Archives for the month of: December, 2013

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Since I’ve been saving the original bungee jump for when Mom comes to visit me in March, I treated myself to a Christmas Shotover Canyon Swing jump for the time being.  The weather was beautiful all day long until we all hopped in the car to drive to the jump site.  It clouded over and started spitting rain, and I seriously think it was a sign of disapproval from Grandma ET upstairs.

The lookout into the canyon below was spectacular with the clear blue waters below and lush green mountains surrounding us.  After they strapped me in, it was pretty hard to see the fathoms below, so I think that helped with my nerves.  For my first descent, I chose to go down on a slide.  I told the guides that I am quite the nervous pee-er (I successfully retained all of my bodily fluids), said goodbye to my friend Laura who came to watch and shimmied my way down the slide.  I felt like I should have been holding my nose just like I was on a huge water slide.  My little legs went flailing about and I free fell for 60 meters at 150km/hr similar to a bungee jump, but was caught and sat like you would in a huge suspended swing.

The views at the bottom were infinitely better.  As I dangled above the canyon water, there were river rafters floating past and I waved and exchanged a few hellos.  I soaked in as much of the surrounding scenery as I could before I was pulled back up to the top.  It was obviously extremely exhilarating.  The sun came out in time to shine down and transform the background into even more radiant colors and I jumped a second time.  But this time to make it extra scary, I went backwards.  The adrenaline rush was far more intense.  I think I’m hooked!

Swing 03 - Multi

Swing 08 - Small Multi

Hostel

I felt inspired to write this piece after having the world’s worst roommate my last night in Wanaka. This roommate did not steal from us nor did he get pissed and urinate all over our belongings. However, in my opinion, the worst kind of roommate you could ever encounter is the snorer. This is not the kind of snoring you would typically imagine. We all get drunk and forget how to breathe sometimes, but at some point throughout the night we eventually roll over and for an instant, the rest of the room can enjoy a brief moment of silence. No, this guy was ruthless, and I’m pretty sure he never even learned how to breathe through his nose when he was a baby. He created the most earth shattering racket I have ever experienced in my entire life. A noise so thunderous I swear the walls were shaking. And the impressive thing about it is he was doing all of this in his subconscious. As his bottom bunker, I felt responsible to silence him for my other four roommate’s sake, but repeatedly kicking him for a solid hour and a half proved to be a futile means of exercise. I knew I would wake up tired and cranky because of him, and I think I am still bitter to this day. Luckily, this picture of Emily sharing my pain always makes me laugh as loud as his snoring.

I would like to dedicate this blog to anyone who has never lived in a hostel before or doesn’t know much about a backpacker’s lifestyle. It’s an experience that will make you feel like you’re a college freshman all over again. Except when I was living in McKay Hall at the University of Tampa, my one roommate and I both fluently spoke English. And it wasn’t a constant guessing game of who is coming and who is going. You can have the world’s most pleasant roommate, chat with them all night, and when you wake up, they’re gone forever.

Backpackers are constantly after anything free. Free breakfast, free unlimited WiFi, free towels, free DVD rentals, you name it. We all know how to ball on a budget; right down to bargain grocery shopping and even reintroducing cup of noodles to your diet. It’s not so much that we are cheap (even though I definitely still am), but rather the further we can make our dollar stretch, the longer we will have the luxury to travel and see the world.

If you are anything like me, you know that checking in as early as possible can help score you the bottom bunk. Shower shoes become your best friend, locks are always handy, privacy is a thing of the past, you wake up whenever the first person in your dorm starts to move, you never forget to leave for the bathroom without your room key, and at some point in your stay, you will inevitably whack your head on someone else’s bunk while fumbling around in the dark. In fact, that happened to me back in Te Anau, and I got a very painful bump on my forehead to show for it. Hostel living is without a doubt the cheapest and best way to travel, not to mention the best way to meet fellow backpackers from every corner of the globe just like yourself.

Adventure Queenstown Hostel has become like my home away from home, and I have been so happy to spend the holidays with such great friends, old and new. If you are curious about anything else going on in my New Zealand life at the moment, I would be more than happy to share with you. Please feel free to ask questions, send comments or inspire other topics of discussion and e-mail me at steph.m.dobson@gmail.com. Thank you so much for reading!

