Guest Two: Mom in NZ

It was an early morning on Wednesday June 8.  My mom texted shortly after landing at 5:30a and I only had to wait about a half hour to see her excited face walk through the Arrivals door.  After driving back to the flat, we n apped for a couple hours then prepared for a day on Waiheke Island.  It is a 45 minute ferry ride from Auckland Harbour and covered with rolling vineyards.  A perfect location for wine connoisseurs and amateurs alike to enjoy easy wine tasting… in the summer time.  My mom’s stay fell at the beginning of the winter season, working in our favor in terms of no need to book far in advance or compete with tourists for space, but working against us with shorter opening hours of every establishment.  I bought for us a coupon for a meal at the Stonyridge Restaurant, mildly approved by our shuttle driver.  It was a quaint place, staffed by those with a Kiwi sense of humor.  We were able to sample the house red and white wines and the coupon barely covered small portioned meals for us.  We had a gorgeous view of the vineyard in their backyard (after the rain stopped).  We then started to walk down the main road towards the beach, making a stop at the Waiheke Museum.  The main building had different sections of cases featuring Waiheke culture at specific time periods, such as what gentlemen’s activities and hygienic routine would be in the early 1900s to the introduction of household cleaners for women.  There were also a half dozen small houses around the premises set up to display different features of Kiwi life.  We continued on to the beach and practically had the place to ourselves.  We took the bus across the island to catch the ferry back to Auckland.

 

Thursday, we woke somewhat early to head towards Rotorua.  My mom and I had tickets for a cultural experience package while Phill and Emily were along to plan their own adventures in the town.  My mom and my first stop was the Mountain Jade store and factory.  We had a factory tour, which consisted of one of the workers just pointing at different tools necessary to carve the jade.  Very informal and relaxed, which was nice for us to ask whatever we wanted.  From there, we grabbed an elegant McDonald’s lunch, picked up the other two from luging, and headed to the Thermal Village.  I was able to tour this location during my orientation week with AustraLearn, but knew my mom would enjoy it.  Our package got us a complimentary corn on the cob cooked in the natural boiling pools.  Our tour was very similar to my first time there, same guide even, just slightly less ideal weather.  My mom thoroughly enjoyed getting to lay on the naturally heated earth for back pains.  Following the Thermal Village tour, we relaxed in our extremely comfortable hotel before being picked up for our Tamaki Maori Village performance and dinner.  Again, another activity repeating from orientation week, but one of my best meals in NZ.  Our bus driver was an eccentric character, greeting us with 60+ languages.  We enjoyed the traditional greeting at the village, followed by a walk around the “village” displaying difference descriptive stations on aspects of their culture from animal trap making to the tattooing process.  We were then shown as our food was pulled from the ground where it was heated by coals.  As the buffet was set up, we enjoyed a musical and dance performance by the actors.  Dinner was as delicious as I remembered and I loved the local pavlova dessert, despite some Aussies across the table complaining about lacking ingredients (pavlova’s origins are largely disputed between Australians and New Zealanders, each taking ownership).  We had the same eccentric bus driver back to the hotel and arrived after he playfully drove the roundabout at least a dozen times.
On Friday, we left Phill and Emily in Rotorua so they could whitewater raft.  Mom and I drove to Matamata and caught a Hobbiton Tour.  Unfortunately, we signed an agreement barring us from sharing any pictures until after the release of the next movie.  It was informative and the guide had the movies memorized, being able to point out what happened by each Hobbit hole in every movie.

 

Unfortunately, I had two exams on Saturday.  But we certainly celebrated by visiting an exciting gay bar (sans Mom) on the infamous K’rd that evening.

 

Sunday was busy with a visit out to the Coromandel Peninsula.  We visited Cathedral Cover first as my mom is quite a fan of the Narnia movies and the Cove’s cameo in the second film.  We then tried Hot Water Beach but got there just in time for high tide (low tide being necessary to dig own hot pool).

 

On Monday, the four of us got into our cozy Toyota renal and headed south.  As far as we could.  It was exactly 8 hours from Auckland to Wellington.  We stayed at the local YHA hostel (a well known name amongst backpackers).  On Tuesday, Mom and I went to the Weta Cave in the nearby neighborhood of Miramar.  It is the only public access of Weta Studios, the production studio linked with any and all computer generated genius films and TV (LOTR, Avatar, Last Samuri, King Kong, ANYTHING Peter Jackson, Narnia, Dr. Who).  It had a mini museum with models used for story writing and many items for sale.  We were treated to a short video describing the history of the studios. In the afternoon, we took the Wellington cable car up to the botanical gardens.  We finished the day at Te Papa museum.  A free, four level, gorgeous museum.  It had everything from Maori cultural exhibits to an interactive music section to a hologram presentation of Pacific Islanders arrival at Aotearoa to the Colossal Squid (largest squid captured alive).  We had dinner at an Irish bar on cuba street.  Wednesday morning allowed for some souvenir shopping until our departure at noon.

