Hands Up NZ! – Beautiful New Zealand Scenery with an Obstruction

I’ve been home (back in the U.S.) for nearly two weeks now. I feel like I’ve been here for months. It’s almost if I’d never left at all. I really miss New Zealand though. There is no doubt in my mind that I’ll be going back. The past four and a half months has turned out to be the greatest adventure of my life. I guess that means I’m only going to have to continue to top that, which I have no qualms with.

So far, all has been well. On the way home from NZ, my boyfriend and I had an 11 hour layover in Fiji, so we went to Smugglers Cove for the day and just relaxed in the sun. And then a few days later , my now fiancee proposed to me – so here’s to new adventures!

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Pictures:

1. Cathedral Cove

2. Mt. Nguahoe

3. Kaikoura

4. Kaikoura

5. Picton

6. Picton

7. Fox Glacier

8. On the way to Milford Sound

9. Hooker Valley

10. Hooker Valley

11. Queenstown

12. Mt. Eden (Auckland)

13. Mt. Taranaki

14. Wellington

15. Wellington

16. Auckland Museum

17. Harbour Bridge, Sydney, Australia

18. Sydney Opera House

19. Cape Reinga

20. Cape Reinga Lighthouse

21. Cape Reinga Lighthouse

22. Cape Reinga Lighthouse and Meeting Point

23. Ninety Mile Beach

24. Bay of Islands

25. Smugglers’ Cove, Fiji

26. Smugglers’ Cove, Fiji

 

 

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Sydney and the Bay of Islands

A lot has been going on. My boyfriend is here now. He arrived last week. We’re going home in a few days. It doesn’t feel real. Because of the everything I’ve been busy with, I haven’t had much time to think about going back to the states. Here are a few of the activities that have been keeping me busy this month:

Australia

Sean and I took a “just to say we’ve been there” trip to Sydney, Australia. It was a blast. We were there for a day and a half, but we were able to squeeze in a lot of exploring, from visiting the Sky Eye Tower, to checking out the Maritime Museum, to watching the Sydney Symphony Orchestra perform in the Sydney Opera House. I wish we could have spent more time there, but with exams back in Auckland, and with a tight budget anchoring me down, there was only so much we could do. I certainly would love to go back.

                                                                                                                             

Keith’s Long Awaited Arrival

It’s been great to be with my boyfriend, Keith, again after four months of separation. Since he’s been here, we’ve had some busy days. He’s been skydiving, zorbing, seen kiwi birds, experienced the unique Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove, and has had dinner in Auckland’s Sky Tower. I also managed to take him with me for four days to the Bay of Islands, Cape Reinga, and 90 mile Beach which was my latest excursion.

Bay of Islands

This was a beautiful trip. We took a Stray bus (shuttle really) to the Bay of Islands. We got to go fishing on the first day and just take in the scenery. Keith caught a tiny fish, but other than that, nothing was getting pulled up except empty hooks. The following day was a rain day, so we stayed in and relaxed. The third day was spent traveling on a bus tour where one of the stops was an exhibit showcasing Kauri trees that were anywhere from 45,000 – 100,000 years old. The bus also went to Cape Reinga, which was glorious. I wish we could have stayed there longer. I could write an entire post on the beauty of that place, but I won’t do that here. We did get to see a rainbow there right before we left, which only added to the serene atmosphere that the landscaped posed. After, we went sand surfing by 90 mile beach. It was so much fun! Climbing the sand dune was a bit arduous, but Keith and I managed to climb it three times before the bus drove us onto 90 Mile Beach. We drove the entire length of the beach as State Highway rules apply to the sand there. It was a great experience. We ended the trip with some delectable fish and chips in Monganui. Our last day in the Bay of Islands was spent on a boat cruise. We stopped at a geological feature called Hole in the Rock – which is pretty self explanitory. We didn’t get to take the boat through it as they usually do as the conditions were a bit windy. We also kept an eye out for dolphins, for if any were found, we would have had the opportunity to swim with them, but none were spotted throughout the trip. We did however get to see penguins in the water. We also got to stop at one of the islands which offered great views of the surrounding bay.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

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To The Capital City

Time has seemed to fly by for the entirety of this trip up until a couple of weeks ago. Which is fine. I’m certainly not complaining. It’s the beginning of June, so I don’t have much time left in New Zealand, so if time has the urge to slow herself down, who am I to stop her? I’m slightly anxious though because my boyfriend is coming to visit me in less than two weeks, so while I want to enjoy time at its’ leisurely pace, I really cannot wait to see my boyfriend.

Another gage of time, school, is coming to an end. This week all lectures and tutorials end, which is followed by a week of study break, then three weeks of exams. It’s a much different structure than what I am used to, but it allows me time to travel in between my exams. I’ve really enjoyed all of my classes; Pacific Music and Dance, Reading the Bible, International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, and Business Innovation Technology and Growth. The University of Auckland has provided lots of new experiences and opportunities for me, and I was happy to participate in what I could this semester, including Spark. Spark is the entrepreneurship challenge here at UoA. They had five guest speakers throughout the semester – all who started up and ran their own companies in NZ, and then at the end of the semester was the Ideas Challenge, where entrants would submit an 1,000 word write-up on their business idea. There were 33 winners out of 200+ entrants, and the winners each received $1,000. I entered, and didn’t win unfortunately, but I really loved the opportunity to do this as my major is entrepreneurship.

So, away from the university life stuff for now, and onto my most recent excursion – Wellington! The capital of New Zealand.

