exchange student farewell function? i remember being on the same patio for an orientation BBQ like it was yesterday. where does the time go….
Almost a month overdue but….
Anzac Day began with 3 girls sitting around a table, determined to study. I had a midterm the next day and Ana and Kat had papers to write, and we all had the day off because of the public holiday. Anzac Day is Australia’s version of Remembrance Day, meant to commemorate the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought in WWI. We had heard that it involved a full day of drinking for most ozzies, which is when we should have realized our study date was a hopeless idea. I hadn’t even read a single word before we looked outside and saw amazing weather, said who are we kidding and hopped on a bus into the city.
We went to The Rocks, which is basically Old Sydney, and one of my favorite places here. It reminds me a lot of Halifax with its older feel and pubs everywhere. It was packed with people. It didn’t take us long to realize that everyone was out on this day. Every restaurant had a wait. After grabbing lunch we walked by the Australian Hotel, which is an old pub, and the line to get in was crazy. They extended their outdoor area to make what was apparently Sydney’s biggest Two-Up arena (we didn’t know what this was either..)
We figured this looked like just about the best and most authentic Anzac Day experience out there so we hopped in the line. It turned out to be a day that I’ll never forget. Here’s what we learned about this awesome holiday:
We found some cute ozzies to give us tho lo-down on what the hell Two-Up was. All we saw were people throwing 50 and 100 dollar bills in the air like it was nothing. There was a stage with guys in navy uniforms flipping two coins and anytime they called out the result people went wild. So many people were yelling “Head-em up!” and chanting heads…
So theres two coins that are flipped, or ‘spinned’, and if both were heads, anyone betting on heads wins. If both were tails, anyone betting tails won. If one was heads and one was tails, it didn’t count for anything, but the person spinning got one strike. If they get three of these strikes, they are forced to do something, which that day was ten pushups while the crowd counted them out. If you wanted to bet heads, you’d put the amount you want to bet on or over your head. Someone who wants to bet the same amount but on tails, seeks you out and gives you there money. The person betting heads always takes the money until the coins are flipped. So then they flip, and if its tails they give it all to the other person, if heads, they keep it. This was totally random and is exactly how it sounds. A huge crowd with people looking for strangers holding up money and giving a complete stranger their money. But everyone honors it and I thought that was so cool. I can definitely see why this is only legal one day of the year though - people were betting hundreds! I talked to a couple people who had lost upwards of $400 that day. Being broke students we were holding up fives, and I think I stopped when I was up fifteen. I had to get the full Oz experience, so I got up on stage and spun. It was intimidating with everyones money relying on your spin! I didn’t do so bad at first but then struck out and had to do ten pushups..that tenth one was not easy…totally fit?
We stayed at the hotel until the sun went down and headed back to Bondi to our favorite, Beach Road Hotel. There was more two-up going here and it was PACKED. At 6:30..
Knowing I had a midterm the next day and far too many drinks over the course of the day I dipped out and was in bed by about 9. I know where I’m going to be wishing I am every April 25 from here on…
Eight days, one island, two childhood friends.
I have been wanting to go to New Zealand since the day my grade eleven global geography teacher talked about her trip there. It was actually that very day that I considered the idea of an exchange in university. Two universities in NZ were my top two choices when applying, Australia being my third. As soon as I found out that I would be heading to Australia, the decision was made that I would visit NZ at somepoint whilst overseas. So, welcome to a little dream come true of mine:
For our easter break, we only had eight days to play with. I had been told by many that it was only enough time to do one of New Zealand’s islands. From my own research and the suggestions that friends I met on the east coast had told me it ended up being the South Island that would be our destination. There were two options: rent a campervan and do the driving around yourself, or get a bus pass like I had done on the east coast – frequent busses that you can hop on and hop off whenever and wherever you like. Given that we only had eight days we figured a bus would be best – leave the getting around to someone else rather than waste precious time getting lost or driving too tired on the wrong side of the road..
The company we booked with was called Stray travel. It turned out that almost everyone on our bus was students do a very similar if not exactly the same trip, so right off the bat we made some travel comrades. The deal with Stray was that the bus driver had a book of activities for each destination that you could book through him, and accommodation at each spot was set aside so we just had to put our names on a list and he’d call and book the rooms. It was really convenient and we banked in on some good discounts.
We landed in Christchurch, what used to be one of the main cities of New Zealand. I say ‘used to’ because last December they were slammed with a huge earthquake and left it in shambles. I was asking the airport shuttle driver questions about it, until we were the only ones left in the car and he decided to take us on a little tour. Holy ghosttown. He took us to what used to be the main street in the city – nothing. Everything was barricaded off, buildings crumbling, and not a soul in sight. To think of how many people must have lost their jobs on this street alone. It was pretty creepy when he started telling us about the fatalities that happened there just over a year ago. We passed by a collapsed cathedral and more closed streets before getting to our hostel. We still hadn’t seen one person on the streets – it was past midnight but it just seemed eery. Like an apocalypse had gone down here..straight out of a movie. To keep with the creepy theme, the only hostel that we could find with vacancy/was still standing was called the Jailhouse. When we booked it that morning I had no idea that it really used to be a god damn jail. Obviously renovated but our room (or cell?) had just enough room for a bunkbed, a heavy metal door, and beside the light switch was a switch labeled ‘cell alarm’. We had to laugh. Thank god we would out of this town at 7am the next morning!
