Saturday, August 14, 2010

Reflections of New Zealand

Hello all,

For those of you still reading, I salute you. This will be my last post on this blog, and I must again apologize for taking so long in writing this. It's taken a while to sort out my thoughts, and what with trying to enjoy the last bits of summer in Traverse City, I haven't had a ton of time to sit down and process everything. It's been over a month since I returned from New Zealand, and I miss it more and more each day. It seems totally surreal to me that only a month ago I was on the other side of the world, living on my own in a complete paradise. I only just got home, and already I can't wait to go back. I hope that it's sooner rather than later.

One of the biggest differences that I keep telling people between the US and NZ is the level of stress associated with everyday life. In New Zealand, the "no worries" attitude is everywhere, and everyone just has a good time. Over here, it seems like every second of my day is consumed by stress, trying to get one thing done after another, with no time to spare to just ENJOY life. For me, that has been the hardest part about being home, and it makes me long for the simpler days of my time in New Zealand.

It's wonderful to be back home and see all of the people I left behind, but now I have a whole new set of friends to miss in the people that I met while over there. I am excited to start my senior year of school soon, and I am hoping that not TOO much has changed in my time away. I know I certainly changed while I was over there, and it has been quite an adjustment for me easing back into my old life while wearing a new outlook.

Now I'm just rambling, and I had hoped that this final post would be so much more deep and thoughtful, but I guess it's hard to really put into words how I am feeling. I left a piece of my soul in New Zealand, and I hope someday I can return to that place and feel whole again. Until then, I will enjoy my life here to the best of my abilities, and try to spread the positivity that I absorbed while in New Zealand to everyone around me.

To all those who read this blog, though it was incredibly infrequent and disjointed, I thank you. I hope it was enjoyable to travel along with me :-)

To all of my friends that I met while in the Land of the Long White Cloud, I miss you terribly, and I promise you I will see you all again before too long.

To Aotearoa itself, you captured my spirit, and helped me find my way. I am forever indebted to you. I will see you again. I promise.

That's all for now.

Much love to you all,


Friday, July 9, 2010

The All Blacks: New Zealand's Superheroes

Hi Gang,

If there was one thing I was told I should do while in New Zealand, it was see a rugby match featuring the Kiwi all-star team, the All Blacks. And boy, was that an understatement. As soon as my last final was finished, I hopped in a van with 7 of my mates and headed down to the town of Hamilton, where the All Blacks would be facing off against Wales in a test match later that evening. The ride down was pretty ridiculous, as I was driving the whole way and everyone else was partaking in a certain...erm...activity. If you have ever seen college students at any type of sporting event, you can probably guess why Sober Sweeney was the only one fit to drive.

Anyway, blatant violations of open-alcohol policies aside, we had a blast all the way down. We saw a double rainbow at one point, which was gorgeous. When we got to the game, things were crazy. There were SO many people there, and it was pretty clear who was the favorite to win. There were painted faces, NZ flags, and All Blacks regalia everywhere. The game began with the All Blacks' traditional Haka, a Māori war dance meant to intimidate their opponents. If it were me out there, it certainly would have worked. These massive men were terrifying, and I would not have wanted to be on the Welsh team one bit. I have never been to a professional sporting match before, let alone a rugby game, and the excitement in the air was feverish. The game was tons of fun to watch, and the AB's stomped Wales as predicted, but the most fun part of the experience for me was just spending time with this group of people I had grown to care about so much over the past 5 months. It was our last hurrah as a group, and I couldn't have imagined a better way to spend it my night.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of my blog in the following post. Till next time!


The All Blacks: New Zealand's Superheroes

Coming full circle

Hi folks,

As our time in New Zealand neared an end, my mates and I found ourselves feeling nostalgic and reminiscing about our first impressions of this beautiful country. We recalled that our first week had been spent in the town of Rotorua, and there had been a few activities that we weren't able to do during our time there, yet still wanted to. Feeling spontaneous, four of us rented a car and drove down to Rotorua for a Saturday getaway. Upon arriving at our destination, we prepared for our first activity of the day: ZORBing. For the unfamiliar, ZORBing involves being placed in a giant hamster ball-like sphere filled with warm water, and then rolling down a large hill. Sounds awesome, right? Well, it WAS. It was the most action-packed bath I have ever taken. It's hard to describe the feeling of being inside a ZORB ball, except to say that I now know what fruit feels like as it's being blended into a smoothie.

