Time Flies (11/2/09)

14 days left in New Zealand.

Each day from now till 16 November, I’m trying to do at least one new thing in New Zealand each day and post a new picture from somewhere in New Zealand that I haven’t put up before.

Today’s new activities:

* Coffee at Espressoholic.
* Eating spaghetti on toast with cheese.
* Seeing the Wellington Youth Orchestra perform.

Something new tomorrow!

– Liam

Sunrise, Auckland Harbour, Auckland, North Island, New Zealand

Food and Culture (10/30/09)

Wellington has the highest number of cafes & bars per capita anywhere in the world. And yet, I’ve been to the same 15 restaurants, bars and coffee shops since I’ve been here. So yesterday when Kevin walked into the lounge and said “let’s go out to dinner,” Elizabeth and I couldn’t think of a reason not to. It was that or left over ziti.

We headed to Sweet Mother’s Kitchen, a restaurant that never seems to have an empty seat inside. This restaurant serves traditional American fare, and I think we were all excited to have a bit of comfort food. Chips & salsa, spinach dip and hush puppies soon filled our table, followed by a homemade mac & cheese, fried chicken, dirty rice and slaw. I have not been so satisfied with a meal in a while. The only thing missing from this wannabe American restaurant was Heinz Ketchup. But their horseradish laden cocktail sauce was good enough for me and we left there extremely full and happy.

Tonight, Elizabeth, Maggie and I headed downtown again, to Flying Burrito Brothers, Wellington’s only TexMex restaurant. After another satisfying meal (shredded beef burritos this time) the three of us went to see the Royal New Zealand Ballet perform Peter Pan. I was once again impressed by the quality of the performance. Totally worth more than the student rate of $20 that we were luckily enough to pay for it.

Happy Halloween!

– Liam

Hamster Balls and Parachutes (10/28/09)

Mt. Ruapehu, North Island, New Zealand

Welcome back,

Classes are over, essays handed in & only one more exam to go before I’m officially finished with uni in Wellington. To celebrate the end of classes, another road trip was in order. Myself and four other Americans took the long drive north, visiting Taupo, the Coromandel & and Bay of Islands. Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough time to visit everything worth visiting in the North Island, but we made the best of our five days.

In Taupo we were able to see some of the natural hot springs that exist there and could even go swimming in a hot water stream. Definitely hotter than any hot tub I’ve ever been in. Taupo is also minutes away from Huka falls which dump 270 square metres of water every minute. The air being mixed with the water here causes it to have a shockingly bright blue colour. A short drive further north brought us to Rotorua.

Hot Pools, Taupo, North Island, New Zealand

Huka Falls, Taupo, North Island, New Zealand

Rotorua might smell like rotten eggs, but that’s solely due to the sulfur emitted by the many thermal pools surrounding it. The number one attraction for me in Rotorua was the Zorb. Zorbing is basically climbing into a hamster ball that is eleven feet in diameter with a small amount of water and rolling down a hill. I know that it sounds (and frankly looks) ridiculous, but it was an amazing amount of fun and something I’ve wanted to do since I arrived in New Zealand.

Zorbing, Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand

Next was a drive to the Coromandel peninsula, famous for its beaches and natural beauty. We rented a cabin which was located an hours drive along a gravel road from the nearest town. Our secluded piece of paradise overlooked the Pacific from its jungle location. The cabin had no electricity, water provided from rainfall and a propane powered refrigerator. Being away from modernity is not something too foreign to me, but it was great to get away from the world for a couple of days. The beach was only a short walk through the jungle and we spent a couple hours there the next day, just soaking in some New Zealand sun and climbing on the rocks.

Rainforest, Coromandel, North Island, New Zealand

Beachfront, Coromandel, North Island, New Zealand

Our next stop was the Bay of Islands, about a 4 hour drive north of Auckland. We were supposed to have a house booked for this locale as well, but due to some miscommunication we found ourselves homeless. As it was Labour day weekend, all backpackers were booked for the weekend, but we were luckily able to book the last vacation cabin at a Holiday Park in Paihia. The next day, I completed another goal for New Zealand: skydiving.

10,000 Feet above Kaikohe, Bay of Islands, North Island, New Zealand

For anyone who knows me, you know of my fear of heights and my hatred of roller coasters. Let me tell you that 12,000 feet is no small height. Luckily, with tandem skydiving, someone actually pushes you out of the plane, so once you’re in the plane, you’re also jumping out of it. It doesn’t really feel like you’re falling at all. It feels as if you’re floating and a really strong wind is blowing at you. After falling 200 kilometres an hour for about 40 seconds, the parachute was deployed and I floated for almost five minutes, through some scattered clouds, to the ground. This was a rush that outdid bungee jumping by a mile. Best single experience in New Zealand so far.