The first drive was from Christchurch to Franz Josef – pretty well across to the other side of the island with a stop in Greymouth. We drove through what was called Arthurs Pass – and that’s when we first realized that New Zealand is probably one of the most beautiful places in the world. We wound through mountains for hours, passing heaps of sheep and the prettiest views. I was in love already.
It didn’t take me very long to realize I shouldn’t have packed so many shorts. It was pretty chilly when we arrived in Franz Josef; a very small town consisting of one or two streets. We stayed at a place called the Rainforest Retreat which had a cottage-y feel to it, and was at the base of a mountain. It was so strange to look around and see tropical, rainforest-like vegetation but know that the next day we would be hiking a snowy glacier. Its still beyond me how these two can exist in such close proximity!
Ah, the glacier hike. I think this is one of the coolest things I will ever do. Ryan and I hopped into the more adventurous group which ended up having 6 guys in engineering at my uni, a Canadian girl who went to Mount A, and two Europeans. It was an eight hour hike and was one demanding hike. We learned about the melting patterns of the glacier, and what it used to look like. Its crazy to think that just ten years ago it looked entirely different. Every once in awhile you’d head a crack in the distance and see some ice falling…you definitely wouldn’t want to do this hike without an experienced guide. We reached a point called the maze, and basically our guide just chose a direction and no matter the terrain we just chipped our own path. It was a couple of the staff members’ last day working on the glacier so they made a little competition out of it. We got stuck in crevasses, descended down vertical sheets, climbed through holes in the ice – I was loving it. There was definitely nothing casual about it. The higher we got, the colder it got, and the better the view. We went a lot higher than I’d imagined. After about 6 hours of climbing up, we took a less resistant path on the way down. Everyone was pooped, but you had to stay alert with those big spikes on the bottom of our boots. We all ended that exhausting but amazing day nursing our aching muscles in the ‘glacier hot springs’ which were just 3 different temperature hot tubs across from our hostel.
An early and rainy morning followed. We weren’t too disappointed because we had eight hours of driving this day, and it did turn out to be our only day of rain on the entire trip. This time we drove through what was called Haast’s Pass, stopping in Haast and Wanaka. We were supposed to make a photo stop at a place called Lake Matheson where on a nice day there is a lake that mirrors the mountains above it, but there was no point. Wanaka was pretty, we stopped for lunch and dropped some passengers off including some American girls that later met us in Queenstown. The fall colors around made everything even more beautiful. Weird to think of fall being in April. I was still so tired from the hike and an early morning but I just didn’t want to sleep with those kinds of views around me. Mountains upon mountains and each one somehow seemingly different. Safe to say I was in awe for all of the eight days.
Weather had cleared up and we were almost in Queenstown when we stopped at the AJ Hackett Bungy site, the Karawau bridge. A few friends on the bus had signed up, and we went in and learned all about the company and their other bungy sites. Just a couple guys messing around jumping off buildings now make an absolute killing with tourists. It was so crazy to watch the bungy. It was right over a bright blue river, the Karawau river, and I got an adrenalin rush just watching people do it! It got us super excited for our bungy experience coming up a couple days later.
We were warned about how awesome Queenstown would be. It was a little ski bum town situated on a lake surround by a mountain range called the Remarkables, and deemed the ‘adrenalin capital of the world’. It wasn’t hard to tell why, one walk down the street that our hostel was on and you’d find bungy businesses, skydiving, white water rafting, river surfing, canyoning, helicopter tours, handgliding, parasailing. Too cool. Stray had its own entire floor at the hostel, where us and other busses had rooms. There was a bar on the main floor where we went that night and I ended up bumping into some familiar faces from school. New Zealand definitely was a popular easter break destination.
The next day we had a trip to Milford Sound planned. It was about 3 hours away on a bus separate from the Stray one, and thank god for that. It had so much leg room, very comfortable seats, huge windows and even a glass roof so that you could really take in what an incredible drive it was. Perfect for two hungover kids. Although maybe biased but very easy to believe, the driver stated that this was one of the prettiest drives in the world. We learned a lot about the legends of NZ on the way there and stopped at some breathtaking spots. Pictures just don’t even do justice to this country. At one point we reached a hole at the base of a mountain and we driving through it – a hole drilled through an entire mountain. It was pitch black and the driver told us to close our eyes until he said so. When he told us to open them, it was jaw dropping. 360 degrees of mountains. The road twisted around so we got to see every bit of it. It was too crazy. Before reaching Milford Sound we stopped at the Chasm, a river with some cool rock formations that arose from water spinning in little cyclones. We got on a boat at Milford sound and already I was blown away. We had such a nice day for it; apparently it rains here about 200ish days of the year. For hours we cruised through fjords, passing waterfalls and seals and some of the prettiest landscape I will ever see in this life. Its really hard to imagine anything nicer, as extreme as that sounds.
