Thursday, December 17, 2009
I can't believe my New Zealand has come to a close so quickly. I am using this entry to fill in all of the blanks of my last month in New Zealand. I can't believe how fast the end of the semester came and went, even how fast the entire 5.5 months flew past me. As I am now home in (freezing!) Massachusetts, the entire last 5 months of my life seem like some strange dream.
November in New Zealand was beautiful. I finally started to get really warm. Right in time for me to head back to New England winter. The first two weeks were completely uneventful. We had finals, which were a lot of work, so I didn't have too much time to explore anything new. I took a walk to Mt. Eden, a dormant volcano with an amazing view of the city from the top. Other than that, most of my time was spent in the University of Auckland Library.
After I finally finished finals, on the last day, I packed and left for my 16 day trip around South Island! Since I have always wanted to do some independent traveling, I decided to take on South Island solo. It was an amazing experience, I got to meet a lot of really cool people and had an amazing time every place I went. Here is my list of destinations over the two weeks, along with summaries of my time in all of the beautiful places!
Christchurch is an amazing city. During my time here, I did a lot of wandering as well as checking out different art museums and art centres. They have the most beautiful botanic gardens I have seen, the gardens are enormous and offer plenty of space to lay out with a book as well as many floral arrangements.
Christchurch is well known for its Cathedral Square, which is at the center of the city and is home to their famous Cathedral, which is immaculate. It was beautiful both inside and out. Also in Cathedral Square, I was able to watch a game of chess on a life size board, and shopped at a local market. After my couple days in Christchurch, I found that it was a city with a small town feel, however had an endless amount of things to do.
When I first arrived in Oamaru, I was trying to figure out how I was going to keep myself entertained there for an entire two nights. It was a very interesting Victorian town. I was lucky enough to end up there during there Victorian Heritage Festival, something they take very seriously. Many town residents spend the entire week dressed to the tens in Victorian era costume. It was quite a sight, considering most of the town's architecture and design make one feel like they are living in the Victorian era to begin with.
Aside from its Victorian heritage, Oamaru is also known for its penguin colonies. This was a great aspect of this small town. Even though everything in the town closed at 5 pm, after dark I was able to go down to the beach and watch as hundreds of penguins came home from their days at sea. There was a company that would charge you $20 to go and look at these penguins, but I was lucky enough to happen upon a part of the beach where they came up right after dark. Trying to dodge a $20 charge, I decided to check a beach out to see if I could catch any of them. Before I knew it, penguins were everywhere! It was the funniest thing.
In the end, I found that this tiny Victorian town had much to offer and gave me an interesting and diverse experience over my few days there.
My next stop was the Scottish city of Dunedin. Unfortunately, most of my time in this city was rainy. However, I was able to check out a really cool art exhibit in the city centre. I also had a chance to have lunch in it's botanic gardens. Since I was there for a Saturday night, I even went out to check out the local music scene, which proved to be really impressive.
I've had many people tell me before how much I was going to love Queenstown, and how it was such a beautiful place. But I was never able to grasp what they meant until I actually got there for myself. This town is beautiful, its any young persons paradise. It consists of a downtown area with tons of interesting bars, as well as great places to shop. In addition, Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand. If you want to do something adventurous, its here. I went to go skydiving, but unfortunately it was too windy at the time and my dive got cancelled. Hoever, I still had time to take a short hike and explore around the lake. The lake is rimmed by The Remarkables, which is the mountain range pictured. On one of my days in Queenstown, I took a day trip to the Milford Sound. The Milford Sound, actually a fiord, is one of the places in New Zealand that I was not going to leave without seeing. Because it rains there about 240 days out of the year, the cruise was a rainy one, but it was unbelievably scenic and completely worth the 10 hours on a bus.
Wanaka is a small town that I almost skipped on my trip. I don't remember how I heard about it, but I am so glad that I did. My two nights in this small lakefront town ended up being two of my favorite nights of my trip. Lake Wanaka is absolutely beautiful. On my first day, I took a walk on one side of the lake. On the second day, I decided to hire a bike to cover more ground on the other side of the lake. I didn't know it was going to be such an intense and bumpy bike trail, but the scenery was fantastic and I has an absolute blast. The weather was perfect in Wanaka, much warmer than the other towns I had visited beforehand. Its amazing how my geographical location on South Island determined the climate so drastically.
