Thursday, December 23, 2010

Piano Jazz and Dry Erase Markers

Nelson airport: the fourth busiest airport in New Zealand. About half the size of the Ithaca airport and the "security checkpoint" consisted of scanning my boarding pass and telling me which direction my gate was. Somehow, though, it was the first place I actually felt a bit of the Christmas spirt. (A difficult thing for a northerner when your days are piled high with sunshine and beaches.) The decorated Christmas trees, the live jazz pianist playing Christmas carols, the enclosed space from which you couldn't really tell the weather outside, the families actually meeting travelers at the gate when they arrive; it was lovely. I felt like I was a bystander in the scene at Hethrow airport in Love Actually. And now I get to meet my family when they arrive! Unfortunately Christchurch is slightly bigger, so I can't wait right at the gate, but I will see them through the next door at baggage claim!

A 50 minute flight hardly gives you enough time to look through the in-flight magazine before you land again, but it turned out to be quite an enjoyable one for me. I sat in my assigned seat (though there were several people who moved to the empty seats up front) and an older genteleman motioned that he was supposed to sit in my row at the window. As I stood to let him in, I realized I had actually read his lips rather than listening to his voice when he talked. After we settled in I noticed he had a small whiteboard and a dry erase marker with him. I got excited, thinking perhaps he was deaf, but then realized I know AMERICAN Sign Language and even if he was a deaf Kiwi who did sign, he would most definitely not use ASL.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Picture Story... Takaka and Abel Tasman!

Since I arrived in Takaka a day early, I spent the extra day exploring all of the little shops and galleries in this tiny hippie town. In the evening I cycled down to the Hangdog campground (a climber's Mecca), where Dave and his students are staying for their 10 day south island trip. Hangdog lies right next to a river with some excellent swimming holes and a short walk from what is said to be one of NZ's best outdoor climbing areas.

As I am writing this (and talking about it) someone at the cafe where I'm sitting just asked if Hangdog is opened again or not. Apparently they had some problems with the city council and the Department of Conservation regarding the quantity of facilities for the number of climbers that flock there during the summer months. They are not open for camping, but have fortunately allowed Dave and his students to use the bunkhouse for their annual trip. This is a hot topic around town, as the managers of the backpackers (and several other randoms) have asked about it - trying to anticipate the increase of climbers patronizing thier own establishments if the Hangdog fails to reopen for the summer.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

She'll Be Right

I remember having a conversation with someone in the first month or so of my travels about how much I enjoyed the "Kiwi outlook" on life because everyone is so laid back, no matter where you go. There is a Kiwi saying "she'll be right" that explains this well - everything will, eventually, turn out okay... whether or not you actually do anything about whatever the current circumstance. I think the concept is based on a "don't worry" sort of attitude (because we all know many of us worry waaaay too much), but the person I was discussing it with (a Kiwi) said he thought it was borderline laziness and nobody ever got anything done.

I haven't really agreed with him until I tried to make plans for this week. I have planned for a while now to join Dave and some of his students on their "South Island Trip" to go rock climbing in Paynes Ford (abut two hours away from Nelson, where I have been staying). The only question was how I was going to get to Takaka (the nearest town). I decided to ask at the rock climbing wall and it turned out that lots of climbers head to Paynes Ford when they have a chance because it is some of NZ's best outdoor climbing! I was offered a ride from some who were going up Wednesday to climb for the day, but weren't sure if they would leave Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Well, Nelson, one of the top two sunniest places in NZ, decided Tuesday was a good day to rain for the first time in ages. This postponed the plans to go up Tuesday night (and made me find a new hostel to stay the night since the other was booked) and when it was still rainy this morning, the plans to climb today were cancelled completely.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Yoga Workshop

I keep procrastinating when it comes to writing this post. Today I went out to lunch, rode a bike to the climbing gym and had an intense hour-long bouldering session, continued on said bike through some strong winds to the beach (beautiful!) where I met up with some fellow backpackers from my hostel, took a swim in the ocean, biked back to the hostel, ate dinner, took a shower, shook out all of my sand-coated belongings (it was quite windy at the beach), mended a couple things that required repairing (thanks, Mom, I've used the sewing kit a few times now!), chatted with new travelers at the hostel, checked my bank accounts, went on facebook, and then stared at a blank screen for a while before writing. Even now, by summarizing my day I have put off getting into my real reason for writing!