Knowing we had a big day ahead, we planned an early night. We hit up the famous Fergburger, a burger joint near our hostel that had crowds of people outside of it at all hours of the day. We had to wait about 45 minutes for two burgers! But it was so worth it.
First stop the next morning was the Nevis bungy site. AH. We hopped in a shuttle that took us up the sketchiest road to the site, that was scary enough in itself and the girl driving it was intentionally playing short clips of songs that sung ‘only the good die young’ and ‘I hit the ground running’ and ‘jump’, while everyone laughed nervously. We got there and it wasn’t long before we were getting strapped into harnesses for the bungy swing. This is the world’s biggest swing – suspended 170m about the ground, with a 70m freefall and a 300m long arc that you swing through. Just walking to the platform I was so weak and immediately questioned what I was about to do. I thought that was bad, until the guys at the platform started messing with me. Once I was strapped in they were pretending to shove me off and doing what they probably do to stay amused throughout a day of dropping people through a canyon. My next command was to ‘flip upside down and wrap your feet around the straps. While suspended over a canyon…say WHAT? I wanted to kill Ryan at that moment for making me go upside down. Before I knew it we were moved out until there was nothing underneath us and BAM. I couldn’t even catch my breath to scream. It was absolutely terrifying. We swung to a stop back and forth and I could hardly orient myself being upside down. Oh my gods, holy shits, and other choice words were the only things to be heard in that canyon. They brought us back up and somehow convinced us to do this crazy thing AGAIN. This time I was upright, and I have to say that it was even scarier when you could tell what was going on. The freefall is the craziest part, you just feel like you’re dropping into nothingness. I get shivers just reliving it right now.
As if that wasn’t enough for one day, we had to scurry back to Queenstown for our skydive. The weather kept tossing between sunny and cloudy so we were worried that we might not make it out. Our flight was delayed and it was a blessing in disguise; the skies cleared completely on our drive there. The feeling before skydiving was much different than the bungy. I’m not sure if I was just riding on the adrenalin or if it’s because I’ve been wanting to do this forever, but I was so excited and not even that scared. As we ascended, we dropped (literally) two girls off at 9000 feet and then climbed to 12000ft where we would jump. Ryan went first and I felt like he disappeared from sight in a second. My dive master and I scooted to the edge of the plane and it was the craziest feeling. My photographer flew out before us and before I knew it we leaned back and forwards out of the plane. They say that the second time you skydive you remember a whole lot more, and now I see why. It was like my brain couldn’t figure out what was going on. We were free falling for about 45 seconds and it felt like floating. This had to be the coolest feeling in the world. He pulled the chute and in a second everything went completely silent and we were just hovering. He would do spirals so that I could see all around us – the Remarkables looked insane from up there, and the lake that ran between. And of course little sheep running around below – New Zealand has 40 million sheep! We landed and I was prancing around like a fool, just high on life. I can see how those guys get addicted to something like that.
We got back to the hostel buzzing with adrenalin and ready to celebrate the craziest day of our lives. In lobby was my two best girlfriends from Bondi Ana and Kat, who were a couple days behind us on the same trip. So happy to see them. We grabbed dinner, a couple bottles of wine and later hit the bar where we saw our buds from the glacier hike. Just a FEW drinks were had, leading to dancing on some tables (you could get away with anything at this bar) followed by a visit at 230 to Fergburger with Ana.
We were sad to leave Queenstown the next day after such an awesome three days. What a place. We drove back to the west coast, passing by some insanely blue lakes and copious amounts of sheep. Our stop for the evening was in Mt. Cook. I don’t know if you could call it a town, it was basically a hostel and hotel in the middle of some mountains facing Mt. Cook itself. Ryan crashed in bed while I toughed it out for a four hour hike towards Mt. Cook with some friends from the bus. The mountains here were all snowcapped and stunning. Once the sun started going down it was chilllly. We made it back before sundown and crashed at about 9pm.
The next day we set out for our last stop in Rangitata. We stayed in a lodge that was run by the white water rafting company there. Apparently it was the best rafting in New Zealand, and although energy was running at a minimum we were looking forward to it. We bundled up in wetsuits and fleeces and set out for the Rangitata River. Part of Lord of the Rings was filmed in this area! The water was glacially fed, so it was that same extremely turquoise color, but also freeeezing. Our guides were awesome (did I mention how much I love Kiwis?) and took us through rapids that progressed from grades 1 – 5, 5 being the highest level that can be commercially rafted on. It was quite the ride. Three of us fell out at one point and we had many laughs along the way. After the rapids we could cliff jump and as unappealing as jumping into freezing cold water from ten meters sounded, I still had my I-can-do-anything mentality and just did it anyway. When we got back they had hot showers and a furnace waiting for us, as well as a barbeque to feed us. It was only our bus staying at the lodge and it made for a really nice last night with everyone. We played cards and watched a movie before our last sleep in New Zealand.
The next day we drove about two hours to Christchurch and said our farewells to New Zealand. That is one week I will never, ever forget. I know that someday I will be back. I still have a whole other island to discover!