The End of the World

When I first told my mom I was heading to New Zealand, her first reaction was to say, “Samantha, what if you fall off a cliff?!”. I rolled my eyes and assured her that this was not a possibility (I do have more than two brain cells, contrary to popular belief). Today, however, I proved her half right. Sorry mom.

After a disappointing start to our weekend, with our plans to Akaroa being cancelled due to weather, I didn’t have high hopes. I had forgotten, of course, that here in New Zealand, all you need is some motivation coupled with a pair of hiking shoes and paradise is right around the corner.

Our group decided that after a rough start and a low-key day on Saturday, we needed to get outdoors, deciding to hike Te Onepoto (also known as Taylor’s Mistake) and Godley head. We took the bus to the absolute very end of the line, landing in Sumner and having to walk to the trailhead. After enjoying lunch on the beach, and chasing off some hungry seagulls, we made our way out to the hike.

Unfortunately, we had a bit of trouble getting to it. Asking locals for help, we eventually landed somewhere around where we were supposed to be, but with a lack of signage, we still couldn’t locate the bay very well.

Upon reaching several dead ends with fences blocking our paths, two of us decided to take matters into our own hands. My friend Wes and I hopped one of the fences and preceded on a little path carved out in the long grass. Our group was less than pleased, and continued to find their own way.

Wes and I continued a long this makeshift path and wound up looking over a ledge unto the sea below. The view was incredible; with wildflowers dotting the top and then a sheer drop to the bottom with nothing but ocean ahead. Content with our discovery, we opted to head back and rejoin the group.

However, upon emerging back onto the road we had left, our group was nowhere to be found. Not all that concerned, we continued along the road, looking for any sign of the rest of our party. We stumbled upon a sign labeled Taylor’s Mistake and of course, we followed it. Past a dirt path, a barbed wire fence, and an open gate, we found a tiny slice of paradise.

Jutting out several hundred meters from the mainland, a narrow peninsula filled with wildflowers and shrubbery laid just under the ledge we stood on, awaiting discovery. With the clay being quite soft from the previous day’s rain, we carefully made our way down the steep climb onto the thin patch of land. With the ocean waves hundreds of meters below thrashing against the side of the cliffs, and the sun beating down on our faces, I don’t think either of us has ever felt so at peace.

There’s something about standing on the edge of a cliff, with nothing but ocean out ahead, which provides an unparalleled sense of clarity. It felt as though we were standing at the end of the world. I have never felt so incredibly small in my entire lifetime. Not in a negative way, but in a way which provided perspective. The worries and stress of the world seemed to dissolve with each gust of the sea breeze that came over the rocks.

Flocks of birds made their way to roost in the sides of the cliffs and albatross dove beneath the waves below. The scene felt as though it had been taken from the movie screen. We stayed on the cliff for a good 45 minutes or so, taking in the sights and just the general relaxed vibe. Sitting at the top, we didn’t speak, just listened, watched, and relished in our little paradise. At one point, we both took turns, stood atop the very edge and yelled on the stop of our lungs, a victory cry of sorts I suppose. I don’t think anything has ever felt better.

Eventually, we elected to head back and rejoin the group, working our way down the road to the bottom where a small beach marked the start to Godley’s head. There we found our less than pleased classmates.

I don’t think either of us could stop smiling.

The rest of the trip proved to be quite nice as well, but nothing topped that peninsula. We hiked our way to the top of Godley’s head and then turned back as the wind warned of a coming storm. By the time we reached the bus stop, I was pretty spent. Looking at my Fitbit now, I have officially walked 11.07 miles today (this includes my walk to the uni and back, however).

I topped off my day by celebrating my host sister’s birthday. She turned eighteen this past Thursday, so we had a nice dinner and a cake to wash it down (I missed dinner and caught the end of dessert). Rachel moves out this week and I have to say I’m definitely going to miss her. While our paths don’t cross as often as I would like due to busy schedules, I always enjoy talking to her. She’s finishing out her college career at the University of Canterbury though so I do hope she comes back and says goodbye before I leave.

Today was definitely one for the books. Until this point in the trip, it seemed as though every day, something better than the last has come about. I don’t think that this can be topped, however. It is still hard for me to believe that such a place as this one can exist on earth. I think that the name of the destination we were searching for, Taylor’s Mistake, is quite fitting. A mistake is what led us to find this place, and I have to say that it was the best damn mistake I’ve ever made.

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Another Day in Paradise

Upon reviewing my last few posts, it seems as though the same words keep popping up. “Fantastic”, “beautiful”, “amazing”, “surreal”, “gorgeous”, amongst others that basically mean the same thing. The fact of the matter is, words are wholly inadequate when attempting to describe my experiences over the last week and a half. From sprawling mountains to crystal clear ocean water, my definition of beauty has since been redefined. IT seems as though every time we turn a corner, New Zealand offers something even better than the last. It is unreal that such a place exists. I could write forever and still be unable to fully capture the freshness of the air here, or the specific shade of blue the sky gets when the sun peaks out from behind the clouds. I’m still damn well going to try though.

