“Look! It’s got a duck! This place has everything!” This was Eliza touring the beach house we rented for the weekend in Herbertville, NZ. After setting down the wooden duck statue and continuing through the rest of the house, her excitement only increased. I know how she feels. Being in a new country lets me experience things much in the same way that Eliza must experience her life. Everything is interesting.
The beach house was remote: about an hour’s drive to the main highway. With my Eliza-like sense of wonder taking hold, the drive itself was an exciting experience. The road went every direction except straight. I kept my speed low and my hands firmly clutched on the wheel at the safest driver’s ed position of “10 and 2.” Rather than being stressed out, I took joy in how different this was from my usual experience of driving busy Chicago roads or flat, corn-filled expanses.
For this trip, Geoff and I learned how to drive on the left side of the road. We took safety measures we don’t usually take: renting an SUV and paying the extra $39/day for insurance. Over the weekend, we successfully navigated city traffic, mountain roads, one-lane bridges, and escaped sheep. The greater challenge came when we realized how few and far between gas stations are. Geoff never worries about running out of gas. He has coasted into gas stations with the car in neutral and knows every phase between when the fuel light comes on and when the car stops moving. Even he was worried. “It’s fine” turned into, “Can you feel the gas sloshing around when you make a big turn?” and then to, “We’ll be okay. Just don’t press on the gas unless you need to.” Our backup plan was to stop at a farm and hope that the farmer would sell us $20 worth. Luckily it did not come to that. Just as Geoff truly started to get concerned, we were saved by a town with a gas station.
It was not the most beachy-weather weekend for this trip. The amount of rain Herbertville had received that morning flooded the beach, creating a temporary river that flowed into the ocean. Geoff reminded us that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. The swimsuit I brought: bad clothing. After a day trip to Napier for their Art Deco festival, we returned to the gray rainy beach and sent Eliza out to explore. It was one of those moments as a parent when you know you did something right. Eliza could not contain her excitement. She made herself a mud mask, drew in the sand with her feet, let the waves chase her, picked up anything that looked slimy, foamy, or gross, and tried to scream louder than the ocean. Geoff and I followed her lead. We explored this remote part of New Zealand with gusto. From the constantly changing scenery, to the place with the longest name in the world, to the tavern far away from everything, yet filled with people drinking giant beers on a Saturday afternoon, everything was interesting.