Hannah Cornish has traveled to four of the seven continents, surfed in three of the five oceans and is currently residing in Phoenix, prior to starting her next adventure of teaching English in Nicaragua.
New Zealand and Colorado: Kindred spirits in separate hemispheres
After five hours in the blazing hot sun, hiking up what seemed to be endless switchbacks, I stopped to reapply my sunscreen and was thankful for the company I had found on my hike up to Roy’s Peak: sheep, sheep and more sheep. I guess the old saying about there being four sheep for every person in New Zealand is relatively accurate.
In the dead of summer, in the stunning landscape of Wanaka, New Zealand, I finally managed to summit Roy’s Peak and was met with one of the most astonishing views of my life. Looking out at a 360-degree view that seemed to last forever,I looked out at lakes, rivers and mountains.
Hannah at the top of Roy's Peak
I had a moment of deja vu, but on a smaller scale. And that’s when it popped into my head. I heard the voice of the girl sitting a few rows behind me on my Qantas flight from LAX to Auckland: “New Zealand is like Colorado on steroids.”
Standing on Roy’s summit, I finally got what she meant.
“I would call my friends and family back home, and they would be desperate for me to paint a picture in their minds of what my South Island explorations were like. Whenever I found myself at a loss for words, I would use Colorado landmarks to help me.
At this point, I was a few months into my year-long stint of working and traveling in New Zealand and had spent most of my time in the sea-port city of Wellington, located on the North Island.
Exploring New Zealand
I dedicated five weeks to exploring every nook and cranny of the South Island, and in so many spots, it felt like I was right back at home in northern Colorado. Right back in the place where I had visited my grandparents throughout my entire childhood, and where I lived for four years during my time attending Colorado State University. The place where I spent so much time hiking, snowboarding and just enjoying the ability to escape from reality and take in the beauty of nature a bit.
There were dramatic, rigid, mountain peaks in Queenstown. Lush, green woods accompanied by rushing rivers and cascading waterfalls in Mt. Aspiring National Park. Landscapes and skyscapes that seemed as if they just went on and on, to the edges of the earth in Wanaka. I couldn’t get enough.
I would call my friends and family back home, and they would be desperate for me to paint a picture in their minds of what my south island explorations were like. Whenever I found myself at a loss for words, I would use Colorado landmarks to help me.
“You remember that hike we took in Estes Park? Well this waterfall was just like the Calypso Cascades but about three times the size.”
“Queenstown was like a smaller scale version of Breckenridge, except with a giant, gorgeous lake thrown into the middle of it.”
“Wanaka is similar to the western slope of Colorado: It’s less touristy than the main mountain towns but 10 times as beautiful.”
I feel like without these connections to home, my attempts to describe my surroundings would have been futile; even the pictures I was taking couldn’t do my surroundings justice.
What's Different About New Zealand?
So with all of these similarities, why even bother leaving the great state of Colorado to just see the same type of scenery? Because New Zealand is a throwback to Colorado before our state became THE place to live for young, adventurous adults.
Aside from the landscape, New Zealand’s culture is similar to what Colorado’s was 20 years ago. My mom came to visit me from Greeley and noticed how un-populated the areas were where we were traveling. It made her reminiscent of the day before Colorado became a trendy, hip place to live and traffic jams added an extra 30-60 minutes to your daily commute.
Aotearoa (the Maori word for New Zealand) is every wonderful bit of Colorado that you want to savor, all rolled into one relatively compact geographical space.
It’s a place where you can find solitude on any of the thousands of hikes you can take there. Even with this destination’s increased popularity, it’s still possible to go for a trek and not run into anyone else.
You’re still able to summit mountain peaks and see clear skies and untouched landscapes, instead of smog and traffic jams.
An escape to the mountains is actually an escape, rather than being crammed into the latest condo complex that was built in your favorite mountain town.
New Zealand by Car
Road trips are filled with long periods of time where you just see animals and flowers, without passing a single person. It’s entirely possible to “get off the grid” and find a small roadside town with one mom and pop cafe that makes a delicious Flat White that puts Starbucks’ interpretation of the coffee to shame.
New Zealand is Colorado’s kindred spirit in the southern hemisphere, fully equipped with everything a true Colorado outdoors lover could ever dream of.
Now that I am back home in Greeley, I constantly find myself wishing for the solitude I took for granted during my 12-month stay in New Zealand. I miss the un-corrupted innocence of a place with so much untouched beauty. As much as I want to share my favorite country with the rest of the world, I also desperately want to preserve it and maintain this bit of heaven I was so fortunate to call my home.
So while I would like to keep this little discovery to myself, I think every Kiwi would welcome any Coloradoan with open arms, wanting to share with them what is essentially Colorado’s cousin below the equator.
Footnote - the walk to the summit of Roy's Peak is not as intimidating as the photo at the top of this page makes it appear. It's a well formed track and quite easy for those with a medium level of fitness.