Saturday, March 3, 2012

orientation, shepherds, bars, and backpacks

If you're not my friend on facebook, you probably think my plane to Auckland crashed in the Pacific. It did not. I'm just a negligent blog-updater. Since my last post, I've been in New Zealand. It's a delightful place where the favorite word for cool is "sweet as" with no more words after, you get food "take away" instead of "to go," and sheep really are everywhere.

For the first week, our lovely program coordinators from Arcadia University held our hands as we struggled past our jet lag and took us on a whirlwind tour of Auckland and Rotorua. We saw lots of rain clouds, sheep, a traditional Maori village, a geyser, some kiwi birds, and rocky holes that spewed sulfurous steam. We drove through Hobbiton, watched a show about sheep, and rolled down a hill in a giant rubber ball. I ate my first-ever slice of the traditional Kiwi dessert called pavlova, which is a giant merengue topped with cream and fruit. Plus it's gluten-free. I nearly died of delightedness. I also discovered New Zealand-style coffee. It's always made with love and might be the most wonderful thing since pavlova. Other students worry about spending all their money on alcohol. I'm more concerned about spending mine on lattes and cake.

Real Kiwis are too shy to be photographed, so the conservatory supplied a fake one.

Pavlova, you own my heart...
so do you, flat white.
Suddenly orientation was over, we were on a plane to Wellington, and we weren't American tourists anymore. We were foreign students in a foreign country. We had a school to go to and groceries to buy. That was a little scary. Then I remembered that I was in New Zealand and I got over it.

I've spent the past few days wandering around Wellington, running up its steep windy streets, and nearly getting blown off my bike by the wind. It's an enchanting little city packed with artsy caf├ęs, bars with nightly live music, and a few classy theaters that college students can't actually afford to visit. Plus Wellington has about five bike shops within 2 miles of each other, and it's only a 4-5 hour drive away from some amazing national parks. You really can't beat that kind of city.

The view from my street.
 architecture downtown.

This weekend seven of us Americans decided to get out of the Wellington bubble. We booked some bus tickets on the fly, stuffed some trail mix into our geeky hiking packs, and went on a New Zealand "tramp" (which is what they call hiking, since they're in the habit of using silly words for things). We'd be doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, rated one of the best day hikes in the world. The weather was supposed to be less than ideal, but a little wind couldn't hurt, right? Besides, we're Americans.

The universe laughed in our faces by pummeling our 6-hour hike with "alpiney conditions," as our shuttle driver euphemistically put it. Some parts of the track were so clouded over that we couldn't see more than 100 feet in any direction. Most of the famous landmarks (including LOTR's "Mount Doom") were totally invisible.

It should've looked something like this:

Instead it was like this:

There was a lot of fog, and I nearly got blown off the side of the moutain. I was too scared to take pictures at that point. But it was still worth the awesome experience and the views on the other side of the pass.

Then it was time for some much-deserved sleep in a makeshift camp shelter when our tents got blown over by the wind.

As my new Kiwi mate put it: welcome to NZ, we hope you enjoy your stay.


  1. You HAVE to go back and climb Mt. Doom on a really clear day. And what was that shelter? Is that the hut on the track? And you were camping?

    1. ahhh man, I'd really love to. But I don't know if we have enough time!

      And that shelter is at the place where we camped in Torangi, since we didn't know if you could really camp anywhere in Tongariro. We were hiding out in the kitchen at our campsite :)

  2. Nice pics from Mount Tongariro. Thanks.