Grace DuVal is an independent fashion designer, photographer, and wearable artist. She is currently living in Chicago, IL where she is working on her master's degree in Fashion, Body and Garment at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
This blog is an account of her creations and life adventures. All content and images © Grace DuVal unless otherwise stated.

Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim.

Tyler Knott Gregson

And finally, without any warning, we emerged quite suddenly from the picturesque landscape of the New Zealand coast into the bleak city outskirts of Auckland Airport. With trepidation we made our way to the rental car company, unwilling to leave the country or return our quirky and lovable, although bare bones, trusty steed.

Mitsubishi Lancer, you did us proud. You served your purpose with grace and spunk, never failing to get us where we needed to be. You held our mounds of maps and travel supplies, you gave us a home, you never complained when we made you traverse steep and daunting terrain. Sure, you weren’t fancy, but neither were we, and we couldn’t really ask for any better.

2,815.6 kilometers. 1749.53 miles. That’s how far we took you, and you never failed.

What a journey. What an experience.

It has been magical, life changing, confusing, exhausting, stressful, and rewarding. It is much more than there are words to describe it.

We are now in a coffee shop in Chicago, jetlagged out of our minds, blankly staring at computer screens and trying to readjust to America. We have free, unlimited wifi here. We have iced coffee, and giant, American-sized cups of coffee. But we are also lacking in stunning scenery, polite peoples, and open roads. There are tradeoffs at every turn. Now is the time for readjustment and acclimation.

New Zealand, it’s been a joy, it’s been an adventure, it’s been a wild ride. We’ll be back, I have no doubt. We haven’t even seen the South Island, and every Kiwi we’ve met has told us that the North Island is really quite shit, you’d better get to the South Island if you want to see anything really amazing. Our minds are reeling… how can this be beat?

I guess we’ll just have to come back and find out.

Knowing we had a late flight departure Amy and I decided to take our time through scenic routes to get back to the city. And so from Witianga we continued northwards around this jutting peninsula, following its perimeter and the sea towards Coromandel. We passed through extraordinarily winding mountain passes, views of the ocean visible at every turn, the closeness of passing vehicles making our hearts catch in our throats. We made a stop in Coromandel to examine the local flavor, me purchasing a beautiful ring from a local artisan, before hitting the road again.

We descended from the treacherous terrain to a coastal road that nearly kissed the sea as it wound along the edge of the coastline, and still onwards we drove past blue waters and rocky outcroppings. 

Morning dawned on our tent in Witianga and we groaned as we awoke, not wanting to leave this magnificent country. We laid in our tent listening to the birds singing, the wind rushing over us, flapping the fly, shifting the nylon walls. Eventually we gave in, packing our belongings and sorting out the car for our final drive back to the Auckland Airport.

We marveled at the lemon trees in our campground as we drove past, wondering about how New Zealand manages to grow such tropical fruit in a place that can be so cold. We are ignorant, someone explain this to us.

Out of the site we drove, into town for our last morning cup of coffee and sausage roll. We stopped hunting for wifi, because who needs wifi when you can be exactly where you are?

After an afternoon of driving northwards from Rotorua, hitting winding mountain passes and driving along the ocean, we finally pulled into the tiny sea village of Whitianga. Sunset was upon us, purple clouds floating overhead as we rolled into the understated town. This was our first truly local venture, the first time we stayed in a place that was geared not at all towards tourists, and it felt like home.

We found our preferred holiday park, minutes from the water, and were given an entire estate on which we could put our tent. Pitching our tent in between two trees, we then went into town for dinner at the one restaurant they have. There we, as the only patrons in the place, stuffed our face with local seafood chowder and bangers and mash while having more life talks, taking in our last evening in the country. The food here is so delicious, so fresh, you know it came right out of the bay we’re next to, right out of the field down the road.

When dinner was over we went back to our private estate and were greeted by a crisp, clear night sky, the moon beaming down on us and stars covering every other ounce of sky. Amy excitedly took out the star book she brings everywhere with her, and laying a blanket on the grass we laid down while she searched for constellations.

Constellation hunting in a hemisphere with which you are not acquainted is not an easy matter, and it took quite a while for us to locate our first constellation, Scorpio. But from there we were able to branch out and identify more, telling stories and eventually evolving into conversations about space and life and religion and the world. It was a magnificent way to finish our trip, to spend our last night under the beauty of the open sky, wishing these moments wouldn’t end.

But eventually the nip in the air got to us, and together we climbed into our sleeping bags to spend our last night in the wilds of New Zealand, under the stars, beneath our two trees.

Views from the roadside…

Overlooks in New Zealand are just outrageous. It gets a little overwhelming when every turn is followed by a jaw-dropping panorama. It makes idyllic fields of sheep feel like power plant stations in relation to the other scenery.

This is a conglomeration of overlooks we stopped at, from the hot waters of Rotorua Lake, to an amazing view of the ocean we encountered on a winding mountain pass (complete with random flock of chickens), to the overlook we caught when we finally hit the ocean on our way towards Whitianga.

This country is immense, it is astounding. Photographs don’t even begin to do it justice, stories will never explain it. It’s something you’ll just have to go see.

From our bubbling mud pits we headed out on a short hike to a crater lake hidden in the side of Rainbow Mountain. I don’t even understand how water can be that blue, but it was electric as we looked out from the lookout and onto the landscape. I can’t even tell you how much I wanted to dive in and see what it’s like to swim in water that clear.

Still in Rotorua, I let Amy continue to competently blaze the trail for our activities. The next morning we continued with our daily coffee and wifi searching ritual, then hit the road towards geothermal wonders. First on the list was a bubbling pool of mud, constantly rippling with tiny bursts of gas, heat and steam rising off of the pool as we looked onwards.

Isn’t the Earth incredible? I think it’s amazing.