Monday, 5 November 2012

Queenstown Weekend

Finally! Most of my friends had spent at least one weekend in Queenstown (the adventure sport capital of the South Island) by half-way through the semester, but I just made it this past weekend. Although I stopped in the town twice before for a short time, I never really experienced it until this weekend.

scenic lookout point on the way to Queentown
I drove up with my friends Daniel and Anna, and met up with Audrey and Thomas once we got there. We quickly stopped in at Fergburger for a late lunch before walking down to the lake for a bit. We then checked in at Nomads Hostel, which is very nice - it has a sauna, which the girls and I quickly took advantage of, and serves free dinner every night for the guests! We hung out at the hostel during the evening, played cards, and even got into a political discussion with one of the kiwi employees!

beautiful mountains surrounding the town
That night we went out to several bars - we started at an Irish bar that had some live music, then headed over to Winnie's (a gourmet pizza restaurant by day), and finally stopped at a cowboy bar (complete with saddle seats and a mechanical bull). Our last stop of the night was, of course, Fergburger! I had the best onion rings (plus aioli) I've ever had in my life!

The next morning was the highlight of the trip. Daniel, Thomas and I signed up to go bungy jumping at Nevis, New Zealand's highest bungy (at a height of 134 meters!). After an anxiety-filled bus ride, we finally made it up to the mountain, where we were fitted for harnesses and sent in a cable cart out to the bungy site. One at a time, we put on ankle cuffs, got strapped into the bungy equipment, and waddled out onto the ledge before jumping. Standing on that ledge in the few seconds before the jump was the most terrifying experience of my life. There was a moment of doubt that my mind would be able to overcome its survival instincts and hurl me off of a cliff attached only to a small cord, but when the time came, I leaped off with no hesitation. And let me tell you, that 8.5 second freefall was the most exciting 8.5 seconds of my life!

the cable cart on the way out to the bungy station

Thomas, me, and Daniel on the bungy station (photo courtesy of Daniel Solway)

getting strapped onto the bungy cord
I failed at pulling the cord to release my feet and had to come up upside-down. Whoops!
And finally, enjoy a (somewhat shaky, sorry!) video of my jump!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Kepler: Round 2

I'm sure you remember my post about the Kepler Track I tramped at the beginning of spring break. Well, I tramped it again this past weekend! I had different company this time - I went with Philip, Tommy and Marie Claire. These are the three friends I'm traveling to Australia with, so I'm sure you will hear much more about them in the upcoming weeks.

(from left to right) Phil, Marie Claire and Tommy
I had my first final on Friday afternoon (anthropology), and then went home to prepare for the tramp. My friends decided on Kepler because it's relatively close to Queenstown, where we were dropping off another friend Sam (she did a Lord of the Rings tour on horseback!). It was quite a long drive, but luckily we were entertained the entire time by Phil and Tommy's beautiful karaoke. (There was even quite a passionate rendition of "A Thousand Miles," complete with air-piano!) This was just a short preview of what is to come during our 2-week Australian roadtrip!

We started the track fairly late in the day. The weather wasn't too pleasant, as it was raining. It wasn't bad until we got above the bushline, however, where there were no trees to protect us from the wind. At this higher altitude, the rain had turned to hail, so the 45 minute walk from the bushline to the hut was freezing, unpleasant, and seemed to last forever.

Luckily, there were other trampers at the hut who had started a fire a long time before we arrived, so we stepped into a cozy, warm hut at the top of the mountain. After changing out of our soaking clothes, we sat around the fire to warm up, and then ate dinner while hanging out in our sleeping bags. Tramping is very tiring, so everyone went to bed fairly early. We all laid down early, but then talked for quite some time about the hike, our upcoming trip to Australia, and many other things.

starting out the next morning (with Phil and MC)
We were the last group to wake up the next morning. The weather was much nicer than Saturday - it was sunny and relatively warm. After eating breakfast and reluctantly putting our still-damp clothes back on, we headed back down the mountain. We could finally see the view we had missed the day before, and even saw a rainbow! We couldn't do the entire track because the second day's walk has been impassable due to snow conditions for several weeks now. The walk down the mountain was pleasant (especially once the ibuprofen kicked in and took the pain out of my knee), and we had a relaxing lunch by Lake Te Anua.

lakeside scenery
Once we returned to the car, we drove back up to Queenstown to pick up Sam. We had to wait for a few hours, so Phil and I went to Fergburger while Tommy and Marie Claire went down to see the lake. It was an enjoyable day. The weather here changes so quickly, but I don't complain on the days when it is nice.