Kelly and I met up at the bus in Auckland at 8:30pm on Friday. The bus went straight into Wellington – a ride that took 11 hours. The ride was fine other than that I got incredibly nauseous halfway through the trip. That was rather unpleasant, but I was able to hold myself together and make my way through the weekend just fine. Because we arrived in Wellington so early in the morning (7:30am) on Saturday, Kelly and I couldn’t go into our room in the hostel that we booked, Downtown Backpackers (which was conveniently next to the bus stop). We were able to pay for our nights’ stay, take showers, have breakfast,  and store our things in lockers, which was helpful. From there, we took a cable car to the Botanical Gardens which we cruised through. The gardens were nice, but not as nice as the one in Dunedin. Afterwards, we made our way across town and climbed Mt. Victoria to the top, which offered expansive views of the surrounding city. Before we reached the mountain though, we happened upon an ‘underground’ market. It was located in a carpark by the waterside and was filled with various vendors selling food, clothing, and jewelry. At some point during the day, we also took a tour of the Parliament Building, which was interesting. We even got to check out the banquet hall in the well-known beehive building.

Later in the evening, Kelly and I decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner as the trip was to be our last one together in NZ (so sad). We went to Cuba St. which was vibrant and lively. We found an italian restaurant which had great food. We split an order of calamari and each got our own pasta dishes and desserts. We were both tired from the long day and didn’t stay out for too much longer before we made our way back to the hostel to crash.

The following day was spent at the Te Papa Museum, which is thought of as New Zealand’s national museum. With 6 floors and a wide range of exhibits, it’s easy to see why. Kelly and I flew through the museum in 3 hours as we wanted to get to do other things throughout the day. The museum was fun though, I enjoyed it. We even got to go on simulation rides! After Te Papa, we took the bus to Weta Cave where special effects and props for well known movies like The Lord of The Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia are done. There wasn’t much to see as the work done on movies is confidential, but we watched a short movie about what Weta does, and we got to browse through the collectibles shop.

The rest of the day was spent avoiding the sporadic rainfall, forceful winds, and relaxing with warm soup at the hostel until the bus picked us up at 8:15pm for the 11 hour ride home.

We got home safe, sound, and weary, and Kelly even made it in time for her 9am class. :)

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All Around the World Statues Crumble For Me

It’s been awhile! Finally getting back on track with more trips planned. Soon I’ll be making my way to Wellington, Australia, and up to the Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga – up in the northern most part of New Zealand. How about I start us off with a few things I’ve done lately.

At somepoint this month, actually, whatever the date the supermoon was, Kelly and I walked to, and up, Mt. Eden. It was only a half hour walk to and another half hour or so walk up the mountain. Mt. Eden is one of the many volcanic cones in Auckland. The view from the mountain proved to be absolutely glorious. You could see just about all of Auckland. Crowds of people were coming up onto the mountain to check out the supermoon, which, did prove to be cool, but because the moon was at its’ closest earlier in the afternoon, it didn’t appear as close as I’m sure it did in the states. Either way, it was a nice, leisurly venture.

                             

On May 11th, my friend Sean and I bought last minute tickets to a rugby game at Eden Park. We were cheering for the Auckland Blues who played (and destroyed) the Lions. I had fun watching the game. Sean and I know… nothing really about the game, so we enjoyed trying to figure things out as they went along. Transportation to and from the park was easy. All ticket holders got to ride the train for free! And, of course, Sean and I couldn’t resist free facepaint to get into the Blues team spirit – and we got free Blues flags too!

    

It may have been that weekend, I went perusing throughout Auckland, more specifically Parnell (the district that I live in), and Newmarket. Parnell was having specials in a bunch of their quaint shops for mothers day, so I walked around and emjoyed the sunlight, then made my way through Newmarket Park and over to Mt. Hobson – at least I think it’s Mt. Hobson, I’m really not sure. Either way, it must be a volcanic cone, because it looks like a bunch of the other volcanic cones. The view from there was even sweeter than the view from Mt. Eden. I took my time and enjoyed the last bit of rays overlooking the city.

                             

The following Sunday, mothers’ day, Kelly and I went to an open house down the road just for the fun of it. It was a neat little home with a finished basement, main floor, and a third floor reserved solely for the master bedroom. I figured I may as well check out the Kiwi abodes while I’m here. After that, we strolled over to Newmarket Park where we played on some structures with a couple of local kids. It was kinda funny really, everyone seemed to enjoy each others company for the short while that Kelly and I were there.

Ok, so that’s all I can think of right now for the baby excursions. The latest trip was a weekend exploration of Mt. Taranaki, about a 5 hour drive from Auckland. I got to drive – which very much pleased me. Although, you may or may not have heard about the Boston University sutdents who got into a severe accident here in New Zealand a couple of weeks ago – that was fresh in everyone’s minds, but, all passengers (Kelly, Sean, Jill, and Melody), seemed, or at least acted as though they were comfortable enough with me driving. In any case, the weekend turned out to be absolutely beautiful. The weather could not have been more perfect. We arrived in New Plymouth on Friday night, and then went to the base of Mt. Taranaki on Saturday. We checked out some waterfalls (Dawson Falls), and did a 4 hour hike on the Enchanted Trail at the base of the mountain. We didn’t climb the mountain as that’s a 2 day event and requires a guide, and a lot of equipment. But that was alright, as the Enchanted Trail displayed its own charm. We essentially walked up a stream (the trail was incredibly flooded for most of it) and we were soaked and muddy not too far along into it. Everyone fell at one point or another, myself included. We also had to rock hop across quite a few streams, some of them wider than others. We also got to cross a swinging bridge that was really high up – maybe 50 feet? Nevertheless, we enjoyed ourselves and felt satisfied with our main days’ activity. After the hike, we drove down to the coast and watched the sunset from a small port where people were fishing. It was a great way to wind down the day. After we had dinner back at the hostel, we went to the nearest Pak N’ Save (grocery store) and bought cake, ice cream, chocolate topping, and a deck of cards. And yeah, that’s how our night went. :)

                                                                                                    

So all in all, it’s been a good month. Even the weather has been phenomenol considering the rainy season and the colder part of the year is underway. I don’t have much time left here in New Zealand, so I’m certainly going to try to continue to make the most of it while I can!