 

Thursday morning brought the final for the Pacific World Views and Languages course Phill and I were in.  We rocked it.  In the afternoon, my mom and I went to the Auckland Domain War Memorial Museum.  Free entry for Auckland residents (which I qualified as!) and also very professionally put together.  What was very enjoyable for me was the section on how childhood has changed over time for Kiwi kids.  Another fascinating part was seeing more about New Zealand’s involvement in World War II.

 

Friday sadly brought the departure of Emily.  Though we weren’t sure if they would be the case because the ash cloud from a volcanic eruption in Chile was canceling flights even in NZ.  While Phill took her to the airport, my mom and I took the ferry over to Devonport.  It was a rather gray and windy day, so we mostly enjoyed the shops and cafes.  Mom loved the fabric store we found and got herself a quilt pattern with New Zealand themed fabric.
Saturday was a relaxed day.  Lots of sleeping and bumming around the flat followed by my mom graciously treating Phill and me to dinner at the Waterfront restaurant on the harbor.

 

Sunday’s plans backfired.  We had plans to a few west coast, black sand beaches.  My search on the internet spoke of slim to no chances of precipitation that day.  It was a bit cloudy with big blue patches when we woke up.  An hour into drive, it was raining sideways as we zig zagged up and down a mountain.  We made it to Piha, got out of the car for three minutes, then turned right back around.  I had my best nap of the semester after returning to the flat.

 

Monday was the end of my mom’s stay in Kiwiland.  We spent the morning filling any empty space in her luggage with any stuff I wouldn’t need during my last week.  Early evening, we returned the rental car, and she was on her way back home.  Marking only one week and one day left for me in New Zealand.

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CultureZooCulture

There were six days between my two visitors.  The evening of Thursday, June 2, was the performance by the Kapa Haka classes.  The course description: “An introductory course for beginners or others who have only a minimal knowledge of traditional and contemporary Māori performing arts. The course is strongly practical. It will stress the fundamentals of performance and the various social, cultural and political settings that give it meaning.”  There were two sections, each meeting once a week for three hours.  Unfortunately, I was not in the course like a large portion of my American friends.  But I was able to attend the performance.  After verbal welcomings in Maori and English, the students went to get ready to officially welcome the audience.  While we waited, one of the main professors spoke to us about how proud she was of all 160 students.  It was the largest class she had ever taught and she was especially pleased with all the American exchange students that were very respectful of all they were taught and how they were instructed to perform the traditional dances.  As the audience seated themselves, the students were performing to welcome us.  They then broke into their separate classes, both performed the same dances/songs, and then each student introduced themselves.   The majority of both classes were American students, but they had the Maori art of song and dance down extremely well.  An interesting part was at the very end, when the professor asked the audience to say any comments.  A lot of middle aged to elderly people of Maori descent spoke about how much pride they felt seeing such a multicultural group perform the art of their ancestors, knowing that Maori culture would be spread to all different corners of the world.

Two days later, Phill had a friend come to stay with us for a couple weeks.  The first day here, she just got settled.  The second day, we made a trip to the zoo.  The Auckland Zoo is comparable to zoos I’ve visited back home (Detroit Zoo in its hayday, Cleveland Zoo, or Binder Park), but with a kiwi bird section.  We did get to see the zoo keepers take an elephant for a walk through the park center.  But there was the usual African Safari animal section, swamp animal section, Tropical birds, etc.  The gift store provided me with my first duck purchase: a duck rubber (they call erasers rubbers here.  I did not get a duck condom).