I have two finals in the next week or so, which means I'll be hitting the library every day. I have some adventures planned for after finals, though, and I can't wait!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Humpridge Track

Last weekend I tramped Humpridge with Maddie, Sammy and Matt. This is the second trail we were supposed to do over Spring Break, but the weather report at that time was dismal. So it was a good thing we waited until last weekend when it poured wet hail all day Saturday! (The weather did clear up for remaining two days, thankfully!)

We arrived at the carpark very late Friday night (or very early on Saturday, if you will). Sammy and Matt set up a tent in a little shelter, while Maddie and I curled up comfortably in the car. We started the track on Saturday morning. This first day of the hike was long, made longer by the need to bushwhack in order to circumvent the flooded path in several places. We also had to deal with quickly accumulating hail / snow as we climbed higher up the mountain (the elevation change was about 1000 m). It was a tiring 7.5 hour day, about half of which was pretty steep uphill. We finally made it to the Okaka hut / lodge, though. In season, this place is luxurious - they make your bed, cook your food, and provide entertainment. Off season, however, it is not quite as nice. There is no place to build a fire, so it was rather chilly, especially since we were all soaked after the day's hike. [Note: Saying that place was chilly is the biggest understatement I have perhaps ever made. I legitimately had no feeling in my hands for about an hour and a half. Using a lighter to start the stove for dinner was a challenge without functioning hands, let me tell you!] The hut also had no water supply, so we finally appreciated the snow when we had to melt some for drinking water!

(photo courtesy of Maddie Smith)
Another group of international students from Otago were also hiking Humpridge, and we met up with them at the hut. Brett, Corey, Michelle, and Caroline had hiked faster than we had, so they arrived only several minutes after us even though they left about an hour later. We all changed, made dinner, scarfed down the deliciously hot food, and then slipped into our sleeping bags in the bunk room. We played countless hands of rummy, then enjoyed some of Michelle's homemade hot chocolate with Tim Tams (a type of cookie here, or biscuit, I should say).

(photo courtesy of Brett Higgins)
The next day was much nicer, so we could finally enjoy the view from the mountaintop that had been hidden in clouds the day before. The others walked up to the summit that morning, but I decided to rest my aching feet a bit more before hiking all day again. We all started off on the track together. It was beautiful, and I finally got the chance to take out my camera without fear of water damage. After walking along the ridge for several kilometers, the path went down the mountain and then along an old train track to the second hut. School House Hut may be my favorite hut that I've stayed in so far. As the name implies, it used to be a schoolhouse, and is all one room - the kitchen, fireplace, and three-story bunks. The water supply is also hooked up to come into the sink in the kitchen! Such a luxury in a hut off-season is unheard of. It was fortunate that this minimized our time outside, for Humpridge Track is back in sandfly territory.

Sunday night consisted of the same activities as Saturday - cooking and eating dinner, playing cards, and drinking hot cocoa with Tim Tams. The next day we split into our respective groups again and set off for the final leg of the track. This part gives you the option of an inland or a beach route, and a book in the hut cautioned not to take the beach route during high tide (or as the book so alarmingly put it, "it's not worth your life!"). Oh, we should have heeded that advice. But we didn't. We ended up in a rough situation where we had to walk over wet, slippery, seaweed-covered rocks (I fell half a dozen times), bushwhack and slide down an almost vertical rock wall, leap over large rocks covered in rough barnacles (on which I cut myself), and deal with the incoming waves that forced me off a rock and wading up to my knees in water to get back to land. Let's just say that this was not the most enjoyable time I've ever spent on a beach. Or anywhere, for that matter.

After drying off a bit (or at least attempting to wring the water out of my boots), we finally got back to an actual path that wasn't so rough on my aching knee and blistered feet. A little further down the path we ran into some friendly fishermen who were heading back towards the trailhead, and they gave us a lift in their truck. I think that saved the day, for my spirits lifted considerably as we drove down the beach in the truck bed (and my knee didn't mind the rest, either). About 40 minutes later we finally made it back to carpark (all alive, though there were some moments I doubted that would happen!).

the beach a bit later on, where there was actually sand to walk on (photo courtesy of Maddie Smith)

So overall, I'm not sure how I judge the trail. It offered some beautiful views, cool huts (or one cool hut, at least), and a variety of surroundings. Nice weather would have improved the experience, but the hail did not greatly dampen my spirits. Tramping in an uninjured condition the last day would have been nice, or, you know, at least not taking a trail that required me to crawl on all fours over sharp rocks that dropped off into the cold ocean. But I made it back alive! Finals period has begun, and I sit my first exam in two days. I'll probably be studying a lot the next few weeks, but hopefully I'll be able to fit in some stuff that you'd actually want to read about too. So long for now!

