Category Archives: New Zealand

#snowmo

Another Air New Zealand flight to…

Queenstown, New Zealand

Photo Aug 22, 11 42 26 AM

The flight into (and out of) Queenstown is probably one of the most scenic ones I’ve ever experienced. What did I feel at this moment? Glee. I was going to see an old college friend in a few hours and snowboarding was imminent.

Airbnb_Queenstown

This was the view from the place we were staying in for the week. After weeks of hostels and having to pack my bags practically every other night, it was a pure luxury to be able to lay all my stuff out and take my time after a shower and just walk around in a towel.

When my friend Olivia finally arrived, we headed into town to grab SIM cards at the Spark store, purchase lift tickets at the local i-SITE visitor information center and buy alcohol and groceries. Apparently, conditions were great (except at Coronet Peak which had been nicknamed Concrete Peak) and so we decided on Treble Cone, one rest day, The Remarkables and, finally, Cardrona. Get ready for some major snow envy or, as Hayden put it, #snowmo.

Treble Cone

Photo Aug 23, 10 29 01 AM

The bus picked us up around 7:30am and, about 90 min later, we were at Treble Cone. The view of Lake Wanaka and Mt. Aspiring had me like WHOA. Of the three ski resorts that we went to, this was (in my opinion) the best view.

The Remarkables

Photo Aug 25, 10 49 AM_2

Another morning, another bus but, this time, to The Remarkables in about 35-40 minutes. The view of Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown from the top of Shadow Basin was, for a lack of a better word, remarkable. Actually, there are better words to use but none that have an equal cheesy pun factor. The 10 min climb uphill in deep powdery snow while carrying our snowboards was totally worth it and this is what I assured people who were grumbling on their way up. Captain Morgan pose? Done.

Photo Aug 25, 1 10 47 PM_Remarks

On the way down, Olivia spotted a bar in the midst of the trails and it took us a few more tries to finally locate it again. It was the Ice Bar found at the top of the Alta chairlift. You see, we tend to egg each other on when it comes to drinking, although I’d like to say that we’re much more subdued now than when we were in college, right? Maybe not. We just drink the more expensive stuff now. Regardless, this was a great spot to take a break and enjoy the view with a nice Speight’s cider and a sausage roll. Don’t worry, we only had one drink.

Photo Aug 25, 10 50 AM

Although Treble Cone had the best view, my favorite of the 3 was The Remarkables. (By the way, I didn’t take any new photos of Cardrona so please refer to my last Queenstown post.) The fact that it snowed the night before could’ve swayed my feelings a bit but, I just loved the trails here more and overall had more fun. The main lodge also seemed newly renovated and was a cozy place to chill out with a drink before catching the bus back. I swear I snowboarded the majority of the time.

On our rest day between Treble Cone and The Remarks, I went for a quick run around part of Lake Wakatipu and then Olivia and I began our day of “resting.” That word, according to Olivia & Christine’s Dictionary, is defined as a present participle of rest: [verb] | \’rest\ to start off by eating and drinking moderately then end up asking each other who we are kidding before finding another place to eat and drink some more until a very nice buzz is developed. Our dictionary rocks. We first situated ourselves at The Winery, a wine shop that does tastings and also serves cheese/meat platters. In a temporary exchange with our driver’s licenses, they issued each of us a card which we had to stick into a slot at the wine stations to purchase a tasting portion, half glass or full. The card would tally up the total bill which you paid upon return. The positive was that you were able to have tastings of expensive wines. But believe me, it is so easy to get press-happy with that tasting button and lose track of the cost. Don’t ask me how much I paid. I don’t remember anyway. We then decided to grab a real dinner, preferably at a place with good wine, and literally walked into some nearby Italian restaurant the moment it opened for dinner. That would be 5pm.

On our last night, we did the Skyline Stargazing Tour, $85 including the gondola ride. It was winter and if you didn’t dress warmly enough, they handed out Canada Goose coats to wear for those 2 hours. There were around 4-5 high-powered telescopes which accommodated our very large group of around 40 people. We got to see Saturn, the Tarantula Nebula, Alpha & Beta Centauri, old and new stars and the Moon. With this really cool Star Wars-esque green laser beam, the guides pointed out several constellations and, of course, the Southern Cross. Olivia and I totally “Whoaaa!”-ed at the sight of it. It literally looked like God took out his giant highlighter and just ran it across the Earth in its full mutant neon glory. I wondered if the International Space Station could see it zapping out or if it burned holes through orbiting satellites.

Hobbiton / Matamata

We flew to Auckland and decided to go for Korean food after a half day spent on Waiheke. After we placed our orders, the Korean cashier refused to take our credit cards when we tried to pay, stating that they didn’t accept credit cards. We only had Aussie dollars in cash and he agreed to take the exact NZ cost in Aussie dollars. Um, dude. 30 NZD does not equal 30 AUD. He pretended to not really understand what we were saying and, annoyed, we decided to let it go. Then, when the person behind us ordered, he accepted his credit card. Oh, no, you didn’t! When he disappeared for awhile, we took a bottle of soju from the adjacent fridge as revenge. We didn’t even want to drink it but, it was out of principle. When he came back with our food, he then proceeded to tell me how to put the food together. Dude, I ordered the food in freakin’ Korean. I know my food. Needless to say, the food sucked.

For the next day, we booked a Hobbiton tour through Viator. Nerdy? Nahhhh.

Photo Aug 28, 9 52 13 AM

On the ride here, the bus driver/guide explained to us that when location scouts came by to the Alexanders’ farm and knocked on their door to discuss possible filming here, they were turned away because the Alexanders were in the middle of watching a rugby game. Love it! They also had no idea what The Lord of the Rings was or how big this production would end up being but, they agreed (on a day when there was no rugby match) as long as the property was put back into its original state. I have to say, Kiwis, in general, are probably the nicest and most chill people I’ve ever met.

As the set was being built, even the New Zealand Army built a road to help move heavy machinery to and from the site. Due to bad weather, however, it took awhile for the set to be removed and during this time, a lot of random travelers would knock on the Alexanders’ door and ask to see what was left of the set. Its increasing popularity eventually led to a joint venture between the owners and Peter Jackson to build a permanent set and open it up to the public. They even built the pub, The Green Dragon, which serves delicious beers and food. Lunch and one drink was included in the tour package. Yessss.

Photo Aug 28, 10 12 16 AM

We were lucky to have the first tour in the day at around 9am. We had the whole place to ourselves (for a short while) and were able to take photos without it being photobombed by throngs of people. The details throughout the set were crazy impressive. Another group eventually caught up to us towards the end, though, and they were a huge group of obnoxious tourists. Annoyance averted.

Above is Bilbo’s house, with the large tree cut out of the photo on top. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to go inside. Most of the Hobbit houses had nothing inside anyway. That was a little disappointing. Just a little. I was wondering if I could have a gander through the hobbits’ cheese closets and wine cellars but, yea, I guess hobbits aren’t real and these things do not exist. At least I still have Santa.

Photo Aug 28, 11 14

Me and Olivia in our coolest element. To all our past junior high school bullies: look at this and regret how you underestimated our popularity potential.

At The Green Dragon, we sat by a fireplace with our free drinks and a house cat came by to sit by the fire. All the other tourists got all baby talk with the cat and the cat was having none of it. It kept walking away, clearly annoyed, every time a person tried to take a photo with it or tried to lift the cat up into his/her arms. Hiss. Hiss. Go away. I tried to pet the cat at the very beginning but, I’m a person who can sense when I’m unwanted. And, so, I left it alone to stare off into the fire in its own life contemplation. Cat, I get you.

Photo Aug 28, 11 11

The others, on the other hand, did not get the message. The cat and I must’ve had some sort of connection because it walked over and sat by me in apparent trust and expecting bodyguard services from me. Then, as I was lifting up my drink from the side table, the cat leaped from the armchair to my drink-holding arm then down to the floor. Someone must’ve been approaching. Only a few droplets of beer were wasted but, I was definitely impressed by this acrobatic feature. We are now best friends and are currently planning to get matching BFF necklaces. I will, of course, be wearing the “best.”

Until next time, NZ…

Kia ora

Auckland, New Zealand

I caught an Air New Zealand flight from Wellington to Auckland and am only mentioning this because I love the airline so much now. Their safety video was MIB (Men in Black) themed and, of course, featured some of the All Blacks. Pretty cheesy video but yet so…oddly catchy. The flight attendants also gave out savory crackers and fruity hard candy. This all may sound like it’s not a big deal. But, small gestures go a really long way.

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Lucky for me, my friend is from Auckland and had listed out the must-do’s for me. SCORE! (FYI – These are just listed out in chronological order.)

1. Rangitoto Island

Brochure fun fact: Rangitoto Island erupted from the sea in a series of dramatic explosions around 600 years ago. This makes it the youngest island in the Hauraki Gulf and the last and largest volcano to be formed in the Auckland volcanic field. Rangitoto literally means “bloody sky” in Maori, but it is derived from the phrase “Te Rangi i totongia a Tamatekapua” – “the day the blood of Tamatekapua was shed,” a reference to the injury of a chief during a battle fought on the island.

