When I look around, I see a country that is just waiting to be enjoyed, indulged in, and gobbled up. Every day, for one reason or another, I am reminded of how rich this island is. New Zealand is like a Pinterest-perfect dessert; full of decadent flavors, and layers upon layers of savory goodness. While I’m here, I want to indulge myself with more sights, more adventures, more wonders. So when my dear friends suggested that we spend a long weekend in Queenstown, I couldn’t possibly say no. It’s true that I may have just visited a couple of weekends ago, but I choose to look at my first visit as the first course meal, and this weekend as going back for seconds.
We began our weekend at Lake Tekapo, half way between Christchurch and Queenstown. For years, it has come as a shock to my friends and peers that I had never been camping before, and when my Canterbury friends found out, they were determined to change that. Equipped with our borrowed three person tent, my friends and I managed to set up camp right off of the lake shore. I felt so proud and frankly giddy with excitement! My inner child was bursting forth at the thought of sleeping in our own make-shift club house. Our group of about ten or so spent the evening walking along the rocky shore together as the sun set, all of us sharing stories and marveling at the mountainous horizon together.
Before long, the stars started to fade into view one at a time, until all of a sudden they completely engulfed the southern hemisphere above us. Words and pictures don’t stand a chance against the sheer magnitude of the night sky we witnessed at Lake Tekapo that evening. There were more stars in the sky than I had ever seen before, and the Milky Way shined in full force. The Milky Way for crying out loud! The closest I had ever come to seeing the Milky Way was in the candy isle at the grocery store, and in one swift moment, there it was; stunning, massive, bedazzled. As if the Milky Way wasn’t magical enough, I saw two incredibly fantastic shooting stars, each appearing for just a brief moment; blink and you’d miss it. I believe that one of God’s favorite things to do is to take His children’s breath away, and that night, all ten of us were certainly breathless.
Now, I wish I could tell you that sleeping in a tent was an absolute pleasure; that I felt one with nature and was lulled into a deep sleep by the surrounding flora and fauna. However, if I told you that, I would be lying. The outside world and I were at war all night, and I regret to announce that I completely lost the battle. My thin sleeping bag and our even thinner tent were no match for the blustering, freezing cold wind that woke me up every half hour, sending me into a half-awake, zombie like state of misery and woe. Maybe someday I’ll give it another go when I prepare a little more vigilantly. Perhaps it would have been wise to spend a little more than fifteen dollars on my sleeping bag…
Once I deemed sleeping to be impossible, I decided to get up and wait for sunrise. My fellow tent-mates joined me on the dock while it was still dark as we huddled together for warmth, all of us sleepy eyed and sore from a less than perfect night’s rest. As we waited for the sun to peek through the mountain range, we had some fun mingling with the local ducks, all of whom were eager to snag an easy breakfast from us total softies. Before long, the sun had fully revealed itself from behind the mountains, complete with a stunning array of beams and color, not to mention warmth! I enjoyed the fruits of our hard night, and then promptly shuffled back to the tent, desperate for just one more hour of sleep.
My tent-mates and I later said goodbye to the other half of our group as they continued their weekend journey to Mt. Cook. With some time on our hands before our bus arrived to take us to Queenstown, we decided to hike up Mt. John to the Earth and Sky Observatory. The trek up Mt. John carried me away from reality and towards Middle Earth with every step. Upon reaching the top, I was completely transported into Rohan, riding among the open fields of honey colored grass, sprinkled with evergreen pines and mountains that went on for days.
Once we completed our Middle Earth hike, my friends and I got back on the bus and continued our trip to Queenstown. I feel like I should pause and acknowledge these folks that I always refer to as my friends. Christoff and Jess are two of my closest friends here, and they are huge proponents in the wild success of my study abroad experience so far. Whether we are going on larger than life trips or we are sitting on my couch watching just one more episode of House of Cards, they bring out the best in me. They’re my go-to people, my support team, my adventure buddies. I’ve been finding is that it’s not the place, but the people that make experiences memorable, and my time with Christoff and Jess has continued to prove that to me over and over again.
Our long bus ride to Queenstown concluded on Saturday evening, and considering our exhausting morning, it made sense that we didn’t have a ton of energy to go out that night. We did, however, have the perfect amount of stamina left to wait in line for a Fergburger, which was a knock out as always. Jess and I showed Christoff some of our favorite little shops and sights as we digested our burgers, and not long after we got ready for bed and hit the hay. Sleeping in an actual bed had never felt so good, and I slept like a rock!
Queenstown day two was jam-packed from the moment our alarms went off. Our day began with a delightful bike ride around the lake. We rode along the Queenstown Path, and besides the magnificent mountain range surrounding the lake, the area reminded me greatly of lake towns in my Midwestern homeland. Lake houses lined one side of the path, many of which were connected by gravel stone paths that led to boats carefully tied to long wooden docks. It was a small glimmer of familiarity, like two of my favorite places were merging together as one.
Once the three of us had peddled to our heart’s content, we met up with Jane, Director of Arcadia New Zealand programs, for a mid-afternoon hike up Queenstown Hill. Seeing Jane always makes my day. She baked us cookies, guided us up the hill, and was in no shortage of fantastic stories of her life well lived. Our walk with Jane was followed by a kayaking expedition on the lake. I absolutely love kayaking, so being able to go in Queenstown was quite a treat! We three paddled and played, enjoying the scenery and the serenity of the moment.
Jess and I, after kayaking, found an adorable second-hand shop hidden away amongst Queenstown’s winding streets, and enjoyed rummaging for treasures. When it came time for dinner, none of us could think of a better place to eat than Fergburger, so we happily ate there again. If I wouldn’t blow up like a balloon, I’m pretty sure I could eat at Fergburger every day. Seriously, they’re that good. Once our bellies were full to bursting, we perused the town and found a bar called Cowboys that we just had to see. It was a completely stereotyped Texan bar, but like docks we peddled past earlier, it was a little taste of home and I loved it. Jess, Christoff, and I drank cold beer, told stories, and laughed in Cowboys for hours before deciding it was time to turn in for the night.
Our trip drew to a close on Monday morning as we packed up our things, got on the bus, and began our eight hour journey back home. I couldn’t be more thankful for the chance to indulge more in the deliciousness of Queenstown, full of its unique mix of spices and tastes that make it one of the best towns I’ve been to. New Zealand continues to astound me with its magnificence, and I can’t wait to see what next weekend has in store!