Tuesday afternoon was another performance.  This one was for the Pacific 110 course (Short definition: Practical and theoretical introduction to performing cultures of the Pacific with emphasis on Cook Islands, Samoan and Tongan cultures).  Phill was the only male American enrolled in this class and it was a bit more showy than the first student performance I saw.  The students were dressed in traditional outfits and there was a more varied set list with fast paced dances.  Most of the students were Dance majors, so there was a more professional element to it that added to the experience as an audience member.  All involved were extremely talented and it deepened my appreciation for and understanding of the arts in those cultures. (For those who are Facebook friends with me, check out the video Emily took of Phill doing part of the last dance.  I’m tagged in it, but not actually in it)

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First Visitor

Around 8am on Thursday May 19, Justin’s flight from LAX descended on Auckland. After greeting him in the international terminal, we went to pick up our rental car and figure out the directions to Auckland CBD. Upon arrival back in my flat, a package of Squiggles (a NZ cookie with hokey pokey covered chocolate—words cannot describe) was rapidly consumed. We grabbed a quick lunch then hit the road again, heading towards Tauranga. We were visiting with the same couple I stayed with back in March, but during this trip, we stayed with the wife’s parents on their kiwifruit farm. Our timing was impeccable as they were just finishing picking all the fruit (an endeavor that happens over only a few days it sounded like). We saw “gangs” picking and also were treated to a personal tour around a kiwifruit packaging plant. The fruit that makes it to the plant is divided into three grades, Grade 1 being the best. Those are sent overseas, Grade 2 sent to Australia, and Grade 3 kept in New Zealand for sale. Our stay in Tauranga also included a climb to the top of Mt. Maunganui (my second time).

 

On Saturday morning, we took off for Rotorua with limited plans other than Zorbing. Upon reaching there, we decided to check out the Agrodome, a facility that puts on sheep shows and farm tours, detailing the agricultural aspect of NZ. We saw a sheep show, where around twenty breeds of sheep were displayed and a sheering occurred on stage. Following that, we got a guided tractor tour of their on property farm, getting a chance to feed ostriches, alpacas, and sheep. A quick stop at the gift store for Kiwifruit wine and then we were on our way—across the street—to Zorb. I’m pretty sure it’s the only reason Justin visited NZ :)  Rolling down a hill, sloshing around with water, in a blown up ball, was an adrenaline rush. We grabbed lunch in downtown Rotorua, walked around a park with many fenced off thermal hot spots steaming and bubbling up, then headed to Taupo.

 

In Taupo, Justin had found a couch surfing website and was able to hook us up with a very gracious host. Shortly after our arrival, she had cooked dinner and we enjoyed an evening of sharing travel stories and talking about cultural differences. We woke early on Sunday to walk around town some and then were picked up to begin our adventure package with Experience Taupo. Our first stop was for a helicopter ride over the city and lake. Lake Taupo is the largest lake in the Oceanic region and the population of the city doubles during the summer months because of its prime location for vacationers. Landing next to the Jet Boat departure location, we hopped onto that for a spin around the river and next to Huka Falls, the most frequented location for visitors to NZ. The boat driver shared some facts, but it was hard to remember between spins around and getting unexpectedly soaked. We were then shuttled to the sky dive spot. After several attempts on their part for us to spend more money on countless photos, videos, and a drop height upgrade, we were finally geared up, given some instructions, and got on to the plane. It had to be a tandum jump, so as we flew up, our guides hooked up to our backs and kept us talking. I was remarkably relaxed the whole time. Justin just seemed ecstatic. He went first, then I moved up to sit on the edge. The guide pushed us out and it was quite freeing just to be falling through the air. I didn’t have to worry about anything because he was in control of pulling the chute. It did catch me by surprise how difficult it was to breathe and the rapid popping of my ears. Made sense that that happened, but no one I had talked to had mentioned that before. It was an easy landing and we were fortunate to get the plane exit photo with our package. That evening was another nice dinner with our couch surf host. She cooked up a dinner of trout that a friend of her’s had caught recently and talked of her previous and future travels around Africa.

 

We left very early Monday morning and headed towards Nikau Caves, a little over an hour southwest of Auckland. We got a personal tour of the caves, seeing countless formations, glow worms, and a couple eels scared off by the guide. It was not nearly as long as my first caving experience, but much less physically demanding, though we got quite dirty crawling through the tight spaces. After we emerged from the cave, we had a long walk back to the building and our guide told us about his travels around the world as a sheep shearer and how his daughter held the world’s title as fastest female shearer in the world. Quite the claim to fame for a rural kiwi man as he continued to talk about his entire family’s involvement in the activity and how they all still lived close by, working together. We thanked him, said our goodbyes, changed into dry clothes, got directions back, and were in the city by midday Monday.

 

I had to spend the next few days on writing [read:starting] two papers, one due Wednesday and one Friday. Justin had some free time to explore the city, checking out the free memorial museum in Domain Park, walking along downtown Queen St, and even taking a ferry to Rangitoto Island.