The day was looking promising and I had faith in the sun appearing. So, I walked to the ferry terminal in the Auckland city center and purchased a ticket (timetables found here). Be mindful of the timetable for the way back. There are no lodgings on this island and you don’t want to get stuck there. The ferry ride was about 30 min one way.

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From Rangitoto Wharf, almost everyone took the Summit Track, about a 1 hr hike each way. It’s pretty much a straight line path, the shortest to the summit. The view (above photos) was really awesome. But, instead of just making my way back, I wanted to maximize my time and do a circular track. I did a loop around the crater rim then backtracked a bit to do the Lava Caves Track (about a 40 min loop), tripped on a lava rock inside one of the caves and managed to scrape my knee without it ripping a hole through my tights. Hooray for Under Armour?

Back to the summit, I made my way to McKenzie Bay and Beacon Lighthouse, about an hour walk. It was just me for most of the way and with my Spotify playlist on full blast, I went full-on karaoke. Rangitoto may now be pest-free but, I may have scared off the native wildlife once again. Further on, I hiked another 1-2 hours to the Black Back Gull Colony, Kowhai Grove and Kidney Fern Walk. Somewhere along this path, it had begun to rain. Not a full blast rain but, heavy enough to drench your clothes and light enough to make you think you weren’t getting drenched. I label this the “annoying rain.”

Photo Aug 19, 9 16 35 AM

2. Mt. Eden

There was a 2 hour window of sunshine the next morning and I got my ass out of bed and hiked to and up Mt. Eden. There weren’t too many tourists there and I sat on the bench and stared out into the view. I think I wondered what life would be like once I got back to NYC two months later. It’s funny writing about this moment now, when I know what life is like back at home “later.” I never expected it to be the way it is now and it’s great ­čÖé I know I’m being vague but, I’m trying to write this blog in chronological order and will revisit this topic eventually.

Photo Aug 19, 10 58 20 AM

3. Sky Tower

The clouds were slowly rolling in after my time at Mt. Eden and I walked to the Sky Tower (about a 45 min walk) before it started to pour. Once I took this pano shot up at the tower, the rain began to patter down and I chilled out at the cafe with this view until it stopped. My next stop (and great rainy/cloudy day activity) was the Auckland War Memorial Museum. I spotted it from up top and wished I could just have Scotty beam me there. But, I walked. And, I got lost and camouflaged into a sea of students at the University of Auckland before walking this unnecessarily long way through the Auckland Domain park before finally reaching the museum. The positive? I got to know some of the paths throughout the park and came back later on for a run without getting lost. And, the museum was worth visiting. By the time I came back out, the sun was shining brightly enough to blind me.

Brochure fun fact: The Sky Tower stands at 328m (over 1,076 ft), and should remain standing in the unlikely event of a magnitude 8.0 (Richter scale) earthquake occurring within 20 km of it. Crazy!

Photo Aug 20, 3 54 55 PM

4. Auckland Zoo

The next day was another cloudy and partially rainy one. So, I hit up the zoo to check me out some animals. Before entering, I found a picnic table in the adjacent Western Springs and decided to eat the sandwich I made for lunch. Within seconds, a black swan and a duck came up right next to me in an attempted coup of my lunch. I tried to shoo them away, only to have them nudge their beaks into my lap. I shoved my sandwich back into my bag and walked away to another area in the park. At another bench, one crinkle of a plastic bag and it was avian mayhem. I legitimately became scared. I finally found a more crowded area where the birds became distracted with other people and quickly chowed down my sandwich, nearly swallowing it whole. Next time, I’ll just have a smoothie.

At the zoo, I felt safer. There’s something calming about watching animals in their routine lives. I watched the giraffes for a little too long, just ripping leaves off the trees and chewing them. I laughed at the flamingos when a bunch of them moved together in a group, their bodies seemingly stationary as their legs moved all about and their heads went left, right, left, right. A brief downpour came down shortly after that and I found shelter by the elephants getting fed and bathed. Nearby, someone from behind a wall threw out several apples into the water and the hippos immediately surfaced, devoured them, then disappeared back into the water. I forgot how fun zoos were. The kiwis never emerged though. After 20 minutes, I gave up and left.

Photo Aug 21, 5 04 32 PM_Oneroa Bay

5. Waiheke Island

This day was full of sunshine, joy and rainbows. Well, not literal rainbows. Again, I took the ferry from downtown Auckland, about 40 min one way (timetable can be found here) and began my journey on Waiheke from Matiatia Wharf to the city center at Oneroa (about a 15-20 min walk). Scooters, bicycles and cars are rentable from the ferry terminal.

I decided to hike the suggested coastal track to Owhanake (Northern Walk), except backwards. Instead of starting at the wharf, I decided to skip the inland path along Ocean View Road and start at Oneroa Bay (above). Total time: about 2.5 – 3hr. After a brief encounter with a tree swing, I made my way along sprawling vineyards towards…

Photo Aug 21, 11 31 51 AM

Fossil Bay

Photo Aug 21, 11 51 34 AM

Island Bay

With each subsequent bay, I just kept saying “Wow!” then stood a bit to take in a few deep breaths and admire the views. Seeing these photos in quick succession doesn’t do the experience justice. You may think that the scenery just looks similar and like “just another bay,” but doing the hike and being in that sunshine and in the moment make it truly magical.

Photo Aug 21, 12 29 38 PM

Owhanake Bay

Photo Aug 21, 12 33 06 PM_Cable Bay

Cable Bay

Photo Aug 21, 12 42 53 PM_Matietie Historic Reserve

Nearby the Matietie Historic Reserve

…then back around to the Matiatia Wharf by 1:30pm to catch the winery tour bus. Someone in passing had mentioned something about high tide and how you wouldn’t be able to make it back to the wharf during it. With time running out and no idea when it would be high tide, I nervously scrambled along these shores towards the wharf and almost tripped over some rocky patches. Luckily, it was low tide. YES!

Photo Aug 27, 5 04 58 PM_Mudbrick Vineyard

I booked “Wine on Waiheke” through Fullers which took us to 3 vineyards, then dropped us off wherever along the way at the end of the tour. The tour ticket acted as an all day bus pass afterwards. I wanted a tour that went to the Man O’ War Vineyard but, apparently it is too far for any bus to venture out to and was reachable only by car.

The first stop: Mudbrick Vineyard. The story of the owners and how they built this vineyard from ground up is both inspiring and not. Inspiring because it’s a tale of a husband and wife who were both accountants looking for a happier life, purchased a plot(s) of land for some ridiculously cheap price by NYC standards (I forgot the exact 5 figure amount, maybe around $40K), then became successful enough to turn their house on the premises into the cafe/restaurant that it is today. Uninspiring because, well, it makes me feel somewhat inadequate. It is such a popular place to have weddings that apparently a few single girls have already made bookings for the following year, with the expectation that they will find the guy in the interim. Putting craziness aside, the food and wine were really quite good and with a view of Auckland across the water, what more could you ask for?

When I came back here with my friend Olivia (after snowboarding in Queenstown), we situated ourselves on an outdoor sofa and watched the sunset as we went through 2 bottles of the Reserve Syrah 2014, Waiheke Te Matuku Bay oysters, bread and olives and, I’m sure, some sort of meat and cheese platter. They provided us with blankets and, when it became too cold, we went inside for a night cap. It turns out that the 2 of us and an American couple were the last ones there. We shared a cab together to the ferry terminal in an extreme drunken stupor.

Photo Aug 21, 3 29 43 PM_Goldie

The second stop: Goldie Wines

The tour was led by an American student who was studying in Auckland to get a degree in Wine Science. As part of the course, she had to essentially complete an internship of sorts at an actual vineyard. Her parents loved the idea so much that they uprooted themselves and moved to New Zealand as well. Some people are just so lucky.

I held out my glass for my first tasting.

Girl: “Are you over 18?”
Me: “I’m less than 2 months away from 31.”

I haven’t yet reached a point where I find this to be a compliment. Regardless, the views were great from here and the girl laid out large platters full of bread, crackers, cheese, meats and various spreads. It was so incredibly delicious.

Photo Aug 21, 3 47 33 PM_Te Whau

The third (and last) stop: Te Whau Vineyard

By this vineyard, I had developed a happiness that only wine can conjure up. The vineyard’s owner went into an anecdote about how a notable French winemaker (or some other notable Frenchman) loved this vineyard’s Bordeaux-blend so much that he claimed that it was the only Bordeaux outside of France that was just as good or close enough to that of France. That’s a pretty damn good accolade. But, for some reason, I just didn’t enjoy the wines at the tasting. #sorrynotsorry

Since this was my last night in Auckland, I decided to treat myself to Burger Fuel. I had saved enough money by going to the supermarket and making my own meals to buy me a tasty burger for this one night, right? Right.

Places to visit next time, preferably in the summer: Anawhata and Tawharanui.

Well, it’s been Swellington.

Wellington, New Zealand

Photo Aug 14, 3 21 23 PM_Wellington

Catherine, Robyn, Caroline and I stayed another 1-3 nights. Stephen went to the airport this morning only to realize that his flight was actually the next day. Luckily, he made it in time to the All Blacks vs. Wallabies game at Eden Park in Auckland the next day. That could’ve really sucked. Will was also staying but, in typical Will fashion, he disappeared.

