Peak existence. It’s a phrase I talk about a lot. It’s a lesson I learn over and over again in my life that it’s the experiences I have that matter the most, far more than any *thing* I’ve had. My trip to New Zealand was an experience that cemented that belief in my brain. Some trips change you. This one changed me.
Ever since high school and I saw Lord of the Rings, New Zealand was at the very top of my location bucket list. It was a faraway place, seemingly soooo much further than already far places like Italy or France or England, a place sososo far that I honestly wondered if I would ever actually make it there at all. And to be fair, it is far. A 13 hour flight from San Fransisco and a cumulative 17 hours from Chicago, my home at the time. To my younger self, it may as well have been the moon. “Someday,” I would always think. “Someday I’ll make its there.” Some days, I wasn’t so sure.
But I got older and learned a bunch of crap, and one of the things I learned was to take advantage of opportunity when it presented itself. And in 2017, an opportunity presented itself. So, along with my husband, Rob and two of my best friends, Emily and Karl, I got to go on my New Zealand road trip.
We nearly didn’t- connecting flight misses and buddy-pass drama was certainly a thing and I honestly was sick with worry that through some act of god my dream trip would be thwarted, but we made it there. And when I say dream trip, I don’t mean that lightly. It’s difficult to explain with words exactly what this trip meant. I can tell you what we did (started in Auckland and wound down to Wellington, hopped over to the South Island via Ferry, and eventually made our way down to Queenstown). I can tell you the trip was filled with mishaps turned successes (like leaving my purse and passports in a tea house and strangers coming to our rescue) I can tell you what we ate (the best fish in the world, delicious french fries, astoundingly good coffee). I can tell you the car we drove (three different Toyota Rav4’s). I can tell you the things I saw (the black sand beaches of Piha Beach, Hobbiton, Huka Falls, Abel Tasman National Park, Hokitika, Fox Glacier, Lake Wanaka, Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound).
But none of that information explains how this trip *felt*. Because it felt like complete magic. I say without hyperbole that it was the best two weeks of my life. Every day managed to somehow be more magical than the last. Black sand beaches, glow worm caves, water falls, volcanos, turquoise water, glorious mountains, glaciers… each day we were struck dumb by the beauty of the land and the insane joy we all felt at what we were doing, seeing, feeling, and the fact we got to do it together. “This is the best day of our lives,” we’d say.
Until the next day. Then we’d have a new best day. “Peak Existence,” we started to say. It acted as a kind of short-hand for “holy-crap-this-is-the-greatest-thing-thats-ever-happened-ever-in-our-lives.” It meant the summit of joy, the best damn day of your life. And every day kept overtaking the day before it.
And Milford Sound. I’d seen a picture of it once in Grad school and decided on sight that it was the place I most wanted to see in the world. And if I thought New Zealand was hard to get to, Milford Sound, tucked in Fiordland National Park at the tip end of the South Island, was the hardest to get to of all. And worse still, it seemed not in the cards for it to fit in our travel plans. We kind of made our trip up as we went and it was just slightly too far, just slightly not enough time. We’d made it all the way to Queenstown but the final push seemed… impossible to fit in before we flew back to Auckland. It was torturous for me to be so close and not see it.
It was our last full day of the trip, the last day of our New Zealand road trip, and we’d spend an unreal morning riding horses through a braided river in a place actually called Paradise (not shockingly, the most beautiful place I’d ever seen). We were eating lunch outside, watching some seagulls inhale an abandoned plate of fries, and I stole away inside because I wanted more coffee. When I returned, the table was oddly quiet. And one of my friends said, “So. We’ve had a wacky idea.”
And I knew. I just knew. I froze and looked up from my BLT.
“We looked at the weather in Milford Sound, and it’s the same as it is here.”
I looked up at the cloudless blue sky.
“And we can make it there in time to see it.”
I dropped my sandwich.
So. We went. I couldn’t believe it and yet I also could because it had already been the trip of magic. And naturally, Fiordland National Park was, and is, the most insane place I’ve ever seen. I was so distracted by it’s off the charts beauty, that Milford came upon us suddenly and without warning. Suddenly, there it was, right there, pristine and perfect and right in front of me. I vaulted out of the still moving car and ran to the rocky shore and just…stared. I just stared. At The Thing. The Thing I’d most wanted to see, The Thing I never thought I would be able to see. The sky was blue, the parking lot was empty, it was just me, my friends, and that beautiful Sound.
Rob walked up from behind me and slung his arm around my shoulders. Then Emily followed suit. Then Karl observed I was all red because I was in fact crying and he joined in on the group hug. And I stood there on the shores of The Thing I most wanted to see, sobbing into the shoulders of the people I care for most.
It was Peak Existence. The entire New Zealand Road Trip had been indescribably amazing, but this? In all my years there’d been nothing like this. And there hasn’t been anything like it after. And things after this trip got tough, real tough for me. My dad got sick and underwent grueling cancer treatment, and then ultimately lost that battle to cancer. My mom also got sick, but a different kind of sick, and had surgery and stayed with me and Rob and we helped her recover. My dog got sick and crossed the rainbow bridge. The inevitable aftershocks of grief rocked my family in unexpected and painful ways. All in the year following this trip.
And that’s what I mean when I saw Peak Existence matters, that these experiences *matter*. Because during all those terrible months, this trip was a light in the dark. It still is. And to think, I thought it was impossible. At times resigned myself to believing that it would never happen. Imagine if I’d believed that? If I hadn’t gone.
“Experience Matters” is such a small phrase that does a crap job of explaining what I mean but. it. matters. The people you’re with when you Do The Thing matter. It all matters. It’s not just a trip or just a vacation or just another place. I want you all to go after your Milford Sound and have your Peak Existence moment. Whatever it looks like. Do the thing, damnit. Do the thing.
So that’s my peak existence story and how a New Zealand road trip left a permanent thumb print on me (literally… I have Milford Sound tattoo). These are but a tiny fraction of the photos from the trip, but they are ones that remind me of magic.
Adventure is Worthwhile.
Like this New Zealand road trip? Check out this Iceland Road Trip!