Monday, February 28, 2011

Hope You Had the Time of Your Life

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don't ask why
It's not a question, but a lesson learned in time
 "Good Riddance" by  Green Day

In the middle of February, Laura, Mike, Lindsay and I packed our bags and embarked on a roadtrip through the South Island. The trip was amazing, but it was definitely a test for all of us. Over 3,000 windy kilometers, a 3.8 tremor, a fatal earthquake in Christchurch, and a broken & abandoned car, but we can count our blessings and be thankful that we can look back and cherish the memories from the trip.

On February 17, Arran gave us a ride from Hamilton to Auckland so we could catch a flight to Christchurch. Domestic flights in New Zealand are like nothing I have ever experienced. No one checked my ID or luggage and the security was minimal. We arrived to a chilly Christchurch a few hours later and Phillipa, a traveler that Laura's parents met, picked us up from the airport and took us back to her house. We enjoyed a nice evening getting to know Phillipa and Aaron (her husband), drinking Speights and planning our route and sightseeing destinations on the map.

The next morning I was awoken by a giant boom and a shaking room. I laid there for a seconds and tried to wrap my head around what had just happened, so when I emerged from the bedroom Phillipa told me that it was a 3.8 tremor. She told us about the September 4th earthquake and said that people had sort of become numb to the tremors…but who knew that only a few days later the city and people of Christchurch would devastated by another fatal earthquake. On Friday, we hopped in Berlina (Phillipa's parents Holden) and headed West to Queenstown. The New Zealand countryside is like no other because the terrain changes every few hundred kilometers. On the way to Queenstown we stopped at Lake Tekapo, which is an intense turquoise color caused by the 'rock flour' from the glacier's headwaters. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Cook from the Church of the Good Shepherd view point but unfortunately it was a bit cloudy the day we were there. We also made a stop at Lake Pukaki and saw someone getting married on the cliff…so amazing! As we approached Queenstown, the Gibbston Vallery Winery caught our eye. We detoured to the winery and enjoyed a tasting and a platter from the Cheesery. A short time later, we arrived in Queenstown and checked into our hostel. We stayed a Nomads and it was crazier than I could have ever imagined. The Kiwi Experience bus was there, so the hostel was booked with 20-somethings looking to get crazy. Lindsay and I shared a dorm with 10 other people, none of which we ever met because no one was ever in the room. While at the hostel we did meet a nice girl from Canada, who had been traveling around New Zealand for 3 months and had already blown $15,000. She decided to stay in Queenstown and had just landed a job at AJ Hackett (which is the company that invented bungy jumping in NZ). She currently was working in our hostel for 2 hours a day in exchange for free accommodation. We went out that night for drinks at a few local waterholes, but called it an early night because we had decided to go white water rafting the next day and save our energy for my birthday celebration.

On my birthday, the ladies got up and ran the lake in Queenstwon, got lattes at Halo and hit up a local farmer's market for cupcakes and empanadas. Later in the day we loaded on the bus and headed to the Shotover River, which is a grade 3-5 and the most popular white water rafting destination in New Zealand. We had to take the winding road up into Skippers Canyon and it may have been the scariest ride of my life, because the van and trailer were basically on the edge of a cliff and at times the tires would hang over the edge…so scary! On the bus, we met Troy and Yun from Colorado, Josh from Canada, and river guide, Nolan from Memphis. We all became fast friends, so the Colorado crew joined us in our boat for the day with rafting guide, Clarke. Clarke was originally from the UK and taught many interested facts…for example, Fornication Under the Concent of the King, where "OK" comes from and the origin of the two finger gesture the French/UK use to express their feelings for each other. Rafting was a great way to spend my birthday! Later that night our new friends met us out for drinks at a bar called Red Rocks. My 31st birthday was definitely a memorable one (or at least what I can remember after the shots.)

Sometimes a memorable night turns into a slow moving day. I ended up taking a 2-hour nap by the lake in Queenstown, while Mike and Laura hiked and Lindsay explored the town. After a few hours of recovery, we hopped in the car and headed to the Milford Sound, which is the Fiordland region. The drive into the sound was beautiful because there are giant rock cliffs with so many waterfalls you can't even count them. We also drove through the Homer Tunnel, which runs 1270 m and remains unlined granite.  When we arrived we checked into the Milford Sound Lodge and I called it an early night. Ironically, two French girls in our room had also been on our rafting trip with us and out that night at Red Rock. That is the thing about traveling around New Zealand, it is not that strange if you see familiar faces and run into the same people. In some ways, that is a nice feeling.

