Auckland Adventures

November 20- November 22

Sunday: Today, I flew  into Auckland very early in the morning. I got settled at the YHA Auckland, and began to explore Queens St. in Auckland before my tour later that day. On the Waiheke Wine Tour, we took the ferry over to the island and visited 3 well known vineyards, Mud House, Cable Bay, and Te Whau, for wine tastings.

Monday: Today I went on a Discovery Day Photo Tour to explore the rugged west coast of Auckland.  I explored the Waiheke Ranges, the black sand beaches, Karekare beach and Piha beach, and New Zealand scenic rainforests with 100 year old kauri trees.

Tuesday: Before my flight home back to the USA, I enjoyed the gorgeous sunshine by exploring the Auckland Art Museum, Giapo gelato, and stores along the Auckland harbor.

So grateful for every moment spent in New Zealand! I am already looking forward to more travel in the future.

 

Road Trippin’

November 13- November 20

Huge shoutout to my travel buddy, Jackson Melin, for making this such an amazing and unforgettable road trip of the South Island.  The two of us drove 1650 km (19 hr 15 min of driving time) in 6 days with 21 incredible stops, starting and ending in Christchurch, New Zealand. Check out our journey below!

south-island-map

BUT FIRST, LET ME TAKE A SELFIE!

AND MORE PHOTOS! Due to inclement weather, Jackson and I color coordinate with our raincoats almost too frequently 😉

Day 1: Today we arrived in Christchurch, picked up our rental car, and got settled in at our hostel at All Stars Inn on Bealy’s before driving to the west coast the next day.  During the afternoon, we explored the beautiful botanical gardens, and stopped for a Mexican dinner on Victoria St.

img_1080
always remember to stop and smell the roses

All was smooth sailing so far, but that night at 12:02 am we were literally shocked by a massive 7.5 magnitude earthquake!!! The shaking was so strong that we evacuated our hostel until everything was believed to be safe. I immediately contacted my friends and family to let them know because articles were already popping up all over social media.  We continued to feel heavy aftershocks throughout the night, which made it a little difficult to sleep.  Thankfully, the damage of the earthquake did not affect our travel route; however, there was significant damage in Kaikoura, Blenheim, and even Wellington.  Check out this link: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-37967178?ocid=socialflow_facebook&ns_mchannel=social&ns_campaign=bbcnews&ns_source=facebook

Day 2: Destination: Punakaiki (Te Nikau Retreat)

Stops: Castle Hill, Cave Stream Scenic Reserve, Devil’s Punchbowl (Arthur’s Pass), and Pancake Rocks

We were mostly able to fight off any rain, completing 4 wonderful stops on our drive up to Punakaiki.

Day 3: Destination: Franz Josef (Sir Cedrics Glow Worm Backpackers)

Stops: Truman Track, Punakaiki Cavern, Hokitika Gorge, Hokitika beach sign, Franz Josef hike (rain)

***RIP to Nikon camera that could not survive the downpour on our 1.5 hour hike up to the viewing point of Franz Josef Glacier. The water damage was just too much for the little fella, even after my later attempt to revive it by placing it in a 3 kg bag of rice and cous cous.

Day 4: Destination: Wanaka (Flying Kiwi Backpackers) lots of rain

Stops: Fox Glacier, Thunder Creek Falls, Fantail Falls, Blue Pools in Haast Pass, and beautiful weather in Wanaka (Patagonia gelato, visit the Wanaka tree, gift shops, go out to dinner, watch the sunset

Day 5: Destination: Omarama, Dunston Downs Backpackers (sheep farm)

Stops: 1/8 of Roy’s Peak (40 min but heavy and scattered rain), Puzzling World

Day 6: Day Trip

Stops: Lake Pukaki, Hooker Valley Track to Mt. Cook (4 hours), Mt. Cook village/gift shop, Blue Pools hike, Tasman Glacier Viewpoint, thinshakes at Twizel

Day 7: Destination: Christchurch

Stops: Lake Tekapo (Mt. John Observatory, walking bridge, thickshakes) and Rakaia Gorge Walkway to lower gorge viewpoint (1 hr return)

Surprisingly, I am still not sick of PB&J’s and I could never be tired of this gorgeous scenery.  I will miss the South Island and the wonderful adventures.

Wellington Winding Down

November 6 – November 12

Sunday: I returned from Fiji back to the somewhat dreadful weather of Wellington. What a rainy week in general, but at least I am mostly preparing for my last final. I was able to bear a wet trip downtown for my last visit to the farmer’s market on Vivian and Victoria Street.