The 12 Pubs of Boxing Day

Thursday, December 26, 2013

I got to celebrate my first Boxing Day today. I still don’t really understand the holiday, but it is basically a day centered around drinking. And drinking we did. In 12 different pubs to be exact. Cheers!

PS: I apologize for the completely lazy blog, but the creative juices aren’t flowing like they should be today.

Christmas With (not so) Strangers

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

On my flight down to New Zealand, a woman asked me about my upcoming travels. I told her about my working holiday visa and how I plan to be abroad for the next seven months. “Oh my gosh! You’re going to spend Christmas with strangers?!” Well, thanks for comforting me, woman. It made me sad for a moment, but not for me, sad for her. I was confident that I would meet some of the most interesting and inspiring people of my life during these next few months, and it made me sad for her that she did not see it the same way. I knew once I got to meet more travelers such as myself, we would be forming very strong and intense bonds, and we would not be “strangers” for long.

I feel that when you are thrown so far out of your comfort zone, you are forced to adapt to new and sometimes uncomfortable situations much quicker than you normally would. For me personally, traveling is the best way to grow as an individual, and I feel that I have made good use of my time in New Zealand as a retreat of sorts to gain some clarity and perspective on life. You do not have the convenience of calling Mommy and Daddy whenever you can’t figure something out. And quite honestly, they probably don’t have all the New Zealand answers for you anyway. I was extremely anxious about traveling as a solo 25 year old American female with no agenda once I arrived, but things tend to fall into place even better when you do not have any plans.

While I miss everyone back home so much and wish I could be in Virginia to rejoice the holidays, I am very happy to be in Queenstown to celebrate with my new Adventure Queenstown Hostel friends. I have been Christmas-ing with Emily, my two Irish roommates Catherine and Laura and Santa Clause Rory from Northern Ireland amongst my other friends in town.

I have and will continue to be safe in my travels, and if anyone wants to come visit me before I leave in June, I would be more than happy to show you around. Merry Christmas, and a very happy new year! Lots of love from the South Island, Steph

Not all those who wander are lost.

Thought Catalog

When I started traveling, my dad asked what I’m running away from. My mother constantly wants to know when I will “settle down” and join the “real world”. Someone once commented on my blog and told me to stop running away and live life. There was even a blog called “Mom says I’m Running Away” once.

I’m not sure why, but there is this perception out there that anyone who travels long-term and isn’t interested in settling down or getting a conventional job must be running away from something.

They are just trying to “escape life.”

The general opinion is that traveling is something everyone should do — that gap years after college and short vacations are acceptable. But for those of us who lead nomadic lifestyles, or just linger a bit too long somewhere, we are running away.

Yes, travel — but just not for too long.

We nomads must have…

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When's the mountain cooking dinner?

Thursday, December 20, 2013

I wish I could bottle up the serenity of the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. I came here to relax for a few days before heading back to Queenstown to meet up with some friends for Christmas and New Year’s. The village is tiny as I expected. The “groceries” are few and expensive, so if you plan on visiting, definitely try to stop by Twizel to grocery shop first. I am staying at the Mount Cook Backpacker Lodge and it is a much larger hostel than the others I have visited, but I booked for the views and am not disappointed. My room has a balcony overlooking the valley and a direct shot of Mount Sefton with Mount Cook leering to the right.

The weather yesterday and today has been completely flawless. The sun’s rays are completely consuming and make me feel as if the world is at ease like I now feel with myself. With such striking days, it could make anyone believe that heartache is a thing of the past and the promise of tomorrow will last forever. It’s a kind of mood that makes me feel happy, but not an exuberant kind of emotion, more of a placid kind of peaceful. In this moment, everything is perfect.

I hiked through the valley past fields of wildflowers down the Kea Point to reach the base of Mount Sefton and the Mueller Glacier. I met a very nice Englishman there who suggested I continue my journey through the Hooker Valley, and the sights were incredible. I crossed a few suspension bridges to finally arrive at Terminal Lake at the foot of Mount Cook. I don’t know why I was surprised to find small icebergs floating in the water, but it only makes sense since I had just passed glaciers and snow capped mountains.

At 3,754 meters or 12,316 feet, Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand, and Sir Edmund Hillary used this mountain in training to later become the first person to ever summit Mount Everest. The Kiwis are incredibly proud of his ascent and Hillary is regarded as the greatest New Zealander of all time, so much that he is on the $5 note. It’s pretty refreshing to be in a country where a citizen’s success is not measured by political achievements, but rather personal triumphs that represent the rest of the country.

