It’s funny how quickly time passes. Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months. Before you know it a whole year has passed. My year in New Zealand was by far the best learning experience of my life. It wasn’t all easy, oh there were many hard times to be had, but every hurdle jumped was another adventure waiting to happen. I wouldn’t change a thing about my year in New Zealand, except maybe extend it. My last couple months in the country were spent exploring, getting the adrenaline pumping, and making sure I experienced as much as I could. There was no shortage of fun to be had.
For my birthday my work gave me a ticket to see the All Blacks vs South Africa game in Dunedin. It was an awesome game, my seat was smack in the center of the field so I had a great view of the whole game. Seeing the All Blacks perform the Haka live before the game was quite impressive as well. My trip would not have been complete without seeing a game. The other part needed to make sure my year was completed, was the Nevis Bungy.
I grew up in a house where every Sunday night my mother would have control of the television so she could watch The Amazing Race. It was a show I always loved to curl up and watch with her. Seeing all the different places in the world these teams got to travel, and all the different tasks they had to complete was something I always found really cool. There was one episode on when I was around twelve where the teams had to complete the Nevis Bungy jump in Queenstown. It was a 134 meter bungy, as soon as I saw it on the TV, that was it. I needed to go to New Zealand.
My last day in Queenstown, before leaving to drive back to Auckland, I paid the hefty sum of money to have elastics tied around my ankles before jumping into a gorge. I’m not going to lie, I was shaking in my boots as I climbed into the small gondola cart that would carry me to the jump station that was suspended over the gorge. This was the third bungy I was to do. While living in Canada I jumped the 45 meter bungy in Nanaimo on two separate occasions, so I should be a pro now, right? Wrong. As I sat down and waited while being harnessed in and had my ankles tied up the anticipation grew. The other jumpers looked at me as if I was a bit crazy as I sat there laughing and grinning away. Secretly, I was absolutely terrified- But that makes it more fun! The adrenaline pumped through my entire body as I slowly shuffled up to the edge. 134 meters is a long way to fall, especially when you have to willingly make the jump. My knees locked and I told myself how crazy I was, I took a deep breath and launched myself towards the ground. I laughed in relief when I felt the cord begin to gently stretch and slow me down. It’s always good when the bungy cords do their job. I still get the jitters thinking it. The jump was everything I had imagined, and more.
Leaving Queenstown was hard. It had become home. So many memories were made in Cabin 22. Audrey, Becky and I had really made that place our own. It was sad to say goodbye. The hardest goodbye though was probably the one I said to Lil Red. I sold my precious car in Queenstown before we left. It broke my heart to see it go. I cried. A lot. That car meant so much to me. When I was travelling alone it was Lil Red that I talked to. We went on so many adventures together, all over the country. I will never forget that car. I hope the new owners take good care of it!
My last two weeks in New Zealand were spent driving (in a rental car :( ) back up to Auckland, with Audrey and her boyfriend, Rob. We drove up the West Coast to see the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, then up to Punakaki to see the Pancake Rocks (limestone formations that were formed from the ocean pounding against the rock face for so many years). We drove through Arthur’s Pass, a beautiful drive through the mountains, that brought us over to the East Coast, to Christchurch.
Christchurch was a sight to see. We spent a day walking through the city, I was hoping to feel an earthquake while we were there, but that didn’t happen. It was almost depressing to walk through such a beautiful city that showed signs of destruction in every direction. The amount of damage the two big earthquakes did to Christchurch was impressive. There were whole buildings left in rubble, fenced off, waiting to be cleared and rebuilt. The city center has made an effort to rebuild. There was a neat little section where the shops have all been put into shipping crates, at least one side of each shop is full glass. Each crate was painted in a bright colour. It was nice to see things are getting better. The Cathedral on the other hand is fully blocked off, waiting to be knocked down.
We drove the rest of the way up on the East Coast, camping our way along. We took the Ferry across to Wellington where we spent a day at the Te Papa museum. It was definitely the coolest museum I have been in. There was a giant interactive floor map of the country. You could walk across the map and as you would step on tiles they would light up and display photos of the area on the wall. My other favourite part of the museum was the colossal squid. It is the only colossal squid on display in the world. It had to be at least 4 meters long, and still considered a small one.
