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at First For Everything
6 days, 3 people, 1 camper van. This living situation definitely took some getting used to but it ended up working out quite well.
After exploring the North Island earlier this year, I knew I had to come back to see the South Island since everyone kept telling me it was 10 times as beautiful. 6 days spent there has officially convinced me to want to move there for at least a year, or however long I can handle the cold. Every bit of this country is incredible, from the snow capped mountains, to the rolling green hills to the black sanded beaches. We spent hours upon hours driving (from Christchurch all the way north up to Abel Tasman Park and then all the way south to the Fiordlands) and every bit of the drive had amazing scenery. I didn't feel like any time was wasted driving so much because the road trip in itself was a beautiful journey.
After leaving Christchurch the day after arriving, we picked up our camper van and were off to Nelson. And we = boyfriend, his mom and I. Our camper van was super cozy and had everything we needed - a little kitchen, bathroom (with shower!) and 2 beds (Britz Campervans - very reasonably priced too). I wasn't so keen on the whole bathroom idea and never actually used it except to shower. Yes, I prefer to pee in a bush (slash the side of the road in the middle of the night) than use a trailer toilet.
We stopped in Nelson and wandered around the town and ended up coming across a parade for their Annual Arts Festival. We were soon off to Abel Tasman National Park and went on a hike the next morning. There's a TON of different hikes at Abel Tasman with the longest taking 3 days. Our 7 hour, 22km hike took us through a jungle-like trek with small waterfalls, streams and a beautiful view of the ocean.
The rest of the day and part of the next was spent driving to the glaciers. We stopped at Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier to do a short hike at each to view the glaciers. They're ridiculously large but the open hikes only let you within 200-500 meters so it was kinda hard to grasp how big they were. A pamphlet I got showed the Eiffel Tower in comparison and it was TINY compared to the glaciers.
We got back on the road and headed south to Milford Sound, which is part of the Fiordlands. This place is definitely on my top most beautiful places I've ever been to in my life. The Fiordlands are ridiculously large mountains jutting out straight from the ocean. They were formed by glacier activity over 100,000 years ago, which created the super steep cliffs. The tallest is around 1690 meters, which is about a mile tall. The tallest waterfall is 180 meters - three times as tall as Niagra Falls! (pictured below) When it rains, there are thousands of waterfalls coming off all of the mountains but there are only a few permanent ones.
We did a kayak tour through the fiords and learned all kinds of cool stuff about them. They all have crazy forests growing sideways off the cliffs off virtually no soil. The roots go into the cracks of the granite and grow enormous forests where animals such as penguins live. It's part of the ocean so it's mostly salt water but there's a layer of freshwater on top coming from the mountains. It accumulates a lot of dirt and plants on its way down and so it creates a dark layer of water which then tricks the marine life into thinking they're much deeper underwater than they are. So Milford Sound has a lot of really cool coral and fish as shallow as 10 meters that's usually over a hundred meters deep.
This kayak trip was by far my most favorite part of the trip and easily one of the coolest things I've ever done. It's amazing how enormous the mountains are and how steep the cliffs are right out of the ocean. You can barely grasp how ginormous they are because the largest mountains are a bit further away and so they seem close but it would literally take hours to kayak to because it's such a massive area. Our guides asked us how far away we thought the tallest waterfall was from where we were when we were in the middle of the fiords. What we thought was maybe 2 or 3 kilometers ended up being 9 kilometers away, showing us how much our size perception was off because of how enormous the mountains were.
After the fiords, we headed to Queenstown for dinner. This was the most quaint little city surrounded by snow capped mountains.
Definitely wouldn't mind living in this beautiful country. There's so many things to do and amazing things to see. What's better than a country that has beaches and mountains and everything in between? I love New Zealand :)
"And all that counts is here and now, My universe will never be the same, I'm glad you came" NEW ZEALAND!
*Cliff note version of my fabulous week in the land of kiwis!
So I’m sitting in my room, back in Melbourne, listening to the same playlist I made while I was in New Zealand. So of course, I’m getting very reminiscent, which seems odd since I just got back yesterday and I can barely call that trip a memory since it literally JUST happened.