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend a three day Ashtanga Yoga workshop with Peter Sanson, a fairly well known name in the Ashtanga world. (No, I didn't really know of him until I did my research.) He studied with the Guru who popularized Ashtanga yoga (though it has been around for thousands of years), and now goes around leading yoga workshops all over the world. He was born a Kiwi, but moved to India to study with his Guru for 21 years. He has since returned to NZ to raise his two-year-old son while continuing to travel for workshops. Sometimes Peter will teach a "led" class where everyone stays at the same pace as they move through the series of Ashtanga poses, but more often he leads workshops where each individual moves through the poses at their own pace  (called "Mysore style" or supervised self-practice). During these sessions, Peter moves around the room and makes adjustments to correct positioning or assist you in going further in your practice. He is a gifted teacher and uses a gentle hands-on approach to encourage you - and your body - to release into the practice of Ashtanga Yoga.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

RT everywhere!

Today I went on the swings just because. I was walking through a park and there was a swing set with wooden seats (you know, the ones that don't crush your hips when you're an adult) just begging to be played on. I thought about how if I were with any of my friends, I would be racing them to the swings, but since I was alone I found myself looking around to see who would be watching (and judging) me. I then realized I am in the middle of a foreign country in which I have met a handful of people that I might never see again, and... who cares anyway? I love swinging, so why shouldn't I swing if I want to?! It was beautiful. Hot in the sun but actually chilly in the shade with the breeze and the movement of the swing. I really enjoyed having a few minutes on that swing with the wind blowing in my face! I had no appointments (aside from a rock climbing date later in the evening) so took advantage of my freedom and it felt so good!

In case you've never tried it, it's a little hard to get a picture of yourself on a swing--and capture the essence of swinging--without setting up a tripod on a delayed timer, etc. :)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


So, now I have had my butt kicked by a climbing wall twice in less than a week. I instigated a bit of an adventure on my last day with Meg's family. Summer spent the day with Nana so I could "shout" Meg, Joshua, and Eilidh a day at the climbing gym in Palmerston North. In kiwi terms, that means I paid (in order to say thank you for putting me up... and putting up with me). It wasn't the biggest gym, but they had a good variety of interesting climbs. Joshua hopped on the wall and got to the top right off the bat, and Meg did really well too. Eilidh needed a little time to watch us climb and then tried herself, getting about 3/4 of the way up her first time. She didn't get quite as far on her remaining attempts, but did pretty well for a four-and-a-half-year-old! Both of the kids seemed to really enjoy the bouldering area that wasn't quite so high and scary. Joshua was even trying some overhangs by the time we left! It was easy to see that the entire family has the natural ability to climb and all three said they would like to go back again! The only one who didn't seem to enjoy it was Yulana because she was quite tired but there were far too many interesting things to look at instead of sleeping.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Let me tell you how it can be a little awkward to show up on a dairy farm and announce that you are lactose intolerant. It wasn't that my audience was unreceptive about my dietary restrictions, but it did become a bit of a running joke throughout my stay. Meg was very good to me and claimed she had fun being creative with her cooking. She made plenty of tasty meals (and sweet treats), and adapted some recipes so I would be able to taste some traditional Kiwi (and Scottish) cuisine!

My dad has sometimes commented about how I would be an asset to a dairy farmer if I was keen on helping out because I wouldn't be tempted to drink any of the profits. Well, it turns out that the only thing the family consumes directly from the farm (aside from the meat they freeze every year) is eggs... not heaps of raw milk! Even so, it seemed like almost a threat that they wanted me to help out at the cow shed some day, since time was passing and it never actually happened.

It came up again two days before my departure, and it was agreed that (rather than leaving at half past five in the morning) I would help out with the afternoon milking the next day. Todd stopped by the house after riding his horses on Thursday and picked me up on his motorbike (4-wheeler). He lent me a pair of overalls (full coverage, neck to ankle, and fairly huge since Todd is tall) and I borrowed a random pair of gumboots when I got to the shed (also ginormous on me). I later understood the importance of both of these articles, as without them I would have been covered in fresh brown splatter marks and up to my ankles in slop!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Well done, Nanny" [composed 22ish November 2010]

I haven't updated in a while because I have actually been staying in one place (for the time being anyway)! Instead of bouncing from one adventure to the next, I hopped off my tour bus at a Honey Shop on the major highway heading south, right smack dab in the middle of farm country. I am staying with one of the only contacts I knew in New Zealand before I set off on my journey: my sister's "Scottish sister." How does that work? Well, I'm not sure what else to call her, but my sister spent 6 months living with Meg and her family in Scotland while they were in high school. Now Meg lives in the outskirts of Palmerston North with her husband and four kids on a dairy farm, and she invited me to stop in for "as long as I would like." Little did she know I would actually take her up on this offer and stay for just short of three weeks!

