Cliché, I know. So, so typical to think of New Zealand this way. Everyone loves En-Zed. But I can’t help it—Kyle and I both left this small, rather unassuming country way out there kinda by itself in the Pacific, knowing we’ll be back at some point.

It’s been the one place that was genuinely hard to leave (with most everywhere else, even if we’ve enjoyed it, it’s felt like it was time to move on). We both boarded that return flight a bit reluctantly.

What is it about this country? Well, we were only there a week, and only on the South Island to boot, but here’s a few theories I have—for me, anyway:

• It felt oddly similar to the Pacific Northwest. Nowhere else on our trip has been remotely like this, so it conjured up paradoxical feelings of both homesickness and a deep wanderlust to explore every nook and cranny of this wild country.

• It’s laid-back—I’m all about laid-back. People in fleece pullovers and flip-flops, beers on patios with no hurry to go anywhere. It felt like a North American ski town.

• Temperate weather with low humidity. Even though I’m Texas born and bred, I’ve grown a whole new appreciation for a general lack of heat since moving to the PNW. New Zealand had ideal summer weather, in my opinion.

• Stunning topography around every corner—I even annoyed myself with how often I’d say, “Would you look at that?!”

• Great driving roads. We’re that classic pair who enjoys Sunday drives and exploring back road detours while having meaningful conversations, and New Zealand provided this backdrop in spades.

• Friendly people—we loved both the locals and the other tourists (we met people from Brazil, Germany, South Africa, and everywhere in between).

• It’s small and unassuming—no major Eiffel Towers, no Taj Mahals. I’m surprising myself with how much I appreciate the quaintness of some places. It’s turning out the less it has, the more I tend to like it.

• It’s kid-friendly—our kids were able to easily walk along the “major” roads of Queenstown because they were no big deal. Waterfronts, grassy expanses to run, hiking trails…. all family-friendly. This was nice after months in Asia.

• The whole Lord of the Rings bit—I’m not a massive fan, but Kyle is, and I admit, I did grow a fondness for the epic movies after being there. We saw all sorts of filming locations tucked around bridges, walking trails, and mountain backdrops.

Because we were only there a week, we devoted our time to the South Island because it’s a bit more rugged and outdoorsy. Christchurch, the main town, isn’t anything to write home about, but as soon as we hopped into our car rental with a trunk full of groceries and headed out, we were good to go.

Driving is a fantastic pastime here, and a great way to see random spots on the island. Some people take the train, and I get the appeal—but with kids, driving was the way to go for us.

Eating out is expensive, so we just didn’t. Our house rental in Arrowtown, just outside of Queenstown, was perfect for dining on the deck surrounded by English roses and mountain views. Could not get better.

We hung out in Queenstown, the main southern town on the South Island, went hiking, explored a bit of Arrowtown, and mostly just… hung out. The perfect antidote after a few packed months in Asia.

We then rented an RV using a relocation service, which for three days of use, totaled about $60 (not including gas, which was about $200). Not bad, considering how much we’d spend on both transport and lodging.

I feel like a walking cliché, but our week in New Zealand truly was epic. Just epic. We’re already daydreaming about coming back here for several weeks at a time. Maybe a whole month. I could write a book in a month, right?

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