Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Picton - Nelson - Kaikoura

This past Sunday I left for my travels through the upper part of the South Island. It's interesting that this country is split up into two islands, so far they have been two completely different places. The majority of the people are in the North Island, while the majority of the sheep are in the South Island.

On Sunday my friend Kelsey (also an AU student) and I left at 8:30 am to take the ferry from Wellington Harbor to the South Island city of Picton. The ferry ride took three hours, but was a very beautiful ride. As we left Wellington we could see all of the city behind us and it surprised me how large it actually is. As we traveled through the Cook Straight we hugged the coast line and were probably less than 500 meters from shore. Of course everyone on board was excited when we saw groups of dolphins come alongside the ferry. The ferry is in fact nothing like a ferry that I imagined. It was more like a small cruise ship. There are decks to stand on outside to watch the journey and then inside there are little cabins for sleeping and relaxing during the middle part of the journey. The ferry also holds plenty of cars, which you can take between islands.

After landing in Picton, Kelsey and I quickly ran to catch our bus to Nelson which left at 12:15. That bus ride took us through the well-known Marlborough wine country. We saw very few houses, but plenty of vineyards and farms. Our bus driver pointed out the several wind turbines that we saw and noted that these are in fact not for wind power, but used to generate air flow over the vineyards to prevent frost from settling.

After arriving in Nelson, Kelsey and I took a cab to the airport to pick up our rental car. We're keeping the car till Thursday when we'll drop it off in Christchurch. Nelson City is the most gorgeous beach town. The town is surrounded by mountains as it sits right on the crystal clear Pacific Ocean.

Sunday night we checked into our first hostel, Accents on the Park, which was a clean and friendly little place right in downtown Nelson. On Monday Kelsey and I drove up to Abel Tasman National Park, passing through Kaiteriteri and Monueka. All the roads here in the South Island are one lane and quite twisty and turny. Not only am I having to learn to drive on the other side of the road, but driving on roads that are questionably wide enough for two cars to pass. Abel Tasman was another gorgeous spot with mountains and ocean to explore. We took a short hike through the park, but most backpackers take a 2-4 day hike through the park. I guess if I ever come back to NZ that will be something to add to my list to do.

Tuesday morning we left to drive to Kaikoura taking the route through the Lewis Pass. This drive was certainly the most rural and wild drive I've ever made. We certainly saw more sheep than people and probably only saw 20 other cars in our four hour drive. The scenery was mostly mountains, grass, and some very dry river beds.

We stopped in Hanmer Springs which is a natural hot spring in a town of just 700 people. After driving for hours and not seeing any people it was nice to make a pit stop to relax in the springs. It cost us just $12 to use the varying temperature pools for as long as we liked. After spending a few hours in Hanmer Springs we continued our drive to the coastal town of Kaikoura. We arrived here yesterday afternoon and stayed in a quaint little hostel called the Lazy Shag. It was right on the beach and filled with many backpackers from all over the world. Our room had one girl from Germany, one from Switzerland, and another from Holland. It's pretty neat to meet people from such various places and hear all about where they have been and what they have liked and disliked in NZ.

This afternoon we are taking a boat ride out to a reef to see the seals and whales that populate this area of the South Island. After our boat ride we'll finish our drive down to Christchurch, which should take about an hour. We're staying in Christchurch till Saturday then taking a plane ride back to Wellington. Classes start Monday!

After just three days in the South Island I can see why so many people say this is the more beautiful island. There certainly is a lot to offer down here and so much to explore. I wish I could bring all my friends and family here right now just to see the spectacular sites that I've seen so far. Because I left my computer back in Wellington I have not had a chance to upload any of my some 200 pictures I have taken, but I will be sure to add as many as I can when I get back so you can all see where I have been.

Hope all is well with everyone!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gidday Everyone!

After a day and a half of travel I arrived safely in Wellington Tuesday morning. I flew from Miami to LA to Auckland and then finally to Wellington. I’ve since spent the time adjusting to the time zone difference (16 hours ahead) and discovering the city of Wellington. For those of you who have not been to Wellington before (most except my good friend KB), Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand, located on the southern tip of the North Island with a population just over 400,000.

Yesterday, the university I am attending, Victoria University of Wellington (VIC) had an international student orientation for the some 300 students doing a semester here. Although the majority of the students that are here are from the United States, there were several other countries represented, even Finland. The day was spent learning more about the city, Kiwi (New Zealander) culture, and the educational experience I’ll be having at VIC. We finished the day by registering for classes, although I need to still work out a few kinks in my schedule I think I’ll be taking Political Philosophy, Politics and the Media in New Zealand, and Popular Media Culture.

I’m hoping to take a trip next week to the northern part of the South Island. There is a ferry that goes from Wellington to Picton, which takes about three hours. After landing in Picton we will be able to drive, or take the train to Christchurch and see most of the country between the two spots. While I would like to get down to Queenstown and Milford Sound in the earlier part of my trip, it is the height of tourist season there now so it’s pretty difficult to find any cheap and convenient way to travel down there for next week.

Just a few immediate differences I've noticed since arriving here in
NZ, obviously there is a strong accent that takes some getting used to. For the letter Z, Kiwis say "zed" and for the letter W, they say "dub". Corner stores are called dairies, while a pharmacy is called a chemist. They pretty much abbreviate everything they can!
So far the weather has been pretty moderate. Mid-60s to low 70s, but windy as can be. Wellington certainly is the windy city. And I'll be sure to add more as my trip continues!