. I told him that I felt like a hack of an independent traveler for visiting such a touristy part of the country. He pointed out that places like Queenstown and the Milford Sound aren't necessarily inauthentic. The tourism industry is a huge part of New Zealand's economy.

But, he told me, there are other parts of the country that don't have a strong tourism infrastructure. There's less affluence and relatively few hostels. Kids ride bareback on horses to school. These places aren't necessarily more authentic than the tourist towns. They're just different. He advised that I visit the North Island with an open mind, avoid Auckland, and prepare to see a lot of rural farmland.

"Don't worry about where you go," he said. "After all, traveling for me is usually more about the drive than the destination."

I sipped my tea and relaxed.

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