The accommodation is lovely: a flat to myself with a huge bed, plenty of room for my nightly yoga, way more couches and overstuffed chairs than I would ever need, my own bathroom (or "toilet" as they're called over here), and even a little kitchenette (as if I would ever need to use it with all the food provided in the main house!) The flat is separate from the house, both of which are nestled at the end of a long gravel driveway. Outside my window is the paddock that belongs to Misty, the pony, and behind that is the chook house. In just about every direction, there are various paddocks occupied by Jersey (brown) cows, that are rotated around depending on the day or time. The driveway branches off to loop around the house and the rest turns into the "track" that leads up the family farm to the cow shed, where the milking takes place.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Slow Travel

I've decided that I am meant for "slow travel." Whether hiking or walking or taking in scenery or visiting a museum or even making plans, I like to follow my own pace. Sometimes it is quite fun to plan a day chock-full of activities and meals and adventures, particularly if you have a time restraint. Some of my favorite memories include times where I planned out several highlights of whatever town I was living in, in order to show around a visitor who was only there for a short time. There are times, however, where one or two things per day seem to be plenty, and allow you time to relax and enjoy yourself for the rest of the day. This may sound lazy or boring, but I have come to really appreciate my down time when it comes!

I have been in New Zealand for a month so far, and I love it. I have had crazy busy days where I crash into my pillow at the end of the day, but I have also had a few laid back days where I accomplished hardly anything. Of course I enjoy looking back at the days where I can't believe that I did so many things, and went so many places, but they sure are tiring! I am beginning to prefer the days where I do one or two things of note, but also allow some time to breathe, to take in the world, to reflect, to stretch, and to write.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Picture Story... Road Trip!

I know, they are long awaited as I keep talking about all the wonderful things I'm doing in such beautiful places but you have yet to see what I mean! It's difficult to upload pictures with limited internet access, so I have omitted them for the most part so far. But, alas, I am going add some here from the road trip I took with Nate last weekend so you can finally have a taste the beauty I see every day :)

Here is our rental, at a look out along the major road (one lane each direction) that brought us up the Coromandel Peninsula. Looking at a map of the North Island, the Coromandel is the piece of land that sticks up in the middle, East of Auckland.
We arrived at Whitianga and found a backpackers (hostel) on the water where we ended up staying for two nights. Here are some awesome clouds from the beach the first night!

Acts of Love

I find it hard to summarize the amazing experiences I've had in a blog post. I have only been in New Zealand for three weeks now, and yet it feels like much longer. I am so glad I decided to come for a full year, as I can only begin to imagine how much more there is to see and do! In three weeks I have managed to squeeze in some couchsurfing, a three day tramp, some WWOOFing, an extensive road trip, heaps of beach visits, a bit of rock climbing, and even some down time here and there. I am happy to be here, and still glad I am adventuring alone!

I met a German girl at a hostel this past weekend who is also on a working holiday. She has been here about the same length of time as I have, but said she is going home next month. She explained that traveling alone is not for her and she really misses having a place to call home. She talked about meeting tons of people in different hostels and while traveling, but how she was sick of sleeping in a different place every night. I can empathise with the part about hopping from place to place. It was nice when Nate and I spent two nights in the same hostel and we didn't have to pack up everything for once. It was also nice to have a "home base" while I was WWOOFing, but there were other aspects to that situation that made up for it. I haven't, however, actually done much traveling solo. I have been alone during different parts of my journey, but always had a companion (or several) to spend time with if I wanted to. This is partially due to the circumstances of events, but largely by design. I like to think I know myself well enough to plan for what I can handle. Then again, getting to know myself is what this adventure is all about!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Quick Summary... [composed 30 October 2010]

These past few days have been a bit of a whirlwind of new experiences. Once again my days have been busy with little time to write, so instead of an extremely long post, I think I will have to summarize in list form. In the past three days I: learned to drive on the left side of the road, enjoyed the best chai latte I have ever had (twice), kayaked to a place called Lonely Bay and enjoyed much of the morning with just two people on the beach (Nate and myself), scampered up an overgrown path to Shakespeare Cliffs (and ran into a couple who had DRIVEN to the top), did cartwheels and handstands in the surf, took LOTS of pictures, visited Stingray Bay and didn't see any, hiked to Cathedral Cove for what Nate has deemed the "quintessential NZ picture" where I did more cartwheels (and headstands) in the surf, climbed numerous rock structures on various beaches, took more pictures, dug a hole at Hot Water Beach to create a personal hot-spring-fed hot tub (okay, so I didn't dig one from scratch, but I helped maintain one somebody else had left), grilled a tasty dinner on a BBQ that took ages to cook, drove on the longest unpaved road I had ever experienced (complete with many one lane bridges), hugged a Kaori tree, ate lunch on the beach, and several other things I'm sure I'm forgetting!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Think left.