Monday: study fun

Tuesday: This morning I went on my last outing with my student services coordinator Hannah from IFSA Butler.  We went out for coffee at Southern Cross. Hannah is absolutely amazing and I cannot thank her enough for all of her support, advice, and cheeriness.  Without her, I would not have been able to participate in so many unique and crazy activities that have made my time in New Zealand.  It is always hard to stay good bye, but I hope we can keep in touch.

Then, Beth and I had a flatmate date at the Wellington Zoo. We finally got to see kiwis! (such a challenge to spot them since they’re nocturnal)  It was great to enjoy the sunshine and lunch at Skim burgers before I had to get back to more studying.

Wednesday: study fun and election excitement

Thursday: Today Beth leaves. I had such a fun time living with her and I am so glad she is coming to visit me in December in Pittsburgh. It definitely made saying goodbye a little easier.

Friday: It’s the final countdown….

Saturday: Today I had my last final for Labor Economics.  Thankfully it only took about an hour and a half, and I think it went pretty well.  Later in the day, Jackson came over to my place.  I finalized all my packing and cleaned out my room completely for our departure to the South Island the next day. We go out for a final dinner in Wellington to Capital Market on Willis St. that has an eclectic mix of international food and a vibrant atmosphere. Now, we’re ready to hit the road!

Fiji time…

October 30- November 6

Sunday: Finally a much needed week vacation in between my 3 final exams has arrived.  I headed off to Nadi, Fiji from Wellington in the afternoon.  I arrived to pouring rain on the mainland where I went to stay at Oasis Resort for the night.  Thankfully even though it was raining, the day was mostly over and I could simply enjoy the warm, humid weather and get a good night’s rest before my travels to Nacula Island the next day.

Monday: Today the weather looked more promising.  As I headed off to Port Denarau to catch the ferry, I bought my sunscreen and endured the extremely bumpy and rainy 4.5 hr ferry to Blue Lagoon.  The sky clears on my arrival for a sunny week.  Welcomed by the native Fijians and refreshing tropical drinks, the new arrivals got checked in to the resort.  I quickly settled in, ate lunch, and went to talk to the dive shop about my plan to finish my diving certification for the week.  Josh, the dive shop manager, said that a group was working on their confined water skills and would be ready for their first open water dive that afternoon.  No time to worry, I quickly joined them, not wasting any time.  The dive instructor, Lani, is absolutely incredible.  She helped me to refresh on some of the skills I had learned a few months before and helped me to stay calm and take my first steps as a diver.  We went to a dive sight called the Cabbage Patch, and the coral and fish are absolutely stunning in the clear blue water.  It was exciting to conquer my fear immediately upon my arrival.  It allowed for a very relaxing night, watching the sunset and the crystal clear stars that followed.  Before dinner, I tried kava, a Fiji drink that tastes mostly like dirt and numbs your tongue.  It is supposed to clear your system but can definitely have stronger effects if you drink a lot of it.  It was easy to make friends with my diving group, and all the small groups of travelers staying in the dorm accommodation.  I was thrilled with my first day and excited for the rest of the week.

dsc_0670dsc_0678

Tuesday: I started off the day with a lovely morning hike.  Only a few clouds in the sky, this short hour walk gave spectacular 360 degree views of the island.  I met a super friendly group of girls that I joined afterward to do a mini Tabata workout.  I was surprisingly sore for the next few days but it was worth it to sweat a little in the sun.  Later that afternoon I completed my second open water dive with Lani at a site called The Breakers.  My nerves were mostly gone and I could simply enjoy the beautiful wildlife and continue to learn important skills.  Afterwards, our diving group enjoyed a few drinks by the bar while we logged our first 2 dives and enjoyed a spectacular dinner.

Wednesday: The diving continues to increase at a rapid pace.  Today I finish the open water course with the last 2 dives in the morning. I am now officially Open Water Certified! I talk to Lani about diving for the rest of the week and decide that I might as well continue on to complete the Advanced Open Water Certification because there are only 5 more dives to complete.  In the afternoon, I just relaxed by the pool, read my book, got some sunburn along the way, and did a meditative yoga session before dinner.

