Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Kia Ora from NEW ZEALAND, God’s Own Country is Sweet As NZ: The most life-changing and amazing week of my life

New Zealand in a Nutshell: Two Girls and a Toyota, Kiwi Life, Land of the Long White Cloud, Leap of Faith, Glaciers, Shining Stars, The Nicest People, Glowworms, Cruising the Sound, Risky Business, Gardens, Waterfalls, Road trip Stops, Mid-Semester Break, Every Ecosystem Possible, Chasing Rainbows, The Bluest Water, Dolphins, Kea, Fur Seals, Flora & Fauna

WOW! This week has been the best time of my life. It is overwhelming how much awesomeness was crammed into 6 days exploring the south island of New Zealand. It is officially my favorite place on the entire planet. I want to go back and explore the North Island as well as see Punakaiki and climb Mt. Cook. I also want to spend more time in Queenstown and at the island in general, but this was a great taste of the awesomeness that is New Zealand.

I left March 29th at 7 p.m. and arrived at Christchurch with a few delays at about 1 a.m.  I was so proud of myself for navigating my way around the airport as it was my first time flying by myself. I called my worrisome parents to let them know was on my way. It really wasn't even that hard to get my boarding pass and go through security. I even arrived early and got a seat with extra leg space, major win! From the airport I was off to meet up with my host in Christchurch for the night. I knocked on the door, but to no avail. I then went next door to see if it was actually that house. A very tall man answered the door and told me that it was indeed the house that I was knocking on. He said I could sleep on their couch for the night and that it was no problem at all. He went off to work at the airport and I was amazed by the hospitality of the first New Zealander I met. I woke up to his wife, Kathy in a blurry haze as I hadn't yet put on my glasses. She offered me breakfast and was so sweet. She was a chef and brought out some yummy hot chocolate and toast with a blood orange for me as well as her own homemade cookies because she said I had to try them, they still weren't as good as my mom’s but they were yummy.  I chatted with her and her daughter, Georgia, about what exactly there was to do in Christchurch. I asked about their culture and she responded with, “We are just people.”  They joked around as though they were best friends and Kathy called Georgia “twerp”. I loved being able to observe the culture of families in New Zealand.  I decided to go to Hagley Park and the Christchurch Botanic Gardens to experience “The Garden City” of Christchurch. They offered me a ride to the Riccarton Markets, a cute little market where there were fresh fruits, vegetables, baked goods, and children selling their food creations to passerby with a smile. There was a little walk that took about 10 minutes behind the market that we did. Kathy and Georgia held hands and entwined their pinkies as they walked together. I heard birds chirping and saw the beautiful flora. After a sad goodbye to the nicest, cutest family ever, it was off to Hagley.
Hagley is a huge, green park that is the center of life in Christchurch. It is only beaten in size by Central Park in New York. I walked past runners and under shady trees to the Botanic Gardens in the center of the park. The gardens were filled with flowers and trees, so much beauty to take in. Then I went to the Canterbury Museum in the corner of the gardens. I learned a bit more about New Zealand's history and culture. Then it was time for lunch. I walked past this quaint cottage called “The Curator’s House”. I walked through the cute vegetable garden by the cottage and plucked an apple of the tree for a snack. It was the best apple ever! I decided to stop in for some of their fresh vegetables that they made out of the garden. They were the best vegetables I have ever had in my life, no exaggeration. I also had some ciabatta bread and tapenade with olives. Then I kept exploring the gardens. I ran into the world peace bell. It is a symbol of world peace as metals from countries all over the world were mixed to form the bell. I reached my hand inside to hear its glorious ring. I sat by a lake in the garden among piles of acorns and relaxed.  After
7 hours of walking, it was time to meet up with my host, Louis.

