Looking Back New Zealand Photo Essay USA

Top 10 Instagram Photos of 2017 + the True Backstory For Each One

For the past two years, I’ve done a round up of my top ten Instagram photos of the year. In those roundups, I’ve stated how much I love Instagram and love sharing my photos on that platform.

In recent months, I’ve grown to resent Instagram, though. It might be more appropriate to say I resent how Instagram can make me feel inadequate and self-conscious.

You see, from time to time I’m guilty of comparing my life to that of the perfectly curated and beautifully edited photos of others. I know I’m not alone in this. I forget that they are just pretty pictures and not the full story of what is actually happening behind the lens and in the hearts and minds of the people who posted the photographs.

Top 10 Instagram Photos of 2017

So, this year I’ve included a short backstory for each beautiful photo I’ve shared. Stories about what I was doing at the time that I snapped the photo, what I was feeling at the time, or what it makes me think of now.

And moving forward into a brand new year, I’m vowing to only admire the photos shared by others for what they are: beautiful moments frozen in time.

10. Queenstown, New Zealand

I’m not a big fan of adventure sports and Queenstown is world famous for them. I’m a clumsy, uncoordinated person who is out of shape as all Hell, so purposefully putting myself in harm’s way just doesn’t sound fun to me. I pushed past that, though, to spend a day with my friend, Jessica.

Both new arrivals to the country on a working holiday visa, I met Jessica when we shared a dorm room for a couple days. We immediately clicked and spent a lot of time together during that first week. We parted ways eventually but stayed in touch over the next couple months. She had been living and working in Queenstown for some time, so she showed me around when I finally made it to town.

She suggested we spend part of the day at Skyline Queenstown, including some runs on the luge track. I’d never luged before, and thought for sure I would mess it up and hurt myself somehow. She could tell I was apprehensive about it but her encouragement and excitement made me excited, too.

The hour or so we spent on the three luge runs we made were perhaps the most fun I had in New Zealand. It turns out I’m not as uncoordinated as I thought.

At one point, when we passed a girl who missed a turn on the track and her cart ended up stuck near verticle on the bank, we broke into uncontrollable laughter that didn’t stop for the next hour or so. We even chuckled about it throughout the rest of the night when we spotted the girl. She was just so humble and adorable about it, laughing along with us and hiding her face in embarrassment.

9. Old Orchard Beach, Maine

This photo was taken several years ago but got lost in the archives of the thousands of photos I have. Every so often I’ll sift through these old folders and find gems like this to share.

I snapped this during a detour I took on my way home after attending a wedding in Portland, Maine in 2013. I knew nothing about the town, but the name conjured images of old-timey seaside vacations, and that’s exactly what I discovered there.

It was November, so everything was closed for the winter. There were restaurants along the pier and an old-fashioned arcade, all worn by years of salty air and tourists. I still found it as beautiful as ever, with all its shabbiness and chipped paint. I have an affinity for the style, after all, since I grew up in a beach town just like it.

The weather was surprisingly mild, so I took a walk along the beach. I’ve always been fascinated by piers like this that jut into the ocean. Barnacle covered pillars show evidence of the movement of tides, and I imagine sitting around a bonfire on a clear summer night. It’s all very romantic, don’t you think?

8. Moonstone Beach – Trinidad, California

There is nothing quite like spending a day at the beach in Humboldt County, and at Moonstone Beach in particular. There is just so much beauty to take in. Giant cliffs with caves and tidepools to explore at low tide. Sea stacks off in the distance with surfers bravely facing frigid, crashing waves and an unpredictable rocky seafloor.

Wildlife literally surrounds you. There is a countless variety of birds flying overhead and shellfish, hermit crabs, and starfish in the tidepools and below your feet buried in the sand. You’ll see whale spouts and cheeky seals not far from the shore, not to mention all the sea creatures roaming about below the surface. Behind you up on the cliffs and beyond elk, mountain lions, and bears roam freely.

It’s a humbling realization of just how tiny you are in the world.

On the day I took this photo, the tide was moving out as the sun began to set. The sand at Moonstone Beach is so fine and dark that the water just slicks the surface essentially creating a mirror. The perfect conditions to snap an image where you can hardly tell where the ocean ends and the sky begins.

I feel very fortunate to have lived in Humboldt County for as long as I did and to have friends there who I can visit anytime I want.

7. Bluff, New Zealand

This sea glass is one of my more treasured souvenirs brought home from New Zealand. When I see it now, it reminds me of two challenges that I faced while traveling the country.

First of all, as I mentioned in the original caption to this photo, this was my first introduction to the infamous New Zealand sandfly. I was happily minding my own business, enjoying the solitude I found on this tiny, rocky beach at the very bottom of the South Island, when they decided to join me, uninvited.

As I searched for my treasures, I swatted and slapped these annoying little biting creatures away from my ankles a few dozen times, but I persisted, determined to leave with at least a handful of glass. Weeks of itching and burning from those bites were well worth it as I look at the sea glass now, inside a small jar on display in my room.

The second challenge it reminds me of is navigating New Zealand by way of public transportation — on my own, all alone, for three whole months. I had never done anything like it in my life, and by the time I reached Bluff, I was a seasoned professional.

6. Avon River – Christchurch, New Zealand

For six weeks, this was my view from the Airbnb I lived at in Christchurch. Almost daily, I would cross this bridge and take photos of the river. Sometimes I’d capture the twice-daily rowers gliding by, pairs of black swans swimming by, or a glowing sunset. It was a very peaceful place to spend my time, but there was some sadness to it, as well.

