Monday, February 28, 2011

Shaken Up

Well my travels on the South Island have come to an end and I am back in Auckland as I write.  First I should send out a thank you to everyone for their concern.  I received numerous calls, emails and texts after the Canterbury earthquake.  I was one of the fortunate ones to be back safely on the North Island praying that volcanoes weren't going to follow suit and erupt (they didn't).

But it's eerie to see the places we toured in Christchurch that have now collapsed.  And it's so sad to hear about the tragic loss of life.  While we were there the people were incredibly friendly, more than once we struggled with maps and they offered directions.  Now as we still hear stories of survival and community it's even more evident how much they care about others (strangers or not).

Christchurch Cathedral before and after the quake

The death tolls are still being estimated but sadly it is clear that the area won't make out as fortunately as they did in September when the earth first shook. It will be a long road to recovery.


As for the rest of my journey on the South Island it went really well.  Although my car never really recovered (which is unfortunate since I did foot a bill of $600 in an attempt to repair it), it got us safely back home after 2 1/2 weeks of travelling.  Along the way we had some great experiences but I've discovered I'm definitely not as big of a fan of the South Island.  I just felt like one of the many tourists visiting New Zealand instead of someone who has been living here for nearly a year.  Seriously, people, can't you tell that I've become one of you... I find myself spelling things wrong all over the place!  (favour, travelling, specialise...come on, what has happened to me!!).  

On the South Island I was just another American on vacation, but as far as the landscape goes, it was pretty impressive.  I wouldn't be opposed to shorter trips down there again someday.
Milford Sound in the morning before the wind kicked up

Highlights along the way:
  • Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound cruises.  My favourite part was when the engines were turned off and the people were asked to stand deadly still so that we could hear what it could have been like to arrive in the inlet many years ago.  It was mystical.
  • Stopping at random points as we travelled north to see things on a whim, like the Blue Pools (where Dad went for a swim in the glacial water and I felt obligated to at least get in up to my knees)
  • Seeing the amazing power of water, wind, pressure and ice.  It turns out I have just as much appreciation for the natural science of things as my Science teacher mother (ok, maybe not quite as much) but it's still pretty incredible to see what the elements of this earth are capable of.
  • Strapping on crampons and boots to hike on the Franz Josef glacier with my dad
  • Kayaking in Abel Tasman.  We had a half day and I think I could have easily spent at least 3-4 days hiking and kayaking through that park, so beautiful.

I have realised that I get lost when I have one incredible thing after another though.  It melds together so that when the popular question comes up about my favourite part - I can't pin it down, there were just too many things to appreciate and enjoy.  Where do you begin?


On a sad note, I was told about the passing of a friend and past co-worker in Chicago just a few days ago.  He encouraged me to travel, read my blog, kept in touch with me through Facebook, and checked in on me after the earthquake.  He died just a few days later of what was possibly a heart attack at the young age of 39.  Life can be short, he will be missed.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Fellow Americans

Mt. Cook, South Island
I have found the Americans in New Zealand and they are all on the South Island.  Today I met someone from Kansas City, chanted MIZ…ZOU with someone else wearing an MU shirt, and passed someone else wearing a St. Louis shirt.  Welcome to Queenstown, the tourist mecca of the country.  

And for once, when I hear the now all-too-familiar American accent I’m not vying to find out where they are from and how long they are here – instead I don’t say a word because maybe then they won’t know I’m also an American…maybe I can pass myself off as a Kiwi instead.  Then my dad happily (and boisterously) introduces himself to find out where they are from and how long they are here.  Just like that my cover is blown…oh well, at least we’re friendly Americans.

More highlights of the trip:
Me, Dad, Debbie in Queenstown
  • Meeting my dad and Debbie in Christchurch.  It’s been a year and a half since I last saw them.
  • Spontaneously deciding to camp in Mount Cook.  We could hear the ice falling periodically as it crashed and thundered down the mountain off the glaciers.
  • Making it through the windiest night of camping I’ve had in my recent memory.  It was the longest night ever and in the end (when I decided the tent was going to stay pegged down even without me holding it down) I went to sleep for the last few hours of the morning in my favorite spot – the passenger seat of my car.
  • Lake Wanaka, which I’m sure would have been even more impressive without the three foot waves breaking on the shore (the wind didn’t die down when we left Mount Cook)
  • Arriving in Queenstown, despite the transmission threatening to die in my car, and spending a few days in the Adventure capital while we wait for the auto shops to open back up on Monday morning
  • Watching my Dad paraglide down the mountain, even if we did miss him at the top, we still managed to see some spirals as he came in to land
Dad getting ready to land
It's getting harder and harder to imagine leaving this amazing country.  Up next:  A few days in Fiordland National Park while my car gets fixed in Queenstown.  Then we start heading north along the West Coast.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Flying Solo

Arriving in Picton on the early ferry
Night 2 of sleeping in my car.  I can afford a $30 bed at a youth hostel, I have a tent in the trunk, and yet, for the last two nights I have opted for the third choice, sleeping in my car.  Maybe it’s because I want to prove that I can, that I’m not too old to do it.  After waking up both mornings with stiff muscles and sore joints, I’m not really sure who is winning this bet against myself.  Tonight I pick up my dad from the airport, tonight I sleep in my own bed.

