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.


  1. What an adventure! So happy you're doing this :)

  2. I love reading about your adventures! One question though... where's the drama? Your stories usually include drama - it's my favorite part! :)