Maddie and I at Okaka (photo courtesy of Maddie Smith)

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Long Beach and the Catlins

On Friday night, I finally made it out to Long Beach, the site of the cave party earlier this semester (which I unfortunately missed). A group of 20 or so of us went out there in the evening and set up in a large cave at the end of the beach. We sat around the campfire, roasted hotdogs, talked, and introduced our international friends to the marvelous creation that is a s'more! It was a cool night, but we stayed warm by curling up next to the fire in our sleeping bags. (And as an added bonus, my hat from that night still smells like campfire! Mmm!)

Long Beach cave
early morning on the beach

The next morning, I awoke around 6 AM to watch the sunrise. Despite the fact that we couldn't actually see the sunrise due to the clouds, I still loved sitting on the beach and watching the waves. I got a ride back to Dunedin fairly early, and then left with some other friends for a day trip to the Catlins. The Catlins are an area along the southern coast of the South Island, only a couple hours away from Dunedin. Along the Southern Scenic Route are many short trails to beaches, forests and waterfalls!

We began with a short trip to the Purakaunui Falls, and shortly after stopped at Florence Hill Lookout. The falls were nice, but were no comparison to the McLean falls we saw later that day. We then made it down to the Petrified Forest at Curio Bay. It is the site of a prehistoric forest that was petrified as fossil due to volcanic ash. You can still see the form of tree stumps and logs in the rocks! Matt, Sammy, Alison, and I walked out to a far group of rocks - and then almost got stuck there when the tide quickly came in within about 10 seconds! I had to wade all the way back to shore! (Petra watched our struggles with amusement from her dry position on the viewing platform.) Nonetheless, it was an interesting stop!

Purakaunui Falls
the Petrified Forest - those long lines on the ground are fossilized fallen trees!
We then stopped for lunch as Curio Bay, remaining safely onshore to avoid the quick tide changes. The biggest attraction of the day was next - Niagara Falls. I hope I didn't get your hopes up, there (it is hard to convey sarcasm through print!). New Zealand's Niagara Falls are listed as "the world's smallest waterfall." Why is this an attraction? Good question!

Niagara Falls - that's a vertical drop of about 2 inches there! Impressive!
We finally made it to McLean Falls, which I had heard from several others was the site to see. Despite the danger warning due to a recent rock slide, we decided to check it out anyway, and it was well-worth it! (Don't worry, the rock slide was small, and caused us no potential harm! I'm talking to you, here, parents!) The falls were incredibly tall, and fell down staircase-like rocks into the river below. I've seen many waterfalls on this trip, but McLean was definitely one of the most spectacular!

Matt climbed up to the upper waterfall - just look at the scale of this place!
Our last stop of the day was Nugget Point, which we reached just before sunset. We got a lovely view of the sunset from the lighthouse viewpoint. This point is surrounded by water on three sides, and I literally felt like I was standing at the edge of the Earth! New Zealand is a spectacular place, and has given me many opportunities to appreciate the sheer magnitude of the world!

Nugget Point lighthouse

"the end of the world?"
This weekend I am tramping Humpridge Track with some friends, so I will have many stories to tell when I return on Monday! So long for now!

Monday, 24 September 2012

All Blacks

Sorry I haven't updated this in a while - I have a 5000 word essay due for my anthropology class that has been taking up a lot of my time. A lot. Anyway, last Saturday, Dunedin played host to New Zealand's rugby team, the All Blacks. They played the South African Springboks, beating them solidly 21-11.

The day began early in the morning as the guys in my apartment complex kicked off a tailgating party at 8:30 AM! We hung out in our complex's parking lot pretty much all day and enjoyed some casual beers and the carrot cake I had made for the occasion.

(this is in the shape of NZ, for those of you who aren't up on your geography!)
In the afternoon, Maddie and I got into the rugby mood by going to see the "Nude Blacks" game! And yes, to answer the question I know you are all currently asking, they were all actually naked! It was quite an entertaining show, and the event raised several thousand dollars, which is going to help a young girl with cancer. It was all in good fun!

The day continued with the actual All Blacks game, to which most of the international students bought tickets. It was an awesome experience being there in the stadium! My friends and I have been in NZ for several months now, and that night we started referring to the All Blacks as "our team," and celebrated "our win!" The town was in high spirits, and everyone was out to celebrate in town! Dunedin is usually a lively city due to its 20,000 student residents, but this event had brought thousands more people from around the country and the world!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Baldwin Street and Speight's Brewery Tour

Dunedin is a vibrant, lively city, and is home to many interesting sites. Among these are Baldwin Street, the world's steepest street, and Speight's Brewery, a local brewery that offers tours and tastings of its famous beer. I visited both of these sites last week, and can now say that I've seen two of Dunedin's most popular attractions.

