Kia Ora Koutou!
This is a dream. Real life can be dirty and heartbreaking and tough with moments of elation, but here, here I am living in a constant state of euphoria. I am living in a happy delirium where all of the pieces fall together perfectly.
This week marks the beginning of the new term, and also my twenty-first birthday, which is very exciting. I woke up on the morning of the 23rd to find that my flatmates have plastered signs with my picture and text reading “Happy 21st Carolyn!!!!!” all over Ilam. Hundreds of posters. I had three completely random people walk up and wish my happy birthday. I really don’t know what I am going to do without my flat family when I go back to Wisconsin.
I suppose that it is nominally cool that term is starting up again. This means that Ilam is populated again, this means that all my friends are back in one place, but this also means that I have to focus a little bit on the study part of Study Abroad. With a big Psychology exam coming up and a couple of assignments to finish it might be a bit of a rough transition back to school, even more so because I have had an outstanding vacation. Fall term break ran from March 31st to the 23rd, three weeks of adventure, travel, and amazing experiences.
I am lucky enough to have one of the coolest moms in the world. Shout out to Amy Matthews. She and Meagan (a close friend of the family for many years) flew here to the land of the long white cloud to travel around with me for a couple of weeks! Sunsets, sunrises, beaches, plains, mountains, glaciers, caves, forests, coastlines, pastures. It is the natural elements of the trip that provide the background music to my memories. The sharp crash of the craggy peaks and the soft counterpoint of hillsides covered with sheep; color blends together with the line and juxtaposition of elements. The crisp reality of glacier sits smooth guarded by shades of rock so sharp you could cut yourself just looking, but is softened by the ferns and vines at our level that grow wild and winding. A river of the deepest turquoise runs urgently at the bottom of its self carved cliffs, it interacts with the cool grey tones of rock which turn into golden-red tussock pasture, which is, in turn, punctuated with dusty green bush and yellow trees shooting vertically up to meet the sky and clouds in dance. Red flowers, green ocean, orange path, white fog. Dusty steps, cold rain, tang of wine, warm food, warm fire, warm company. I want to stand in these moments, soak them up into my very bones, and never let go.
Mom and Meagan arrived on April 2nd sans luggage which got misplaced somewhere in Australia. The first thing we had to do was take a trip to farmers to get some clothes for them…
After getting them some clothes we drove down to the New Brighton beach for some authentic fish and chips and a stunning ocean sunset.
After eating and playing on the beach we drove up to the top of the Port Hills to see the Christchurch lights. After I got us lost by demonstrating (once again) my horrible sense of direction Sameena figured out the way up. From the dark and windy observation platform the city spread out below us like thrown pieces of amber lit internally, like coals burning after the fire dies down, like grid aligned glowworms clinging to the ceiling of a cave. Above the city streets drifted one of the Hope lights still making its slow circles above the city.
The lost luggage was still making it slow way to meet us in Queenstown when we left Tuesday morning to drive. The original plan was adjusted slightly and we took off towards Castle Hill and Arthur’s Pass. We played around the Castle Hill boulders for a little while, drove through the Southern Alps, made our way down the west coast, then inland again to The Ferry B&B. By the time got there mom had been the only one driving all day and had lost the ability to speak or understand the English language, demonstrating this by tearing up someone’s lawn and then almost running the rental car into a tree. It was a great day, but we were all happy to reach the warm fire and beds at the end.
Later we got picked up to go on a bike tour and wine tasting around a few different vineyards in the renowned Gibston Valley.
After the wine tour we took a drive up the ski access road into the Remarkable Mountain range. This entire drive was on a pretty sketchy dirt road that dropped off steeply to one side and met with sheer cliff face on the other, oh and guard rails seemed to be totally optional. I was scared for my life at times. Most notably when my mom was pointing out towards the view and exclaiming about the beauty of the landscape as she sped up towards a sharp curve in the road.
The Remarkables are named such because supposedly, on discovering that the range runs directly North-South, an explorer said that it was “Truly Remarkable!”
The next day we woke up early, had a huge breakfast at The Ferry, then went back into Queenstown for some zip lining! We used a company called Ziptrek who offers a six lined flying fox course which overlooks Queentown and Lake Wakatipu form the side of the historic gondola hill. This included the steepest flying fox line tree to tree found anywhere in the world!
After some gelato and a small walk down to the lake we got back into the car and started to drive down, towards the sound. We arrived in the town of Te Anau and had a relaxing night, a good dinner, and a trip to the glowworm caves. These worms live and die in dark places, but they do briefly shin, creating bioluminescent galaxies that we can observe. I have no photographs because the worms react adversely to the flash and will stop shining, but I’m not sure I would be able to capture the moment even if I was allowed to try. The cave into which we walked was as cool and exciting as the glowworms themselves but my favorite moment in the caves starts with silence. Complete silence and the pressing weight of rock and earth. Slowing spinning in the small boat, in the pitch black only punctuated by spots of light grouped above like stars.
The next day was a favorite of the trip. As soon as I started looking at New Zealand for study abroad I was hearing about Milford Sound. Fiordland. Rivers, sounds, fiords, ocean, cliffs, wildlife, waterfalls and rain. This certain day started in the fog when we were picked up at the bed and breakfast early in the morning and started the drive two hours to the Milford Sound. Out the window the fog burned off as the sun rose higher and our view expanded to the massive cliffs that rose around us.