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Stray Away – The South Island Tour (Part Two)

Day 9 – If I Could Only Eat My Life Away…

To start the day, we stopped at Lake Mattheson. Later, we checked out a waterfall called Thundercreek which actually had a cool optical illusion. If you stared about 2/3rds the way up the waterfall for about 30 seconds, and then shifted your vision to the side, it appeared that the rock wall behind the falls was moving itself up.

After testing our gazes, we got the BEST ice cream that my tongue has ever tasted. I believe the place was called ‘Jones’. They sold all sorts of fruit, so the ice cream they had was mixed with real fruit right before your eyes. Every ice cream should taste the way that one did.

We also made a quick stop at the 45th parallel, and after that, we went to the Karawau Bridge, where the first commercialized bungy jump in the world took place. A few Stray travelers jumped from there. I jumped elsewhere…

Our destination was Queenstown, where Kelly, Estrella, Julie, and I planned to stay for a few nights. I must say, Queestown was one of my favorite, if not my absolute favorite, stop of the entire trip. It was beautiful there. The atmosphere of the town was great as Queenstown is set up like a small town, but has the bustle of a big city. The fall colors were at their best, only adding to the beauty that the lake and the mountain ranges displayed.

After arriving in Queenstown in the evening, the four of us girls settled into our home for the following nights, The Flaming Kiwi. We then hit the town meeting a few Stray people at the New Zealand renowned Fergburger. I ordered the Fergburger with Cheddar Cheese. Might I say, this was a day my taste buds will never ever forget, as not only had I had had the best ice cream, but also the best burger I’ve ever had.  There’s really no more I can say about it, except that I really wish that I could have Fergburgers forever…

                                         

Day 10 – 134 Meters and Eight Seconds

Kelly and I rose bright in early to throw ourselves off a small building.

We did the Nevis Bungy Jump with 134 meters of free falling (8 seconds in total if you didn’t gather that from the title). I loved it! The drop was exhilarating – I didn’t breath the entire way down. Being pulled up was cool too; very relaxing. I’d love to do it again.

Later on in the afternoon, Kelly, Estrella, and I took a gondola up one of the mountains in Queenstown. We made our way to the luge track (go-carts essentially) and went down twice. I’ll admit, I was a bit reckless (I nearly tipped a couple of times), but I couldn’t help myself from speeding down the track, and flying by (and maybe slightly side-scraping) other luge drivers.

After adrenaline activities, we visited Cookie Time and got freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, and then went to the highly suggested Winnie’s Gourmet Pizza Bar. We ordered a large pizza with a bunch of things on it – I couldn’t remember half of it. It was a fancier place, and the food was good.

                                         

Day 11 – Milford Sound Cruise

Kelly, Estrella, and I boarded a Kiwi Discovery Bus with windows for a ceiling at 8am, and didn’t return to Queenstown until 8pm. It was a day full of scenery. Making our way to Milford Sound, we made scenic stops at Te Anu, Mirror Lakes, vast fields and valleys, and at clear springs where we drank the water cupped in our hands. We drove through a tunnel cut through a mountain and down windy roads that finally led us to a boat that we cruised on for nearly two hours around the sound.

Milford Sound is beautiful. Relaxing and taking in the gorgeous views was a great way to spend an afternoon. Supposedly the area gets rainfall 200 days out of the year. We lucked out as the sun was out, and the temperature couldn’t have been any better. We saw many waterfalls, one of which the boat got so close to, I had water spraying onto me. We also saw a small seal colony soaking up the sun.

                                               

Day 12 – Dunedin for a Day

Being the little adventurers that we are, Kelly, Estrella, and I took a shuttle to Dunedin (which is a 4 hour drive to Queenstown). I wanted to go to check out the music scene which I heard was cool. We only stopped at one place though that night where a girl and guy were singing and playing guitar. They were both pretty talented I must say.

While there, we got to stay with Alicia, a girl that Kelly had met through our Arcadia orientation. She’s studying at the University of Otago. She was incredibly kind and showed us around the area. We checked out the Cadbury Factory, the Octagon, walked through the gorgeous campus, the botanical gardens, and even walked up and down Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world.

                             

Day 13 – Home to Queenstown

We took a shuttle back to Queenstown from Dunedin. Though we enjoyed exploring New Zealand’s first city for the short time we were there, we all missed Queenstown (I still do – I’d live there).

We arrived there in the afternoon. After settling in, we grabbed some yummy hot chocolate at Patagonia Café, and then, of course, had another meal at Fergburger. But this time, I went all out. I order the Big Al – a half pound of burger with lettuce, beet root, two eggs, probably bacon, and a variety of other delicious items. I did, I ate it all. I really, really, would love to have another one. It was absolutely superb. And I won’t lie. I was pretty proud of myself for polishing that off and washing it down with a ginger beer (and then maybe ordering a donut for dessert a little while later…)

                 

Day 14 – Day of Sadness

We left Queenstown in the morning. I certainly wasn’t psyched about it. I really grew attached to the beautiful town.

