Family here!

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Going to keep this one relatively short in the interest of finals this upcoming week, but what an awesome break! Erin, Thomas, and his friend Alex showed up with Katie in tow which was a total surprise.  We hung out in Dunedin and checked out Tunnel Beach, Sandfly Bay (plenty of cute seals + sea lions), a Rugby game (go highlanders), and made some delicious meals.  On Sunday we headed out for a 3.5 hour drive to Queenstown.  What a luxury the rental car was compared to Peggy! We had a GPS, roomy seats, and plenty of storage space.  This was the first time all semester that I didn’t need to dread playing tetris with the different bags in the trunk.   After completing the Ben Lomond track in Queenstown (7 hour round trip!) we feasted on Fergberger yet again.   We camped out near Moke lake for two nights, and stayed in a hostel in town for the next two.  We spent a lot of time on the marina, doing a cruise around Lake Wakapitu and eating way too much good food.

We hadn’t originally anticipated on spending so much time in Queenstown, but we were having such a blast that we weren’t quite ready to leave.  Thomas and I went bungee jumping (440 feet!) which was BY FAR the coolest thing I’ve ever done.  At least top three.  Here’s a video of the jump.  Sorry for the excessive amount of chins + childish giggles but free-falling makes people do weird things.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGXi-a89UQk&feature=youtu.be

The next morning, all five of us (Shea sibs + Alex) went skydiving.  After being strapped onto our respective “sky gurus” or some other funky title implying a skydiving professional, we were ready to go.  Of course, not without our full green jumpsuits, gloves, and strange padded hats.  Katie, Erin, and I were the second group to go.  After about 5 minutes of flying and epic mountain ranges later, I was sure we’d reached the right altitude, but my guide pointed at his altitude watch (yeah, those exist) and said that we weren’t even a third of the way there.  We could already see both coasts of the island, both the Tasman Sea and the South Pacific. Once we finally reached 15,000 feet and a couple dozen degrees cooler, we were quite literally, thrown out of the plane.  The coolest part of the whole experience was the three or four seconds when you and the guide are spinning around, before you get a chance to get your hands and legs reached out.  There was a 65 second free-fall until the parachute, at which point if your breath wasn’t already taken away by the lack of oxygen, the views will do it.

Next weekend we’re planning on doing a hike with our packs, all full of food + our sleeping gear.  We’re staying in huts, apparently one that has natural hot springs on the premise!  In the meantime, I’ll be studying like crazy and compensating for the complete lack of academic motivation all break.  Hope everyone’s doing well at home!

Waterfalls, Ripped Pants, and Rocks

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Another fabulous weekend here in New Zealand.  We went on our longest road trip yet, about five hours, to the Fiordlands on the west coast of the souther island.  I spent an hour or two earlier in the week creating arguably the most epic playlist of all time (think plenty of late 90’s classics) so it’s safe to say the hours flew by.  We arrived around 9pm Thursday night, where the other five members of our group had already assembled their tents.  The site was too damp to make much of a fire, so we sat around on some logs and made up a game of the most eligible bachelor, and proceeded to quiz our three male contents with a series of questions about their dream girl/date.  It was entertaining to say the least.

 

The next morning we woke up early and went to check out the Chasm, a short twenty minute paved walk.  We had Zoe in tow with us all weekend, so it was nice that we could find something she could participate in.  We then headed off to Milford Sound and got a great rate on a cruise around the harbor.  The weather was absolutely spectacular.  We saw about 4 different waterfalls, most over 400 feet tall.  While we were grateful for the sunshine, the tour guide told us that when it was raining, literally thousands of waterfalls formed.  After the cruise, we checked out  Key Summit, about a two hour climb up.  There was a beautiful lake on the top, and we hung out and soaked in the sun, throwing the disc around a bit.  We were wiped after all the sun, and after a hot meal at the campsite we hung out and mostly watched the stars.