After ZORBing, we got some lunch, and then headed down to Lake Rotorua for the next exciting activity: Jet Boating. Imagine being on a speedboat, but that boat is strapped to a race car, and there's about 15 people in the boat. That's sort of what it was like. We put on splash jackets and hopped in the boat, and the second we were away from the dock, our guide hit the gas and took us speeding away on the ride of our lives. Every time our guide would turn sharply, one side of the boat would get splashed with a huge, sulfury wave. Yum. The ride was punctuated by fun facts about the lake and the island in the middle of it, and overall, it was just a wonderful, fun experience.

After jet boating, we strolled into Rotorua for some souvenir shopping, and then drove home once we had emptied our wallets thoroughly. It was a wonderful day spent with great friends, and one I will remember for a long time.

More to come soon!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

South Island Tales

Ok, ok. I know. I am terrible at this blog. Seriously. But here's a long one to make up for it!


Classes at the University of Auckland ended the first week of June, and with nothing but exams to look forward to, I needed an escape. My friend Haylee and I decided to fly down to the South Island for a week of adventures to get away from the big city for a little while before having to return to take finals. What follows is an account of our trip...


We left Auckland at 9:30 AM on Monday, June 7th and flew into the city of Christchurch. After picking up our rental car (which we named "Elizabeth," as it was the Queen's birthday the day we got it), we headed into town. This was my first time being in the city, and we had all day to drive to our next destination, so we decided to explore for a while before heading out. We headed to the city's namesake, the ChristChurch Cathedral, and took a look inside. It was a gorgeous old cathedral, and the artwork and architecture was simply breathtaking.

We climbed a long flight of stairs to the cathedral tower, and headed outside to get a look at the city. It was ridiculously windy up there, but the view of Christchurch was excellent! After we left the cathedral, we stopped in the square to watch a couple of men playing on a giant chessboard. Of course we couldn't just stand by and watch, so we decided to get involved.

After a quick lunch, we hopped in the car and headed north, toward the seaside city of Kaikoura, famous for its whale-watching tours (which we were scheduled for the following day). Along the way we stopped to get some fresh air along the coast, and saw some beautiful scenery. We made it to Kaikoura just before dark, and we were able to find a nifty hostel to stay in for the night. After checking in, we headed next door for a delicious dinner of fish and chips, a Kiwi standard. After dinner we went back to the hostel and watched a really old, incredibly low-quality VHS of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade before heading to bed for an early sleep. Not a bad way to spend the evening. :-)


We rolled out of bed early in the morning and went to a cafe down the street for a quick breakfast. We then headed to the whale watch center to confirm that our adventure was still on for the day.

It wasn't.

The whale watch had been cancelled due to "rough seas." We were majorly bummed, but at least we got a full refund! Determined not to let the bad news get us down, we decided to hop in the car and get ahead of schedule by driving to Punakaiki several hours earlier than we had planned. The drive there was around 5 hours, but it was gorgeous...well...mostly. When we got into the mountains it started to snow...hard. I thought I had left snow behind when I came here, but apparently not. Anywho, we made it through the snow, and as soon as we were out of it, it was sunny and 70 degrees again. And I thought MICHIGAN had erratic weather.

Speaking of driving, I forgot to mention: I DROVE on this trip. A lot. On the LEFT side of the road. It was difficult at first to adjust, but I eventually got used to it. Of course, I'll probably have to re-learn how to drive in America now, so T.C. folks, stay clear of me on the road for the first few weeks.

We made it to Punakaiki right at sunset, and we hopped out of the car and raced to see the famed "pancake rocks" and blowholes. These rocks were a natural land formation that looked like, well, stacks of pancakes. There were holes in the rock face where the waves would crash and shoot up into the air. It was awesome, and really a beautiful way to watch the sun set. We continued along to a town called Greymouth, where we quickly found a nice little hostel for the night. We grabbed a quick bite and made small talk with some Australians who were also staying there. We went to bed around 9 PM, feeling thoroughly pooped from our long day.