To sum it up, my 8 days in New Zealand were the best 8 days of my life. Which is quite a bold statement since I think I do have a pretty great life with amazing people. I got to explore an amazingly beautiful country and do crazy things I’ve always had on my bucket list. I got to go with my best friend, Michelle, and made more great friends while there – 2 which I can honestly say feel like family now and who I can definitely see myself really being friends with for longer than the duration of the trip, regardless of how far away they live.
And when I say friends, I don’t just mean “facebook friends” ;)
Anyway, this very well might be the longest blog entry in the world but I’ll attempt to give a detailed, yet brief summary of these amazing 8 days.
SYDNEY: April 3 - 6
The trip started last Monday, April 9th. Michelle came to Australia the week before and we traveled to Sydney for a few days, which was “heaps” of fun as well. We walked the city, visited the Opera House, then decided we HAD to go to a show and bought tickets to MacBeth which was AMAZING. We cruised around Sydney Harbor on a Showboat and watched a cabaret show while getting unlimited bottles of wine and champagne, along with a delicious 3 course meal. And the Captain & crew guys even let us drive the boat around for a bit! We went to a few bars and watched annoying 18 year olds and played catch phrase. We walked through Hyde Park and saw a gazillion crazy bats in the trees. Our hostel wasn’t the nicest, but we met some nice people staying there also – which somehow ended with the front glass door getting shattered because, well, drunk people are crazy.
Sydney was beautiful and Bondi Beach was gorgeous, but New Zealand is what took my breath away. It is honestly the most beautiful country and I didn’t even get to explore the South Island, which I hear is even more beautiful.
AUCKLAND: April 9
Anyway, the trip started at 3am on Monday when Michelle and I had to wake up to catch our flight at 630am. The 4 hour flight landed us in Auckland where we checked into Nomads Backpackers Hostel. I must admit, I was slightly nervous to stay at another hostel after the hostel we stayed at in Sydney because I may or may not be a slight germaphobe. Fortunately, Nomads was actually pretty nice and Michelle and I got our 6 bed dorm to ourselves. We explored the city that day and night and walked along the harbor. People call Auckland the “city of sails”, and as you can see, there are heaps of sailboats at the harbor. We went to the SkyTower casino that night and made friends with the bartender there. The next morning, we met up with our TopDeck tour group!
BAY OF ISLANDS & ROCK THE BOAT: April 10–11
We met them outside our hostel in the afternoon to find about 9 or so others, including our tour guide, Tara. She walked us to the bus and we met about a dozen others who would be venturing to the Bay of Islands with us and then departing, since they have already explored the rest of the North & South Island. Tara introduced us to the “morning song” which she played far too many times, in my opinion, but because everyone else was obsessed with it. “Glad You Came” by The Wanted will forever remind me of this trip, and even forced me to like it a little bit.
So we started the drive and were on our way to the Bay of Islands. Michelle and I had already signed up for the “Rock the Boat” excursion that was separate from the TopDeck tour. 6 of us total ended up going and my expectations were pretty low. Not in a bad way, but I didn’t even know we were staying the night on this house boat and thought it was only for a few hours. We separated from the group after just meeting them and took a little motor boat to our house boat.
We started the trip with a little bit of paintballing off the back of the boat at a rubber ducky target they had dragging behind the boat. I was the first to get close & hit the wooden board it was on, but that unfortunately didn’t count so I didn’t win the free drink. After paintballing, we kind of just lounged around a bit and got to know everyone. Everyone there was super nice. We did some fishing once it was dark and tried to catch our dinner, which was relatively unsuccessful – so we had steak instead. After dinner we did a short moonlight kayak to check out the bioluminescence or whatever it’s called – the green glow in the water you see when you move your paddle or move something in the water. I guess it only works at night when it’s super dark so the middle of the bay was a pretty good place to see it. If you put your hand on the surface of the water and wiggle your fingers, it looks like your fingers are dissolving. So weird!
We only kayaked for about a half an hour and then most people, not including Michelle or I, decided they wanted to jump in the water and swim around. The water wasn’t even that cold but we decided to be boring and drink instead :). It was getting to be relatively late so most people headed to the rooms while about 8 or 9 of us drank around the fire and played silly games like “Never Have I Ever” and other inappropriate games to get to know each other.