We made our way to Mt. Cook. When we arrived, Kelly and I decided to walk Hooker Valley, which offered great views of Mt. Cook and of the glacier below it. It was actually a really fun walk! It felt great to stretch my legs and “parkour” the rocks a little bit after a long day on the bus. The walk took us around 3 hours, but we were back at the hostel just before dark.

Before bed, I took a walk on my own and just stared at the sky. The stars were brilliant. They reminded me of Cathedral Cove and of the stars that I saw there. That’s one thing (out of many) that I’ll miss about the southern hemisphere. The stars and galaxies are so visible – it’s unreal.

                 

Day 15 – In Isolation

We left for our final destination of Rangitata, stopping along the way in Geraldine where we encountered the worlds’ largest jersey…

The hostel we stayed at was Rangitata Rafts. It was isolated. I really liked the hostel – it was open and clean, and the bunk beds were 3 beds high! (Though I stayed at the bottom.) Kelly and I spent our afternoon walking down roads that led nowhere.

In the evening, the Stray bus took a bunch of people back to Geraldine where we went to an older gentleman’s’ house where he’d invested $25,000+ into astronomy equipment/observatory. It was crowded, but seeing the stars through telescopes was really neat. I wish we could’ve gazed longer, but we had to keep the lines moving.

                 

Day 16 – Final Lap

We left on the Stray bus for the last time at 7:15am. Kelly, Estrella, and I got off in Christchurch before 10am and spent our day reading, writing, and playing card games at the Antarctic Center. Our flight left for Auckland at 7pm, so we had the time to kill. But it was nice to just sit back and relax after our 2 week adventure.

Though it’s nice to be back in Auckland, I do miss the natural beauty of the South Island. It’s not that the North Island doesn’t have beauty of its own, I just got used to having my life integrated into the surrounding nature for 15 days straight. I really would not mind setting my foot back onto the soil of the South Island of New Zealand.

Side note: I was trying to load more/better pictures of the bungy jump, the Big Al, and other things, but the pictures unfortunately won’t load at the moment. If it occurs to me at a later date, I’ll be sure to try to post them again.

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Stray Away – The South Island Tour (Part One)

I have been blessed with an incredible two week semester break. With my friends that have quickly become like sisters to me, Kelly and Estrella, I’ve explored beautiful places, have had fun adventures, and have made new friends from around the world. Taking the Stray bus tour around the South Island of New Zealand will be an experience that I won’t soon forget. I’ll do my best to jot down the highlights of each day of the 2 week excursion (in two parts).

Day 1, Saturday – And We’re Off

Experienced a brand new concept early in the morning. Airports close apparently. At least domestic ones. Kelly, Estrella, and I had a 6:10am flight from Auckland to Christchurch and arrived before 5am to check in. The airport didn’t open until 5am, but when it opened, we checked in with no problems. Security check was a breeze. Shoes stayed on and water stayed in our bottles. I even brought food in through to the gate. While at the gate, I happened to recognize Paul, one of the three guys I met while at Waiheke Island. As it turned out, Paul was on the same Stray bus as us, which was to leave the following morning. I thought was a neat coincidence.

When we arrived in Christchurch, Kelly, Estrella, and I took a bus into the city and stumbled around the red zone (the center of the city, now destroyed) caused by last year’s earthquake. We stayed at a cozy hostel that I really enjoyed, Chester Street Backpackers. After we had breakfast at a nearby café, we went punting on the Avon River. The freedictionary.com defines a punt as “An open flatbottom boat with squared ends, used in shallow waters and usually propelled by a long pole”  – in case you didn’t already know what it was. I loved it. The river was beautiful, and our guide (although a bit corny) was friendly. Afterwards we visited the botanical gardens adjacent to the Avon River as well as the Canterbury Museum. I learned during our trip that Christchurch is the location of some of the cleanest water in the world.

In the evening, Kelly and I attended an Easter vigil. In trying to find the church, I led us to the wrong side of the red zone (as the street that the church is on cuts through the red zone), so we were a little late. Though I’m not catholic, I was happy to celebrate Easter. I like Christchurch. Walking around certain parts by the red zone was strangely exciting – it felt like a scene out of an apocalyptic movie. The city reminded me of New Orleans with all of the built up devastation that looked helpless to resurrect. The people there seemed hopeful, but I only have a vague sense of that.

                          

Day 2, Sunday – Taken By Stray

We met our fourth travel mate who is also a U.S. study abroad student at The University of Auckland, Julie. We gathered at the bus stop, ready for the Stray bus tour. The bus took us to our first overnight stop, The Adelphi Hostel in Kaikoura, which is on the east coast of NZ’s South Island.

Us four girls took a three hour tramp around the Peninsula on a pleasant walking path. The scenery was gorgeous. Near the end of the coastal track, we came really close to fur seals. They were just sleeping in the grass – and they looked so cuddly!

                  

Day 3, Monday – Picton

I woke early in Kaikoura at 6:30am, and spent my time strolling along the beach. I was a great way to start the day – incredibly relaxing. On the way back to the Adelphi hostel to meet the Stray bus, an elderly local man named Dan struck up conversation with me about the local polluted rivers that I had just crossed a bridge over. He claimed that the pollution was caused by dairy farmers letting waste into the water. It was interesting to get a local’s point of view.

