Sunday, May 30, 2010

Rotorua & Taupo

The past two weekends have been filled with adventure and travel. Last weekend, which was Keri and Zoe's last weekend in NZ we took a 7 hour bus ride up the North Island to Rotorua. The town is well known for its' Maori culture as well as active geysers, hot springs, and mud pools. We arrived in Rotorua (also called Rotovegas by some of the locals) in the late evening of Thursday May 20th. The next day we packed in a lot of activities, as it was really our only day in the town. First we visited Te Puia which is an area with an active geyser and tons of hot pools. Everyone warned me that when you get to Rotorua you will know by its' smell. This is in fact true, especially when you are around the geysers. The smell of sulfur is almost overwhelming, but good thing my nose has become accostomed to this smell after living in Florida. After walking around Te Puia we took a local bus to Skyline where you can take a gondola up to the top of the mountain to see the entire town. Also up there we got to take a few turns riding down their luge track. Keri of course being the daredevil rarely used the breaks on the luge, while I was riding the breaks the whole way down.

Here I am with the geyser at Te Puia

Ready to luge!
I brought Keri and Zoe to the airport on Tuesday morning and after having a wonderful two weeks with them sent them on their way back to Florida. I think the both enjoyed their trip here and by the end were both convinced they had to study abroad at some point of their four years of college.

This past weekend I took a trip north to Lake Taupo. Me and three of my Kiwi friends (Jess, Lisa, and Liam) all stayed at a timeshare house that Jess's family has. Lucky for us the house was equipped with its' own hot tub which we took full advantage of. Lake Taupo was created by a volcano over 20,000 years ago and is in fact the crater left from the eruption. While I am completely partial to Lake Champlain in Vermont, I have to say that this is definitely a close second on my favorite lakes list. Traveling with Kiwis was definitely a different experience from traveling with other tourists. My friends knew all the places to take me in order for me to get the full effect of the town. Saturday morning we started of at Huka Falls which is part of the Waikato River. Around 220,000 liters of water goes through the falls ever second and that was quite evident by the fast flow of the river.

Huka Falls

After Huka Falls we went to Craters of the Moon, which similar to Te Puia in Rotorua boasts several geysers, hot springs, and mud pools. As soon as we walked into the park you could see steam coming up in every direction. It took us 45 minutes to walk the boardwalk through the park and to see all the pools and geysers. Next stop on our trip was the largest wine cellar in New Zealand. There were thousands of bottles of wine from all over the world ranging from $20 to several thousand dollars. Here we got to sample a few of New Zealand's most popular wines.
After a day of sight-seeing we enjoyed a hot tub and then later my friends showed me Taupo nightlife.

One of the many mud pools at Craters of the Moon
Sunday morning we enjoyed one of the many amentities that the timeshare offered, a mini golf course! After a leisurely game of putt putt we took out the bikes that the house had and took a ride around the lake. This was a great way to see the lake and several of the summer homes and other attractions around it. Along the way we spotted the "Lake Taupo Hole-in-One Challenge". This was pretty much a tee that you hit a golf ball off of with the intention of getting it onto a pontoon set up out in the middle of the lake with the high hopes of getting it into one of the three holes on the pontoon. We stopped and watched a few eager men try at this for awhile, but no one was lucky.

Taking a break from the bike ride at Lake Taupo. After our bike ride around the lake we packed up and set off for our drive back to Wellington. Along the way we stopped at a few places for some pictures. We first stopped at this spot along the lake where I guess a bunch of the locals usually go cliff-jumping in the summer time. My friends tried to convince me to jump in the lake, but it was just a bit too cold for me. We also stopped at the Army Museum, which unfortunately was closed but we did get to check out the old tanks and cannons outside. Finally we stopped in the Town of Bulls where EVERYTHING and I mean everything in the town has Bull in the name.

We finally arrived back in Wellington around 10 pm and I was definitely ready for bed. This is my last week of class and then the next few weeks are for finals. Luckily for me I only have one in class test which is Thursday and a take home final due early next week. I'm hoping to get one more trip in before I depart for the US on June 23rd. My time here has been absolutely amazing and hopefully you all have been able to see that through my blogs!

Hope everyone is well and enjoyed their Memorial Day Weekend!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Second Trip to the South Island