 

During his second weekend, Justin, two friends, and I headed towards Cape Reinga. We left midday Friday, making a couple stops along the way and eventually settling next to Matapouri beach. After some food and the guys playing guitar and clarinet, we set up tent for the night. Saturday was a gorgeous morning as we walked along the beach under blue skies. Back in the car for some hours and we reached the cape shortly before the sun began to set [crash]. Cape Reinga is not the most northern part of the country (close to) but it is where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. We saw waves crashing against each other, creating a crisscross pattern in the water. It was a gorgeous sunset in a clear sky. We had to be at our hostel by a certain time, so we took off, heading south again for Ahipara. There we had beds to sleep in and a pleasant night’s rest. Sunday morning we continued south onto Auckland. We stopped to see the country’s biggest Kauri tree and were back in the city by evening.

 

Justin’s last few days were a cluster of short adventures. Monday, he bungee jumped off the Auckland Harbour Bridge while I had to attend my last few classes of the semester. Tuesday, we went to Mission Bay Beach, indulging in chicken burgers at Oporto and Swiss ice cream. Unfortunately, the weather was quite rainy and it was mostly a day in. That evening, we had a coupon for a dinner in the swankier part of town with complimentary drinks. We each had the sampler main dish, which was a shish kebab with lamb, Scottish fillet, and bacon wrapped chicken. Very tasty and a classy evening. Wednesday, we did a day trip out to the Coromandel Peninsula. We were hoping to do a gold mine tour in Thames, but the winter season only offered tours on Saturdays. So we continued on to a kauri tree grove halfway up the peninsula. From there, we went on to Hot Water Beach in the middle of low tide—prime time to dig a hole in the sand, strike hot water, and enjoy a natural hot tub. It appeared the hot water was in specific places though, and we missed out on finding the right spot. We did, however, disregard this mild failure for the chance to swim with dolphins a few hundred feet off the beach as they playfully swam around people, jumping out of the water and rolling around. Take that, expensive, swimming-with-dolphins tours. We then drove the six kilometers to Cathedral Cove, a gorgeous beach that was location for some scenes in the second Narnia movie.

 

Thursday, June 2, came very quick. Shortly after waking, Justin packed, and we drove to One Tree Hill park, to complete the last of his list. I went to the monument here at the beginning of my stay and it offers a perfect panoramic view of Auckland. The directions were a bit confusing and I was close to scrapping the plan so he could get to the airport on time, but after driving a little further, we finally found the entrance. We had enough time to drive to the top, take a dozen photos, and then head to the airport.

 

I do hope Justin posts his pictures soon. It was a fun time sharing this country with someone else who appreciates traveling as much as I do and has dreamed of visiting here for quite some time. And it was likely good practice for his travel planning skills before becoming a nonstop traveler, living on a cruise ship come September. , I’m sure he won’t hesitate to add any additions to this experience in the comments.

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Between Breaks

The week back from break was a rush to do a paper I had due that Friday and skim reading the articles I neglected for the South Island. The second Sunday back, I was fortunate enough to be hosted by a local Kiwi couple for dinner. The uni offered for international students to sign up and meet locals. Myself, a male student from Holland (the real Netherlands, not Michigan), and a female student from Hong Kong enjoyed a lamb roast dinner in the Auckland home of a pleasant, middle aged couple. The wife had attended Auckland Uni and was now working there in the IT department. The husband flies for Air New Zealand. We talked a lot about differences in culture and other topics included public transportation, the couple’s children, recent political happenings in America (as is the case with many Kiwis and Europeans I’ve talked to, they strongly approve of President Obama and are hoping for a second term), and comparison of the law systems of Holland vs. New Zealand vs. Hong Kong.

The following Wednesday, I was fortunate to join my music major flatmate to a concert titled “Works with Words.” Kiwi composers were asked to pick out a piece of literature (by a Kiwi author) and compose a ten minute long orchestral piece to be played behind the reading of the chosen writing. Before the concert, we attended a wine and cheese affair where the composers were able to talk some about their experience writing and their piece. The literature was narrated by a very famous Kiwi theatrical name Stuart Devenie. The music was performed by the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra. It was a unique and enjoyable experience as the audience saw what certain literature was important to the composers and the feelings evoked by those words.