We woke up early, but since we essentially had an extra day on our hands (due to the whale watch cancellation), we weren't sure what to do. We decided to head south, and along the way, we came across a little place called Shantytown. It turns out it was an old gold mining town from way back in the day which had been restored into an authentic historical experience. We spent the day there panning for gold, taking old-timey pictures in costumes, and riding on old steam train. I felt like a six-year-old, but I had the time of my life. After Shantytown, we headed to a place called Woods Creek, and took a beautiful 45 minute walk through the forest. I have never seen a forest so naturally gorgeous. I kept saying it looked like an enchanted forest, and I half expected pixies to pop out at every turn. Along the walk, we went into some old mining caves and even got a chance to see some glowworms up close in their natural habitat. Very cool. After Woods Creek, we drove further south to Fox Glacier for the night and headed to bed around 8 PM.


We had some time to kill in the morning before our glacier hike, so we drive a little way to Lake Matheson and decided to do a walk around the lake. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and the weather was just perfect. After our walk, we stopped in at the cafe next to the lake, and had the most delicious potato wedges I have ever eaten. Honestly. They were so, so good. As we were heading back to Fox, we saw a gorgeous rainbow, the perfect cherry on top of a lovely morning.

We checked in at the glacier hike headquarters and got all our gear on, and then it was off to Fox Glacier. When we arrived there, I was in awe. The glacier was MASSIVE. I mean that thing was HUUUUUGE. We hiked up into the woods next to the glacer, and after 45 minutes or so, we reached a point where we were able to walk onto the surface. We got alpenstocks (walking sticks) and put on our crampons (basically like cleats) and headed onto the glacier. The first thing I noticed was how BLUE it was. It was gorgeous out there. We hiked for quite a while, and it eventually started to rain. My camera got wet, and when it started taking foggy pictures, I thought for certain it was a goner. However, when we got back to the car, I put it on the heater, and it was soon back to normal. Close call.

After the glacier, we headed south again. It became apparent that we were almost out of gas, and there wasn't another gas station for miles. We had no choice but to pull into a small town on the side of the road, and, upon finding out that all of their accommodations were full for the night, we were forced to sleep in our tiny little car. Needless to say, it was not the most comfortable night of our trip.


The following morning we woke up early and drove on fumes to the town's gas station. Unfortunately, it didn't open until 8:00 AM, so we had to sit and wait for a while. When it finally did open, they told us there had been a power outage all along the West coast, and they wouldn't be able to pump any gas.


By a stroke of luck, the power was back on within the hour, and we hightailed it out of there. After driving for most of the day, we finally made it to the Catlins, a beautiful region toward the bottom of the South Island that featured many natural landmarks, such as caves and waterfalls. We headed toward the Cathedral Caves first, but when we arrived,we found they were closed for the day. I wasn't aware that you could "close" a cave, but apparently you can. Anyway, we headed to our next destination, the Purakaunui Falls, which we found after a short hike through yet another lovely forest. The falls themselves were very pretty, and it was nice to finally get out of the car for a bit. After the falls, we headed to our final bit of scenery for the day, Nugget Point. This area was named for the "nugget-like" rocks that jutted out into the ocean at the end of a long peninsula. At the top of Nugget Point there was an old lighthouse, which looked awesome against the setting sun. The view from the end of the point was astounding, unlike anything I've ever seen. There was nothing but ocean for miles and miles, and I felt so small and insignificant when faced with such a massive expanse of water. Truly a humbling experience, and not one I will ever forget.

After Nugget Point, Haylee and I headed to the city of Dunedin to stay with my friend Liz for the night. We went to a cool little pub and Haylee bought me my birthday dinner that she had promised me exactly 2 months prior (Friday was the 11th). A very relaxing end to a very long day.


We woke up early in the morning and, after a quick breakfast, we headed about 15 minutes outside of Dunedin to a little place called Tunnel Beach. As the legend goes, a man carved a tunnel in the rocks by himself so that his wife and daughter would have access to a private beach. We followed a long trail through pastures of sheep all the way down to a rocky area near the ocean, and headed down into the tunnel. The beach itself was amazing. It was completely secluded, and it looked as though no one had ever set foot there. The water was crystal clear, and as the sun was still rising, the way the early morning light was cast on everything was breathtaking. We ran around down there for a while, got (unintentionally) soaking wet, and then headed back up through the tunnel.

On our way back up, we noticed that a large rock jutting out into the ocean looked just like Pride Rock from The Lion King. Obviously we did the only thing we could do: bundled up our coats like a baby Simba and struck Rafiki-like poses atop it.

