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Mid-Semester Break Adventures: Part 1- Plan of Action and Queenstown

Where to even begin this post is an absolute struggle for me. We encountered so many different beautiful places, valuable experiences, and laughs and smiles with friends. This last week of break really couldn’t have been much better. I got to spend time with people who have come to be great friends, outgoing and friendly people from New Zealand, spontaneous Kiwi’s, kind owners of wonderful backpackers and bachs in stunning places, and of course many sheep and now lambs as well. First off I guess would be to start with what our original plan of action was: 7 day road trip, Friday to Friday, around the South Island of New Zealand. We aimed to spend 3 nights in the mountain town and adventure capital of Queenstown, followed by a drive to the west coast to Franz Josef Glacier, into the mountains of Arthur’s Pass for a night, to the coast at Akaroa, and back to the Southern Alps to see Mount Cook. We   planned to horseback ride, tramp, and check out the nightlife of Queenstown, tramp and see the glacier in Franz, tramping to waterfalls in Arthur’s Pass, kayaking in Akaroa, and of course tramping in Mount Cook. However, with all good, long road trips, plans change, experiences present themselves and you learn to go with the flow and soak up every minute you can, including the endless staring and drooling out the window at awe-striking landscapes. So here begins the epic journey that was my spring break in New Zealand, the 26th of August to the 2nd of September, year 2011.

We couldn’t have asked for more promising weather on the Friday of the start of break. It was as though the weather was also expressing the happiness of all the students who were ready to take a break from classes and enjoy relaxing, tramping, or adventuring. It was a perfectly sunny, warm, and slightly humid winters day. Walking back from my last class I could feel the warm beams of sunshine beating down on my shoulders underneath my now too warm jacket. I raced home, packed, and waited in anticipation till 2:00 when we were to meet our rental car and hit the road for the next week. Monique and Sarah showed up in a beautiful navy blue, Subaru, and of course on the left hand side of the road. The car was perfect and soon came to be known as Big Blue or the Big B, Big Boy, and even Billy Boyd. The vehicle was to successfully carry us, jam packed with stuff, across the kilometers of New Zealand blasting throwbacks, Jack Johnson, Dave Mathews, and a few mixed up reggae beats the whole way.             We stopped at each person’s flat, anticipation building the whole time, and slowly filled up the car before hitting highway 1 out of Dunedin and in the direction of Queenstown. We drove alongside far after far, grass covered hillsides, and the occasional river or creek into the night.

We hit Queenstown in the dark, a slight drizzle hitting the windshield as we pulled into our hostel nestled in the downtown. We dumped our stuff and proceeded up to room 322, on the top floor, packed into the far corner of the hostel to find that we had 3 friendly, kind Tasmanian boys hitting the ski slopes of Queenstown for the next two weeks. So far they have been the first and only Australian people I have met, and they left a more than great impression on me of the lovely partner country in the New Zealand-Australian rivalry. We got to know them, spent some fun nights on the town together, and talked about everything from drivers licenses and mountain biking, to accents, to and all the awesome things about each place we were from. We couldn’t have had better hostel roommates than Ben, Sam, and Adam from Tasmania, Australia. After spending the night on the town and then staying up talking till we couldn’t keep our eyes open, we hit the hay for the night before the morning.

We woke up to a beautiful morning, stumbled out of bed to find that we were absolutely surrounded by these scraggly mountain peaks on literally every side. It was shocking and stunning, however as the trip continued this came to be more of a norm to have the mountains constantly somewhere in the background. We made some PB&J’s on the roof of big blue looking out to the peaks before heading to the trail head to climb to the top of where the gondola went to check out some views. As we hiked on the views became more and more beautiful. I found myself taking my camera out to take a picture of what I thought was a beautiful scene only to find that 5 minutes later it had become more incredible and felt the urge to grab a picture yet again. When we hit the top though there was really nothing comparable to the sight. Mountains, Lake, Sky, and snow all around. It was wonderful. In fact the views were so distracting that we failed to see that we were drooling at the scenery on top of a helicopter landing sight and were soon asked by a security person in a golf cart “Can you all read?” We had completely failed to see the two enormous signs saying not to stand on the helicopter pad at any time hahaha I was just on a natural high from the beauty that nature and New Zealand has to offer. We continued around the top of the mountain and ran into a friend of ours who we got to watch do a bungee jump from one of the platforms looking out to the lake. My stomach dropped just watching him leap off the plat form and bounce back up and down several times before coming back up. It wouldn’t be the adventure capital of New Zealand though if there weren’t some adrenaline, a little fear, and some sort of extreme. We decided to hike back down instead of our original plan to take the gondola and enjoyed sliding in the mud a bit and doing some rock hopping on the way back to town. We then checked out a nice little local craft market down by the lake and the warf. I sat in the sun and sand just marveling at how crystal clear the water in the was and the reflections of the snow capped mountains in it while the ducks played in the small surf that the boats generated as they went by.  We watched the All Blacks (New Zealand) vs. The Wallabies (Australia) rugby game with our roommates and got a little taste of the rivalry between the two countries. After another long, fun night we turned in so we could get up early the next day to head out horseback riding.

In the morning, we woke up to perfect blue skies and sunshine, the first time I think I can say there wasn’t a cloud in the sky to be seen in New Zealand. We made our breakfast of choice oatmeal with peanut butter and banana, grabbed an apple, and headed on our way to meet up with the people who were going to take us out to the stables. We met them at the street corner to find a van with a roof so high that you could practically stand a 6-foot person inside it without having to slouch a little. The young guy drove us speedily down the winding road that ran the coastline of the lake, lined by mountains on both sides down to the town of Glenorchy where we were outfitted with knee high boots, helmet, and gloves, signed waivers, and got to peek at a couple of horses. We then hopped back into the can and headed practically straight into the mountains down a rough dirt road to meet up with the horses we would be riding. When we arrived the mountains were spectacular and looked like they could have been out of a dream or painting. We were then introduced to each of our horses we would be riding. My horse, named Biscuit, was a majestic but wily, mahogany brown horse with a beautiful mane. I was directed onto the horse and told how to steer him, and naturally I got my directions wrong the first time around before figuring it out. I felt clueless on top of Biscuit, but slowly became more comfortable with how large he was and the balance of being in a saddle. After each of us had been set up on our respective horses which included Pip, Elmo, Elvis, Presley and one more, we headed out down the path into the country know literally as Paradise. We trotted through beech forests, past creeks, and through some open rolling hills, the whole way our tour guide pointing out different locations that had appeared in movies such as The Lord of the Rings, Wolverine, and Prince Caspian as well as several others. It was beautiful and such a different perspective to be seeing all the wilderness on a horse. We then tried to canter on the horses and Tricia took a bit of a tumble, only to proceed to get back up onto the horse, quite valiantly might I add, and gracefully faint onto the horse. After giving her some recovery time we made our way back as the sun was beginning to approach the horizon. I said goodbye to Biscuit and headed back into Queenstown as the sun set on the lake and mountains. That night we stayed in and played some classic card games with our Australian roommates. We taught them several classic card games from America, including my family’s personal favorite, rummy, and also learned a few very fun Australian card games as well. It was a really relaxing and lighthearted night. We went to sleep that night prepared for an early start to the day tomorrow to head to the west coast and the glaciers.

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