The next morning everybody woke up around 7 – the skipper told us that there was a possibility that dolphins would be around our boat around that time so if we wanted to swim with dolphins, we’d better get up early. Unfortunately, there weren’t any dolphins but regardless, it was a beautiful morning and the best view to wake up to. We ate breakfast and then half of us kayaked to the beach while the other half rode the little speedboat. We did a short hike to a great view at one of the higher viewing points on the islands. And then of course spent a fair amount of time having a photo shoot up there.
Pretty much everyone went snorkeling but Michelle and I were grandmas again and decided not to haha. It was cold and we’re girls. Most people came back early and said it wasn’t all that great so I didn’t mind that we ditched it to go kayaking more. Tried to explore some caves but our kayaks didn’t let us go far enough into them. We went back to the boat and killed and ate the sea urchins that the others had snorkeled for. There’s all kinds of crazy stuff in the sea urchin (it’s body parts I suppose?) but the eggs or whatever the tan-ish slimy stuff was, is what we ate. I guess that stuff goes for like, $500 a kilo or something in the US. That could honestly be completely wrong but I do know that it’s real expensive to buy it. As you can see, there’s not much of it in each sea urchin so I reckon it takes quite a number of sea urchins to get a kilo. (Oh & I actually had to just go on my measurement-converter thing on my phone to figure out how much a kilo was in reference to pounds. This whole metric system is real confusing).
Anyway, the rest of the boat trip was spent playing/watching horrible attempts at pool and playing other card games and what not. It started raining while we were on the boat but it was kinda cool, especially since we were sheltered. We got back to the hotel and had one night there.
There wasn’t much to do in the Bay of Islands when you aren’t on a boat, AND it was raining, AND I was exhausted, so I enjoyed a nap and then we all went to dinner together at the restaurant in the hotel. After that, a bunch of us drank a bit in the rooms and then headed to a bar to catch the end of happy hour. It was a pretty small dive bar but it was fun. We met up with some people that were on the boat that weren’t on our tour. This was also the night that Michelle and I met our new besties :). And of course, it was through our love of shots and we spent most of the night (& our money) on jager bombs. I can always see eye to eye with others that enjoy jager bombs as much as I do hah. But anyway, that’s when we first met Vince and when I decided him and Ashley were definitely going to be our drinking partners for the remainder of the trip. And it was literally just the beginning of the trip. Crazy right? Especially since I’m already 3 pages deep into this blog entry. I went a little crazy on the details and forgot to be brief.
ROTORUA: April 12-13
Anyway, the next morning we had to be ready by 6:45 to start the trek to Rotorua. We made a few scenic stops to see a ginormous 800 year old tree and what not. This night we stayed at a Maori Murae. The Maori people are a native Polynesian tribe that live in New Zealand. We learned about the culture and did a little ceremonial welcoming kind of thing where we had to sing a song to them and they sung a song back to us and then we had to line up and do this traditional bow kind of thing where you touch your nose and your forehead with the Maori person. It was all really cool. And then they cooked us a delicious dinner and we walked around their town a little bit. I was honestly expecting to be staying in tipis or something, but they were actually quite modern. We stayed at their Murae, which is kind of like a church/temple kind of place but not really. They gave us a ton of mattresses and sleeping bags and we all had one big slumber party.
For some reason, most people decided to go to bed at 10 and those of us that chose to stay awake, got to listen to half a dozen of them snoring or making other strange noises in their sleep. It was definitely an experience. Luckily Vince had his laptop and we just watched Green Street Hooligans until we were tired.
The next day was an “activity” day where we got to choose from a dozen things to do in Rotorua. You could go white water rafting (cat 5), which is what most people did, go sit in their natural thermal pools, go zorbing and so on. Vince and I were pretty set on sky diving and so us and “Team France” (a French couple that were on the tour with us… oh & ps - Michelle & I were known as “Team America”) had about an hour to kill in town to wait for the skydiving shuttle to come pick us up. Vince and I went to the internet café and then Wings, our bus driver who is AWESOME, came and told us that it was getting postponed for another 2 hours (11:45am). I guess they lost the plane or something? Something about getting the maintenance done and them sending the plane to the wrong place or something along those lines. Regardless, there was no plane. So we walked around while waiting and ended up trying a “Mana Ball” or Zorb ball or whatever they’re called – the huge plastic inflatable balls that you can climb into and then we got pushed into the water. Well you wouldn’t think, but that was definitely the most exhausting 5 minutes of the entire trip. You try to stand and balance in it or even just walk or run if you really want, and you just end up going at it hard for 2 seconds and then falling dramatically. And then you repeat that 50 times until you’re pretty much asking them to pull you back in. Don’t get me wrong, it was really fun, but I just didn’t anticipate how exhausting it would be.
