Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Day in the Life

I’m going to attempt to recreate a post I wrote one day in June that was lost with my hard drive…

I’ve had some early mornings lately while I am finishing up my spring cleaning job and have already begun training for my winter position at Treble Cone ski resort. Today, however, I was actually able to sleep in a couple extra hours before a short training with the Ticketing staff in the office down town. I biked into town for it, and afterward took a ride out to Wanaka Wastebusters, the local recycling center, to browse their op shop. The town of Wanaka sits in a valley on the lakefront, so anytime you leave town you have to pedal uphill. The recycling center is a few kilometers out of town, so the distance in addition to the hills makes it a bit more strenuous to get around without a car!

At Wastebusters I hit the jackpot: a ski jacket to use for the season that was much more waterproof than my down jacket would be on the wet days, a fleece to add to my long sleeved collection, and some ski boots to use with the skis I just bought! It pays to have friends in places and Doug gave me some pretty good rates for any outdoor gear I found with him!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why everyone should, at some point in their life, work in housekeeping.

Getting back on track to make my blog up to date, I'll publish the last post that I have access to that I wrote before the unfortunate break-in. There were 4-5 more I hadn't published yet, but they will have to be re-written in time. For now, try out a little housekeeping with me!

I’ve heard people say that everyone should be a server at some point in their life. I have always been appalled when people treat waiters and waitresses poorly, blame them when food is not up to par, and (in the states anyway) tip according to the quality of the food rather than the service. I worked as a server for a few months before I came to NZ and had a bit of a slap in the face while learning how difficult of a job it can be! People are demanding, chefs can be moody, hostesses might seat too many tables at once, and you might not sit down once during your shift. While I agree that everyone should experience this type of stress at some point in their life – in order to better understand how you should probably treat others in similar positions – I have since experienced another job that is just as important for the average consumer to consider walking in the shoes of those on the other side.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Post I Never Wanted to Write.

Well, the inevitable happened. Everyone will tell you that if you travel for long periods of time, there are a few things that are guaranteed to occur. What I think rates as number one is: you will get sick. Well, we addressed that one in my last post. When traveling alone, you will probably get lonely. And with extended travel, you will probably at some point be pretty tight with money. I have definitely touched on all of the above during the past year. The other thing is that, no matter how prudent you are, you will likely experience theft. This is why travelers are encouraged to wear those stupid body wallets under their clothes, why they sell all sorts of locks and chains and armoured gear, and why they tell you never to leave valuables in your car.

For most of my year, I got by with experiencing NZ as a relatively safe place. So much of the country is made up of farmland and small towns where you might not even have a key to your house. Yes, there are travelers everywhere so you do need to be careful, but for the most part I was fairly removed from feeling vulnerable or unsafe. I did have a couple food items stolen in one hostel, and a pair of trousers disappeared from my belongings at another, but I'd say two encounters with petty theft in a whole year is pretty darn good. I always kept my things packed away in my bag, even if I was staying in a hostel for more than a night. I preferred top bunks in busy hostels where I slept with a bag containing my laptop, wallet, and passport. On road trips I kept valuables with me - or, if necessary, hidden in the depths of my things. I lived by the notion of "out of sight, out of mind" and, near as I could tell, it worked. As they say, "opportunity creates a thief," so I made a good effort not to allow 'opportunity' to come knocking.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Getting Sick Abroad

Have you ever had those moments where you can almost hear yourself mumbling “I want my mommy”? You know the times. You have moved out of the “nest” and are mean to be taking care of yourself. You’re quite happy going about your life until suddenly you are struck down by some foreign germs taking over your body. It all starts with a bit of a sore throat, but you might be convinced it’ll disappear with some tea and a good night’s sleep. Then the congestion comes and brings along the ache in your head. You leave work early to walk slowly to the store and stock up on tea, honey, lemon juice, throat lozenges, and soup.  Then you realize that’s not enough and add in some extra vitamin c, echinacea, ibuprofen, and Tylenol. Only, you’re in a foreign country and can’t find the Tylenol – apparently in NZ it’s called Paracetamol. You gather your pile into your backpack, but when you think about walking 2km home up a couple big hills, you burst into tears. You’re just too weak. You gather your emotions long enough to call your flatmate, who actually answers for once, and then wait there pathetically to be rescued. You force yourself to eat some soup, put yourself to bed at 6pm and wake up thirsty and aching in the middle of the night. You’re too stuffed up to breathe, it hurts like crazy to swallow, and it’s all you can do to get through the night. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mentioning the Unmentionables

There are many food products I have grown up with in the States that they do not sell in NZ. Often when trying to follow American recipes, I need to either find substitutes for things like vegetable shortening, or just kind a kiwi version of a similar recipe. It’s hard enough trying to convert grams into cups for me to be able to follow a recipe, but to also figure out substitutes makes things rather complicated and at times seems like too much effort!