The Stray bus took us into Picton just after lunchtime. Picton is in the northeastern area of the South Island and receives the ferries that come in from Wellington on the North Island. We stayed at a quaint hostel called ‘The Villa’.

Kelly and I walked the popular Snout Trail. It was hilly, but offered great views of the bay and of Queen Charlotte’s Track across the water. That particular track takes a little less than a week to cover.

            

Day 4, Tuesday – Fishing for Air

Kelly, Estrella, Julie, and I left The Villa a little after 8am with a malfunctioning fishing pole in our possession – lent to us free from The Villa. We wound up making attempts at casting the line into the shallow harbor in Picton with no bait and no real intention of catching anything. Afterwards, we messed around at a nearby playground and did some souvenir shopping.

The Stray bus picked us up in the afternoon with a new driver (he calls himself Horse). Our next destination was the Abel Tasman. Along the way there, we stopped at Bouldervine Vineyards for $2 wine tasting, and we also made a stop at the Pelorus Bridge, where a scene out of the soon-to-be-released ‘The Hobbit (2)’ movie was filmed.

In Marahau (Able Tasman) we stayed at a place called The Barn. Kelly, Estrella, Julie, and I got a huge tent complete with beds, which was pretty cool. We stayed at The Barn for 2 nights. Marahau is near the north western corner of the South Island, and the Abel Tasman, a national park, is a place of beauty.

      

Day 5, Wednesday – Rain Only Adds to the Fun

Kelly and I rented a two person kayak to take out onto the waters on the Abel Tasman, despite the rain that hit the area. Matthias from Germany, and Roberto from Canada (both of whom we met on the Stray bus) joined us. I wasn’t about to let the rain stop me from kayaking the Able Tasman as I had had my heart set on the activity since I had read about it back in The States. We were out on the water by 10am and set out for a large island where we were told that we might encounter fur seal pups – and we did! They came up very close to us; we could have reached out with our paddles and touched them. Some of the adult seals swam all around and under our kayaks. After enjoying the seals company for a while, we made our way to a beach on the mainland and had lunch. We then made our way south, where we had come from, and made an hour and a half trip to Split Apple Rock – which was actually a really neat feature. There were caves as well that Kelly and I tried to squeeze our kayaks into, but failed to. :) The trip wound up being 5 hours in total. Although it was cloudy and quite rainy at times, we got to experience a more eerie beauty of the Abel Tasman which I was thoroughly impressed with. The weather being the way it was, we avoided sun exposure, large crowds, and we felt pretty hardcore paddling our way through the ocean in the rain and watching the fog roll in fast down the mountains.

That evening, we ate at a burger joint called The Fat Tui. Great burger and awesome flavors. My best description for it is that it’s a burger with a salad on top.

            

Day 6, Thursday – The Wild West

Travel day with some cool stops was what this day consisted of. One of the stops was at Tauranga Bay, where we saw a seal colony and some funny little birds that looked part kiwi and part dinosaur and that I cannot remember the name of. Watching the creatures running and chasing each other was hilarious. They had more of a sprinted waddle than an actual run. The ocean was beautiful. I feel as though I’ve fallen more in love with the ocean since I’ve been in NZ. I was completely content just watching the water come in in multiple waves over itself while I stood on the shore. After those views, we saw some more spectacular features when we went to the Punakaki Pancake Rocks. I found the rock formations to be stunning. You can see for yourself in the pictures, although they don’t depict how cool it really was.

Our final destination was Greymouth on the west coast. There really wasn’t too much going on. A bunch of us went to a brewery tour at Monteith’s brewery, where, the actually brewery is being rebuilt, so we only got to see a video tour. But, to make up for it, we got to do some beer tasting and had a free meal at a nearby restaurant.

      

Day 7, Friday –Double Rainbows

Friday morning I spent perusing the streets of Greymouth until it was time to leave. We had 2 Stray busses pick us up because of the excess people that joined in at Greymouth. I hopped on the new, smaller bus, with a new driver called Digger. We stopped at lovely Lake Iantha, and we saw many full, and vibrantly colored rainbows along the way – including double rainbows which I had never seen before. We made our way to Franz Josef, home of the Franz Josef Glacier, where we stayed at the Rainforest Retreat for the night.

Many of the Stray travelers planned on hiking the glacier, but apparently, the day before our arrival, the hikes were stopped. The glacier shifted, blocking off hiking access to tourists from the bottom. As an alternative, many people took a short helicopter ride up the glacier and spent some time on the ice. Because that was a little more pricey than the glacier hike had been, Julie, 3 other girls from Stray, and I booked our own trips to the nearby smaller Fox Glacier for the following day.

      

Day 8, Saturday – Fox Glacier

The 5 of us girls did a half day hike in the morning up the Fox Glacier. We had a great guide and perfect weather. The glacier and surrounding setting were beautiful. I really enjoyed hiking the glacier – stomping the clampons (metal spikes tied to your shoes) into the ice, and touching the cool blue ice with my bare hands was humbling.

Later in the afternoon, I did nearby nature walks with Kelly, Julie, Hyongzu (one of the girls I hiked Fox with), Morgan (from Stray), and Roberto. We hiked for a few hours, and eventually it was just Kelly and I left out of our group. Everyone else went back to the hostel earlier. It was a well spent day.