Highlights of my trip so far:
Seal colony outside Kaikoura
  • Stopping at a winery in the Marlborough region for a tasting and to purchase a bottle of Gertz (not what the region is known for but one I like). 
  • Lazy naps in the sun by the ocean on my slow drive down the coast
  • Visiting a seal colony long enough to take the obligatory photos and nearly trip over a seal that was resting in the grass.  It’s unbelievable how docile these animals are. 
  • A nice dinner by myself in a Kaikoura bar before sneaking off to find a safe but out-of-the-way place for me to park my car and sleep for the night. 
  • Waking up unsure of where I was (it took me a good 2 minutes to figure out what country I was in let alone what city…which is an unnerving feeling, and a bad sign considering my travels have just begun)
  • Detours taken by choice to see the coast and walk the beach before making myself a PB&J sandwich. 
  • Walking around Akaroa, a French influenced colony on the coastal peninsula near Christchurch, and enjoying another nice dinner with a glass of wine.
Akaroa Harbour, Banks Peninsula
I was hoping to take a harbor cruise today to see the Akaroa region a bit better.  However, it’s been raining for the last three hours so I may have to hold off on it for now.  I’ve enjoyed my time alone going where I want, and doing what I want, but it will be nice to have others to share the experiences.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

NZI Sevens: Rugby, Drinking, General Mayhem

Wow, the Sevens weekend in Wellington.  Where do I begin to describe the mayhem that I have now had the privilege of experiencing.  Not since college have I had such a full weekend of sports, camaraderie, drinking, shenanigans and randomness.

First I should explain a bit about the sports side of it:  The sevens is an abbreviated rugby game (20 min long) played in several cities across the world, including Las Vegas.  International teams compete in a two-day tournament to be the winner.  It's a great two days of games but most of them aren't watched by the ticket Wellington it's just one big party.

Second, I should note here the obsession that Kiwis have with dressing up.  They don’t celebrate Halloween to the same extent that we do in the States but they spend the rest of the year making up for it with non-stop fancy dress parties.  The Wellington Sevens is the biggest of them all.  31,000 people packed the stands and I think only four people weren’t dressed in costume (this isn’t an exaggeration – everyone dresses up).

Kiwis have an unbiased sense of humour
Costumes range from simple to really elaborate (box of crayons, police officers, sports players, cavemen, railroad crossing signals complete with lights and bells) and others were more trendy (LOTS of Katy Perry outfits and Black Swan ballerinas).  Some of the best were good purely because of their sheer numbers:  A group of about 30 guys dressed as trolls (the kind with the jewel in their bellies from the 90s).

The games started on Friday afternoon and so we made our way through the masses of costume clad people to the stadium (milling about when there were people jumping off of a pier into the water – costume and all) or when an entire bar waited in apprehension as girl after girl was asked to flash an on-looking crowd…and many did it.  It was sensory overload.  Costumes, drinking, partying, people, drinking…. Too many places to look!

The stadium was equally as intense.  Although we had tickets we never actually sat in our assigned seats…in fact, I’m not sure that anyone did, but the games take such a back seat to the partying that it didn’t matter.  Each section was supposed to support one of the countries at the tournament.  We started in the American section (by chance) and ended up spending 90% of our time in the Canadian one.  But I’m not sure that anyone in any of the sections really was from the country they were supporting.  The Kiwis took it all on board and cheered loudly anyway.

Giving high-fives to the US Team
Saturday had the better games as we reached the final rounds of the match.  But the costumes were a bit worse for the wear as they tried to make it through two days of partying.  By the end of the night the stands were fully packed for the last few games.  The US took third, which was awesome (I gave high-fives to all of the players as they walked by).  But the best part was when New Zealand won the entire tournament.  The stands went nuts.  The team went around the stadium and performed the Haka over and over again.  The energy was contagious!

As we all piled back out onto the streets we again followed the mobs into the city where they closed the roads down turning it into a street party.  Costume pieces were now laying abandoned across the city, people were wandering and swaggering around everywhere into the wee hours of the morning.

Sunday was a good day for different reasons.  The masses had dispersed and everyone walked around in a bit of a sleep-deprived, hungover coma state.  Every once in awhile someone in our group would perk up and say “remember when…” as the images and memories slowly made their way back into our minds.
  • Convincing a guy sitting next to us to streak across the field (he made it about half way before the security guards smashed him into the ground
  • G chucking an entire hotdog (bun, ketchup, mustard and all) at someone only after he smashed into her
  • Watching the racewalkers race right into the water without stopping…then watching them shiver for the next three hours as they tried to dry off again
  • Bumping into a fellow Chicagoan, who was sitting in the Canadian section waving an American flag.  He lives 1/2 mile from my old apartment in Lakeview
  • People making out with random strangers

And now I’m off, on my way to the South Island with the rest of the tourists carrying a Lonely Planet NZ book and a backpack.  Still feeling a bit sleep deprived, with a sore throat that makes it difficult to even talk let alone eat or drink.  I probably won’t have another weekend like the one I just had in a long time, maybe that’s not a bad thing, but right now the fun memories are still fresh.

Thanks to the girls and the racewalkers for such a memorable and great weekend – you know who you are.