 

Top of Key Summit

The following day we got an earlier start on Gertrude’s saddle, one of the most esteemed hikes in the area.  The views were absolutely breathtaking, not only from the top but most of the way up.  Unfortunately we had a solid two hours or so of thick fog, which felt like a tease with all the audible sounds of the waterfalls nearby.  The sky opened up for us eventually, though, revealing the biggest waterfall I’ve ever seen.

Waterfall after the fog cleared up

The most difficult part of the hike was undoubtedly the slippery rock faces, made even more slick with bits of moss and the fog.  It’s funny how quickly the body figures out what’s good for it and what’s not, and it wasn’t long before we were all able to figure out which patches to avoid, and which bits of rock we could count on for a solid grip.  When the rock face became a bit steeper, there were cables to hold onto. There was a bit of snow towards the top and we all took turns penguig-ing (for those unfamiliar, basically sledding down snow without the sled, belly down and hands up) and chucking snowballs.

Max boot skiing at the top

 

Max and I have this contest to conquer every body of water we encounter, and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to dunk ourselves in one of the glacial lakes towards the top of the mountain.  Not one of my smartest decisions, but happy to have checked another one off the list.   We met a couple other folks at the top, who happened to also be studying abroad at University of Otago.  We even saw a girl from our intramural soccer team on our way up! Just when you’re admiring how massive the world can feel, it becomes small again.

5 minutes later we were swimming! Max is pumped, clearly...

 

On the way down, I misjudged one of the footholds, and slipped down about 6 or 7 feet before being able to put on the breaks.  No casualties though, just a huge hole in my pants.  Oh well.  We met Zoe in the parking lot where she waited all along with a good book and some snacks.  Obviously, an impromptu dance party kicked off as we started to stretch and unwind.

 

On Sunday we did another hike out to Marian Lake.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but it ended up being a pretty moderate hike, about 1.5-2 hours up pretty steadily.  All of the sudden there was a massive clearing in the woods, and I literally stumbled backwards at the sight.  The lake was crystal clear, the most beautiful blue I’ve ever seen.  The reflection of the snow capped mountains was almost clearer than looking at the mountain themselves.  We separated along the lake for a bit and admired everything about the view, our group, life, so on and so forth.  We then congregated at a massive rock and waited for the sun to make it past the mountain, so we could think about going swimming.  We all took turns jumping off this jutted rock into the chilly glacier water, each of us requiring a bit more coaxing than anticipated.  Before  we knew it Max has roped some of the other travelers hanging around the lake into jumping off into the water as well.  We had planned to leave relatively early on Sunday to get back before it got too dark, but none of us were ready to walk away from the view.

Marian LAke

 

When we finally decided to mobilize, it wasn’t long before the Wee Beast (the other car we travel with) pulled off into a small beach.  We took turns admiring the sunset and tossing rocks, while our friend Emma started up a small fire.  Before we knew it we had a roaring fire with all the driftwood, and plenty of logs for benches.  We were mostly silent as our thoughts once again wandered off to consider how great the weekend and the semester has been.  And to think it’s not even halfway over yet!  Life is good.

 

Thomas, Erin, and Thomas’ best friend Alex will be here Friday.  Plenty of pictures to come after their visit!

Chaos in/and costumes

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I’m tempted to start this post something along the lines of “this week was awesome/epic/insert other synonyms here” but I see that I’ve started the last four posts that way. Oh well. Now that all of us are really getting into the part of the semester where work piles up, we decided to take a break Tuesday night and camp out in some caves near the beach. Why not, right? We grabbed some Velvet Burger our sleeping bags, and hats and were on our way. The drive was longer than I antipicated, and by the time we got there it was pitch black. Luckily I had my headlamp that I bought in Queenstown (for $10!) after realizing that hiking (and tripping several times) in the dark probably wasn’t the smartest idea. We found this massive cave to sleep in, and it had plenty of cool shelf-ish areas to put our bags and had several different “rooms.” We hadn’t planned on it being as cold as it was, so we decided to start up a fire. It took a while and lots of false starts, but it happened! Voila, see below.

Finally!