So, after doing some retail damage at the Kathmandu sale, Caroline and I met up with Catherine and Robyn in the afternoon. By now, Caroline was completely over hiking and so, we all had the plan of meandering around town and doing an art walk of the sculptures along the harbor as suggested by someone’s guide book. After the third or so sculpture, we somehow got “lost” and found a sign for the Mt. Victoria Lookout instead. Thinking this was a simple walk up the hill, we managed to convince Caroline to come along. We kind of got lost with that, too, and ended up on some walkway going uphill past private houses until we finally reached a sign pointing to the lookout. Then, we managed to veer off onto a mountain bike path just as one cyclist came around the corner and nearly hit us and/or tumbled down the side himself. Thank the Lord, we all had quick enough reactions to avoid a collision. Finally, we reached the lookout point. See above. It was worth it, right Caroline???

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I was getting properly plump and went for a run to/around Oriental Bay and back. I don’t remember the last time the term “oriental” was used except in the context of rugs. Perfect running path, though.

Caroline and I roamed around Cuba St. before I walked her to the airport bus stop. One down, three to go. I then went cafe hopping in the (supposed) origin city of the flat white to catch up on some travel blogging. I’m writing “supposed” in order to remain neutral in the hot debate over where the flat white was originated. Either way, keep those delightful caffeinated beverages coming. Please.

Notables:
1. Fidel’s Cafe
2. Customs Brew Bar (Free wifi)
3. Prefab (They close around 3pm. Time limit on free wifi. Try their Reuben!)

At night, Catherine, Robyn and I luckily found one bar along Courtenay Place to watch the Rugby Championship game, All Blacks vs. Wallabies. Every other bar was packed with no standing room. Poor planning on our part to think that we could easily find a bar minutes before the game, especially one with the All Blacks. It was my first time watching a full rugby game and the haka sent chills down my spine. So awesome. And, the All Blacks in all black? Hubba hubba.

Other things to check out: Te Papa Museum (which had a really awesome Gallipoli exhibit) and the Wellington Night Market.

Aotearoa – South Island, East Coast

Wedderburn, New Zealand

We stopped at a supermarket to buy groceries for the next day’s meals. A bunch of us were tired of eating out all the time and spending the dough. We also needed to make our own lunches for the Otago Central Rail Trail the next day. On my menu: sandwiches and salads. Effort level: barely.

Basket contents: bread rolls, lunch meats, cheese slices, mixed greens, bell peppers, carrots, tomatoes, roasted almonds, Haribo gummies, a bag of chips, beer/cider. I walked over to the self-checkout area for convenience and as I was almost done with scanning my items, I got stuck at my bag of bell peppers. Search: bell peppers. Nope. Peppers? The wrong kind. At this point, I started to get a little sweaty. I started to look around and noticed that most of the others had made their way back to the van. I hated to be the last one. Finally, a lady came over to help me out.

Me: “I can’t find bell peppers in the system.”
Lady: “That’s because those are capsicums.”

Okay, fine. So, they’re called capsicums in NZ. A couple of days later at another supermarket, I confidently walked over to the self-checkout with a bag of capsicums (I really like eating them with sandwiches, okay?). Search: capsicums. No search results.

Me: “Um, I can’t find capsicums in the system.”
Lady #2: “That’s because those are peppers.”

Oh, come on!

Photo Aug 10, 7 47 54 AM_Wedderburn

On the way here, Simo announced that we’d be split into 2 groups. One group would be sleeping at the pub and the other group in a lodge a short distance away. A few of us girls exclaimed, “What?? Sleep in a pub?? UH, YEA!” It turns out that the local pub, Wedderburn Tavern, had lodging in the back complete with a living room that had a TV and working fireplace. And, that is where I slept for 2 nights. This was our nicest and most favorite lodging, and probably 1 of 2 times when I didn’t have to sleep in a bunk bed.

Photo Aug 10, 9 58 01 AM_Otago Rail Trail

I went for a run around 6:30am the next morning before we headed out for the Otago Central Rail Trail. If I had known how thigh-burning the trail would’ve been, I would have skipped the run altogether and slept that extra hour.

Total distance: 35km
Section #1: Lauder to Auripo, 10.5km

The first part was decent terrain, not too much of an incline or decline. Our bikes were rented from shebikeshebikes and their description of this first section of the trail was: “…you’ll pass through the Poolburn Gorge which many describe as the most spectacular section of the Trail. The gorge is also home to the rare New Zealand falcon (Karearea). You’ll cross the 108m long and 37m high Poolburn Viaduct – built from hand hewn stone and example of late 19th century architecture. This is the highest viaduct on the trail.”

Prior to our journey, we were told to dismount and walk our bikes through the 2 long tunnels. When I reached the first one, I thought I could just continue on and make it through. Nope. These tunnels were so long that it became pitch black inside except for the small lit up hole at the end. My tunnel vision became so severe, I felt like I was being sucked into a black hole and almost lost my sense of reality. By this time, 5 people had gone way ahead, 3 were in between (including me), and the last 5 were severely lagging behind.

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Section #2: Auripo to Ida Valley, 4km
Section #3: Ida Valley to Oturehua, 8km

“When you cross the main highway you’ll see a very large pond area. This is the Idaburn Dam where the national Bonspiel (curling competition) is held if the ice is thick enough in winter. Here, teams vie for New Zealand’s oldest national sporting trophy.” There were several bathroom stops up until now but, this was the first stop to refill water bottles.

Other notables: Oturehua is the location of Hayes Engineering Works (famous for the Hayes wire strainer and cattle stop), Gilchrist’s Oturehua Store (NZ’s oldest general store), and the bus that takes you to the old mining town of St. Bathans.

During these 2 sections, the trail became a slowly torturous incline of death. It wasn’t too noticeable at first since it was gradual. But, at a certain point, your thighs even began shouting expletives. By the end of the third section, I was literally talking to myself out loud to keep going. For a brief second, I entertained the thought of dismounting my bike and walking the trail but, it felt like such a cop out thing to do and, so, I kept going. “Come on, Christine, just a little bit more. Juuuust keeeep pedalingggg.” I thought a brief sandwich break would replenish my willpower but, the brief relief only made it that much harder to keep going. Fuck you, sandwich.

Section #4: Oturehua to Wedderburn, 12km

“Golden Progress Mine – As you cycle out of Oturehua on the trail, you’ll see the sign post to the old mine site. It’s a short 10 minute walk up to the old shaft crowned with its large timber poppet head. You’ll also find some of the old boilers on site and remains of various buildings. Note that the site is closed during the lambing season so please respect the ‘no entry’ sign if it is out. You’ll pass across the 45th parallel twice through this section and these are denoted by concrete markers. In Europe, the northern 45th parallel marks the Bordeaux, Alsace, and Burgundy wine growing regions.”

I think everyone’s goal was to just get through the trail. No one made stops to check out any of these cool things. We were also short on time since the sun set pretty early. Some parts of the trail were covered in snow. At around the 30km mark of the 35km total distance, I finally reached the highest point on the trail at 618m above sea level. The last 5km were the most joyous downhill OF MY LIFE.

The trail ended at our lodging and after parking my bike, I began walking towards the pub. I couldn’t walk straight. Back at the pub, though, I was the first one of the girls to complete the trail and rejoiced at the thought of having the place to myself. I struggled to pull my pants down past my super muscular thighs. But, before I even made it to the shower, I heard Caroline’s and Gen’s voices. They were back already??

Gen: “So, Christine, you did the entire 35km?”
Me: “Yea, holy hell! That was brutal!
…wait, why are you guys smiling like that…?”

Gen: “Um, so don’t tell Simo but, Caroline and I couldn’t take it anymore. So…we hitchhiked!”
Me: “WHAT??? Hahaha. Wait, what’d you do with the bikes then?”
Gen: “Yea, it was this really nice but also weird couple. They just happened to have a bike rack on their car! They were telling us that we did the trail backwards and that the uphill should’ve only been a short part.”

Great.

Photo Aug 10, 5 24 02 PM

After showering, unwinding and just plain breathing massive sighs of relief, a bunch of us decided to try curling at Maniototo Curling International, Inc. where the Olympic team apparently practices. So much fun! One of the girls who came along just sat on the side the entire time.

Me: “Um, why aren’t you playing?”
Snob: “Oh, we have this in Canada. I don’t need to play it here.”

This was also her excuse for not skydiving, skiing, paragliding, helicopter riding to a glacier or doing anything remotely exciting. It was either “Oh, I can do this in Canada” or, “It’s better in Canada.” So, then, why did you travel double digit hours and spend a good chunk of money to come down here?

Back at the pub, we ran into Andrew Hore, a retired All Blacks player. That is my celebrity star sighting of the year. My more memorable star sighting that night was of the celestial kind. Being in the middle of nowhere and having zero light pollution are the keys to starry night success. It was unbelievable.

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En route to Christchurch, we made a pitstop to see the Moeraki Boulders on Koekohe Beach. Simo explained that these were petrified dinosaur poop. Thanks, I’m not 5. (Though I did hesitate for a moment…)

Oamaru

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We attempted to see the Blue Penguin Colony but, they had already went out to sea before sunrise and weren’t due back until after dark. I, instead, ended up buying a blue penguin finger puppet which is now chilling out on my table, collecting dust.