After a boat ride with the girls while they went parasailing and catching some more rays on the beach, we had dinner with way too much food. We had chicken and beef already to make on the grill, complete with fresh made guacamole and asparagus. But our luck struck again when the owner of the cabin had a plethora of fresh caught snapper and offered us 6 fresh fillets to make on the grill. So we had a surf ‘n’ double turf for dinner and full to bursting, we headed to bed.

Paihia Harbour, Paihia, Bay of Islands, North Island, New Zealand

The drive from Pahia to Wellington along the West Coast of Northland is 13 1/2 hours with no stops. This made for a long day in the car. Luckily, everyone showered.

The north of this country is absolutely beautiful and I wish I had more time (and money…) to explore it. But the adventures will be confined to Wellington now, and I can’t complain about that.

Auckland Skyline, North Island, New Zealand

Till next time,

Liam

40% New Zealand (10/18/09)

Classes: Finished.

I know I’ve been saying this a lot, but I really can’t get over how weird it is to be done with class in the middle of October. And with Vic’s exam schedule, it’ll be two weeks before my first exam and another 10 days after that before I’m completely (academically) finished in New Zealand. I don’t think that I’ll truly be ready to [insert L-word here] on 14 November, but I don’t think that I’d be ready to leave on 14 November 2010 either. This country is just too amazing to see in a short 4 1/2 months. But enough about that…

Last Wednesday was not only my last day of class, but also my Monteverdi concert. The concert was great, mostly because it was awesome to be performing again. I miss the plethora of opportunities that I have to perform back at UD so it was nice to have one chance to perform in Aotearoa. After the concert, our conductor took us out to dinner at a great pizza place near campus. All in all, a great evening.

On Friday, some friends and I joined some campus environmentalists on a march on Parliament. They were demanding a 40% reduction in carbon emissions instead of the 10% that John Key (Prime Minister) has signed onto. The march went straight through town, through the business district all the way to the Beehive. When we arrived we were greeted by two Members of Parliament, one from the Green Party and one from Labour. It was great to hear some of the politicians that I’ve been watching on TV and in the debating chamber since July up close and personal.

The next few weeks will hopefully be full of further exploration of Wellington. I still haven’t seen the zoo or some of the local beaches around the city. And there’s hopefully a short trip to some of the more exotic locations on the North Island. Its hard to fathom how hard its been to see a country barely bigger than Colorado. But then I guess the world is huge…

Kia Ora,

Liam

Likes and Dislikes (10/11/09)

ts the last week of classes here and I have just over one month left in the country. First, what?! Before break, time was inching by. Every day seemed to be a new adventure; a new discovery in this country. Ever since I returned from the South Island, time has been flying. Mondays suddenly become Fridays and its felt like so much of my time has been spent writing papers and preparing for finals.

Things I Will Miss About New Zealand:

* Flatmates & friends I’ve met here.
* The view I have every day when I wake up.
* Pies.
* Using Skype to talk to people in the same room rather than 9,000 miles away.
* Living in a city.
* Tomato Sauce (not the kind that goes on pasta, but the kind that’s so much better than ketchup)
* Booking a car at 4AM and not deciding where to drive it until right before you leave.
* Going to Parliament.
* Realising I know more New Zealand politicians than American ones…
* Sausage sizzles.
* The familiarity of my living situation. Just as its getting routine I have to go home…
* Sunday morning laughter at 3A.
* Wine tastings.
* Tui & Speights.
* Finding new ways to add cheese to a meal while listening to the 90s mix in the lounge.
* Shortland Street.
* Wednesday nights.
* Finding people’s true laughs.
* Ring 3.
* Noodles.
* Scrumps.
* New Zealand’s agressive public service announcements.
* Badly dubbed commercials from Europe & America.
* Random music parties.
* Getting to hear the word “crotchet” and “semi-quaver” used at rehearsals.
* Mr. Wedge & Meatosaurus

Things I will not miss about New Zealand:

* The long line to print a paper in the library.
* Hills.
* Sudden unexpected rain. With gale force winds.
* Construction workers at 7AM.
* World Religions.
* Strange liquid that appears randomly in the cabinet.
* Drinks in restaurants costing more than your meal.
* Paying for condiments.
* $4 coffee.

