Archives for the month of: November, 2013

Saturday in the Park

I got to spend a very enjoyable morning at the local farmer’s market outside the Dunedin Railway Station. I was even greeted by a young lad playing the bagpipes in the garden. Considering the Scottish first discovered Dunedin, it was only appropriate. The Kiwis are big on their pies, but not the kind of dessert type pies we typically think of in the states. I had a chicken, cranberry and brie stuffed pastry for breakfast. I then discovered yet another local brewery and purchased two bottles of Green Man beer. The beer here is great. So is the wine. And the cheese. And the scenery. And the people. New Zealand just generally rocks.

I wandered into the Dunedin Public Art Gallery right in the middle of the city centre at what the locals call “The Octagon.” Not too long after I entered, a local choir started to sing and the acoustics in the three story atrium were beautiful. You could hear their music throughout every exhibit. I quite enjoyed the contemporary pieces by Oh, a former Korean, that were displayed in an interactive exhibit.

By the way, Mom and Dad, when I called you this afternoon, this is what I was looking at: The Dunedin Railway Station, which is the most photographed building in New Zealand.

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Pure Imagination

Friday, November 22, 2013

I woke up this morning and wanted to run around singing “I’ve got a golden ticket!” I got to tour the Dunedin Cadbury chocolate factory tour today, and it made me feel as exclusive as Willy Wonka’s lucky prize holders. With the masses of tourists following behind me. I probably didn’t learn as much as I could have because I was so busy stuffing my face with free samples, but I did find the history of the cocoa beach quite interesting. The Aztecs use to use the cocoa bean for currency. 4 beans were worth a pumpkin, 10 were worth a rabbit and 100 cocoa beans could buy you a slave. I think there is something we could all learn here: maybe if we all got paid in chocolate, this would be a much happier world.

After strolling past the University of Otago campus, I found myself at the Botanic Gardens and then continued on to Baldwin Street, or better known as the world’s steepest street in the world. I hiked up the 35% incline or 19 degree gradient, which may not sound like much, but this street will put most roads in San Francisco to shame. At one point when I looked out, I felt so disoriented that the mountains in the distance appeared to be on their side.

The Inch Bar use to be the smallest bar in the world until it “expanded” and added on another tiny little room. I had the pleasure of meeting the new owner, a very friendly gentleman from Stockholm, and he introduced me to all of his regulars. They told me that the Inch Bar is said to be the friendliest bar in Dunedin, and Dunedin is said to be the friendliest city in New Zealand, and New Zealand is said to be the friendliest country in the world, so by default, I had found myself at the friendliest bar in the world. I couldn’t disagree. Although she doesn’t know this yet, I am looking forward to introducing Emily when she meets me in Dunedin Sunday morning.

I carried on to Craft Bar in the Octagon, and met some more colorful Kiwis. A local who was talking to me told me that he invents lollies. No way. A chocolate factory and the candy man all in one day?!

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The Kiwi Jamestown

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The drive from Gore to Dunedin was full of beautiful green rolling hills and pastures full or fluffy, playful sheep. I was hopeful that this town would be infinitely better than the last. Dunedin is a much larger city than I expected. Considering that here is the first documented settlement of the Marori (the local indigenous community), I had pictured a town much smaller and similar to that of Jamestown. There is a lot of culture here and many buildings of the European influence. I took today’s rainy morning to spend time at the Otago Settler’s Museum and learn about the city’s history. It was interesting to contrast the immigration from Europe to New Zealand to that of the settlement in American history, but what I thought was most mind boggling was the thought of how long it took the British to travel here. The migration from England to New Zealand was the longest travel in the history of the world. And we thought it was a brutal boat ride just hopping over the “pond” from Europe!

21 more hours to go...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I should have listened to my former roommates when they said that Invercargill is “crap.” I also should have been slightly more alarmed when there were only seven people on the bus down here from Gore, myself and the bus driver included. I started to notice that the drive seemed much more commercialized than the rest of New Zealand I have seen, and it didn’t get any better once we arrived in the actual city. It’s quiet here. But not in a quaint and charming Te Anau kind of way. It’s an Invercargill kind of quiet in the industrial and boring kind of way.

When I checked into my hostel and asked the girl at the front desk what she suggests I do while I’m here, I seriously think she was trying to keep from laughing. She sent me on my way to Queens Park, and I walked down a loud traffic street, past abandoned buildings and turned left at the McDonald’s before I reached the gardens. Finally! I found something pretty in Invercargill! (Note my happy face in the picture.) This park has to be the only beauty brought to this dingy old place.