Last Wednesday to Sunday I took a trip down to the South Island with my sister Keri, her friend Zoe who are visiting till the 25th, and my American friend Kelsey. We flew into Queenstown on Wednesday May 12th where we picked up a rental car and checked into our hostel. It seems almost natural now driving on the left hand side of the road. After checking into our hostel we drove up to the Kawarua Bridge home to one of the AJ Hackett bungy jumps. In fact this is the world's first bungy jump. Keri and Zoe both planned to go for a jump. I'm sure some of you will be disappointed to hear I did not do it. Keri and Zoe were in line to go after a big family of about 6 who were tourists from India. Most of them had no problem doing it but a few of them almost had to be pushed off the platform to go. Neither Keri or Zoe had much trouble taking the plunge off the bridge. They both were dunked into the water on their first bounce and after bouncing around a bit were detached by a boat that floats in the river below. I was quite entertained from the side of the bridge. One day I may regret my decision not to bungy jump in Queenstown, but for now I'm just fine with it.
Thursday morning we woke up at the AU Crew hour of 4 am. We planned to get up to drive to Milford Sound for a boat trip we scheduled. The suggested driving time out to Milford was between 3 and 5 hours, so we played it safe and left at 4:45 to get to our 9:45 am boat ride. The drive was absolutely amazing. We entered the Fiordland National Park after the first two hours of driving and once we were driving through the park the view was absolutely incredible. The road, like most in New Zealand, was one lane (in each direction) and carved through the mountains. We saw multiple water falls and even snow-capped mountains along the drive. Milford Sound itself was also incredible. I don't think I have ever been anywhere else in the world that looks like Milford and I'm not sure that there are many places that can boast its' unique beauty. Our 2.5 hour boat ride brought us up close to the waterfalls and even right up to some seals resting on the rocks of the Sound. Even though it was a rainy dreary day, that is to be expected in Milford Sound. Our boat's tour guide said that if it doesn't rain in the Fiordland National Park for up to 9 days then it is considered a drought!
Here I am on the boat!After taking our time and stopping in Te Anua on our way back, we eventually made it back to Queenstown that afternoon. Thursday evening we experienced some of the nightlife that Queenstown has to offer...which isn't much. The town definitely lives up to its reputation of being a tourist hotspot. Even though it's not summertime there or wintertime to attract skiiers, there were tons of tourists in the town. When we went out that evening, I'm not sure we met one Kiwi between the four of us, but tons of Europeans!
Friday morning we left around 10 am to make our journey across the country to Christchurch. While Kelsey and I already went there once, we figured it'd be a good place to end the trip for Keri and Zoe and also it would be a nice way for us to see the middle part of the country. While the drive took us around 7 hours, we stopped at Lake Wanaka, Twizel, and Lake Tekapo along the way. All of the lakes that we saw were an absolutely incredible blue-green color, thanks to the glaciers that dump into the lakes. I guess the mineral buildup is what makes the water a murky color as well. Driving through Twizel we came upon a salmon farm which we stopped at. It was pretty much a bunch of huge netted-off parts of a lake that was home to thousands of salmon. The owners then caught the fish to freshly fillet and then sell from the farm. While we didn't buy any salmon ourselves, we took plenty of pictures! The drive brought us through some more incredible scenery and my camera was full by the end of the drive.

Lake Wanaka

Lake Tekapo After finally arriving in Christchurch on Friday evening we went straight to a rugby match so Keri and Zoe could witness that important part of Kiwi culture. Of course Kelsey and I spent most of the match trying to explain the rules and figure them out at the same time. Keri and Kelsey spent a good part of the second half of the match trying to decide whether they though football players or rugby players were more impressive athletes. That debate is still on going.
Saturday we spent most of the day walking around Christchurch and showing Keri and Zoe what we had checked out the last time we were there. We headed back to Wellington on Sunday afternoon and I was glad to finally sleep in my own bed for a good night's sleep.

Monday was Keri's 19th birthday and while she was already thrilled to be celebrating it in New Zealand, I had planned something pretty exciting for her..a horse back ride. We took a train from Wellington about an hour north to the very small town of Featherston where we ventured out to Patuna Farms. From the farms we were suited up with an appropriate horse and then took an 1.5 hour trek through some of the 400 acres that the farm boasted. While I hadn't ridden a horse in 3 years, it was luckily just like riding a bike. Hopefully Keri can remember here birthday as an exciting one!

Tomorrow morning I'm taking the girls north to Rotorua to see some of the North Island. We're taking a 7 hour bus ride tomorrow and then returning Saturday afternoon. So while it'll be a quick trip it will be good for the girls to see some of that area and I haven't seen it either so i'm pretty psyched!
Only 5 more weeks left in New Zealand, so I'm making the most of it!

Me and Keri : )

Hope everyone back home is doing well. I miss you all!!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Almost a Kiwi

As always I'm apologizing for not being more up-to-date on my blog posts. It's been almost three weeks since I returned from my vacation to Sydney and Tokyo and my last post.

