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NZ: pt 2

NEW ZEALAND | Thursday, 8 March 2018 | Views [280]

New Zealand: South Island


We took the ferry from Wellington to Picton. I had a night out saying goodbye to lots of fabulous people the day before, so when I found the quiet room on the ferry I was thrilled. The ferry was delayed and our 3hr ferry turned into like a 6hr journey? I’m not sure if those are the right times even, but my sleep was fantastic. At one point, I walked out onto the deck because as we arrived into Picton it was such crazy pretty views. I quickly learned how windy that was and didn’t last more than 5 minutes.


Once on the bus from Picton to Abel Tasman, I had a couple of interesting conversations with Adam and Pina (I'm not sure how to make my computer do the accent above the ‘N'). Adam likes to think deeply and has more meaningful conversations so he was asking us questions about how we break into real conversations with other travellers and what our intentions were with this trip. This is all post my really good nap so it made for good entertainment. He’d also spent a bit of time in India and had just done a silent retreat so that was definitely cool to hear about. I told him about my interests in yoga and aspirations to live in India and the more he got to know me the more excited he became to one day hear about my experience of the country. 



Abel Tasman national park was a bit of a bummer because the cyclone hit that night and all of the activities were cancelled for the next day. That evening I cooked a delicious pasta with Pina and spent the night playing bottles (21) with a group of 10(ish) people. We played the entire game until every number had a rule which I found really impressive, and the rules got better and better the more we played so it was really entertaining. Lizzy and Ellie introduced the game to us; they're both British and by the end of it I'm pretty sure I was attempting to say ‘bottles' with a British accent. The best perk of the game was not knowing half the people but running into them throughout the trip after and laughing about the impressiveness of our game. We were supposed to have an extra day in Abel Tasman to do activities, but I skipped it since there wasn't much to do and went on to Westport.



So not that Westport wasn’t affected by the cyclone, but there were more indoor activity options that gave us more to do. It's supposedly a big surfing town, which obviously wasn't an option for us. The other option was a brewery tour. So I went on that with Ellie and met such interesting people. We concluded the brewery pitied us tourists because of the bad weather and decided to just give us lots of beer and less of a tour.

I'd never been on a brewery tour before, so this may actually be more normal?


All the tastings gave our group lots of opportunities to chat and I met two 50-something ladies who had met at burning man (picture an artistic version of Woodstock that happens in Utah every year) and had travelled to New Zealand to attend NZ's version of Burning Man. I met Tim who is from Switzerland and is studying at uSyd this year for his MBA; we connected and got to talk all about the university and plan to meet up now that he's in town. I met this guy Florian who's German and after a couple of ‘tastings' struggled to follow the guides English during the actual tour bit which was pretty funny. I walked down to the beach with him afterwards and learned lots about Berlin and his obsession with the Netherlands, which I'm always keen to hear about. After an hour or two, a local biked passed us and told us that the bridge we crossed to get here wouldn't be there in less than an hour. The water was rising quickly so that was super lucky.


The next day I was hoping to get on the bus despite not having reserved a seat. Not very logical since no one wanted to hop off in the small town of Westport and everyone who had the day before was keen to get out of there. Another Dutch guy named Bas was hoping to do the same, but the bus was full. He and I were stuck together and decided to try hitchhiking! I'd never hitchhiked before but New Zealand was definitely the place to do it. So we scavenged the hostel looking for a pen and piece of cardboard, but in the process met an American girl with a car who was driving an Italian guy towards Franz Josef. So our search for a ride wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be. She had a pretty small car so we had to sort quite a bit of stuff, but perfectly manageable.




Our car arrived in Greymouth around the same time as the tour bus. They told us that the road to Franz Josef (our destination that day) was closed and everyone was stuck in Greymouth. I would relate the town of Greymouth to…Post Falls. It’s not empty, but it’s not very eventful. All the hostels were full since the road was closed, and I ended up sleeping on the floor of Lizzy and Ellies room. The hostel was so dingy and it was absolutely freezing. Sleeping on the floor wasn’t actually bad, but the lack of blankets was. I'd remembered coming in that night that there were a couple blankets and pillows on a random couch by the entrance, so I grabbed those (it was like 12 when I came home, so I assumed no one was using it). It didn't end up making much of a difference; I still ended up using our towels as blankets and Ellie's jacket to cover my face. Plus, the next day the owner asked all of us if we knew what happened to the blanket/pillows…so I told her and she wasn’t very pleased. I accept the bad karma, but at least I survived the night!


