Have you ever had that feeling that you're just meant to be somewhere? It's like something is pulling on your heart strings, calling to you without words and yet it can be deafening.
I think that's when I first felt the tugging, as a young girl visiting New Zealand for my cousins wedding. I was about 8 at the time. We were there for 5 weeks, which as an 8 year old really did feel like a lifetime.
I remember asking Dad if we could move there. I don't think I really knew why I wanted to move there at that point - most likely because there were no snakes or spider (arachnophobe here!)
We didn't go back for over 10 years. Life just got in the way, and amidst high school, piano exams and a myriad of extra curricular things, years slipped by.
I went back in 2016 with my sister for a two week Lord of the Rings tour that covered both islands. I had never seen the North Island before but I fell in love with it just as I had the South when I was younger. The first week was on the North Island, but I still get goosebumps when I think of the feeling I felt when we landed on the South Island. It still makes me emotional.
The best way I can describe it, was that some part of me felt like I had come home.
We have been back every year since 2016.
People often laugh or roll their eyes or say "again?!" when I say I'm going back to New Zealand, and for a while there it would make me really confused. Why would people think it's funny? I would get very defensive about it (privately) because I didn't know how to explain to people how going back and being there made me feel.
It only hit me this year, what it really was. And it was so freeing and emotional.
When we landed in Christchurch this year, I got teary stepping out of the airport. Which felt ridiculous, but I couldn't help it. The emotion won. I felt like Sam Gamgee at the end of Return of the King when we stands outside his hobbit hole and says "I'm home" with the most content look on his face.
We spent 3 days at our family farm in the Maruia Valley - smack bang in the middle of the South Island. Think rolling fields, mountains, space, quiet, minimal cell reception.
Going back and being there with my Dad was so special. He showed us the old farmhouse he grew up in (it's still standing), and told us so many stories of years and years ago. And again, I got really emotional.
I had always wished I had grown up on the farm in New Zealand. I would have had a very different life I'm certain, but there is something powerful about the relationship with the land and the history behind it.
Our trip this year was 3 weeks long. It was a break we all needed, desperately.
But it ended up being a turning point for me.
Being in New Zealand is where I am most at peace, where I am most comfortable being myself. The space, the nature, the culture - it isn't city focused. It's not run on busyness and bustle.
I realised that neither was I.
I've spent years trying to jam myself into a mould that is always doing things, is always busy, and that busyness equals success. But it's just not me. I'd much prefer to spend the day with my camera by myself exploring or reading a book with a glass of wine. Don't get me wrong, I like hanging out with my people, but being constantly accessible gnaws away at me hugely.
I really struggled coming back to Australia this year; when I got home everything felt alien. But not in a sad way. It just felt natural, like one era was slowly drawing to a close and another one was beginning.
One of my friends said to me two years ago just after New Years that I was going to start realising something that I had forgotten about since my childhood. I think the dream little 8 year old me had of moving to New Zealand and calling it home will one day soon be the reality for me.
And I can't explain the joy that makes me feel. It just feels... right.