After Tunnel Beach, we drove to Lake Tekapo, famous for its beautiful blue water. I have never seen water that shade of blue, and it was an amazing feeling. Standing there beneath mountains staring out over the bluest water I have ever seen, I felt so small, and so ALIVE. Granted, it was freezing cold and the wind was wailing, but it was still an incredibly invigorating experience.

We headed to the skiing village of Methven for the night, and ate a delicious meal at the Blue Pub (which the man who ran the hostel recommended over the Brown Pub. Those were the actual names. Awesome). After dinner we watched Bruce Almighty and then went to bed.


Haylee and I awoke on Sunday to a heavy snowfall. Our car was completely covered in snow, and we started to worry about how we were going to get to Mt. Hutt, our skiing destination for the day, but we decided to chance it and not worry about snow tires. Luckily, the people at Mt. Hutt anticipate idiots like us, and they have snow tires available for rental on the way up the mountain. Thank goodness they REQURE them, cuase there is now way I would have made it up without them. I had no idea this would be the most nerve-wracking and stressful driving of my life. The path up the mountain was barely big enough for ONE car, let alone two-way traffic. One either side of me, there was a steep drop of, oh, a couple HUNDRED feet or so. No big deal. And did I mention the road was covered with snow and ice? And it was snowing HEAVILY the whole time I was driving? And the drive was about 45 MINUTES!!??


So, after cheating death for nearly an hour, we FINALLY made it to the ski resort located on top of Mt. Hutt. After getting our lift passes and gear, we were ready to hit the slopes! Well...the bunny hill. Did I mention that this was my first time skiing in about 6 years? And Haylee's first time EVER? We decided to take it slow starting out, but after a few runs down the bunny hill, we were ready for the big time! We hopped on a chairlift and headed to the top of the mountain, basking in the beautiful sunlight and freshly falling snow. It was a gorgeous day out, and the hills were perfect for skiing on. We stayed for 4 hours or so, and had a great time enjoying the fresh mountain air and the fantastic hills. After we were finished skiing, we had another terrifying drive back down the mountain. We finally made it out, and hit the road for Christchurch, our final destination of the trip. We rolled into Christchurch pretty late, got some dinner, and headed to bed.


We had to wake up pretty early to check out of the hostel, so we went across the street and ate at the ChristChurch Cathedral cafe. We didn't have much else to do, so we decided to just go to the airport and wait around for our afternoon flight. At the airport, we went up on the roof and watched a few planes take off. Boredom was setting in, and with hours to go, we thought we were done for. Luckily, we discovered several of our friends at the gate who were also returning from the South Island to Auckland, so we passed the time sharing stories of our adventures. Our flight was delayed several times, but we finally were able to board and headed back to Auckland late in the evening. It was a wonderful trip, and a great way to have one last thrilling adventure before my time in New Zealand was up.

That's all for now, and I promise, the conclusion of this blog will come soon. Thanks for sticking with me. :-)



Friday, June 18, 2010

Canyoning: Wet n' Wild

Hello everyone!

Once again, I MUST apologize that it has been so long since my last post. The reason this time is that I have been out having all sorts of adventures, and haven't been near a computer for very long lately. I promise I will write SEVERAL blogs in the next few days to bring you all up to speed on what I have been doing down under.

To start off, a couple of weeks ago, a few friends and I got up VERY early one Saturday morning to go canyoning. For those not familiar with this particular activity, canyoning is a mix of abseiling (rappelling) down waterfalls and traversing through rivers. Anywho, we hopped in a van with our guides and drove to a shed in the middle of nowhere where we all put on wetsuits and water shoes. We hopped back in the van and drove a little longer, till we got to the start point. We headed down to the river and stopped briefly for a quick lesson on abseiling. Immediately after this, it was time for the first jump, which was FREEZING. We jumped off a ledge into a huge pool of water beneath, and if we weren't awake already, that certainly did the job.


We continued down the river, jumping off a few more ledges and generally freezing our butts off, but having a heck of a time in the process. Our first big abseil down a waterfall was pretty scary for me, due to me ever-present fear of heights, but I managed pretty well. We broke for lunch afterward, and got a chance to see Albert, an eel who lives in a pool beneath the first big waterfall. After lunch, we had more jumps and abseils, and one cool rock that we slid down headfirst...BACKWARDS. By the end we were all very wet and cold, but it was an awesome experience, and a great way to spend the day. I would highly recommend canyoning to anyone looking for a little adventure to spice up their life. :-)

Stay tuned for an epic blog covering my eight-day trip to the South Island!