The next morning we all piled on the bus even though we didn't know if the roads would be open. We were delayed for a couple of hours and our poor driver was SO stressed. I felt quite bad for her by this point because lots of people were becoming impatient. Luckily, we were eventually cleared to head to Franz Josef!



On our way to Franz Josef, Lizzy and I signed up to do the skydive. The main activity there was hiking the Franz Josef Glacier, but given Idaho's proximity to Glacier National Park, I decided not to spend the $500. Everyone who did it said it was amazing though and since our skydive was cancelled due to weather I was disappointed to have not done it. Luckily there were lots of good walks with great views of the glacier so I did those! Since Ellie had done the glacier walk they gave her a pass into the naturally heated hot pools. She gave me her ticket when she left and they let me in, so that was a big win! Also, finally did laundry here which was significantly overdue. The first night we paid for the all you can eat pizza and it was impressively good and so worth it.


I properly met Ed, another British guy, here because we snuck him a couple slices of pizza. He had played bottle’s with us back in Abel Tasman and we somehow got onto the topic of another guy we had been travelling with, Eddie (Ed & Eddie, don't get confused). Ed was talking about how Eddie is a 30-something and owns his own business. I could have sworn I met Eddie on my first bus trip up to Paihia and he told me he was 18. Those are obviously very different sounding people so we went back and forth clarifying his appearance to make sure we weren’t talking about the wrong person and eventually made a bet about how old Eddie actually is. We literally hunted Eddie down after to ask him, and I was super wrong. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out where my brain had made up this fact but I felt bad telling this 30-something that I could have sworn he was 18. The more we chatted the more clearly he was not 18…


I paid to visit the Kiwi Conservation Centre here. I wasn't entirely sure it would be worth it, but it's the only time I saw Kiwi's while I was in NZ, so totally worth it in hindsight. I learned lots about why Kiwi’s are becoming endangered and about all their efforts to save the Kiwi which I found exciting. In case you’re confused, Kiwi’s are a type of flightless bird native to NZ, not the green fruit.


The next night I didn't pay for the all you can eat pizza but got snuck a couple of pieces anyway. I would have thought 2 nights in a row of the same pizza would be boring, but it was equally good and I was very happy. My friend Niels and Brom both encouraged it and I had a hard time saying no…but they also made for such good conversation. Brom wanted to get into film directing when he went back to the Netherlands and had all of these really interesting ideas for storylines to start with. Niels constantly made for a good laugh and was one of those people I consistently ran into throughout the trip; I was super grateful for that because we eventually met up when he was in Sydney and I got to show him around.



Leaving for Wanaka the next day turned into quite the bus ride. The night before, Ed and I figured out the groups we had been travelling with were splitting up and agreed to be bus buddies. Hence, he's in most of the following stories. The first bus stop was at a lake. We decided to try it and ended up getting SOAKED in the rain. Luckily I was wearing sandals (: by the time he offered me his hat my hair was already dripping and it just wasn't worth it. Eventually, we got back to shelter after looking at the lake for maybe 10 seconds. We ran into Eddie again here.. it's great being reminded of being wrong. The second stop was at this massive waterfall; if you stared at the waterfall for 45 seconds and then looked at the rocks next to it they were wavy and moved and it was trippy. I did the same thing again but looked at my hand, even more trippy. No one could explain why it happened but it didn't happen with the other waterfalls I tried it at? 


It was a long day of travelling by the time we were getting into Wanaka. Luckily, Ed shared his earbud with me and we watched a David Letterman interview with Obama and Liv had suggested the book 'Lean In' to me a couple days before. Reading on my phone is never ideal, but all that coupled with really good conversation made the bus ride not so bad. Getting into Wanaka we stopped for a lot of pictures because the lake views were crazy. Around this time my recently shattered camera lens made pictures not an option. GoPro was a good second option, but if you have one you know how quickly it dies and I was not very responsible charging it.


Arrived in Wanaka and went for a walk to find the tree that grows out of the lake. It was much more wondrous than I expected and found it to be a cool highlight. My camera still didn't work and you may have seen the blurry picture I uploaded on Facebook, but it's supposedly one of the most photographed things in NZ so I'm sure there are much better pictures out there. Ed and I walked around town for a bit and wasted time at a park until we were hungry enough to eat. We'd planned on some kind of Mexican food, but throughout conversation discovered our mutual love for Indian food. We’d ran into a couple on our bus earlier that day on their way to meet their local family at a local Indian restaurant, so we knew that was a good option and headed there instead. This may have been the best meal I had in New Zealand. We were both super underdressed to be in the restaurant, which didn't matter until the end when I was stared at by another customer. I've never been so blatantly stared at and it was rather uncomfortable, but the food was too good to let it bother me.