I think I finally found a website to upload all of my pictures. I have an account with Snap Fish. The link should work, but please let me know if it does not. Also, these pictures do not even come close to doing this country justice, but I hope you enjoy them anyway. Thanks so much for reading along and enjoying my adventures with me! XOXO, Steph

http://www4.snapfish.co.nz/snapfishnz/thumbnailshare/AlbumID=9443890019/a=12766471019_12766471019/otsc=SHR/otsi=SALBlink/

That Town Cray

Monday, December 16, 2013

I set off for Kaikoura this morning, and will meet back up with Emily and the rest of our friends in Queenstown for Christmas on the 23rd. Kaikoura is a cute little beach town a little less than 3 hours north of Christchurch on the East Coast near the top of the South Island. This town is huge on fishing and more specifically catching crayfish, or what looks like a lobster to me. They are extremely expensive at upwards of $90 for the entire crayfish. Kaikoura literally means eat “kai” crayfish “koura” in the native language. I am currently staying at an awesome hostel called the Fish Tank Lodge. My Lonely Planet guide book says it best when they describe the décor as Michelangelo meets Finding Nemo. The staff, Craig, is wonderfully welcoming and I looking forward to enjoying the balcony overlooking the beach.

There is an immense amount of wildlife in this area, and I went to visit the fur seals first. Their sanctuary lies among flat rocks split by streams of marine organisms on a secluded peninsula about a thirty minute walk from town. Seals sift the sea for food up to three weeks at a time, so upon their return to the shore they are after some much needed R&R. Sleep is vital to their health and survival, so it is always important to never disturb them when they are lounging about. I would be tired if I went on a multi-day hunting spree, too.

Ever since I arrived in New Zealand, I have been after a sheep shearing, and I just so happened to stumble upon a class on my way back to town. I got to feed a lamb and a ram, saw a rare black sheep (they are 1 in 1,000) and learned about shearing. Sheep get shaved twice a year, and their various types of wool are used for different commodities. Apparently the sheep shearing record is over 500 fully grown sheep in an 8 hour day. Talk about being the sheep whisperer.

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

From a backpacker’s standpoint, Emily and I had heard nothing but negative things about the current state of Christchurch. The South Island’s largest city was hit by an earthquake in 2008 and traumatized by another one in 2011. The entire city centre is still in shambles and is currently classified as a red zone. There are vacant building sites on every corner and many businesses were forced to cease construction due to lack of funds. After putting all of that in writing, I have made Christchurch sound like a miserable war zone, but what I experienced was far more inspiring.

The posted picture is of the Pallet Pavilion where a large hotel once stood. The concept of this establishment encompasses the meaning of community completely. “We are a community space built by volunteers for live music, performance and other events. We have coffee, cold drinks, free wifi and a bar Thursday – Saturday evenings.” I strongly believe that in times of crisis, people come together to support one another even more, and the innovative Kiwis couldn’t have demonstrated their sense of community better. We found a few temporary sites like these scattered about, and although locals do not wander the downtown streets frequently, it is refreshing to feel like you cannot shake a Kiwi’s pride. At least that’s the way I feel about it after my experiences.

Dobson the Discoverer

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I am apparently related to a very famous European explorer. Arthur Dobson discovered a key pass connecting the East and West Coasts in 1864 when people needed to get through the Southern Alps from Christchurch during the gold rush. If I can prove the family tree connection, I am sure to be a shoe-in to get me a Kiwi passport.

The drive was incredible as I suspected. Once we reached Arthur’s Pass, the road winded through open valleys snuggled between large mountains, many with hidden waterfalls. At one of the many overlooks we visited, we quickly got acquainted with the cheeky kea bird, or Alpine parrot. We left the windows in Blitzen rolled down and while we were busy snapping pictures, one allegedly jumped in our car. He would have been a fun hitchhiker for the ride if he hadn’t of flown out to perch on the side view mirror and peck away at the window lining. “Hey Emily, aren’t you glad we have insurance?”

We enjoyed many hikes in the area to include the Dobson nature walk, the Bealey chasm walk, and hikes to the Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall and Bridal Veil Waterfall. After the pass, we continued to enjoy the scenic route to Christchurch. We also visited the Craigieburn Forest Park where scenes from “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” were filmed and found the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve which was amazing and where my picture of the day was taken.