After a much needed night of sleep, I woke up that morning and realized I was in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Although it was pouring down rain, the Milford Sound was absolutely stunning. We headed down to the boat launch and ran the loop in order to see the waterfall. When traveling in New Zealand you have to do sightseeing rain or shine. We had hoped to do a good hike in the Milford Sound, but we decided to hit the road and head up the West Coast. We took Cardrona Valley Road to Wanaka. We scored an amazing little hotel in Wanaka (minus that fact we had to share twin beds). We got in a good workout, spent a few hours in the hot pools and then headed to town for our first real
meal in days. We found the most amazing Mexican restaurant called Amigos. That is one thing you take for granted in the states…Mexican food and affordable limes!

The next morning we headed downtown Wanaka to Dough Bins for some morning pies and then made our way up the coast to Franz Josef. When we arrived at the the Rainforest Lodge and checked in they told us that they had just felt an earthquake. However, it wasn't until we walked into the TV room and saw that news reports that we realized how bad the quake actually was. We instantly tried to contact our new friends in Christchurch and then the flood of messages from people the states started to hit my Facebook and email. Because we were in the car, we actually didn't feel the earthquake. My thoughts go out to those in Christchurch who have suffered from such a terrible thing and to those who have lost loved ones.

Once we settled into our bunk, Mike and I headed up to the Franz Josef Glacier. It was the most amazing site and if I had more time I would have loved to do the day tour that hikes up on the glacier. Later that night we went to dinner downtown, played some card games and then hiked into the forest to see the glow worms. Because of the circumstances in Christchurch, our plans drastically changed over the next few days. Instead of heading back to Christchurch like we are planned to get our camper van, we decided to drive the car up to Nelson and drop if off with Phillipa's parents. On our way to Nelson, we stopped in Punakaiki to see the pancake rocks and blow holes. The rest of the drive was quite beautiful (but still windy). We were low on gas, so when we drove into the town of Wakefield we spotted a gas station. However, when we pulled in we noticed it was closed (sans eftpos payment) and then our car died. We all had a bit of a freak out moment, because here we were stranded in a small town where everything was closed with someone else's broken-down car. We felt horrible, but we called Phillipa in Christchurch and luckily she has a friend who's parents lived there. Without a second thought, they jumped in their car and came to our rescue. They had to jump the car and then follow us to the next station where we could get gas in order to jump the car again. We then set off on our way with the confidence that we could make it all the way to Nelson. However, we pulled into a town called Hope and when we came to the roundabout that was under construction we had to stop and the car died. So we all jumped out in the middle of the road and pushed the car off to the side. Eventually, we pushed it to a parking lot and Rosie and Tom came to our rescue once again and dropped us off at a motel.

Once again, we had to change our plans. We no longer had a mode of transportation so we had to figure out which busses to take over the next few days. The morning after our breakdown, we took a coach bus and headed up to the Abel Tasman National Park. It was the most beautiful day of hiking and laying on the beach at Coquille Bay. It was exactly what we needed after the few rainy days and the mishaps with vehicle. But still, we were so lucky and should count our blessing for not being in Christchurch. We stayed two nights in Richmond and then headed to Nelson to catch the bus to Picton. The ride on the coach was quite entertaining b/c it was filled with middle schoolers were were heading home from college for the weekend. We drove through wine country, but were bummed that we didn't get to stop by for a wine tasting tour day. However, we had previously booked our ferry and bus ride home so we were on a tight schedule. We arrived in Picton in the late afternoon and checked into our hostel for the night. Picton was just one of those spontaneous nights where random things happened and it ended up being a ton of fun. We went to this odd local bar, then to the bottle shop and then to the local dairy for some chips. We sat outside under the stars and chatted with the man who ran the hostel. We retired to the room for some late night laughs, until I got a call from home and caught up with a loved one that I hadn't talked to in awhile.

Our alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. and we had to walk to the ferry. Lindsay and I slept for most of the three hour ride, but Mike told us it was amazing and there were 15ft waves hitting the boat. We arrived in Wellington around 9:30 a.m. and then hit the town for exploring. We went to the Saturday market (like Portland), got a vanilla latte (like Portland) and then went to the museum (Te Papa) and ironically learned about earthquakes and the colossal squid exhibit. Later that night we met Angela out for dinner and drinks. We had such a blast dancing in the crazy town of Wellington.