The last few days have been decently low key by recent standards. We spent a lot of time exploring the city since most of our afternoons have been pretty open. We also spent some time at the Canterbury Museum as well as the Christchurch Gallery of Art. The art gallery actually just reopened in December 2015 since it was so badly damaged in the earthquake. They had some neat exhibits and most of the artwork was very unique. While I enjoyed the experience overall, I do have to say that it does not top the Cleveland Museum of Art (my absolute favorite place back home), but then again, perhaps I’m biased.

Exploring the city turned out to be a lot of fun. Our aimless wandering resulted in some pretty cool finds, including a lot of street art sightings (photos are up on a separate post) and a ridiculously elaborate playground. This playground deserves a post in and of itself, complete with trampolines, zip lining, and a rope climbing station, this thing was unreal. It also kept a handful of 19-22 year olds busy for an hour or so.

One of the really unique experiences of the week was Coffee and Jam at the Ministry of Awesome. In order to promote small businesses in the Christchurch area, Ministry of Awesome hosts a small event where people from the community come in and either give or listen to pitches from local businesses. This is all done over, yes you guessed it, coffee and Jam. It was interesting to hear from all of these local businesses, which included a startup clothing company and a t-shirt printing company that uses only ethically made clothing. As well as supporting local businesses this company gives much of the money to support victims of human trafficking. Overall, it was a really neat little gathering (side note—they have lemon jam here and it is heavenly).

Last night, we decided to take a night out and go see a local band play at the university pub, The Foundry. The advertised band, The Tunes of Ire, came on around eleven, aka when the last busses start to leave so we only caught a few minutes of them before heading out. The cover band that opened for them was awesome though. Dancing to songs like Beverly Hills, Brown Eyed Girl, and Riptide with all of the friends I’ve made on the trip was a really fun time. This trip has been a blast, and the people I’ve gone with have made it all the better.

Today marked our day off from the classroom though, so we got to spend the whole day out in the country, exploring. Starting at the Tannery, a little collection of shops and cafes, we then headed off to the famous Christchurch Gondola (the best way I can describe it is sort of like a ski lift up a mountain). At the top of Mount Cavendish, we got to walk around a bit and take in the sights. The view was stunning. Looking over the mountain at the city was quite literally, breathtaking. Out in the distance, the ice-capped peaks of mountains on the other side of the mountain poked through the clouds. Upon moving to the other side, one could clearly see the ocean and the Lyttlton bay area. I can honestly say I have never seen anything like it. New Zealand continues to amaze and surprise me, this view being no exception. This post and the photos to follow can’t do it justice.

From the Gondola, we headed into Lyttleton to enjoy some lunch and poke around the shops for a bit. A busy port, the town Lyttleton isn’t very big or developed (hence the name), but it’s a quaint little area with a few neat shops and cafes. The Lyttleton café is amongst these (again, hence the name), and our group settled in there to grab some food and play euchre (I don’t partake in the card game, I just like to watch the tension rise as the game progresses). I ordered a chicken and mushroom pie that may actually have been the single most delicious thing I have ever eaten. From lunch, we poked around a bit in the shops and then headed back to the bus to Sumner Beach.

I will tell you that I literally ran out onto the beach the second we arrived. My jaw about hit the floor as we drove past the crashing waves, blooming wildflowers, and barnacle encrusted rocks. Walking out onto the beach was like walking onto a movie set. The crunch of the sand beneath my feet combined with the salty tang in the sea breeze was magnificent. I spent a better part of the hour taking photos and exploring the sea caves and tidal pools throughout the beach. The beach was filled with activity from our group as well as surfers, dogs, and local passerby. It was fun to watch all of the hustle and bustle in such a gorgeous setting. Eventually though, I just sat back and enjoyed the sun on my face as it started to set along the coast. Like I said, completely unreal.

Today was one fantastic day, a great way to end a full week of adventure. Tomorrow, we are set to explore Akaroa, visiting a farm there as well as taking a boat into the harbor, weather permitting. Thus far, New Zealand has exceeded every possible expectation, I don’t know how I’m ever going to say goodbye to this amazing place.

Getting Lost in NZ (Both Metaphorically and Literally)

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.

Christchurch Day 1

A Walking Tour of Christchurch

One of the many questions I found myself facing from friends and family before I left was a basic one: “are you nervous?” My response, of course, was always a quick no and an expression of excitement. In truth, I was nervous; not for the flights, or going abroad, or anything along those lines, but I was nervous that New Zealand wouldn’t live up to my admittedly high expectations. Based on today, it has not only lived up to them, it’s surpassed them.

