If everything’s coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane! – Juicy Rental Cars
I’m still dreaming of snow capped mountains, unreal turquoise rivers and lakes, and the friendliest people I’ve ever met. I returned from my New Zealand trip earlier this week and I’m already dying to return – no wait – MOVE THERE. Honestly, I don’t understand why so few people actually live in this amazing country. The weather is good, the food is AMAZING, the landscape is breathtaking (I literally had a hard time breathing when I stood at the foot of one of the glaciers), and the culture is relaxed, warm, and inviting. I’m in love.
The reason for the trip initially was to give a presentation at The Ancestral Health Society of New Zealand. Jamie Scott and Anastasia Boulais (along with a dedicated group of other volunteers) did a fantastic job organizing one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended. Not only did they host the event, but they curated the best road trip I’ve ever taken. When I heard about the conference, I was immediately “in”. My good friend Emily Deans, who was also “on board” from the very beginning, decided to come along with me for a pre-conference road trip. We were like Thelma and Louise – or maybe more like Edina and Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous. In any case, as two 40-year-old moms, we had the rare pleasure of waking up when we wanted (ok, every day we naturally woke up at 6:30 and hit the road), listened to our favorite music from our college days, and simply did what we wanted, when we wanted. Oh the simple pleasures in life.
After a long flight (about 24 hours in travel), we arrived in Christchurch. I immediately offended my hosts by asking for cream with my “long black”. We spent the day driving to Akaora to go swimming with the miniature dolphins.
The landscape looked very much like Scotland to me. Sheep were everywhere. The farmers plant hedges to shield the animals from the blustery winds that seem to come from nowhere and can be quite intense. I loved the mist that hovered over the hills.
It was a stormy day, so the boats weren’t taking tourists out, but we did pop into a local restaurant where I had the first of taste of local New Zealand lamb. I decided that I’d eat lamb every day while I was there. Jamie and Anastasia did a great job of keeping us awake and well entertained the entire first day. After taking a dose of sleep cocktail, Emily and I had a solid sleep and woke up the next day ready to go.
We rented our car, and off we went. Emily did the driving. The license plate cover boasted a clever slogan, “If everything’s coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane”. Fortunately, there were many billboards reminding us to keep left, and a sticker inside the car as well. Only once did she drive in the “right” lane. It was not pretty, but we managed to keep the car in pristine condition.
We headed west first, through the most spectacular mountains to Castle Hill (pictured below~those boulders are gigantic!), and then stopped at The Devil’s Punchbowl for a quick and steep hike.
After making it to the west coast, we headed south to the town of Franz Josef. That night, we took a dip in the hot pools. I accidentally walked into the men’s changing room on the way out, but I swear, it was very confusing signage! Whoops.
The next morning, we hiked along the river bed to see the glacier, just as the sun was first hitting it. Emily and I both agree that Franz Josef Glacier was the most impressive stop on the trip. It was like we were walking on another planet. The moss, the waterfalls, the mist and clouds left us speechless. I pocketed a few rocks as souvenirs.
Continuing south, we drove along the rugged west coast. It was beautiful and undeveloped, with farms and cliffs right up against the ocean. We noted the distinct absence of resorts and even homes. Nobody lives here!
It looked like what you would imagine if the Oregon coast and Hawaii had a baby, with lush vegetation and tropical highlights in the water. The weather was windy though, and I had no desire to jump into the rough waves.
We then headed inland, toward the town of Wanaka. The river we followed was turquoise blue, which was stunning against the dark mountains. We stopped at the “blue pools” – I swear the tourism board adds coloring to the water!
On the way to Wanaka, we stopped at Lake Matheson for a big hike and I ate more lamb (in a curry) with a beautiful salad.
After one night in Wanaka, and a zany visit to Puzzling World (a must see), we drove south to Queenstown, where we stayed for six days.
Our Airbnb rental in Queenstown was a dream. I could definitely see myself living here. Each morning, we were greeted with incredible views of the lake. I’m so glad it came with a cutlass!?!
Queenstown was full of charming restaurants, coffee shops, and lots of tourists. Emily and I took the gondola up to the top and luged our way down. Twice. I wish we had done it ten more times – it was THAT fun!
Before the conference started, we also took a day trip to Milford Sound. Described by Rudyard Kipling as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’, this fiord was carved by glaciers during the ice age. Waterfalls cascade downward from the steep cliffs, some as high as 1000 meters. Because the drive is so long and we were short on time, we took a small plane, followed by a nature cruise once we landed. The ride was mostly smooth and the pilot laughed when I screamed because of the “bumps”.
The flight was worth any butterflies I had in my stomach. Milford Sound is absolutely magnificent.
October 23 – 25 was the conference, which was held at a beautiful hotel featuring mountain and lake views right from the lecture hall. The Ancestral Health Society of New Zealand is focused on trying to learn from our past to solve the modern diseases we face today. The speakers came from all over the world. Emily and I were joined by our American buddies and fellow speakers Stephanie Gaudreau, Craig Zelinski (actually, he’s Scottish), Karen Phelps and Dallas Hartwig (actually, he’s Canadian), who we spent many lunches and dinners with while we were in town. It was incredibly special to be able to share this gorgeous setting with familiar faces, who we often talk to online, but rarely get to hang out with in real life.