I got used to not being able to buy Ghiradelli chocolate chips (the reliable brand in the States that is dairy free) and instead became partial to Whitakers dark chocolate blocks that they have here in NZ (yummmm). The thing I haven’t gotten used to is the selection of deodorants that Kiwis have to choose from. I have always been partial to solid deodorants (roll-ons are too wet!) but they don’t really have any of them here. The options are typically roll-ons or spray-ons (anybody want to explain to me why an “environmentally conscious” country located so close to the ginormous hole in the ozone layer uses so much aerosol?). Regardless of the limited options, I have switched to natural deodorant (sans aluminum) in the past few years so wasn’t interested in the majority of the selection available anyway. I instead had to seek out health food/organic shops in order to find natural deodorants, but they never had one that seemed quite right. I’m not enough of a hippie to go for the powdery stuff you sprinkle on, and I was skeptical about a liquid spray on. There were a few solid choices, but they all seemed to have very “alternative” scents to them. The only other ones were super flowery and made me gag.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Baked Beans and Porridge, Chestnut and Pear Forage: Every Penny Counts

Alright, so they don’t have pennies in NZ, but you know the saying. And when you’re jobless and struggling to pay your weekly rent without dipping into the savings account in your home country, you can get pretty resourceful!

When I moved to Wanaka, I completely cut out the purchase of any wine/alcohol or chocolate. I decided that these were two main things that were unnecessary indulgences I could live without. I also made every attempt not to spend money on activities or entertainment. I cut my grocery bill down to $20 a week and never ate out. I may not have had the most varied, well rounded, or interesting meals, but they were enough to sustain me. I also found plenty of free activities to entertain me. Job searching, blogging, climbing, wandering town, volunteering at the climbing gym, sitting on the lakefront, and reading all occupied my time.

I shopped around for the cheapest porridge for the quantity, and have eaten porridge for breakfast (with a banana and brown sugar if it fits in the budget) nearly every day since I moved to Wanaka. For lunches I have lived on either leftovers or peanut butter and jelly (jam, for all you non-Americans) and I have consumed more pasta dinners than I can count!

At one point, after researching some frugal cooking ideas online, I started a soup train. I made a basic chicken noodle soup one night, and every evening after would add different ingredients so I had enough for dinner and some leftovers to alter the next day. I edited the meal until I think the last day it turned into some sort of curry. Even though it’s not quite as exciting, I’m still not afraid to fall back on baked beans on toast! Where can you get a cheaper meal that’s still quite tasty? I will point out, however, that I have not once purchased prepackaged instant noodles!

In order to stretch my food a bit further, I also began looking into alternative methods of acquiring nourishment. No, I didn’t start stealing!

Romancing the Vines

“Are you just going to stay for a year, or will you move there permanently?

“Well, my visa is only good for a year so there are only a few possibilities for me to stay longer. I could stay if I get a work sponsorship, but they don’t know what my profession is in New Zealand. If I were to work in agriculture for 3 months, I could possibly extend my visa for up to 3 months… Or, I could just get married.” I would throw in there at the end with a playful smile. “Maybe I’ll just go work at a vineyard for a while and keep my options open.” Working at a vineyard; it sounded so romantic, so distant from my past experiences. I love wine, so why wouldn’t I enjoy the process of making it?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Blogger's Lament

I feel the need to update
But I don't have time to write;
Time flies living in one place
Restricting a travelers life.

Building friendships and making money
Replace my traveling mission;
Becoming part of a community
And working in my profession.

Daily habits and responsibilities
Take place of aimless games;
Soon I'll be on the road again
Following my dreams.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Climbing All Around

Part of why I came to Wanaka was because of the proximity of the town to the local climbing crag. I knew it was a popular ski town, and thought I would try to get a job at a ski field, but aimed to arrive in time for some climbing before the winter rolled in. I got here in March, in time to catch the tail end of summer and enjoy autumn in its entirety!

Monday, July 18, 2011

If You Had A Super Power, What Would It Be?

I know plenty of people who would say they’d want to fly. But what’s so thrilling about that? The wind in your face? The view of the ground as it moves past your line of site? The ability to perform beyond-human acts? I mean, some creatures get to fly all the time and I can’t imagine and eagle preferring to walk. So why is it so special to us?

It just is. (I know, so profound!)

[Mom, you might want to skip the next two paragraphs… or this whole post.]

For those adrenaline junkies out there (ahem, I may fit that category), there is an ever-evolving list of sports and activities to achieve that unique buzz. You can climb up cliffs, jump off of bridges, throw yourself into rushing rivers, run off of hills, slide down mountains, or even dive from perfectly good airplanes. For as long as I can remember, I have loved the thrill of these adrenaline activities. I always wish roller coasters lasted 10 times longer than they do. I love the feeling of conquering a high ropes challenge. When pulling me behind the boat, my dad knows I love when he takes a nice sharp turn to whip me around; I can’t get enough of the intensified exhilaration of carving the glassy water with my ski. When I take a good fall while leading a rock climbing route, it’s not uncommon for me to squeal with delight on the way down. It’s in my nature. I can’t experience that stomach-dropping-feeling enough! And I’m not sure I can explain why it feels so good. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Belay On

One of the biggest responsibilities in climbing lies in the hands of the belayer. The belayer checks that the climber is tied in safely and ready to climb, operates the other end of the rope to help protect the climber, tells the climber if something appears unsafe, and of course catches the climber when they fall. The importance of belaying safely was drilled into me when I took a university level rock climbing course and I have found myself on the other end of the rope in numerous situations since. I am well aware of the level of concentration, safety-consciousness, and vigilance required in a belayer, and quite like the responsibility that comes along with it. It was no surprise to me, then, that I wound up belaying for the New Zealand National Climbing Competition when it came to Wanaka!