More soon…

Liam

Technology Woes (10/5/09)

After a week without a computer, I can honestly say that technology is so addicting. I’m used to rolling out of bed in the morning and immediately being checking my email and facebook; being able to work on a paper while sitting in my pajamas on the couch. Its been quite a challenge working through the end of this semester without having a completely working computer to use all day. But then, this is the third semester of college that I’ve had with a damaged computer. So I guess I’m used to it…

Since we last talked, its been pretty quiet around here. As the end of the semester approaches, my workload is at its highest this semester. I can’t believe that I’m this busy at the beginning of October, but it’ll be over soon. Of course, this isn’t exactly a reason to celebrate. I’m just going to hope that the time between 14 October and 14 November takes as long as possible to pass. There will hopefully be a few more road trips around the North Island during that time.

The only other piece of news is that I’ve been given solos in one of the Monteverdi songs being performed on the last day of class. I’m quite excited for the performance…especially since it is the last thing I have to do for uni before finals.

Ok…off to bed now, but more on kiwi culture soon.

Kia Ora,

Liam

Kiwi Thoughts (9/27/09)

As September comes to a close, I’ve now been here for three months. And now, I only have two weeks left of class. Two weeks!! I cannot believe how fast time has gone here. My life in New Zealand has proved to me that time really does fly when you’re having fun. It’s also proved to me how well the world is connected. The fact that I have been able to remain connected to so many people at home is reassuring. Not only am I sure that when I return I’ll be able to pick up things where they left off, I’m also sure that keeping in touch with everyone I’ve met here will be just as easy.

As I think about my time here, I start to think about the things I’m going to miss most about this place. When you’ve spent so much time setting up a life that is normal and with a routine that feels regular, how do you leave? Especially when there are so many things that I won’t be able to transfer home. The walk to campus, the food I’ve become used to, the people I live with, the beer I drink. I’ve become so accustomed to things here that I can’t even fathom how I’m going to make life at 133 Lovett feel as comfortable as it does here. I know that I’ll have no problem with flatmates because if I did this well with 3 random people, I’ll be fine with HKLZ. It’ll just be readjusting to US brands, US prices and (maybe worst of all) US beer.

Anyways…I’ll be back soon, and hopefully with some happier thoughts.

Kia Ora,

Liam

All good things come to an end (9/27/09)

Christchurch Cathedral, Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand

Today is the rainiest it’s been in a while here in Wellington, so i’m curled up on the couch with a cup of Chai tea, watching The Sword in the Stone and determined to finish the story of my trip around the South Island.

Sunday morning, Maggie and I were hoping to finally do that horseback riding, but stormy weather meant the ground was too muddy for the stables to risk. And so, we headed on our way, back to Christchurch through the middle of the island. The drive was as beautiful as any other I have experienced here. Golden fields flanked by rolling hills and snow capped mountains. We had hoped to stay at Lake Tekapo, a beautiful lake near Mt. Cook. However rain and high hostel rates had us pushing on, towards Christchurch. We arrived in Christchurch that evening and found a hostel in the centre city.

Luckily for us (and our wallets…) we have a friend in Christchurch. Allen lives across the street from me here in Wellington, and his family was gracious enough to host us for the next three nights. We received amazing hospitality from his parents. It was great to eat a home cooked meal and not have to get up and leave every day. Christchurch is a beautiful city. It is much more spread out than Wellington and has a much more suburban feel. Unfortunately, on Tuesday, Maggie grabbed a flight home to Wellington to get some work done before classes started again on Monday. On Wednesday, Lauren and I met up with another friend, Jacob, to do some kayaking in the botanical gardens in Christchurch. It was a spectacular day in the sun and a great way to spend our last day in Chch.

Botanical Gardens, Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand

EARLY Thursday morning, Lauren and I hopped on the TranzCoastal train. This is the same company that took me from Auckland to Wellington back in July. The train offered gorgeous views of the coast and after a few hours, we arrived in Kaikoura. Kaikoura is a small town on the eastern coast that attracts tourists by the boatload during the summer months for whale watching, swimming with dolphins and hanging out with seals. In the winter though, the town is pretty dead, albeit beautiful. We enjoyed a day on the beach and did a little souvenir shopping. That night marked my second late night trip to a hospital as Lauren and I took a walk to the Kaikoura hospital to make sure Lauren’s persistent cough was nothing serious. The walk was beautiful as the full moon had risen and was shining off the snow on the top of the mountains. If only I had my camera… I did manage to get some good shots earlier in the day though.