So we meet back at 11:45 and then our tour guide comes up to us just shaking her head and Vince is like “noooo!!!” and Tara says that it’s not gonna happen. She said that it could be another hour and if we decide to go then, we might miss out on the rest of the day (we were going to watch a Maori show and then take a tour of the thermal pools). Team France said they could just go skydiving tomorrow but Vince and I were already planning on doing the Tongariro Crossing hike. Vince was touring the south island after (Michelle & I were only doing the north island) and he said that he could wait as well. I, on the other hand, only had today and so I insisted on waiting and that she call them back to see what they could do. Yes, I’m a brat. Anyway, she called back and they miraculously found the plane and were able to come pick us up in 15 minutes! Oh & by the way, it was Friday the 13th, so needless to say, it was a very sketchy way to start off our mission to jump out of a plane on an already-notoriously sketchy day. & no, I didn’t mean to just rhyme.
Anyway, we got to N-Zone and signed our death waivers and watched a video of someone else who had previously gone skydiving there. Then of course they come in and tell us that, oh & by the way, the brakes on our plane aren’t working right so it’s gonna be delayed a little bit longer. Of course, right? So sketch.
But it actually all worked out and I’m obviously here writing this blog so I didn’t die fatally from falling 12,000 feet to the ground. Vince and I were first and so we got suited up and took off on the little janky plane. They flew us a little over 12,000 feet after instructing us multiple times on the correct procedures and didn’t waste any time jumping out. It all happened real fast. I didn’t even have time to get nervous. Well I suppose I had time during the 15 minute flight up, but I surprisingly didn’t get nervous until I was sitting on the edge of the plane and Ricky, my tandem partner, lunged us out of the plane.
It was absolutely the most surreal feeling I’ve ever had in my life. You lean your head back on your tandem “master”’s shoulder and then he jumps out and so I had a split second to semi-freak out and then I was flying. All I saw was just the Earth in front of me spinning. Of course I was the one spinning but it was all just happening so fast. I had 45 seconds of free fall where I had time to gather that this was the most outrageous feeling in the entire world, and then I got yanked up by the parachute all too fast. That was surprisingly the scariest part for some reason. Once I got yanked up and started floating, I really got a grasp on how high up I was. We floated around a bit and enjoyed the scenery. Ricky pointed out different landmarks, like mountains or the huge stretch of sulfur in the water that was readily visible from 4,000 feet up in the sky. We turned and glided and then after 5 minutes, we landed. Best 7ish minutes of my life!
We met up with the rest of the group and all shared stories about sky diving & rafting while touring the thermal pools. Rotorua is known for their geothermal activity and so they have all kinds of geysers and thermal pools and hot mud pools where people still go today and take baths. There were some areas that had pools that were hot enough to send people to the hospital with third degree burns. All of them had different purposes, like washing clothes or cooking food or bathing in. It was pretty fascinating, I honestly didn’t even know places like this existed. The Maori people are the ones who utilize it and while we were there, there were little Maori children swimming around. Our tour guide was Maori as well and their tribe is so small and everyone is related that she could pass every person and say that it’s her cousin or her uncle or sister and so on.