Photo credit: Nadine Cagney Photography

I had been yelled at for catching climbers too softly in the gym (letting them fall a bit further in order to absorb more of the shock and give them a more gentle landing when they reach the end of the rope) and because of that Loz, one of the guys who runs the local climbing gym, decided I would be a good competition belayer. Belaying for a competition can be a stressful job. Not only do you have to think about all the normal belayer’s responsibilities, but you have to be very cautious not to “short rope” a climber (which might interfere with their ability to climb), and you have to give them a more generous catch than normal when they fall (in order to make it clearly visible that they fell off and prevent them from getting back on to continue the climb). While doing all of this, the competition belayer also has to ignore the potentially large crowds watching the climber’s – and their own – performance.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Job Searching on a Budget

Once I moved into my first NZ flat, I spent the next three weeks in a routine of getting to know Wanaka, searching for a job, finding climbing partners, and contributing to Blog4NZ.  On Wednesdays, I went out in the morning to get my copy of The Messenger and sit by the lake to read through the ads looking for work. Thursdays I headed up to Basecamp, the indoor/outdoor rock climbing gym, to volunteer with their youth climbing club after school. The other days of the week I spent writing cover letters, dropping off CV’s, going to interviews, wandering around town, updating my blog, and finally catching up with some friends from back home.

View from my room

I applied to numerous restaurants, ski fields, the local swimming pool, Wanaka Paragliding, and inquired at nearly every establishment I could think of that might need staff. Unfortunately the resounding message from most places was still that I had arrived at the wrong time. I was able to remain hopeful with the occasional interview, and finally saw a glimmer of hope with the paragliding job!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Hot Dogs, Marquees, and Keeping House

I set out again with a handful of CV’s and a positive attitude. I stopped at restaurants, retail shops, bars, and even walked out to the local vineyard trying to encourage someone to hire me. The general consensus was that nobody was hiring yet, but come back in a couple months and I should be sweet. Sometimes employers wouldn’t even take my CV to give me a false sense of hope.

Through the job agency, I arranged to do a shift at the hotdog stand during the A&P (Agricultural & Pastoral) Show that weekend. To translate, that means working the food cart at the county fair! While I was in the job agency office arranging it, I also heard the lady on the phone struggling to find “guys” for a shift on Sunday. I asked what the shift was doing – emphasizing my past experience doing stage/technical crew work, and explaining that I can hold my own around “strong guys.” After some hesitation, she gave in and signed me up to help take down the marquees at the conclusion of the A&P Show. Sweet as. I was only in town for a few days before I already had two random jobs arranged to earn some income!

I left my couchsurfer host (Tony)’s place early enough to walk all the way downtown and found the main gate at the show grounds. I was stopped at the gate and asked to show my staff pass, which of course I didn’t have. They insisted I would instead have to pay to enter the show grounds, but I wasn’t about to pay in order to earn money. I called the contact number I was given, and waited for one of the hotdog stand chefs to come retrieve me. 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Welcome to Wanaka

When I first determined that I was definitely headed to New Zealand, it was right around the time that my brother, Keith, and sister-in-law, Cristin, were on their honeymoon. They spent three weeks traveling around New Zealand, and upon their return had quite a slideshow to present! They were able to explain their impressions of different areas of the country, and seemed eager to tell me where to live. Of all the places they visited, they recommended a town called Wanaka.

Wa-Na-Ka. It sounded so foreign at the time! The only way for me to remember it was by noting how it rhymed with Hanukkah. Keith described how it was similar to Queenstown (the adrenaline capital of the world) but less touristy. They assured me there were just as many outdoor adventure activities, but not quite as many shops or tourists. Cristin talked about the spectacular views and both showed off pictures from their visit. The town sits right on Lake Wanaka, nestled in some beautiful mountains, and, upon a bit more research, I discovered it has heaps of climbing crags quite close to town!

I was sold. Though, I continued to consider alternate places to spend a good portion of my time. I found that Nelson was also in close proximity to some outdoor climbing, and was also attracted by its location in wine country. Nelson is at the top of the South Island and competes with another nearby town for the most sunshine days in the country. I determined that both Nelson and Wanaka were going to be places to spend some time, and decided that Nelson’s weather sounded ideal in the summer, and Wanaka looked like the perfect ski town to spend my winter!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Swan Dive Like a Flying Kiwi

Of all the adrenaline activities I have chosen to engage in since my arrival in this country filled with caffeinated daredevils, very few of them have actually made my stomach plummet to the ground ahead of my body. On the last day of my tour with Flying Kiwi, it was time to change that fact.

We woke nice and early, and I spent some time sorting through my belongings to pack them in a more transportable form (rather than small bags and piles of things in various spot on and under the bus). I was leaving Queenstown with the Flying Kiwi bus, but hopping off an hour or two into the day’s drive. We joked about how I’d have to have all my stuff together so they could just slow down and push me out. After I was a bit more organized, it was time to catch a shuttle bus out to the Kawarau Bridge.

