Friday, 13 March 2015

NZ Tourist

Sometimes you just have to be a tourist. If you are only in a place for a short time, it is best to try and hit all the famous things early on in the trip so that you can get deeper into the culture and fully immerse yourself in it. This weekend we managed to book some big tours with some very iconic New Zealand settings.
First we went black water rafting in the Waitomo glow worm caves, and came out sopping wet and smelly. We had to wear a nasty combo of wetsuit pants and jacket with added socks. We were also issued a pair of gum boots, a helmet with a headlamp on it, and a small intertube. We had no idea what we were really getting into. Our guides were really sassy and tricked us every time they got a chance. We were taught how to properly jump off waterfalls and onto our tubes, yet not how to keep from falling face first into the stale cave water that was rushing under our feet. It was an amazing experience for sure! It was something I will never forget. Climbing, jumping, floating, and drifting through the underground slot canyon underneath the light of the glow worm. It was like the starry sky on a clear night, for lack of a better description.

That night, we stayed in a hostel in Rotorua. It was a really cool place. Now, I have never stayed in a hostel before so I was a little nervous and had no idea what to expect from the place. Turns out it was really clean and had a cool vibe. We stayed in a 10 bunk room, so basically our group took up half of it. It was kind of like a really packed dorm. We got a shower and bathroom, full kitchen, living room, and a bar to share with the rest of the people staying those nights. Hostels get a bad rep in the States, but I really think that it is the way to travel around here. You just have to know how to be safe with all the strangers you are having a slumber party with.
The next day we got up at a decent time and headed over to the Hobbiton Movie Set. Yes, this is the most tourist-y thing we could possibly do while in New Zealand, and we did it! It was really sweet to see and stand and touch where those huge movies took place. I honestly thought less about the movies and more about how awesome it would be to live in one of the hobbit holes! Maybe I would make my hobbit hole a tad bigger. :)
I'll let the photos do the talking for me...

After we had finished meandering through the shire, we made our way to the next tourist stop on our list: the Tamaki Maori Village. There, we were exposed to the cultural dance, games, crafts, and food of the native Maori people. Of course it was all staged, but it felt pretty real. It was a really neat experience and we all learned a ton about the native culture we are living with for the next few months.


After a good night's sleep, we woke up to what we thought was going to be free pancakes, by the hands of the hostel hosts, but what we got was some premixed thinned out batter and a cast iron skillet. We finally managed to get a decent pancake out after using what seemed like half the bottle of oil to coat the skillet and keep the batter from becoming part of the pan. We ate them anyway, being traveling students on a budget. Let me just say that those little grease cakes did not set well with any of us on our next trek. We drove to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley and took a walk through the park. I swear we must have stepped into Jurassic Park! I was half expecting to see a dinosaur stick its prehistoric head out of the treetops at any moment. I really enjoyed the walk past several steaming pools of chemical ridden water forming in the crater of volcanoes. It was a bit unnerving to know you were so close to an active volcanoes mouth, but then again, it was pretty darn sweet!


After tackling Jurassic Park, we started heading back home (or what we are calling home for the next few months aka school). We had driven a few hours and were about an hour and a half away from home when the traffic came to a complete stop on the highway. There was a long line of stopped cars on the highway in the middle of nowhere, with no cars going in or coming out. After sitting in the car for about half an hour, we finally managed to get word of a really bad wreck that was blocking the road. It was predicted to be another 3 hours until they could get traffic moving again. With daylight hours running out on us on one of the only highways through the area, we made a quick decision to take a big detour our and around the traffic jam on another highway. This route was going to take us another 2 hours out of the way, but it was our only hope. I met a guy one time that said "It's not an adventure until something goes wrong," and you know, I think he is right. We would never have got to see that landscape if we hadn't had to go around the really unfortunate event. Some people get uptight about a change in plans, but how I see it is that you should just make the best of any situation and go with the flow. Some of the best things come out of unexpected trips.
This weekend was all about being a tourist, but hopefully in the upcoming weeks I can start seeing New Zealand as a local.

By replacing fear of the unknown with curiosity we open ourselves up to an infinite stream of possibility.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

GoPro Weeks 1&2

Video #1: Our first weekend trip to Himatangi Beach and Foxton Beach.
Video #2: Weekend number two, trip to Lake Taupo. Also see my other blog post "Weekend Warriors".
Video #3: A short video of Bulli Point cliff jumping along Lake Taupo.

Weekend Warriors

This past weekend me and three other friends that I met from the U.S. rented a car and headed north. We stayed at a janky little campground in Turangi. It looked like it used to be a cute little summer camp. The cabins were literally a garden shed with two twin bets in it, that's all we really needed, no complaints here. On our arrival, we went on a short walk up a river and across a cool suspension bridge. 
Along the way I spotted a whole bunch of raspberry bushes. I got really excited because we pick them at home in the summer and make pies and jams. I started picking a couple of the ripe, purple berries, but before I could pop them in my mouth the other girls hollered at me because they were worried they were poisonous and that I was going to die. I am pretty sure they all though I was crazy and going to get them all into trouble this semester, but after a few minutes I finally convinced them that I was 100% positive that they were not only edible, but down right delicious! I popped one right into my mouth and the instant feeling of home and summer rushed over me. The three of them quickly started picking the berries and gobbling them down after they were sure I wasn't going to keel over on the spot. It was a great late afternoon snack for some hungry student travelers.
That night, while we were snuggled into two twin beds with only two sleeping bags to share, an obnoxiously loud siren went off early in the morning hours. Of course, we all jumped up and each assumed the worst scenario according to the region of the U.S. we come from. I immediately thought tornado, but quickly realized tornadoes don't happen in this part of the world as often. Then the vision of the volcanic landscape flashed into my head. I couldn't help but worry we should be evacuating at that very moment. Come to find out, after a short, groggy conversation with a lady outside, the sirens were just from the fire station located down the block.

