Six months of voracious living and more miles than Dr. Corliss ever dreamed she'd put on a car
Jen Corliss, MD lives by a credo: get out and get living. She's always had a voracious appetite for worldwide adventures. From exploring her own backyard in New York to practicing medicine in underserved communities in Mexico and Uganda and even jetting off to Beijing for a one-month rotation during medical schoolthat was only the beginning.
Just out of residency Dr. Corliss was working part-time in an Urgent Care Center in Buffalo. One day she overheard a colleague raving about a locum tenens position. "I saw photos of turquoise lakes and valleys of ice and she told me all about her stint in New Zealand," says Dr. Corliss, "I was immediately sold on working there."
Adventure beckoned and Dr. Corliss answered. It was that easy. She had a vast, glowing, empty page and she'd stop at nothing to fill it with stories of running on wild coastline and taming rapids on winding rivers. There was nowhere for her to go but under the Long White Cloud. She wouldn't be writing it alone, though, her longtime friend, Alicia Johnson packed her suitcases, too.
Despite a late landing and a bit of jetlag, they stared awestruck up at the expansive night skythey made it. Most of their jaw-dropping was saved for the next day when they rolled on under the golden sun to their new home: through small towns to pastoral country and finally to a goldmine. Really, their backyard was a goldmine. Dr. Corliss nostalgically retells, "Every morning I looked out my window and saw a goldmine surrounded by sprawling green countryside and nearby coast." Both she and Alicia were overjoyed with their new sceneryespecially on their 8k all-terrain race, "We ran from open farmland to forested path through caves and on suspension bridges...there's nowhere else where all that landscape can be seen in one short run."
The lay of the land was easy on the eyes but the Kiwi slang was hard on the American tongue. "I had trouble understanding some New Zealand phrases when I started," she recounts, "so I'd find a nurse to translate and by the end, I even caught myself using some of the slang." Soon enough, she was sweet-as, popping 'round cafés for a cuppa.
Dr. Corliss and Alicia were becoming more Kiwi-like by the day. Enough time had passed and enough land explored that they served as North Island tour guides when Dr. Corliss's brother and his wife arrived. They saw the City of Sails (Auckland) in all its beach-ridden glory; jumped into hot springs and boiling mud pools in Rotorua; surfed in Raglan; bungy jumped in Taupo; swam with dolphins in Mount Maunganui; and relaxed under arches that jut overhead and near pohutukawa trees that fringe the beach at Cathedral Cove.
Five days were cleared out for the South Island, too, where the sceneryDr. Corliss describes as best she can with mouth agapewas "THE most beautiful place I've ever seen." Set to stun, the group stopped at every whim during their road trip. Mount Cook was first in all its skyscraping glory. It's the tallest mountain in New Zealand and where Sir Edmund Hillary (New Zealand native) cultivated his climbing skills for the conquest of Everest. They ditched the climb to admire the mountain from the rails of a boat in Tasman Lake instead. "Mount Cook and Tasman Glacier were massive..." Dr. Corliss says "...icebergs dotted the lake and clouds hovered over the milky-turquoise waters."
Farther south they found Queenstown, the "adventure capital of the world." It's definitely earned that title with "fields" to ski, canyons to swing, mountains to climb and a mighty river to raft. In fact, four wetsuits and lifejackets later, the Corliss group was all smiles and sweat as they steeled themselves for the whitewater of Shotover River. And with rapids affectionately called "Aftershock" and "Pinball" down this 37-mile (60km) fast-flowing river, you bet they fine-tuned their rafting techniques. "Peaceful waters turned to rapids pretty quickly but the views were amazing as we zipped by." Two big islands explored and a roadmap full of pen marks, Dr. Corliss said goodbye to her family and they said so long to forest and fiord.
Travel-beaten suitcases and sore feet didn't stop Dr. Corliss and Alicia from crossing the Tasman to see Australia. They spent time in Old Melbourne Gaol, the place Ned Kelly (Australia's Jesse James) once called home. And even though their felonies were fictitious, their booking was real. Alicia recalls, "I was arrested for drug possession and Jen was arrested for making her own drugs." They went through the entire booking process and even got mug shots. After bail was made, the rest of the trip had Old English and Neo-Gothic architecture vaulting overhead and unimaginable views of the skyline from the Eureka Skydeckthe highest viewing platform in the Southern Hemisphere. "It was like a European city, full of old cathedrals nestled beside modern buildings," Dr. Corliss tells "but nothing was out of place."
After a weekend in Oz, they came back to the North Island wanting a pure, unadulterated New Zealand adventure. And where else can you find that but at a rugby game? A former college player herself, Dr. Corliss is an aficionado of all things rugbyand now an All Blacks fan, too. "I was extremely lucky to catch a Rugby World Cup game in Hamilton and front row tickets no less! It was incredible to see close-up action and we could even hear the players talk on the field." When she wasn't supporting the All Blacks from the bleachers, she was cheering from couches and bar stools all the way to the World Cup win.
Six months full of stories, 26 weeks with more miles than she ever thought she'd put on a car and 182 days of new experiences in both travel and career, Dr. Corliss is steeped in nostalgia. She still asks for New Zealand medications; occasionally lets Kiwi slang slip by; and has had a few near-panic attacks from driving on the right side of the road only to remember she's back in the states now. Her fondest memory: "My daily routine had me waking up to the bright New Zealand sun every day. I rode my bike to work past the goldmine through brilliant green fields and was greeted at work by my friendly coworkers. I saw patients during my four-day-a-week schedule and was impressed by the gratitude they showed for the care they received. I always finished by 5pm, so I had time to run to the beach or play a game of netball with friends." She looks forward to the next great adventure beyond the Land of the Long White Cloud.