The town of Tekapo was by far the smallest town I have ever visited. However, due to its location right next to the glacial Lake Tekapo, its a popular spot for backpackers to spend a night. One of Tekapo's main attractions is a star observatory on the top of Mount John. Since Tekapo is in "high country", with not much around it, it is known as an ideal spot for stargazing. Sadly, the one night that I decided to stay in Tekapo, it rained. I was thoroughly disappointed to miss such a cool opportunity to visit the Mt. John Observatory, but I ended up having a very relaxed evening with some new Dutch friends. It was a really nice atmosphere in the hostels of very small towns, since there was not much to do in town, people opted to stay in and hang out at night and I got the chance to meet a lot of cool people this way.
By the time I got to Kaikoura, I was exhausted from the previous two weeks. So thankfully, I wasn't too upset when it rained for almost my entire stay on this gorgeous peninsula. The day I arrived, I was able to go on a whale watch before the rain started, which was enjoyable, but not as eventful as I had hoped it would be. We were able to spot two sperm whales, which didn't seem very active. In addition, we watched wandering albatross soar over the waves. After the whale watch, I took a walk in the drizzle to see the seal colonies, which were worth the walk in the rain. The next day was a complete wash out, but I was able to catch up on some reading and catch up with some old friends who I ran into in my Kaikoura hostel. I had met them on a trip in North Island, so it was a surreal reminder of how small New Zealand can seem at times.
Because I had been moving around so much and living out of a duffle bag, my South Island trip made me more than ready to settle back at home. Because of this, I feel that it was the perfect ending to an amazing semester in New Zealand.
Monday, October 26, 2009
It amazes me that we have already completed classes for the semester, I am now 4 exams away from graduation! I cannot believe how much this semester has flown by, but it has been incredible. I have learned many things about myself and others and I could not have asked for a better experience. On Friday the university hosted "End of Daze", which was a concert during the day where we were able to drink and hang out. It was a perfect springtime day, and I was excited to finally get to relax after handing in my final paper.
On Saturday, we drove to Muriwei beach on the west coast with a big group to attempt some surfing! It was a fun, but exhausting day. I couldn't believe how hard it was to balance enough to actually stand on a board while riding a wave. Needless to say, I didn't get all the way up, but I am definitely looking forward to trying again soon. The waves were fantastic though, even laying on the board and rising them to shore was a blast. They were very strong, and I found myself getting pushed around by them very often. The beach was beautiful, it was a black sand beach and the waves were enormous!
And I am now facing a full week off to explore Auckland before two weeks of final exams. Once I finish them, it is off to South Island, and finally, Boston! It will be a bittersweet departure, but also very exciting.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
It is FINALLY springtime in Auckland. Not that the weather has improved too much. We had a really cold week last week, it seemed to be the joke that we're having a colder spring than winter. But there are definite signs of warmth in the air, and we've had a few really nice days. Its so hard to believe that this is our second to last week of class. The months that I have spent in New Zealand are flying by. After our last week of class, I have a week off, followed by two weeks of finals. Then I am flying into Christchurch for a two week vacation on the South Island! I am so excited to be able to explore another side of New Zealand. In my last weeks in Auckland, I am really hoping to do some more exploring on the outskirts of the city. I have been so focused on school in Auckland, as well as taking trips to places all over North Island, it seems that I have not done much exploring in and around the Auckland region.
Last Sunday was beautiful out, so three friends and I went to Mission Bay, which is a beach in Auckland. It was a great trip to get out of the inner city for a few hours. We just got ice cream and lunch and relaxed a bit.
For the entire past week, all Auckland buses have been on lock out due to some type of pay negotiation related strike. Luckily, I don't depend on public transport to get to classes, but it was stated that 80,000 people are dependent on these buses. It is an insane situation to have all public transport in New Zealand's largest city cease for an entire week. I wonder how that would work on in Boston...
