Tuesday, December 17, 2013


A few days ago I arrived back in Sydney from an eight day trip to New Zealand with two of my dear friends Manisha and Amanda. I felt like the few days that I delayed writing this post were completely necessary in order to reflect on the life changing and amazing adventure that was New Zealand. NZ is like no place I've ever been! Although the generous nature of the locals, plethora of gluten free food options, ubiquitous sheep and vast green rolling hills all reminded me a lot of Ireland. Other then those similarities, the country is truly diverse and one of a kind. We all went into the trip a bit stressed and with not much booked other then last minute hostels, a rental car, and a 25 hour bus/ferry flexipass through a company called intercity, which was truly flexible and incredibly cost effective. Seriously, we booked and canceled our busses countless times with zero change fees.

We began our short but exceedingly eventful journey in Christchurch located in the middle of the south island. We spent the day exploring the quaint but ghost like city, which was devastated in an earth quake three years ago. We stayed in the YMCA, which was conveniently located across the street from the botanical gardens. After a delicious GF breakfast we headed over to the gardens where we sat under a willow tree admiring the wildlife and the people punting by. Punting is basically like sitting on a gondola in Venice, except the comically dressed man is pushing the boat with a giant stick instead of rowing it. Eventually, we investigated the punting situation but decided to go with the cheaper row boat rental option (where we row ourselves). Unfortunately this proved to be to difficult and after ten minutes of struggling to row in any direction except into the side of the creek, we traded in our rowboat for kayaks. Then we headed to Cashel mall, which is literally made entirely of shipping containers. The mall is meant to be a temporary fixture while the city is rebuilt but the area is actually quite clever and unique. In the evening we caught a bus to Kaikoura where we were greeted by some of the most stunning views I have ever seen! Words cannot even do justice to the black sand beaches, snow capped mountains, lush green forest, and the different shades of blue in the ocean that connect it all. 

We spent our day in Kaikoura like most days, casually waking up at the crack of dawn to play and snorkel with dusky dolphins in the wild. We sufficiently embarrassed ourselves impersonating them by swimming and sounding like them to attract their attention, but it was all worth it to be circled by dozens of dolphins at arms reach. We then spent the afternoon on the peninsula walk in pursuit of the seal colony. After passing several sheep, geese, ducklings, and a run in with an angry flock of nesting seagulls, we stumbled across hundreds of fur seals resting on rocks. The day really couldn't have been more perfect! Somewhere in between swimming with dolphins and lounging around with seals surrounded by views that can only be captured by the most skilled photographers in postcards, I fell in love with New Zealand and the way I felt at home there in a way I never have anywhere else.

Day 3 we boarded a bus to Picton where we went on a few nice walks to Bob's Bay and the Picton harbour lookout. We watched the sunset over the majestic cliffs on the ferry to Wellington through the gorgeous Marlborough Sounds. On the ferry we met our new friends Jacob and Tori whom we've nicknamed TJ for time sake. We spent the night at a hostel bar called Blend where it is the norm to dance on tables on a Monday night. I also met a guy from Tempe, Arizona who also graduated from ASU, which reminded me what a small world it is. After a sufficiently good night we successfully snuck back into our dorm room at the YHA without waking anyone up (we are now pros at this skilled task). 

Day 4 our lovely tour guides TJ showed us around Wellington. We explored the Te Papa museum where we saw the world's biggest giant dead squid and discovered that whales are really big after standing next to the remains of a baby blue pygmy whale which was a hundred times bigger then me. We also made stops at the Mt. Victoria lookout, the Weta cave and red rocks. I was disappointed to discover that Weta cave is not really a cave and in reality is just a museum for props from movies like Lord of The Rings. We ended the day with a long but surprisingly entertaining 5 hour road trip to Taupo where we played car games and almost died when the car brakes stopped working. Luckily some really unhelpful but friendly police pulled us over simply to wish us good luck getting to our hostel with broken brakes. After almost running into a building we found our hostel and settled in for the night. 

We spent day 5 exploring Tongariro National Park with breathtaking views of snow capped Mt Ruapehu and Mt. Tongariro. We climbed Mead's wall, which is in Lord of the Rings but was cool regardless of its movie "fame." We also did two small hikes to Taranaki and Tawhai Falls. Taranaki is a 20 meter waterfall pouring over a large lava formed ring of rocks and Tawhai is a gorgeous sight also formed by lava and used in the Lord of the Rings films. We ended the day with a spontaneous moonlit swim in the free hot springs near Huka Falls in Taupo. We got quite lost in our endeavor to find the hot springs without a light or any real sense of direction and came across several creatures in the dark, which I can only hope were just possums. 

Day 6 we spent roaming around Taupo. After a peaceful solo morning parasail with 360 views of Taupo 800 ft high,  I met up with the girls and our new Irish friend Fox for a sail boat ride on Lake Taupo. We sailed (literally they let me sail), to some Mauri rock carvings where we went for a refreshing (freezing) swim and climbed on the rocks for some cool photos. We also got a complimentary glass of wine! On our drive to Rotorua we stopped at the Wai-o-tapu natural hot springs for a free mud bath and clay facials and rushed over to Kerosene Creek so I could check it off my bucket list. We spent the night in an interesting and quirky hostel called Cactus Jack's which made me feel right at home with murals of Monument valley and other Arizona landscapes. We ended the night  dancing at a place called Pig and Whistle where we sipped on our $1 glass of wine and I convinced the band to play "Don't Stop Believing" (which believe me is a miracle for somewhere outside of America). 

Day 7's big adventure in Rotorua was white water rafting down the Kaituna River where I rafted down a 7 meter waterfall and made some nice German friends. Unfortunately I missed out on zorbing with Amanda and Manisha (rolling around in a human sized hamster ball) but rafting was great, and the Jurassic park scenery along the river wasn't half bad. We spent the evening playing German king's cup with Bavarian playing cards and I learned to cheers in German "prost."

Day 8 we ended our journey in Auckland. On the way we stopped at the Waitoma glow worm caves, where we took an under ground boat ride with cave ceilings above us covered in hundreds of bright blue lights that looked like the night sky. After arriving in Auckland and settling into our 8 bed mixed dorm room complete with a crazy French guy who kept screaming about a break up and throwing his phone, we befriended our two friendly Irish cousin roommates. We all spent the day walking around Auckland and hanging out at Mission Bay. In the evening we gained an addition to the group, a lovely American Peace Corps Volunteer who joined us dancing.

We took a quick nap and caught an early morning flight back to Sydney. We jam packed 8 towns into 8 days and I wouldn't have changed much about the experience. We saw amazing scenery, met some great people, and made some crazy memories. My only regret is not staying longer and seeing the rest of the country (specifically Queenstown)! I definitely recommend anyone planning a trip to NZ to dedicate at least a month. I have a tendency to fall in love with a lot of places that I travel to, but NZ was truly special and will forever have a place in my heart. I am determined to go back!

Some highlights of the trip (in no particular order):

Tongariro National Park (Mt Ruapehu in the background)

Picton Harbour

Mead's Wall

Tawhai Falls
swimming with dusky dolphins in Kaikoura

The view from our hostel in Kaikoura

Kaikoura Peninsula walk (seal colony)

Lake Taupo

some old and new friends in Wellington 

Mt Ruapehu

wai-o-tapu hot springs

sunset over the Marlborough Sounds
red rocks in Wellington

Taranaki Falls

some yoga at the Picton harbor lookout

view from above Taranaki Falls

Maori rock carvings on Lake Taupo
Our new Irish Friends Tommy and Paddy in Auckland at Mission Bay

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