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Travel stories

How meeting locals makes visiting New Zealand truly memorable

Mar 31, 2017 by Jamie Gallerani

While New Zealand’s landscapes are nothing short of staggering, avid traveler Rick learned that it’s the local connections that make an adventure truly inspiring. Here, he talks about discovering his journey’s truest reward while on our New Zealand: Untamed Landscapes tour.

I was in the military for over 20 years, and my wife and I did a lot of traveling. Our journeys took us all over Europe and beyond, but we’ve been drawn to New Zealand’s scenery for decades. So, once I retired, we were able to take the vacation of a lifetime.

Being in New Zealand just blew my mind—it’s an awe-inspiring country with extensive wilderness and animals at every turn. We passed pastures full of deer, cows, and sheep while driving down the highway. While standing on a pier, I looked down at salmon swimming just 30 feet from the shore. And, the South Island was particularly stunning; Milford Sound and the Queenstown area were our favorite. Pictures pale compared to the reality of New Zealand’s awesome beauty.

While the landscapes are vast and gorgeous, one thing that makes the country really special is the fairly small population; so much of the land is peaceful and remote. The locals we did meet were friendly and laid back, and getting to know them added so much to the experience. I found that they deal with the same things we deal with, like bills and work. They just happen to live in an amazingly beautiful spot.

One night, we had the opportunity to have dinner at the home of a local family. They were very generous and gracious, and sitting down to a meal at their table was a real highlight. As we enjoyed the lamb dinner they’d prepared, they spoke about what it’s like to live in New Zealand. I could tell that the most important thing in their life is family, and I agree. Deep down, we all value the important stuff. It’s rare to connect with local people and it was just a magical evening.

Another native New Zealander we loved getting to know was our Tour Director, Erika, who was born in the country and shared a lot about everyday life. From singing indigenous songs with us to explaining cultural differences, she taught us so much in a friendly, powerful way. When we’ve taken trips on our own in the past, we didn’t get that same connection to the culture. You can read about a destination in a book, but traveling with an expert who truly understands a place and its people is just fantastic.

Our time in the South Pacific proved that the longer the trip, the greater the reward at the end. It was worth every minute—and then some! It sounds cliché, but traveling really does broaden your mind. It makes you realize that while we live in a wonderful country, there are other wonderful places, too. Everybody has something to offer. If you’re able to get to know locals on a personal level, it’s very special. It’s like you’re talking to a new neighbor. While it’s great to see iconic landmarks and beautiful landscapes, connecting with the people is what makes a journey truly memorable.

Do you have any special memories of connecting with locals on tour? Share them with us on Facebook!

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About the author | Jamie Gallerani
It was Jamie’s homestay in Germany that made her fall in love with travel (and her studies in Florence that really sealed the deal). When she’s not writing and sharing the magic of seeing the world with others, she’s usually on the lookout for her new favorite memoir, testing out recipes at home, or visiting her family on Cape Cod.

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