My apologies for taking so long for an update! The period right before and after spring break (or I guess here it’s fall/mid-semester break) was a bit busy, as was this week. But now, I think I can somewhat adequately relay the AMAZING week that I had.
Over break, I road-tripped through the South Island of New Zealand with seven other people. The only person I really knew beforehand was Kristen, who is also a part of the IFSA-Butler program and we had hit it off from the start. I didn’t know anyone else, but that was the case for most of us. Luckily, we were all relatively easygoing and by the end of the trip, all pretty close (though there was the inevitable split off into mini-cliques that tends to happen in situations such as these). However, we were all united by a common desire to see as much of New Zealand as possible in six days, as well as a probably slightly unhealthy love for Lord of the Rings. The advantage to such a big group was that the price to rent the car (actually, a minivan, which we christened Shadowfax, led by a senile GPS called Gandalf) and pay for the gas was really cheap considering how much driving we did.
On day 1, we left Dunedin at (what I consider to be an ungodly time) 6:30 a.m. to catch the ferry to Stewart Island. Kristen, Dana, and I did not take the ferry because we felt that the $160 price tag on the ferry there and back was not justified for only three hours on the island. Instead, we explored what there was to see in Invercargill. Which, in reality, was not all that much but we had fun browsing around all the little shops and getting to know each other a bit better. We also found a nice bluff that you could see Stewart Island from and decided to do (what we thought would be) a short and easy hike. However, we found it to be a bit more than we bargained for since there were never-ending flights of stairs and much steeper hills than we were mentally prepared to handle. We took some great pictures though, and our leg and bum will probably eventually thank us for what was a surprisingly good workout.
After the rest of the group came back from the ferry, we headed off to drive the two additional hours to our hostel at Te Anau. We dropped off our gear, and then set off in search of food. I should probably take a moment to describe the hostel itself; though clean, it was definitely in need of an update and there were some sketchy people there. The room I was in was co-ed, and a few of the guys reeked. I swear, it smelled like a dirty goat farm in there. But, we survived the name and were out of the room for the day by 8 a.m. We spent the day sightseeing, and drove up into Fiordland to see Milford Sound. Unfortunately, we didn’t time things quite correctly, and we spent the sunny morning seeing various spots in Te Anau and (being that it’s New Zealand) it was a bit rainy and dreary by the time we made it to Milford. However, that was not a huge issue, because I think it might have kept the sand flies from being quite as vicious as they would have been otherwise. While there, everyone except Kristen and I (ever the scrooges of the bunch) decided to take a scenic cruise. I would have taken it had it been a little nicer, but I felt like you could see much of what there was to see by walking around and in the weather of that day, a boat was not going to make much of a difference.
Following that adventure, we headed back to our Te Anau hostel where, thankfully, all the people from the evening before had left. We all made dinner together and then finished off the night by going for dessert at the Red Cliff Cafe. Apparently, that establishment was a favourite hang out of some members of the LOTR cast, and they had a signed t-shirt and letter framed on the wall to prove it. I also succeeded at embarrassing myself by gawking at those particular items of memorabilia for a good five minutes. I personally can’t vouch for the food since I was still pretty full from dinner, but everyone who ordered a dessert said it was amazing, if a bit pricey. I also felt like less of a nerd for staring down the autographed items when Dana and Kristen were able to quote the special features from the Lord of the Rings even better than I could.
On day 3 of our adventure we set off at a (normal) time of 9 a.m. and headed up to Queenstown. The ride was GORGEOUS. Even I (who acquired the reputation of always falling asleep in the car while being serenaded by the artists on my iPod) stayed awake the entire way there and took pictures most of the way up. It was also on this particular venture that we discovered our preferred radio station (98.8), which on that day was playing the top 80 of the 80s. The only issue was that the road was so remote and surrounded by mountains everywhere so it kept cutting in and out (though I can imagine that Alex, the only guy in our group, took greater issue with seven girls belting out “Total Eclipse of the Heart” at the top of their lungs).
Once we arrived, we checked into our (much nicer) hostel before grabbing lunch at the famous Fergburger. We were in Queenstown for three days, and I swear, the line was out the door from the moment they opened until they closed down for the night every single time we walked by (Working there would be the stuff of nightmares for me). They do make a good burger though, so it probably deserves that much business (my heart will always be with Duffy’s on Anna Maria Island, though that distinction is probably a result of childhood nostalgia as much as it is about the quality of food). From there, we loaded ourselves back up into the van and drove up the side of a mountain to get a better look at the Remarkables and search for the spot that they filmed the Dimrill Dale in the Lord of the Rings. We did eventually find it, after a few of us (me) stumbled in some mud in what would be a ski field in a couple of months. I stupidly drank water from the stream (it was really dusty-tasting, but there were no long-term negative side effects) and succeeded in ripping a hole in my leggings while climbing and laying on some rocks. My complete lack of common sense was in fine form on this day.
After our outdoor adventures for the day were completed, we headed back to the hostel to enjoy the free (first-come, first-serve) dinner that they offer during the week. While it was nothing to write home about (just some chilli), it did allow us to justify going out for some DELICIOUS, if a bit expensive gelato later. It also really made me appreciate Rob Roy’s $1.70 GIANT serving of ice cream back in Dunedin. We moseyed around Queenstown for a bit, ogled a jewellery shop that had Lord of the Rings paraphernalia before going to bed for the night.