                              

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Rangitoto Island

This has truly been a vacation. I feel so blessed to have had this opportunity to experience New Zealand. It’s incredible how quickly time has passed – the semester break has arrived already! I’ll be gone from New Zealand’s North Island for the next two weeks for the break, but I’ll be sure to write all about it. Until then, I still have last weekend to write about.

Friday night I watched the second Lord of Rings movie with some friends. It only seems natural to be watching the LOR movies while in it’s filming origin. :) So that was a relaxing night.

Saturday was also relaxing, but productive still. I visited a nearby farmers market and purchased some fresh grub. I also walked to a fabric shop where I was kindly given a patch to sew up those pants that I tore while descending Mt. Doom. Afterwards, I met up with John, Andrew, and Maddie at Mission Bay beach. It wasn’t the warmest day, but I walked an hour to get to the shore, so I took a quick dip in the water and patched up my pants with the denim fabric that I had acquired earlier. The patch does not match the light gray material that my pants are made of, but that’s ok. It’s staying on – at least for now.

On Sunday I went with a small batch of the Arcadia group to Rangitoto Island. Rangitoto Island is a dormant volcano which is about a 30 minute ferry ride. We arrived on the island at about 9:45 on April fools morning. The hike to the top of the volcano took about an hour, but was well worth the views. On the way down, we explored caves. Andrew, Rupesh, Parin, and I hung back from the rest of the group and made our own way down the volcano, exploring more caves as we descended.

When we reached the bottom, Andrew and I decided to walk the coast to a harbor, about a two and a half hour walk away. The harbors we came across were beautiful. We walked quickly over the trails and turned the expected 4 hour round trip into less than a 3 hour one, with plenty of time to catch the 3:45pm ferry back to Auckland.

I was pretty tired when I finally got home that evening, as Andrew and I then walked the half hour home from the ferry building. So I made some dinner and watched a new episode of Top Gear, which made me SO happy.

This past week has been spent studying for my Pacific Music and Dance class and writing an essay for my Asia-Pacific International Relations course. Now that that is all set, I can focus on preparing for the next two weeks which will be spent in the South Island. I’m expecting to be bungy jumping, kayaking, and perhaps climbing some glaceirs.

Have a great Easter!

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Calmer Days

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This past weekend proved to be calm but still fruitful in discovery. My friends and I stayed within the Auckland region but made the most of the gloomy forecasted weather; although for the most part the sun lingered around.

On Friday afternoon, Kelly and I met up at the flats and then made our way down to Mission Bay for a beach afternoon. It was warm and perfect for a stroll. We were going to do a small hike up Mt. Eden, a volcanic cone about a half an hour away, but we found ourselves in the mood for a swim instead. Never having walked to Mission Bay before, we traversed the main roads for a near two hours until we finally reached the shoreline. It was around 4:30pm or 5pm by the time we got to the beach. We dipped our feet in the water and then made the executive decision to check out the small shops and grab some food. We picked out a small restaurant, The Fish Pot, and each got ourselves fish n’ chips with potato fritters.

Side note: Before arriving in New Zealand, I hadn’t eaten fish n’ chips for about 10 years or so. Ever since our pet Japanese beta fish died when I was still in elementary school, I couldn’t eat fish, though it had been one of my favorite dishes before. A few weeks ago, Kelly, Estrella, and I tried a fish n’ chip shop near our flats, Al and Pete’s. I have once again found my taste for battered fish. So far, The Fish Pot is my favorite.

After enjoying our meal seated on some lush grass, we meandered back down to the waters’ edge. We didn’t wind up swimming, but we waded in up to our waists and enjoyed the sunshine. We packed our things at around 7pm or so and bought some frozen yogurt at a little shop called KiwiYo. Then we made our way back to our flats via bus.

That evening, Kelly, Estrella, and I went to a small flat party that Kelly was invited to by a Kiwi that she had met at school. We got to meet some new people and hung out for a little while. It wasn’t a terrible way to start a weekend.

On Saturday, Kelly, Estrella, Sean, and I went to the Auckland Museum, which is conveniently close, and even more conveniently, free for students. There was a lot to discover on the three large floors. I was really interested in the war memorial section. I’ll have to go back and explore the artifacts and information more in depth.

After spending a few hours at the museum, we all decided to meet up for a mini potluck at Kelly and Estrella’s flat. Kelly made an artichoke dip that was good and really spicy. Sean made nachos, which proved to be a good appetizer. Estrella made the main meal of corn soup – which was delicious. I made a dessert of hollowed out peaches filled with vanilla pudding, and topped with whipped cream and cinnamon. It was a very relaxing evening. After dinner we played cards, sipped hot drinks, and watched ‘Independence Day.’

Sunday morning brought lots of sunshine. I went to a 9:30am church service with my friend Keri and my flat mate Rob. At 12pm, Sean, Estrella, Kelly, and I met up at the flats and went to Kelly Tarlton’s Antartic Encounter aquarium. We were booked to swim with the sharks there – which was a blast! We were wet-suited up, given snorkels, and put in a mesh-type cage in the water with 23 sharks and a ginormous stingray. That was a really neat experience. Some of the sharks were near 3 meters in length. They swam around and under us. They’re beautiful creatures to observe.

After the swim, we were given complimentary hot beverages to warm up. We walked around the aquarium and saw penguins and tons of marine wildlife. Heading home, we got the opportunity to ride the Kelly Tarlton shark bus. It was a fun afternoon.

Monday, Kelly and I still had the beach vibe going, so we took the half hour bus ride to Takapuna. Although it was a bit chilly, we were still able to enjoy some rays and the scenery. We stayed there for a few hours and enjoyed the town before making our way back to our flats.