This past Saturday, myself and a few friends decided to take a day trip to Tiritiri Matangi Island, a bird sanctuary about an hour and a half ferry ride from downtown Auckland. We got to walk around the island and could not have asked for a more beautiful, blue skied day. The island has been established to try an reintroduce native bird populations in New Zealand. Most of the native birds were killed off from colonists bring rats, possums, and other rodents that would destroy flightless bird nests on the ground.

This past Monday, I was able to attend another concert, only this time the performers were entirely American. The Bowed Piano Ensemble is a unique group of ten students from Colorado College and their director, Stephen Scott. Scott put the group together over 30 years ago. They work together using bow strings pulled over the strings of an open piano. All parts of the piano are used to get different sounds to enhance the pieces Scott composes. I’d highly recommend looking into them: http://www.bowedpianoensemble.com

By this time tomorrow, I will have a visitor from the United States. Justin’s flight gets in around 8:30a, when I will be picking him and our rental car up from the Auckland International Airport. We have quite a few adventures planned. His departure will signal my mom’s arrival only a few days later. My life abroad is coming to completion faster and faster.

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South Island Chronicles

Back in Auckland after two weeks travelling around the South Island of New Zealand.  I’ve returned with over a thousand pictures, some tacky souvenirs, a new piercing, several dozen sandfly bites (per foot), and a new appreciation for daily showers and an extensive wardrobe beyond four outfits.  I’ll just give a day by day synopsis of what myself and five other Americans got into.  We rented two camper vans from the Wicked company.  Both were equipped with necessary kitchen utensils, butane stove, a skipping prone CD player, and…. power steering!  Our rough plans when leaving Auckland were to fly into Christchurch, do a drive around the perimeter of the South Island, and fly out of Christchurch exactly two weeks later.  Very little was eliminated from that schedule as we finalized plans along the way.

Saturday April 9: Chch to Akaroa
All six of us caught a flight out of Auckland at 6:20a.  We caught a shuttle to Wicked Campers where we picked up our graffiti-ed vans (one was “Bling” themed with the traditional graffiti style seen on buildings and the other was decorated by images of the band Kiss).  It then seemed necessary to find a gas station as we were informed there was probably only a liter or two of fuel and we were expected to return the vans that way.  After that, we went grocery shopping, made a rudimentary lunch, and started the drive to a scenic town named Akaroa.  The drive there was beautiful and some of us got to try our hand at driving the “wrong way.”  We got into Akaroa, took countless seaside pictures, got a simple dinner at a local restaurant, and parked in a park parking lot for the night.

Sunday April 10: Akaroa to Mt. Cook
The scene surrounding us this morning was breathtaking, but only the start of many more to come.  We left Akaroa around 10a to make the six hour drive to the Mt. Cook region.  I got to drive a good portion of the way and quite enjoyed myself.  One of the big things I miss from home is the freedom of driving a car.  Along the way, we made a few scenic stops to take pictures.  Once in the Mt Cook area, we did a short hike to see a glacier lake (where Tasman Glacier used to be).  From there, we found a campground (sans all amenities except sink and toilet) for the night and prepared a dinner of chicken nuggets in our van kitchen.  These were enjoyed under a sky clear enough to see the Milky Way.

Monday April 11: Hike Mt. Cook (kinda)
A memorable day for me: my first major hike.  I do not think I would recommend the Sealy Track onto the Mueller Hut all in one day for a first timer.  It took us roughly six hours for the entire trip—which was very good time given the sign estimated 3.5 hours just to get up to the hut.  There were a few wooden steps secured to the ground along the trail.  After the midpoint, it was mostly gravel and traversing along that uphill meant two steps forward, slide one back (going down that was just a challenge to stay vertical).  The last third of the way up was along boulders and making your own route roughly between the orange path markers.  Needless to say the simple ham, cheese, and mustard sandwich I made myself that morning was the most scrumptious meal I’ve ever experienced when we took a break at the hut before heading back down.  Very soon after completing the hike, we took off for Dunedin.  After arriving a little before midnight, we were able to enjoy our first shower in a hostel. 

