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I didn’t fully appreciate my three months back home in New Zealand at the end of last year.

While it was great to see my family and friends again after travelling through the Americas for over a year, I was in a haze of post-trip depression and found it hard to re-adjust to a life where I wasn’t constantly on the move.

Looking back on that three-month period now, it is with rose-tinted glasses, but I do remember the feelings of despair and hopelessness I felt at the time.

I still wanted to be travelling.

It felt like no one understood how important that trip was to me and how hard it was to finish it. New Zealand wasn’t feeling like home anymore. I hadn’t been back there for over two and a half years, the longest stretch for me ever, and I wasn’t feeling connected.

I missed Canada.

Luckily after a few months the mild depression I felt passed as I got re-adjusted to ‘normal’ life, and with its passing came homesickness for New Zealand.

Returning back home to New Zealand when my Grandmother diedIt was like the time that I did spend back there didn’t count because I wasn’t myself and I didn’t appreciate it.

With travel plans for the rest of the year and early next year already in place, it didn’t look like I would be going back home for till at least next June.

But then my Grandma had a stroke.

She died days later, surrounded by family to the end.

My last Grandparent, May, was my Father’s Mother. Grandma was 94 years old, completely lucid and as strong-willed as ever although she had finally accepted over the last couple of years that in her frail state, she would have to slow down some.

I had last seen her in January when she cooked me dinner despite me and my Dad trying to change her mind and make her relax. You can’t make Grandma do anything. She was stubborn and if she wanted to do something, there was no stopping her.

So I got to go back to New Zealand a lot earlier than expected. I just wish it didn’t have to be for such a sad reason.

My brother Robbie and I flew back together from Sydney, arriving late at Auckland Airport where our Dad picked us up.

This time it felt so good to be home and to be with family.

Hiking around Mount Maunganui on a visit back home to New Zealand when my Grandmother diedOn our first day back we went up to the beautiful country village of Matakana where my Grandma had lived to meet with the Funeral Director. It was a cold, wet day but sitting by the fire with my Auntie’s fluffy Birman cat on my lap, I felt content.

The Funeral Director was from Iowa of all places and was a really nice guy. My Dad and Aunties went over all the details with him and what could have been a desperately sad situation ended up almost light-hearted thanks to his beaming personality.

Entering my Grandma’s house was weird. I kept expecting to see her. Her cat, Tuppence, sat on the bed beside a pile of Grandma’s clothes.

Tuppence knew she was gone.

That upset me the most. Seeing Tuppence sitting there looking so sad and helpless, made me realise that Grandma had gone too.

The funeral was held a couple of days later. The service was very sad but the Wake was really, really great. It was so nice to be re-united with my extended family after such a long time. We celebrated Grandma’s life together and there was a lot of laughing and joy as well as tears.

Old photos were strewn across the table for everyone to look at, potluck food offerings were on the table and a toast was made to Grandma with her brandy.

Grandma had ten Great-Grandchildren and they were allowed to go into her house, next door to my Auntie’s, and pick something from a table full of her trinkets to remember her by. They all came running back, each jingling a bell loudly that they had chosen from her bell collection, much to the dismay of their parents.

It was such a great afternoon and it meant so much to me to be there. When my Grandad died a few years ago I was a broke student in London so I didn’t come back for the funeral and I have always regretted it.

I did the right thing this time.

Even my Mother came to Grandma’s funeral. My parents divorced over 15 years ago but are on friendly terms now. She always loved Grandma and it meant a lot for her to be there as well.

After the Wake, we headed over to the Matakana Village Pub for dinner. I have been going to that pub for years; almost every time we would visit Grandma, we would go there for a drink.

It is the heart and soul of the village and I always feel so at home there. It is a central meeting point for the community and reminds me a lot of village pubs in the UK.

Robbie and I stayed overnight with Mum in a motel and we met Dad for brunch the next day and walked around town a bit. When my family first moved to Matakana 15 years ago there wasn’t much there. It has come a long way and is now a trendy weekend destination for Aucklanders.

The Farmers Market on the weekend is fantastic and the village is positively buzzing then, but I love going there during the week also for the quiet side of the village. We walked down to the small creek that runs beside town and looked in some of the cute stores along the main street. I love Matakana.

Robbie and I spent a couple of days back in Tauranga with Mum after the funeral.

Walking around the Mount on a visit back home to New ZealandWe moved to Tauranga as a family when I was 14. Even though I only lived there for 4 years before moving to Hamilton to study, Tauranga is home. Along with Auckland.

The weather was beautiful during our stay so we walked around Mount Maunganui, an extinct volcanic cone that juts out into the harbour.