It turned out that he thought I was arriving the next night and that’s why he didn't hear my knocks on his door. Louis was so welcoming! I was a bit nervous to stay there, but it turned out so well! There were 4 other girls staying in the house, 2 were from France and 2 from Lithuania. Louis put on a fun time in the backyard with his flatmates and we played music and danced the night away as I waited for my friend to arrive. I asked him about his culture as he was a Kiwi and Maori. He told me about how relaxed their culture is, showed me native Kiwi musicians (Kora and Chefu) and taught me some Kiwi slang. He taught me “sweet as”, a saying that means I agree". At first I thought he was saying “sweet ass” and laughed. I showed him some American music. Later that night, Devon arrived and we caught up. I hadn't seen her in about 4 years, but I have known her ever since we were little and in club swim together. Then we passed out on the couch and woke up to an offering of delicious coffee from his flatmates. We hit the road early and went to the city center of Christchurch to see the destruction of the earthquake that happened 2 years ago and left the city in ruins.
There was a lovely memorial for the 185 victims of the earthquake. White chairs of all sorts were lines up with the surrounding rubble of the city. There was even a wheelchair, car seat, and a throne to show the diversity and commemorate the victims more personally. There was a church that had bricks blown to pieces and chattered glass windows. It was clearly observable the true power of the forces of nature. Once we were finished walking around, it was on the road again. Besides accidentally hitting a bird on the way there, it was a great trip to the Franz Josef Glaciers. We crossed all of New Zealand from the East to the West coast and saw our surroundings change so dramatically throughout the journey. We stopped in Sheffield for their famous pies and got a scrumptious vegetarian pie. There were also some precious miniature ponies we stopped to pet. We are both animal lovers so it was a mutual obsession for all animals we saw along the way. In fact, one of my goals on the trip was to frolic with sheep. New Zealand is gloriously uncrowded with most of the population in the North Island. It is 4 million people and 70 million sheep. They were everywhere along the roads we drove, some in pastures and some on mountains. Once Devon got tired of driving, it was time for me to take the wheel and drive on the left side of the road. It was hard to get used to at first because all my instincts were screaming at me to tell me I was doing everything wrong. I eventually got used to it and now can say I mastered the concept of driving on the left side of the road.

We ran into “Castle Hill” where “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” filmed a couple scenes for the movie. It was a breathtaking structure of several rocks scattered about on a hill. We climbed up to the top for a stunning view, frolicked in the pasture and explored the rocks along the way. We found a dried up pool and stopped at Death’s Corner as rain sporadically decided to surprise us along the way. He stopped in a town called Hokitika and walked the black sand beach surrounding it. I sat on the black sand and dug my feet deep as large bursts of sea foam came up from the sea with the tide. We had to grab some “fush & chups” and sit by the sea for a quintessential New Zealand experience. I spotted the skeleton of a baby shark on the sand as we walked back to the car. Then there it was in all its glory, a rainbow. It was the perfect ending to our Easter day as we saw a cross on the beach as well. After filling up on petrol (gas), we left to continue our journey as we drove into the sunset along green pastures of sheep. It was the first beautiful sunset I had seen in awhile as I was finally on the west coast. We drove through mountains into the darkness and finally arrived in Franz Josef at 8:30. We discovered that we missed our check in time by 30 minutes as reception was closed. We were about to freak out, but I calmed us down and realized that there was nothing we could do about it at that point, sleeping in the car wouldn't be too bad. We walked around the small city until I knew it like the back of my hand. We got some wifi at Full of Beans coffee shop and felt connected to the world for a bit. We had no functioning phone so it was nice. We found this food cart that served a native Kiwi dish called, Pavlova. We decided to try it out because it was another essential cultural experience. It had some kiwi, cream and was a light and fluffy cake. There is a battle between Kiwis and Aussies as to who invented the lovely treat and somewhat of a rivalry between the countries. We also got some fried bread, which was basically a pancake with some butter and syrup. Then we went back to where we were supposed to be staying and watched some movies on their couch in the warm living room. We ended up sleeping on their couches because we felt we were paying to stay there anyways, so why not?

We woke up and tried to check in. We found out that we actually were supposed to be staying in a different hostel. We put out heads down in shame in recognition of our major fail and made our way over to Chateau Franz, the true place we were supposed to be staying. The man in reception was very nice and decided not to charge us for the night that we didn't stay there and we made our way to our first hostel of the trip. We had 3 other flatmates, 2 Aussie girls and one Japanese man. I tried to talk to him about his journeys, but he didn't understand much English so we just communicated with simple words and gestures. Now that a shower was available to me, I proceeded to take my first shower of the trip and felt amazing afterwards. We went back to Full of Beans for some flat whites (coffee, basically a latte) and went souvenir shopping around the town. I bought a cute key-chain with a kiwi and a heart and a shot glass decorated with all things Australian. I decided that they were the 2 easiest things to collect and now on all my future journeys I will gather one in each country. Then we went to the Kiwi Wildlife Center to learn about the animal that represented the people and culture of the country. I got to see some precious little kiwi as they ran about foraging in the darkness of their habitat. Then it was time to explore the glaciers!!!

