Middle Earth with the Family
When my family arrived in Dunedin, I was once again faced with the issue of having too much time to fill in a city that is not ideal for tourists. While there was less time to worry about making interesting (three days as opposed to seven with Brigid)m the weather was cold and wet for most of their stay, nearly even eliminating the botanic gardens as a form of entertainment. We did, however, have the benefit of the weekend so we were at least able to visit the farmer’s market. There, my brother paid $5 for a future heart attack in the form of a “bacon butte” sandwich (it’s white bread filled with bacon and onions). My mom and sister wisely followed my recommendation and tried those delicious crepes. We’ll have to try and recreate those at home. I think my family didn’t dislike Dunedin (my brother claimed it was his favorite place in New Zealand, weirdly enough, because it was “raw”) but it can be hard to enjoy unless you’re living there for an extended period of time. My family’s favorite adjective to describe the city was “soggy”. And during their stay, that description was quite accurate.
For me personally, being in Dunedin was the low point of our trip. I was feeling very conflicted throughout our stay there. On one hand, I was ecstatic to see my family again, but on the other, I was quite depressed to have the reality of my semester abroad, which I had been researching and planning for since I was in high school, be over so quickly hit me. I really didn’t fully realize how much I would miss the country and my friends until the end was upon me. I almost wish we had left Dunedin sooner because it dragged out the good-byes too much and made me dwell on what I was losing rather than what I would gain with my return home.
After too many days in Dunedin, the trip really began with our move to Queenstown. I was able to do the full Taieri Gorge railroad trip (we’d done about half of it on the International Student Welcome Day through the university), before we made it into Queenstown. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take many nice photos this time because it was (for once) too sunny to avoid a major glare off of the windows and water.
Upon arriving in Queenstown, I had Fergburger for the last time during this stay (but not the last during my lifetime). My family didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought they would; I think I forgot how much of an adjustment there can be from American ketchup to the much sweeter New Zealand tomato sauce. The next day, we woke up early for a 4WD trip through parts of Queenstown and Glenorchy. Since it was a Lord of the Rings-centric tour, my brother and I were extremely enthused, but my sister and mother also enjoyed our day, largely due to the fact that our tour guide was an incredibly cool guy. My family dubbed the tour guide, Graham, the “most interesting man in New Zealand”. And if that’s a real thing, he definitely should be a contender for that title. The man has done everything from climbing to the top of Mount Cook (before the peak fell off)m to being president of the New Zealand Ice Hockey Association, working for AJ Hackett (the commercial bungy creator/owner), traveling all over the world, to playing the bagpipes for Bill Gates, and meeting Orlando Bloom. He was a never-ending source of stories and entertainment.
After spending another day wandering around Queenstown, we headed up to Christchurch for a day. Our brief reprieve from unpleasant weather ended there with rain all day long. There, we witnessed the power of an earthquake, as the entire city centre is still blocked off and filled with rubble. As Midwesterners who are far from any fault line, it gave us firsthand illustration of the potential destruction that can result from that type of natural disaster. It is, in many respects, a ghost town and many of the shops and restaurants were vacant. Luckily, we were only there for once night before boarding the shortest flight of my life to Wellington.
Wellington was an interesting city. To me, it felt like what a combination of Seattle and Chicago would create on a miniature scale. However, we only had two days there, so my opinion of it may not hold much weight. We visited the brilliant Te Papau museum (though I did not care for the dinosaurs with moving eyes) and did another Lord of the Rings tour. Like the others, this tour was fun and were were accompanied by two Aussie boys who put my perceived nerdiness to shame. One of the guys was wearing a flat sheet like and elven cloak and writing his graduate thesis on Tolkien (which makes my little honors thesis look like nothing). It was a fun day, but I wish we had had more time to explore the city itself.
After Wellington, we headed up to National Park (yes, that is the name of a city; I didn’t believe my mom until we were actually there) to tackle the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (AKA climbing Mount Doom). We were once again lucky enough to have an incredible guide, but especially unlucky with the weather. We tramped slightly less than halfway through the trail (roughly 8 kilometers) before being forced to turn around from the 70 km/hr gales of wind that were nearly throwing us off of the top of the mountain. The rain and snow was not pleasant, but I did take some fantastic pictures in the moody weather (and it also was a more “Lord of the Rings”-like experience). You can definitely tell why Peter Jackson chose to make that area Mordor. Parts of are quite spectacular and surreal, if in a desolate and dreary way.
Following National Park, we continued to move North and spent an evening in Rotorua. While the city itself was very cute, the smell was overpowering. The sulfur from the hot springs permeated the air with the scent of rotten eggs, which was disgusting. It even made its way through the cracks in doors and was in the room we slept in (I pray to God for the sake of all the people I encountered the next day that the smell doesn’t stick to you). That was the one city in New Zealand that I can say with absolute certainty I could never live in.
After Rotorua, we headed up to Matamata and visited Hobbiton. This was the segment of the trip that my nerdy side was particularly excited form and it did not disappoint. Seeing all the little hobbit holes and Bag End and the party tree was delightful. And I’ll have to come back someday once they’ve finished expanding the set. The Green Dragon (the Shire pub from Tolkien’s works) will eventually be a working pub and I need to grab a beer there. I really enjoyed visiting this place; it was gorgeous even aside from it’s significance to LOTR. As one of my friends from home said when he’d saw that I went there, “You have reached your nerd climax.” Too true.
Our final stop in our tour of New Zealand was in Auckland. We only had room for one day there, but it was just as well since it was pouring rain most of the day anyway. We mostly just wandered around the city, grabbed some last-minute souvenirs, and visited the Sky Tower. But, I’m glad we spent some time there because it meant I was able to grab coffee with my kiwihost, Mike, one more time before we “permanently temporarily” parted ways. Coffee in Auckland, Dunedin, and Wellington is comparable, but Christchurch, Rotorua, and National Park have room for improvement on that front.
All in all, it was an amazing trip, but a ridiculous amount of traveling in a very short period of time. I almost would rather have seen fewer places and been at all those locations for longer because it would have allowed for more vacation time rather than commuting from place to place for so many hours. However, all that traveling really allowed us to appreciate staying in one place once we made our way to Port Douglas in Queensland, Australia…