‘Unilad Adventures Traveler Tales’ piece

At 26 years old, New Zealand introduced me to hitch-hiking, mountain walking, and tremendously welcoming people.

It all began with my first hitch on the South Island from a little old red-haired woman that insured me hitching would be the best way to meet the locals. She taught me about the land, the Maori people, and the 9 Great Walks. I couldn’t resist, so in three months I conquered 6 of the 9. On the Milford Track, I met “Mikey Blues,” a musician that loved talking about New Orleans, my personal favorite. We bonded immediately, but it was the wild river-crossing where I trusted him with my life. After nearly slipping over the giant waterfall, he pulled me to the side, “Kyle, you just crossed a raging river in the backcountry of New Zealand with avalanche debris and waterfalls all around you. Your life is pretty badass!”

For my 27th birthday, my mission was to conquer two personal fears. With a roaring fear of water and heights, I booked a white water rafting trip for the morning and bungy-jumping in the afternoon. On our first rapid, my team flipped the raft, plunging into ice cold water while dodging rocks until our heroes launched ropes, pulling us to shore. On rapid two, we bounced up and down on wild waves. “Hold on!” our guide shouted. My front row seat gave me the most amazing adventure I could have ever dreamed of, riding the Shotover River with a big smile on my face.

When the afternoon arrived, fear filled my entire body. I stood atop the K-Bridge, looking down at death. My accented guide said, “Aye mate, when you’re ready...let’s jump in 3-2- wait, wait, they’re not ready for you.” I looked back at him in shock. He continued, “I’m just kidding, happy birthday! Enjoy your dive!” I smirked while looking out at the full-on landscape before leaping out towards the Kawarau River, 43 meters below.

Adventures are endless in NZ! Whether it’s skydiving, gazing at penguins, or kayaking over waterfalls, New Zealand has opened my eyes to the amazing aspect people and adventures bring to travelling. Places are special and beautiful, but memories are what make them last forever!