We went on with classes and such for the rest of the week, until Friday when the sun came back out again. We headed off to Amagorana beach, one of the best surf destinations in the southern island. But we really just wanted to hang out on the sand…until we wanted to climb on the rocks. All was going swell, as Eliza, one of the Outing Club guides + rock climber extraordinaire from SLU talked us through the climb up. We hung out in the center of the circle seen below for a half hour or so, admiring the views and saying “isn’t this the life?” in probably a dozen different ways.

Aramoana Beach! I can't pronounce it, either...

We decided to start the descent and I couldn’t believe how much harder it felt. All of the sudden this was starting to feel like a bad idea. Luckily Eliza was just three feet or so down from me, and talked me through every single hold. Then it was Zoe’s turn. There was this part of the rock that you needed to stretch your leg as far as you could downwards, and there was a split second where you needed to ease your hand grip just trust that there was something flat near your foot to hold onto. Difficult to explain.

Anyway, Zoe fell. Hard. It happened so quickly that I’m not even sure any of us had time to swear but she fell from probably between 20-30 feet, hitting her knee and leg on the way down, and her upper body on the sand. Thank god for the soft landing. Lucky enough, Eliza had been maybe 3 feet from the ground at this point, talking up to Zoe. Zoe crashed into Eliza, rather than hitting the rock once again before the sand. Before I even got a chance to descent the rest of the rock face, Eliza was asking Zoe all the important questions, being upbeat and generally just impressive in a million different ways. Zoe was a champ about the entire thing, not even a tear or a complaint. We figured it was probably shock. Warning – little graphic here. The worst damage to her knee, which was probably the deepest gash I’ve ever witnessed…enough to see the muscle and all of that other good stuff. We helped her get into the water and wash it all off. She had plenty of sand in her eyes from the fall, which was probably for the best because we didn’t think seeing the blood would have helped very much. I remembered that I had my bike & build bandana on my head, and washed if off and handed it over to Eliza, who tied up the wound until the hospital. Anyway, she ended up with a fractured elbow, and a bandaged knee.  No stithces, though! Eliza stayed with Zoe for about 5-6 hours in the hospital until she they got her all fixed up, while Max and I picked up groceries, and cooked up a great dinner for them both for when they finally got back. We figured a bottle of wine and some chocolate couldn’t hurt, either, so we got those too.

Still groovin'

Zoe’s been quite an inspiring cripple, still dancing around with the two good limbs she as, as only Zoe could. Got to love her. Saturday night was Hyde Street, which was perhaps the most ridiculous social event I’ve ever attended. Picture 6,000ish college students with costumes, doing what college students do. Needless to say, it was an unbelievable amount of fun.

No caption needed...

This weekend, we’re headed out Thursday afternoon to spend three days in the Fiordland national Park, home of Milford and Doubtful sound. Expect an especially scenic post next week!

Mostly food…

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What an awesome week.  I just finished up my third Food and Consumer practical, and this time around we got to made our own jellos.  Although this sounds rather simple, we weren’t working out of a Jello packet here, there were literally HUNDREDS of different flavor profiles to choose from. From pomegranate, to coconut, to chocolate, and everything in between. On top of that we had to create a color combination, and decide what sort of acid level we wanted to use.  Considering I haven’t used a beaker since maybe 10th grade chemistry, I was feeling a little out of element with all of this science and math.  My lab partner and I went with Fijoa-Peach mixture, and a sort of green-ish yellowish color.  If you haven’t heard of Fijoa, it taste sort of like a pear and a strawberry mixed.  We’ll get a chance to sample everyone’s jello tomorrow and vote on our favorites.  Should be pretty fun!

Class aside, this past weekend we stayed mostly around Dunedin.  It was our friend Laura’s 21st birthday on Saturday, along with St. Patrick’s day.  A couple of us decided to do a short road trip, and drove about an hour or so out of town to see the Moeraki Boulders.  It’s funny, Dunedin is pretty urban but even just five minutes out of the city and you feel like you’re in a completely different country.  Anyway, as the maori legend goes, the boulders are sediments from bits of a shipwreck (including it’s crew) that have collected over time, and the sharp waves smoothed them down to almost perfect cylinders.  We mostly just found them fun to hop around on push each off of…

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Although it was a bit chillier that day, a couple of us decided to buck up and jump into the water, and cross another beach off the list.   We found a nearby park to dry off at, and enjoyed the sun that finally opened up through the clouds.

