Waking up before the sun, Greg and I stepped out under the milky way and loaded up the car to the sounds of the pounding surf before driving the 30 minutes to the Dunedin airport (which is in Dunedin only in spirit). After dropping my bag and surveying the small airport, Greg and I had one final coffee before I went through security and he settled down with a book to wait for his dad’s arrival on a later flight. I walked through security and was on the plane before noticing that this may have been my first purely domestic flight I’ve taken outside of the US, and in New Zealand they do not check your ID before letting on the plane. After an entertaining safety video and a short (bumpy) flight, I texted my friend Graeme and waited outside of the Wellington airport for him to pull up in his new STI. We took the long route to his office to see Wellington, and after getting situated and given a Google Maps printout, I headed out to explore the city, taking the cable car up to the top of the city and hiking through the botanical gardens. After riding down, the weather took a turn for the worse, so I headed to Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand (Wellington is the capitol). After a few hours learning about the natural wildlife that lives in NZ and the surrounding waters, and all about the fault-lines that I felt during the small (4.1) earthquake in Dunedin, I trekked through the capitol buildings to meet with Graeme for lunch and give a short talk to him and his co-workers about my research. Heading to Graeme’s place where he kindly put me up in his daughter’s room (who was away for the weekend, and very into One Direction) we headed out for dinner and to experience the nightlife in the city.
After a night surrounded by posters of pop-idols, Graeme handed me a spare set of keys and took off for a weekend away, leaving me to explore on foot until another friend met me for breakfast on the coast. He then drove me to meet with some folks who were mountain biking for the day at the Makara bike park. After an hour of climbing, we finally reached the top and were rewarded with a wonderful 360 degree view of the Wellington area, then we hopped on the bikes and tore down in less than 20 minutes. I was deposited back at Graeme’s covered in mud and in dire need of a shower.
Awakening early, I left the shire of One Direction and took an early cab through the city to the ferry terminal where I deposited by bag and grabbed a meager breakfast at the only place open at 7AM on a Sunday, McDs. In NZ, they make espresso drinks and serve more “classy” fare, so I settled for a mocha and some raisin-bread toast. Whilst walking back to the ferry, I started chatting with another ferry passenger who happened to be going to Nelson and was happy to offer a ride! I boarded the ferry happy in my knowledge that I had hitched a ride before I even had left the north island. A gray and windy 3 hours passed quickly as I demolished the book “Ready Player One” by E. Cline and dozed. At the Picton terminal, I grabbed my bag and loaded into my ride as we took the norther route to Nelson that curved right along the sea. Arriving in Nelson a few hours later (and swapping many vegan recipes), I thanked him and checked-in to the hostel before exploring Nelson (not terribly interesting on a Sunday evening). Deciding to be social, I ordered take-out and bought a cheap bottle of Nelson wine to share in the hostel’s dining room where we traded stories and tips about traveling around NZ.
Another early morning was in store for me as I awoke and packed up, preparing for a hike, sail and sea-kayak, when the shuttle dropped me off at Abel Tasman National Park, I was informed that the sailing was a no-go, and I was upgraded for free for a whole-day’s worth of sea-kayaking through the marine reserve. Climbing up into a water taxi that was loaded double-decker with kayaks, I got to know my bowman, Bradley, a fellow American spending three months in NZ as part of his gap year before returning to the US for university. We were dropped (6 of us and 1 guide) on a pristine white-sand beach separating the deep green bush from the turquoise-blue sea. After a few quick safety instructions, we were underway, paddling from bay to bay, kayaking alongside sea lions and other marine wildlife as our guide explained some interesting details about Abel Tasman. Coming in to beach the kayaks for lunch, we floated over giant stingrays and skates, eerily gliding along the bottom. The guide explained that had Steve Irwin been wearing sunscreen when he had gotten stuck, he would have been safe, as it would have protected him the harmful rays (ba dum dish!). A beach lunch and some cave and waterfalls held my interest while some of our group laced up and started trekking overland. We saddled up and headed out to explore more bays, bluffs and islands, before eventually reaching the end of our trip and took a short water taxi back to the landing.
After a shower and a shave, I went out in search of a meal befitting my amazing day and one of my last nights in NZ. I found just that at a place down the road called Hopgood’s where the food was fresh, the wine local and the service friendly. Exhausted, I returned to the hostel for some well-deserved rest.
Sleeping in a bit later than the last few days was very pleasant, then I walked over to the bus stop to catch the bus to Christchurch via Blenheim. A very lovely, but windy bus ride it was, but I was soon checked in to my room in Christchurch and off exploring, seeing the cardboard cathedral and some of the construction that was still happening in the aftermath of the earthquake a few years before.
My final morning, I got up, went for a short run around the city to stretch my legs before packing my things and shuttling to the airport, my trip finally complete. Still many hours of flying and transiting across the globe ahead, I hope to return to this beautiful country again soon.