Christchurch

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Much of the city is still under repair after the major earthquakes in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Above is the collapsed Christchurch Cathedral. It’s crazy how so much can change in a few seconds or minutes. Nearby was an art installation with 185 empty chairs, one for each life lost in the earthquake that occurred on February 22, 2011.

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Worship services were then moved to the Cardboard Cathedral. When I first heard this name, I pictured something way more primitive but, the actual construction of this church is pretty damn cool (is it okay to say “damn” in this context?). It reminded me of the Arctic Cathedral in Tromso, Norway in its shape and symmetry.

At night, we stayed in the hostel, Jailhouse Accommodation, which was actually a jail, a women’s prison and a military camp back in the day. The rooms were kind of eerie and a bit drafty but, I thought it was a cool place to stay. They had a fully-equipped kitchen, decently cozy common areas and nice hot showers. What more could you ask for as a budget traveler? Gen was too freaked out though and had to sleep with the lights on. I guess it didn’t help that they had one cell that was pretty much left as is to show what the previous conditions were like.

Kaikoura

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We had the choice of swimming with the dolphins, swimming with the seals, whale watching on a boat or, taking a scenic flight and seeing them all. Hands down, I chose swimming with the dolphins, although seals would’ve been cool, too. And, by the way, these are wild dolphins. SO COOL. The Canadian [snob] also chose to swim with the dolphins and exclaimed that we couldn’t do this anywhere else (well, you actually could). But, hey, that further confirmed that I had made the right choice, I guess.

We had an hour to grab lunch before heading off to our respective activities. I made the mistake of chowing down a chicken pie. Picture that creaminess in your stomach, underneath a very, very snug wetsuit, then going on a massively bumpy boat ride for at least 30 min, then swimming around for about another half hour right after it. In case you didn’t know, I’m giving you a foreshadowing. I also developed a crazy pie obsession. Savory, sweet, whichever.

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As mentioned before, these are wild dolphins, wild dusky dolphins to be exact, so their locations are never always known. We went through Dolphin Encounter who, before confirming the tour, was in constant contact with pilots who were scoping out the area. Once the dolphins were spotted, we were good to go.

We were then given snorkel gear and these awesome, thick wetsuits that helped you to float without any effort. We also went through a safety presentation and one thing I remember from that was to never touch the dolphins. Since they are wild, you never know what they can interpret as hostile behavior. And, if you want the dolphins to come to you, make loud woo-ing noises through your snorkel. I thought that was a joke but, it’s actually a real thing to do.

Once we made it out there, our boat was literally surrounded by a hundred or so dusky dolphins. Maybe even more. I forgot the estimated number. It was one of the most amazing experiences ever.

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The boat ride there was so bumpy, a few people had already been given buckets to yack in. Luckily, my queasiness had calmed down just in time to put on my goggles and go into the water. The water was so freaking cold but, the wetsuits did a really good job of keeping the body warmth. But, you quickly forget about the cold once you notice the dolphins swimming all around you. A few were close enough to lightly graze my body and I remember hearing myself say, “Cooooool!” through my mouthpiece. It’s easy to lose your bearings when you’re just swimming around with the dolphins in the currents. I stuck my head out a few times only to realize how far I veered away from the boat. The guides would blow a horn or whistle to alert anyone straying too far.

In the distance, I heard someone making crazy woo-ing noises. It was Will. And, the dolphins were actually playing with him. So, I began to make noises like a true follower a la George Orwell’s 1984. Christine for president, 2016.

When time was running out, someone blew the horn or whistle as a warning. I made my way back onto the boat and, once I took my goggles off, seawater just came rushing out of my nose and it seemed never-ending. To add onto that sexiness, I became queasy again after I stripped off my wetsuit and attempted to put on dry clothes inside. I rushed back out and someone shoved a bucket in front of my face just in time. (Both dolphin photos are from Cat’s GoPro. I need to get me one of these!)

Some fun facts about the dusky dolphins, as provided by the brochure:

– They belong to a group known as cetaceans, which comprises all whales, dolphins and porpoises.
– They are amongst the most acrobatic of dolphin species.
– They are found in Kaikoura year round.
– The pods vary in size, consisting of 100 to over 1,000 individual dolphins.
– Their life span is thought to be 20-30 yrs, and they grow to 165-195cm and weigh between 70-90kg.
– They mate frequently and it is not always purely for reproductive purposes (bow chicka wow wow). They do not form pair bonds and mating takes place through the year, particularly in spring, summer and autumn. (I guess they don’t follow humans whose activities seem to increase during the winter months, particularly those who aren’t into snow sports.) The parentheses portions are my inputs on the matter.

Kekerengu / Clarence

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The next day, we stopped at The Store in Kekerengu (or is the town really called Clarence?) for a quick bite to eat before catching the ferry in Picton. The trip was coming to an end and all trip endings are a bit sad.

For whatever reason, we girls kept on saying the word “cooties” towards the end of the trip but, in a manner that required very little effort. No lips moving, just “cooties.” Then, we began to say the minimal effort word with our heads tilted way back, to the point where our necks were to the sky and our eyes could see behind us. I don’t remember why. Does anyone remember? I guess it doesn’t matter why. Cooties.

Picton

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While waiting for the ferry back to Wellington, we sat on the docks and spotted seals swimming around the boats. Will, an avid diver, immediately took off his clothes (except for his swim trunks), grabbed his GoPro and jumped into the cold water. The few times he stuck his head back out, he kept exclaiming how awesome it was and how we should all join him. We just sat there and watched him, laughing at his antics. He followed the seals back and forth and a few of them became irritated and growled at him. That was his cue to come back ashore.

Aotearoa – South Island, West Coast

New Zealand

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On a ferry ride from Wellington to Picton, we found ourselves crossing the Cook Strait and approaching the Marlborough Sounds in the South Island. We were now 13 people and our final tour guide Simo.

Once on land, we hit up 2 vineyards (Saint Clair and Allan Scott), a cheese tasting at Pataka and a chocolate tasting at Makana. I had a good enough buzz to last me through our drive to Old MacDonalds Farm in Abel Tasman National Park. That’s right. Old MacDonald. He, indeed, did have a farm.

(E. I. E. I. O.)

Abel Tasman National Park / Cape Foulwind

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Throughout the trip, we had a breakfast ice box, or a chilly bin, which we brought with us everywhere on the van. Cereal, toast, muesli, various spreads including Vegemite (which I actually like), milk, juice, tea and various fruits. This morning, we got upgraded to bacon, baked beans, eggs and mushrooms. A hearty meal for a hike around Abel Tasman. Just like Norway, New Zealand is also beautiful in cloudiness. The sun seemed to fight through at times but then the rain was all like “Nah, chillz yo.”

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A few of us tagged along to cheer Gen on for her skydive and, on our way back, we stopped at the Hop Federation Brewery. After everyone else did their tastings, each person put their glasses back down looking clearly unimpressed. “It’s way too hoppy.” At the sound of that, my inner hop snob began to emerge, rumbling, and I had to take a few deep breaths to calm it back down. I, instead, walked to the fridge, grabbed a 4-pack for purchase and nursed my inner snob back to happiness with some Red IPA.

We made chicken fajitas for dinner and then created a bonfire to attempt s’mores with something that pretended to be marshmallows and crackers that pretended to be of the graham variety. Thus, began the argument over the pronunciation of “graham.”

Gen: “Why isn’t it pronounced like gra-ham in 2 syllables like the way it looks?”
Americans: “It’s GRAM, okay?”

We also had an argument over the pronunciation of “opossum.”

Gen: “So, here in New Zealand and Australia, we have possums. You guys in America have the oh-possums.”
Americans: “It’s just pronounced uh-possum or we just ignore the ‘o’ altogether and say possums.”
Gen: “But no, there’s an ‘o’!”
Me: “Well, we don’t pronounce ‘opportunity’ like oh-pportunity or ‘option’ like ope-tion. The “o” doesn’t have to sound like “oh.” You make it sound like they’re some low-rated possum, as if there are A-possums and B-possums.”

The argument was never settled. You say toe-may-toe, and I say toe-mah-toe. And, you say tomato sauce, and I say ketchup.

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I now present you with a real life “Where’s Waldo/Wally?” except that, instead of looking for a red-striped shirt wearing man whose eyes take up the entire lens in his glasses, you are now trying to spot the seals amongst the rocks in the literally named Cape Foulwind. All 13 of us watched on as the baby seals squirmed their way to their moms for feeding. There was one mom with 2 baby seals, one who was a runt and the other whom we lovingly labeled “fat bastard.” The runt would patiently wait for his turn while fat bastard was sucking away, all gluttonous and greedy. Once the fat bastard would take a break, he would always decide that he wasn’t quite yet full. When the runt tried to nudge his way closer, fat bastard would shove him away in fifth grader bully fashion. At this point, all of us had already begun cheering on the runt to get all WWF on the fat bastard. Our time had run out though, and we needed to continue on towards Punakaiki. We will never know if the runt gained his courage.