The next night we had to get up early and walk to the bus station, in order to take the Naked Bus back to Hamilton. The bus ride was about 10 hours long and drove us through most of the North Island. It is crazy to think that in a week and a half we were able to see a large portion of both the North and South Islands.

The trip definitely had its up and downs, but I wouldn't change a thing. It was an amazing experience, with great friends. Although we all broke on the bank during the trip, it was worth every penny! I feel so lucky to be able to have life experiences like this and to be able to see the world. 

My thoughts and well wishes to those in Christchurch.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Rise Up This Mornin' Smiled With the Risin' Sun

Don't worry about a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right. 
Singin': Don't worry about a thing, 
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right
~Bob Marley

Summer in New Zealand is so amazing! Sunshine, beaches, festivals, smiley-happy people on holiday, heaps of things to do and great music. Nothing says summer like reggae music and since I have arrived I can’t seem to escape Bob Marley…so this entry will tend to have a lot of Marley references because he has influenced my life this week. (Which is ironic since it was his birthday last Sunday.)

On Tuesday, Team Kigel got together for the weekly Eastside 5k Run. (Kigel is the unofficial name of our group of friends. A Kigel is what you get when you cross a Kiwi bird and an American eagle.) I was pretty happy with my time, but nothing beats getting a free Tui beer when you are done running. It’s fun because I have met a nice group of people in Hamilton and our circle continues to grow.

Later in the week, Lindsay and I went to Mount Maunganui to complete our paperwork for fruit packing at Seeka. We are contemplating working in the fruit industry for a couple weeks to make some extra cash in order to fund our adventures. It will be crazy long hours, but it’s money! We stayed at Richard’s (a friend of Maura) house at the Mount. He and his roommate, Ramon, took us to the beach for dinner during sunset. We enjoyed a kiwi-favorite, Fish (tarakihi) & Chips. I also tried a deep fried pineapple ring with brown sugar…so yummy! After dinner we walked downtown and decided to grab a drink, but picked the bar solely based on the fact that someone was singing karaoke to Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain.” That evening we returned back to the house and enjoyed a nice glass of New Zealand wine and listened to tunes on the record player. We also decided that new names were in order – Ricardo (Richard), Lucia (Lindsay), Amelia (Amy) and Ramon (Ramon). The next day Lucia and I got up and headed to Te Puke for our “interview” at Seeka. Fruit packing would not be ideal (that’s for you Quentin), but it’s steady work until I can hopefully get something in Wellington. Plus, Richard has graciously offered up his couch for Lucia and I to sleep on. This whole experience is teaching me a lot about myself…what my limits are, how I can survive on my own, how I can make something out of nothing and how truly blessed I am. We drove back to town that day and stopped in Cambridge for a nice little lunch and latte on mainstreet. That night we headed to Arran and Leesa’s for a BBQ and I tried my first mussel. It was giant! Later in the evening, we went out in downtown Hamilton. We enjoyed meeting some local folk and we are still laughing about some of the things that happened that night!

It’s been a nice little weekend in Hamilton. We checked out the Frankton Street Market, worked on our tans at the pool, went for a walk downtown and enjoyed acoustic music and $5.00 pizzas on the patio at The Helm. It was good to stay in town this weekend, because we just booked our tickets for our 12 day trip to the South Island for the end of February. It is crazy how the trip is coming together so quickly. We booked $100 tickets to Christchurch and then a random person who Laura’s parents met while traveling is picking us up, letting us crash at her house and then take her car for a couple days. We are going to spend a few days visiting Mt. Cook, Milford Sound and wine country. After exploring the island, we are going to pick up a caravan in Queenstown and drive it back to Auckland. It’s part of the Transfer Car program, so it’s free. We just have to pay for the fuel to drive it back to the office in the North Island. I think this will be a great way to spend my 31st birthday!

It’s hard to believe I have been here for a month. I love New Zealand and I am so glad I made the decision to quit my job and move to the other side of the world. Every new experience, adventure and challenge helps me move one step closer to the person I want to be. This experience also makes me realize what and who is important to me. Like Bob Marley says, “my heart says follow through.” So that is exactly what I am going to do. From this point forward, I am going to follow my heart and live the life that my heart tells me to live. I am just going to be me.

The Mount

Monday, February 7, 2011

When It Rains It Pours

Well there’s a small boat made of china
It’s goin nowhere on the mantelpiece
Do I lie like a loungeroom lizard
Or do I sing like a bird released
Everywhere you go
You always take the weather with you
~Jimmy Buffett

The last few weeks have been a little bit of a whirlwind…perhaps cyclone would be a more appropriate way to explain it. Lindsay (Laura’s friend from Olympia) arrived a little over a week ago and moved into the apartment. She and I are sharing a room for the next few months. It’s like college again and we are becoming fast friends.

