After four years living in London it was time to go back home to New Zealand – at least for a visit. I was missing the sunshine, the fresh air, the beaches and my family.
So, pining to see the whanau for the first time in years, I quit my job and booked a ticket home. The plan being to stay in New Zealand for six weeks – taking in Christmas and New Year’s Eve – before backpacking through South East Asia.
After leaving my heart in San Francisco I finally arrived in Auckland, exhausted from a 14-hour flight that saw me depart on a Wednesday and arrive in New Zealand on a Friday.
Thank God it was Friday because I was finally home. Well, almost.
“Can this line move any faster?” I said to my long-suffering girlfriend and travelling companion Nicola.
The line through customs was hardly moving at Heathrow-like speeds but it still wasn’t moving quickly enough for my liking.
Stupidly, I had let my NZ passport expire during my time in London so I had to enter the country as a British citizen. I really was a foreigner in my own country.
“Sorry, I’m really a Kiwi but I accidentally let my passport expire when I was overseas,” I said to the bemused woman at immigration. I didn’t need to say anything but I wanted her to know that I, like her, was a Kiwi.
A quick stamp on my passport and I was through immigration. I was on home soil.
“There he is!” I heard someone shout as I ambled across the airport lobby, eager to take off my thick winter coat in the New Zealand summer.
Like a deer caught in headlights – a cliché I never truly understood until that moment – I looked at my family and thought: who are these people?
Familiar and yet so different. My mother, father, sister and two brothers: a little older, fatter, skinnier and hairier (they’re going to have a field day working out which description suits them best).
They say that the more things change, the more they stay the same. At that particular moment in time I thought that was bullshit. Everyone was different; no-one was the same.
But we were still family.
Over the next six weeks we celebrated my birthday together at my parents’ house in Whangarei, then Christmas and New Year’s Eve together at the bach (or “holiday home” as non-New Zealanders would say) at Tokerau Beach on Northland’s Karikari peninsula.
And as for New Zealand, well, no country has been untouched by the global economic downturn and it is no exception. But besides a few new buildings here and there – a few less in Christchurch – it was pretty much how I left it, which is just fine by me.
In the four years that I was travelling I missed weddings, births, funerals, graduations, 21st birthdays, 50th birthdays, wedding anniversaries, earthquakes, a Rugby World Cup, a notorious mining disaster and two general elections.
I don’t regret it for a second. (Well, maybe I regret the rugby a little bit.) But I do regret being away so long without so much as a visit.
It was a great Kiwi summer and I won’t let it be another four years before I go home for a visit.