Paparoa National Park / Punakaiki

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We made our last stops at the Irimahuwhero viewpoint and the Pancake Rocks & Blowholes. Our final group of 13 – Liv, Will, Cat, Meredith, Stephen, Robyn, Lauren, Catherine, Kira, Julius, me, Caroline and Gen.

By the time we made it to the Te Nikau Lodge (named after a native palm) in Punakaiki, the rain had begun to pour down and a lot of us opted out of a beach walk to relax with beer, Haribo Star Mix, crossword puzzles and journaling. We were split into 2 lodges that were dispersed in what looked like a mini rainforest. In the main lodge, Simo and Lauren cooked up a huge batch of pasta bolognese and steamed mussels for dinner. I found a mini crab lodged inside one of the mussels and, for a few minutes, thought it was the coolest thing ever.

We all fell into several rounds of Cards Against Humanity afterwards. Hearing Julius say dirty things in his German accent, especially when he didn’t know what many of the words meant, was both hilarious and…extremely strange.

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We woke up to rain pattering on the roof the next morning. The rivers were dangerous for kayaking and the rain a bit torrential for hiking. So, some went to go jade carving while the rest of us chilled in the lodge, playing old Maori records in a record player situated next to a broken furnace with a photo of a working fireplace taped on its door.

Simo: “We could go to the cafe in town, grab some pancakes and make it a better morning?”
Will: “Take a rainbow?”

Um, what?

Will: “???”

On the topic of rainbows, however, NZ has rainbows so bright, thick and almost tangible, I could practically taste the fruity flavors. So amazing.

We did manage to convince Simo to take us to the Monteith’s Brewery in Greymouth. I mean, what better way to spend a rainy day? All of us became obsessed with their Crushed Apple Cider. That and Old Mout Cider. Heck, I was even obsessed with New Zealand apples themselves.

Franz Josef Glacier

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Rain was torrential when we arrived in Franz Josef and our heli-hike was canceled. Huge disappointment. Instead, we ended up paying way too much money to visit the local kiwi center, and raced wind-up mechanical kiwis that were sold at the gift shop. In retrospect, though, I’m happy that I got to see the kiwis there. They ended up not surfacing when I was at the Auckland Zoo later on. Gen and Caroline then went jade carving while the rest of us just chilled out. They came back with a nice jade leaf.

Caroline: “It was a nice leaf, OKEY.”

The way she said “okey” in her Swiss German accent was so cute, we kept repeating it (and making her repeat it) throughout the trip.

Our day, however, was salvaged when the rain finally stopped and quad-biking was a go. If I were to imagine Mario Kart becoming a reality, this was definitely it. For whatever reason, Will kept lagging so far behind that every time we stopped to have him catch up, he wouldn’t show up until a while later. Our guide was clearly annoyed. My absolute favorite part was when we were driving along swerving paths in the woods, occasionally hitting massive puddles, and speeding up and down small mounds. The scariest part was driving through mud ditches where a lot of us thought our quad bikes would topple over.

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You can see the Franz Josef Glacier in the midst of the mountains, in the middle of the photo. Gorgeous.

Fox Glacier

Simo, trying to alleviate the previous day’s weather disappointment, suggested that we try a regular helicopter ride over the Fox Glacier in the early morning. The weather forecast was looking hopeful. This time, we were NOT disappointed.

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A view, albeit slanted, of the glacier from the heli. Glacier, you so fly! We were able to fly over both the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers.

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The helicopter landed above the Fox Glacier and we were allowed to roam around a bit on foot. So incredibly beautiful.

Will has a fear of heights but still had a remote interest in skydiving over the glacier. We had a feeling he might chicken out so, we did what any group of new friends should do. Peer pressure him. I think it helped that Stephen, a fellow bro, was doing it also. Will became pale and silent as we dropped all of them off and drove off towards Lake Matheson. When we picked them up later on, he admitted that it was worth it but that he’d never do it again. Haha.

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According to a sign, Mount Cook is on the right and Mount Tasman is on the left. I guess I trust the sign. This photo may also be cutting off part of the mountains.

Lake Matheson

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I think at this point, I should just let this be a picture book entry, and label it “Amazing, Beautiful, Gorgeous” since those are the only words I seem to use to describe nature. I just pulled up a thesaurus and some synonyms include alluring, dazzling, exquisite and splendid. I think I’d rather sound redundant with my words than pretentious.

As we looked out into this amazing scenery, there was a couple taking numerous photos with numerous poses. I joked that we should all throw rocks into the lake to create a continuous ripple effect and, thus, ruin all their photos.

Te Wahipounamu

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En route to Queenstown, we made several stops. First stop – the Dune Lake Walk at Te Wahipounamu, a World Heritage Site in the south west corner of the island.

Mt. Aspiring National Park / Wanaka

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Second stop – Thunder Creek Falls

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Third stop – Lake Hawea

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…then Wanaka

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And, finally towards…

Queenstown

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As we approached Queenstown, Simo listed out all the activities that were available in town so that we could make our decisions and bookings by the time we arrived.

Simo: “Raise your hands if you’re interested in the bungy.”

Robyn, Julius, me.

Simo: “Which bungy did you want to do?”
Me: “There’s more than one? Um, I don’t know. The best one?”
Simo: “You want to do the Nevis then?”
Me: “I guess so?”
Simo: “Go big or go home, right?”
Me: (nervous laughter) “Yea…?”

I had already done a skydive back in New York but, swore off bungy jumping. Stories of horrible whiplashes and cords wrapping around people’s necks on the rebound have scared me off. Then, my (now) boyfriend Hayden asked me a very simple question which sent my ego aflame. “So, are you not going to bungy?” That was all. With that one question, I suddenly became defensive in my head. But, not even defensive against him. It was all against myself. “You don’t know the risks! People could DIE. If not for that, I would TOTALLY do it!” I juggled a few excuses but, the cowardice feeling slowly magnified and it bothered the shit out of me. COWARD? I AM NO COWARD. TREE? I AM NO TREE! I didn’t even need to be asleep for inception to happen.

And, so, it was decided that we’d be doing the Nevis Bungy in 2 days. I then shoved my fears to the side and didn’t think about the bungy until the morning of.

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The next day, the group split into an LOTR horse riding tour, jetboating, paragliding, luging and skiing/snowboarding at Cardrona. I was already planning on coming back to Queenstown with my friend 2 weeks later to snowboard but, felt the need to do a practice run. The Cardrona group ended up being 5 of us – 4 skiiers and me, the sole snowboarder and lone cheese. After a few runs, Catherine asked a guy to take a group photo of us – Julius, Liv, Will, Catherine and me, standing in this order. Now, I don’t know if it’s because I was the only snowboarder or if I was the only Asian or, maybe it was the combo of the two. But, we got the phone back. I was completely left out of the photo.

At breakfast the next morning, I was in a mix of weird calmness and pants-shitting anxiety for the bungy. I had no idea what the Nevis Bungy even was and thought it’d be a good idea to finally Google it an hour or so before. Then the images came up. My heart dropped into my pelvic cavity. “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK.”

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So, yea, you jump from a platform that’s suspended over a valley on cables. And, yea, you have to take a cable car ride to this platform.

From the Queenstown city center, a bus took a bunch of us jumpers to 2 of the bungy spots – the Kawarau Bridge and Nevis. As we approached the Kawarau Bridge, Robyn and I were kicking ourselves for not choosing this one. It was only a 43m drop. Nevis was 134m. Heart palpitations and soiling of pants on cue.

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But, either because I had no more shit left to shit or I stopped caring about dying, my anxiety sizzled out and I felt an overwhelming calmness wash over me. I just knew that I’d be okay. And, this feeling stayed even as I was the second to last to jump in a group of 10. Maybe it was the fact that they issued absolutely no refunds or, that they challenged me with, “Show us what New York can do!” Stinginess and pride. That oughta do it.

When I edged myself onto the tip of the platform, the wide expanse and depth of the valley became a bit too tangible. And, before I allowed any other thought to enter my head, I counted down from 3 and jumped. I remembered thinking, “Holy shit! I’m really doing thi…AHHHHH!” The first 2-3 seconds were the worst moments of free fall and I kept my eyes shut. Then, after 3 seconds, I internally shouted, “Open your damn eyes!” It was golden from there. I came here thinking that this would be my first and last time. I left wondering when I could do it again. How does any of this make sense?

Photo Aug 07, 3 52 52 PM_Canyon Swing

Next up: Shotover Canyon Swing. I got suckered into buying a 2 swing package deal. One swing was $219 and a second one was a bargain price of $45.

Lauren decided to try the canyon swing that involved being tied into a plastic lawn chair and tipped over backwards into the valley below. The guy pushing her over, however, faked her out several times and caught her off guard when he finally tipped her over for real. Upon seeing this, Will (remember he had a fear of heights?) practically shat his pants. He also had paid for 2 swings and decided at the last minute to only do one. He had to do that one in tandem with Simo.

Worker (who sensed Will’s fear): “How are you doing today?”
Will: “I’ll fuck you up if you do that.”