Kawarau Bridge/Gorge/River, Queenstown

The Kawarau Bridge is a historic suspension bridge that attracts tourists on its own accord. It sits above the Kawarau River and has a nice old-fashioned-looking structure to it. It is also famous for being the home of the world’s very first commercial bungy jump.

I might have been a bit excited...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Flying Kiwi Solo Expedition: A Walk with My Camera

I have mentioned before how when you’re a backpacker, it seems like a luxury to spend two nights in the same place. So often you are moving from place to place, packing up each morning and scrounging to find what you need throughout the day without fully unloading your pack. It was not much different while on the Flying Kiwi tour. Although most of us had “our seats” on the bus and kept some belongings on board, we still needed to take down our tents and load up the bus each morning before we hit the road. There was always a daily task of figuring out what items and articles of clothing you might want to access throughout the day, depending on the weather and activities. Being the first passenger on the bus as it left Nelson, I managed to score the front seat to claim as my own, and even usually had the seat next to mine to use as well! It was nice to keep some shoes on board in case I wanted to hop off on a cycling adventure, and of course having a rain shell handy proved useful a time or two!

After we left Milford Sound, we dropped a few keen trampers off at the start of the Routeburn Track (one of NZ’s great walks – complete with expensive huts during peak season that I wasn’t eager to pay for) and continued back to Te Anau, where we were staying for the next two nights. Two nights! It was a welcomed rest for wary travelers. We had the option to do whatever we wanted with our day in between. There was talk of going four-wheeling, taking a ferry to a glowworm cave, walking part of the Keplar track and taking a shuttle bus back to town, and several other options that people were considering. I was intent on finding a free activity to occupy my time, and decided I would be quite happy if I wound up exploring by myself. It had been a solid week of riding the tour bus with the same people and though I had met some lovely fellow travelers, I have explained in previous posts how much I enjoy and cherish traveling solo!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Encountering Sunny Milford with Flying Kiwi

You may remember these pictures from my first trip to Milford Sound (technically a fiord) with my family back in December. We went right after Christmas in the middle of NZ’s summer, which is of course the high season for any tourism operation. Milford is on most any “must see” lists you will come across for NZ. It consists of stunning mountains that plunge dramatically into the water and countless streams flowing off those mountains and dropping into the waters below. The shape of the fiord was carved by a glacier and there is an interesting occurrence of freshwater sitting on top of the saltwater coming in from the Tasman Sea.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Reflective Sunrises, "Beach Balls," and Flying Kiwis in Disguise

We had a fairly tame day following the adventure in Hooker Valley as we headed back out to the east coast with a brief stop in Oamaru. We continued just south of there to our lovely campsite on a grassy cliff overlooking the beach where we had a bit of an epic dinner preparation while trying to battle the severe winds! 

When broomsticks weren’t cutting it, I was stationed to hold up the kitchen door which was supporting tarps to block the wind so the stove wouldn’t blow out… that is until I used a bit of “kiwi ingenuity” and suggested a supportive strap being attached to the bike rack on top of the trailer!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Few Extreme Flying Kiwi Adventures!

After we enjoyed some post-whitewater-rafting hot showers, it was time again to hit the road. We stopped briefly in a town called Geraldine (pronounced by our guide with a proper southern drawl) and then headed toward Lake Tekapo. Some of us hopped off the bus early to enjoy a bike ride into our camp at a holiday park on the shores of the lake. We were told it was a fairly easy ride, but there might be some wind.

It turned out to be one of those rides where I wished I could have changed my mind 1 km down the road. The bus pulled away and we set off, immediately encountering some headwinds. It was a struggle to power through and we had about 25 km to go! Once again, those riders with machine-like quads took off, though they didn’t disappear quite as quickly this time. Naomi and I fell into pace again as we struggled to battle the severe winds.

First glimpse of Lake Tekapo

It was a relief each time we approached a downgrade, as I got my hopes up for some easier pedaling and a moment to rest while gravity took over to carry me down the hill.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Whitewater Rafting with the Flying Kiwi Crew

Since I had skipped out on swimming with dolphins during my second visit to Kaikoura, it felt like it had been a couple days since I participated in any of the optional adventurous activities available to us on the Flying Kiwi tour. Sure, I chose to do the cycling rides and any short walks that were available, but there is something about New Zealand and the spirit of adventure it encourages. This is particularly evident when surrounded by a busload of people, most of whom are only in the country for a short time. Adrenaline activities are everywhere in NZ, and it’s easy to be persuaded into joining in!

The van when it was almost full... getting ready for some water!

We were camped outside the home base of Rangitata Rafts and, in the morning, some of us gathered to head whitewater rafting down the Rangitata River! We were suited up with wetsuits, thermals, booties, fleeces, wind shells, life jackets, and helmets, and then piled into the van for a ride up the river to our launching site. When I say piled into the van, there were about 15 passengers, 6 crew members, and a dog… oh, and don’t forget the hitchhiker we picked up along the way who had to stand in the stairwell!