The next day I’d signed up for an aerobatic plane ride. SO COOL. The plane did barrel rolls and loops and other crazy spinny things and I don't think I'd smiled so much since arriving. It wasn't scary but definitely got that rollercoaster drop in your stomach feeling. I got to help steer a bit which was also fun, I don’t think the pilot ever actually let go but I was more than okay with that.


After that Ed and I went to rent bikes and decided to bike to the bottom of Roy's Peak and then do the hike. This bit was horrendous. About 20 minutes into the most consistently steep hill I've ever seen I knew it was going to be brutal. I warned Ed at the beginning that I'd be the more out of shape one on this hike, but it consistently got worse and about ½ way I think I started to overheat. My legs started getting shaky and the nausea started…long story short I didn't make it to the top. It was pretty disappointing because the views and sense of accomplishment at the top would have been pretty rewarding, but given how steep it was and my existing state it wouldn't have been a very safe walk down. I told Ed I wouldn't quit if he didn't finish it, so we parted ways and I slowly made my way back down. This bit was pretty hard on my knees and most people ran down. I bumped into the guy I hitchhiked with, Bas, on the way down which was random but exciting! Once at the bottom, I did a bit of yoga and a random lady asked to join me. I had my sarong to do it on and warned her the ground wasn’t very comfortable, but she went for it anyways. 5 minutes into it she agreed but appreciated the stretches! Ed met me at the bottom a bit later and showed me all the cool pictures. We still had our bikes which we then realized was generally just a bad idea. So we biked back to town but took the path by the lake and stopped to watch a guy playing piano in front of the tree growing out of the lake. One of the more random things I saw in NZ, but fully appreciated it given the day.


Spent the next morning at Puzzle World which I found random. Met some people who were travelling on the Kiwi Bus, which was the same tour bus concept as mine but more aimed at younger people and partying. They were all lovely but agreed there was a focus on going out so I was happy I'd chosen my bus. That being said, they didn’t have nearly as many bus issues and their buses were much nicer. Eventually, we took off to Queenstown!



So, Queenstown is one of the more anticipated stops in NZ and I fully understand why.


On our way there, Ed and I booked our Skydive. By now, I had tried to skydive twice and both were cancelled so I was super excited to do it. We stopped at the AJ Hackett Bungy bridge coming in and watched a couple of people jump and barely touch the river below. Our bus driver didn’t tell us that this was the time to pay for our bungy the next day, so that caused some running around/discombobulation. We got to Queenstown and our skydive was supposed to be that afternoon, so I went to drop off my stuff at the hostel but couldn’t find it. No, my sense of direction still hasn’t improved. Eventually just ran back to where our skydive was with all my stuff only to find out it was cancelled because they didn’t have enough people. UGH. In hindsight, Ed and I both agreed it was a blessing in disguise not doing it that day. It had turned into a stressful travelling day trying to sort our dive and bungy jump and all the rushing around; ended up enjoying it way more by rescheduling it. 


We walked around that night and got to know Queenstown. Everything in the city is a 3 minute walk which was so convenient. They had so many good food options. There was 1 fresh food/ buddah bowls/ smoothie place right outside where I was staying which became a go-toJ. Got a salad bowl from there and ate down by the lake with Ed. Taking a breath and appreciating the Remarkables (mountains surrounding the lake) totally changed our mood. After, we read every menu in Queenstown and decided on Mexican for dinner. I wanted some weird taco with the toppings of one of the nacho options. The waiter looked really unsure, so Ed blurted out it was my birthday. The waiter asked if it really was and asked for my ID. I, way to confidently, reached for it but it worked because he said never mind and laughed.. I got my special tacos to say the least.


After we walked around town more, saw a guy get out of a harness & chains (picture Houdini) in under 2 minutes. It was pretty fascinating actually. There were tons of street performers in Queenstown and they were all really good. One guy sang Country Roads and his dog howled along with him at all the right times. Saw hang drums a couple times, which are quite rare but make such pretty sounds.