I've been leading a pretty regular life the past few weeks. Class work has taken up most of my time. I have several papers due in the next few weeks, so I'm just trying to stay on top of all that. As my father reminds me, I did come here to be a student, so occasionally I'll have to write a paper and possibly read a book. I have also been taking part in winter training with a few other rowers at the Wellington Rowing Club. My two closest Kiwi friends, Jess and Lap (nickname for Lisa) are both pretty serious rowers. They have a club season that begins at the end of June, so they are training for that. I figure it is good for me to stay in shape and I get to spend more time with them this way as well! We erg two days a week, do weights/calistetics three other days, and then occasionally get out on the water on the weekends. The weather here is the biggest thing that keeps us off the water. I kid you not when I say that when it is a bad weather day in Wellington, it is a VERY bad weather day. The wind here comes from Antarctica, and I guess the way that New Zealand is shaped the wind just blows right over the South Island and into Wellington. So the first time it was a really windy day in Wellington, I seriously thought I was walking through a hurricane. In Florida, even when the hurricane is on the otherside of the state the weatherman recommends you stay in side. When its windy like that here people go about their business and occasionally have to hold onto a light post when an exceptionally strong gust blows through.

Next week I'm getting my first visitors since I've been here. My lovely little sister Keri is coming over and bringing her friend Zoe (from Naples and UF) for two whole weeks! They arrive on Tuesday the 11th and depart the 25th. Keri will be here for her 19th birthday on May 17th! The day after they arrive we are traveling to the South Island for a few days of travel. Wednesday the 12th we are departing at 9 am to fly to Queenstown. We plan to stay there two nights and see a bunch around the area. Milford Sound is a 3.5 hour drive from the city, so we plan to drive out there and take a boat trip around the Sound. We're also hoping to walk up a glacier and see Lake Wanaka. Queenstown is known to be the adventure capital of New Zealand, famous for bungy jumping, paragliding, and sky diving. Bungy jumping and sky diving are two things I am not particularly drawn to do. I know everyone says its a must to go bungy jumping in Queenstown, but I don't think I would be especially excited to do it in any part of the world. I guess I'll see about that one. Paragliding on the other hand could be a little more appealing. Queenstown and the Fiordland is where a lot of Lord of the Rings was filmed, so there are a few spots that we'll see where some of the filming was done. The scenes from that movie are part of the reason I decided to come to this beautiful country, so I figure I better see them. We depart on Sunday at 2 pm from Christchurch, so we plan to end up there on Saturday evening to spend the night. I hope to see as much of the region as possible in the four days we'll be down there and have a fully charged camera for the entire adventure. I'm still working on other plans for while Keri and Zoe are here. One thing I did promise Keri is that we would go horse-back riding on her birthday (the 17th) so that will definitely happen!

The weekend after the girls leave I have another trip planned to go to Lake Taupo and Rotorua. My friend Jess's family has a time share in Rotorua so we are taking advantage of it and going up with a big group of people. I think it'll be pretty exciting to road trip and see all these places with Kiwis. All my friends of course are excited to travel with an American tourist. I am sure we will both provide plenty of entertainment for one another.

My last final is on June 7th. I could have had finals up until the end of June, so that is why my dad booked my return for June 23rd and of course I have to be back for my cousin Lizzy's wedding on the 26th. So I now have less than 7 weeks left here. Saying that out loud blows my mind. It's hard to believe I've been here for 2 and 1/2 months, the time has of course flown by! Before I know it I'll be arriving back in Burlington, enjoying my short summer, and then starting my senior year of college. Now that really blows my mind!

I have definitely come to appreciate my time here. When I first got here my impression was that everyone loved Americans. We were the coolest people to be from the greatest country in the world. But I've come to learn that it's really only Americans who think this about ourselves. The general opinion of Americans is that we all think we're big hotshots and we do whatever we want. Well thanks George Dubya for that one. Obviously no Kiwi is a fan of him. Since Obama has come into office the feeling towards Americans has lightened a bit. But I don't think Kiwis regard him as our president, but more as a celebrity. They all love him, but it is definitely in more of a worship kind of way as opposed to a respected way. I have never felt disrespected in anyway though because Kiwis are too nice to say to my face that they think Americans are hotheaded. It is also a humbling experience to realize that Kiwis are just as westernized and developed as anywhere in the US. I don't know if I expected every Kiwi to be an outdoorsy, farmer type, or what. But in fact most Kiwi college students are like your average American college student. They all listen to the same kind of music we do, watch the same tv shows (Gossip Girl, Grey's Anatomy, Glee, Desperate Housewives), have the same sort of fashion sense, and spend their weekends partying and socializing. As much as I thought it would be great to be American in New Zealand, I often feel like I have to prove myself to people. Prove to them that I did not vote for George Bush, personally pass the Patriot Act, live on the Jersey Shore, or am geographically-inept. Kiwis hate it when you compare them to Australia or assume that they are somehow geographically connected to Australia. So if someone ever tells you they are from New Zealand make sure you know that is in the Southern Hemisphere in the Pacific and NOT part of Australia. My Kiwi friends that know me definitely respect me and realize that I do not live up to the stereotype they had. I only hope that I'm helping pave the way for future Americans who come here. And as much as I love the fact that I am American, it would probably be much easier to travel the world as a New Zealander. Just a bit of insight there.

Well I hope all my lovely friends and family are doing well and know that I'm thinking of you. Before you know it we will be reunited!!