Photo courtesy: Rangitata Rafts

We had been given a safety briefing and were broken up into our three rafting groups at the river’s edge. The guides were good at getting us psyched for the ride and we hopped in our raft to set out down the river. Our guide sat in front at first, giving his spiel about how to paddle, how to stay in the boat, and what to do if anyone took an unexpected swim.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Goodbye Nelson, Hello Flying Kiwi #3

I spent three days in Nelson before I hopped back on the Flying Kiwi bus. It was great to be able to see my friends again (even though a few were a bit confused because I had said goodbyes in case I didn’t make it back) and have a bit of time to gather my thoughts in “solo-travel mode” before spending a week with a busload of people! I spent the days wandering town, swimming in the Maitai River (at my favorite swimming hole, of course), catching up online at the library and blogging. The evenings I spent with climber friends. We had our usual Thursday night climb followed by drinks at the Free House (complete with adorable puppy!)

That night it was decided that we would return the next night (where else would we go?) in “fancy dress,” just for fun! It’s always fun when you can get a whole group of people on board to dress up!

We looked pretty good for a bunch of climbers, so naturally had to have a modeling shoot.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

On the Road: Traveling Solo

Picking up where I left off before Blog4NZ, Kaikoura (where we swam with dolphins) was one of the last stops on my road trip with Louise. That was the day before the earthquake, and Louise was meant to fly out of Christchurch the day after. After testing the runways, it was announced that international flights would begin again midday on Wednesday (a couple hours before Lou’s scheduled flight to Australia). By the time we had confirmation on this, we had to rush back to camp and pack up everything (making sure to sort through and divide our belongings after 10 days in a wee car together!) We managed to get her to the airport in time for her flight and I sorted out the juggling of rental cars.

Lou and I part ways... sad day!

I had arranged to “relocate” a car from Christchurch back to Nelson after our trip. That way, I would be able to see some Nelson friends and join the Flying Kiwi bus again from there. Rental car relocation is a nice opportunity to get from point A to point B with a free rental car. There are some stipulations – you have to pay for petrol, and you have limited mileage in a certain time frame – but it seemed ideal for what I needed! In retrospect, it may have been cheaper to take a bus, but I wouldn’t have had the freedom that comes with driving.

I checked in to pick up the new rental, transferred my belongings, and then returned our “Rocky” at another agency. While standing at the counter, the agent seemed a bit agitated. At one point he froze, interrupting his sentence, then looked at me with concern and confusion. “Did you not feel that?” “Oh, no… I guess not.” The fact that I was an outsider, unable to relate to him about the reality he was experiencing, seemed to be uncomfortable for him. I assured him that my friend felt the aftershocks all night and for some reason I could not feel them. He did not seem at ease by this, and instead rigidly finished finding my paperwork and led me to my car.

During the time Lou was waiting for her flight, there was a serious aftershock.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Adventures in a Fantasy World

As with my last two Blog4NZ posts, I have been brainstorming lists of items I can present in order to advertise New Zealand and encourage visitors to stop by. There are heaps of lists I could come up with: top 10 items I’m glad I brought with me, top 10 recommendations that I didn’t do, top 10 pictures I’ve taken in NZ, my top 10 most thrilling NZ adventures, the top 10 items remaining on my to-do list, the top 10 NZ hostels that felt like home, my top 10 favorite Kiwi sayings, or even the top 10 foods I’ve tried in NZ. Believe me, the lists go on!

The problem is that these are things so many others are doing. I joined the Blog4NZ movement because I have been blogging for NZ since day one. Every picture or adventure story I come up with could contribute to the ever-growing pile of “go to NZ!” literature. And if you’ve been following my blog, I always have more stories to tell! I have been diligently checking the Blog4NZ facebook page and am beyond impressed by the response from the world over the last few days. Try googling “Blog4NZ” and see how many results there are. That stamp didn’t exist a few weeks ago! People who visited NZ 30 years ago are contributing to tell others why it’s a great vacation spot. Some travelers who have always had an eye on NZ (but have not yet been) have taken the opportunity to tell others why they want to go. I’ve even talked to someone I met here in November who said they were already trying to come back again this year! 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tourist Trail Diversions

The goal of getting “off the tourist trail” is often talked about. While the tourism industry in NZ is well-equipped to handle your traveling needs without inhibiting your adventurous spirit, it is still nice to experience corners of the country without any tour guides or queues! For the sake of Blog4NZ I’ve decided to share a few of my favorite hidden gems that I’ve experienced thus far. I have found it extremely helpful to stay in small backpackers (hostels) where the managers truly know and love their area. I am a BBH member and tend to find smaller, homier respites within this community. Some of my favorite spots were by local recommendation from a hostel owner, and now I will share them with you! To save myself from stressing about ranking each spot over the others, I will present them in the order I experienced them, which happens to be roughly a north-to-south arrangement.

Lonely Bay

Lonly Bay from Shakespear Lookout, Cooks Beach,
Coromandel Peninsula, North Island

While visiting Whitianga, I stayed (with my road-trip friend, Nate) at On the Beach Backpackers. It is actually a YHA backpackers, but we were there before the summer season so it was not very crowded! They have free kayaks to borrow so first thing in the morning we took the manager’s advice and paddled across the harbor and around a point to Lonely Bay. We dismounted the open-top kayaks (however gracefully) and proceeded to spend the rest of the morning on a deserted beach, just the two of us!

