Three Weeks of Travel- External ThoughtsChristchurch, Spring 2012
Well that’s that, three weeks of non-stop traveling have finally come to an end. The second rental car has been returned, tent is drying out in the living room, my smelly pack is finally resting in the closet, and my wool, poly-pro, and microfiber clothing has been traded for cotton sweatpants. This is the longest stretch of travel that I’ve ever done, and the length alone has made it exhausting, exhilarating, breath taking, boring, fun, frustrating, and everything in-between. In the three total days that I’ve actually spent in Christchurch over the past 22, I’ve struggled (with no avail) to write some sort of account along the way for the sake of this blog. But my thoughts have always been too scattered, and most emotion behind various aspects of these trips expressed themselves in my faithful journal instead (I’ve found that the rambling thoughts scattered among those pages are a true investment, for they often manage to twist themselves into some kind of roadmap at a later date).
It was easy to get worn out from constantly moving from one place to another and having to think ahead about details for the next step that weren’t always accounted for, and it wasn’t until we were strolling on a beach four hours outside of Christchurch on our way home that I realized I just had three of the most incredible, care-free, surreal weeks of my life up to this point. So I will do my best to share some of the highlights, here it goes!
The first week was consumed by the IES fieldtrip to Rarotonga (you may have seen the video blog). This trip was incredibly well planned with the perfect balance of volunteer work, cultural exposure, and island relaxation. It deserves a detailed blog of it’s own, but since I lack the time and energy, I’m eternally thankful to my patient friends who have the diligence to write detailed accounts of our activities like this one (thanks Kim!).
Without a doubt, my favorite part of this trip was the two days we spent volunteering at Takitum Primary School. While this gave me the chance to utilize my very limited knowledge of the Maori language (Cook Islands are bilingual in English and Island-Maori), we also got to spend hours with the most innocent, happy, and beautiful children I’ve ever come across. When a few of us surprised them by returning for a second day, they treated us like we were celebrities. Takitum is the lowest income school on the island, but you would never know it based on how caring and genuine these kids were.
The second week was an all-girls road trip over the upper half of the South Island. Major stops included wine tasting in Marlborough, a 15-mile day on the Abel Tasman (one of NZ’s nine “Great Walks”), and the Pancake Rocks on the West Coast. My favorite aspect of this trip was the ability to thoroughly enjoy a few different areas: a stunning sunrise on the Marlborough Sounds, gorgeous beaches on the Abel Tasman track, and a few runs along the coast and on trails through some remote lakes where we camped. On that note, I never cease to be impressed by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC).
They have established an impressive network of campgrounds throughout the country that make travel cheap, easy, and as comfortable as it can be when you’re setting up a tent in a new places for 11 nights in a row. If we learned anything specific from this trip, it is that you should make sure your gas tank in full when driving through Arthur’s Pass (a 230km drive from the West to East coast that cuts through the Southern Alps). There is no gas station through this mountainous stretch, and we spent a very stressful hour with a close to empty gas tank, trying to coast to the nearest town (thankfully we made it, but I’ll be the first to admit I broke into one of my new Marlborough wine bottles when we made it safely home).
For the third and final week, we traded our crowded car for a crowded mini van and added our friend Tom as well as a good friend of mine who came all the way from the Adriondacks! This eight-day trip included a morning in Queenstown (this is known as the adventure capital of the world, it reminds me a lot of a bigger Lake Placid. We took the gondola outside of town, and it was also a much-needed opportunity to buy warmer clothes and a sleeping bag liner), a tour of the Cadbury Chocolate Factory in Dunedin, and an incredible day of kayaking the famous Milford Sound. Words can hardly express how dramatic and stunning this was, pictures do a slightly better job.
But despite all of this, my memories of this trip will forever be dominated by four absolutely spectacular days on the Kepler Track (another one of the “Great Walks”). The first two days and nights were through quite, beautiful forests with secluded lakes and waterfalls that made for great camping. But the third day was a gradual 3000 ft climb over well worn switchbacks, followed by the longest exposed ridge line that I have ever been on. For over four hours we walked on the sides of some peaks and over other peaks with views that didn’t even seem real. With perfect weather and no wind, these hours flew by. We stayed the night in Luxmore Hut (maintained by DOC), and this was easily one of my most memorable nights in New Zealand. Besides the fact that we had the extreme luxury of sleeping on a mattress indoors, the views from the hut were unbelievable, and we spend the evening on the porch finishing off the bag of wine that I managed to carry for three days and looking at the endless stars. As if things couldn’t get better, I will never again see a sunrise like the one we woke up for the following morning. We were literally above the clouds. Again, words cannot begin to describe it.
Well that was a lot to read and a lot to write, hope you enjoyed the recap. A video blog of sorts will be on the way soon!
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