Thursday: I was the only one from the previous course to continue on with the advanced course.  There were pros and cons, but some of the benefits were getting private lessons from Lani and completing the necessary skills faster underwater so that I could simply enjoy the dives.  Today I completed 2 dives in the morning, the deep dive and peak performance buoyancy dive, and 1 dive in the afternoon, the underwater navigation dive.  Just in these first few days I have already noticed extreme improvement with the control of my movement and breathing in the water.  Diving is truly relaxing, and I continue to spot amazing new creatures like turtles, sting rays, anemones, corals, and stunning fish.

img_0589

Friday: Today is my last day of diving before I return to the mainland, but one of the most exciting!  In the morning I completed my boat dive.  This was a trip to a site called The Chapel, where I was able to dive with both Lani and Josh (who got the awesome shots below), as well as several bull sharks!  The bull sharks were about 3.5 meters long, and as we floated at the bottom, the sharks would simply swim right in front of you, sometimes coming within a meter or so.  It was absolutely incredible to watch these docile animals.  We also spotted gray reef sharks, white tip reef sharks, and black tip reef sharks throughout the rest of the dive.  Be sure to check out the video that I shared on Facebook or on Vertical Blue Dive Shop’s page.  It is absolutely fantastic!  My second dive for the morning was the drift dive, so I officially completed the advanced course.  Just to top things off, I did my 10th dive of the week in the afternoon with the dive master Johnny, as well as Jenny and Johnny.  Afterwards, I enjoyed my last evening at the resort with new friends, a buffet dinner, and a performance by the local villagers.

Saturday: Taking full advantage of my last morning at Blue Lagoon, I enjoyed my favorites from the breakfast buffet, took a scenic walk along the shore, and went paddle boarding in before I had to catch the ferry back to Oasis Resort in the afternoon.  Of course I had to take a handstand shot before I left.  Fortunately the ride back to the mainland was much more enjoyable, both smooth and sunny.

Sunday: Today I travelled back in Welly to prepare for my last final Saturday for Labor Economics, and to finish off the few remaining items on the bucket list before my road trip to the South Island.

Finals Week

October 23 – October 29

Sunday 23: To take a break from the finals madness, I went to the waterfront market with Olivia.  We splurged on chocolate peanut butter smoothies and soaked in the sun.  It seems that as summer approaches it is extremely easy to get sunburnt here (I imagine it’s due to the ozone hole).  I got back into a healthy groove after vacation with my parents and hit up the gym in the afternoon.

Monday 24: Studying for finals has turned into a quest to explore as many coffee shops in Wellington as I can.  The week of coffee shop galore has helped me to mix up my study scene.  I try Neo Cafe, Pandoro, and Columbus coffee at some point during this week.  Today was also Labor Day in New Zealand.  Wellington has an awesome event throughout the city where for such a special holiday–free yoga day! I tried hot yoga for the first time with Olivia at the studio on Featherston St.  Yoga has never been my favorite because I often have trouble relaxing (I know, shocking), but it definitely got me sweating, gave me a nice workout, and felt rejuvenating.

Tuesday 25: More coffee shops (today with Hannah), more studying, and more gym time.

Wednesday 26: Today Beth and I made chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast.  Then, more study time and more gym time.

Thursday 27: Today was my Environmental Resources final! It felt much easier than my first Ice and Climate final so that was a relief. Now I have 2 down and 1 to go, but unfortunately not for 2 weeks.  I also got to meet up with Harper (from Tulane) who is studying up in Auckland.  It was great to catch up with her and meet her lovely friends on her quick trip down to Wellington.

img_0531-2
Alison and I grab some Kaffee Eis gelato before meeting up with Harper!

Friday 28: Today my flat went to dinner together at Mama Brown’s down on Tory St. Beth, Luna, and Christian, and I were celebrating our last few weeks and great new friendships we’ve made as a flat.  I am so lucky I lived with such caring, friendly, and easy-going people. We stopped at the lively night market on the way home.  I always love the fun atmosphere down on Cuba St.  It is lively with great food, great music, and great company.

Processed with VSCO with 3 preset

img_1241

Now I’m off to Mark’s homeland in Fiji!

Pictures worth several thousand words~Parents Edition

So many amazing events continuing throughout the semester and around this amazing country! I am incredibly thankful to share a new place I can call home with my parents.  It was hard to keep track of everything we did but I didn’t miss a thing.  Be sure to read all the photo captions.

October 10-15 (my last week of classes, wow I’m still in shock)

Wednesday 12: MOM AND DAD ARE HERE! IN NEW ZEALAND! I had to give my parents a tour around the city: we walked around Lambton Key, the government buildings, the botanical gardens, and Victoria University!  I let them enjoy a wonderful dinner on their own that night so that I could still attend the IFSA Butler Farewell dinner at the Breslin with all the friends I have made.

Thursday 13: An absolutely GORGEOUS day in Wellington.  I met up with my parents on their guided tour of the Te Papa Museum tour.  It was great to get to see the rare objects section and learn more in depth about “old” artifacts and Maori culture.  In the sunny afternoon, we enjoyed Ekim Burgers for lunch, and then burned it off with our hike to Mt. Victoria Lookout.  I am so glad my parents got to meet all of my flatmates and Beth could join us for the evening at the Arborist Rooftop Bar and for dinner.