He was clearly referring to how the guy faked Lauren out multiple times. Please note that while Will’s reaction sounds harsh, if you knew him, you would realize that it wasn’t threatening at all. We all bust out laughing because 1) his reactions from fear were quite amusing; and 2) he signed up for this and we had no idea why. He was securely tied into the harness with Simo and before he could say “Wait!” they were both nudged until they walked off the ledge without realizing. Insert Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year, 2015.

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I decided to do one tandem with Cat and one on my own that involved a slide. By this time, it had begun flurrying and the snowflakes were piercing my eyes. Canyon swinging in the snow? COOL. What could make this day even cooler? A Fergburger.

Fiordland National Park / Doubtful Sound

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We took a ferry ride across Lake Manapouri and then a bus to this viewpoint. Doubtful Sound surrounded by a winter wonderland. I had to remind myself that it was August and not Christmastime.

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Gen, being an Aussie who’s rarely seen snow, let out her inner deprived child and began making a snowman. This turned into a full-on group project. Someone was able to spare a carrot and a hat.

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SNOWBALL FIGHT.

THROW.

THROW.

…Pffff.

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As seen from the snowy photo above, it was very much wintertime and we were given clean thermals to wear to go kayaking. It turns out that Doubtful Sound isn’t really a sound but a fiord. And, “fiord” is spelled with an “i” here instead of a “j.” It was also originally named “Doubtful Harbor” as Captain James Cook doubted that he could navigate into it back in the 1700s. Way to take things literally. #likeliterally

We kayaked for about 3 hours and spotted a fur seal just chillin’ on a rock and, further out, a Fiordland yellow-crested penguin in the midst of some bushes. Wildlife spotting = SUCCESS. At the 3 hour mark, however, I could tell Caroline and Gen were over kayaking and had looks of obvious distaste. Caroline did get a surge of motivation when we were reaching the end and began commanding, “PADDLE! PADDLE!” …which, for some reason, reminds me of a time when she took offense at something I said that wasn’t meant to be offensive and replied back snidely, “OoOOoO well, I’m from New York. OoOoo damn sauce, awesome sauce, ketchup!” All NYC and/or American terms, I suppose. I didn’t notice how much I said “damn sauce” until the other girls (British & Aussie) tried to imitate my NYC twang (dayummm sah-osse) but instead came out with the very proper teatime pinky up “DOM SOCE.”

We stayed at Deep Cove Hostel for the night and one of the ground rules was to make sure that all doors were shut behind you. There were even signs on the doors to remind us to beware. The kea birds (native parrots) are known to fly in and viciously steal your food. There were already a few just hanging out on the porch, looking in through the windows and trying to scope out the food sitch. One time, a guy, in an attempt to take a better close-up photo, propped up his GoPro on a selfie stick and pushed it forward into the kea’s vicinity. The kea wasn’t having any, grabbed his GoPro and flew off into the woods. Nobody messes with the kea. Or, Chuck Norris.

After dinner, we played several rounds of Werewolf (think Mafia) and while a few went to bed afterwards, a bunch of us went outside for a night bush walk in near pitch blackness. I could barely make out my hands in front of my eyes. Without any light pollution, the starry sky was unbelievable and we instantly spotted the Southern Cross and the Milky Way. Further down, the blackness then became speckled with dots of white light. Glowworms! The starry sky above gave way to the starry trees below. I was in awe. Suddenly, we heard shrill calls coming out of the woods. Our kayak guide, Robbie, silently exclaimed, “Kiwi!” He turned on his flashlight and went into the bushes. The shrill calls stopped and we knew he scared it away.

Back inside, I tried to stay up for the Wallabies vs. All Blacks Rugby Championship game but, I barely made it past the haka before my eyelids forced themselves shut.

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We did a morning bush walk around Deep Cove and passed Helena Falls and an LOTR filming spot (woohoo!) before taking the bus back to the ferry. When we boarded the bus, Simo sat in the way back so that he could spread out. As he stretched his arms out, his right hand grazed something dark and furry on the window seat and he flipped a shit. All of us jumped up, startled, as he shouted “HOOOOOOLLLYYYY SHITTTTT!” Next thing we knew, a medium-sized round thing scurried underneath our seats, past our legs and out the door. It was a possum.

Bus driver: “That thing must’ve been here for days! I parked this bus and haven’t opened the door until today… Hm, it’s not good that he escaped into the woods, though. It will decimate the kiwi population.”

Ruh oh. Possums ruin trees by stripping them and eating up new shoots, preventing new trees from growing. They also prey on native birds’ eggs and birds themselves, particularly flightless ones like the kiwi. They have become such pests that it’s become a local sport to hit as many as you can with your car. Places have even started selling foods with possum meat, warm clothing with possum fur and even novelty items like a possum fur G-string. What a way to make something unpleasant even more so…unpleasant.

Aotearoa – North Island, Part 2

New Zealand

After the Bay of Islands, we drove back down to Auckland to pick up 5 more people and to switch tour guides. The rest of the North Island was led by a guy named Boom Boom. We were now 8 from the UK (6 English, 1 Irish, 1 Scottish), 5 Americans, one being a student in Australia, 2 Chinese who were also studying in Australia, 2 Germans, 2 Aussies, and 1 Swiss. In an attempt to stop cursing, Boom Boom would yelp “Holy catfish!” whenever the situation called for it. Will became thoroughly amused by this and the saying became a staple in the group. It worked until we starting saying “Fucking catfish!”

Now riding in the packed Boom Boom Bus, we headed towards Raglan with a brief stop at a sustainable farm run by a guy known as Charlie #2 and his wife Jan. Charlie #2 is a marine biologist who used to work for the government and is now running this farm after retirement. He charmed us with his stories as he led us to the alpacas, sheep, local birds, donkeys and his eel farm. Then, he gave us pieces of raw beef on skewers to feed the eels. Just a little swish of the raw beef in water drew the eels to the surface in a mad dash.

Photo Jul 26, Sustainable farm

His dog, Minty, ran around in several psychotic circles then planted himself in front of everyone with his belly up. This wasn’t a volunteering event. It was a command to rub his tummy. Cutest, friendliest dog ever.

Charlie #2 then taught us how to spin and weave wool on contraptions that I’ve only seen in museums and Amish country. It was actually much harder than I thought but, with a really nice music playlist and a groove, I can see myself pounding out a whole wardrobe of wool sweaters in no time.

We then met another couple who ran a surfing school, the husband’s name being Charlie which was how Charlie #2 became deemed, well, number two.

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We knew Stephen (the Irish guy) was a bit of a ladies’ man. We even witnessed him talking it up to an alpaca who had just sneezed.

Stephen: “Oh, bless you! I know how you’re feeling. One moment, we’re in warmer weather. The next, it’s colder. I understand.”
Alpaca: “…”
Stephen: “I had to buy throat lozenges. Would you like some?”
Alpaca: “…”

The rest of us looked on in amusement.

Raglan

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Later in the day, we went kayaking along the shore lined with stacks of pancake rocks, both in the water and out. There was a tiny opening in one of them which Lauren suggested paddling through. After thinking “uh, we ain’t fittin’ through that!” I said, “Sure, why the hell not?” We laid so far back on the kayak that we became one with it, and as we made it through while laughing maniacally, my nose nearly grazed the rock. We high fived each other in ultimate glory and everyone else, now intrigued, followed us and did the same.

(My photos from this day became corrupt on my camera. First photo above: taken with Lauren’s GoPro; the photo below was taken from a Google search)

We camped out the next couple of nights at the Lava Lounge which had an amazing hot tub. As a few of us girls stewed in the tub, a morepork (native owl) perched itself on an outdoor lamp and watched us judgmentally as we guzzled down bottles of beer and cider. Back indoors, the night started out with a separation between those of us born in the 80s and those in the 90s but, with an increasing amount of alcohol and an extremely TMI round of Never Have I Ever later, all of us quickly assimilated. You might say that mentioning “TMI” is a bit redundant but, if you’ve witnessed the game yourself, you also would’ve dubbed it TMI. Stephen, in an attempt to scope out which of the girls found his Irish accent hot, proceeded with “Never have I ever been turned on by an Irish accent.” Sorry, dude.

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In the morning, we had a training session with the Raglan Surfing School to learn how to paddle with the incoming wave and stand up on the surfboard in one full swoop. The motions were broken down into 4 components – 1) while laying flat on the board with your toes touching the tail, place your hands on the board next to your chest, just below your shoulders; 2) lift your chest up while looking straight ahead; 3) pull one knee through, depending on if you’re goofy or regular, with your fingertips on the board; 4) stand up with your knees bent and your arms up by your chest. Yea, sweet as. Enter: actual water.

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The sun was actually peeking through as we approached Ngarunui Beach. With thicker wetsuits on, the water didn’t feel as cold. The day was looking golden. Now, as a snowboarder, I thought surfing wouldn’t be as difficult. But, I only managed to get up once in the timespan of about an hour, with the help of the instructors pushing us into the incoming waves. By the end of it, I was so famished that I began dreaming of a ribeye steak or a really loaded burger. Heck, I just wanted a whole damn cow. Instead, we headed into town and bombarded a very tiny sushi place, Aloha Sushi Takeaways. Fresh NZ salmon don. Yea, I’ll devour that. Thanks. Flat white at Raglan Roast? Hell yea.