After Wellington we took a long drive down some quieter areas just so I could go to Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. It does look like I have just pounded my fingers on random keys for ages, but really, that is the name of a hill in New Zealand. It is recognized as the longest place name in an English speaking country, and the second longest place name in the world. It translates from Maori to “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one”.
We spent the next few days travelling the North Island visiting different places. We drove around Lake Waikaremoana looking for a free campsite, but by the time we found the free site it was pitch black out and the area, in the middle of the woods, looked a little on the sketchy side. The fact that there was only one site being used, didn’t help us feel comfortable. It was the perfect murder scenario. We decided to not risk the chance of being shot by the hunter in the next tent over and we drove back out to a paid site where we set up camp for the night instead. It was a much more populated area and we were able to rest without thinking about whether or not we would wake up in the morning.
A couple days were saved for the Coromandel, just because Audrey and I had loved it so much the time we travelled it together. We spent time driving around and enjoying the lush, green scenery before heading down to Hot Water Beach for an evening soak. We didn’t have a shovel though and the night air was a bit cold so we spent most of the time rolling around in shallow pools of water, willing them to get deeper.
The Top Ten Holiday Park at Hot Water Beach wanted to charge over twenty dollars a person for us to pitch one tent. We were not up for spending over 60$ to set up a little 4 man tent. We hopped back in the car and drove off in hunt of a different location. We found a sign for Mill Creek Park a bit up the road so we took the turn off to check it out. It turned out it was not just a campground but also a Bird and Animal Park. We booked in for eight dollars each. That gave us full access to the Bird park and rest of the animals, as well as shower and kitchen facilities. We spent hours wandering through the park, following peacocks, talking to the macaws, petting the donkey, cooing over the week old piglets, and taking photos of all the different animals. It was an eight dollars well spent. This was the most enjoyable campground I stayed at during my year.
The next day we packed up our camp site and headed over to Cathedral Cove for a day of snorkelling. Audrey and I swam from buoy to buoy along the Gemstone Bay Marine Trail, reading about the different marine life in the area. We then trekked over to Stingray Bay to do some snorkelling with the masses of stingrays found there. There was one point where just standing in knee deep water I counted 13 stingrays sitting at my feet. It was a good thing I had a wetsuit on. I didn’t want to go out like Steve Irwin, a stingray barb through the heart.
We stopped in Rotorua on our way back to Auckland to do the Zorb. The Zorb is a giant hamster ball that you sit in then get pushed down a hill. Audrey, Rob, and I all climbed into one Zorb, while the worker added a decent amount of warm water to the ball before pushing us all down the hill. It was a great laugh for sure.
I hung around Auckland for a few days, revisiting places I had enjoyed in my first few months in the country, and catching up with Andy. It was kind of nice being back, it just seemed so familiar. We decided to head off again though after a couple days. The weather was forecasting beautiful sunshine for Taupo and Tongariro National Park so we made our way down to attack the Tongariro Crossing.
The nineteen and a half kilometre trek over an active volcano is often claimed to be one of the ten best day treks in the world. I can see why. The scenery was absolutely stunning, there wasn’t one moment that passed during the entire hike that I was not in awe of my surroundings. The volcano, which had erupted in August was still smoking while we hiked across. There were signs posted asking hikers to keep stops to a minimum as the volcano was still active. We hiked through a valley, up a volcano, through a crater filled with snow, around lakes, and back down the other side. I cannot begin to express the brilliance of this trek. I am still left breathless now thinking back to how incredible the day was- Even if I did walk away with my face sunburnt to a crisp.
Saying goodbye to New Zealand was heartbreaking. I cried as I got off the bus at the airport. I didn’t want to leave. The whole year had been so amazing I didn’t want it to end. It took all my effort not to let tears roll down my cheeks as I checked through customs and waited for my plane. I suppose though, where one journey ends, another begins. The story isn’t over yet, the setting has just changed.
Let my Australia adventure begin!