Friday 14: After my last class abroad, we went to brunch at Scopa and went on an afternoon hike at Makara Beach.  We thought we evaded the rain, but unfortunately we got caught in a downpour at the peak.  At least we were prepared with our rain gear!

Saturday 15: Today we left Wellington and flew to Blenheim where we had a relaxed afternoon, settling in at Timara Lodge.  In the afternoon we walked to Hightower Winery for lunch and wonderful views of the valley.

Vacation Week!

October 16 – 22

Sunday 16: Today we completed Day 1 of the Queen Charlotte Track.  We completed a 16 km hike, stopping at Motuara Island followed by a hike from Ships Cove to Furneaux Lodge.   Our guide, Sean, was wonderful and extremely informative.  We learned about history of the region including Maori traditions and James Cook’s expeditions, the flora and fauna including the many rare bird species and the medicinal purposes of the plants, and lastly the pest management program to remove the nonnative pine tree, rats, possums, wasps, and other invasive species that threaten New Zealand wildlife.

Monday 17: We had a relaxing day exploring Blenheim! We picked up Pinot Noir truffles from the Makana Chocolate Factory, and went on a mini hike at Wither Hills Farm Park.

Tuesday 18: Today we drove to Kaikoura, stopped at Ohau Scenic Reserve to see fields of seals, arrived at Huka Lodge and Treehouses, and explored all the gift shops in town!

Wednesday 19: Whale watching tour and the Kaikoura Peninsula

Thursday 20: Unfortunately this is my last day with my parents.  We Drove 2.5 hours to Christchurch for my flight back to Wellington to prepare for my first final, Ice and Climate.

ALL THE YUMMY FOOD IN BETWEEN (and SO MUCH wine, not that I’m whining about it;))

Not pictured here but we also consumed local venison, mussels, clams, duck, and chicken.

Saturday 22: My first final is over woo! Of course I had to celebrate with brunch out on the town.  I’m pretty confident I passed but we will have to wait until December to find out. Stay tuned.

Picton Part 2

October 3- October 9

Another fantastic and busy week in the books.  I am trying to enjoy myself while continuing to stay on top of my school work before my parents arrive and the dreaded period of finals approaches.  Unlike many of my friends who only have 1 or 2 finals, I have 3 final exams and 1 final essay, oh boy.

On Wednesday, I met up with Hannah who organizes all the events for our program.  We enjoyed some drinks and she helped me plan some great activities to do in Wellington while my parents are here and also gave me some great ideas for my road trip in the South Island after the end of the semester.  Then on Friday I went on my weekly brunch date with Olivia to the restaurant Southern Cross. It was so yummy!  Afterwards, we hit the library and the gym together later that afternoon to keep each other motivated!

That night I packed for my program trip to Picton and we also hosted some friends for a Lord of the Rings themed party.  It was nice to catch up with everyone!

On Saturday, I woke up bright and early to meet with my group to take the Blue Bridge Ferry over to the South Island.  It’s a 3.5 hour trip, where we enjoyed the views and also watched the new make of the movie Jungle Book on the way over.  We arrived just in time to enjoy fish and chips for lunch along the harbor, meeting up with everyone from our program in Christchurch as well.  It was great to hear about all their travels and experiences with their studies.  That afternoon, instead of sea kayaking as planned, we did an afternoon of mountain biking due to the heavy winds.  It was a great workout to bike up the hill, but so rewarding to see the amazing views in the Marlborough Sounds and then enjoy the relaxing rides back down the hill.  On some of the trails I had to be careful about not getting too distracted by the wonderful scenery and flying off the track and possibly over a cliff.

14657467_1258621670865478_8474179604544986265_n

After a tiring afternoon, we went to our hostel to get ready for a wonderful dinner at Cloudy Bay. We toured Allan Scott Winery and tasted some of the famous Sauvignon Blanc produced this year in the Marlborough Valley.

img_0350

On Sunday morning, we did a tour out on the water.  We were on the hunt for dolphins.  Not long after our boat journey, we found an adorable pod of dusky dolphins.  The entire group quickly eased ourself into the water off the back of the boat to swim with them.  It took several minutes to accumulate to the freezing cold water, slow my breathing, and just relax.  The dolphins were being incredibly social, swimming around us and underneath.  We were told to sing to the dolphins to keep them attracted.  After letting another groups swim with them, we were unsuccessful the second time around as they started to show signs of avoidance behavior.  It was an amazing feeling to swim with wild dolphins.  This pod in particular had some juveniles, or young dolphins about a year old.  They would swim near their mothers learning all about us humans.

 

Check out Mike’s awesome GoPro video of our experience on the link below (I happened to make a few appearances): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YepLNc6q0jc