Walking around the Mount on a visit back home to New ZealandIt is also the name of the suburb that Mount Maunganui is located in, known as the Mount for short. The volcano is covered in a mixture of native bush and steep, grassy pastures which are home to lots of sheep. You can also walk up it but our Mother isn’t a big fan of steep inclines.

Walking around the Mount on a visit back home to New ZealandWalking around the Mount you are surrounded by water with spectacular views of the harbour on one side, ocean beach on the other and out to Matakana Island across the water. Gnarled branches of the native Pohutakawa trees along the path reach skyward.

In December when the trees are in flower, the path is framed with the red blooms that give the Pohutakawa its nickname of ‘New Zealand’s Christmas Tree’.

Walking around the Mount on a visit back home to New ZealandWhenever I am in Tauranga and the weather is fine, you will find me at the Mount.

After a couple of days of stormy weather, the waves were massive, so we walked out to the blow hole at the end of Leisure Island to see if it was, well, blowing. There was some surging but no blowing unfortunately.

After all the exertion, we ate lunch at a café overlooking the beautiful, white sands of Mount beach. Oh, it was good to be home!

Visiting the beach at Mount Maunganui on a visit back home to New ZealandOn our last day we soaked at my favourite Tauranga Hot Springs, Fernland Spa, a thermal pool set amongst the native bush in a quiet suburb down the road from Mum’s place.

Soaking at Fernland Spa on a visit back home to New ZealandBack in Auckland, I was able to catch up with two of my closest friends. It was so nice to spend time with them both again so soon. I also climbed Mount Eden, the highest volcano in Auckland, with Robbie and Dad. I love the view from the top and looking down into the grassy crater.

Climbing Mt Eden in Auckland on a visit back home to New ZealandAfterwards, we visited my favorite gardens in the world, Eden Gardens. My Grandma used to take me there when I was little and some of my earliest memories of her were of those visits.

There are so many native plants as well as a massive selection from around the world. It is always so quiet there apart from the native birds singing in the trees.

Visiting Eden Gardens in Auckland on a visit back home to New ZealandI was dying to hear my favourite native bird (the Tui) singing while I was back in NZ, and I got my wish at Eden Gardens.

A tui at Eden Gardens in Auckland on a visit back home to New ZealandWe spent an afternoon driving around Auckland, visiting my Grandad’s old house, my Great Grandparent’s and Auntie’s graves and the house they lived in in the 1930s and the Church Robbie and I were christened in. My Dad is the Bell family historian and I always love finding out more about my roots.

Visiting the church I was Christened in in Auckland on a visit back home to New ZealandI never truly appreciated the spectacular scenery in New Zealand when I was younger, but now after living abroad for so long, whenever I come home the landscapes enthral me.

The turquoise harbour, tree ferns, volcanic cones and more shades of green than you can imagine make New Zealand unique. It is truly like nowhere else in the world and I savoured every moment of being back.

Walking aroung Mount Maunganui on a visit back home to New ZealandOh and the food!

We ate out for more than half of our meals for the week I was back and it was glorious. I got to drink Feijoa smoothies, indulge in smoked fish pies, swoon at the amazing coffee, pig out on sticky Lonestar ribs, eat fresh New Zealand fish, green-lipped mussels and delicious Kumara – all the stuff I was missing from home.

My unexpected trip back home made me realise how much I miss having family in my life. I have lived away from New Zealand for so long and I don’t talk to my family as much as I should, especially my extended family.

Life always seems to get in the way.

I want to go back more often now that I am living only a three-hour flight away. In fact, I have vowed to myself to go home every year. Even if it is only for a week.

I never want to feel disconnected from my home country again. Being back this time the connection was strong and my relief was immense. Although I love Sydney and I am very much looking forward to spending the next few years here, New Zealand will always be my home.

I have no doubt in my mind that I will be back there for good one day…. eventually.

Where is home for you? Do you ever get homesick?

7 Comments on When a Relative Dies: An Unexpected Trip Back Home to New Zealand

  1. Having been around the world I think I can safely say NZ is home for us. I miss so many foods we just can’t get here, and I wish winter was a little warmer (though I know Auckland winters are nothing), but there’s no other city we can see ourselves in long term.

    • I definitely understand that. I want to end up back in New Zealand but I love Sydney and Vancouver so much too so will spend a few years in each first. It’s hard when you love more than one place 🙁

  2. I enjoyed reading this. It reminded me of so many of my experiences returning to NZ over the past 3 years. It’s always complicated to be back home, but home it most definitely is.

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