I was usually on my way to the nearby PAKn’SAVE to pick up some food to cook or to explore the surrounding Residential Red Zone. At first glance, I thought that the empty space was just parkland, but with closer inspection, I saw evidence that it was once more.

Close up I noticed driveways lined with decorative bushes, sidewalks that led nowhere, straight lines of trees that once depicted borders between yards. I looked up and saw powerlines and signs for streets people no longer lived on. I spent a lot of time walking around the red zone, imagining what it looked like before thousands of homes city-wide were leveled and it became something you’d see in a movie about a zombie apocalypse.

The area had a profound effect on me, not only because I could actually apply some knowledge of earthquakes I gained in college, but because of the magnitude of the devastation the city had endured and resulting resiliency and ability to recover that was showcased in the aftermath.

That is what this photo makes me think of.

5. Queenstown, New Zealand

I walked along on the rocky edge of Lake Wakatipu for a couple hours on my last day in Queenstown. It was a crisp autumn day, dark clouds loomed over the mountains threatening to bring rain. The leaves on the trees all around me had turned different shades of yellow and orange.

A strange experience for me because this was happening in March.

As I walked, I picked apart each and every decision I had made since I arrived in New Zealand, doubting and regretting half of them. I took a seat next to this stack of rocks to pick apart my newest decision to leave after only 3 months.

Did I try hard enough? What could I have done differently? Will I ever return? Is this the right thing to do?

I didn’t have answers to those questions in that moment, but I have since come to terms with my decision to leave early.

4. Christchurch, New Zealand

The earthquake that ravaged downtown Christchurch and created the Residential Red Zones I mentioned earlier happened in February 2011. Six years later, I rolled into town on an Intercity bus, knowing next to nothing about the city.

One thing totally unexpected was the great number of abandoned buildings still standing. Literal piles of rubble around almost every corner six whole years later. I will never be able to truly understand what the people of Christchurch felt in the months and years following this earthquake, but I imagine having the remnants around as constant reminders couldn’t have been helpful.

Among the ruins are also great works of public art – murals, sculptures, and interactive installations. The colorful artwork does exactly what it is intended to do, which is to highlight the positive and distract from the devastation.

I do believe there is a certain beauty of a community living among the remnants of a horrific event as it repairs and rebuilds.

3. Cook Strait, New Zealand

I really wanted to love Wellington. Every story I’d heard about the city before I got there made it sound the place to be, but my expectations were dashed before I even arrived.

The weather was awful and I changed accommodations three times during the one week that I was there, and I didn’t meet anyone at the hostels that I really clicked with. These things alone normally wouldn’t have phased me or caused me to dislike a place so deeply. I was homesick and exhausted by the constant travel research and planning. The loneliness of solo travel crept in, as well.

In hindsight though, I believe the foggy lens of oncoming depression was distorting my view. So, I boarded the ferry headed to the South Island. As the three-hour ride through the Cook Strait commenced, I helped myself to the first class buffet and unlimited drinks that I treated myself to. It was also a treat to be on the water, an activity that always puts me at ease.

2. Lyttleton, New Zealand

This view is from atop Mt Cavendish at the Christchurch Gondola Summit Station, which I visited the day I decided to give up on finding a job in New Zealand. The next day is when I booked my long flight home and planned my whirlwind tour of the rest of the South Island.

I felt such a release of pressure over these two days. Up until this point, I felt guilty and angst any time that I wasn’t tinkering with my CV and sending it off to prospective employers. Any time I spent doing things other than searching for a job, I panicked the entire time thinking that I should be doing more.

Once the decision to leave was made I finally felt free to actually enjoy myself.

1. Bluff, New Zealand

It’s because I saw a photo very similar to this one while researching New Zealand that visiting Bluff was on a short list of things that I HAD to do while in New Zealand. After seeing on a map that this tiny town lies at the very bottom of the world, almost the very last place in New Zealand you can travel to, it was definitely on my list!

Of all the picturesque landscapes that New Zealand has in abundance, standing before this one signpost made me feel more accomplished than I had in a long time. I set my mind on something, and despite things not working out exactly as I had envisioned, and made it happen.

I’ll always think of this spot when faced with obstacles in the future.

Take a look at the top ten’s from 2015 and 2016 if you haven’t seen those posts yet.

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Transformed Thru Travel's Top 10 Instagram Photos of 2017, plus a backstory about what was happening and what I was feeling at the time the photos were taken. It might not be what you expect.


  • Reply
    Mike from TravelAndDestinations
    December 30, 2017 at 7:05 AM

    Fantastic photographs and I’m also a big fan of Instagram. The view from Mt Cavendish is one of my favourites. I hope you get lots more wonderful photographs in 2018.

    • Reply
      Brittany Quaglieri
      December 30, 2017 at 8:33 PM

      It was beautiful up there! I wish the same for you. Happy New Year =)

  • Reply
    December 31, 2017 at 8:02 AM

    This is great, Brittany! It was fun to read about the real stories, and I hope it makes you realize that Instagram is what YOU make of it. Just like everything else. Keep being YOU, I like the space you take up on my feed 😉 ❤️

    • Reply
      Brittany Quaglieri
      January 2, 2018 at 12:14 AM

      Thanks, Jackie! You’re right, as usual! I just need a reminder every so often.

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