a photo diary of September in New Zealand: home with whānau

While I’ve been working through my European/Northern Africa/Middle East drafted posts and sort out planning my summertime return to New Zealand, my focus kept coming back to my SD card filled with snapshots of the beautiful landscapes and people I love.

So, here I am. Piecing together words and pictures {both DSLR and iPhone snaps} from more time in this most precious of places. And here it is. The bits I feel like sharing anyway. I took nearly 1,000 photos and now have endless video files on my phone from Tara in a gin-induced state laughing at vacation photos, but I always like to put together a little photo diary of my favourite. If for no one else but me.

I believe that we end up where we are supposed to be. I have to. And, that’s why, I think I ended up in New Zealand nearly 9 years ago and have continued to return, whether to live, work, study, or visit. There is no place that is more home and there are not people who are more whānau.

See photos from my last return here.

wellington - hutt valley

Wellington is like my favourite pair of blue jeans— I never want to take them off. It feels comfortable and familiar, worn-in in the right places. Sure, it’s small. But, it’s soul-filled. More than that, it’s filled with some of my most cherished memories. Guitars as gifts, secondhand book buys, little Ryan cuddles, and embarrassing my friends by cheering too eagerly for the wrong team at WestPac.

On this visit, I wandered to Te Papa’s new confetti installation {which is blowing up in Instagram}, took to the Farmer’s Market, and grabbed brunch in Lyall Bay with Viktoria Wanders and her talented partner Ryan. I also lodged a visa application {more about this later}. Not only is their daughter even cuter than she appears online, but Tori and Ryan felt like old friends. The only thing missing from brunch was an extra 10 hours for us to continue talking.

In Hutt Valley, I had lunch with family, went to Ryan’s open day {can we talk about how he’s in school now?!}, and laughed it up with Amy about the inability of some people to park correctly. I even managed to grab a high five from tiny Indie. The Hutt might not be a barrel of busy, but it’s always a good time playing legos with littles in the sunshine.


levin - otaki gorge

Levin is just over an hour outside of Wellington. The little town is home to one of the best cafés in the country {in terms of quality coffee} and two of my favourite people, Sam and Ellen. The two of them offered me a bed to crash in while I was visiting people in Wellington and Hutt Valley. This is not the first time they have been generous with me. Last November, I crashed for a night at Sam’s place before making my way onward to stay in Hutt Valley with other friends.

If I have ever mentioned how lucky I am to have friends who are more like family in New Zealand, I am definitely referring to Sam, and by extension Ellen. I have been able to be myself fully around Sam since the moment I ate fish and chips on the floor of my dorm room at Ferg hall, and I feel equally so around Ellen. In a sort of full-circle moment, Sam, Ellen, and I ate fish and chips on the floor of their home. As I sat down, Sam turned to Ellen and said, “You know, my first memory of Tara is eating fish and chips on the floor of her room at Ferg.” It was a moment during my stay that sticks out and fully appeals to my sentimentality.

We went for a walk around Otaki Gorge, went to Indian dinner {and I didn’t forget my wallet this time}, and they supervised as I made a meal for Teigh, his fiancé Rebecca, Sharmla, and Sheridan. It’s always the littlest of moments, like sitting on the couch at Sam and Ellen’s and exchanging stories from our days, that really solidify how much staying means to me.




muriwai - piha

A rented beach bach with an outdoor shower, an outdoor fireplace on the deck, and a marshmallow bed all within a 5-minute drive from the ocean— that, my friends, is actual heaven, Muriwai, Piha, and Bethells were an easy drive from Auckland, though I had never made it before. I booked a surf, which was rained out, and then spent most of my time driving along the coast singing out road trip tunes and snapping too many photos of gannets. I drank a shit ton of my favourite kombucha, had sea salt popcorn for dinner, and ate an entire block of chocolate post-swim in freezing water. The bliss felt in Piha and the surrounding area, with limited WiFi and big laughs, is truly the stuff of dreams.

READ MORE: The Ultimate Road Trip on New Zealand’s Northwest Coast


waitangi - northland

Keegan, Benner, Simone, and I had planned on spending a weekend in Waiheke. Instead, after some miscommunication , we all decided to go on a road trip up north. Our roadie included a trip to Waitangi, the “birthplace of New Zealand”, where I had never been. It turned out to be a glorious day, so we played cricket on a grassy hill overlooking the coast. All those years playing tee ball paid off, because I whacked the ball with some force when Keegan and Benner bowled decently enough .

We all grabbed TipTop ice cream at Waipu and walked along the beach where I proceeded to spill chocolate on one of my favourite white t-shirts at golden hour. The views of the day were matched by Benner’s playlist of songs which ended up giving us all laughs after we figured out how to relate their lyrics to life happenings. I hadn’t hung out with Benner since January 2018, when I made a trip over from China, and I have to say I missed the sharp one-liners and the puns. Having two of my favourite lads together in one car made me an extra happy girl.



I have never connected with Auckland. I like the buzz of the city but, overall, the only reason I ever lived there was {honesty time} the opportunity to be near my then-boyfriend and the only reason I spend time there whenever I return is because pieces of my heart live up here {shoutout to Benner, Keegs, and the Fussell family}. It’s also the major airport hub, so there ya go.

This time around, I slept in the pilates-studio-turned-spare-room of the Fussell family. Remuera is never a place I’ve felt at home in, but I know it like the back of my hand. Every corner of this place, every new café, every old dairy, every overpriced flower shop— it is filled with memories both happy and hard. I had two fun lunch dates in my first two days back in New Zealand’s biggest city with an old friend {one at a brewery where I enjoyed a few pints and tater tots like a true adult}. Then, after what can only be described as a breakfast of equal parts belly laughter and bombs dropped, I set out to have some extra special memories. Ones that wouldn’t mark the city in my memory with more confusion.

Some of my adventures in Auckland this September included: a beautiful homemade dinner at Abigail Hannah’s house with her husband {the Indian meal they made was insanely yum}; a road trip {mentioned later on in this post} with Keegan, Simone, and Benner; brunch dates with new found friends; and a sunset at Mount Eden where Keegan captured some of my favourite candid photos to date {and yes, they were actually candid and the joy on my face is the realest}.

My send-off was one I’ll never forget. Thoughtful in all its little touches, even those that were unintended. Benner, Simone, Keegan, Amelia, and I went to Mission Bay for fish and chips. Of course, it started to absolutely piss down. So, we grabbed them to go and headed back to Benner’s swanky Mission Bay flat {his TV is larger than my living space in Laos, I swear} and ate our hot meal on the floor, washing it down with Panhead Superchargers {my fave}. I had spent a few hours in the morning baking banana cake with little Sam and Zac, frosting it ever so carefully to meet Zac’s high standards so that I could bring it with me to our goodbye get together. I’m pretty sure I ate half the cake, but it turned out edible and exceeded my expectations for what I can produce with an oven and child supervision. Reminiscing over my time studying abroad and the fact that we’ve all been friends for nearly a decade made my heart swell. I also only had a few drinks and felt a hangover headache the next morning so…well done lads.











I love New Zealand. I will be back to stay. But, I’ve realized after the happiness and heartbreak I’ve experienced over the last 8+ years on this little island home with the most wonderful people, so yummy I could have never even dreamed them up, is that when your heart picks a home, it is tethered there always.

See you for a summer road trip, whānau. You and this place are the loves of my life.