Beachfront, Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand
Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

On Friday it was back on the train to Blenheim. Blenheim sits in the heart of the Marlborough wine region, home of some of the best vineyards in New Zealand. Natalie lives here and once again, we were fortunate to stay in a real home. Natalie’s parents are amazing hosts and our first night, we headed to a local country club to participate in a quiz night. Quiz nights are huge in New Zealand and we dominated, coming in second. We were only one point behind the first place team and they had bought a few answers. But second place was good enough for us. We walked away with a cheese board filled with snacks and four bottles of wine. And all in support of the girl guides (sort of like girl scouts with a boy scout feel).

On Saturday, Natalie’s parents made us an awesome outdoor breakfast and then we left on our tour of some vineyards. We visited a few vineyards and another place that makes different liquors and alcoholic ice cream toppings. After several tastings and coffee on a sun drenched patio, we headed back home. Our time in Blenheim was great. It was awesome to see Natalie again and to see some of the wine I’ve been reading about for over a year.

Sunday was our last train trip followed by a ferry ride across the Cook strait; back to the North Island. It was a relaxing trip home but definitely bittersweet. I had such an amazing time on the South Island and I was not looking forward to getting back to the grind of school. At the same time, I hadn’t seen my flatmates (except Natalie) in over two weeks, and it would be nice to sleep in the same bed every night. Looking back, my trip across the South Island was incredible and I’ll never forget it. Maggie & Lauren were amazing travel partners and we’ll have stories to tell for years to come.

Kia Ora,

Liam

One, Two, Three, BUNGEE! (9/26/09)

Welcome back everyone!

My goal for tonight is to finish my tale of the South Island. We’ll see how this goes…

When I last wrote, we had just arrived in Queenstown. Queenstown is purely a tourist town. It offers nothing else to the country except millions of dollars in tourism. The town itself sits lakeside surrounded by mountains. Serious skiers and snowboarders will head to nearby Wanaka to hit the slopes, but Queenstown provides a great home base for those interested in other activities. Upon our arrival, it was lightly snowing and the town was bustling with skiers. It felt very Christmas-like, but maybe this is just how I picture Christmas to be. Kiwis usually spend Christmas on the beach with a cookout to celebrate the holiday. I can’t imagine this ever feeling like Christmas to me. It would just feel like August with presents.

The centre of Queentown’s tourism industry is its “Adventure Tourism.” And so, on Friday morning, I woke up at 7:30 to book something I have always said I would never do. Bungee jumping. I have always had a slight fear of heights and as most of you know, I hate roller coasters, mostly for the feeling that occurs in your stomach. For both of these reasons, bungee jumping seems like a terrible idea for me. Nevertheless, I booked a 9:30 jump at 43 metres off of the Kawarau Bridge, the world’s first permanent bungee location.

Kawarau Bridge, Queenstown, Otago, South Island, New Zealand

After a quiet 20 minute shuttle ride with 2 Australians, we arrived at the bungee site to be weighed. When asked if my weight “sounded accurate,” I had to shrug my shoulders until someone did the math. It was then I realised I had lost 10 pounds in New Zealand, which took some of my nerves away. I was randomly selected to go first and walked out to the bridge to be strapped to the bungee that would (hopefully) save my life. It wasn’t until I hobbled out to the end of the short platform and looked down that my nerves really caught up to me. What was I doing?! My bungee instructor told me to smile for a photo and then get ready to jump.

Kawarau Bridge, Queenstown, Otago, South Island, New Zealand

I (reluctantly) let go of the bridge and closed my eyes as the bungee instructor said “One, Two, Three, BUNGEE!” The next thing I know, I’m plummeting towards the river below me.

Kawarau Bridge, Queenstown, Otago, South Island, New Zealand

Kawarau Bridge, Queenstown, Otago, South Island, New Zealand

This was a rush that I never imagined. After I felt myself bouncing back towards the bridge, I let out a yell that echoed through the canyon on this misty morning. It was probably the most intense 6 seconds of my life. And although I’ve said I’d never ever bungee for my entire life, I can’t wait to do it again. And since I have 20% off all AJ Hackett bungees for the rest of my life, I’m already looking to where I can do it in Australia.