I feel that pictures may speak better than words in this case
The next stop was on the way to Dunedin. Curio Bay turned out to be a fascinating little place for two reasons: Petrified trees and penguins.
Later in the drive we stopped again to walk along a beach and look at rocks, this time it was for the Moeraki Boulders, perfectly spherical rocks dropped onto the shore like pearls thrown onto a table. Naturally formed, subtly colored, and perfectly fit into its environment.
After staying the night in Dunedin we continued the drive up the east coast, cutting inland to again get a couple of Sheffeild Pies. After eating delicious pies once again we continued on to the base of the Southern Alps (very close to Castle Hill) to walk through the cave stream. The cave stream is a beautiful limestone cave that has been carved through a hill by the aptly named Broken River. A couple of my friends had done the cave before and they must have made it sound like a pansy walk because I was not expecting it to be as intense as it was. I even scoffed at the safety signs cautioning prospective cavers against “waist deep, swift current, freezing cold water.” I would say that it was actually MORE than waist deep. Almost immediately after walking into the cave entrance I was up to my sternum in cold, swift water. It did get a little more shallow, still even if I would have had to walk waist deep the whole way I would do it. The natural rock and clear water that I could glimpse in the narrow spotlight of my headlamp was breathtaking.
I realized about halfway into the cave that I really don’t like caves that much. It was amazingly beautiful and I would do it again, but I would much rather be on a ridgeline.
The next morning Meagan headed back to the states and mom and I headed north to hike the queen charlotte track! This is one of New Zealand’s ‘great walks’ which are multi-day tracks that can be found across both islands. Queen Charlotte track winds its way along the coast of the Marlborough Sound. It would go from tropical coast, to pine forest, to jungle, to pasture; it was truly amazing to walk through all of these microenvironments that coexist so close to each other.
So went the first couple weeks of my break. It was wonderful, inspiring, beautiful, relaxing, in a word I would say: paradise. After my mom left I had a couple of days to myself where I sat in the sun a lot, climbed, ran, read, and prepared for the next adventure.
This next adventure was to meet up with one of my flatmates (Philip) and two of my friends (Ben and Jack) down in Queenstown. When I travelled with my mom we ate really well and stayed in nice B&B’s or hotels, now I got to travel in true Uni student fashion. That is to say, cheap. The boys had already been travelling around in a rented camper van, as I arrived John was headed home so I got a spot on the party bus. It was cold at night and in the mornings, made horrible noise along the roads as plates and silverware shifted in the back, it was bright green and purple (typical tourist vehicle), and it was wonderful. Van by day and bedroom by night. We went back down to the Milford Sound for a day then back to Queenstown. Camping spots were usually by the side of a road, or at a DOC campsite. Instead of taking showers we would take a swim in cold glacial streams.
The most amazing thing I did during this last week was the Nevis Bungy, at 134 meters it is the highest in New Zealand . The three guys had already did it a few days before I arrived, so one afternoon I set off by myself.
This was one of the most wonderful experiences in my life. Apprehension didn’t set in on the highway, or on the steep dirt road to the jump. I felt no fear when I saw the Nevis Bungee suspended by those needle thin wires, no fear when I got into my harness. My stomach didn’t drop when the gondola made its slow way to the suspended jump point, even though I could see the river, cliffs, and unbelievable drop through the metal floor. As my group walked off of the gondola I felt a flutter, a slight tightening of my nerves. I went from totally relaxed to slightly taught. My names was called and I walked forward through the grate, I sat in the chair and fiddled with Ben’s contour video camera as they attached the bungee to my feet. I shuffled forward to the 1’x1’ metal square, I looked down, and as soon as my toes were over that edge I was not as calm as I had felt all morning, in fact I was not calm at all! The Nevis operator counted me off and yelled “Go!” but I could not will myself to leave the platform. Jumping forward into space felt impossible, like I could never convince myself to do it. Eventually he pointed out to the Remarkables and told me, “This is the bad part, this is supposed to be scary. The fun is out there! So don’t look down, promise me you’ll look out, pick a spot on the mountain and jump for that instead.”
I was humming, shaking, looking out. I hesitated long enough to take a breath and then fighting reason, instinct, control I shifted my center of gravity and fell.
That feeling, as soon as I started to fall, I will never forget. It was me and the bottom of the valley, me and the river below, me weightless in free fall with the wind wrapped around. I close my eyes and I am still stuck in that free fall. It is like flying, until the soft tension and slowing of momentum until I was flung once again upwards. At the end I was spinning safe in mid-air, I felt like opening my arms and yelling, but I can’t actually remember if I did. As I was hauled back onto the platform I was all smiles and the operator told me “Well, I wasn’t expecting to see that kind of face from what I saw a couple of minutes ago!” Wow. That feeling, the flying free fall then accomplishment. I’m an addict and I need to do it again.
Here is my video, everyone as agreed that it is pretty hilarious:
Now it is at the end of the first week back at class. I have a psychology exam tomorrow morning so now it is back to the books for the evening. Karawhiua! Despite this work I have determined that I am the luckiest person on the planet.
Much love from the south island!