I had heard Nate talk about how every American he's ever seen drive a car in New Zealand turns on the windshield ("windscreen" here) wipers instead of the turn signals, and hugs the outside edge of the lane to a frightening degree. Well, I had never driven a car on the "wrong" side of the road before, but I thought I would probably adjust pretty quickly.

The car we rented is manual, which means I am the designated driver. Of course it would happen that I stalled before we even pulled out of the driveway, but once I got used to the clutch, we were in business. We pulled out of the rental lot and first off made a right hand turn. Moving to the far side of the street I could handle, but sure enough I surprised myself by flicking the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal! With a little assistance turning them off (or, as it was, turning on the rear wipers as well, before figuring out how to turn them off) we were officially on our way! We made a stop at the grocery store to stock up on some food for the weekend and then headed out of Auckland towards the Coromandel Peninsula.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

be healthy, be happy [composted 27 October 2010]

Today I made a very large salad. I sliced each piece of the greens and piled it all together in one big lot. The tool? A bread knife. The greens? Weeds. HEAPS of weeds. Grasses, thistles, clovers, "docs," and many, many more. The WWOOFer task for the day was to weed the pond area. We were given spades (to remove the pesky "docs") and bread knives (for all the rest) to accomplish the task. The three WWOOFers spent much of the morning wondering why in the world there was not a weed-whacker to use for this job, and obligingly made progress around the pond amidst a chorus of extremely loud frogs.

This is not what I signed up for. Farming? Yes, when I am not helping with the rockwall business, household duties, or office work, I am helping to check off farm chores that nobody else around would like to do. Is it organic farming? No. Do my hosts help out alongside me and teach me about organic farming? No. When I took on this WWOOFer job, I knew it would be different from others, but thought the opportunity to work with the portable rock climbing wall business would make up for that.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Geekfest, beaches, and two minute showers. [composed 23 October 2010]

They say any publicity is good publicity, right? I'm not sure if that counts outside of celebrities, or if the actual reference point is not mentioned in the report, but I suppose it's a positive thought! On the way home from a rockwall gig yesterday, we heard a radio DJ say something to the affect of, "You know what we need to teach Kiwi kids in school? We need to teach them to tie stuff down to trailers. That way they know when objects are safe and secure and we won't have things like couches or rockwalls flying off all over the roads." Now, ROCKUP wasn't mentioned, but it's pretty clear what he was referring to! It would be nice if people got the facts straight. That rockwall wasn't about to "fly off" the trailer, in fact it was because it was so well connected that it simply turned on it's side! Anyway, there's not much point to going off on here about it, I just think it's interesting to be on the subject end to see how skewed information can get.

I've had some busy days lately, including working the rockwall at Armageddon (aka: geekfest in Auckland) which is a video game/comic book/wrestling convention/expo. It was certainly an interesting crowd, and not one for which rock climbing was very popular. We were located right next to the wrestling ring, so it was quite hard to hear yourself think for parts of the day--let alone talk to kids who wanted to climb! I did think it was humerus how incredibly fake and dramatic the "wrestling" next door to us was. Regardless of the crowd and the long hours, I had a good time. I started off as the "harness assistant" getting everybody set to climb, then changed out to take the money, and later was trained to be "climb master" and was in charge of all the climbers for a while.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Everything happens for a reason.

Today I woke up to a rooster crowing outside my window. It was 5:05am and I had already snoozed my alarm once. Still dark, I fumbled for the light switch and donned my new "ROCKUP" uniform. Having had my allotted 2 minute shower the night before, I went straight to get some breakfast and make my lunch.

ROCKUP is a company that delivers and facilitates portable rock climbing walls and various other inflatable/challenge/team building/fun activities to schools, parties, and other gatherings. My first day on the job and we were headed South to a primary school in Auckland (where I just came from yesterday) to run a rock climbing/team building session with various classes! I was riding with a nice English guy who has worked for ROCKUP for the past few seasons on working holidays like mine. He ran through the plans for the day as we made our way down the major highway (one lane each direction) and I watched bits of the sunrise through the rainclouds.

Now, before you go looking up ROCKUP and find a misleading news story, I am just as healthy, happy and well as in my post from yesterday! The thing is, that we never made it to Auckland.