I made sure in the planning of this trip that the glaciers were on our itinerary and it was definitely an exciting day. We joined our guide of Franz Josef Guides and made our way over in a bus. He had quite the individualized glacier experience as we got to see a lot of things that weren't available if you didn't have a guide. We climbed up ladders through the mountains surrounding the glacier. We got up to a point where a man who was much loved by the New Zealand community jumped of the mountain and died. There was a lovely rock structure to commemorate him. Then we climbed back down to get up close to the glacier after seeing it from above. There was an ice bridge and we were warned to not go any farther. Momentarily, I saw why. A huge ice block fell from the bridge. The glaciers are constantly moving and changing. There was a pile of rocks that he asked us if we wanted to climb to reach the top of the glacier and touch the ice. I decided to do it. I stood on top of a glacier and took it all in. Then we walked back and decided to climb a staircase into the mountains that was 150 steps. It was a steep climb and once we reached the top it was a winding road back out.  There were some clumsy moments as we are both not exactly the most graceful girls, but it made it that much more memorable. After saying farewell to our fun guide, Toby, we went back to Chateau Franz and made some frozen vegetables for dinner and went to Picnics Bakery for some yummy baked goods to munch. Then it was off to the glacier hot pools to relax. There were 3 hot pools: 36°C, 38°C and 40°C. We sat in each and then made our way to the terrace walk to try to spot some glowworms. We found a couple a little bit into the woods. They glowed with a neon green light in the darkness. We turned around once seeing them because it was a bit dodgy in the woods at night. That night we watched a movie and munched on popcorn and went to sleep early because it as an early morning tomorrow!
We woke up and left at 5:30. I was the first driving shift of the day and made our way through winding roads in the darkness on our way to Queenstown. There was a waterfall that we stopped to go walk to. It was called Thunder Falls and we both gawked at its beauty for a bit before continuing on the road. On our way there was a massive herd of 800 sheep blocking the road. I got way too excited and leapt out of the car. I walked and chatted with the man who was herding the sheep and got permission to frolic with them. It was one of the ultimate goals of the trip for me and I was happy to finally accomplish it after seeing so many sheep behind barbed wire and fences, there were finally some free sheep!

I had researched New Zealand and found out about a supposedly beautiful place called Glenorchy. Despite Devon’s insistence that we were short on time, I made sure that we woke up early enough to make it there. The water was so beautiful and so clear. We walked out onto the water on a dock and snapped some quick pics before moving on to Queenstown to make my bungy jump!

I am definitely an adrenaline junky so it was essential that I check one of my adrenaline-filled desires from my bucket list in the adventure and adrenaline capital of the world, Queenstown. Bungy jumping was invented in New Zealand so I decided to go for it. The Kawarau Bridge was the place of the world’s first bungy jump. I was excited to jump 43m off this historic bridge. I don’t know what is wrong with me, but I still wasn't scared. There was only one moment when I was about to jump that I got butterflies in my stomach as my body screamed at me, “What are you doing?!” The man who strapped me in counted down to my jump and I was already ready to before he was finished. I went for it right when he was done counting down. I soared down into a beautiful blue river and bounced up and down in a peaceful trance. Then I grabbed a stick and was pulled onto a boat to make my way back up to the bridge.  One more leap of faith complete! I think this was a bit scarier than skydiving for me, but they were each so different.
The endorphins flooded my bloodstream as I walked over to reunite with Devon. We went inside to pick up my footage of the event and then were off to sample Queenstown’s famous burger joint. Fergburger was quite the experience. It was always so crowded with lines out the door and down the street, but we went on an off hour so that it wasn't too bad. I order the Bambi burger to experience deer for the first time. The burger ended up being the biggest and yummiest EVER. I can know understand why it is so famous. I was glad that I hadn't eaten much before this meal so that I could indulge in delectable fergburger.

We checked into our hostel at Nomads and wandered around the streets of Queenstown. It was the first real city we were in since the beginning of the road trip. It was kind of overwhelming to be around so many buildings and people again after only being surrounded my greenery, sheep, and the open road. I couldn't help but think about what it would be like to return to Sydney, this was only 1/100th of its size and it was still overwhelming. We then ventured to the gondolas that would take us to the top of Queenstown. Riding the gondola up was amazing. We saw the city fully and its surroundings of mountains and lakes. Once we were at the top, it was time to luge! We got on these little carts and sped down winding roads all the way down the mountain from the top of Queenstown. It was so much fun and a great way to experience the city! Once we were done with our 2 luge rides, we went to the highest point we possibly could to take in the skyline. It was a beautiful view as we watched the sunset turn to twilight over the mountains.

After exploring the forest a bit, we went back down to Queenstown for yet another foodie adventure. Food is a very enjoyable part of experiencing a new culture and we intended to try some New Zealand creations. There is an ice cream called “Hokey Pokey” that is popular in New Zealand. It is basically vanilla ice cream with chunks of honeycomb. We both got some hokey pokey from a place called “Cookie Time!” because it smelled amazing as we walked by. It was definitely a good choice. They smashed a cookie into the hokey pokey for an explosion of sweet goodness. After meandering the streets a bit more and looking at more souvenir shops, we crashed hard to wake up and road trip once more.