The next day was Ed's birthday and we had scheduled the bungy jump and canyon swing for that day. SO MUCH FUN. I don't even know how to begin explaining experiences like that but I very strongly considered jumping twice. I wasn't nearly as nervous as I thought I would be. We took a lift out to the gondola we would be jumping from. They had pretty exciting /hype-y music on so I just got that jumpy thrilling feeling. They were chatty hooking me up into the ropes which helped too. Everyone tells you to jump as soon as they do the "1, 2, 3, BUNGY”  and I almost wished I hadn't. I didn't take a moment to look down and get properly scared. I just jumped on "BUNGY" and didn't realise what was actually happening until I was staring at the bottom of the canyon.


It was 134m (440ft) to the bottom which was 8 seconds of freefall; I don't totally remember when I started screaming, but I was told after that it was very distinctive. I immediately pictured my sister's scream and playing back the videos I'd say they're creepily similar. Anyways, after the 3rd bounce, I had to pull a rope by my feet that would let me sit upright. It wasn't a big deal if you couldn't get the rope to come out, but then you'd have to go up upside down which I really didn't want to do. I don't know how many times I bounced, but when I started to struggle to get the rope I was super motivated not to get stuck. I instantly threw all of my energy into pulling it and finally found myself somehow sitting up. The canyon swing was next which we did together and backwards. We told the guy in charge to surprise us when we dropped; while we were hanging there to get pictures and mid-directions we dropped. Such an instant drop. Hanging there was so fun and my mind was racing with ‘wow's' after.


That night I cooked Chinese food in the hostel with my friend Lexi. She’s from China and definitely knew what she was doing so that was fun to learn and delicious to eat. Our hostel had an incredible view of the Remarkables and as we ate we talked about all the stories we'd gathered along the way. She was hitchhiking the entire south island which made for really different perspectives and it was amusing to compare. 


The next morning I met Ed for our skydive! I think I had adrenaline withdrawals after these couple of days. It was a short drive to the site and we were in the first group to jump. They gave us red jumpsuits which made me feel really official. On our way up the professional jumping with me gave me a small tour of all the things we were over and showed me the altitude a couple times on the way up. That’s when I started getting really nervous. The first group in our plane jumped at 9,000 ft and watching them fall out of the plane made me realize how crazy it was that I was about to do the same thing. I was the first to go at 12,000 ft and the guy jumping with me fake jumped a couple times which was cruel but really funny. Jumping was surreal. 45 seconds freefalling and I don’t think it felt real at any point. After pulling the parachute my guide let me control the canopy for bits which was super fun. We did some spinny things and it was a definite highlight. After the landing I was electric for hours. 


Ed had family in town visiting and invited them to watch our skydive. They got cool videos of our landing and my massive smile walking away which was super appreciated! They also took us to lunch by the lake after and told all kinds of fun stories. His dad reminded me of mine a lot and it even made me a tad homesick, which hadn't happened since Wellington. It was a cool concept bonding over such specific values with someone from a different culture/from the other side of the world. People are fascinating.



I left for Mt Cook the next morning. Drove over a couple glacier rivers on our way with the most jaw-dropping blue water I saw the whole time I was in New Zealand. We stopped in a random little town for lunch and I met a guy who made gourmet coffee out of his van. I doubt you are picturing something fancy but it was really clean and looked nicer than café coffee machines. I watched him freshly grind some beans and make a proper coffee for someone while eating my lunch. I hadn’t drunk good coffee since I was in New Zealand, and I’m not a big coffee drinker but there were days on this trip that definitely required it. Anyways, I got to chatting with the owner and he made me the best almond milk flat white that I’d had in ages. Really funny guy; he opened the coffee van in his retirement to give him something to do and it ended up being really profitable between two or three rural towns. He acknowledged the bad coffee in NZ and because his coffee was so good people were always willing to travel for it. 


Mt Cook is NZ's highest mountain and had a glacier that fed all the water up there. Once we got there we dropped our stuff off and went to do the hooker valley track. It was pretty flat so it was a casual walk to the glacier lake. A couple people jumped in; I could barely stand in it long enough to get a picture. It became painfully cold so quickly, I honestly don't know how they did it.




Christchurch was the beginning of my ending. I arrived on February 11th (you’ll understand why I’m telling you the dates in a minute). I didn’t know any of the people on my bus at that point because everyone hopped off in Queenstown or Mt Cook, but I ended up making friends with some people staying in my room. One girl, Mollie, is from California and her boyfriend, Dave, is from London. They had moved to New Zealand for a working holiday and had arrived 2 days earlier. I spent the next day with them and a German couple who had also just arrived; it became this fun opportunity to advise them on all the places I’d just visited and answer lots of their questions.


