Travel & Culture

One with Nature… Kind Of: New Zealand (Part 1)

Kia ora! (Hello)

I learned that I cannot be away from my nail clippers for more than five days at a time because my nails will grow longer than 0.25 cm and that’s just not okay.

Do I sound crazy yet?

I went with my roommate Janus to New Zealand South Island. It was the first time I went on a long vacation without my family. My mother usually does the planning with my sister’s input, and my dad and I just tag along. I didn’t realize how much effort planning a vacation took. Thank you, Mommy Dearest, for all the energy you put into our family vacations.

We booked a hop-on/hop-off tour with Stray. Hop-on/hop-off means that you can stay longer at any destination and just catch the next available tour bus whenever you want to leave. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to use that function because we had only one week before we were needed back in real life.

Even before we started our trip, there were several issues we hadn’t resolved:

  1. We were arriving in New Zealand on Saturday, and our tour didn’t start till Sunday. We didn’t pre-book a place to stay at for Saturday night because the places we found online weren’t near the city center and were pricey. We believed that we could find something cheaper in the city.
  2. Our flight from New Zealand left at 6 AM on Sunday, but our tour bus didn’t arrive back to the city until 9:30 AM.

19 April (Sat, Easter Weekend) in Christchurch – And the Adventures Begin

  • We were so excited about going to New Zealand that we headed straight for the international airport. Makes sense, except we had a connecting flight in Melbourne and needed to be at the domestic airport instead. There was about 30 minutes of confusion as we tried to find our way to the domestic terminal.
  • Our flight to Christchurch was delayed, so we were arriving around 1:15 AM instead of 11 PM. And then there’s the issue of where we were going to stay…

By the time we got into the city, it was around 2 AM. I just want to put it out there that I am actually an old grandma living in a young person’s body. Once it hits midnight, I’m already thinking about how good my bed and pillow is going to feel, I think and move slower, I don’t listen to what anybody is saying, and I’m a bit grumpier because I’m tired and ready for bed.

Before Janus and I left, our travel agent told us that there isn’t much in Christchurch because the city is under reconstruction. I didn’t think it was a big deal because I’ve always lived in a place where there’s some sort of construction going on. But she wasn’t talking about that kind of construction. What Janus and I didn’t know was that the city was in the process of rebuilding from two 6.3-magnitude earthquakes in 2011. Many buildings were destroyed and many more structures and infrastructures were weakened, and now there were small pockets of the city between huge areas of blocked off land and streets. When we arrived into the city, my first thought was, “Uhh… are we in the right city?” Yes. Yes we were.

We wandered around for a while, asking bouncers where the nearest hostels were because we had no idea what the layout of the city was like or where we were. At one point, a truck passed us, turned around and stopped next to us. The driver rolled down the passenger window and asked us if we needed any help. I wanted a bed more than anything at this point, so I asked him if he knew where we can find a place to stay for the night. Fast forward a couple minutes and he was driving us around town looking for a place to stay.

He was a policeman who just got off work early, and he was going home when he noticed that we were walking around the city at 3:30 AM and heading towards the red light district. Thank goodness he helped us out because I probably would have given up and parked myself right outside Burger King. The cheapest place we found was at a hotel, and we stayed in the executive room because they were having a deal. However, we couldn’t check-in until 9 AM, so we bummed out at the casino for a while. There was an Irish guy who followed Janus and I around for a while, asking us if we wanted to kiss him. Excuse me, I know that it’s good luck to kiss the Irish, but not when you smell like booze and speak way too close to my face. Go away… please.

After a good four hours of sleep, we were ready to check out the city in the daylight like normal people. What I enjoyed most about Christchurch was that instead of rushing to rebuild the city, Christchurch is taking time to re-define itself, whether it is by building a mall out of pallets or installing art pieces randomly throughout the city.

  • The Arcades Project is a series of 10 large crossed arches made out of glue laminate and steel. It is situated right next to the blue Pallet Pavilion, a local performance venue.
  • The Avon River runs through the city and along the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.
  • The destroyed Christchurch Cathedral, which I think is still hauntingly beautiful.
  • The Transitional Cardboard Cathedral, designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, is made out of cardboard tubes, timber and steel.
  • “185 Empty Chairs” is an installation by artist Pete Majendie. There are chairs of every shape, size and era paints in uniform white, symbolizing the 185 people who died in the earthquakes.
  • Re:Start Mall is made out of containers. I thought it was cool idea creating a temporary shopping solution by outfitting retail stores in containers.

20-21 April (Sunday & Monday) in Franz Josef – Hiking is a Good Way to Shape Your Bum

Twinkles was our tour guide. He was lanky, had one dimple, and enjoyed walking around barefeet. He was the right amount of talkative and awkward, and I enjoyed hanging around him because he was chill.

On our way to Franz Josef, we passed by a tiny town with a population of two. The population of two owned a museum of random crap the owner collected. I enjoyed the store thoroughly because the owners are extremely sarcastic. People would write mail to them, mostly commenting on how they didn’t appreciate the jokes that were made. The owner would write back, making several sarcastic comments and thanking them for never wanting to go back.

Janus and I wanted to skydive at Franz Josef because people said you can see land, water, and glaciers. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do it because the weather was cruddy and the clouds kept hanging around. Instead, we did a lot of hiking and soaked in the glacier hot pools. While hiking, I thought about how my family would really enjoy New Zealand because of all the nature and hiking.

Now that I think about it, I’m the odd one of my family. My family loves hiking, and we go at least once a year to a national park to hike. Everyone in my family is good at hiking except me. My dad is good because he is a strong self-motivator; my sister is good because she likes to give herself challenges to overcome; and my mom is good because she doesn’t care if she makes it all the way to the top, as long as she can enjoy herself and take pictures along the way. As for me, I always want to make it to the top, but put a steep hill in front of me and I start thinking, “What the hell… why am I doing this to myself?” One of my motivators to keep on hiking is it’s working out my butt and legs, and I do want to make sure they look good.

On Monday night, there was a knock on our door. Guess who it was? Mr. Policeman! He was visiting his friend at Franz Josef while we were there,  and we happened to stay in the same hostel (mainly because that was the most well-known hostel in the tiny town). He brought Mawson, his Alaskan Malamute dog, along and we all hung out for a while until the blackout hit.

New Zealand has an ice cream brand called Memphis Meltdown. It’s much better than Haagen-Dazs. Janus and I bought one, and I accidentally dropped it on the floor. It was expensive, so we picked it up and kept on eating it. Five second rule, you know?

22 April (Tuesday) in Lake Wanaka – Nobody Told Me About All the Drool When Skydiving

On our way to Lake Wanaka, we stopped at Lake Matheson and walked a trail around it. The waters are dark brown, created by natural leaching of organic matter from the surrounding native forest floor. On a calm day, it creates the ideal reflective surface, and that’s why it is also known as the Mirror Lake.

Janus and I were able to go skydiving over Lake Wanaka, which was our second choice anyways. We jumped out of a plane at 12,000 feet with 45 seconds of freefall. It was exhilarating and exciting, and I’m glad I didn’t wee my pants. I was hesitant to include a video of my jump because it’s really awkwardly hilarious, but I did anyways. I showed this video to my rooommates and they all cried because it was… well, you’ll see. Before you watch, just know that I’m not very good at being myself when people are videotaping me. And I didn’t know how much drooling I would do.

I’ll finish with the second half of my trip soon!


Sources: Wikipedia; Air New Zealand Inflight Magazine Kia Ora, April 2014;

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