Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My Second South Island Adventure!

Landing in Dunedin brought on an eerie feeling. I was on my own, for a whole week in the South Island. As I drove into the city, which was much brighter than expected, I fully realized what I had gotten myself into. It was cold. Like really cold. Rochester seriously has a rival in this town. Anyway, I arrived at this mansion up on a hill, a flat populated by 10 University ofOtago students, and the fun started. The place was pretty warn out, and cold as, but I was treated to a warm welcome from my host Tadhg and his peers. I was shocked by how close these guys were to each other, I had never seen such a tight-knit group of people. They do everything together, from cooking every night to playing Euchre and 500 until the early morning.

I was fed almost immediately upon arrival, a homemade Chicken Tiki Masala that filled my stomach wonderfully. After dinner, they explained why they all where these giant knit jumpers that go down to their knees. It's the only way to stay warm, as the flat had no heating. And no true scarfie (Otago student) would be caught dead without one. Honestly, the big fluffy things were hilarious, but I quickly donned an extra one for a few days. I told them about seeing the southern lights that first night, and they got all excited. We piled into a station wagon and drove for a half hour up Mt. Cargill. While we saw no lights, the Milky Way was in full force over the city.

The next morning i set out for the Otago Peninsula, the area that gives Dunedin the title of wildlife capital of New Zealand. My first stop was the albatross colony, where I saw many smiling fledglings, and one parent that came bombing into the hill at 75 miles per hour! Then I moved on to some small beaches where I encountered seals and sea lions. The sea lions were absolutely terrifying, but they reminded me of dogs, so I stayed a while. A while means like 4 hours. I was in love with the massive, stinky, loud creatures.

I came back to the city around 5pm, to tour the Speights brewery and learn about beer. After the history lesson, we were unleashed upon 6 endless taps, which was awesome. I met some Germans and Kiwis there. After the bar, I sauntered next door to the Speights Ale House for a fancy dinner. I ended up eating with the nice Kiwi family! We talked about the differences between New Zealand and the US for most of the meal (big one was college tuition). I learned that they were from Hawkes Bay, visiting their daughter who studies in Dunedin. It was awesome hanging out with them. This kind of encounter was the exact thing I was looking for on a solo trip like this.

The next day I checked out St. Clair and Tunnel Beach, both of which had some interesting terrain. After the path at St. Clair Beach ends, I was told by a local to climb up the cliff face for a better look at the waves hitting the rocks. And lovely flowers (spiky, but lovely). I down climbed for what felt like forever, but the view was awesome. The waves started getting too large (the spray was towering over me, I was getting soaked), so I had to move on. The nice thing was, for Winter, it was really warm out.

I moved on to Tunnel Beach, where I found some car keys. I then went on a mission to deliver said keys to their rightful owner. It took like 20 minutes, but I found two frantic trampers searching everywhere on a small beach, that you get to via tunnel! They were very grateful for my discovery. By the way, the tunnel is man-made, carved out of the rock (like 100m long) for no apparent reason other than to yield access to one of the most secluded beaches on Earth. Like many before me, I carved my name in the rock. Normally I'd be against this, but it's limestone and it wears away so quickly that my signage will most likely be gone within the year.

Driving back to the peninsula was awesome, the water was at high tide, and the clouds had moved away. This means I could see that I was driving on a windy coastal road not 1 meter above the water. I went back to Sandfly bay later in the day to try my chances at seeing the penguins again, as I missed them the day before. And boy did I find them. Along with the seal lion colony from yesterday, there were 3 Yellow-Eyed Penguins perched up on the hill at the end of the beach. I got closer to them as night fell, but it was too dark for a decent shot with the camera. Right before I left, around 60 Little Blue Penguins (the smallest in the world) started popping out of the water and chirping away.

I went back to the city, the scenic Highcliff Road to lead me home. I ate dinner at Velvet Burger (got free fries by winning rock paper scissors (which they call "paper scissors rock," or "rocking off" down here)), and headed back to the flat with more ice cream. It was much appreciated. I watched some pro cricket and learned 500 from them for the rest of the night.

Thursday was my time to leave Dunedin, and I headed out towards Timaru in the morning. Driving alone got me thinking about how stupid the car radios are here. They only get half of the frequencies on the FM band, unless you install an after-market radio. This stinks because apparently all of the good stations are in the hundreds. The other thing that I noticed is that other than in Auckland, this country doesn't believe in multi-lane highways. Every 10km or so a passing lane comes up, which is wonderful after a few minutes behind a slow moving semi.