Tuesday April 12: Dunedin, Part 1
First on the schedule was the 10a tour of Speight’s Brewery.  It was well worth our time and money.  The guide was knowledgeable, we were given historical facts and shown each step of the brewing process.  Speight’s is known as the “Pride of the South,” and can be found in every bar in the South Island.  I have no noticed it that much in the North Island and typically order Tui or Lion Red beers, so the samples following the tour were my first memorable taste of Speight’s.  I personally would recommend their porter, dark malt ale.  Has a strong chocolate/coffee taste to it.  Following the tour, we stopped at the Nova Café in the town center (the Octagon) for a quick lunch before going to the 2p tour of Cadbury World.  This tour was disappointing because none of the machines were running.  Though we were provided with numerous free samples and a better understanding of the volume of chocolate produced by Cadbury (I might add, I was shocked to discover several members of my group had never tasted Cadbury before coming to NZ).  Full of alcohol and chocolate, we were due to crash soon and began what would become a daily ritual of searching for a place to park for the night. 

Wednesday April 13: Dunedin, Part 2
Unexpectedly so, this turned into one of the more memorable days of our two week journey.  It started with waking up to one of the most still and reflective lakes I have ever seen.  After some pictures, we began to attempt to plan our day with calls to local penguin and animal viewing tours.  Those fell a bit above all of our price ranges, so half the group went to explore Larnach Castle and the half I was in just drove into town.  Our adventures began with pursuing $5 ear piercings at the pharmacy in the Octagon.  Following that, we enjoyed a delicious meal at a local burger place called Velvet Burger.  I decided to try a chicken burger and not once regretted my decision.  Shortly after, the whole group reconvened.  We made a stop at Baldwin St, the world’s steepest street.  From there, we went to check out Tunnel Beach.  The weather conditions were not ideal as it was drizzling on and off and we didn’t reach the beach until shortly before dusk.  It was a 20 minute walk down to the beach.  The path was somewhat windy, but after the first bend, the entire beach came into view and it was absolutely breathtaking.  The rock formations and crashing waves made it all feel surreal as we were constantly stopping to take pictures before the sun set.

We planned on just parking in the parking lot at the top of the beach this evening so that we could see the sunrise.  After cooking and enjoying a simple soup dinner, some of us were playing cards in the Bling van.  As we were sitting there, a car sped into the lot and abruptly stopped behind us.  Lights turned on brights and reving the engine for a minute, the car than pulled forward and around and began to drive directly at our van.  They stopped several meters away, flashing their lights and blaring electronic music.  We decided to leave, but the car followed our vans down the road, weaving between us.  We eventually made it to the town center and parked in a well lit area for the night.  Thankfully, it was pouring the next morning so we just left Dunedin without missing a beautiful beach sunrise.

Thursday April 14: Te Anau, Fiordlands
We drove all morning from Dunedin towards the Fiordlands, straight across the south part of the island.  It was gray and rainy almost the entire way, clearing up some when we stopped an hour outside our destination.  In Te Anau, we found a four hour round trip hike along the Rainbow Reach path.  It took us through a very green, mossy forest to a beach that looked into the Fiord.  The scene was breathtaking and—yes, I’ll say it—just like something from “Lord of the Rings.”  Here was just the beginning of a constant onslaught of sandflies in this region.  We barely made it back before dark and went to a Holiday Park (super cheap campgrounds) for the night, indulging in our second shower of the trip.

Friday April 15: On to Milford Sound (Happy Birthday, Mom!)
We made the drive to Milford Sound (8th Wonder of the world) along the Milford Road.  Along this road there are quite a few short paths to stop and hike, perhaps the longest being an hour round trip.  Most took us into beautiful forests, some with a gorgeous view of waterfalls.  The most boring path proved the most difficult to leave as one of our vans got stuck in the parking lot gravel, but some pushing and we were able to escape.  Upon reaching the top of Milford Road in pitch dark, we parked by the closed visitors center, only to have the park ranger tell us overnight camping was not allowed.  She was very nice though, realizing we were “inexperienced travelers” and allowed us to stay for $5 each.  We grilled some shishkebabs, consumed a massive portion of the remaining Cadbury chocolate, and watched as the sky cleared for some star gazing. 

Saturday April 16: More Milford/Fiord Action
Spent the morning on some more of the Milford Road tracks.  The most remarkable one was the chasm.  As my blogging skills are still below basic, I will just direct readers to my facebook album to see the beauty of this natural creation.  The water in this area has cut out beautiful rock formations and it is just breathtaking.  Words won’t do it justice.  In the afternoon, we embarked on a guided kayak tour into the fiord.  It was somewhat overcast and the water was choppy at points, but it was a nice ride.  We saw a couple waterfalls but no seal spottings as we were promised.  One very useful thing during the tour was a suggestion from our guide as to where to park for the night on our drive to Queenstown.  He suggested on of the lookouts along the road into Queenstown, so there we parked for the evening.