Monday, March 21, 2011

My top 10... err... 11 list of reasons to visit New Zealand!

In light of Blog4NZ I decided to come up with a list of my top 10 reasons to visit New Zealand. I wanted to show off the best of this country I have totally fallen in love with and I had a little trouble limiting it to 10! Forgive the additional one, I didn't want to eliminate anything else. Cheers!

#10: Stunning beaches

Beach near Anchorage, Abel Tasman National Park, South Island

Being a rather small country, there are beaches everywhere! You can't travel far without running into the coastline and it’s fun to explore the various types of beaches. Some are rocky, some are sandy smooth, some are perfect for surfing, and others make you just want to sit back and take it all in!

#9: Gorgeous mountains

Castle Hill, South Island

Why New Zealand? And why Blog4NZ?

I chose NZ as my destination for a career-break-working-holiday for any number of reasons. My feelings and reasons at the beginning of my trip I’m sure have grown or changed a bit, so if you want the story from the start, then go ahead and check out my first ever blog post. I decided on NZ because I wanted to travel. I wanted to spend a year outside my home country in order to live and experience a culture different from my own. I didn’t speak any foreign languages and wasn’t up for that sort of challenge, so narrowed it down to English-speaking countries. I have a mother who worries more than any other person I’ve met, so there was no question my destination had to have a “safe” reputation (particularly for the solo female traveler). I also needed a change. I wanted to feel like I was away. New Zealand may not be directly on the other side of the world from Pennsylvania, but it’s pretty darn close. I knew there were heaps of outdoor activities to appease my taste of adventure and any photographs I’d seen were just plain stunning. It was a far off fantasy of mine to spend a year abroad, and everything I learned about NZ seemed to make the choice ever more clear.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

South Island Road Trip with Louise: Dolphin Swim!

One of the last things on Lou’s list of things to do before she left the country (and certainly on my list, but I had a little more time to check it off) was going to Kaikoura to participate in the infamous dolphin swim. After we’d had enough climbing on our last day, we returned the hired bouldering mat and headed for Kaikoura. We caught a glimpse of a gorgeous sunset on the drive in to town and stopped at a car park in town to cook and eat our dinner. We found a nice spot to sleep in the car again that night (since it was going to be quite a short night!) and wound up having a stunning view of the moon shining over the ocean, hanging so bright and low in the sky it almost looked like a hazy sunset.

Louise and I, ready to go!

A pre-5am wake-up is not ideal for anyone (especially for the second time in a week) but what we experienced that morning was well worth the effort of getting out of our cozy car! We got ourselves together and headed to Dolphin Encounters for our scheduled 5:30 dolphin swim. We were outfitted with wetsuits, jackets, hoods, flippers, snorkels, and masks, and then escorted to a small auditorium to watch the safety briefing video. 

The video explained what we would encounter out in the water, and mentioned a few ways to get the dolphins’ attention. We would be swimming with Dusky Dolphins – some of the world’s smallest – out in the wild. We were informed the dolphins were not trained and that the boat took us into an area where the dolphins pass through on their daily migration.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

South Island Road Trip with Louise: Castle Hill Bouldering!

The next two days we had set aside for some bouldering at Castle Hill. The morning after our Cave Stream adventure, we set off for the hills and hoped for a bit more motivation (and perhaps orientation) toward the available climbing!

We still didn't really know our way around (it's hard to follow guidebooks when all you can see is just a huge field of boulders) so we found some of our own problems to try.

We worked at them...

South Island Road Trip with Louise: Caving and Other Adventures!

After skydiving we headed north to Hokitika to fix dinner by the beach and watch the sunset behind their sand & driftwood sculptures. It was definitely a nice foreground for a beautiful ocean sunset – stunning!

After dark we visited a glow-worm dell where I got to see the starry night sky in an enclosed area inside a thick patch of bush! The glow-worms are one of the many distinct creatures found in NZ and can be found in caves, rainforests, and other damp areas. They are best seen at night as they glow to attract food and mates. Although I’d heard a lot of talk about them, it was my first time actually seeing any glow-worms in person; it was pretty neat to see how many of them there were in such a tiny area!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

South Island Road Trip with Louise: Skydiving!

Like I said before, Lou and I had certain things on our list of activities to accomplish during our south island road trip. Aside from bouldering at Castle Hill and swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura, one of the items on the list with the highest priority was skydiving. I wanted to dive in Abel Tasman because the outline of the land has such a neat shape and I suspected you would see all the beautiful beaches in the national park, as well as the surrounding mountains and maybe even Nelson from afar (there are also rumors that on a really clear day you can see the north island!) Lou, on the other hand, had it in her mind that she wanted to do it in Taupo, on the north island (I’m sure also a beautiful place with its huge lake and stunning mountains nearby). Somehow she was able to wait to go with me (since that was the plan that didn’t work out for my birthday back in January) and we set ourselves up to do it in Abel Tasman.