After 20 minutes of driving, I was hungry, so I stopped in this town (it was literally 5 buildings along the highway) for a freshly baked pie. It was my second favorite in the country so far. I also perused the local op shop's collectibles.

Then I made my way to the Moeraki Boulders, a strange geophysical phenomenon sitting on a beach just off the highway. These boulders are absolutely perfect spheres as far as rocks are concerned, and I've been told no one exactly understand why they're the way they are.

Oamaru was on the way to Timaru, and the small town was fascinating. Known for cheese, art, and steampunk, this older Victorian-style town had everything a passing tourist could hope for. I found a limestone artist and talked to him for a while, and I ended up buying one of his pieces! My personal art collection now totals two pieces from around the world. The guy was interested in my economics background, and he gave me a little bit of info on the economics of tourism-driven art sales before and after the crash in 2008. It was incredibly interesting, and I'm going to look into it more when I'm home.

On my way out, I visited the Whitestone Cheese Factory and saw the Cheesemaster at work. I tasted some of there cheeses, and if you were wondering, their Windsor Blue was by far the best. I got some for my hosts in Timaru.

Timaru was another fairly small, spread out town. It was pretty quiet, which was weird because I was expecting rush-hour traffic on the highway. I found my way over to the botanical gardens, and took some pictures of ducks and warmed up in the greenhouse. Definitely a good way to kill some time. Even still, I arrived at the house before my hosts. They told me in advance that the back door would be open for me, but I still felt like a burglar walking into the empty home. Felt even weirder when I went to take a shower. Char came home a little later, and we talked about work and things about Timaru. Then it was off to the local RSA (Veterans' community center) for a crash course in Swing Dancing! After a nice roast, Char and Paul, among others, showed off their dance moves for a few songs, while I sipped a beer and nervously looked around. I knew it was coming, it was my time to learn.

And it was a blast. I actually planned on joining the swing dancing club at RIT, before I knew I was coming here, so now I got my introduction out of the way. I learned three basic moves, courtesy of the many fine ladies eager to teach me (as I've heard, this is not the experience I will have at RIT). And with those three moves I managed to dance for six whole minutes without feeling too repetitive. When I got home, I passed out, not to wake up for 10 hours (it was the most comfortable bed I had slept on in New Zealand).

Friday was open to interpretation, but the weather was really nice so I spent the day outdoors at the Timaru stables. I had never been to a horse race before, but I always wanted to after seeing Came a Hot Friday, a classic New Zealand film. I watched a few races, and I watched the betting too, and after two correct predictions, I decided it was my time to bet. A whopping $3, on Tallyho Tui. And that horse won me a free lunch, wouldn't you believe it? I ended up picking two more winners before my luck ran out that day. Honestly, I was just reading the booklet with all of the horse stats and picking based on previous performance, but everyone around me thought it was black magic. One man later thanked me for my predictions; he was using them the whole time and he netted $1,500! I only bet the one time, so I came out in the black at the end of the day (but with not nearly that much).

I spent the rest of the day studying and driving to the Christchurch airport, as my flight was for 6am Saturday morning. I fell asleep in the car for a while to pass the time. That next morning was rough, and I slept the rest of the day away as a result. Worth it.

This may very well be my penultimate post! I just finished exams, which I am totally stoked about, and tomorrow I fly to Queenstown again to begin my Snowboarding trip (and I'll be staying with Tadhg again)! I'm hoping for it to be an awesome way to cool down before I fly back to America, which I will be doing in just 7 days! Here's to one last epic trip!


Just 5 minutes from Dunedin and the sky lights up again

Dunedin Harbor

A baby Northern Royal Albatross!

My first solo wildlife encounter of the trip, this sea lion came out of the water and fell asleep next to me on the beach

They really were just over-sized dogs

Sometimes I just liked looking at the waves

What a terrifying roar

The whole clan doing what they do best

Massive swag

This guy was a camouflage expert

Certainly not all of them were, however

The pup was adorable

They played in the water quite a bit. The younger ones were really good at body surfing

Sandfly Bay

The prettiest building on the Otago campus

The most photographed building in Dunedin, the train station

Colors were poppin' on my morning hike (St. Claire)

Really cool rock near Tunnel Beach

Initial Penguin Encounter

The windy Highcliff Road

The Moeraki Boulders

That train had like 4 flamethrowers on it

It started getting cloudy so I kept moving north

And I found ducks in the sun!

Great day for racing

My partner in crime, Tallyho Tui

It was a gorgeous day

Bonus picture: flatmates! (Courtesy of Kim's Instagram)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Skydiving and All Blacks!!!