I was so thankful for a beautiful sunny day to walk among the colorful blooms, or else I would literally have no idea what else to do here. My bus departs for Dunedin at 8:45am tomorrow, and I am already starting the countdown. I can certainly think of worse places in the world to be, but Invercargill is not what I had in mind when I pictured New Zealand. You may think, well why did I even stop here? And quite honestly, I do not know. On the map, it looked like the next legitimate stop over from Te Anau, but I did not realize until after the fact that both of my buses from Te Anau and to Dunedin both swap in Gore. Apparently people really only pass through Invercargill when they are en route to Bluff and/or Stewart Island, neither of which I will be visiting right now. Oh, well. You live, you learn. If anyone asks me how I enjoyed my visit to Invercargill though, I think I might just point to my sweaty arm pit and let them try to figure out the rest. Not the grossest part of your body, but certainly not the most desirable. Cheers!

The Eighth World Wonder

Monday, November 18

People frequently asked me before I left, what is the number one thing you are most excited about doing in New Zealand? Aside from blatantly saying “everything,” I was secretly very excited about traveling to Milford. And today was the day! I booked an excursion with Trips & Tramps (and for all you Americans reading along, the term “tramp” actually refers to hiking, so I have refrained from titling this blog “Tramping in the Bush” because I knew you would have too much of a field day with that one) and took off down the Milford Road. I think that was probably my favorite part of the day. The sights were incredible. I could probably spend an entire day just playing around on the side of the road it was so wondrous. And just as exciting was the fact that I ran into one of my softball teammates, Sam, a fellow Paco’s Taco, at the mirror lakes! Small world, right?! It was a very unexpected and pleasant surprise that were booked on the same cruise for the afternoon.

The term fiord means “a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs, typically formed by submergence of a glaciated valley,” so to say Milford Sound would be technically incorrect. Someone apparently misnamed it a “sound” many years ago and it just kind of stuck. We cruised around on the glacier water and out to the Tasman Sea with the majestic mountains towering over us. We saw whales, a few yellow eyed penguins and a bunch of seals sunbathing on a rock near one of the many waterfalls streaming from the cliffs above. The morning clouds had cleared, the sun was shining bright and the water was a beautiful shade of turquoise. It was a horrible Monday indeed. After our cruise, we went on the Key Summit hike directly off the Milford Road. Our trail coincided with the Routeburn Trek, so I can honestly say that I have now hiked two of the Great Walks. Not too bad for two day’s work. On the way to the top, I even got to fill up my canteen with natural waterfall agua. That made me real happy. Once we reached the summit, we were literally among the surrounding mountain tops. I always wonder when I’m hiking uphill if the view is ever going to be worth it, and in New Zealand, it always is.

PS: I would like to add that when I was writing this in Te Anau, it was 9pm and I was tired. I felt guilty going to bed though because the sun was still out would not set for another 45 minutes.

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Send me on my way!

Hello, there! I haven’t had internet for a few days, so I thought I would catch you up on my travels…

Sunday, November 17

After an exceptionally early rise, a quick stop at Fergbaker for breakfast, and a beautifully scenic bus ride, I arrived safely to Te Anau. And I would like to take this time to give myself a pat on the back for figuring out the bus system and finding my way to my next hostel all by myself. I had forgotten what a terrifying thought it is to be dropped in a new foreign place and not know what or where to go next. Luckily Te Anau is a very small town, so wandering to the YHA hostel with my nearly 30 pound backpack was no sweat. I also cannot believe how much I already miss my Queenstown friends. Major shout out to Adventure Queenstown Hostel for rocking my socks off and having such a welcoming staff. I already can’t wait to be back “home” for Christmas and New Year’s! If you are traveling to the adrenaline capital of the world anytime soon, I highly, highly recommend staying at AQ. Check them out here: http://www.aqhostel.co.nz/

In comparison to Queenstown, Te Anau is far less boisterous. It’s pretty much a small “hub” for hikers coming in and out of one of the great walks such as the Milford Trek, the Kepler Trek and the Routeburn Trek. I am using this town as a layover to get to Milford. The lake is without a doubt the center of Te Anau’s glory. I walked around Lake Te Anau and eventually found myself at the start of the Kepler Trek. The scenery changed drastically and I found myself in what felt like a jungle with a quaint pebble beach to my right. There were small traps planted throughout the forest, and I later found out they are there to catch the New Zealand equivalent of a mink that are deadly to the nation’s kiwi bird, a slowly dying species. These pictures were taken along my journey.

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Downhill from Here

Emily and I ventured into the wild today. We created an adventure of our own in the wilderness of the mountain where the Queenstown gondola is. Up the Tiki Trail, down the Skyline Road and back up the (not so) One Mile Trek. As you might know, I am a huge fan of waterfalls, and so is Emily since they don’t really have them in England. We heard rushing water coming from somewhere off the One Mile Trek, so we figured why not explore. The waterfall we found was a spectacular treat and another test to how New Zealand never fails to surprise you with all kinds of hidden gems. We clambered over fallen tree branches and endless limbs to get the first shot posted.