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Because there wasn’t much to explore in Moeraki, we talked to a couple of locals about a restaurant called Fleur’s.  Apparently one of the most famous restaurants in all of New Zealand, it serves only fresh and local ingredients.   It has the sort of a feel of an upscale beach shack, with plenty of decorations made from shells and sea glass.  As soon as we saw the prices on the menu we realized it was more than a little out of our budget, but decided as a group that we were ready to splurge.  I ordered fresh blue cod, served with a chili-lime-corinader sauce (in a shell, no less).  It was literally in the top 5 best meals I’ve ever had in my life (2 of which were probably Chipotle…but still)

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St. Patricks day was…well, St. Patrick’s day.  It was the first I’ve spent at a big university, and let’s just leave it at it was certainly a memorable experience.

P.S.  I know I’m wearing that zip up in virtually every picture.  But I didn’t expect it to be as chilly here as it can be, so until Thomas and Erin come to the rescue with some new ones it’ll be worn way too often.

P.S.S. If you want a postcard, comment your address!

Peggy and friends go to Queenstown

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Just a disclaimer, this is going to be a long post. But on the bright side, only because I just had one of the most epic weekend of all time. Firstly, it was a great week to start. We’ve finally started cooking in my Food and Consumers class, and I just stumbled into the Food Science library which has hundreds of cookbooks and foodie magazines. It’s nerdy, but I must have spent at least two hours flipping through a bunch of them to find a broccoli recipe for next week’s practical. Who knew homework could be fun? Max, his cousin Nelson, and I took the car (officially named Peggy) out to Tunnel Beach. Our jaws literally dropped at the sight of it, and we couldn’t NOT go swimming despite the arctic temps. Unfortunately my camera was dead that day, so I’ll have to wait until Nelson uploads his pictures to have anything on here. On Thursday myself and some flatmates took the bus to St. Claire’s beach. It was a little chilly, but it was nice after a week of classes.

And then it was Friday morning, and nine of us piled into two vehicles for a four hour drive to Queenstown. Although we were generally keeping spirits up with the great music and conversation, the views alone were enough to keep anyone entertained. We stopped at a gorgeous fruit stand about an hour from our destination, and ended up crowding around the free samples table for a make-shift lunch. Don’t worry, we weren’t completely mooching…most of us bought some fruit.

We got to our destination around 2:30, and were ready to start our hike up Ben Lamond trail at 3:00. While the sign warned us that this was an eight hour hike, we figured that we could move quick enough to get back before sunset. The first hour and a half or so was through the shade, but the rest we were walking on the ridges of the mountain completely exposed. The sun felt nice, but we were all starting to get a bit salty. The hike got steeper and harder towards the top. I don’t think I’ve felt as mentally or physically challenged since the Appalachians on Bike & Build this summer. The same way I used to count pedal rotations, I was counting steps in the last hour or so. Of course, the view at the top were absolutely the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen.

Almost to the top

We started the hike at around 300 meters, and ended at about 1740. That translates to upwards of 4,000 feet ascent! Pretty sweet. Obviously, the descent went a lot quicker but we were fighting off darkness. Once we entered the woods again, it was complete blackness. Luckily most of us has headlamps to guide the way. As always seems to happen towards the end of grueling physical activities, I’m not sure we talked about anything except food for the last hour. We were all planning to head to Fergburger immediately after the hike. To explain the deliciousness that is Fergburger, I can only tell you that I already had heard of the company a year and a half before coming here. It’s that good. Although we were exhausted and smelly at this point, I thought I had to capture the moment below.

FERGBURGER.

