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COMMENT:

I'm going to sound really disgustingly positive for a bit but bear with me.

The Covid-19 pandemic is, by far, one of the worst s*** sandwiches we've been handed in our lifetime. It's a tragedy on multiple levels and it's going to take us a long time to recover from it.

However, as far as places to be when the whole world is closed off and all borders are shut, we've really lucked out in New Zealand.

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I mean … really, can you imagine a better place in the world to be when you're not allowed to go anywhere else?

As we face the prospect of months ahead without jetting off anywhere, except for maybe Australia, exploring our big backyard is our only option.

There are a bunch of places in New Zealand I've never visited because, well, they're just there and I can visit them any time I want. Except, because I can do it any time, I end up never doing it.

Until now.

2020 is the year of exploring our own big backyard.

The only tricky thing is choosing where to go first.

My favourite thing about New Zealanders has always been how proud their are of their country. Some might not even realise that people don't feel like this in many other countries, that this kind of adoration isn't inherent to citizenship.

It's just that New Zealand really is objectively beautiful. It's so easy to love.

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Roy's Peak, Wanaka. Photo / Getty Images
Roy's Peak, Wanaka. Photo / Getty Images

In the "old normal", we had many reasons to put off seeing our own backyard. Good deals on airfares and social media giving us ridiculous levels of wanderlust. It all made us look the furthest possible afield because, travel - long-haul travel in particular - is extremely aspirational.

How many of us having hiked in Peru but never done a NZ Great Walk?

At a time when no one can really go anywhere other than where they are, we're some of the luckiest people in the world with the kind of exploring we get to do near home.

Our boring local hike or our closest beach is someone else's dream destination, a bucket list item they may never tick off. How rude of us to dismiss it as boring, to overlook it in favour of something just because it's further away.

Look, I'm not here to tell you what to do but I will do exactly that anyway: if you can, tonight, pick a spot, any spot, whether it's 10 minutes or 10 hours away. Somewhere you've never been to, or somewhere you've been longing to visit again. Make a plan to go. A plan with a date and a time, maybe even a booking confirmation.

Suggest your favourite Kiwi spot to a mate, maybe arrange to visit with them.

Domestic holidays have, over the last few years, lost their shine a little. They're seen as lesser holidays. Domestic destinations are for long weekends, not for using up annual leave. I say screw that.

New Zealand is the country other countries wish they looked like. There is nothing you can go see overseas that you can't find here too. Beach bum? We've got you sorted. Mountain lover? No worries. Bit of a cultural fiend? Got you covered too.

There is no country more Instagrammy than New Zealand and what we are about to find is that true wanderlust doesn't necessarily need to come with jet lag or currency conversions.

I hate Covid-19 with all my might and absolutely hate that it has locked me away from family and friends overseas. I can't even think about how long it might be before I see them again.

But I am forever grateful for being safely locked in a place as stunning as New Zealand. I know I'm very privileged to be safe and healthy and be able to see this as an opportunity. I know that is not the case for everyone and I wish it was. But for those who can get out and explore the country, there has truly never been a better time - and you'll be making a hell of a difference to businesses who relied on overseas tourists and who are now struggling to survive.

Before the year ends, I'd like to go pitch my tent in spots along the stunning Kahurangi National Park, I want to go see the penguins in Oamaru (and visit its most excellent adventure bookstore), I want to go drink some excellent beer in Wellington, I want to go on a hunt for New Zealand's best pie, I want to go to a few vineyards in the sunshine, I want to unfold a DOC map and pick out some half-day hikes. I'd like to visit Napier in all its Art Deco glory, go find out some more about the Chinese mining settlements in Central Otago, go on a mission to see as many Kiwi indie bookstores as I can, or maybe a roadie based on the best secondhand shops.

I'd love to drive Takaka Hill again, I haven't even ever seen Tane Mahuta. I've had my eye on the Putangirua Pinnacles for ages but never made an effort to even look up how to get there. I'd love to go to St Arnaud and make a plan to have a couple of beers with friends at Waipu again. Maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll make it to Stewart Island but I do miss the Redwoods in Rotorua too. I'd love to drive the Forgotten Highway again and go to the Whangamomona Hotel. Wouldn't mind exploring the new Paparoa Track or finally doing the Routeburn. People from all over the world dream of going to Milford Sound. Speaking of sounds, Marlborough ones supposed to be amazing too. I might get a motorhome, or try to find the best family-owned motel in each region.

If I'm lucky - and so far signs point to yes - I'll have seen a bit more of New Zealand, while my passport gathers dust. I'm stuck at the bottom of the world for the time being and I'll be damned if I don't make the most of that.

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