Well, the weather decided otherwise and by the time we were together in Nelson it took a turn toward dark and dreary – nothing good for jumping out of a plane! We decided it wasn’t a good idea to wait around just to see if the weather happened to improve in the next couple days, and set off on our road trip instead. We decided to head towards Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers and thought it would be a good compromise to do our skydive there. We chose Franz Joseph due to the elevation of the drop and when we realized we would be seeing Mt. Cook (one of Lou’s absolute favorite places in NZ) on the way down, excitement began to grow!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

South Island Road Trip with Louise: Hitting the Road

There were so many times that Louise and I tried to plan our travels together around the South Island, but it never seemed to work out. She had some friends headed down that we were meant to meet up with for a bit of a road trip. We knew this months ago (she invited me along after our first adventures together back in December) but two of her friends were moving to the country and had to wait for their shipping container to arrive before they could embark on the road trip. The only dates set were for them to walk the Heaphy Track (one of NZ’s “great walks”) on the 15th of February. Neither Lou or I were particularly keen on doing the Heaphy due to our numerous other walking adventures, so we decided to travel together while her friends were on the 4-6 day tramp.

Hitting the road in "Rocky" our well-loved car/home for the trip!

Unfortunately, that was the only plan we had. She came down to Nelson to meet me and couchsurfed where I was staying for a night. All other ideas were still up in the air. She hadn't booked her flight to Melbourne, we didn’t have a rental car, we didn’t know if we would be able to meet up with her friends, and I didn’t know how or where I was going to get back on the Flying Kiwi bus! To complicate the situation, we are two indecisive individuals who like to please other people and tend to only share opinions when we have a specific preference. Needless to say, planning, agreeing and deciding are difficult tasks for the two of us!

Playing with my camera while Lou battles the rain

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

News in Christchurch [composed 23 February 2011]

I have been tuned in to more media broadcasting in the past 24 hours than I ever have in the past several years; let alone during my time in NZ. The mining accident in Greymouth, the numerous cyclists killed way too close together, the aftershock on Boxing Day; all of these added together don’t begin to compare to the events of yesterday. I am not sure how to react. The attitudes around me are somber yet spirits are surprisingly high. I am in Kaiapoi, a suburb about a half an hour’s drive from center city Christchurch. I was meant to be staying in a backpackers downtown last night, a few blocks from the now collapsed cathedral.

Louise and I woke up yesterday morning to a beautiful sunrise from our noisy campsite located a bit too close to the highway and train tracks for a sound night’s sleep. Our plan was to drive about an hour up to Sawcut Gorge and hike the 3-5 hour track to see a fascinating piece of water-carved rock. By the time we arrived at the trailhead (12k off the main road on a narrow gravel driveway) it had started to drizzle. There were signs warning of flash floods in the case of heavy rains, which could be dangerous due to the numerous stream crossings. We weren’t sure what the weather was supposed to do, so started the hike to try and catch up with some folks working on the trail up ahead. I went ahead with my trusty keens (no need to take my shoes off for each crossing!) and when I caught up with the workers, was informed the weather forecast did not look promising. I went back to retrieve Louise and we bagged the hike, deciding it was not worth it due to the menacing clouds and wind.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Life in Motueka (and adventures that ensued)

I met the “Organic Breadman lady” at the Nelson Saturday market and once people had dispersed she packed up the trailer and toted me (and all of my life possessions) back to her place in Motueka. Claire and her family were away on a weekend camping trip, but she had snuck away for the day to run the Breadman stall and drop me back home. She showed me my campervan (see “Happiness” post for pictures) and I settled in for the night. In addition to the campervan, there are three sleep outs on the property that hosted: an old Kiwi guy, a French couple, and another couple that was American and German. There was also one German girl in a tent next to my campervan. We all shared a kitchen toilet/shower area attached to the main house, but had our separate little areas on the property that were divided by lots of beautiful vegetation and some creative fencing.

Some travelers hanging out around two of the sleep-outs.

I introduced myself to the other tenants and then worked out plans for a ride up to Paynes Ford for some Sunday climbing. There was a possibility of heading up that evening, but I didn’t have a tent to camp in and wound up finding a ride with some others for the next morning instead. This worked out perfectly because I was pretty excited to put my clothes in drawers and get to sleep in my own bed, in my own space - with a locking door and everything!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Laughter is the Best Medicine [Composed 28 January 2011]

Today I experienced laughter yoga. It wasn’t the super specific, intense, focused, Ashtanga Yoga like the last random class I attended; it was free and inviting and ridiculous and fun.

I walked into town (about an hour away) yesterday with the main intention of treating myself to a soy chai latte (I may have a slight addiction, but it had been about a week since my last one). I decided to patronage the organic shop that caters to vegans and vegetarians, since I was certain they would have soy milk for me (though I do find it much more common in NZ than I ever did in the states). While I was enjoying my latte (and a nice piece of vegan chocolate) I noticed a sign on the door for Laughter Yoga. I immediately remembered the club that was established at Ithaca College while I was there, but I never had the time to attend any of their sessions. I later discovered another sign that mentioned Laughter Yoga met right there on Friday mornings, so I decided I would make it a point to attend. Only later that evening did I realize it was Thursday and I would be going the next day, but no matter, I wanted to attend!

