I’m something of a poster boy for the mental health benefits of travel. It well and truly changed my life in so many positive ways.
Five years ago today I left New Zealand after a month of pure bliss after exploring and experiencing all I missed out on during my two week stay just eight months earlier.
Despite the amount of fun I’ve had wherever I found myself during my backpacker travels between 2015-17 I never shy away from sharing the identity of my favourite country – New Zealand.
To mark five years since my Air New Zealand flight left Auckland for Heathrow via Singapore I’ve ventured into uncharted territory with my writing – a love letter.
A love letter to New Zealand
I’ve been in this life for twenty six and a half years. Six months of that I was a backpacker which included a six week stay on the other side of the world in New Zealand.
I didn’t know what to expect from a country so far away. I knew I wanted to walk among the Hobbits in the Shire and catch up with a friend I hadn’t seen in 13 years, both of which could be achieved on the North Island. For that reason my first visit was exclusive to that part of the country, sandwiched between six weeks in Australia and six weeks in the USA.
Upon arrival in Auckland on a crisp winter evening I had the night to myself to wonder the streets of the busiest city in the country. I strolled around the harbour, grabbed a bite to eat and watched some cricket highlights in a bar while making conversation with locals about my travels so far. Afterwards I had an early night, as the Kiwi Experience adventure began the following morning.
Truth be told, I was nervous about the Kiwi Experience bus. Although I had been travelling for six weeks already, only two of those were by myself in Australia before I caught up with friends from home in Byron Bay.
For the first time in my life I felt truly alone, but in a good way, as if I were about to experience the true meaning of the word freedom.
All those months telling my therapist I wanted to travel and what I hoped to gain in personal growth from them was really about to kick-on, and I think, deep down, as I walked out the doors of Nomads backpacker hostel to catch the Kiwi bus from Queen Street, I knew I was about to learn so much about myself.
I needn’t have worried about making friends in New Zealand. I very quickly got talking with travellers from England, Wales and the US, all of whom had their own individual stories to tell and in the years since have gone onto achieve amazing things such as completing university, starting their respective careers, moving out of their family homes, getting married and starting a family of their own.
We experienced a lot of ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities during the eight days we explored the North Island together.
We learnt about the Māori people and the history of their culture, had a pint of stout in the The Green Dragon Inn from The Lord of the Rings trilogy and had a day of pure adrenalin when we skydived over Lake Taupo, with myself and two others heading straight for a bungy jump immediately after – the only downside of that day was the hangover I woke up with after too many Jåger Bombs.
I think what made that group so close was that we also had the sentimental moments with the standout being our final night together in Wellington, which also happened to be the day two members of the group celebrated their birthday.
After a night of steak, beers and dancing we parted ways the next morning and I made the return trip to Auckland for the final five days of my first visit, which would be spent with a friend I hadn’t seen since I was eight.
I went to Primary School in Essex with this friend before her family moved to New Zealand. It was only when the Facebook era kicked off that we got talking again and we always planned to meet during my stay. It was a Friday evening when I got a bus from Auckland to Smales Farm and my friend picked me up – 13 years gone just like that.
I spent most of my final five days with my friend and her family, we did some hikes, had meals out, a little bit of indoor skiing and a lot of chill time. At the end of the trip she dropped me off at Auckland International as I flew to Los Angeles and I said I would be back sooner rather than later.
And eight months later – I was back.
I’ve never saved so hard for something in my entire life as I did for that New Zealand return trip, I even had on my side when I won £450 at the races.
I had a fun British summer, autumn and beginning of winter before swapping January 2016 for a New Zealand summer, flying to the South Island’s Christchurch on December 27th 2015.
I’ve never known jet lag like I have on those first few days in Christchurch, I quite simply felt like a zombie.
I just about recovered in time for New Years Eve, but because I had a 6am reunion with the Kiwi Experience bus on January 1st I welcomed in the new year in prison – the hostel was a converted prison.
Over the next two weeks I swam with wild dolphins, hiked a glacier, watched sunset on the beach at 11pm and had a boat ride around Milford Sound, a fjord commonly described as the most beautiful place on planet earth.
And just like my North Island experience eight months earlier – I very quickly made a great bunch of friends, this time from England, Scotland and the US.
The scenery changed so much on every day of the two week Kiwi Experience tour that it felt like we were in a different country every few hours.
Greenery similar to Jurassic Park, snowcapped mountains as well as lakes and fjords as far as the eye could see.
Then we reached Queenstown. The adrenalin capital of New Zealand.
I spent four days in this part of the South Island, one of which was spent at Milford Sound.
During the other three I did my third bungy jump, this time at a height of 134m which is by far the scariest thing I have ever done, as well as a giant canyon swing and got my first, and to this day, only tattoo.
After Queenstown the group of friends I’d made gradually began to split as our travels took us in different directions as the Kiwi bus travelled north.
Once we arrived in Taupo, a place very familiar to me, I stayed an extra night so I could hike the Tongariro Crossing including, a three hour detour to the summit of Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings, which I missed out on eight months earlier.
The next day I arrived in Auckland for the final ten days of the trip which mirrored the final week of my first visit, catching up with my friend and her family, giving me the locals perspective of life in New Zealand.
And five years ago today, on January 27th 2016, it was all over.
And that’s it. Happiest days of my life spent in a place that gave me so much.
I made some amazing friends who I have seen many times since at birthday celebrations, Justin Bieber and Arctic Monkeys concerts, work, chance meetings at Vauxhall tube station, further travels across the US in 2017 and if it wasn’t for the coronavirus pandemic I’d have attended the wedding of one of them in California back in October.
Then of course there’s the friend I already knew but hadn’t seen in 13 years. To wipe out that amount of time was just insane and so easy. It was one of those things in life that made me realise how accessible the world is, albeit not right now.
I’ve carried so much of New Zealand and my experiences there with me in the five years since I left.
There’s not a room in my flat that doesn’t have a piece of New Zealand in it, whether that be framed photos, souvenirs or works of art dedicated to the country.
It is a truly wonderful place. Whenever I meet new people who have been their faces light up because they know how spectacular it is, and when I speak to those who haven’t yet visited they always say how desperate they are to go.
Thank you New Zealand – I hope to be back again soon.
2021 London Marathon
I’m running the 2021 London Marathon for Mind!
If you wish to donate or keep up to date with how my training and fundraising is going you can do so by following the links below.
Fundraising Page: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JordanCamp
My new Instagram page dedicated to my London Marathon journey: @26.2MilesForMind
Mind Website: https://www.mind.org.uk