Friday, May 28, 2010

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Hello all,

It's been almost 20 days since my last post, and I apologize to those of you that think I died or got abducted. I said I would write again when I did something worth writing about, but the truth is, I haven't done a whole lot lately. May has been kind of a bad month for me. Not that anything particularly bad has happened, just not a whole lot has gone on. First of all, the weather's been quite gloomy, and I kid you not, it's rained every day for almost 3 weeks. This has prevented much of the travel and outside activities that filled my early months here, and I have been spending a lot of time just sitting in my apartment. I have also been kind of sick on and off, which is probably a combination of the weather, homesickness, and my less-than-excellent diet. Now, some of you may say "you're in New Zealand! You should be living it up, having a ball!" and I would agree with you, I should be. The truth is, I may have let my homesickness get the best of me for the past few weeks, and seeing pictures of everyone back home enjoying the beautiful summer weather and all their free time kind of makes me wish I could be there with them. I guess you never really know how much you will miss the people who matter most to you until you are uprooted from your life and whisked away to the other side of the globe.

Anyway, with a month and a week (35 days) left to go in New Zealand, I have resolved to make the most of the rest of my time here, cause I am sure that you folks don't want to read any more of these lame, melancholy blogs posts. :-)

This coming week is my last week of classes, and then immediately afterward my friend Haylee and I are going to the South Island for a week of adventures. The projected activities include whale-watching, lots of beautiful natural sights, and climbing a glacier. It should be a very enjoyable breath of fresh air for me. After that I have exams, and then the whole gang will be capping off exam week with a trip to see a professional rugby game!

All in all, I have absolutely loved my time here, but I think one more month will just about do it for me. Thank you all for reading, and I promise my next post will be far less dreary. I can't wait to see you all and tell you firsthand about my adventures in Kiwi Land. :-)

Till next time!


P.S. I finally got out of the apartment tonight and went to see the musical Avenue Q with my friends Mallory and Haylee. If you haven't seen this show, I cannot recommend it enough. Absolutely hilarious. :-)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Week 13: The Windy City

No, not THAT Windy City, The one to which I refer is Wellington, capital of New Zealand.

I took a trip there last weekend to see Regina Spektor in concert, but before we got to that, I spent a couple of days just seeing the sights. I went with my friend Alana (a fellow AustraLearn student studying in Hamilton), and we stayed with her friend Carly, a Kiwi she had met at camp back in the States the summer before. It was wonderful having our very own tour guide to take us all around the beautiful city of Wellington. On Saturday, Carly took us on a little tour of downtown Wellington, after which we visited the Te Papa museum and took in some of the history and culture of New Zealand. It was a really cool museum, with an exhibit on marine life that I really loved. Afterward, Alana and I went to see the movie "Boy," a New Zealand film about a young Māori boy growing up in New Zealand. It was a very funny and well done film, and surprisingly, I got most of the humor (even though I was warned ahead of time that it might be too "kiwi" for me to understand).

The next day we went to the Wellington Zoo, and we had a blast! There were so many cool animals that I had never seen before, like kangaroos, emus, and dingoes. It was a load of fun, and a great way to spend the day. I definitely felt like a little kid again. :-)

After the zoo, we met up with my friend Colin (whom I spent a good potion of Fall break with on the South Island), and he took us up a big hill to see the "Trippy Tree." Now, I'll admit, I was a bit skeptical at first because Colin talked this tree up a lot. But when we got there, we discovered it really was as cool as he had claimed. The root structure of the tree was so strong that you could climb all the way up to the canopy and sit on top of the branches at the top. From that height, we could see all of Wellington, and it was a lovely sight indeed.

The following day, we headed to the cable car which took us up to the Carter Observatory, high above Wellington. We spent the day learning about space, and took in a very cool video presentation. That evening Alana and I went to the Wellington Opera House for the Regina Spektor Concert. She put on an excellent show, and I had a great time. Tuesday morning I took a 12 hour bus ride back to Auckland, and here I am!

More to come when I get out and do something worth writing about!

I love and miss you all,


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