Live More, Fear Less
It's often said that you should never put off until tomorrow what you can do today. And when it comes to travel, there's no better guiding principle—as BoutiqueHomes' Mikayla Randolph discovered on a recent journey to New Zealand.
When I first became a travel agent, my mentor taught me never to describe a place as a “bucket list” destination. According to her, that phrase gives people an excuse to put off their desires, and it misses the point entirely. Travel, she insisted, was about living.
A decade later, I finally understood what she meant. New Zealand has always been my dream destination, but it was too far, too expensive, and too logistically challenging. Or so I told myself. In the wake of Covid and the unexpected passing of my mother, those reasons felt insignificant—and I decided to take the risk and book my trip to the other side of the world.
After much planning and a not-so-delightful twelve-hour flight from California, my husband and I finally arrived. What followed were two hectic, life-changing weeks touring the North and South Islands, days filled with tourist stops and adrenaline rushes.
I’d love to say it was fantastic from the start but, within minutes of arriving, my husband nearly crashed the rental car. We recovered our nerves in a nearby Dunkin Donuts and were soon off on our adventure.
First stop: Hobbiton. Any sense of the familiar was soon gone, replaced by lush green, sprawling hills littered with puffy white, cloud-like sheep. It was easy to see why Peter Jackson chose this landscape as the backdrop for his Lord of the Rings films. The tour was well worth it, even ending with a stout and a dessert at the Green Dragon Inn, just like Frodo and Samwise.
Heading south to Rotorua, we discovered what felt like entryways to other worlds—a silver lake with white sand that seeped sulfur, an elevated walkway through ancient redwoods lit up by twinkling fairy lights, and Waimangu Volcanic Valley, a geothermal park, which was like walking into prehistoric times. Massive fern leaves created a sheltering canopy as steam rippled off its ancient geysers. Rotorua has a deep connection with the Māori people, so it was the perfect spot to learn about their culture. Standing among the trees, drinking traditional tea, we listened to them sing about the volcano’s origins. Fittingly, it was a love story. Rotorua unlocked a desire in me to be more appreciative of the land, and I left changed. Which is exactly what travel should do to you.
The coastal city of Wellington was our last stop on the North Island, and it was plain to see why it often ranks as the happiest city in the world. There was an energizing mix of curiosity, culture and nature, which made it special. Perfectly showcasing this was Weta Workshop, a world-renowned special-effects studio where local creativity and artistry were on full display. Our few days there were spent enjoying the lively bar scene, wandering the waterfront, and visiting the incredible national museum, Te Papa. Still, what stuck with me most was listening to the birds at the Zealandia wildlife sanctuary. Along the muddy trails, rare, exotic, and often endangered animals swooped overhead, echoing songs, clucking, and chirping. We were virtually surrounded. I’ve never taken to bird watching, yet I was captivated.
When we reached the South Island, the fire and sulfur were replaced with glaciers and fjords. The drive to Glacier Country was long and winding, but the landscape kept the ride magical. Snow-capped mountains, vast plains, and miles of gorgeous coastline were always right outside the window. We had a free day to climb the Roberts Point Track to the base of Franz Josef Glacier, a journey that included five swing bridges, scrambling over massive rock falls, and traipsing through waterfalls. It was the most treacherous yet most rewarding hike I’ve ever done, and the glacier view at the finish line was spectacular. From the moss covered, oddly shaped trees to the glittering blue ice, the natural beauty of this region felt straight out of a fairytale.
I always knew Queenstown would be a highlight of our trip. As the adventure capital of the world, it has no shortage of adrenaline pumping activities. We started with a leisurely cruise tour of Milford Sound which was wondrous, even beneath the overcast sky.
The next day, we amped up the activity level with an eco-zipline tour, a speedboat ride, and a haunted house (which I found most terrifying). I even leaped off Kawarau Bridge, bungy jumping where the sport began. The experience felt like a summation of my journey to New Zealand: it was too short, stunningly beautiful, and life affirming.
Our trip ended in Auckland. After all that strenuous activity, it was lovely returning to a place that felt familiar. As if we were back home, we toured the local museums, popped into indie bookshops, toasted our wonderful adventure in the neighborhood pubs, and even caught a Killers concert at the Spark Auditorium. It felt like a graceful step back into our regular lives.
As I flew home, I understood the trip had changed me. After years of dreaming, I’d taken that leap, made it my reality, and saw that I shouldn’t have held back. At the bungy center, I bought a cute magnet which summed up my realization so aptly, “Live more, fear less.” That’s exactly what I plan to do.
At BoutiqueHomes, we're all about breaking away from the ordinary and expanding our horizons. If you're looking for inspiration for your own big adventure, pick a destination here and go!
Photography: Mikayla Randolph & Dylan Gregory