TAUPO: April 13-14
That night we drove to Taupo. We had one full day to spend there where there were similar activities like bungee jumping, sky diving etc. Our little crew (Ash, Vince, Michelle & I) all decided to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is where a bunch of scenes from Lord of the Rings was filmed. It was a 19.4km trek that they told us would take 6-8 hours. We spent the night preparing – you know the usual planning of costumes, what kind of alcohol to bring and what games we should play while we’re at the top. We chose characters and I was obviously Frodo (“Frodes”), Michelle was Legolas (AKA “Legs”), Vince was Gandalf (or “Gandy”) & Ash was Smeags! Which for some reason, was the only nickname that really stuck. We spent a fair amount of time considering wearing costumes and bringing things up the volcano from a bag of goon to a washing machine (we weren’t even drinking much when we were planning this originally). But we ended up only seriously packing lots of sandwiches, snacks, water & enough vodka for each of us to have a shot or two. We meant to only have a couple glasses of goon, which naturally turned into us finishing off the box within an hour or so. I’m pretty sure everyone thought we were crazy for drinking when we had to be ready to leave by 530am the next morning.
We actually did end up being on time and started the 45 minute drive to the crossing right at 530. We didn’t end up actually starting the hike until about 730 because the boys had to rent stuff once we got there and I had to use the disgusting bathrooms which weren’t even bathrooms, but more so a hole in the ground with a toilet seat above it. Awful. Anyways, we started our trek, which began as more of a pleasant walk. But then we reached the Devil’s Staircase, which is named appropriately so. Our group separated a bit but we all met at the top where Ash decided he was going to climb to the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe (or MT DOOM from LOTR), which was an extra couple of hours. The rest of us didn’t even think twice about climbing this ridiculously steep, active volcano so we parted ways.
After the Devil’s Staircase, which was supposed to be the hardest part of the hike, we walked across a moonlike kind of valley/crater, which was a nice break from the staircase.
Then there was a lot more climbing in and back out of a few other craters/mountains/volcanoes, which kicked my ass. Most of it was all really loose rocks/tephra and dirt, which made it more difficult to climb than a staircase. When you would hike down the volcano, it was like skiing back and forth because you were pretty much just sliding down the mountain trying not to fall. This actually became quite fun after a while, though. After the hardest parts of the hike, we came across the Emerald Lakes and the Blue Lake, which were so incredibly beautiful. I couldn’t take enough pictures to try to capture exactly how astounding it was. It’s crazy how much a photo can really downplay something.
At this point, we were a little over halfway done maybe? I’m not even sure. It was quite a ways walk though, probably at least 7 or so kilometers left but it wasn’t difficult, besides the fact that we were just getting tired. We finally reached the end at about 1:30 and of course, took our celebratory shots :).
That night, we went out to an Irish Pub with the entire group for dinner. Which of course lead to more drinks since we were at an Irish Pub. Somehow we ended up drinking Absinthe, which was probably not the best idea, and I turned into mute-Kirsten, which happens maybe half the time I drink too much. It was a good night though. There was a live band that played a lot of good cover songs of different music and there were more shots of tequila and lemon drops.
WELLINGTON: April 15-17
Most of the next day was spent driving to Wellington, which is at the bottom of the North Island. None of us could sleep that much, surprisingly, seeing as how we didn’t get too much sleep the night before. We got to Wellington in the afternoon and spent the first hour or so driving around the city while Tara and Wings pointed stuff out to us. It’s a really pretty city that surrounds a bay. The houses at the tops of some hills have gondollas that can transfer stuff down to the main road – so weird! We were staying at a Travelodge, which was probably the nicest accommodation we had the entire time – not that any of the others were even bad at all, but this place was just really nice. Since Ash, Michelle & I were all leaving the group the next day, we roomed together so they could check our room out.
I’m not even exactly sure what we did that night, but I’m pretty sure it consisted of drinking a lot of goon. We went to the store and bought 2 boxes of goon and maybe finished off a box and a half that night? I think the 4 of us were in our room playing ridiculous games like Thumper and Power Half Hour (drinking a shot of goon every minute for a half hour). We all met up for dinner in the lobby at 730 and met up with another TopDeck tour group. I always give Vince a hard time about smoking and so when we were in the lobby he tricked me into keeping him company outside while he smoked (he said he wanted to “show me something”… god I’m so gullible) and after about 10 minutes, we realized that the group probably left a different way (we were just going to follow them when they came out) and so we went back into the lobby and everyone was gone, of course.