After finishing our burgers it was around 10PM and we were all starting to nod off. We found our campsite and set up our tents half-hazardly and passed out. While most of us slept past the sunrise, our friend Luke was up in time to capture this picture. Have you ever seen anything that beautiful?

Sunrise over the lake next to our campsite

We all split up for the day to take on Queenstown. A couple people went mountain-biking, and couple others went luging, and myself and two others decided to go canyoning. Since canyon isn’t a real verb, I’ll explain. We did about five different zip-lines over the canyons, repelled some rocks (sort of like rock-climbing, but descending), and did a whole lot swimming and jumping into waterfalls. It was a ridiculous amount of fun, and I couldn’t help but be impressed by the 60+ year old Taiwanese man that completed all the optional jumps. Although not exactly graceful, you’ve got to admire him. Here’s a sweet video and a picture from the trip. It was definitely the most expensive thing I’ve done in New Zealand, but it was well worth it. I even splurged for the pictures and videos, because I knew the parents would enjoy it. Dad, you would have absolutely loved it! Mom, you might have cried…

Check out this video of one of the jumps: http://youtu.be/qFeXaC78ofk

Repelling down

Anyway, we set up camp in the daylight this time around, and were right in the valley between the massive mountains. We were right next to a lake. We made our own hot meals with the camping stove (spagetti, sauce, broccoli, and edam cheese, pretty gourmet!) and hung out sharing stories and wine until it started to rain a bit. We were tired at this point anyway, and were generally grateful that the rain held out. It ended up raining all night and the rest of the next day. It was disappointing, but we had seen most of what we wanted to in Queenstown at this point. Next time around we’re going to check out the Ice Bar, and maybe take a cruise out to Milford Sound. For more pictures, check my Facebook! I just got tagged in a couple dozen more pictures from the weekend.

On being an American, hiking, and (lots of) rain…

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First week of classes, done! It’s too early to tell how difficult classes will be, but so fair the workload seems fair.

In the past couple of days I’ve started to become a lot more aware of being American. I was at the post office getting my 18+ card so that I don’t have to carry my passport everywhere, when I noticed how long the line was. I immediately become frustrated that the system wasn’t more organized, with different lines for people with different tasks and even a kiosk that could do whatever task didn’t require face-to-face interaction. One of Max’s flatmates from Spain has said this is perhaps the most easily detected difference between America and other countries; in the states we’re almost grossly accustomed to instant gratification. Fast food rarely takes more than six to seven minutes, banks almost never have lines more than five minutes, and if we want to watch a movie we can play it instantly on our computers. To be fair, I didn’t have anything better to do in the next hour than stand in line for ten minutes or so. As I realized I had some time to kill I struck up a conversation with an older woman in town, who ended up knowing one of my professors and had some awesome recommendations for a cheap lunch joint (The Cook Tavern, $4 burger and fries!). See where I’m going with this? Instant isn’t always better, after all.

This week was pretty bad weather, but I motivated some of my flatmates to go on a hike up to Signal hill, a great lookout of town and the shore. We knew the general direction of the lookout but weren’t exactly sure how to navigate our way upwards as there were about three or four different paths, each one with forks every couple hundred yards or so. Picture a corn maze, but with soggy trees and an upwards incline. We were able to find some clearings in the trees on our way up for a peek of the island, but the rain clouds were too thick at the top to see much. Part of the lookout contained rocks imported from Scotland’s Edinburgh castle, symbolizing the ties between the two countries. Dunedin (Da-knee-din) was settled by Scottish settlers, who originally wanted to name it New Edinburgh but decided Dunedin, the Celtic form of Edinburgh.

Mushroom on the way up to to the top. Looks like Toad, from Mario!