Naked and Alone :-P [composed 19 October 2010]

I am on the Naked Bus headed for my next adventure. No, I'm not naked, I'm just riding with a bunch of backpackers, headed North. I will be WWOOFing (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) with a family--who happens to own a portable rock climbing wall--for the next couple weeks. Before I get too into my upcoming plans, I want to reflect a bit on this past weekend.

Tramping through the mountains East of Auckland allowed me to see things from a whole new perspective. The first day we hiked 4ish hours up to a very exposed and somewhat "dodgy" campsite called Moss Creek. The topographical map I was lent had lines everywhere, particularly some very close together on the way up to the campsite! The next day we set off on a 5ish hour hike in the rain out, around, down, up, down, and back up to a "hut" near Pinnacles, a high point in this area with a spectacular view. The hut was warm and dry, had a kitchen, two bunk rooms with mattresses, a wood burning stove, a huge barbeque grill, and an expansive deck. Needless to say, we did not rough it the second night of our trip, however it did feel like we had earned the respite! The last day we hiked back down to the road's end, where we had started.

The hike was steeper, wetter, longer, and harder than any I had experienced in quite some time, and despite using (and very much appreciating) a loaner pair of trekking poes, my knees were not too happy with the additional weight of my pack and the constant stair-like trails. They were aching from the first day, however I think it was because of this that I had a chance to really take in my surroundings.

Monday, October 18, 2010

fun as; muddy as; sore as; sweet as!

I could not have asked for a better host to introduce me to such a beautiful country! "Mase," as his students call him, provided me with ample opportunities to get out and be active, while learning a bit about Kiwi culture at the same time! In my first five days, I went to an intense Bikram yoga class, rode a bike to some beautiful cliffs overlooking Auckland and took a walk with my camera, chatted with some neighbors, tried Marmite, sat on a deck overlooking the ocean to draw, learned the difference between the buttons on a Kiwi toilet, climbed at an enormous indoor rock climbing gym (and began to figure out the comparisons between NZ and US route ratings), discovered a chocolate bar called "Dairy Free" that tastes amazingly like milk chocolate, tried to play the Ukulele, army-crawled through the "Cube of Doom" (an awesome self-esteem/self-discovery/trust/courage-based maze challenge Mase built in his outdoor education classroom), hiked/tramped for probably 12 hours in a matter of 3 days, slept in a bivi under the stars, taught some introductory yoga to high schoolers, played  an extreme game of Egyptian Rat Screw with some random working holiday travelers in a hut up in the mountains, actually ran out of games and challenges stored in my brain because these high-schoolers had seen them all, took a dip in some f-f-f-freezing springtime river water, picked up on some teenage Kiwi slang, learned how to use trekking poles, swam in a pool fed by natural hot springs, got "take-away" and ate dinner by the sea, went climbing again (and can now brag about how I'm climbing 20s), and figured out how to get to my next destination via public transportation! There has been so much packed into my days that I can't possibly describe everything!

I wish I could add more right now but I have to go pack up and catch the bus!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Kia Ora

Well, I made it! I left LA Tuesday night and arrived in Auckland on Thursday morning. Quite an odd concept to just skip over a day of your life! The plane ride was long, however quite bearable. I had some nice Kiwis to chat with in my row and was even able to get some shut-eye, albeit not a full night's rest.

I am staying about 20 minutes East of Auckland in a nice window-filled house that sits on a cliff just next to the ocean. The view is stunning and I keep getting distracted from writing this update because of it! There's lots of vegetation and some distant islands to look at, as well as the faint sound of lapping waves mixed with plenty of bird songs to be heard.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The adventure begins... [11 October 2010]

There are bright blue skies above me, some whispering puffs of cotton balls to the side, and an expansive pillow of white beneath the wing I am peering behind. Somehow the image is fitting while I have begun the first day of what I expect to be an adventure of a lifetime! Although currently flying somewhere over Texas, I am ultimately headed to Aotearoa ("the land of the long white cloud.") For those unfamilar with this Maori nickname, you may have heard it described as the "adventure capital of the world," or even "the most beautiful place I've ever seen!" For others, it's known only as the home to hobbits and lions named Aslan.

That's right, I have officially set off for New Zealand! 

At the moment I declare this statement to others, there are a few different responses I typically receive. "Wow, that's awesome! I'm so jealous" seems to be a popular one, while other people focus on, "what do your parents think about that?" Most everyone, however, has to ask 'why?' "Why New Zealand?" "Why a whole year?" "Why so far from home?" My answer? "Why NOT?!"