So we spent the next half hour or so walking around the city looking for them and managed to get egged in the process – literally had about 5 eggs thrown at us from somewhere from above us. We actually ended up somehow finding them at a pretty nice (Italian?) restaurant. It was a mellow dinner and Vince and I just chatted with Tara and Wings most of the time. Everyone had a pretty early night that night and crashed around midnight.
The next day, Ash, Michelle & I were supposed to depart from the group. However, we were staying in Wellington another night so we were just going to be at a hostel not even a kilometer away. We checked out of the hotel and put all our bags in Vince’s room and then finished the rest of the wine. At 10 in the morning. (Sorry mom, I know you’re probably reading this! I’m on vacation though). Then we went to the Te Papa Museum (because it was free, and we heard it was good. And we spent all of our money so that was one of our only options. That’s what happens when you spend $600 to go skydiving) which actually ended up being really cool. And not just because we were kinda tipsy, but it was a really cool hands-on kind of museum with simulations and lots of variety and what not. There were random exhibits like one room that was completely dedicated to this colossal squid that was like, 5 meters long or something. It was ginormous, I don’t remember exactly how big, but I do remember that the eyes were as big as a soccer ball! But ya, they had lots of cool exhibits like that and we spent a good couple hours there until we were hungry and had to get Habitual Fix (a super good little fast-casual restaurant that has good salads & sandwiches & stuff).
I’m pretty sure we got another box of goon after that and drank the entire thing in our hostel before meeting up with Tara for drinks at 6 that night. Most of the friends that we made on the trip came and we got to hang out with them a bit before we all went home and they left for the South Island. After that I think Michelle, Vince and I got sushi and then met up with everyone else at a bar down the street called Base or something. It was actually really fun. They randomly had sumo wrestling and so people signed up to fight & Ash & Vince fought each other (pretty sure Ash won haha). And then they blind folded them both and had them try to catch these four girls which was, for some reason, the most hilarious thing I’ve ever seen because they couldn’t catch the girls if their life depended on it.
Then lots of shots and drinks and beers later, we all went back to our hostel (getting lost of course on the way home) & crashed at maybe 3am. Michelle had to get up at 6am to catch her flight and so we all said our tearful (on my end) goodbyes. Ash and I happened to be taking the same flight back to Melbourne (oh ya, he’s Australian and lives in Melbourne 5 minutes away from me!) so we hung out for a few hours and tried [unsuccessfully] to get over our hangovers.
Overall, it was the most amazing trip I’ve ever gone on. I can’t decide which I loved most – Rock the Boat, skydiving or the Tongariro Hike. Or just hanging out with my little Goon Fam and mocking each others languages. Well, we all speak English but like I said, Ash is Australian and Vince is from England (or France…he’s French but he lives in England? He even confuses it himself when trying to explain) and so we’d always joke that we spoke the same language but there was still such a huge language barrier because we would all use such different words. They became like family and I feel like I got to know them so well in such a short amount of time. Obviously Michelle is like my sister and we know each other so well already, but it never gets old hanging out with her and we always have the best time and we always meet the best people when we’re together. I already miss them all so much. Maybe not so much Ash since I just saw him last night when he dropped me home from the airport, and I’m about to see him in an hour when he comes over to watch Lord of the Rings. But I forgot how nice it was to have good friends around all the time. I haven’t been able to make too many real good friends in Australia yet so living with them for 8 days and seeing them constantly just got to be the norm, and now I’m just a little lonely without them.
We’re going to try to reunite in Vegas sometime this year, though, so hopefully that works out. And I’m sure I’ll see Ash all the time, Michelle will always be my bestie and I promised Vince I’d be coming to England soon. And there’s always facebook right? Ha. It was a great trip and I’m sad it’s over. I suppose it’s nice to be home and start living a normal life. But I’m not even really doing that because I’m still abroad. And I’m not really home. When I was on the boat trip I was seriously confused at where I was and when I was going home because I was on a separate trip from my tour in New Zealand. And New Zealand is a separate trip from Australia. And I was just in Sydney right before New Zealand and I just moved to Melbourne 2 months ago. From San Diego where I moved from Sacramento, where I was for the month before I left for Australia. I felt like I needed to make a flow chart or something hah.
Anyway, this blog has gotten long enough. I already miss these people and I already miss New Zealand. I may or may not be catching the travel bug ;)