Overall, it was a very relaxing weekend (and Monday). Looking forward to another one soon.

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Up In the Clouds

This weekend was possibly the most perilous, quixotic, and surreal weekend that I’ve had – at least that I can think of. Within two days, only two major adventures were accomplished, and the title to this blog post is applicable to the both of them.

So, the plan for the weekend was to have fifteen people in two vans drive to a backpackers (hostel) on Friday afternoon and evening. On Saturday morning, a good chunk of the group was to take a bus to one side of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing  – an eighteen kilometer (over eleven miles) hike by active volcanos, emerald lakes, craters, and forest, meant only for the physically fit and/or the incredibly determined – and then take the bus back to the hostel from the other side of the crossing. On Sunday, the group was to take a drive over to Lake Taupo, and for those who signed up for it, go skydiving. The plans were mostly intact for the weekend, but here’s how it worked out.

On Friday, the first van (the van I got to drive) made a little bit of a late start, but we were on the road by 3:30pm. It wound up being a four and a half hour drive or so, but we made it to the backpackers (A+ Samurai Lodge) a little after dark, safe and sound. The other group had to start later in the evening, at about seven, because of other obligations. They made their start a bit late too, and didn’t hit the road until an hour or more after they were supposed to.

The backpackers was interesting to say the least. Oddly decorated in random objects, including flags, candy wrappers, writings of short stories on the walls, and sickeningly bright colors splashed on as paint, we made the place our weekend home. The owner wasn’t at all out of his element in the hostel surroundings, although he was nice enough. When our first group arrived, the owner, also the bus driver to and from the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, asked us when we wanted to leave for the hike for the following morning. Before we could make a decision to take into account the time that the second half of our group would arrive, he told us we would be leaving at 6am. We hoped that the second van would arrive by midnight so that they could get at least a few hours of sleep. Unfortunately, they arrived at around 2am on Saturday morning, rendering 2 out of the 4 hikers in the second group unable to come on the hike for lack of sleep.

Morning came quickly and by 6am, Kelly, Andrew, Sean, Parin, Brad, Anissa, Rupesh, and I were on the shuttle to get to the far end of the Tongariro Crossing. I had my hiking pack (actually Keith’s – he let me borrow it for New Zealand) stuffed with 2 sweaters, a rainjacket, umbrella, 3 liters of water, a first aid kit, and other oddities for the unpredictable weather and environment. We arrived at the crossing at around 7am and started on the trek at 7:15am. The first two hours were sweet as (New Zealand slang for ‘fine’). Mostly flat and with an easy trail, I thought the hike would prove to be long, but easy enough. After those 2 hours went by, staircase after staircase became our view up, and I started lagging far behind the group. Eventually, we all made our way to the bottom of Mt. Ngauruhoe, or otherwise known as (for you who know a bit about Lord of The Rings) Mt. Doom. As a whole, we had decided beforehand that we were going to climb it, unknowing what this volcano was really about. This was by far one of the most petrifying adventures that I have ever had. The mountain was incredibly steep and had no real trail. At first, it was just a tough walk up the base. Then the gravel of broken boulders that had fallen down the mountain and shattered turned to silt, making every step up become 3 steps down. Halfway up the mountain, the hike became a rock climbing expedition. My hiking pack, I have learned, is not meant for rock climbing. Every time I wanted to look up to see where I was going or to make sure that a boulder wasn’t about to knock me in the head, I had to stand straight up because of the way the pack restrained my head. Because of the steepness of the mountain, standing up is just stupid. I almost fell backwards a couple of times. If there was any wind, I would have been blown over in a heartbeat. We lucked out though, as the weather was absolutely perfect the entire day. I became more and more scared and discouraged the farther up the mountain I went up, mostly because I knew that we were going to have to somehow make our way down. Andrew told us afterwards that his dad had sent him articles about people being severly injured or dying on Mt. Ngauruhoe. I was relieved when I finally reached the peak. Parin and I were about 5 minutes behind most of the group, and they were about 20 minutes after Andrew who practically ran up the thing. Rupesh was about 15 minutes behind us. We ate our lunches at the top while enjoying the view of the crater of the volcano and of the rest of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It proved to be incredibly beautiful, and a bit chilly as we were in the clouds. Mt. Doom was the most difficult part of the trek, and the first quarter of the slide down was the most challenging for my fear of heights – and death. I really thought that I was going to be that person who had to be choppered down. I got quite a few scrapes, and apparently tore my pants pretty badly on my backside (which Parin finally noticed about an hour or so after we got off the mountain…), but I eventually got a groove going when I hit the sandier side of the mountain. I would dig one foot at a time into the sand, and as one foot when in, I pulled my other foot out, and pretty much surfed/skied my way down, using the hiking pack as an anchor by sitting down and leaning back whenever I felt I was losing control – not that I ever really had any, but it was comforting to think that I did. I was so relieved to back at the base of Mt.Doom, but I am glad that I was able to get over my fears and just do it.

