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Spring Break: Southern Hemisphere Style

Okay so I must admit, the laid-back kiwi lifestyle may have gotten to my head a little bit. It’s been a while since I’ve posted about my New Zealand life so today’s the day where I attempt to get on top of everything and actually get something accomplished. So here we go, 1 much needed blog out of the four that I have lined up for now.

It’s still weird to think that seasons in the southern hemisphere are opposite. So as most of my friends prepared to start their fall semester back in the states, I was getting ready to go on a spring break road trip.

I had made “plans” with another IFSA student, Alyshia, to go on a road trip for the first week of spring break. Essentially we kept making plans to make plans, which always turned out to be getting Indian food as we stared blankly at a map of New Zealand. Making plans with two indecisive people is difficult, and after we randomly pointed out places on the South Island we would give up as we wouldeventually figure it out.

…And then time ran out and break was going to start that weekend so we actually had to plan something.

Our plan: Rent a car and do a “road trip” around the south island. We would leave from Christchurch and head up through Arthurs Pass, Stop at Hokitika, then stop at Franz Joseph to see the glaciers, then queenstown, and then Dunedin, with a pit stop in Christchurch, and then Kaikoura. We borrowed a tent from one of Alyshia’s flatmates and planned to spend half of our nights camping, and others in backpackers in order to shower.

So Saturday morning comes around and Alyshia and I head out to the Airport to pick up the car. At this point it’s been a couple of months since either of us have been behind the wheel of a car so we were both a little nervous, especially since the driver’s side is on the right side of the car and you drive on the left side of the road in New Zealand. We figured we’d get used to it eventually. We depart from the rental company, thankful that they provided us with a map as we were very ill prepared and then we hit our first round about. As a pedestrian, round abouts in Christchurch basically make you fear for your life. The fear definitely escalates when you’re behind the wheel of the car. But we eventually made it out of Christchurch and out into the countryside. We stopped at a grocery store to stock up on some food for the week, aka peanutbutter sandwich supplies, chips, and candy (or as they say in NZ lollies).

We eventually made it to Arthur’s Pass and found our first campsite that allowed free camping. We walked around for a bit because it was still light outside and started getting attacked by sandflies (the NZ equivalent of mosquitos)…and then came the Kea. For those of you who may not know me to well, birds and I just DO NOT mix. In other words, I hate birds. Kea are a beautiful alpine parrot. Kiwis say that they’re a really inquisitive smart bird. This really means that they’re really annoying and will attempt to go through all of your stuff. So as we prepared to set up camp for the night we had to “battle” this kea from going through our trunk and attacking the roof rack of our rental car. But kea are also protected so you can’t really legally do anything. So we did our best to ignore the bird and the sandflies as we set up camp. We found a “great” spot, cleared the twigs/rocks away and started setting up the tent when we realized that the tent we borrowed did not contain the poles for the tent. The sun started to set and it definitely became colder. We eventually gave up with trying to put up this tent, and got back in the car to drive into Arthur’s Pass village to find a backpacker for the night. We made ourselves some dinner, which consisted of grilled peanutbutter and nutella sandwiches, and then we were bored. Neither of us came prepared with any sort of entertainment. Luckily the backpacker supplies some board games, which really consisted of Connect 4 and Checkers. That’s when Alyshia and I realized that this was going to be a long road trip. There was a group of guys playing monopoly and we figured they were having a good time as there was an empty bottle of vodka, and quite a few empty beer bottles. They weren’t speaking in english, so Alyshia and I created the new game of “Figure out where they’re from”. We failed, eventually we met Michal who told us that they’re a group of civil engineers from the Czech Republic/Poland working in Christchurch. Michal told us of his plans to hike “Avalanche Peak” in the morning and tried to convince Alyshia and I to go with him and his friends. We kindly declined the situation since it’s more of a climb than a hike and requires actual avalanche skills, a feat Alyshia and I definitely weren’t up to tackle. The next morning Alyshia and I completed a couple of nice hikes around Arthur’s Pass when it started to rain. We stopped at the DOC  office (Department of Conservation) to check the weather forecast for the rest of the day and realized the weather wasn’t going to improve any time soon. We had planned to complete another small hike but it was quite exposed to the elements and we knew the weather would just get worse with the change in altitude so we decided to move on with our road trip.