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Not a complete group photo but, this one includes the 5 new people – Mani, Marlow, Anna, Alex and Jason.

Paddle boarding was canceled due to inclement weather and so, we chilled out at our lodge with a few of us tending to our neglected scrapbooks and journals. For some reason, Stephen became adamant on reading mine, thinking I had written about my many supposed sexcapades. After my numerous refusals, he wanted to reach a compromise that involved me summarizing my entries out loud using high quality adjectives and adverbs. This was key for him, being an English teacher. Upon hearing this, Boom Boom began to recite a mock version of my journal:

“Day 1. Arrived in Auckland. Had a coffee. Met a guy. Had a passionate night.

Day 2. Had a great breakfast. Could’ve used a bit more milk in my cereal. Met another guy. Another passionate night.”

Later on in the trip, I found my journal being sold in a stationery store and contemplated buying it and somehow placing it into Stephen’s luggage at the end of the trip, with the pages filled with fake entries and one page at the end saying “SIKE!” But, the journal cost a bit of money and the effort really wasn’t worth it.

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To prepare for our next day’s visit to a Maori village in Rotorua, Boom Boom came up with the idea of doing a Chief Factor where the guys would compete to become the chief of our group. The chief is responsible for protecting their people, especially in time of battle. Since Maori women are so well-respected, only men can be chiefs to protect them. In our case, we didn’t really have such a great selection to choose from. (Script taken from a video clip.)

Will: “I…don’t even know what I’m doing…Yea…I think I’m out of this one. I’m really confused.” (To give you some background, he usually didn’t know what he was doing or what was going on.)

Lee (not pictured): “I don’t even want to be chief. I do my own thing and wander off aimlessly and I come back at the wrong time.”
Boom Boom: “So, he may not even be there for the battle.”
Kira: “No, he’d be off on a stroll. I feel not protected.”

So far, a poor showing.

Stephan: “I know Chinese Kung fu.” This one invoked very loud cheering, haha!

Alex: “I’m from Scotland and come from a long line of battle-fighting ancestors.”

Stephen, who had his shorts rolled up to boxer brief status to show off his runner legs: “Um, hello. Guten tag. Ahnyoung. Ni hao. G’day. I’m an 80s kid which means I’m experienced. Some people think I’m going bald. That’s actually not the case. This is a choice. I’ll protect all of you, which is a good thing. So, yes, I’m not bald. Also, I’m a bilinguist. I’m Irish so I love to fight. So, if there’s any problems, I’ll happily put my body on the line. We’re also great at hugging in Ireland so, I’m just going to open the floor if anyone wants a hug […] So, uh, that is why I want to be chief.”

Jason: “How’s it going, everybody? So, I’m usually quiet but, that could work towards my advantage. If you’re in danger, I could help you. If you’re scared, I could help you. If you’re lucky enough, maybe you could take off this belt (a belt made earlier that day from local palm leaves). So, I use the surroundings to my advantage. It is a nice belt. If any of you girls are lucky enough, I’ll be your chief.”

Julius: “I want to be your chief because…I’m the only one who can play the piano. AND, I’m brave. PLUS, I did the skydive. AND…eh, that’s it.”

Immediately, the girls shouted “I vote Lee!” just to annoy him but, guess who ended up being the chief? Yea, Stephen. We then ended the night with a flexibility contest where we all took turns bending down and picking up an empty cereal box with our mouths, our arms behind our back. With each round, Boom Boom cut the box smaller and smaller until it was just a flat cardboard flap on the ground. Did I pass all rounds? You bet I did!

Waitomo

Photo Jul 28, Waitomo Glowworm Caves

We started the day at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Five of us did the Haggas Honking Holes which was supposed to be the high energy abseiling adventure, complete with rock climbing and squeezing through extremely small crevices with ice cold water flowing all around you. This is not for the obese or the claustrophobic.

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After a briefing on how to abseil, we headed for the caves. You’re not allowed to bring cameras with you so, the guides took some shots for us during the adventure. This photo doesn’t accurately depict the 80-100m drop. SO COOL.

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The stalagmites (g – ground) and stalactites (c – ceiling) were incredible. We ducked extra low to avoid hitting them with our helmets. If you knocked one down, you pretty much destroyed hundreds and thousands of years worth of growth. With that in mind, I ducked so low that I gave myself a few neck cramps. My favorite part was, obviously, turning off our head torches and seeing the glowworms…well, glow…like stars in the sky. Sticky glowing threads hung off each one to attract prey; seeing a whole bunch created a chandelier look. Hitting these threads would destroy their chances of capturing food and, therefore, surviving. So, I ducked even lower. There weren’t as many as I would’ve liked but, the experience was still great. The only dimmer to my experience was to hear that glowworms aren’t really worms but insect larvae. Insert tingle down spine.

Rotorua

You could tell that you were in Rotorua, a geothermal city, just by the steam and the smell of sulfur emanating from everywhere. A few people in the past made the mistake of diving into a nearby body of water, only to be burned to death by the waters boiling from the volcanic heat. Only go into thermal baths designated for human use! And, never dunk your entire head in as people were known to get severe ear infections from the water.

We then met with a Maori chief and his nephew in Ohinemutu who talked about their culture and showed us the Tamatekapua meeting house. When greeting people, they touch forehead to nose with the person, and breathe in deeply while still in contact. This is called the hongi (not hangi, the method of cooking from which our dinner was made). After they sung a few traditional songs for us, we all stood up, with Stephen as our chief, and sang for them a song which Boom Boom had us rehearse.

Te aro-ha (Love)
Te Whaka-pono (Faith)
Me te rangi-marie (And peace)
Ta-tou ta-tou e (Be amongst us all)

Sometimes I sing this song even now without realizing, while I’m doing chores or just walking in the city. During a Q&A, I asked them, “Is there ever a divide between those who are of full Maori blood and those who are mixed?” This question seemed surprising to him. He answered, “No matter what the percentage, if you’re Maori, you’re Maori.” Love that.

Tongariro National Park

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The past few days were completely rainy and so miserable that the hikes along the Tongariro Alpine Crossing were canceled. Still, we all woke up at 4:30am in hopes of a sunny day. We were so damn lucky.

If you come unprepared, especially during the winter months, you can rent pretty much everything – hiking shoes, waterproof/warm clothing, a daypack, crampons, ice axes, gaiters, helmets, etc. I believe our tour came with crampons, ice axes, gaiters and helmets included.

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Our group was joined by another 15 or so random people and we ended up splitting into 2 main groups – the fast hikers and the slow trotters. The guides up front had to periodically stop us so that the remaining people could catch up to us. We would be sweating and stripping off layers one minute, then putting back on the layers once we stopped, as our bodies would quickly cool down in the cold winds. As a result of all the stop-and-going, we couldn’t hike past the Red Crater summit to the Emerald Lakes as there wasn’t enough time for them to do an avalanche check and then for us to hike it and back before sunset. I now feel extremely determined to go back one day and hike the entire thing. Perhaps when it’s summertime.

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Mount Doom is to the left. That would be Mount Doom of The Lord of The Rings. Insert glee here. Regardless of the slow trotters, the entire hike was all things amazing. All 20km of it. There were times when the wind was so fierce (wind chill was -10 C), any exposed skin would become extremely irritated. There would also be phases of clear sky and total fog.

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I couldn’t even tell if I was walking in a straight line anymore. The snow was also going past my ankles, making the hike that much more thigh-burning. That is Mount Doom, still to the left. One guide went ahead of us to shovel out a path in the mountainside. Total props to you!

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Before proceeding towards the Red Crater summit (and our eventual lunch spot), we were given a tutorial on how to put on our crampons and how to hold our ice axes. Because I’ve been to Iceland before, I was all like, “been there, done that, bitchessss.” Well, that’s what I was thinking inside my head. On the outside, I was helping people around me put theirs on. Come on, guys. I’m thoughtful! Right?

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I could stare at this ALL DAY.

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We tried to take a group photo. However, in typical Asian fashion, Sherry and Stephan were having a photo shoot here as they did at every tourist attraction. Pose with left arm on hip. Pose with right arm on hip. Pose with both hands on hip. Pose as if I just happened to turn my head as you were “candidly” capturing a shot of my backside. Pose with both arms up in the air. Okay, that was just the standing portion. Now, repeat while I sit, kneel, and lie on each side. Okay, now the wind is blowing in my favor. Capture that long black hair waving in the sunshine.

We all watched in complete amusement and maybe a bit of confusion. We also grew tired of waiting for them to come take a group shot with us. And, so, I had this genius idea of leaving a gap in the middle to “include” them in the photo. They had no idea what was going on and they kept posing on. Sherry (in the middle red jacket) was blocking Stephan though. Hey, we tried. By the way, I’m the 3rd from the left, squeezed in between 2 people with my helmet blending into the next person’s jacket. I swear I’m there.

In addition to bothering me about my journal, Stephen also questioned any girl who would be caught texting on their phones. “Are you sexting?” he would ask excitedly. That was usually answered with a dull no. Here, we caught him texting. “Well, are YOU sexting?” “I’m mountain sexting. And, later on when we mountain bike, I’ll be mountain bexting.”

