New Zealand

A Van and a Bar of Chocolate
May 2015

She pushed down the door handle to leave the dorm room. It was evening and she wanted to walk around town before it got too late, maybe grab a beer. She heard a nasal American accent ask, “anyone want some chocolate?” behind her. Helene turned, intrigued, to the young woman who was offering strangers candy. She decided to join the conversation, if only for a piece of chocolate. Soon she forgot all about that beer.

And that was how I met Helene, or Helí, the best travel buddy in all of New Zealand. I had arrived in Wellington the night before and wandered through the city all day, pretending to be just another college student or recent grad. I spent a large part of the day plotting how I would see as much of the south island as possible before flying out of Christchurch in two weeks, which was tricky. I wanted to make the most of the bus passes I’d bought when I first arrived in NZ so I plotted every destination and when I would move between cities according to the bus schedule. But then I met Helí.

Minutes earlier, before Helí started to leave the dorm, I overheard some of the people in our dorm room discussing plans to see the new movie Pitch Perfect 2. I’d considered seeing it alone in New Plymouth but I jumped at the chance to see it with other people, even if we’d just met. Eager to make friends I climbed down from my bunk and pulled out a huge 220 gram Whittaker’s chocolate bar (double the normal size of a bar). I always had some kind of food or candy with me to break the ice with new friends. And for long bus rides. And for dessert. And breakfast, when I didn’t have time to get any. And when I needed a pick-me-up. But this time I actually did share my chocolate, and I asked if anyone would like some.

That’s when Helí turned around and joined the Pitch Perfect group, a movie she also wanted to see. We sat on the floor and got to know each other as we passed the chocolate around. Some people lived and worked in the dorm, others were backpackers staying in Wellington for a few days before continuing onward. Helí was from Germany but living in Australia, and she was traveling NZ with her friend Flo, who was flying in from Germany the next day. They were renting a campervan to drive and hike all around the south island over the next two weeks.

“Hey, I’m going south next too!” I exclaimed. We talked about the national parks and whether we were going to go in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction around the island. A Canadian chimed in that he loved traveling the north island by car, going beyond where buses travel and moving at your own pace. A new level of freedom.

She looked at me and asked, “do you want to come with us? We have space for another person”.

I stopped, surprised. I’d like to say that I responded immediately with an enthusiastic YES but I had to think about it. I’d spent all day figuring out my plan for the next two weeks. I’m a planner. I like plans. Plans keep me moving, I make the most of my time with plans. Sure, things don’t always go according to plans and that’s okay. But an invitation like this threw my plan out the hostel window.

On the one hand… I would travel with other people again. After two weeks of feeling lonely more often than not, that was appealing. It was nice to have plenty of space to myself but often it was too much space. On the other hand, I told myself I could always bail if things went south and we didn’t get along. I’d get out at a city and continue by bus. But on the other hand, Helí seemed pretty cool, she liked chocolate and quoting Pitch Perfect as much as I did. Traveling freely around the south island, rather than being restricted by the bus timetable, would be much more fun. Experiencing the sunsets and hills and lakes with company, no longer wishing I had someone to share it with, that would be pretty nice too.

In the end I realized I couldn’t pass up this invitation. I knew that later I would regret not throwing caution to the wind, so really I had to do it. Immediately I started feeling more excited about the rest of my trip, it had turned into an adventure rather than a trudge to the end. I told Helí I was in and she was thrilled, and we started planning our journey.

Flo arrived the next night and the three of us went to see Pitch Perfect 2, along with half a dozen new friends from the hostel. Passing bags of candy back and forth through the group while singing along in the theater, reinforced the feeling that I had chosen the right adventure.

Categories: New Zealand

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