One of my favorite talks was by Brad Norris, owner of Synergy Health Limited, called, “What lies beneath: how individual values determine health behaviors.” He spoke about how most people aren’t motivated by “health” goals, unless they’ve had a health scare. His company has a unique approach to corporate wellness by using games and other challenges as motivators to get people to change their behaviors. I always enjoy learning how I can motivate people and speak to them in a way that will create lifelong change, and Brad’s talk definitely helped me re-think how I approach my nutrition counseling. Brad also saved my life by grabbing me from walking into oncoming traffic – it’s easy to look the wrong way when you cross the street! Thank you, Brad.
I also really enjoyed Dr. Ihi Heke, a Maori health & physical activity consultant who gave a great perspective on how to talk to Maori people about health. His talk was called, “Atua to Matua: Maori Ecology and the Connection to Health and Physical Activity”. Because Maori people identify themselves as part of nature, individual health is not a concept that resonates with them. He proposed framework that provides an alternative to the current non-Maori health and physical education frameworks utilizing a tribal-centric, environmentally based approach.
Ian Spreadbury delivered a video presentation, “Acellular carbohydrates: are our bacteria a detector of dietary refinement?” arguing that the effects of flour, sugar and processed foods on the upper gut microbiota and the immune system may be the main cause of obesity and many Western Diseases, based on this paper. Although I’ve previously read the paper, I always appreciate hearing someone explain it in a presentation, even if it was virtual.
My travel buddy Emily Deans presented, “Brain-gut axis: the effect of intestinal microbiome on mental health”, which is truly at the cutting edge of healthcare. Because humans co-evolved with their microbiome, pseudocomensal organisms, and parasites, and our modern diet and lifestyle throws our biome out of balance, many of today’s health issues can be tied to these imbalances. Check out this video from a previous conference by Emily on mental health and nutrition.
I’ll write a longer blog post one of these days about my presentation, which defended red meat as not only sustainable for human health, but also for the health of our soils, as well as a good choice for social justice and animal welfare. I’ll be presenting it again at the Paleo-Primal-Price Foundation conference coming up. I’ll also be delivering the keynote, “Sustainability > Dogma”, which I’m really fired up about!
One last talk notable to me was by David Raubenheimer, a comparative nutritional ecologist, with an interest in developing and applying ecological and evolutionary theory to understanding the nutritional biology of humans and other animals. He is co-inventor of a framework called Nutritional Geometry, an approach for modelling the ways that nutrients interact in their effects on consumers. In, “Should We Eat Like Our Ancestors? A nutritional ecologist’s perspective”, one of the very best talks I’ve seen at a conference, he explained how primates and humans are driven to eat based on evolutionary signals. You can see a video of him speaking here.
On the way to the speaker dinner, I had a chance to talk with David Raubenheimer and learn more about his work. He said something that really sparked my interest. As he was talking about his observations of primates in captivity, he said how depressing it is for them to have all of their needs met, all of the time. He said that they need to work for small rewards, and that’s what keeps life interesting for them. With all of their needs consistently met, life is boring. I think this is also very true when I look around at my fellow humans. I see the people who have more than what they need, and still aren’t happy. If you can buy anything you want at any time, don’t need to work, and have no mission driving you, then I can see how that would lead to a very empty existence. To me, the thrill of life is in the hunt, the drive, the struggle. It’s exciting to work hard for something you really want. We live in a time of overabundance, yet unprecedented rates of depression. Maybe everything isn’t supposed to be coming your way, all the time – maybe you need some resistance to keep you moving in the right direction. I’m going to play with this idea more in my head and expand on it in the future.
Ok, back to the trip. The day after the conference, we headed up to Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain. I’m not kidding with the color of the water here. It’s THAT blue!
We hiked around, up to the base of this glacier, which erupted a strong emotional reaction in me. It was so huge and old, and solid. It made me realize how powerful, resilient and beautiful nature is, and how insignificant one single human can be.
On the way to Lake Tekapo, Emily and I cranked up the tunes again. We altered between Jane’s Addiction, Beach House, Thievery Corporation, The Violent Femmes and then turned it to Hard Sun by Eddie Vedder, which gave us chills in relation to what we just saw. She drew the line at Led Zeppelin, so it didn’t make the road trip soundtrack, but I assure you that Battle of Evermore was on repeat in my head as we drove through the mountains.
Next, we headed to Lake Tekapo. After we checked into our hotel, we took a drive up to St. John University Observatory. Here’s the view from the top:
Down by the lake, the sun was setting. I loved the dark clouds and how the sky was so bright next to the mountains.
The Church of The Good Shepherd was photogenic as well.
After a night in Lake Tekapo, it was time to head back to Christchurch to catch our 4pm flight. We opted for the scenic route, which took us through spectacular farmland on our way to the airport.
Emily was incredibly patient with me as I begged her to stop the car every five seconds so I could take a photo. I’ve got enough material for hundreds of paintings. She and I are already scheming on how to get ourselves back. I’d love to figure out how I can live there one day, even if it’s only part time. I’m incredibly grateful to Jamie and Anastasia for inviting me, and for helping to ensure we had the perfect trip. I’ve never been to a country that beautiful, with such diverse landscapes, such amazingly friendly people, and so much lamb!
PS: Thank you so much to Nutritional Therapy Association for sponsoring me to attend the conference (and I highly recommend the program, if you’re looking to learn more about real food nutrition). The folks at NTA are very supportive of my work!
PPS: If you don’t already follow me on Instagram, please do. I’ve posted more images from New Zealand there.
PPPS: Here’s one of the paintings I just started, based on one of my photos from the trip: