Brendan snapped the pic below this morning, during our last sunrise run in Wanaka and probably our last run in New Zealand. We leave in a few hours for Christchurch and onwards, tomorrow, to Australia.
After our run, as we rushed around packing and tidying our rental house, I snapped at Coco (for no good reason at all. Turns out she had, in fact, already brushed her teeth.)
I realized later that my grumpiness was fueled not by any Coco transgression, but by pangs of Wanaka homesickness. I was missing already a place we hadn’t yet left.
Wanaka, which conjures thoughts of Jackson Hole 40 or so years ago, is the last town you hit before entering New Zealand’s Mount Aspiring National Park. It’s a place where alpinists, backcountry skiers, and other burly outdoors people appear to mingle quite nicely with the sheep and cattle farmers who have been here for generations.
Even if the sheep do sometimes make it more difficult to get into the park…
Fact is in Wanaka these groups kind of blur. Many of the farmers are burly adventurers themselves. And some of the travelers get part time farm jobs to fund their alpine exploits. Also,because all forms of human activity in NZ are so new–it is the last habitable place on the planet to be touched by any human–alpinists (eg, Edmund Hillary) have been climbing these amazing Southern Alps almost as long as sheep have grazed their foothills.
Snaps from our own, more modest adventures on the Bonnar Glacier on the northeast ridge of Mt Aspiring.
Still, like Jackson Hole or one of our favorites, Whitefish Montana, Wanaka is a town that has very clearly been affected by a rising tide of posh development (including many Kiwi elites and even its own sprinkling of Silicon Valley billionaires), as well as a new and growing rush of tour coaches.
Nevertheless, Wanaka manages to maintain a real-town spirit that sometimes seems leeched from many mtn resort towns at home.
Today marks the end of our time here (for now). And it truly does feel like leaving a home. We stayed in Wanaka longer than we stayed anywhere else in New Zealand-3 weeks-which is actually the longest we’ve stayed anywhere the last 7 months. It’s in Wanaka that we decided to delay our departure to Aussie for another 10 days because, even after eight weeks in NZed, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to leave here so soon.
The change flight fees were very much worth it. They meant we were here long enough to find a regular coffee stop, a place where towards the end they actually started to remember my name (something I can’t say for my Connecticut Sbux at home).
We also had enough time to actually make some real friends, earning a coveted invite to join some climbing guides for an evening pint …at the same place that serves the good coffee.
See photo above.
That extra time also gave us the space to get used to the idea of saying goodbye to Dusty, a constant companion for our Kiwi adventures.
Unfortunately, and notwithstanding Holly’s best marketing efforts, Dusty is apparently not yet ready to leave us.
And so we’ll be further testing the NZ used car market in Christchurch.
Unlike Dusty, Big Phoebe is managing to wrench herself away from us in Wanaka. It’s a bittersweet goodbye to be sure. Bitter because it’s hard to imagine the Big Trip without her. Sweet because we’ve turned a long beloved cousin into a life long new friend. Also sweet (as) because she’ll be representing in Wanaka for just a wee bit longer post our departure. A fact that I’m sure has nothing to do with the hunky alpine guide whose recently been hanging around quite a bit.
Phoebe, William, and I climbing the Single Cone Peak in Queenstown’s Remarkables Range (speaking of burly adventures).
And with the goodbye cards we exchanged at our final farewell dinner.
Sorry other Walsh cousins, I have no snaps of the guide to share.
For all of these other remarkables, I’m sure what I’ll remember most about Wanaka (and why I feel certain we’ll return) is because of the extraordinary and ordinary experiences we had here as a family. It’s a place where, in so many ways, I gained more from the kids, and from Brendan, than they did from me.
It’s where Phoebe (Little not Big) spent hours devising, then patiently teaching me, 5 separate ways to tackle the local dinosaur slide, in between conquering amazing mountain adventures that often challenged me more than they did her.
It’s where I many times waited (sometimes impatiently) for Coco to jump in the town’s freezing cold lake and loved most those occasions when she masterfully coaxed Phoebe and eventually me to follow her in. (“Why would you not Mommy? How could you let yourself miss this? We can have a warm bubble bath later.“)
It’s where Holly, with her calm, confident competence, learned to lead climb a gneiss route, place a top rope anchor all by herself, and later belay me, her sometimes fearful and always imperfect mom, up my hardest climb yet. How could she possibly follow that up? By expertly baking then decorating a cake to celebrate Coco’s double digit birthday.
That’s Holly up there, not me.
It’s where William showed the depth of his character and kindness many times over. Including here, on our last full day in Wanaka, agreeing to take me mountainbiking and then waiting patiently and even offering mild encouragment as I struggled to navigate the steep, rocky, root-strewn path home.
It’s also where Brendan showed me once again where William gets that strength of character, patience, and kindness telling funny stories and explaining detailed NFL politics to help me endure grueling double digit training runs…
..and then staying by my side for all 13.1 miles of the Shotover Moonlight half marathon. Even when it looked like I might not make it and when it would have been much easier to just leave me behind.
They say travel is broadening. And there’s no doubt that Wanaka broadened life’s horizons for us.
For example, we had no idea such an animal existed or that people, including us, really enjoy eating them.
But travel can also remind you of things you already know and should make sure to remember. It reminded Brendan and me how much we love spending time outside, getting outside ourselves, and pushing ourselves outside our apparent limits. It reminded us how important it is to impart that love to our children but that it’s even more important to simply spend time with each other, even if it doesn’t involve helicopter rides and double ice axe climbing. It also reminded me in a very big way that this wonderful family of mine brings out the best in me, when I just let them.