We altered our road trip itinerary to check out Greymouth, a town along the north west coast of the South Island. We took the “tourist route” which didn’t really have any touristy qualities, unless you consider endless sheep/cow paddocks to be touristy. Eventually we made it to Greymouth, where the weather was colder and more wet than it was in Arthurs Pass. The town also seemed pretty dead, especially for a Sunday. We walked around a bit until we were especially cold and decided to grab some coffee. I’ll admit, I’m still not used to the style of coffee here in New Zealand. They don’t have “filter coffee” at most shops unless you’re lucky enough to find a Starbucks. Anyway they served us “coffee” which is not what I would call it, and disappointed we made our way back to the car to head off to Hokitika.

The weather still hadn’t improved by the time we made it to Hokitika, and this town seemed to be more of a ghost town than Greymouth. We made a pit stop at the grocery store to pick up some playing cards and some actual food. We really weren’t impressed, and had no idea what we would do for the rest of the night so we changed plans again and decided to head straight to the glaciers. The rain had definitely started to effect our spirits, but we looked forward to an actual hot meal. We chose our backpacker in Franz Joseph based off of the “Free Internet” sign. We even lucked out, because we were placed in a room by ourselves. We settled in our room, and decided to pick out some videos to entertain ourselves for the rest of the night. We met Nick, and Laura who met each other in China and decided to take a trip to New Zealand before they returned to England and Colorado. Alyshia and I figured that it would still be raining the next morning but would man up and do some hikes around the glaciers. Luckily it was absolutely gorgeous out so we decided to spend another day at the hostel in Franz Joseph so that we could really enjoy ourselves.

The next morning, we headed down to Queenstown. This was Alyshia’s first time in Queenstown. The last time I was there we stayed at Base Backpackers, which is notoriously known as a party backpacker. I knew Alyshia and I wanted to be able to sleep so I made the suggestion to stay at a place further from the town center. We saw a banner for a pub crawl titled “Big Night Out”. We had a great time dancing at the different bars. Alyshia and I also learned that we were essentially the only females in Queenstown. This observation might have swayed our decision stay in Queenstown for a second night. The next morning we walked around the lake and went up to skyline again. We cooked ourselves some dinner and decided to do our own pub crawl. We started at the same bar as “Big Night Out’ and there we met quite a few Aussies. Apparently all of the Aussies come over to NZ to ski because they can’t in Australia, and New Zealand is cheap as. So this group of 14 Australian men ages between 30 and 45 decided to take Alyshia and I under their wings for the night. We had a great time on this pub crawl with the Aussies. I do feel the need to throw in a note on safety here: if you are two females drinking with a group of men whom you just met be careful and watch each other’s back. If you feel uncomfortable leave. The bars should all have bouncers who would be very much willing to help if things somehow go wrong. Luckily for us we met a sweet as group of Aussies who were extremely nice the whole night.