Day 4 was another relatively early start as it was the day of the long-awaited horseback ride through Glenorchy and Paradise. Our ride wasn’t scheduled until 2 p.m. but we made several stops along the way that necessitated us getting moving at a decent hour. We found the location where Sam first sees the Elephants (Ithilien) which was GORGEOUS but Glenorchy and Paradise were undoubtedly the highlights of the day. The horseback riding was fun, despite the fact that my horse was (aside from Kristen’s who was even worse) a pain-in-the-butt. Since I was the shortest person there, I was given the smallest gelding, who had, “small-man syndrome” meaning he had to be kept at the back, away from everyone else so he wouldn’t make a scene or bite the other horses. That made getting a group picture a bit difficult, but we did manage to succeed. Aside from that, the ride was stunning and I simultaneously was able to get an animal fix (not that any animal can replace my Jazzy). The locations we rode through are a filmmaker’s dream as, aside from the Lord of the Rings, they were also featured in the Chronicles of Narnia and Wolverine. However, it was the Lord of the Rings spots that had everyone on the tour (even those outside of our group) all excited. Notable locations were the tree that Aragorn almost loses his head on, the spot where Boromir dies, Isengard, and a fence that will be featured in The Hobbit as the marker for where Beorn lives.
Following the horseback riding, we all went out to dinner in Queenstown at a place called “The Cow”. Despite it’s rather unappetizing name, the food was amazing, and their choice of music even better. We were there for about two hours and they played David Bowie and the Rolling Stones the entire time. I think we ordered a dessert just so we had an excuse to sit there for a bit longer.
The next day, we woke up early and drove to Arrowtown. This place was, hands-down, my favourite location we visited. Which may have, ironically, been because it reminded me the most of my most beloved childhood memories. There was a autumn festival going on and all the leaves were changing, and I felt like I was back home at the Frankfort Fall Festival. We found a fun little path and took turns taking pictures of us climbing trees and jumping in leaves and frolicking around like little children. There was a tree that stretched all the way across the river, on which I tried to re-enact the part in Dirty Dancing where Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey dance across the log, but was advised that that was a poor idea, so I only walked out it about halfway. This is also probably the time to mention that people kept threatening to call me Pippin because of all the brilliant moments I kept having.
After Arrowtown, we went to Wanaka for a few hours. To be honest, I was a bit underwhelmed with that city. I’d heard great things about it, but it was really tiny and tourist-ey, as Queenstown is (though Queenstown is bigger), but without the same vigour and energy that pervades through all of Queenstown. But, again, my impression could have been informed by the fact that they day had turned grey, and we were there in the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday.
Once back in our hostel, we realized we had missed the free dinner and thus headed off in various directions for some cheap and easy food. I myself had McDonald’s, but only for the second time since being in New Zealand (and the first time doesn’t count because it was after the Hyde Street Keg Party). I also tried this place called Cookie Time’s cookie sundae (I was really on a health kick) and it was delicious, but not as good as Granite City at home. We then all went to bed in preparation for what was already our last day of adventures.
We (again…I swear, I never slept except for when I was in the car) left early and began the four-hour drive up to Mount Cook Village. It was a gorgeous ride and we were really lucky in that there was exactly the right amount of clouds for us to capture Mount Cook (enough to block out the sun so we could see the snow, but not so much that the peak was blocked). We did a very brief hike up to the glaciers around the mountain and then turned around and drove to Twizel for what was easily the nerdiest event of the trip. The eight of us filled up an entire van where we were taken by a very nice (and tolerant) woman to where they filmed Pelennor Fields. For those of you who have more of a life than me, Pelennor Fields is the giant battle in Return of the King. So yeah, kind of a big deal for us Lord of the Rings people. It also is, aside from its fame, an absolutely stunning location and we had some amazing pictures. They were made even more special when the lady started pulling out masks and helmets and swords for us to all pose in. She also told us about a British guy who during the tour, stripped down to his underwear, put on the Gollum mask, and acted out some part of the movie. I’m pretty sure that my brother would do the same thing if given the chance.
From there, we had one more dinner together as a group before beginning the three-hour drive to Dunedin. It was (as the ends of most journeys are) a bit bittersweet; while I was really looking forward to getting “home” and sleeping in my own bed and not being in a car for hours everyday, I had a lot of fun forgetting about assignments and due dates and real-life issues to just experience New Zealand, and really getting to act like a tourist. I only wish our break was a little longer so that we could experience each place for a few more days and been less scheduled (note to all considering coming abroad to NZ: the University of Otago is the ONLY university that doesn’t give their students a two week break. However, it’s also much closer to all the most beautiful spots in the country, so I think you just have to plan more weekend trips rather than one big trip). Anyway, I had a fabulous time with some great people and am happy to say that I crossed most of the big spots on the South Island off my list. I’ll probably revisit a few with my family and friends, since I, at the very least, still need to bungee jump, but I now feel like I am taking full advantage of the country. And that’s all for now! I need to go find my finals schedule so that I can plan a trip to Wellington…
And here’s the largest photo gallery to date!