Last Friday was a warm, sunny day, and Sammy and I decided to enjoy the weather and walk to Baldwin Street. Most people had been within the first week or so of arriving, but Sam and I somehow missed all of these trips. So it was about time that we finally made it to this Guinness World Record site! Unsurprisingly, it is an incredibly steep street! We walked up it, working up quite a sweat in the process, and took the touristy pictures required when you visit a world-famous site.

this certainly would be difficult to drive up in my manual car!
[Note how nice it was on Friday. It was warm, and I hung out outside in shorts and a t-shirt that afternoon. Yesterday we had hail storms all day. Dunedin weather is confusing.]

Saturday night, I went on the Speight's Brewery Tour with my friends Emma, Xavier, Tucker, Marvin, and Alina. Our tour guide was the great-grandson of one of the three original founders of the brewery, and was very knowledgeable about its history and current place in New Zealand culture. Speight's Gold Medal Ale, which is brewed on site in the Dunedin brewery (among other places in New Zealand), is a favorite among Otago students at the local bars. The tour began with a brief history of beer (beginning with the Egyptians), then moved on to explaining the ingredients and how they are obtained, and finally onto the actual brewing process. We ended in the brewery bar, where we got to taste 6 different types of Speight's beer (though one of them was actually cider). Except for the dark beer, which is brewed with espresso flavor, I liked all of the samples.

various cask sizes produced by Speight's in the early 1900s
copper brewing vessels
beer tasting
Dunedin is also home to the Cadbury chocolate factory, which I hope to visit soon!

Friday, 7 September 2012

Queenstown and Wanaka

And so finally, I will now end the three-part post of my Spring Break trip. I just had so many stories and pictures I did not want to overwhelm you with it all in one enormous post!

After our four-day Kepler tramp and our day in Milford, we were all feeling a bit sore and tired (me especially, I will admit), and we were unsure whether or not to pursue our original plans of hiking the Humpridge Track. After checking the weather forecast, which turned out to be dismal, we decided to skip the tramp and head up to Queenstown instead (after a lovely meal of boysenberry pancakes by Lake Manapouri).

Queenstown is the extreme sporting capital of New Zealand's South Island (and where I plan to go bungee jumping at some point during my time here!). It was a bit of a shock to be back in a place with so many people - both Kepler and Milford had been relatively deserted because it is winter and few people are as crazy as we are to tramp in the cold. Queenstown was packed, though! It is a cute little town, which we briefly walked through before tramping up a mountain to the visitor center and gift shop on top. I took the obligatory Queenstown peninsula pictures, and then we headed back down to visit Fergburger for dinner! Now, I know I mention food a lot on here, as eating is one of my favorite activities, but I need to take a short break to just describe the magnificence of this burger. I ordered the Fergburger with 1/2 pound of beef, cheese, bacon, BBQ sauce, and salad. Despite the simple toppings, it was one of the best meals I've ever had in my life - though this was probably helped by the fact that I was starving following our afternoon hike! Emma and I also split some onion rings with aioli dipping sauce, which was the perfect side! Fergburger is famous in New Zealand (if you tell someone you went to Queenstown, their first question will be "did you visit Fergburger?"), and I'm glad I got to experience it for myself!

That night we headed to Wanaka, a town about an hour away, as we planned to do some day hikes in the area over the next few days. We ended up at Base Hostel, a place that was far too cool for us weary trampers! Despite the receptionist's enthusiastic recommendation of the techno DJs playing in the bar downstairs, we decided to shower and get to bed early - not an easy thing to do with music bumping below us until 2:30 in the morning. Luckily, though I was so exhausted that I quickly drifted off...

...and woke up the next morning sick as a dog! While Emma, Matt and Sammy checked out a beach trail, I slept in the car. I did get some good pictures of the cows and sheep in the fields we had to cross to get to the carpark, though. Once they returned, we drove into Mt Aspiring National Park (which some of you may remember from my post about Bushball). Sammy and Matt decided to hike in and spend the night at the hut where we had Bushball, and Emma and I went back to Base for another DJ-techno-battle-filled night. We picked up Sammy and Matt the next morning from the park, where it was snowing! The weather was rainy and dreary in town, too, so we decided just to head back to Dunedin.

the beach in Wanaka where the others hiked and I napped (story of my life...)

We got home a day earlier than planned because of the weather, but we decided to take advantage of the last day of our rental car and visit the Moeraki Boulders outside of Dunedin. The boulders are famously weird, spherical beach rocks. I'm sure a geologist could explain their formation to you, but I was content to just climb on top of them and get some pictures!

And with that, my Spring Break finally came to an end. Back to reality now! I have four papers due in the next two weeks, so I'll be a busy bee until then!