Doing Things in New Zealand with Dirtbag Darling

Johnie wears the Warm Up Legging in Dove, Athena Crop in Dove, Merino Longsleeve in Clay, the OV Fleece Half-Zip in Currant, and the MegaFleece Pullover in Goji Berry
Marlin wears the 5" Rec Short in Slate Fleck, the Merino T-Shirt in Charcoal, the MegaFleece Snap Up in Oatmeal/Amber and the RecTrek jogger in Bone.

Unless you’ve somehow managed to fly under the radar of Instagram’s notorious algorithms, you’re familiar with the multitudes of "#wanderlust"-inducing feeds out there. Though marketing travel via hyper-saturated grids appears to be the direct descendant of yesteryear's glossy travel posters, we'd argue otherwise. The ability to filter and curate to the nth degree diminishes the possibility of "here goes nothing" travel, once implicit in booking a trip based upon a single poster or radio ad. Nowadays we sprint to our sojourns even before we've purchased a ticket, booking dinner reservations, guided tours, even beach chairs down to the hour.

Fortunately, there are dissenters to this digital-age narrative. Johnie Gall – a writer, photographer, producer and adventurer whose work examines the relationship between humans and the environment – is one of these people. Better known by her web handle, Dirtbag Darling, Johnie and her husband Marlin have dedicated themselves to exploring the far-flung reaches of the Great Outdoors. Johnie and Marlin are fond of documenting their adventures, and have provided us with plenty of inspiration to leave those best-laid plans behind and just go.

How’d you end up in New Zealand? What were you hoping to explore?

This is actually my third time back here and my husband's fourth. Every time we go to book a trip we look at each other like, "Yeah, but what about New Zealand again?" If we could move we would in a hot second (too bad we're 30 now and the visa process just got a whole lot harder for us). New Zealand's got it all: rock climbing, mountaineering, mountain biking, hut camping, surfing, hiking, lambs, Lord of the Rings set locations — all the things we love. My husband's on a sabbatical and I work remotely as a writer and photographer, so we decided to stay for a two months this time. We picked the South Island because it's close to some of our favorite mountains and is a bit more rural. I don't do well in cities, I get so stressed out. I want to be as remote as possible. 

When you arrive in a new place, what’s the first thing you do?

Well, we're really terrible planners, so the first thing we do is figure out where we're going to stay. We call it strategic procrastination: sometimes not having a plan opens up the door for really random and incredible opportunities. Other times, it just kind of sucks. During past trips here we've gone the camper-van route, but since we've been living in a van for weeks back at home, we needed a break from that. And a shower. So the first thing we did was rent a car, find a place to rent, and then ask around at a local coffee shop for what we should go to that day. 

My approach to travel is that if you're lucky enough to travel, you're lucky enough, so just enjoy the experience and don't worry so much about ticking experiences off a checklist. We also try our best to learn something while we're traveling. This trip we've been doing a lot of research around plastic pollution. We've been trying to meet up with as many NGOs, artists, researchers and small brands working on the frontlines of plastic pollution as we can just to learn and to try to share what we've learned. 

How do you balance travel and work?

I work full time, so balance usually means carving out time to actually do that, even when I'm in a really beautiful place. It's so hard! While I'm traveling I struggle with taking care of myself, for sure. I downloaded the Headspace app, so I've been working on meditating for ten minutes a day. 

What’s your ideal adventure? 

Going to space. Actually, I would love to be a documentary photographer on a scientific expedition somewhere very remote. Greenland, Mongolia and Tasmania are at the top of my list. My ideal adventure would be one that challenges me to think differently about the world in ways I don't expect, so I don't even want to try to create a picture of it in my head! 

What are your favorite places to explore? 

New Zealand is at the top of my list — you could spend a lifetime there and not even scratch the surface. I loved Cuba, Puerto Rico, Spain, Baja...but my favorite places to explore are actually the lesser-known national parks and public lands we have back in the States. From Death Valley National Park and the eastern Sierras to Acadia National Park to the Everglades to Bears Ears National Monument, these places are so rich in cultural and natural history. I plan to spend more time in these spaces this year; the dream is to do a longer horsepacking trip in Montana or Utah. 
Tell us about exploring New Zealand.
We came over here to do a lot of mountaineering but it's New Zealand — the weather is wild and unpredictable, and we never quite got a long enough window to get into the alpine. I can't complain though, we've done so much. We rented this rad Land Rover Defender — my dream car — for a few days and went to the Mt. Cook/Aoroaki area to hike, we went horseback riding and paragliding, rode mountain bikes back to Aspiring Hut, did some climbing and packrafting.

I was in total bliss pretty much everywhere we went because it's lambing season, meaning there are lambs and calfs everywhere. Everywhere. I couldn't handle how cute it was, I'd just sit in the passenger seat and try not to scream Just being surrounded by some of the most incredible mountains, glaciers, and turquoise lakes in the world was insane enough. Actually, one of my favorite experiences was when we discovered Cinema Paradiso, this tiny movie house in Wanaka. Inside each theater there are old couches and random chairs, and even old-fashioned car fronts refitted with cushy seats. During intermission you can order fresh-baked cookies and they serve wine. We went there two days in a row. 

What does #DoingThings mean to you? How does it figure into your everyday life? 

To me, #DoingThings means trying new things, every single day. That doesn't mean paragliding in New Zealand, either. When we travel, every day feels long because we're forced to notice things we stop seeing in our everyday life — new smells, clothing we don't see all the time, a bird call we've never heard before. So if I can take that and apply that to every single day, then every day counts. No day just becomes lost to routine and work. #DoingThings means making a point to experience, not just exist. And yeah, sometimes that means taking my dog for a walk on different trail than we normally take, but to me that counts. 

Curious about exploring New Zealand? Learn more about Johnie & Marlin's adventures on Dirtbag Darling, where Johnie profiles her adventures, or follow her on Instagram.

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