As I finally sit down to write this, I have to minimize tabs upon tabs of campsites, camper vans, and tramping tracks. I don’t think I’ve sat still since arriving in New Zealand, and I have yet to experience a full weekend in Wellington, my new home. It’s pretty easy to stay active though- it seems as though I am discovering new places to explore every day!
Miles 0-20 Walked, Miles 0-398 Traveled
Stepping off the plane in Auckland, I got my first taste of the northern New Zealand summer- hot and sunny! We were immediately whisked into the city for a whirlwind tour (City! Beaches! Tunnels!) that had one objective: to keep us awake until 8pm. Still fighting jet-lag, our next two days were in the geothermally active city of Rotorua. Here we saw Kiwis (the bird, not the people), watched sheep shearing and herding, visited the Waiotapu geothermal park, experienced traditional Maori culture, and rolled ourselves in inflatable balls down huge hills. The entire town smelled of sulfur, and it was interesting to watch steam escape from cracks in the sidewalk and not see anyone be the least bit concerned. On our fourth morning, we flew to Wellington and settled into our new flats.
Blister count: 0
Miles 20-71 Walked
Wow! Talk about stunning! I was immediately swept off my feet by Wellington. My first week here was full of sunshine and blue skies. I woke up every morning with abundant energy and a desire to explore every inch of my new city. These day long explorations included walks to the Sunday morning waterfront farmers market (the biggest one I’ve ever been to!), Oriental Bay Beach, Zealandia, Cuba Street, Te Papa (the national museum), and often just wanders through the city that ended with me fabulously lost. An excerpt from my journal with notes to myself sums up my early explorations nicely: “Find free city wifi! Cuba Street looks cool. Go climb Mt Victoria! Figure out NZ coins. Buy sunscreen. Bring togs and flip flops everywhere. Very windy- bring layers.”
I did, in fact, climb Mt. Victoria. It was a bright, sunny day, and a friend of mine and I decided to walk a portion of the Southern Walkway (Wellington is a bay surrounded by a ridge of mountains, and there are well maintained trails along these ridges). Four hours later we had soaked in gorgeous 360 views and enjoyed the peaceful forests above the city. When the opportunity came to climb Mt. Vic again that evening, we went with sore feet and tired smiles, but it was worth the rigorous climb.
Blister count: 1
Miles 71-97 Walked, Miles 398-848 Travelled
With a five-day break between the end of international orientation and the beginning of classes, I was itching to see more of New Zealand while the weather was still perfect. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing has been on my list of must do hikes for years now, so I decided to book a bus ticket and two nights at a hostel outside Tongariro National Park. Word got out about this awesome hike, so a lot of program-mates and flat-mates ended up converging on the crossing at the same time (I’m not complaining, it’s always fun to have hiking buddies!). This trip was my first introduction to the famed New Zealand backpacking culture. At the hostel, I met Germans, Brits, Kiwis, Chinese, and of course, Americans. Everyone was excited to chat about their adventures and were very willing to share tips and tricks. I was even invited to stay at my shuttle driver’s house if I ever returned to Tongariro! The hike itself was indescribable (although I’ll attempt to here): a sunrise over Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom for LOTR fans), alternating steep climbs with treks across crater basins, and a peak with views of the epic volcanic landscape. Just past the peak are the famous blue and green pools and then a long trek down through the mountains and into the jungle. With the sun out and the wind at a minimum, the views through the entire hike were unbeatable. The entire bus ride back I was dreaming of this otherworldly place.
Blister count: 2
Miles 97-126 Walked
A surf lesson at Lyall Bay was the bittersweet ending to my weeks of all play and no work. Classes started the next day, so I soaked up the sunshine and salt, and fell even more in love with this city on the water. Even though I had to spend significant amounts of time in lecture halls and labs, I still managed to get my steps in by walking the steep hills to and from class, going grocery shopping downtown (akin to a cross-fit workout if you don’t take the bus), and escaping to the Wellington Botanical Gardens.
Blister count: 2
Miles 126-150 Walked, Miles 848-1,224 Travelled
I didn’t have to suffer through actual academia for too long though, as the weekend brought the much-anticipated trip to Abel Tasman National Park with Arcadia. Early Friday morning, we all made our way down to the ferry terminal with backpacks full of food, water, warm clothes, and rain jackets. Our first crossing of the Cook Strait was stunning, and bore little resemblance to what we would experience in the future. Most of the three-hour crossing was spent out on the deck dolphin watching, penguin spotting, and island photographing. After a long bus ride from Picton, we arrived at the most beautiful hostel I have ever stayed at- it helped that it was nestled between green mountains and a wide, wide golden sand beach. That night we explored the beach at low tide, enjoying the evening light playing across the distant islands and mountains. The morning was early, but included a water taxi (that stopped at an island so we could watch seals play!) to the beginning of our tramp. The rain that we were anticipating came down in full force throughout the day, so we were unable to see the post-card perfect coast lines of Abel Tasman; we instead got to experience a more mysterious, foggy, soft side of the landscape. By the time we arrived at the beach to be picked up by our hostel (a cozy boat with bunks!), we were soaked through. Jumping off the roof of the boat and then warming up with a hot deck shower and tea was the perfect way to end our adventurous day. After a home cooked breakfast by our host, we were delivered back to the beach to begin day two of our tramp. The sun came out this day, and we rejoiced by spending a long lunch in a gorgeous sandy bay, swimming and lounging.
Soon, it wasn’t all fine and dandy, however. The ferry ride back from the South Island was very rough. Program-mates were sick, I was sick, our director was sick (sorry Jane); in short, we were very happy to make it across the Cook Strait and back into Wellington. Luckily we had such a grand time on the trip that the sour ending didn’t spoil our memories!
Blister count: 3, puke count: 1, bug bite count: too numerous to determine
So here I sit, typing my 20 days of experience into a (large) bite size bit, hopefully still short enough to allow you to read all the way to this point. And while I described what I have done in these past 20 days, what I failed to capture is the stunning beauty of both the landscape and the people. I haven’t told you about quiet moments in between classes at the Botanical Gardens. Or Jane, our Kiwi director, inviting us to coffee with her visiting parents. Or of the international love story told to me while hiking through the South Island bush. Case in fact - I’m heading to a hike along the Kapiti coast tomorrow that a lady on a bus recommended to me. Needless to say, my first three weeks on the Land of the Long White Cloud have been nothing short of wonderful.