Sunday April 17: Beginning Queenstown
We woke to the gorgeous mountains surrounding Queenstown.  It was a short drive into town and the boys were soon off on their adventure of hang gliding while the girls enjoyed some window shopping and coffee in the downtown.  We all reconvened for lunch at a place called Fergburger.  It is a well known place and popular stop for locals and tourists alike.  There is a fairly wide selection of burgers with various meats such as lamb, cod, venison, and the usual beef.  Following lunch, we stopped to book some more activities at the iSite.  Shortly before dusk, we all took a trip up the gondola to overlook the entire city as several in our group enjoyed a ride down the luge track.  After, some of the group headed to the camp grounds while two of the guys went out for a bungee jump.  Before checking out the night live, I had to take shower #3 of the trip.  Some of us headed into town and found a bar full of other Americans we knew from school in Auckland.  Before heading back to the campgrounds, we had some late night Fergburger.

Monday April 18: Around Queenstown
Early this morning, the same guys that went bungee jumping took on another adventure of jetboating.  My van was picked as their mode of transportation.  Waking early was not the worst part; that was waking to snow/freezing rain falling.  Fortunately, none of that stuck and stopped by the guys’ return.  After they finished, some of us went a café in town for brunch before heading out with our rental bikes.  I’m pretty sure all but one of us had anywhere from limited to zero experience mountain biking (myself being on the latter half of that spectrum).  Roughly ten minutes after learning what a gear really is and its purpose, I was flying down a gravel path, gripping any brake I could.  We tried a couple paths and got to see some wonderful views over the lake and mountains.  After returning the bikes, we had Ferg for dinner and drove to another look out to park for the evening.

Tuesday April 19: Departing Queenstown
Some of the group went sky diving this morning, one went hang gliding, and some were quite lucky to just sleep in.  We all met at Ferg for one last meal there before heading to an area called Glenn Orchy.  The drive was a bit longer than expected, it was raining upon arrival, and did not let up the whole hourish hike we did while there.  It was beginning to get dark as we left and started the drive towards Fox Glacier.  We reached the Fox area after midnight and were lucky to find a lookout where we could park.   

Wednesday April 20: Hike a Glacier Day, no biggie
The morning was somewhat hectic as we rushed to get ready (put on layers, prepare lunches for hike, remove earrings that just weren’t working).  We embarked on a day long guided hike over Fox Glacier.  Most of the day, I was regretting not being a geology major with all the facts, definitions, and geological names being thrown around.  It had just rained, so the glacier was showing a lot of blue colorings (along with the expected white).  Our guides were carving steps for us along the way, we stopped halfway for lunch, and were able to venture into an ice cave.  At the end of the day, after the hike, we threw together a quick dinner, called some campgrounds along the way, and took off in the direction of Abel Tasman.  We stopped in Murchinson for the night at another Holiday Park.

Thursday April 21: Abel Tasman
After taking our last showers for the trip, we departed Murchinson and reached the Abel Tasman area around midday.  We were just in time for one of the last water taxis out.  It was a pleasant ride as the driver shared facts about the area, his quirky sense of humor, and stopped for us to get pictures of baby and momma seals.  We hiked along the water for a few hours and were picked up by the water taxi at the end of the track.  We left Abel Tasman and arrived in Kaikoura late that night where we found another lookout for parking. 

Friday April 22: Last day, Kaikoura
As we all slowly emerged from our vans this morning, we were greeted by a gorgeous view of ocean, mountains, and the city below us.  After taking this all in, we looked at each other and said, “So why the hell did we come here?”

Kaikoura is very well known for swimming with seals and dolphins.  Unfortunately, several phone calls proved this would not be possible this time of year.  We headed down to the iSite and explored our options.  We created a game plan and set off for the local Animal Farm Park.  After paying the discounted group price and getting some cups of feed, we played with ugly turkeys, biting fawn, disgustingly grotesque pigs, a randy but antisocial wallaby, vicious emus, pathetic llamas, and adorable ducks and ducklings.  After giving out all the feed, we left to get a short tour of a two million year old sea cave.  The guide was old enough to remember when a sea was still there and shared his wealth of knowledge with us (again, mostly wasted on a non-geo major).  From there, we stopped at the Original “World Famous” Kaikoura Seafood BBQ stand for lunch.  After some seafood chowder and other various fishy dishes, we drove a little further down along the water just to a local beach.  It was low tide and the waves were crashing out on the larger rocks as the sun began to set.  We then drove back up the coast to find a large seal colony.  Another five minute drive north took us to a short path that went alongside a river and ended at a waterfall.  The whole walk we could look over to the river and see baby seals playing together.  The waterfall fell into a small pool where seals were jumping around and swimming. After an hour of constantly oohing and awing, we went back to Kaikoura’s downtown, with a short stop at a grocery store for supplies.  We managed to get a fire going on the beach from the heaps of driftwood all over and cooked dinner and attempted s’mores (not something found in New Zealand).  We watched the moon rise and turn from orange to bright white over the water.  Stuffed with food and reeking of campfire, we got in our vans and headed in the direction of Christchurch, stopping after about an hour to sleep.

