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.