It was disappointing that we missed the view, but we figured there would be plenty of time to do the hike again. On the bright side, this time around, I was wearing hiking boots, wool socks, and a rainjacket….it’s safe to say I’d learned my lesson by this point. Unfortunately the rain was so intense that being prepared or not became somewhat irrelevant. The rain here (and we’re certainly seen enough of it at this point!) is not like anything we get on the east coast. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the freak storms that would break out in Colorado and Arizona. It comes down hard and thick, and switches directions constantly. In other words, rain coast or not, umbrella or not, you’re getting soaked one way or another. At this point the hike went much longer than originally anticpated, and we were all absolutely starving. We decided to sprint all the way home, desperate for food and hot showers. For the record, running slightly downhill is the best. You feel like a stellar athlete without doing very much work at all. We were amped to find that Kiri, one of our kiwi-hosts, had prepared an delicious meal of enchladas and rice! One of the best meals I’ve had here so far, if for no other reason than it was piping hot after a freezing day.

Sopping wet up at the top

This weekend was my other Kiwi host, Sophie’s, 21st birthday. We had upwards of 50 kids in our flat and backyard; it was an absolute blast! Happy birthday, Sophie!

On a final note, myself and four other international students have invested in a cheap car (1996 Mitsubishi “faded maroon” Lancer) so that we can start to travel all over the island. Dunedin offers plenty to explore, but we’re eager to check out the west coast (Mt. Cook, Milford Sound, Fiordlands, Queenstown) and especially to do some hiking.

On a seriously final note, I found forty bucks on the ground last night! What should I spend it on?

Beginning to Adventure

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Time has been moving so fast around here, especially now that it’s not raining all the time.  Apparently there was a drought earlier this summer and in the past week or so it has rained 5/7 days.  On Wednesday we had a beautiful train ride coordinated for all the international students.  Even though it was cloudy, the sights were incredible.  We got a sneak peek at the sight of the next Lord of the Rings film.  I don’t follow the trilogy, but tons of people seemed super excited about it.  The university then hosted a free barbeque for all of us, which was exponentially more delicious than I anticipated.  After that we all went to a comedy show in the Forsyth Barr stadium, an unbelievable facility where all of the university rugby games are held.  Just bought tickets for a rugby game this weekend!  There were about 5 or so different comedians, one of them named Rhys Darby, who plays the band manager in the HBO series Flight of the Concords.  It once again became apparent that we were in a different country when about 20% of the jokes included references we couldn’t even begin to piece together.  Oh well! Still a lot of laughs.

View from the train

On Saturday a bunch of St. Lawrence students decided to head out to the peninsula to check out he views.  The scenery on the bus ride alone was worth the trip, but couldn’t even begin to compare to the other views.  Dave convinced us to take the trek over to the other side of the peninsula to check out the Alcatraz penguins, one of the most endangered species in the world.  When he warned us it would be a bit of a walk, I immediately became conscious of my attire, a dress and flip-flops.  Wardrobe disaster numbers two of the trip, so far.  We ended up walking about 8 or 9 miles to get to the beach, but the views all along the way kept it feeling short.

Beginning of the walk (mostly uphill!)

Once we finally arrived to the beach, after trudging through about a mile or two of wet farmland and an encounter with about a dozen sheep and cattle, we were nearly blown away by the force of the winds.  We were mistakenly thrown into some tour group that was already being led across the beach.  Lucky for us, the guide knew the perfect spot to catch a view of the penguins.  Even luckier for us, most of the tour group was full of friendly older couples.  Obviously, we felt this would be the perfect opportunity to hitchhike, rather than walk another 8 miles and then pay for a bus back to Dunedin.  We split up into twos, and Max and I were lucky enough to get paired up with such a sweet couple from Scotland.  They actually had a son who lived in Manhattan and were familiar with upstate New York so we had plenty to talk about.  They refused to accept any of our money, and thanked us for the good conversation.  People are so awesome!

Laura and I trying to maintain composure during the wind!

At this point soaking wet and feet blistering, we made it to a joint in the center of the city, which had a fireplace.  We scooted our table as close as possible to the fire, ignoring all of the strange looks that come along with a soaking wet dress and a generally disheveled look. We splurged on some fancy pizza (three different kinds!) and the NZ version of French fries.

Unfortunately one of the pairs wasn’t able to hitch a ride, and had to walk back another 8 miles in the rain.  Tough break! We bought them each a couple beers later that night to make up for it.