It’s so hard to believe that my first day in Christchurch has already come and gone. Let me just start by saying that my homestay is absolutely phenomenal. Marie and Phillippe are two of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. They immediately made me feel welcome in their home and they are incredibly interesting to chat with. Originally from South Africa, they came to New Zealand roughly twenty years ago. Since then, they’ve been all over the world and brought quite a bit of it back with them as they have hosted numerous international students. Currently, they are also hosting another student aside from myself from Singapore. Her name is Rachel and from what I’ve gotten to know about her she’s just as amazing. We spent my first night gathered around a world atlas, showing one another the places we’re from and sharing places we’ve travelled.

I will say, however, I was a little disappointed when the only real question they had about America was pertaining to Donald Trump.

We started the day today at the University of Canterbury, a quaint little campus with a population of 11,000. From there, we started our walking tour of Christchurch at the North side of the botanical gardens. Everything was absolutely beautiful, with the leaves having changed for autumn the trees are absolutely stunning. Unfortunately for me, I was only able to capture a few photos from the excursion as I forgot to change my settings from multiple exposure mode. I was not pleased to say the least. Still, I got some pretty nice shots and I’m going to attempt to put up a gallery at some point.

From there, we walked around a bit and caught glimpses of the Canterbury Museum and the Christchurch Art Gallery, both of which will be visiting in the next few weeks. Our next destination was a particular favorite of mine, the Re:START container mall.

Christchurch was hit with a series of devastating earthquakes in 2011 and 2012 that have left the city with devastating damage and a high need to rebuild and reorganize. Within a year of the quakes, the container mall was put up as a temporary shopping center built entirely of shipping containers. The outcome is something unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, an interesting aesthetic with a very upbeat and new sort of vibe. The shops were very cool as well, offering a lot of different items and trinkets (barring the Lululemon which is still just as ridiculously overpriced as the states). The idea for the mall was kind of a wildcard, but the place has grown from just 27 businesses in 2011 to over 50 today. It’s become a cornerstone for the tourist industry and a favorite amongst the locals.

Our next stops were more somber ones, starting with the Bridge of Remembrance. Having just been reopened a few weeks ago, the bridge commemorates all of those fallen in past wars and is one of two war memorials in Christchurch. After our visit there, we visited 185 Empty White Chairs—a memorial to all those lost in the 2011 earthquake. Each of the chairs is unique and represents an aspect of the individual it represents. The chairs range from a wheelchair, a student’s desk, to the most heartbreaking: an infant’s car seat. The 185 square meters of grass the chair sit on was originally supposed to be a temporary, with the artist’s statement being: “installation is temporary—as is life”, but following a pouring of positive feedback, speculation says it may be here to stay for good.

Following the memorials, our group stopped at the Cardboard Church, a temporary place of worship for the people of Christchurch while the church decides what to do with the old cathedral. Upon paying a visit to the former cathedral, once a hallmark of the city, it was really apparent how much damage the quake had done. Completely fenced off, it was heart wrenching to see a place of such grandeur as broken as it is now. The entire front of the building had completely collapsed and the bell towers had fallen and lay amongst the rubble, etchings of the phrase “kia kaha”, “stay strong” in Maori, could be seen all along the fence and surrounding fixtures.

One of our final stops was New Regent Street, the only complete heritage streetscape in Christchurch. The Spanish Mission Architecture is home to several cafes and boutiques, making it an extremely popular and unique site. New Regent Street is also home to the Isaac Theatre Royal, the premiere performing arts center in Canterbury. The theatre was severely damaged in the quakes, but has recently been completely rebuilt.

Following a stop at the bus exchange to fill up all of our metro cards, most of us decided to stay in the city and head out for drinks to get to know one another a little better. Having been one of the last to arrive, I felt as though I’d been playing catch up the whole time trying to meet everyone in our group. We headed over to a place called Engineers, a nifty little bar recommended by our coordinator. It had a gorgeous rooftop view with an open patio section. We stayed until about 5 (*around one a.m. back in Ohio), and then headed back to our respective homestays. Everyone from the group seems really nice and extremely friendly, which is good considering we’ll be spending a lot of time together over the next month!

Overall, New Zealand has been phenomenal so far. It’s kind of similar but the differences are extremely glaring. A prime example of this occurred this morning upon my realization that the toilet was not, in fact, in the bathroom. About to pee my pants, I finally broke down and asked where exactly it was located and my homestay looked at me as though I had three heads. In New Zealand, apparently, the toilet has its own separate room. This was obviously news to me.

Overall, kiwis (what the people of New Zealand are called), all seem to be extremely friendly and totally open to conversation. At lunch, our server was particularly funny, knowing exactly who Ohio State is, he informed us that, “scarlet and gray only belong together on speed bumps” and “who the hell calls themselves after a nut”. The kiwis very much enjoy banter, making for some very funny conversations.

