I’ve only been in New Zealand for a few days, but at this point I may honestly never come home (just kidding, mom, see you in a few weeks). The last few days have been pretty eventful, both in terms of actual planned trips and a few crazy impromptu adventures.
This past Friday (Thursday for you people back home), we had our first day of class, which I will only briefly overview because I’m sure nobody really cares. The class was interesting enough though, we spent a lot of time discerning the differences in pronunciation between accents around the world. One cool thing about our class, though, is actually the room it’s held in. A part of Kirkwood Village, it was put up as a temporary place to hold classes, but like most of the “temporary” fixtures it seems to be here to stay. The village is full of really neat buildings; honestly it resembles a shanty beach town more than a university. The amount of green space at the University of Canterbury is still unbelievable, everything is so open and full of plant life as opposed to back home.
After class, we had several hours of free time, which we used to grab lunch and then have one of those aforementioned impromptu adventures. With roughly five hours to kill, a group of us decided to explore campus and the surrounding areas. This was particularly cool both because we got to see a lot of interesting things, but it also gave us some time to get to know each other.
One of the most memorable stops on our little tour was at a church-run residence hall just outside of campus. We wandered in just looking for a bathroom and wound up talking to the administrator of the building. She was super friendly and passed on a few recommendations for our trip the next day including a really neat tapas place as well as mini golf attractions (“come on, you’re American, you have to go mini-golfing”). As with most Kiwis, one of the first questions out of her mouth was about Donald Trump, which made all of us groan internally, it seems as though he’s the one thing people know about where we’re from. It’s highly unfortunate.
Talking to this woman was really cool as it speaks to the kiwi culture—everyone is super friendly. Back in the states, if a group of teenagers wandered into an establishment looking lost, you’d be told to “get the hell out” real quick, but here we wound up talking for a good half an hour.
From there, we worked our way around the area, stopping at Illam gardens, which is a neat little area just off the beaten path near university. One of the best parts about New Zealand is that no matter where you are, a little piece of paradise seems to lie around every corner.
As we headed back to our meeting spot for our next excursion, we stumbled upon a small community garden. Sequestered off a partially hidden trail, we nearly walked right by it. This place looked like something out of a book, a dozen gardens were carefully sectioned off and marked with painted stones, with their occupants bursting over the edges. From Kale to carrots, they had it all. Definitely a highlight of our wanderings.
When we met up with our group, we headed over to Willowbranch reservations where we got to see a ton of wildlife from all around New Zealand. Willowbranch is a conservationist center, so they help rehabilitate animals that have been injured in the wild or need to be nursed back to health. This means that they are one of the few places licensed to help grow the Kiwi population (this is why New Zealanders call themselves kiwis, after the bird not the fruit). The Kiwi has become one of my new favorite animals, I swear. About the size of a cat, these flightless birds are covered in brown hair and spend their nights scurrying around, digging in the dirt with their elongated beak. Look them up, they’re awesome. Unfortunately, Willowbank is the only place our group will be able to see one of these fantastic creatures as they are currently endangered due to invasive species being brought over from Europe. Incidents like this are why New Zealand has such strict biodiversity laws.
While at Willowbranch, we also got to experience a bit of Maori culture with the boys in our group performing a Haka and the girls a poi (I was rubbish at it, I hit myself in the face about four separate times). We also got to have a traditional meal which was absolutely delicious, ending with a dessert called Hoki Poki ice cream that is just straight up sugar on a plate, basically.
The next day, we started our morning with the farmers’ market where I had an amazing breakfast sandwich consisting of hash browns, an egg, and bacon on ciabatta bread. Bacon here is a lot different than back home, it’s hammier and frankly just flat out better.
From the farmers, market, we hopped on the bus and drove a few hours into Hanmer springs where we went on a mini-hike up a “hill” (The kiwis and I have very different definitions of the word hill). The view was absolutely stunning. New Zealand really is a whole other world.
After our hike, we relaxed a bit in the hot springs (this class is killing me, really a tough one). The natural springs were fun and it was nice to take a load off after running around all week.
The drive home was nice, with the views becoming even more surreal with the sunset peaking over the mountains. It was also nice to chat for two hours with a new friend I made on the trip. I was a little apprehensive about my group at first, but upon getting to know them, they’re some pretty great people. Having good company has made this trip all the better.
We capped off the night by heading to a BYO—a kiwi favorite. Rather than a traditional pregame before going out, kiwis like to grab a bottle and take it to their favorite restaurant. While I didn’t partake in the drinking as I was exhausted from the day, it was wonderful to eat some damn good Thai food and get to hang out with the group a bit. One of the best parts of the night was when the owner came by, she didn’t speak a lot of English, so our group was having quite a tough time. Our friend Wes, out of the blue just starts speaking Mandarin with the woman and in his intoxicated state, his fluency was quite entertaining.
Now when we left, I did get myself into a bit of trouble. Not being used to relying on public transportation (or even really having it back home), I had researched my route beforehand. I double-checked with my driver to make sure I was heading in the correct direction and he assured me I was, but with it being dark out I managed to miss my stop. After looping through, the driver told me to hop out and my homestay would be just around the corner. This was not correct.
After wandering for about an hour and a half, attempting to make my way back with no phone service and trying to flag down a police car, I finally found a cab. I think I scared the poor man half to death as I ran at him from across the street. Twenty dollars and a few wrong turns later, I finally made it back around 12:30 at night. I had left the restaurant at 10:30. I have thus learned my lesson to make sure before hopping out of a bus.
This morning was nice as since it’s Sunday, we have the day off to relax. After enjoying a warm cup of pumpkin soup, my homestay took me on a scenic drive through the mountains. I think they are under the impression I’ve gone mute because the views just took my breath away. This was the first time I had gotten a glimpse of the ocean, and despite the crummy weather, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Driving through the twisting roads, it seemed like each turn revealed something better than the last. I’ve taken a few photos and attached them below, but trust me when I say it doesn’t do it justice.