After Lindsay arrived, we headed to the Kay’s bach (that is what Kiwi’s call beach house) at Waihi Beach, which is positioned between the Coromandel and the Bay of Plenty. When we arrived at the bach they had Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise” playing. It was perfect! Unfortunately it started to rain, so we had friends over for cocktails and game night. It’s small world because Donna Kay (Laura’s co-worker) is from Rush City, Minnesota. She met Terry, her Kiwi husband, when they were both attending school at the University of Minnesota. Since Terry is from NZ, they decided to settle here. One of Donna’s friends who joined us for game night is from Boston. She also met a Kiwi in the states, fell in love and settled here. It seems to be a trend. We enjoyed a lovely evening of cocktails and conversation as the rain continued to pour down. We retired for the evening around midnight, but were awaken by the sirens at 2:00 a.m. Cyclone Wilma had arrived! It was high tide, so the town began to flood. We started to move the furniture to high ground and watched the water rise into the wee hours of the morning. We were literally one inch away from the bach flooding and having to evacuate. But then the rain miraculously stopped.

The next morning we ate breakfast on the deck and enjoyed the new "lakefront view." The local workers had to come and pump the water out of their yard because it was up to my waist. By midmorning the storm had cleared and the sun came out for the day. We decided to explore the beach and hiked the Orokawa Bay Track. I think we should have realized that the rain was going to affect the track, but we just charged ahead. We had to maneuver our way through a mudslide and cross two freshwater streams that came up to our knees. By the time we reached the third river, I had reached the end of my rope so we turned around. Mike told me that I gave him hiking blue balls...oh Mike. The following Monday was a holiday (Waikato Anniversary - each town celebrates their anniversary and gets a day of each year), so we headed to Raglan Beach for the day. It was windy and a bit overcast, but we set up camp on the beach and made pictures in the sand. It was a nice little Monday.

When I decided to make the move to NZ, I knew I couldn’t afford to just explore and play for a year. It was important for me to get a job while in New Zealand. I spent the first couple of weeks applying for office jobs, but I keep getting rejection letters. I think my CV and cover letters get lost in translation and I think I may be overqualified. In the meantime, I picked up a temporary gig at Convex Printing Company. It isn’t ideal work, but it’s a paycheck. Luckily, I work for Quentin who is a friend of ours and he looks after me. He is entertaining at work and brings me New Zealand treats. He has introduced me to some of his favorites including, vegemite (which is disgusting), scones, pie, povlova and smoked marlin (which his mom caught.) Although I am dedicated to finding work, I am more focused on having fun for the next couple of months. Lindsay and I might pick fruit in Tauranga in March and then my plan is to move to Wellington by the beginning of April.

After I received my first paycheck, we took the day off and headed to Auckland (NZ's biggest city.) We did some shopping and I randomly met a guy whose brother lives in Gresham, Oregon. How random! After we explored Auckland for a bit (which is like most other cities), we hopped on the ferry and headed to Waiheke Island. It was such an amazing day. The ferry ride was so beautiful and when we arrived on the island it was like a little slice of paradise. We walked from the dock to downtown Oneroa and found ourselves a nice little spot on the beach. We enjoyed a glorious girl's day filled with sunbathing, reading and gossiping.

On Friday, we packed up the car and headed to Taupo for the weekend. We set up camp and called it an early night because we had to be up by 5:30am to head the Tongaririo National Park. We hiked the Tongaririo Crossing. It is often described as the best on day walk in New Zealand. It has varied terrain and includes spring water lava flows, an active crater, emerald colored lakes and hot springs. It was 19k and took us about six hours to hike. Unfortunately, it rained most of the day and our visibility was limited. Before I leave New Zealand, I think I want to try it again when the weather is better. After the hike we headed back to the campsite and enjoyed soaking in the Taupo Hot Pools. It was a great way to relax after a big day of hiking. We had friends join us for that evening and we went out downtown Taupo. It was a great night filled with dancing and socializing. We even met some of the All Blacks rugby players, including Richard Kahui. The rugby players are like A-list celebrities here, so our kiwi friends were quite excited. 

My first month in New Zealand has been absolutely amazing! I can’t believe how much we have done in such a short amount of time. And even with all the rain, I still have managed to get an amazing tan. Life is pretty good on the island!