Although I’ve been in New Zealand for well over a month now, it still feels as if I’ve just arrived! My busy lifestyle has meshed fully and completely with my schedule and I’ve been packing my days start to end with as many new experiences as possible. My mom was worried that my bed and supplied sheets would be super uncomfortable but I’m so tired at the end of every day that it doesn’t even matter. Since I can’t possibly post details about my day to day since I last wrote weeks ago, here are some highlights and photos from my latest trips!
Paekakariki - Stairway to Heaven Track
On a Thursday sometime before classes started, a group of us from my program got together to hike the Stairway to Heaven Escarpment Track from Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay. It was one of the sunniest days since we had arrived in Wellington so it was perfect for a 3.5 hour afternoon hike!
The trail is right along the coast with an amazing view of the Tasman Sea, Kapiti Island, and we could even see the South Island far away in the distance. The water was shockingly blue and green.
The trail took us up lots and lots of stairs on the barren, grassy slope of the cliff. It was extremely steep in most areas with no handrails. It was pretty freaky at first but as I kept hiking, I gained more confidence in myself and reassurance that I have control of my body.
For reference, yes that is a red car driving by at the bottom left photo. The track was so high up! By the time we hiked on down, it was dusk and we took some time to hang out on Pukerua Beach skipping stones, laying on the warm sand, and climbing on the rocks. This day was awesome even though I got extremely sunburnt!
Red Rocks Reserve
Red Rocks Reserve is an area on the coast near Wellington, about a 25 minute bus ride out to Owhiro Bay. The day I went, it was raining all morning but let up to a slow drizzle in the afternoon aka good moody hiking weather. To get to Red Rocks, we had to walk along the beach for about 45 minutes.
The area looked straight out of Game of Thrones; the waves were huge and crashing on the rocks; the sand was rough, gritty, and strewn with stones and sea debris; the land shifted from sand to sharp, rocky cliffs which grew taller and taller as we walked.
We knew when we got to Red Rocks because, you know, red rocks! So red, like fancy brick buildings were dumped and smoothed by the waves for years and years. Still many Game of Thrones vibes and lots of sea salt in the air.
There are a few Maori legends that go along with these rocks. Kupe, the first heroic Polynesian settler was said to have been fishing here when a clam or clamy creature grabbed hold of his finger causing him to bleed and turn the rocks red. Another story says that Kupe, on another voyage to help more Polynesians travel safely to Aotearoa, left his wife and daughter behind. Mourning for him in fear he would never return, they cut themselves in grief turning the rocks red. I prefer the first story, a lot less sad, just a clam biting a finger. It was a great hike which actually made me more tired than Paekakariki.
Abel Tasman National Park - South Island
In mid-March, I had the opportunity to go on a trip to Abel Tasman National Park for the weekend with my program leaders and new friends/fellow Vic international students. This was an extensive trip with lots of travel time involved so I’m glad all of the planning was already done for me!
We woke up early and left on the ferry at around 7AM traveling through the Cook Straight from Wellington to Picton on the South Island. The distance between isn’t far but the ride is 3 hours. It was cool to be out on the ocean and I was fine despite having a history of seasickness in the past (stay tuned to see how this works out for me).
Great view coming into the Picton, I even saw some dolphins jumping in the morning sun next to the boat. Once ashore, we hopped on a bus to Nelson. The roads were very curvy and Kiwis don’t drive slow so it was a wild ride. We drove past lots of vineyards, sheep, and hilly/mountainy countryside.
This was March 15th, the day there was a terrible mosque shooting in Christchurch, the worst by far in New Zealand history. We stopped for a bit so our program leaders could communicate to other students in the area. We learned that fifty lives were taken and many more were injured. Later that week, I witnessed the power of adversity in the face of hate and evil from the people of New Zealand. It was incredible to see the country come together after a terrorism attack as horrible as imaginable. At the time, I had no phone service and spotty wifi so I wasn’t able to communicate much with anyone back home that I was ok.
Friday night, we stayed right on the edge of Abel Tasman in a backpacker hostel that felt like summer camp. We walked to the beach which had orange sand and clear, blue water. The water was very warm and we walked on the shore/sandbar for a bit exploring and cooling off. Later that night, we discovered that the tide was out and the water we had been wading in just hours before was now completely gone. We could hear the ocean but it was too far away to see. I remember vividly that the moon was out, not full but so bright it was astonishing. The light shone on the wet sand, the stars were bright, the mountain loomed and I had the urge to take a photo so I could paint it later, but the picture wouldn't capture the essence of that moment. It looked like a garden, not from Game of Thrones this time but maybe a pirate movie of some kind. Captain Jack Sparrow could have been drinking rum somewhere nearby.
On Saturday, we had a 5 hour hike in the park. It was extremely tropical, a very enjoyable walk. We took a water taxi out to the trail head and got to see some sunbathing fur seals on the rocks of a small island on the way out. All of the beaches we passed on the way there looked like they belonged on an advertisement brochure, orange sand and clear, turquoise water.
We did the first 3 hours of the hike in the morning then stopped for lunch and a swim even though it got a little chilly. On the way to our final destination, we walked to this waterfall area on a rocky river where there was an area with a natural waterslide. I didn't slide but I did put my hot feet in the ice cold water and climb on the rocks. We stayed the night on a boat- The Aquapacker. A floating hostel aka my worst nightmare! Just kidding (kind of). The husband and wife who ran the show were amazing. They made is so much food and we had lots of tea and TimTam’s (world’s best cookie!).
The next morning I woke up feeling weird from the boat. I ended up getting up at around 5:30AM to sit on the top of the boat instead of being down in the bottom with no windows. It ended up being a great move because no one else was awake and the stars were absolutely incredible. The Mikyway was in perfect clarity and there were these weird birds calling from the shore, so it was basically amazing beside feeling gross. Needless to say, I was happy to get off the boat at the first chance I got.
It was kayaking day and I was ready to try it for the first time. The kayaks were really nice, two seaters with foot pedals for steering. I sat in the front and my partner, Paige, sat in the back and steered since she had kayaked before. It was really sweet at first! I like the actual motion of paddling, it feels so natural and ended up being a really good work out! We thought we saw this penguin standing on the beach but it ended up being a NZ bird called a shag.
The first 45 minutes I was feeling great. Once we got to the rough water outside of the harbor, and I remembered that we were ~ocean~ kayaking. This was no cakewalk either, we had destinations to hit, this was a multi-leg journey with a break for lunch and everything. So yeah, the Dramamine didn’t work and instead I sang some songs with Paige to try and forget about my lunch churning in my stomach. The thing is, I decided I like kayaking, just look at how happy I am in those pictures! Therefore, I was having a great time, I just don't get along with the ocean.
I got super sunburnt and when we finally land hoed it outta there, I realized I had to get right back on a 3 hour rollercoaster ride courtesy of our Kiwi shuttle driver. I have never been so close to yelling pull over to a bus driver in my life. I’m making this sound terrible, and of course my body hated me for the majority of Sunday but I actually did enjoy the experience. And I'm laughing as I sit here reminiscing about how horrible/amazing the day was. Now I know kayaking is cool but maybe on nice little lake in landlocked Minnesota next time. Leaving Picton, I sat outside and watched the South Island slowly disappear in the distance. Lighthouses and stars lit up as the ocean around ferry grew dark.
More adventures to come!