That next day, after sleeping a couple of more hours, we drove up along Lake Taupo to the little lake front town of Taupo. It reminded me of Osage Beach in South Missouri a little, but a bit cleaner. We checked out the local farmer's market before heading to Huka Falls. The water was so incredibly blue! I still can't believe my own eyes. The aqua blue water was cascading over some rock and on down the river. It wasn't so much of a falls as we would think of it, but more of a stretch of rapids. 
After getting our fill of the scenery we continued to the free honey tasting shop. Let me just say, they have some tasty honey! I even got to try some raw honey which was YUM! After that quick stop, we headed back to the Huka Falls parking lot, only this time we hiked up river for about half an hour until we found the natural hot spring pools that ran into the river.The water that was coming out of the hot springs was super hot. It flowed right into the river. You could feel and even see where the hot and cold waters were mixing. Super neat experience for sure. After basking in the sun and warm water, we decided it was about time to head back to the comforts of our little shack. The previous week, we had heard of a local cliff diving spot along the lake and thought we would give it a try. You would have never spotted the jumping spot if there had not been a couple people standing on the ledge. It was on the corner of a windy mountain road that skirts around the lake. There were a half dozen cars just pulled off on whatever shoulder of the road they could. We immediately pulled off the road and hopped out only the people we had seen were through a thick patch of trees. As we ventured off the road into the trees in only our shoes and bikinis, we ran across a young boy who showed us the way to where him and his two brothers were spending the afternoon jumping off a small ledge and trying to make the bigger splash. After watching the local family for a while, we finally got our chance to do some damage. The water was so amazingly clear! The bottom looked so close, but I never even got close to touching the sand or the big boulders that scattered the lake bottom. Amazing! After we were done frolicking in the water, on the ledge, and on the rope hanging from a tree, we ventured deeper to find the bigger cliff that we had spotted from the highway earlier. We found it alright! It had to of been at least twice the size of the one we were enjoying earlier. With all of us being too chicken, we managed to get one random local dude to wear our GoPro and jump off the ledge for us. Let me just say, super sweet footage! I can honestly say that was one of the coolest things I've done in a really long time.
We spent another night in the cabin and made our meals in the open community kitchen. The next day (last day of the weekend) we drove down to Tongariro National Park which is home to a number of volcanoes. We ended up taking a short day hike from Whakapapa Village. We got to see lots of forest, shrubbery, waterfalls, volcanoes, mountains, and more.  

The hike lead to a large waterfall that you could walk behind and of course the water was very clear. All perched right at the base of Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mt. Doom). They were all very volcano shaped volcanoes. I was just geography-geeking out the entire time. Really super neat to get to see all those low-key things. I hope to continue our adventuring in upcoming weeks!

Let's Get Started!

I am currently a Junior at a university in Missouri, where I study Geography and Global Sustainability. I have chosen to study abroad in New Zealand during the upcoming semester because it is the one place in the world that I have always dreamed of visiting. New Zealand is very diverse, offering a variety of activities, landscapes, wildlife, and cultures for me to see and experience. This was very appealing because I will get to experience a very unique combination of physical and cultural characteristics that especially relate to Geography. I never thought I would get an opportunity like this to live and study in the country I have always dreamed of going to. It will give me a completely different perspective on school and learning. I expect to have gained much more knowledge from this trip than I would have ever imagined. A trip like this opens many doors in my future professional life and also in my personal life.

I will be continuing my course of study in Geography and Global Sustainability at Massey University in Palmerston North, and expand on what I have already learned. This program was very appealing to me because it includes a variety of science and Geography programs and classes. When choosing a program, I looked for places where I could continue coursework for my major. I want to study abroad for a whole semester because it will give me a chance to really become engulfed in the culture and environment. I would like to be able to explore places that only the locals know about, and find hidden treasures that I would never have found on a vacation to the same exact place.
Studying Geography in New Zealand will help me better understand global concepts such as culture, Earth science, and globalization. It will give me a fresh perspective on several issues and concepts in Geography. Traveling and learning is a great way to expand on my Geography coursework. In the future, employers will see that I have been abroad and know that I have some really-life experience with Geography. Companies that employ Geographers look for people that have put in the extra effort and time to further their education and seek out extra experiences. It will also show a high level of dedication to a task because of all the time and effort taken to plan a trip of this length.

Currently, my family is putting three members through college and will be sending a fourth member next year. As you can imagine, this has put some financial strain on my whole family and restricted some of the opportunities that we have. I have been working and saving up money as well as applied for many scholarships and grants in order to finance my trip abroad. It is important to me to study abroad in New Zealand because of all the great opportunities, so I am going to do everything I can to make it happen no matter the challenge or obstacle.