Saturday April 23: Back Home (Auckland)
We woke early to finish the drive to Christchurch.  One stop was made to fill up our seemingly below empty tanks just enough to return the cars to Wicked with the needle hovering over empty.  The flight back was rapid, finishing shortly after we enjoyed Richard Simmonds a second time for the in-flight instructions video.  We were all delighted to hear the captain announce a balmy temperature of 20*C (70*F) in Auckland.

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Before leaving Auckland for two weeks

Been some time.  The volunteer weekend was a bit of a letdown.  All we did was dig dirt and rebuild some mountain biking paths instead of working more closely with the avian wildlife as was promised when signing up.  I still learned a lot about path construction and park preservation.

The past two weeks have been fairly busy with papers and studying for exams.  I was able to make it to Mission Bay Beach a couple times, getting tanned some before having to pull out the long sleeves and pants as Fall weather began to set in.  There have been more rainy days than not, which is disappointing.  One of the trips to Mission Bay resulted in a fish & chips lunch, served wrapped in newspaper soaked from the grease.  Needless to say, a delicious local treat.

This past Saturday, I joined a group of friends to hike a dormant volcano about a 25 minute ferry ride from Auckland (and directly across the water from Mission Bay).  Rangitoto is a very beautiful spot and an easy hike to the top in an hour.  There were volcanic rocks all over and we were even able to explore in some caves.  It was also the perfect chance to break in my brand new hiking boots.

In a few hours, I will be getting on a plane headed for Christchurch.  Myself and five American friends will be there for exactly two weeks.  We have a rough schedule planned out.  We plan to be in Dunedin by Tuesday to make a Speight’s Brewery tour and then a tour of Cadbury World Factory.  From there, we plan on going to the Fiordlands for a few day hikes, then to Queenstown for some adventures.  Hope to go along the entire boarder of the South Island.  Our trip will end in Christchurch on the 23rd and then back to Auckland.

Can’t wait to share all the adventures ☺

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Some rugby and canyoning

Just a quick update as to my activities.  Last Thursday was St. Patrick’s day.  My night wasn’t anything extra special.  The bars and clubs were just a bit more crowded, with the color green flying around.  Barely saw advertisements for green beer and didn’t even see the stuff anywhere.

 

Saturday evening, I ventured out with a large group of students to the rugby game in town at Eden Park.  It was the Auckland Blues vs. Wellington Hurricanes.  The stadium had a good chunk of empty seats and felt much less hectic than an American football game.  I’m sure it would be a different story if I had the chance to see the All Blacks play (New Zealand’s national rugby team).  The announcer didn’t really say too much throughout the game and the clock almost never stopped.  It’s played in two halves, 40 minutes each.  The ball has to be passed backwards, even if it touches the ground it can still be in play, and that is the extent of my knowledge of the rules.  Never been much of a sports person, but I’m glad I was able to see a rugby game.  After, most of the students went to Globe Bar because we got free drinks with our ticket purchase.  Had the pleasure of meeting a few new people and talking with them about their travels around the country.

 

Sunday morning came too early, but at 9:45a I departed with a group for canyoning about an hour west of Auckland, near the scenic Piha beach.  It was an incredible experience!  I had never heard of the activity before coming here.  We were provided with wetsuits and helmets and began a 40 minute hike up a mountain.  From there, we worked our way down walking through a river and jumping/sliding/rappelling down all the waterfalls that got in our way.  It was quite the rush.  As always, our guides were hilarious carefree individuals.  It’s an activity I’d recommend to anyone, any age.

 

Exactly two weeks until mid-semester break.  In that time, I have two essays and an exam.  This weekend, I have signed up with a volunteer group to work in Hunua Range Park.  I’m not positive what we’ll be doing, but friends who have been there promised beautiful scenery (shock).  Fingers crossed that this rain lets up.

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