The rest of the trek wasn’t as bad, but going uphill caused Parin, Rupesh, and I to fall back from the rest of the group. Rupesh eventually fell even farther behind to take pictures and wound up being about an hour behind the part of the group that was ahead, and I was about 5 minutes behind the head of the group. Parin stayed with me for awhile, then fell about 5 minutes behind me. The scenery was beautiful. The last 7 kilometers proved to be an easier trek and had the most gorgeous views of Taupo and the surrounding mountains. I caught up with the group at a rest stop an hour and a half before the end of the crossing. The group that arrived at the hostel at 2am started on the end of the trail that we were headed towards and they met us at the rest stop too and walked back with us. Rupesh was still missing though, so everyone except Kelly, Parin, and I left to head back to the vans. Rupesh arrived about 45 minutes after the group left the rest stop, and everyone was finally done with the trail by 6:40pm – making the entire tip a near 12 hours. It was a challenging experience that I’m glad I participated in. It also gave me an insight into how unfit I actually am.

Part of the group made a great dinner of pasta alfredo with broccoli and spahgetti and red sauce which was delicious and much needed. Afterwards, we all hung out and ate cookies while sitting by a fire outside. Bedtime came early for me as I hit the hay at aorund 10:30pm.

The following morning, everyone was up and out at little after 10am. Our two vans made the way to Lake Taupo, where skydiving was in order. Part of the group was scheduled for 11am, while Kelly, Sean, and I were booked for 12pm. While waiting for noon to come, my van went to the main street in Taupo where we killed some time. Four people in my van were not skydiving, so they stayed in town while a limo from Skydive Taupo picked up Kelly, Sean, and I at McDonald’s. We thought that was classy.

Skydiving was amazing. Believe it or not, I did not get nervous – at all. I was planning on being nervous and everything, but it never happened. I think Kelly and Sean’s anticipation perhaps calmed me down, I’m not sure though. I was definitely more emotional over silly Mt. Doom than I was over falling from 12,000 feet. It was amazing though. A lot of people find skydiving to be life changing. I did not. Instead, I think it simply offered another door of opportunities for me to open. I plan on skydiving again at home. It’s something that I definitely wouldn’t mind doing for a living.

I did a tandem dive. The guy I jumped with was from Australia. He was cool. He kept hitting the other jumpers in our plane with my 3 ft. long braid - I thought it was funny. Falling out of the plane felt surreal. I didn’t feel like I was in my own head. I loved it. We fell, turned to look at the bright pink plane that we fell out of, then looked back down at the clouds that we were plummeting towards. I even saw Mt.Doom’s peak above the clouds. Falling through the clouds was cool – literally. My favorite part was after the parachute opened. Steve (my guide/tandem jumper buddy) spun us around and all. It was a blast. I loved every second of the entire experience.

Afterwards, we watched Kelly’s and Sean’s DVD’s that they purchased of their skydive, which was pretty cool. I didn’t get any pictures or DVD’s, but I got a free tshirt. :) I’m ok with not having pictures, as they can’t depict the emotions I felt. The view I can see from other people’s pictures, I’m not too worried about forgetting about that. I can’t wait to skydive again.

After everyone gathered back together at the van downtown (the other van left for home by then), we went to Huka Falls for a brief visit. The water was spectacular. Apparently, enough water is dispensed from the falls to fill 5 olympic sized swimming pools in one minute. The color of the water was beautiful to boot. It was like a glacial blue.

The drive home was uneventful and took about four hours or so. But, all is well, I’m alive, and I’m still having the time of my life.

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Turn Signals and Roundabouts

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Had a few different places to explore this weekend. After a presentation at school on Friday, Kelly, Sean, Estrella, and I went downtown. Kelly, Sean and I booked skydiving trips for next weekend. Afterwards, Kelly, Estrella, and I made our way to the viaduct to check out the Volvo Ocean Race scene. The Volvo Ocean Race is a nine month long race that started in October in Alicante, Spain and will end in Galway, Ireland. Six teams are racing with eight stops in between the start and finish line. None of the boats had arrived by Friday, but the first boat – the Groupama sailing team from France - came in at around midnight on Sunday morning. Kelly, Sean, and I watched them come in. It was a really neat atmosphere. On Friday though, the scene was pretty quiet, so us three girls watched some short movies, rode a sailing simulator, and Kelly and I did some paddle boarding – all for free! We both did very well paddle boarding for our first time. Well, at least until the very end. I might have fallen in slightly while trying to step off the board… but nonetheless, it was a fun afternoon.

On Saturday, a small group of us caught the bus to the annual Pasifika Festival. It was set up so that every island (Tonga, Fiji, etc.)  had it’s own area in the park for performances, food, and vendors. It was packed, but it was a cool experience with lots of culture. I bought myself a pineapple ice cream, which is a pineapple cut in half, hollowed out, and filled with ice cream, a wafer, and chocolate syrup. IT WAS DELICIOUS! Estrella and I also split a bag of mini sugar and cinnamon donuts which were so good! Ever since I’ve been here in Auckland, my sweet tooth has only been craving more sweets. There are too many dessert shops here that are tempting me.

On Sunday, Kelly, Estella, Rupesh, Alyssa, and I rented a car and I drove us to Piha – which was about an hour drive away. It was a pleasant day, even though the weather was threatening throughout most of it. Kelly, Rupesh, and I climbed Lion’s Rock which gave us great views of the area. We also took a little hike to Kitekite Falls which was pretty. It was a short trip, but enjoyable.

Although, I did find it funny that my friends found my lingo to be strange. I used the word ‘rotary’, which to them should only be ’roundabout’. And the words ‘directional’ and ‘blinker’ were new concepts to them. It’s supposed to be ‘turn signal’ I guess. It’s amusing. I thought the fall in translation would be with the Kiwi’s, not with other Americans.

Keep an eye out for posts about 12,000 foot altitudes, airplanes, parachutes, and falling. If you don’t see a post, just know that I probably had a good time on the way down…

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