[dropcap]Y[/dropcap]ou always remember your first love. A maelstrom of emotion and passion. Unpredictable and fierce, but beautiful. An anomaly of nature, something that upon setting sights on her, you are perilously lost at sea. Helpless. Yet, consumed by a hush of calm.

As I exited the plane and saw her for the first time, I became a little boy again, as if I stood in front of the entire elementary school about to give my crush a valentine as everyone watched. She saw me, and I probably appeared silly at my attempt at confidence, but I was nervous and my hands trembled. I know she noticed my awkward boyishness, for I could feel the fire in my cheeks. I couldn’t help but stare.

Her hair of long golden wheat danced in the wind, and I took a deep breath and smiled at her. She smiled back and came over to me. She weaved her fingers between mine and somehow there was no crack or crevice or imperfection. Like slowly dipping your open palm into still water and watching it fill around your fingers, tickling the skin. Not even room for air left after submerged together.

It felt normal, even though we were strangers, as if she had waited for me for the 23 years of my life that had passed. She took me north with her, in a rusted Honda minivan that growled up the steep mountain hills and whistled its way down them.

A photo of seashells on the beach near Bay of Islands in Pahia, northern New Zealand. Bay of Islands is dotted with hundred of tiny islands, thus where it gets its name, and along with that is the area where the treaty of Waitugee was signed.

In a bay of islands as far as the eye could see, with seashells under our feet at low-tide outmatching the stars in the night by numbers, we danced to the crackle of our little van that tried to sing us broken radio tunes. We cooked boxed spaghetti on a propane grill and threw in cheap sauce that tasted like ketchup. Dessert was Nutella on white bread that we licked from our fingers as the sun descended beyond the horizon and the sky bruised in its absence.

The feeling of all of this can only be described by a brief stop we took before reaching our destination. There was a waterfall surging white and cold down a canyon off the road we followed, which snaked through hillside and mountain like the curves of her now bare body as she leapt in. Dangerous and captivating.

She caught me staring, but she wasn’t mad, she told me to jump in with her just by splashing that dark blue water at me. And when I did, I plunged in under my head. My stomach receded into my ribcage, my heart pounded like the waterfall above me, and there was an odd silence in all the madness as I floated in the cold. When I came up for air, it was as if I was breathing for the first time, and I couldn’t stop smiling. We stood under the waterfall and let it rush over us and take our breath from our body. That is what she felt like to me.

Maungaturoto waterfall, hidden off of the winding back roads near the town of Maungaturoto, a secret destination in Northern New Zealand.

When we finally arrived at the place we had searched for, it was never a place on our map or in our heads. It was a place we felt, something we knew was the right place. We discovered it as we walked down a soft beach that, when the wind blew across it, sand danced like ghosts down its length. We followed the ghosts to jagged grey rocks now bare in low tide, and crossed them as crabs gurgled warnings up at us from their holes in the volcanic rock. We climbed a steep crag topped with a head of soft grass glowing in sun hidden behind it. There we had found paradise. There we had found life in its purest form.

A photo of Coopers beach in Doubtless bay, a secret cove in northern New Zealand. With a hidden beach, long grass, and big trees for hammocks, it was a paradise place for camping.

For two weeks we stayed here, in a secret bay beyond doubts. Beyond worries. In the mornings I would wake to find her surrounding my body like the hammock we slept in. Her fingers like the wind as she ran them through my hair. She would whisper to me like the sound of the low waves on the beach just beyond our tree, rising and receding with certain words.

At night we would sit and watch the sea turn molten silver, her warmth against my body under the blanket better than the fire that crackled nearby. We ate s’mores and laughed and talked loud into the twilight, and in the blackness that surrounded us it seemed like our light was the only one in the entire universe. She would watch me write in my journal, content with just seeing the looping swirls of the pen imprint the paper with the story we made together.

Our reflections from the flickering firelight played out like a show in the empty wine glass on its side, and she tasted of grapefruit and flower and passionfruit. We would lay in the hammock staring up at the night sky that was the brightest blackness you could ever imagine, and we would fall asleep counting the shooting stars above, usually drifting into slumber after 7 of them.

In the morning, we would wake again, our hair smelling of the fire and our lips tasting of chocolate and it was the sweetest record that would play on repeat for those two weeks.

A photo of Coopers beach in Doubtless bay, a secret cove in northern New Zealand. With a hidden beach, long grass, and big trees for hammocks, it was a paradise place for camping.

A photo of Coopers beach in Doubtless bay, a secret cove in northern New Zealand. With a hidden beach, long grass, and big trees for hammocks, it was a paradise place for camping.

