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!

Thursday, 6 September 2012


So here's part II of my wonderful Spring Break trip in New Zealand's South Island. After finishing the Kepler Track, Emma, Matt, Sammy and I headed up to Milford, home to the ridiculously gorgeous Milford Sound. It's an uber-touristy place (there are no permanent residents there, so technically every single person is a visitor to the region), but there is a reason why people flock there despite the maddening sandflies. Legend has it that the sandflies were released into the region to discourage settlers, as no one should live around that kind of beauty and eventually take it for granted. That plan certainly worked!

Milford Sound is not actually a sound, but a fjord (fjords are specifically steep-sided glacial valleys), but "Milford Sound" was already famous by the time someone realized that. To make up for the mistake, they named the whole area "Fiordland," incorrectly spelling "fjord" in the process. Despite these errors, it is still the most beautiful place I have ever seen!

We arrived in Milford in late afternoon after a semi-terrifying journey on Milford Road, one of the most dangerous roads in the country. It is extremely narrow and full of hairpin turns on the side of a mountain, but it offers breathtaking views of the mountain range! Once you drive through the 1.2km Homer Tunnel, you are rewarded with a stunning lookout point just beyond before descending all the way into the valley. [By the way, I forgot to mention earlier that I took my turn driving on the trip - in the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road! It was a bit scary at first, but I'm surprised at how quickly I've gotten used to it!]

my first view of the mountains past Homer Tunnel
The sun was setting by the time we arrived down at the fjord, but we went on a quick walk around the area before checking into a cozy lodge for the night. 

the sunset behind Mitre Peak (on the right)
The next day brought absolutely beautiful weather, which was quite lucky in a place that rains 180 days a year. We decided to take a cruise in order to get out on the water, which gave us magnificent views and an audio tour of the region as we sailed through the fjord to the ocean and back. In addition to the stunning scenery, we were joined on our cruise by a pod of dolphins, who played around the front of the boat for quite some time. One jumped completely out of the water only about 2 meters away from the boat! We also pulled up close to "Seal Rock" (I bet you can figure out what we saw there!). The 90 minute ride was well worth it (and we all got free muffins with our tickets, too!). 

Mitre Peak in the daylight
Bowen Falls
Milford Sound was formed by five successive glacial movements
Seal Rock
Our boat pulled up right underneath this waterfall - we were so close we got sprayed by the icy water!
At the lodge the night before, we ran into some other international Otago students, Xavier and Megan (from Belgium and Canada, respectively), and we all decided to go on a hike after the cruise. We drove a short distance up Milford Road to the trail toward Marian Lake. Unlike the wide, clean trails of the Great Walk we had just completed, the trail to the lake was quite untamed and involved a lot of tramping up rocky paths, which I actually preferred (it was a "purer" NZ tramp). The lake was situated in a valley fairly high in the mountains, and it was beautiful! (Boy, NZ has given me many opportunities to use that word!) We picnicked on a large rock by the water, and while the others went to explore a waterfall, Emma and I sunbathed and relaxed on the rock. It was a marvelous way to spend an afternoon!

(just as a point of reference for the scale of this place, many of these large boulders were taller than me!)
We hiked back down to the carpark in the late afternoon, and after dropping off Xavier and Megan, headed back toward Te Anau for the night. Although we only spent one day in Milford, it has become one of my favorite places, and should be a bucket list destination for everyone!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Kepler Track

I've just returned from Spring Break, and I have quite a lot to share with you! I rented a car with my friends Emma, Sammy and Matt, and we set off early on the morning of August 25th toward Te Anau. Te Anau is a beautiful, small Fiordland town situated around a lake, and is home to the Kepler New Zealand Great Walk. These Great Walks are incredibly well-maintained trails around the country that are wildly popular with kiwis and tourists alike in season; in the winter, though, we were pretty much the only ones crazy enough to be out on the trail! We were almost deterred by the weather (it was pouring on Saturday), but we awoke to a fine day on Sunday and decided to set out anyway. This turned out to be a wonderful decision - we saw three rainbows on Sunday and had great weather all four days (with one small exception, but I'll talk about that later!).

Our first day began with a quiet walk through a forest along the lake, and turned into a gradual path up the mountain. Honestly, tramping uphill is not my favorite, and I struggled with it (especially with my heavy pack), but I was able to take small rest breaks, and we eventually made it up above the brushline. Our efforts were rewarded with spectacular views of Lake Te Anau and the surrounding mountains! We soon made it to Luxmore Hut (which we had to ourselves for the night), where we quickly dropped off our packs and then went to check out the Luxmore Caves nearby. That night, we made a delicious meal of pasta and lentils, and pulled mattresses into the main room to sleep by the fire. It was quite cozy.

the forest trail
view from the trail above the brushline
Luxmore Hut - our home for the first night
Luxmore Caves - it was pitch black inside, and we had to climb over and around the stream and many rock formations inside!
We awoke the next morning to a surprise - a fine coating of snow on the mountain around us! As we were packing up, three runners passed through the hut. They were on a "casual training run" up to Mt. Luxmore peak, according to their entry in the hut logbook. What exactly were the training for?! (Because running up a mountain seems like a hard enough task in itself!)

We soon set off on the trail, which continued uphill into deeper snow. We decided to climb up to Mt. Luxmore summit, which was only a small detour off the track. Around that time it began to snow again, and when combined with the mountain wind, it was quite chilly up there, to say the least! We wanted to keep moving in order to stay warm, so we headed to the first emergency shelter along the path to eat lunch. By the time we were done, the weather had cleared up a bit, and we were able to continue on the path to the second hut. There we met another group of Otago students, who were hiking the trail in the opposite direction (I must say, I'm glad we had our hard uphill day at the beginning and got it over with!). Once again, we spent a cozy night in the hut. I slept very well - tramping is incredibly tiring!

Mt Luxmore summit (1472 m)
our snowy trail through the clouds

our descent back down into the snowy forest
We began the third day by checking out the waterfall near Iris Burn Hut, and then tramped to the next hut along the trail, which was right on the edge of the lake. Emma, Matt and Sammy took a refreshing dip while I soaked my sore feet in the cold water. We had that hut to ourselves, and once again slept in the main room next to the fire. The third and fourth days were both mostly forest scenery, with a bit of wetlands.

the waterfall by Iris Burn Hut

our buddy Oscar, a friendly bird who helped us eat lunch on the trail one day
the lakefront by Moturau Hut
wetlands scenery
The track was incredible, and offered spectacular views of many different kinds of scenery. My only complaint for the trip is about my interactions with the sandflies. They are the worst. They are small, fast black flies that come in huge swarms, and their bites draw blood and turn into itchy scabs. If you think mosquitoes are bad, then you do not want to encounter sandflies. My hands, ankles and neck are still covered in bites even a week later! I guess a place this stunningly beautiful can't be perfect, or else everyone would live there!

So this concludes the first half of my Spring Break. I still have a lot to tell, but I'll save that for a later post!