To end this, I’ll list a few major differences I’ve noticed:

  • “Tramping” means hiking in New Zealand. This obviously has a very different meaning in the states.
  • Kiwis are very eco-friendly, for example, you won’t find paper towels in any of their bathrooms. They either have air dryers, or they use a paper towel dispenser, except instead of the paper towels its sort of like a revolving cloth towel.
  • There’s gorgeous street art everywhere. Here it isn’t considered graffiti and there’s no negative connotation, it’s just art.
  • DRIVING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD IS STRANGE. I’ve nearly gotten into the driver’s side of the vehicle at least four times. Roundabouts are also terrifying.
  • In restaurants, there’s no tipping and you need to get up and pay, the servers don’t bring the bill to you.
  • The coffee is 10x better here.
  • At the university, students go “flatting” where housemates of each flight all start with a red card. This red card gets pulled at various times throughout the year, once by each roommate. When the red card gets pulled, its that roommates’ responsibility to come up with a crazy party idea or a dare for each of their roommates to complete (generally revolving around alcohol).
  • I can only ever understand about 50% of what’s being said to me due to various slang words including “Ta”, “cheers”, “catch ‘ya” and loads more. I’ve also been made fun of about 17 separate times for saying “college” instead of “uni”.
  • Kiwis are super friendly, love to party, and curse often. I think I’ve found my people.

 

 

 

 

 

The Next Great Adventure: The Pacific

When I was five years old, I rolled out of my twin sized bed around 11:30 at night and decided that I wanted to go on an adventure. I grabbed my Jansport backpack off its hook in my closet, packed it full of clothes and my favorite stuffed animals, and headed out the back door. From there, I threw the things I had gathered in a wagon from my shed and headed on down the street.

I got all the way through our neighborhood onto the main road before I turned around. The only reason I did turn around, actually, is because the sidewalk ended and I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to navigate my wagon from there on (I was five cut me a break).

My mother was not happy when the police returned me a few hours later.

I didn’t understand her anger at me. I had just decided I wanted to expand my horizons and do some sightseeing, I didn’t mean it as a slight or an insult. I loved my family and I had every intention of returning—at some point.

While I do concede that my five-year-old adventures were ill advised at best, I think this story goes to show my innate curiosity about the world around me. From a young age, I’ve wondered what’s behind each turn and longed for new experiences and adventures. Now, at nineteen, I’m sitting at my gate preparing to travel 8,684 miles away from home. New Zealand has been a destination I’ve dreamed of seeing my entire life. It’s surreal, having the opportunity to go see a place I’ve only read about in books (It’s going to be far less surreal on the 16-hour plane ride from Dallas to Sydney, I’m sure).

While I’m in New Zealand, I’ll be focusing on linguistics and the Maori culture for my class. What’s really cool about this though, is that the whole purpose is to really immerse oneself into the island’s culture. I have the opportunity to stay with a New Zealand family as well as another international student from Indonesia. I’ll also be studying at Canterbury University, the largest in the country (not that that necessarily says much, they have more sheep than people there). We spend most of our time outside of the classroom exploring the city of Christchurch as well as getting out into the island a few times for more long-term excursions such as whale watching and Hanmer hot springs. The point is: this is one hell of an adventure.

My stay in New Zealand is four weeks long; four weeks of gorgeous beaches, breathtaking mountains, and of course, penguins. From there, I elected to extend my trip by heading over to the land down under and making my way down the gold coast.

I start my time in Australia with three days in Brisbane, where I intend to explore Bondi beach, hang out at Southbank, and enjoy the unique atmosphere of the city. From Brisbane, I’ll head for another three days in Sydney where I intend to do the Split Bridge to Manly coastal hiking walk, experience Port Jackson Harbor, and take in the views from the famous Sydney Harbour bridge. Finally, I cap it off with a four-day tour of Melbourne, which is supposed to be one of Australia’s most unique cities with an art culture guaranteed to knock my socks off. I can’t wait.

While my excitement is at an all time high, I do have to admit that I will miss my friends and family a ton, but I can’t wait to come home and tell them all the crazy stuff I will hopefully see and do. Saying goodbye to my mom at the airport today was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do (her tearing up DID NOT HELP), but I’m so grateful to everyone (especially my mom) in my life for pushing me to achieve my dreams and not be afraid to put myself out there. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of my phenomenal mother and all of my friends (a special shout out to Meghan and Allie for picking me up at the airport when I get back home). A nerdy little sixth grader once held up a copy of National Geographic and vowed to see the mountaintops of New Zealand one day. At nineteen I’m fulfilling my dream and I couldn’t be happier. But that’s all for now, I’m off to the land of the kiwis where I will be spending my days amongst the whales, seals, and penguins, Oh my!