Sometimes, when a gentle breeze kisses my cheek, I have a secret urge to reach up and place my hand upon hers, knowing it won’t be there, but I still glance over with only my eyes so nobody will know I am looking for nostalgia with a sudden and secret fragility. A sudden yearning. My stomach tightens like the day under the waterfall, and my heart pounds when I think of her.

She was a sunflower, in a field of sunflowers, but for some reason that one caught my eye out of all the rest, the one that looked different and smelled different and I wanted to pluck it and take it with me forever. Knowing that if I did, it would die, but all things die, and at least I could have time to hold onto something so beautiful and fleeting.

She taught me that — the meaning of life, that everyday is fleeting and you don’t just walk on through life letting things wither away without stopping to admire them. The day I left, the only words she spoke to me were brief. She said to me that it wasn’t goodbye, and that she would wait for me to return someday. Return to her ocean eyes and wind-swept wheat hair and her smell of mountain air and the taste of her wine-drenched lips. After 1,183 days, I know that the feeling would instantly arise again if I saw her, just like the summer swaying in the hammock. She was my first love. She wasn’t the last, but she will always be there when the eastern wind blows, calling me.

I had fallen in love in the wild northern reaches of her. Her name is New Zealand.

A photo of Coopers beach in Doubtless bay, a secret cove in northern New Zealand. With a hidden beach, long grass, and big trees for hammocks, it was a paradise place for camping.

AUTHOR’S NOTE //


This article was about the northern region of New Zealand, in Bay of Islands and Doubtless Bay. That had been the beginnings of my travel lifestyle, where I had traveled to New Zealand after leaving the United States for the first time. I was nervous and vulnerable for the first time in years, I was suddenly feeling again, and it began the moment I laid eyes on the beauty of New Zealand. This was a love letter to her, the first country I traveled to, one that opened my eyes to the possibilities of the world and brought meaning to the meaningless life I had taken on before. Even if moving to New Zealand was the scariest moment of my life, but it changed me nonetheless.

I don’t write often like this, but recently some short stories inspired me and the way they described attributes of people in places and feelings, and I wanted to give it a shot.

Let me know your thoughts as this was a first attempt at this writing style, but everything about New Zealand and my love for her is still true to this day.

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Dear New Zealand - A travel love letter.

What was the first country you fell in love with? How did it happen?

26 Comments

  1. Nikita February 12, 2015 at 7:29 am

    I love this! It reads like a dream. It awakened a lot of feelings for my first love- Ireland. Somehow it’s more forgiveable to allow a country to keep holding onto you like that…

    Reply
    1. Ryan - Site Author February 18, 2015 at 7:35 pm

      Hey Nikita! Thank you for sharing your own travel love. I am really hoping to get to Ireland this year, I’ve heard so many phenomenal things. What was your favorite part of the trip?

      Reply
      1. Nikita February 19, 2015 at 7:28 am

        I was based in Galway, which is still one of my favorite cities, and the entire west coast is gorgeous, as are the Aran Islands. The rolling green hills, the cilapidated fortresses, the cliffs and the crashing waves were everything I wanted them to be and more. But cliché as this is going to sound, the best thing about Ireland is the kindness of the people. It’s not just a stereotype, they ARE actually the friendliest people in the world, always willing to help out a lost traveller, or simply have a chat. I haven’t met that sort of hospitality anywhere else. I really hope you make it there to see for yourself! Definitely worth braving the rain for. 🙂

        Reply
        1. Ryan - Site Author February 25, 2015 at 12:06 am

          Oh Galway, I’ve heard marvelous things. Everytime I see images of the coasts it just seems like it is all out of fantasy! And fortresses and castles are my thing, so I would have a field day wandering around. And that isn’t cliche, I don’t think people note the poeple they meet enough, and that can really make an experience. I can’t wait to visit sometime. Thanks for sharing your love!

          Reply
  2. Katja February 12, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    12 years ago, when I was only 17, I lost my first love. Being depressed and not being able to find meaning to life I agreed without thinking to go to Germany with a group of teenagers who been volunteering like me in some teen organization in Israel. The moment I arrived to Germany I fell in love with it’s architecture, its fairy tale like timber houses, the nature , the bridges etc. It didn’t help much against my depression, but ten years later I canceled my plan to travel to India in order to revisit cities in Germany, during the last week of my stay I met a guy who is now my husband, and we live in the city I fell in love with 12 years ago – our beautiful Frankfurt.

    p.s
    love how you wrote it! would it be fine if I share it on my FB page?