Hey! So I just got back from a mini solo vacation last week, so I thought I'd catch up now (although that trip will get its own post). I've been busy with revision the last few days, so it's been hard to keep up writing. This post starts in the beginning of June.

Over Queen's birthday, Auckland had a Best of the British exhibition (which was kind of limited, honestly), but I got to see some sweet cars (Aston Martin, anyone?). The walk around the city was nice too. I also got to play a game of chess on one of those big chess boards. At night, I walked to Ponsonby, to a friend of a friend's house, and climbed on their roof. I had an absolutely stunning view of the city, the sky was super clear (but no stars due to the light pollution, the South Island was the exact opposite).

The last week of classes was pretty uneventful; with only one actual lecture out of three hours of class, the week was just preparation for final exams. Tuesday night was really special because the Arcadia group got back together for a farewell dinner. Gifts were exchanged, photos were admired, and good times were recalled. My friend Dan made everyone tear up with personal messages for each person in the group. The meal had to be one of my favorite moments of the trip.

Then came Thursday, where Dan and I drove up north to Paihia to skydive! After countless re-bookings due to bad weather, it was awesome to have amazing weather this late in the year, the Bay of Islands was beautiful. We had some really awesome burritos.

Now back to the skydive. We got to the airport, and it turned out to be a beautiful day. We got suited up and prepped for takeoff, but then there was a problem with one of the planes. Not sure what it was, but I'm thankful for being on the other plane. As we ascended to 17,000 feet, I had a beautiful view of the area, and plenty of time to rethink my decision. But there wasn't a nervous bone in my body, I was too excited to be scared! Besides, I was strapped to a guy (Andy) who had his own livelihood to keep in mind, so I felt perfectly safe.

Dan went first, at 13,000 feet. After watching him inch to the edge of the plane (and out in to open air), I could hardly contain my excitement. In a flash he was just, gone. Couldn't even see him out the window. 8 minutes later and I had hit my desired altitude. As I was hanging outside of the door, waiting for Andy to let us go, I thought about how awesome it was to be able to do this stuff between classes this semester. Then I stopped being sentimental as we plummeted towards the Earth. After 6 or 7 flips, we were stabilized, and I finally got a good look around. Again I caught myself admiring the bay. It was sick passing within feet of some thin, wispy clouds too. If you're wondering what that's like, it's just fog. Little colder though.

After putting up some messages to the camera, and yelling a lot, my 75 second free fall was over, and the parachute was pulled. I wish I could've seen that happen, it felt too gentle to have happened so quickly. At this point, we were relatively low to the ground, so I really got a good view of the ocean to the east, and the classic Kiwi farms to the west. All of a sudden Andy gave me the controls, and I was piloting us across the pretty landscape. You have to pull really hard to get the thing to turn, but not too hard or you'll get a crazy corkscrew (doesn't feel too good after having the wind knocked out of you for a minute and a half). Then we got really close to the airport and Andy took over again, landing us smoothly in the grass nearby.

I gave like 10 people high-fives when I landed. I also couldn't walk, had to run. But the most profound effect was that I wanted to go again, immediately. I've decided that I need to get a solo license, because jumping out of planes is fun.

Back in Auckland, I had my last class of the semester, and all of a sudden it was time for the All Blacks rugby test match against France! The All Blacks are New Zealand's pride and joy, right next to pineapple lumps and meat pies. The city was packed with people all heading to Eden Park for the sold out event.

After seeing quite a few rugby games in person and on tv, I have to say this particular outing was very uneventful. The All Blacks won, as expected, but the score was low and there weren't any epic trys like those I've seen with the Auckland Blues. The atmosphere made up for the game, however, and it was an awesome night.

I'm going to try to get my 2nd trip to the South Island up as soon as possible. There's going to be a ton of pictures in that one, so get excited.


My favorite make: Aston Martin

I kinda want to learn about automobile photography after taking this

Very well-kept Mini engine

My awesome Arcadia friends and family! (Lyssa Goodrich)

Standing behind the propeller is mad windy

The Bay of Islands was gorgeous that day

Needed oxygen masks when we got to 3 miles up

There's Dan!

Annnnd he's gone.

The plane in the background makes this the best picture ever

Nah, my eyes aren't closed, just squinting. Life's too short to close your eyes

I yelled at that GoPro so much. It wasn't taking video.

Me steering the 'chute into a death spiral

Hanging around over the farmland

Giants walking along the road

Didn't have any pictures of me during the game, so here's the All Blacks doing the Ka Mate Haka before the game!