We went to the pier and enjoyed a day at the beach. The weather was wild. When we arrived at the beach it was gorgeous skies and warm, we walked into a grocery store and by the time we walked out, it was the most depressing beach scene ever. The boys still wanted to swim so we let them; this was a blessing in disguise because by waiting it out we got to enjoy seeing the murky grey skies and fog clear out. Transformed back into turned into a gorgeous afternoon, we enjoyed the warmth as long as possible.


Mollie and Dave had just done a southeast Asia trip which was unbelievably inspiring. Mollie is a photographer and everything about her pictures made me want to plan that trip. The next night some of the Dutch people I'd been travelling with arrived in Christchurch and we went for an end of the trip beer. We all agreed that our hostel felt rather luxurious. The sides of each bed had a little nook you could plug everything into and store a water bottle or book in. They even had two pillows. We definitely had come to appreciate the little things.


Caught my flight from Christchurch to Auckland the next morning, February 13th. Waiting for my flight, I bought a really cool black sweatshirt that had "THE REMARKABLES" written over the top of mountains. After boarding my flight, I thought to myself, "I wonder what time my flight leaves to Sydney on the 15th?” So, I do the logical thing and check. Looking at my itinerary I read, 'Auckland to Sydney VA81 6:45 AM 13 February 2018'. Yes, this is stamped in my head. So my flight wasn’t on the 15th, it was literally earlier that morning. I had failed the test of adulting and frantically texted my father. A quick SOS and then got to turn my phone off for the hour-long flight and try telling myself everything would be okay. Luckily, this plane ride had incredible views of all the nature that is New Zealand. I checked in on my budget on the plane and figured how much I had left…$400. 




Arrived in Auckland, checked into my hostel and took a deep breath. Walked to a flight centre and explained my predicament to an agent and he couldn't help but laugh. He looked worried when I told him my budget because last-minute flights never go that cheap, and I had to check an extra bag internationally which gets really pricey. Originally most the prices he was coming up with totalled around $600… He stared at his computer in awe when he decided to check first class prices. He had figured out I would get to check my extra bag for free and fly first class on the 15th for $350 with this random Brazilian airline. He kept reiterating how lucky I was to find a flight that cheap and I was so pleased that I booked it immediately. Happy with my remaining $50, I treated myself to dumplings.


The next day, I walked to the domain and saw Auckland’s famous gardens and got a really cool view of the skyline. This was the day I got caught in the rain. I was about 2km from my hostel and was wearing sandals, shorts, a tank top, and that black sweatshirt I'd purchased in Christchurch. When the rain began to pour I attempted to run for it; didn't last for long because I hate running and was soaked in 3 minutes anyway. Decided to dance in the rain when I accidentally stepped into a massive puddle and got to appreciate my wet feet. I got under a bus awning at one point so I could see where I was going and figured out I'd gone in the exact opposite direction that I had meant to. Luckily for me, a bus arrived 1 minute later and was going right by where I was staying. $2.40 for a ride home sounded really good at that point. Got back, had a warm shower, chatted with an Italian guy staying in my hostel and learned about all the places I need to visit. Went to bed and flew out of Auckland the next morning! I took my still soaked sweatshirt on the plane with me because I didn't want to put it in my suitcase. Mediocre logic but I ended up forgetting it on the plane anyways. Super bummer but everything else happened for a reason on this trip so I'll trust that did too.



I had journaled lots throughout this entire trip which helped me be so overly detailed in everything you just read. Seriously sorry about the length! I linked some videos below of my skydive, bungy, and canyon swing. Enjoy a good laugh, I won’t be offended.


Skydive..I’d skip to 2:26



Canyon Swing..I’d skip to 1:40



Bungy Jump…I’d skip to 0:30




Being back in Sydney has gone splendidly. My incredible bosses gave me a raise I asked for and have been super grateful to have me back. I got all kinds of good things sorted with the university and still plan to graduate by the end of 2018. Celebrated the gay & lesbian Mardi Gras parade which was fabulous. It was the 40 year anniversary of the parade and the celebration of the ‘yes vote' that helped legalize gay marriage. Spent good times with friends and wrote half of this in the sun this morning and half of it this evening listening to one of my neighbours play the saxophone. Life is so good and if you are still reading this I truly hope yours is as well! 


Sending love from Sydney


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