We woke up at about 7:30 for some free pb & js provided by the hostel (got to take advantage) and then hit the road on our way to Te Anau. We stopped for some petrol and Devon accidentally hit the front left car into the box leaving a bit of a dent. Thank God she got insurance! We didn't let that small bump in the road ruin our moods and Devon took it like a champ after a momentary freak out. We arrived at Rosie’s Backpacker hostel in Te Anau to drop of our bags and continue on our way to Milford Sound. Rosie was the sweetest and cutest woman ever and told us about a couple o

f stops we had to see along the way as we bonded with her lovely black cat, Bella.

We started the lovely road to Milford Sound and stopped at the Mirror Lakes. It was a lovely lake with amazing reflective qualities that embodied a mirror perfectly. We kept driving until we were hungry and pulled out our sandwiches for a swell lunch in nature as we sat on a log in the middle of a forest. The next stop was the chasm. As we pulled in we spotted some Kea, the world’s only alpine parrot. They have an intellect equivalent to a 6 year old human! One welcomed us by landing on our car and I even made eye contact with one! We walked over to the chasm to see the rock structure and waterfall and then it was back on the road again.

After driving through a tunnel through a mountain and Fiordland National Park, we were finally at Milford Sound just in time for our nature cruise! This day turned out to be one of the best as we cruised this indescribably beautiful place. We saw fur seals and dolphins swam alongside us for quite some time. There were waterfalls coming down every which way from the surrounding mountains and rainbows at the bottom of the waterfalls close enough to touch. It was so surreal and the experience too perfect to believe. We got extremely lucky with the rainbows and the dolphins and it turned out to be such a great day. We sipped some tea and coffee as the sunshine hit our skin and the wind caressed our hair. I didn't want to leave! Milford Sound is renowned as New Zealand’s top travel destination and the 8th wonder of the world. The sheer rocks and lush rainforest with waterfalls cascading down them made the Sound undeniably a must do in New Zealand and I was so happy to be able to experience it. The drive back led us into the darkness and once we stepped out of the car at Rosie’s we got to see the stars in the night sky. Now that we were out of the main cities, we could see the beautiful sparkling galaxy overhead. We went back inside to sit by the fireplace and chat with our flat mate about her travels. She had been traveling alone in New Zealand after graduation for the past 3 months. I envied her freedom and all the stories she told.

We woke up the next day after our longest, comfiest slumber of the trip to eat a quick breakfast and grab some of Rosie’s coffee and then head out. Rosie’s was my favorite hostel with Chateau Franz closely behind. The rest of the day was dedicated to making it back to Christchurch in time to give back the rental car, check into Devon’s hostel and make my flight back to Sydney. The road trip back wasn't short of awesome stops. There were more sheep to frolic with on the side of the road and another large sculpture dedicated to food. One of a large fish and one of some assorted fruits in Cromwell

. We stopped in Twizel to fill up on petrol and get some snacks for the remainder of the trip. I got some corn crisps, which became a main part of my diet the entire trip and Devon got another hokey pokey. We were now set to complete the trip back! We drove through a cute town called Geraldine with some farmers selling berries and I wished we stopped, but we continued. We arrived at Lake Pukaki and saw another lovely body of sparkling blue water with a magnificent shade of turquoise radiating in the sunlight. Mt. Cook towered in the background. We snapped a picture for a cute family from Denmark and then it wasn't long before we hit the next lake. Lake Tekapo was a place that I had researched and I was so excited to see! I walked down the mountain to stand on some rocks in the clear water of the lake. It was a piece of heaven on Earth. I fell in love with the water and just wanted to go for a swim. It was so magnificent! The rest of the drive eagles soared over us as we drove through some more plains and arrived in Christchurch. We decided to get some lamb for dinner. The man ended up giving Devon her meal for free because her card wouldn't work. The people in Christchurch were all so nice and New Zealanders so hospitable. We went back to her hostel to eat dinner and then filled up on gas and cleaned out the car before returning to the airport.  He hung out at the airport for a bit before having to part ways. When I said goodbye to Devon and she drove away in her taxi I wanted to rewind time so badly.
This trip was truly remarkable in every way! I will miss the beauty of New Zealand and the sweet Kiwi people that we encountered, but it isn't farewell forever. I am definitely returning. It is amazing what these 7 days did to change the perspective of my life. It opened my eyes once more to all that is out there in this world and all the opportunities I have to experience its wonders and meet amazing people along the way while making memories. Devon and I hadn't seen each other in 4 years and it just showed me the power of adventure in uniting people. I am so grateful to have this experience and I know I will never forget the Kiwi life I led.


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