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
This past weekend, Sarah, Tamo, Katy and I went on another road trip to the north of North Island. We had an amazing and busy weekend. We left Auckland on Friday, and drove to our hostel in the small town of Ahipara. The hostel was a gorgeous house that was owned by a young Kiwi couple. It was so homey and cute and there was a great community feel. Our two nights there were spent hanging around with people from around the world that were staying there as well. We learned a new card game, heard some original guitar playing, and relaxed on the back porch with others from Germany, France, and Switzerland. It was a great place to stay, and right on the beach!
Saturday morning, the four of us left to head to the top tip of North Island - Cape Reigna. The weather was a bit spotty, but we managed to see some sunshine throughout the day. We stopped at some scenic beaches on our 2 hour drive to Cape Reigna, and then finally arrived to our destination. The wind at Cape Reigna was unbelievable, I felt as if I could hardly stand up against it. But the view was well worth the trip. Cape Reigna is known to the Maoris as the place where the souls of the departed leave New Zealand on their way to the spirit world. It was a very cool place that also marks were the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. After Cape Reigna, we started back south, and drove to the giant sand dunes that we have heard much about. I had no idea what to expect, but these dunes were enormous. It would take us about ten minutes just to climb them! I felt like I was in Egypt or some other desert. Its amazing how contrasting New Zealand's landscape can really be. At the dunes there was sand as far as our eyes could see. We brought sleds with us and had an amazing time flying down the dunes.
We woke up Sunday morning to a beautiful sunny sky. Sarah, Katy, and I started our day with a two hour horseback ride on the beach. It was so scenic and perfect. I have not been on a horse in a while, so the ride was interesting and a bit scary at times for me, but I enjoyed it anyways. We went down a beach in Ahipara, and then our guide lead us behind the dunes into a beautiful grassy path, complete with flowers. This was my favorite part of the ride because we were surrounded in greenery, yet to our right was a great view of the ocean, it was the ideal location for a horse ride. After that and a quick trip to watch some surfers at Shipwreck Bay, we sadly had to start our journey back to Auckland. But our way home held some surprises of its own. We had read about a cove that was a short distance out of the way from our way home, and since it was such a nice day decided to check it our. We are so lucky we did! When we arrived, we were excited to see a group of dolphins playing right in the cove. They would come right up to where the waves were hitting the beach. At first they mainly stayed underwater, but after some time their playful sides came out and they were jumping around everywhere. In such a beautiful cove, it was definitely a spectacle. As they came close to shore, Tamo decided to jump in, fully clothed, to take the opportunity to swim with them. Although he never got to touch one, he said he could see them swimming all around him. It was surely an experience to remember.
At the conclusion of the weekend, I was exhausted, but it was one of my favorite weekend destinations yet. It is scary to think that I will only be in NZ for another 2 months, but I am ready to make the most of us! The workload is getting a bit heavier, but I am attempting to work hard during the week so I can have my weekends to travel!
Sunday, September 13, 2009
My two weeks in Thailand went by so fast, but they were amazing. I was lucky enough to experience different facets of Thailand, from its beaches, to Bangkok, to Sukothai. Each aspect was completely unique, but they were all great. Since Caitlin lives in Bangkok, we spent most of our time there. It was an interesting city that seemed worlds away from Boston and Auckland. It was SO hot and humid.
Caitlin did an excellent job at finding places off the beaten track, where we were the only westerners in site. An example of this was the Amphawa floating market, a weekly market that it held on a river. We were able to do some shopping, and we had lunch on the steps down to the river, eating meals that were prepared on boats. We got laughed at as the locals watched us struggle with our chopsticks, but everyone was so friendly and while I figured out the most effective way to hold my chopsticks, someone went and found a fork for Cait. The day ended with a boat ride that took us down the river and we were able to see hundreds of fire flies in the trees on the banks.
One of the major tourist attractions I got to see was the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, which is The Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Both of these things were amazing, they both had so many things to look at and so much culture. I also got the oppurtunity to go to Sukothai in northern Thailand, which was another cultural wonder. Sukothai was previously the capital of Thailand, and the ruins are still there to be explored. Sukothai, which translates to "the dawn of happiness" was an amazing site, and one of my favorite parts of the trip. We were able to rent bicycles to ride around and check out the different areas, and we couldn't have picked a better day to go. It was an amazing time.