Ohakune / Taihape / Wellington

On our way to our final North Island destination, we stopped at Ohakune and took photos with…a giant carrot. Apparently, this town is “where adventures begin.” Hm.

Photo Jul 30, Ohakune

One thing I noticed about New Zealand was that several towns had very large statues of select fruit and vegetables. #veggiepride. If I had encountered this carrot early on in life, perhaps my vision wouldn’t be so bad. Yea, I know that was a total dad joke.

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Moving on with our day of randomness, we stopped in Taihape for a gumboot throwing contest. Yea, there was an actual area dedicated to this. Boom Boom came prepared with a nice leopard print gumboot but, once we reached the throwing field, we noticed that gumboots were already supplied. The guys outperformed most of the girls and so, by the time it was Lauren’s turn, we cheered her on extra hard. She swung so hard that the gumboot, instead of going forward, went straight up into the air and landed in the tree behind us. In laughter, we then threw gumboots into the tree to finally knock the stuck one down. Luckily, none other got stuck. No gumboots left behind. (Photo credit: Lauren)

Finally in Wellington, we had a night out to bid farewell to Boom Boom and half of our group, and meet 3 new people who were joining us for the South Island. As people proceeded to have shots, Gen, Caroline, Julius and I rushed off to catch the funicular up to the Carter Observatory. The funicular was of the psychedelic kind and it passed through a rave-like neon light tunnel which Gen and I danced in to an ntz ntz ntz beat. No one else was in the funicular but us. We were all space nerds, Gen in particular, and this just added to our excitement to check out the moon and Saturn through the Thomas Cooke telescope and then the space show in the adjacent theater. We came back to the bar to everyone else dancing on the tables.

Aotearoa – North Island, Part 1

My original plan was to quit my job and travel for 7 weeks. After a tiny nudge from a friend who lives in Sydney and a mention of Hobbiton and snowboarding, those 7 weeks extended into 15 weeks and now included the southern hemisphere. I always pushed Australia and New Zealand to the side because it involved a huge time commitment. It never seemed possible with only 2 weeks of paid vacation per year. Well, I finally got the time. Fastest decision I’ve ever made.

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New Zealand

I met with my G Adventures group in Auckland and we headed north the next morning towards the Bay of Islands. We started off with 15 people and our tour leader Flea. The trip was labeled as a Yolo trip, meaning “18 to 30 somethings,” and I was afraid I’d be stuck with a bunch of college kids or fresh graduates. I was the second oldest as a 30 (brink of 31) year old and after a brief shock horror of having to explain who Marvin Gaye was in Charlie Puth’s song “Marvin Gaye” featuring Meghan Trainor (after they had already sung it with the radio), I calmed down to realize that I was in a good mix of pEepZ. That’s me trying to be young again, in the context of the late 90s and early 2000s apparently.

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We first stopped at Parry Kauri Park with its enormous kauri trees that are native to New Zealand. Tree hug provided for perspective.

Conservation is a priority these days as many of these trees were cut down to build ships in the past. With the top portion of the tree cut off in this photo, however, it only looks incredibly phallic and, as such, something that doesn’t need to be conserved…or hugged.

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Whangarei Falls, an alliteration by sound and not appearance. The “wh”in Maori words is pronounced as if it was an “f.” Why, you ask? I don’t know. Why do we pronounce “ph” in the same way? Who thinks of these things?? How do they get the ink in these things?? (Dilbert comic reference)

Further on, we stopped in the town of Kawakawa to visit the supposedly most beautiful public toilets to ever exist anywhere. It was designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser who lived in town until his eventual death. I guess I can agree that I hadn’t ever before seen such artistic public toilets but, I felt weird going inside just to take a photo. It would’ve been even more embarrassing had I gone into a stall, taken a photo using my iPhone with the volume on, and later explained why I took a photo to people who heard the camera click. “Oh, you know, just having friendly texting banter with my gyno. She says I’m looking healthy, by the way.”

Paihia, Bay of Islands

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It was wintertime and yet, still pretty warm up north during midday. So, we all got cocktails and sat in the sun by the water. There was a public piano situated nearby and Julius, the youngest in our group at 19, began playing random songs on it. It made me miss playing it. After 12-13 years of hating it. I stopped when I was 15 or 16. It became a chore after my mom scolded me to practice about an hour a day, after I had done my school homework and gone to after school/SAT prep school and completed that homework, too. There were times I enjoyed it though. I could play a sonata without even looking at the keys. My arms and hands had muscle memory and I just knew how the distances between the keys felt. Now, it’s all but a distant memory.

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We took a zodiac to The Rock where we were to stay for the night. It’s basically a hostel on a boat with bunk bed rooms on the upper level and a bar/lounge in the lower level, complete with board games, snacks and a furnace. The furnace came especially in handy after Lauren and I dunked in for a midnight swim later that night which probably wasn’t a good idea. In addition to the 15 of us, there was another tour group with another 10 or so people, half of them obnoxious 20-21 year old (sorry to say) Aussies.

Our activities on the boat included sunset fishing, night kayaking in the phosphorescent algae-filled water, snorkeling and/or diving for kina (sea urchin) the next morning, eating freshly picked kina and mussels (steamed) caught from the surrounding waters, spotting dolphins swimming alongside, and hiking on Motuarohia Island. Fishing was a complete failure as the fish were clever little bitches who snatched the bait off the hook. I guess, technically, I’m really the bitch in this situation as I clearly got owned. Insert contemplating emoji here.

Nighttime kayaking was definitely the highlight. The surrounding area was pitch black but for the light from the boat and the water’s phosphorescence illuminated with each disturbance from the paddle’s strokes. We then coasted for a bit and lay back flat on the kayaks to face the starry night sky. Everything was peaceful…until one of the Aussie guys tipped his friend over into the water. That incident cut our time on the water short.

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Keep in mind that it’s wintertime and, although it was warmer up north, it was still pretty damn cold in the morning and night. Even with wetsuits, the water was freezing ass cold. Well, the wetsuits were basic and not exactly fitted which allowed water to seep in between your body and suit. We did a penguin dance before jumping in to warm up. But, after that bit, I saw one of the crew change into a really heavy duty wetsuit that covered every inch of her body and then heard her say, “I’m not letting that water touch my body.” That was really comforting.

Then, I jumped in. Holy Arctic, Batman! After about 5-10 min, my movements eventually warmed me up a bit until about the 30 min mark when my teeth began to chatter. I don’t mind swimming around in open waters but, something about diving in scares me. So, I just swam around, spotting kina that I could easily pick and feeling disappointed in myself. I vow to, one day, get my scuba diving license and face my fears. This will likely occur before I learn how to drive. (Above photo credit: Lauren with her GoPro; pictured: Caroline, Gen and me.)

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We docked near Motuarohia (Roberton) Island and while everyone else took a short zodiac ride to shore, Stephen, Will and I each took a kayak out. A short hike up rewarded us with this view (click photo to enlarge).

Back on land and now situated at the Bay Adventurer Hostel, some rushed to the hot showers while a few of us took a small hike to a lookout point before coming back to soak in the hot tub. It sure is a hard knock life.

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The next morning, we split off to either skydive, paraglide, take a dolphin cruise or, hike from Haruru Falls through the mangroves to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. I opted for the hike with a few others. Will meant to join the hike but never appeared at the scheduled meeting time and, so, we figured he meant to sleep in.

Us: “Where’s Will?”
Lee, one of his roommates: “In the room. He’s making noises so I know he’s alive.”

We later found out that Will never changed his watch out of Aussie time and was running 2 hours behind.

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The Carved Meeting House, or Te Whare R┼źnanga, faces the Treaty House on the grounds of which the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in February 1840. The treaty marked the partnership between the Maori chiefs and the British Crown, although what was believed to be agreed upon seemed to have differed between the two parties. Lost in Translation, the non-Sofia Coppola version.

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The interior and exterior are carved with images of the tribe’s ancestors and are beautifully intricate.

Nearby, Stephen spotted some lemon trees and me, being unable to decipher his Irish accent…

Me: “Lavatories?”
Stephen: “Uh, noo…lemon trees. Who even uses that word anymore?”
Me: “I don’t know. British people?”

I apologize to all people past and present if I have trouble with your accent. I also struggle with some thick accents within the U.S. so, I’m really just an idiot.

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The grounds also houses the world’s largest war canoe which is named probably the world’s longest name ever – Ng─ütokimatawhaorua (I totally cheated and copy/pasted this from their website). It is 35m long and requires at least 76 paddlers to manage it through the water. Pretty damn cool!

(Because some of my photos became corrupt on my camera, the above photo is borrowed from Lauren. Thanks, Lauren!)

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And, a group photo plug. Top row: Obnoxious guy who tipped over during night kayaking, Stephan, Catherine, Stephen, Norwegian girl, Will, Gen, Emma, Caroline. Bottom row: me, Sherry, Lauren, Claire, Robyn, Kira, Julius, Lee. Just a side note: me sitting next to the one other Asian girl was pure coincidence. We barely chatted, especially since she was glued to her boyfriend, Stephan.

July 22 – August 14, 2015: New Zealand Encompassed