We didn’t realized how much we detoured off the “marked” trail to play in the water, and needless to say, we strayed much further away than we thought. We were both practically on our hands and knees crawling up the mountain to a spot where we thought the top of the gondola might be. “Hey, Emily! I’ve got good news, and I’ve got bad news. The good news is, judging by the shrinking treeline, I think we reached the top of the mountain. The bad new is, I don’t think the gondola is anywhere in sight.” We were a hot mess. Who knew it would be such an adventure to stray off the beaten path?

Luckily enough, a friendly mountain biker shared his map with us and we finally made the hour long journey to the top of the gondola about 4 hours later. And no injuries to report. Expect for the fact that Emily ate it probably less than 20 feet down on our return. She has the bloody knee and ripped pants to prove it.

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Mas vino, por favor

Yesterday, my British roommate Emily (and for all of you Friends fans, she is way cooler than Ross Geller’s temporary Emily) went on the Queenstown Wine Trail. We ventured out into the valleys of Central Otago where the vineyards are surrounded by rolling green hills and snow capped mountains in the distance. Our first tasting was at the Gibbston Valley Wines where I got to sample quite possibly the best Pinot Gris ever. The first picture posted was taken in their wine cave. After lunch, we headed to Peregrine Wines, Mt Rosa and finished at Amisfield Winery. The scenery, and the beverages were wonderful. Cheers!

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I went canyoning yesterday, and it was INCREDIBLE! I don’t even begin to know how to describe the activity, so it might be best if you Google it. Even a day after, my mind is still jumbled trying to process everything we did. In a nutshell, it is an extreme “sport” of sorts where you use various methods to get down the canyon. In the water. In the ice cold (oh, wait… we were’t allowed to use the “c” word…) absolutely freezing water! Freezing water. Like the kind of water that is made from melting snow. Let that sink in.

We started our adventure with a zip line. And if anyone remembers my last episode in Panama, you would remember that I forgot to brake and smashed into a tree. Ouch. So needless to say, it was quite a relief that we didn’t have to manually brake either time. Next, we got to absail down the side of a mountain. I figured since I had repelled down the side of a building in Norfolk before, I would be quite graceful at this, but it didn’t exactly end like so. There was a grove into the cliff towards the bottom, and as I heard the guide tell me to look over my shoulder, I kind of forgot what I was doing and smashed into the rocks. Oops. Oh well, if a bruise on my shoulder is the only injury I sustained throughout the day, I would call that complete success.

I could hear the water roaring, and knew we had made it into the canyon. We shimmied our way in the water and hugged the rocks to keep from slipping. Then we found ourselves where the sidewalk ends, so to speak. Hello, waterfall! And that, my friends, would be our only way down. I don’t exactly know how high 5 meters is (roughly 15 feet I think?) and I had no idea what to expect, or what I had gotten myself into really, but there was no turning back now! The guide helped position myself, and off I went! Since I literally could not see the bottom of the fall from where I started, I somehow got it in my head that I would be sliding on rocks the whole time, but no. That was not the case. There was quite a drop off where I essentially free fell into the fathoms below. Surprise!

Honestly, the worst part was how freezing the water was. Even though we were dressed in wet suits, between the adrenaline rush and the temperature shock, I thought I was having a slight asthma attack I was struggling so hard to breathe. It was incredible. We climbed up another rock on the opposite side of the pool and got to cliff jump back into the same waters that literally took my breath away. We then carried on and floated a bit down the river. This is not the peaceful kind of “river” you might have pictured in your mind. Remember, I had just turned a waterfall into a huge slide. There are still unstable rocks everywhere and unpredictable rushing waters surrounding us. Before we got back out to the serene calm waters, we encountered a few smaller jumps and dives and one final absail, much less intense than the first. The entire day was very overwhelming, but incredibly rewarding. Thank you to the guides for keeping my nerves in check and being so wonderful. It was certainly an experience I will never forget. If you would like more information, please feel free to visit http://www.canyoning.co.nz.

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Here’s the link to the video clip of the head Kiwi sending me over a waterfall…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXXTdKN4KpY&feature=youtu.be

Happy Place

I had the opportunity to go back to Arrowtown today and spend the afternoon exploring the old mining town where some lucky folk once struck gold. I originally planned to enjoy a leisurely Monday wandering the streets of the town and treating myself to a cafe type lunch with a crisp glass of white wine, but something bigger was in store for me.

My adventure began alongside the Arrow River. The babbling brooks and the vibrantly green trees that framed the scene then inspired me to impulsively detour to Tobin’s Track. I clearly had no idea what I was getting myself into, climbing up an unforgiving path in my jeans and jandals, but the reward was utterly incredible. At the top of a very tall mountain, I found my happy place.

I have never in my life experienced such immense beauty and tranquility in one place. I cannot even begin to articulate the feeling of being there and finding such a surprising view. If you can imagine your absolute oasis in your most exquisite dreams, New Zealand can create its reality. The town was below, the mountains were ahead, there were undisturbed pastures everywhere I looked, and as I sat to reflect, I could even hear the sheep grazing behind me. It was peaceful like you couldn’t even believe.