    Reply
    1. Ryan - Site Author February 18, 2015 at 7:38 pm

      Wow, Katja, that is a deep story and I am so grateful that you would share such a story with us. I’m sorry that you had lost your first love, but rediscovered love in a different way in Germany. And then in the end you seem to have met the true love you were supposed to meet, so I guess some things happen for a reason. Incredible story, I hope to return to Germany and see more of it, I was only in Munich during my visiti.

      Reply
      1. Katja February 21, 2015 at 4:11 pm

        There is so much to see in Germany. I just started hiking in the Taunus (mountains close to Frankfurt) and plan to expand it, especially to Bavaria.
        Whenever you are around, you are welcome to join =)

        Reply
        1. Ryan - Site Author February 25, 2015 at 12:04 am

          I need to get back to Germany and drink more Bavarian beer and of course explore more =) Thank you, if I stop through Germany I’ll reach out for sure!

          Reply
  3. Camels & Chocolate February 14, 2015 at 1:06 am

    This was so, so lovely. I feel the exact same way about Scotland—where I lived 12 years ago—and even though I’ve been back every couple years since, there’s this recurring pang of nostalgia and also sense of bittersweet that I’ll never live there again.

    Reply
    1. Ryan - Site Author February 18, 2015 at 7:40 pm

      Thank you, so happy you liked it! And I totally feel you on that nostalgia bit. I hope to get to Scotland this year as well, what was it that you really fell in love with there?

      Reply
  4. Franca February 14, 2015 at 4:46 am

    I love it. Everything about this piece is nice, engaging and it really makes me picture how you felt and what it meant to you. Nicely written Ryan! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Ryan - Site Author February 18, 2015 at 7:43 pm

      Ahhh thank you so much Franca, happy to see the change up in style was for good. I’m really happy it stuck out in parts and made a connection. Did you have a favorite part or line?

      Reply
      1. Franca February 19, 2015 at 4:52 am

        I simply love how you almost personify the country and start a dialogue with it like if you were talking with a real person. Love it! 🙂

        Reply
        1. Ryan - Site Author February 25, 2015 at 12:07 am

          Thank you Franca for noting that. It definitely was my goal and it felt quite…magical to describe a country as such and it brought back so many great feelings!

          Reply
  5. adventuresofgirlwander March 3, 2015 at 4:00 am

    I love how you wrote it. You really poured your heart out. Yes, we can fall in love with places and not just person, that is why I am pursuing a life of travel. And I love the general vibe of your blog!!!

    Reply
    1. Ryan - Site Author April 28, 2016 at 3:59 am

      Thank you so very much for the beautiful compliment. Really truly appreciate it. I did, it was a profound feeling to fall in love with a place!

      Reply
  6. Karen March 3, 2015 at 4:04 am

    I love how you wrote it! You poured your heart out. Yes, we can fall in love with places and not just person that is why I am pursuing a life of travel as well. And I love the general vibe of your blog. One of the coolest I’ve encountered.

    Reply
  7. Audrey April 12, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    I’m really liking this style of writing, Ryan! I’ve been thinking about New Zealand more and more lately. Hoping to make it down there soon. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Ryan - Site Author April 28, 2016 at 4:00 am

      Thank you heaps Audrey, since it was so experimental I’m glad it worked for it however abstract. Still on my mind all of the time actually.

      Reply
  8. Pingback: My Favourite Travel Blogs - April - According to Zascha

  9. Kelli June 3, 2015 at 4:15 am

    New Zealand’s a bit of a fickle lover, she seduces far too many people . . . But I love that you fell in love with her (my temporary home) and think your letter was brave and beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Ryan - Site Author April 28, 2016 at 4:02 am

      Well, Kelli, she does flaunt her goods so no wonder why she’s so sought after and desired, but even though it’s one of the most popular adventure destinations, it still has heart. Happy you liked the article and thank you!

      Reply
  10. Serendipity Tess June 13, 2015 at 10:25 pm

    Your blog is so refreshingly different – I adore your writing style….makes you look forward to my own little adventure through New Zealand! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Ryan - Site Author April 28, 2016 at 4:03 am

      Ah excited to hear about your own adventures there, stoked you’re going! And thank you for the comment on the writing style, I really appreciate it.

      Reply
  11. Anna July 13, 2015 at 9:55 am

    That’s a touching love letter. I would love to see a collection of “Letters dedicated to places I fell in love with”, that would make a great Memeoirs book https://goo.gl/NeMWJe

    Reply
    1. Ryan - Site Author April 28, 2016 at 4:03 am

      Anna, that is such a stellar idea…I might need to take you up on it actually, because it was really fun writing this style article.

      Reply

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