The next morning we groggily woke up to head out to Dunedin. It was definitely a long drive, and then BAM we were in the city of Dunedin. Up until this point we were mainly used to country driving. The towns we had visited were pretty small and easily navigable. Dunedin was definitely city driving – stressful and confusing. I must also add that not only do you drive on the left side of the road, and sit on the right side of the car, but the turn signal and windshield wipers are also located on different sides of the steering wheel than what they are in the states. This makes for some confusing as driving. As I drove around Dunedin, not knowing where we were going at all, and confused with the city traffic I decided that it would just be better to hit both. I might confuse the other drivers because it was extremely nice out, but at least they would know what direction I was heading (hopefully). After a long search for parking, we eventually got to settle into our backpacker. We also had free wifi at this place and definitely took advantage of it to tell our families that we were still alive. A group of IFSA students from Otago posted pictures from this hike they did to the organ pipes. Their pictures were gorgeous so we decided we also wanted to go there. We looked up some rough directions online and figured there would be signs along the way. Nope we definitely got lost but we eventually made it. The hike in was nice, and then we got to “the organ pipes” which really was a rock fall of columnar basalt. Being young determined college kids we began our ascent, figuring “if the Dunedin kids did it we can do it.” So we started climbing, which was fun, and the views were awesome….but then we had to climb back down, which wasn’t as easy.  We had really good cell reception and kept joking about calling Kylie, our SSC, or the IFSA emergency number to come save us from the top of the organ pipes but didn’t want to get a lecture about not registering our hike with DOC.  So we put on some Backstreet Boys to distract us on the way down and were happy to be back on flat level land.We hopped back in our car to drive around the Otago penninsula where we could see some Albatross, Penguins, Sea Lions, and Seals. And that’s when we learned that most of the routes down to the beaches were closed for construction. Disappointed we headed back to the backpacker to get cleaned up a bit, and head over to Speights Brewery for a tour. It was definitely a great tour, and you get your moneys worth because at the end they give you half an hour for tasting. Essentially, you have half an hour to taste as many beers as many times as you want. Sweet as. We then met up with Kina and Bethany, two IFSA students studying at Otago, for dinner.  The next morning we checked out of our hostel and went on the Cadbury factory tour. We got to taste a lot of chocholate which was nice but it was definitely aimed at tourists. Overall, I would go on the Speights Brewery tour again, but I would not do the Cadbury tour.

At this point, our original plan was to drive back to Christchurch for a pit stop before we headed to Kaikoura. Unfortunately…or fortunately (I’m still not really sure) or lack of planning allowed for some quick edits as we made our way back to Queenstown for another night on the town. We hoped to meet some cool Aussies again, however Queenstown on a weekend is definitely different than Queenstown during the week. Nevertheless we still had a great time.

The next morning we headed back to Christchurch to return the car. Overall it was a great road trip. Another tip, if you plan on doing a road trip around New Zealand bring an ipod adapter for the car. A lot of NZ is unpopulated, meaning that you’ll mostly get static on the radio. At a low point of the trip, Alyshia and I  definitely had a dance party to some radio static…this was before we figured out that we could just play music off of our ipods and have terrible sound quality.

My road trip with Alyshia came to an earlier end than what I would have liked, but unfortunately the second week of break was devoted to Freshwater Ecosystems. Science courses at my home uni have weekly labs in which you cover all of the basic laboratory skills for that specific field. However, the University of Canterbury has a slightly different structure for labwork since you cannot exactly fit in all the necessary lab skills in an urban setting. So since there aren’t any lectures for two weeks, my freshwater ecosystems course constructed a week long lab trip to the Cass field station located near Arthur’s Pass.

To be honest, one of the things I’ve been missing about my home university is the Science Building. There I’m essentially in my “natural habitat”. I get to be a huge science nerd which is awesome. This week was nice in that I finally got to be a science nerd, but it was definitely an intense week.

Fitting in a weeks worth of lab skills is extremely difficult, especially when you’re dealing with what I consider a pretty large class size. While the trip was exhausting, both mentally and physically, it was definitely worth it. My class is definitely closer now that we had to suffer though basically a week of no sleep.

The awesome parts of the trip were learning about electric fishing and spotlighting. We got to see a lot of the NZ fish species because of electric fishing. I think my favorite NZ fish species is the Koaro.  And spotlighting is probably one of the most ridiculous activities. The NZ native fish fauna are pretty tame. So at night, you can go spotlighting for fish. In other words you walk along this stream with giant spotlights looking for fish, and you can easily catch them because they freeze like a deer in the headlights.




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