I was sad to leave Caitlin, and Thailand, but I am sure I will make it back there again. And I am glad to be back home in Auckland after two weeks away! I am also excited that it is getting progressively warmer here... its officially spring. With less than 3 months left in my NZ adventure, I am getting anxious to make sure I see and experience everything I am here to do!
Sunday, August 30, 2009
It has been a while since I have updated. Two weeks ago a booked a ticket to come and visit my sister in Thailand over my midsemester break, so since then I have been trying to save money in New Zealand by staying in the city on the weekends. Therefore, there is not a whole lot to update on. I did spend a day wandering Auckland alone and found some really cool places. I went to the Auckland Domain for the first time, which is a large scenic park in the middle of the city, almost comparable to Central Park in NYC.
It is now my midsemester break and I am in Bangkok, Thailand! I can't believe I am about halfway through my semester abroad. I am having an amazing experience in Thailand so far, though. I have been here for about 3 days and Caitlin and I spent the weekend on this amazing island off the coast of Thailand, called Koh Chang. It was amazing, we stayed in this bungalow on the beach that I could never fully explain, it was great. We swam, hiked to a waterfall, and ate amazing thai food right on the beach. I couldn't have asked for a better beginning to my stay here in Thailand. It also amazes me how cheap everything is here! The currency in Thai Baht, and if we were to convert our expenses back to USD, its incredible. For example, each night in the beach bungalow we stayed in was 200 Baht. That is approximately $6 USD. So when we split a 2 bed bungalow, we each spent $3 USD a night for our accomodation. Caitlin keeps telling me I have to stop converting it back... but its crazy to see what the conversion rates are. Now we are back in Bangkok, which seems a world away from island life, but I'm excited to see what this city has to offer over the next two weeks!
Monday, August 10, 2009
This past Saturday marked my first official month in New Zealand! I can't believe how fast it has gone by. I went on my second trip this weekend, to Rotorua. It was about a 3 hour drive from Auckland. I rented the car so I got to drive - which was exciting because it was my first driving experience in NZ... and quite an adjustment from driving in the US. In New Zealand, the steering wheel is on the right side of the car, and everyone drives on the left side of the road. It was easier than I thought it would be to get used to, except for the fact that every time I went to turn on my turning blinker I instead turned on the windshield wipers... those are on opposite sides as well.
We had a busy and adventurous weekend. On Saturday, we got up and went Zorbing. Its this New Zealand originated activity where you are put into a huge plastic inflatable ball, either strapped in or with water, and pushed down a hill. My friends and I opted to do the Zorb with water, which was so much fun. We could also choose between a zig zag course and a straight shot, and the zig zag one was great. After that, we went back to the hostel for a few hours until being picked up to go white water rafting. This was my first time white water rafting and it was amazing. The guides were so funny and the river was beautiful, we picked the perfect day to go. The trip took us down the Kaituna river, which is apparently world renowned for rafting. The best part was the 7 meter waterfall, I later heard its the biggest waterfall that is commercially rafted in the world. The waterfall took the whole raft completely underwater. Surprisingly everyone but one of us was able to stay on the raft, one friend got thrown but she's fine and the pictures of it happening make it all worth it. After rafting, we came back and showered and got ready to go to the Tamaki Maori Village. Rotorua is known as the cultural capital of New Zealand, so it was a great opportunity to check out Maori culture. At Tamaki, we were shown Maori performances, such as the Haka. After this, we had a buffet style dinner of traditional Maori food, complete with steamed pudding for dessert. After an active day, the dinner was a perfecting ending. Finally, on Sunday, we went to Mai o Tapu Thermal Park, where we saw a geyser go off, and we got to explore the rest of the park and check out all of the thermal activity. It was really cool to see, but after a few hours the smell of sulfur had gotten to me and I was ready to head back to Auckland!
I've realized that I need to start buckling down with my studies, with so much going on, its extremely difficult to concentrate on school!