After returning to the hostel, we spent some time relaxing with some lunch and a great movie while the storm passed. Afterwards, we headed out of town towards some of the great vineyards of the Otago region. Otago is famous for its Pinot Noir and I was excited. Our first stop was Gibbston Valley. I ignored all other wines on their tasting sheet and chose to try the 2005, 2007 & 2008 Pinot. I could not believe that all of these wines were made from the same varietal. They all had such distinct tastes and undertones. I then had an amazing conversation with the winemaker for this vineyard about the subtle differences between these wines and what may have caused them. He insisted that I try some other vintages, and so I sampled the 2006, 2006 Reserve and 2007 Le Maitre, their handpicked range. I haven’t learned so much about wine since the wine seminar I did at Torches a few summers ago. I returned to this vineyard two days later and bought the 2005 vintage. At $55, it’s the most expensive wine I plan to buy here and definitely the best Pinot I’ve ever had.

That night, we went to Fergburger for dinner. Lauren had heard its name from people both in Wellington and Minneapolis. I got a burger made with Fjordland venison and it was incredible. After dinner, we saw some of Queenstown’s nightlife, joining a pub crawl organised by several of the hostel’s in town. We got to see several different sides of the Queenstown bar scene and got a free drink at each. It was definitely a fun night.

In the morning, we hoped to book horseback riding through some Lord of the Rings film locations, but the beautiful weather meant that the spots had been filled up. Instead, we took a walk down by the waterfront, met up with Wellington friends and took the gondola ride up to the top of the mountain for spectacular views and luging.

Queenstown, Otago, South Island, New Zealand

After we came down from this mountain, we took a drive up to a ski field where we had more fantastic views of the scenery. And Maggie’s first snowman!

Queenstown, Otago, South Island, New Zealand

Queenstown, Otago, South Island, New Zealand

Saturday night was a partial reunion of Wellington. So many people from Vic were traveling the South Island and so many were in Queenstown for this middle weekend. We had a great “family” dinner and a great night in general, catching up before separating again for one more week.

Well…I failed at finishing my trip tonight. But hopefully tomorrow I’ll be able to finish it up so I can keep updating you about life here.

Kia Ora,

Liam

Queenstown, Otago, South Island, New Zealand

Where are we, Alaska? (9/20/09)

Mitre Peak, Milford Sound, Fjordland, South Island, New Zealand

Hello again everyone!

I left off with our arrival in Te Anau, which is important mostly because it is the gateway to Milford Sound. After a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs (when I look back at our trip, I realize we only ate instant noodles, PB&J and eggs.), we checked the weather forecast for the drive to Milford. Cold & wet (typical Fjordland weather) with a moderate threat of avalanches. This meant we had to rent snow chains for our car. And in a brilliant decision, we decided Maggie would drive. Not the driver from New York. Not the driver from Wisconsin. Texas got to drive.

Milford Road, Milford Sound, Fjordland, South Island New Zealand

The road to Milford Sound is 120-kilometre road that connects the fjord with civilization. It’s a dead end road with a magnificent ending point. The drive in itself was amazing. Fields of golden grass line the road, flanked by snow capped mountains. As we got closer to the end, there was snow everywhere. Eventually, we were in an Avalanche Zone and could not stop the car at all for any reason. This was slightly frightening. Snow was falling as we hit the tunnel, driving through a mountain. After the remainder of our gorgeous drive, we arrived at the parking lot and stumbled upon a very friendly Kea, which is an extremely endangered species of parrot that lives in the mountainous areas of the South Island. I was only about a metre from it, which was pretty awesome.

Kea, Milford Sound, Fjordland, South Island New Zealand

We hadn’t booked our cruise in advance, but this turned out to work in our favour. Since it’s the off season, we were able to haggle the prices down and ask for “student discounts.” We boarded our cruise at 2PM and for the next 90 minutes were in absolute awe. This is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. While it was raining and misty during the majority of our cruise, this can be one of the best times to see Milford. There are only 3 permanent waterfalls in the fjord. All of the others dry up within hours of the rain stopping. We got to see probably hundreds of waterfalls. The boat we were on was quite small, so it was able to get really close to the falls and other sights. We even drove under two of the larger waterfalls, allowing me to get some awesome photographs and to get soaking wet by these ice cold falls. Coffee, tea & hot chocolate were all included in the cruise and we all agreed that this was the most beautiful place we had ever had coffee.

Waterfalls, Milford Sound, Fjordland, South Island New Zealand

Waterfall, Milford Sound, Fjordland, South Island New Zealand

Words can not fully describe the beauty that is Milford Sound. All I can say for sure is that anyone who visits the South Island of New Zealand and doesn’t make a stop here is definitely missing out.

More soon,

Liam

P.S. I almost forgot to mention that Maggie is a fantastic winter driver. =)

Rainbow in the Mist, Milford Sound, Fjordland, South Island New Zealand