I rode my host’s bike into town so I didn’t have to leave quite so early and arrived about 15 minutes before the group was meant to meet. I decided this was a bit too early and walked around the block before going in. There was a middle-aged lady there with a girl I assume to be around 8. We exchanged hellos, and then sat awkwardly waiting until another middle-aged woman arrived. Awkward pleasantries were again addressed, then, we waited. Apparently the instructor was in the store across the way and hadn’t noticed us come in. The first lady retrieved her and the session began.

A Picture Story... My Birthday Abroad!

Louise and I returned to Nelson on the 16th and we spent a few days trying (once again) to figure out plans for what was next. We headed to the library to use their free wireless and were surprised to find heaps of people lined up, waiting to get in when the library opened! I was intrigued as you would probably not encounter this in the states, but then we realized they were all lining up to put their name in for a computer slot!

It was too nice of a day to spend indoors, so we took a walk to a local swimming hole and encountered a good ‘ole California Redwood along the way! Yes, I realize Pennsylvania is a long way from California, but it still gave me a bit of nostalgia for home!

We tried to go climbing but apparently had the gym hours wrong (school was not back in session yet) so ended up on a long walk with Lou’s friend who had met up with us.

A Picture Story... Nelson Lakes National Park

Around the time I moved hostels and was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my traveling self, I heard from Louise. She was in a similar place – needing a friend and some inspiration – and she was on her way to Nelson! We spent a day catching up and discussing possibilities for our next adventures, then decided to head down to Nelson Lakes National Park for a long weekend before she continued up to the North Island for some traveling. We hoped some time away would allow us to collect our thoughts and revitalize our passion for traveling.

We initially planned to do the Travers-Sabine Circuit (a 4-7 day tramp) from St. Arnaud, but decided there was not enough time before Lou wanted to head north. We instead planned a route that would include a day with a bit of alpine climbing/scrambling up to one of the peaks (either Mt. Hopeless or Mt. Cupola), a visit to one of the more popular (and supposedly beautiful) spots next to Lake Angelus, and a return route that included a long walk along Robert Ridge. We were advised to be cautious about the weather in terms of what day we were on the ridge, because Sunday was expected to produce gale force winds which would knock us off out feet.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Few Traveling Stressors

When we arrived at the airport in Auckland, we had to be there in time for my family’s international flight back to the states. This meant I was hours early for a domestic flight and, if you remember my security check from my flight down to Christchurch you will know how unnecessary that is. I checked in right away and noticed an earlier flight to Nelson; there happened to be space on it, so I changed my flight so that I would arrive in Nelson almost before I was meant to leave Auckland!

When I got the flight squared away and checked my baggage, naturally, I went to the gate to wait for my flight. It was somewhere around that time that I realized how unprepared I was to continue my journey. I had not arranged a place for me to stay that night, nor had I even scheduled a ride from the airport. I didn’t even know what was next – Working in Nelson? WWOOFing? Getting back on the Flying Kiwi tour? The only thing certain was that I would, indeed, get back on the Flying Kiwi tour, but that I would have to book that ahead of time and it most certainly wouldn’t be a last minute arrangement during peak season!

I hurriedly called a few backpackers (hostels) in Nelson, including some that I had been to before and remembered me well, but there was no space for that night! In the middle of dialing yet another number, I realized my flight had been called so I had to board the plane. I tried my best to put it out of my mind until I landed, but of course I spent the next hour on the plane thinking about where I was not going to stay that night (and how I would find a place that would take me, or what I would do If I couldn’t). My friendly Nelson couchsurfer friends would probably have been willing to help, but they were on holiday in Australia. I didn’t have a tent I could put up anywhere, and I began to wonder if I would end up like the girl I saw up at the Centre of NZ one night – sitting on a bench with a sleeping bag and a bottle of wine.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Holidays - A Webster Family Vacation


Picking up where I left off back in December, my next topic is the Webster family vacation (less two or five). As I mentioned in my previous post, my sister and parents were on their way to meet me in Christchurch. They came for two weeks in total, and we got to see some key New Zealand sights while they were here. My brother, sister-in-law, and all three family dogs missed out on the trip, but it was nice to have at least part of my family here for the holidays! I know it's a lot of pictures but I divided it into a few sections, so you can always just look at part of it and come back later!


Our first day was spent in Christchurch where we walked around a bit, got some food, and saw some earthquake damage. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Happiness is... Fruit Trees and Furry Friends

I am sitting here in a campervan that, for the next two weeks, I get to call my own. There is a friendly, excitable dog outside, a cuddly kitten hanging out near the kitchen, a saltwater swimming pool on the beach a few hundred yards away, some travelers hanging out by the fire, wine in a glass beside me, a cool breeze blowing outside, and a cozy bed (that is not a bunk) waiting for me to crawl into it. At this point in my travels, this is happiness.

I spent the past couple weeks in what I can only describe as a “funk.” My family departed in Auckland and I flew back to Nelson to figure out what was next. The problem was that I spent too much time thinking about what I was going to do with my family that I hadn’t properly planned what would happen after they left. I hadn't even arranged a ride from the airport or a place to stay that night. I spent a week “job searching” though I think I was looking in all the wrong places. I also did some exploring with people I met in the various hostels I stayed at, but continued to return to the notion that I needed to be figuring out what was next rather than simply enjoying the day in front of me.