Snow-apocalypse

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When I was searching for a place to study abroad, I took the weather into consideration. I am not a huge fan of cold weather, so I wanted someplace with a warmer climate. (Of course, the weather was not my most important factor or I would have ended up in Auckland.) However, I heard that it rarely snowed in Dunedin – at most once every couple of years. Perfect. I was trying to escape the buckets and buckets of snow thrown at the U.S. this winter. When I woke up Monday morning, finally coaxed myself to crawl out of my warm sleeping bag covered by 4 layers of blankets and walk into my frigid, uninsulated house, where I can see my breath whenever I talk, I had a surprise at my doorstep. Snow. In Dunedin. What was it doing here!?

Watching New Zealander’s handle the snow was comical. In all honestly, there was not that much – enough to cover the ground, but not enough to make snow angels in. However, the people from Dunedin acted like it might be the end of the world. Roads were closed, some shops did not open, and I even heard some classes were canceled. Oh boy, they should come to the Midwest in the dead of winter.

What was even more exciting was watching my flat mate enjoy the snow. She was incredibly excited because she is from Hong Kong and has never felt snow before. When most people were heading for cover, she ran outside in order to feel the hail that was pelting the ground.

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That made the snow all worth it for me. In fact, I hope we get a bit more snow just for her.  

 

 

 

Preparing for a tramp

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Throughout this semester I have learned heaps – as a kiwi would say. Other than all of the knowledge I am picking up through class, I have learned even more about how to survive on a tramp through first-hand experiences. Before coming to New Zealand I understood that water, food, and a sleeping bag were all necessities. I couldn’t tell you much more than that. Planning a tramp or even a day hike was not something I felt comfortable in doing. However, I have grown in many ways while living here. One is that I am no longer scared to plan a multiple day tramp.

When planning a tramp there are a few key items which you must bring. A few of these include:

–          Hiking boots (waterproof is better)

–          Multiple wool socks

–          Waterproof Jacket

–          Torch

–          Sleeping bag

–          Waterproof lining for your pack

–          Enough water to get you to the next hut or river (yep, drinking straight from the river is what you do here)

–          A bowl and a fork

–          A fleece sweatshirt

Some more items that are quite enjoyable to bring along include

–          Peanut butter, jelly, and banana sandwiches

–          Venison salami

–          Cheese

–          Crackers

–          Apples

–          (Put the above four together and fireworks of happiness will explode in your mouth)

–          Chocolate

–          And don’t forget the TimTam’s

So, a couple of weekends ago I was on a tramp with four other students I had just met hours earlier. I jumped in their car and hoped for the best. We had driven 6 hours and finally arrived at Arthur’s pass. We were all starving. When you are tramping it is much easier to cook group dinners instead of trying to cook individually. One of the guys said he would bring all of the ingredients and cook the dinner for the first night. He made sure to grab the giant pot and the gas to use to heat up our pasta. Both necessities for the meal. However, the matches were forgotten back at the flat. Those are also a necessity…Since we were out in the middle of nature, we could not run to a store to get more. Luckily we found a man who had some extra matches. So, if you are ever going on a tramp and need to use gas, make sure you bring along the matches or a lighter as well!

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Backpacking

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Instead of staying in a fancy hotel where I would have my own bedroom, shower, and probably even a T.V. during my travels around the north Island, I stayed at backpacker hostels. Here, I stayed in dorms with varying amounts of bunk beds in each room. There is no privacy and you are instantly forced to become friends with the other people in your room. Needless to say, it is a great adventure. The lounge is the heart of the backpacker. Most of the time you can join in on conversations about amazing places to travel to while listening to someone playing a guitar in the background. I met people from New Zealand, Germany, France, England, and South Africa, just to name a few countries.

Unlike every hotel you go to, which basically looks and feels the same as any other, each backpacker is incredibly unique and has its own personality. For example, one place I stayed at, I was basically staying in an older couple’s house who ran the place. It felt like I was staying in my grandparent’s house. The next place I stayed at was incredibly laid back. The man who ran it said that if we could not pay for accommodation we could do a bit of cleaning instead. In addition, there were murals done by backpackers from around the world all over the walls. It gave the place so much character and history.

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If you have a choice between staying at a hotel or backpacker, definitely choose the backpacker. It’s cheap, lively, you can make friends from around the world, and they sometimes even give you free food.

“You’re not far”

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This is a kind, enthusiastic greeting one hiker says while passing another to help the other hiker keep up the good work and keep hiking. But, what does this mean? You initially think it actually means you are almost there – just over the one more massive hill in front of you and you will reach the end of wherever you are trying to hike to. You think in your head, “I can do this, only a few more steps and I will make it to the end of where I am going.” But then you make it to the top of the hill and the end is nowhere in sight. Instead, “You’re not far” can mean “Well, you just started the hike, but you are basically to the end…only a couple more hours…” I guess on an 8 hour hike, two more hours left is basically “not far.” However, every now and then it actually means 15 more minutes and you are there! So, I have found when someone says I’m not that far from the end, to not actually take it as a fact, but more of just a “you can do it” attitude.

One of the best scenic drives in New Zealand – Drive to Fletcher’s Bay

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Winding gravel road? Check. Windows rolled down? Check. Sun shining? Check. Beautiful vistas? Check. Not seeing another car or person for miles? Check. Today I enjoyed one of the most scenic drives of my life. Around every bend in the road (and there were thousands of bends) was a new eye-watering view of the ocean and brightly green-colored rolling hills. I kept feeling like I must be in a dream. There was no way all of this was real.

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The whole point of the drive was actually to get to Fletcher’s Bay and the Coromandel Coastal Walkway. The amazing drive was an absolute surprise, which made it that much better. The Coromandel Coastal Walkway did not disappoint either. It turned out to be tied for first (with the Tongariro Alpine Crossing) for favorite walks done during my semester break trip. The weather was absolutely perfect, which does play a large role in how enjoyable a walk is. It was basically all flat, which meant is was more of an enjoyable walk, rather than an exhausting, but exhilarating climb.  I was super excited to find out that the trail goes through Farmer’s land, so for half of the time I was walking through a gigantic herd of sheep. That was so neat. It reminded me of going to the petting zoo as a kid, except for this was out in nature.

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We hiked until near dusk and then we headed back to Coromandel town. We didn’t have a place to stay figured out in advance because we weren’t sure where we were going to end up at the end of the day. There for a bit it looked like the car may turn into a bedroom. All of the backpackers were already closed even though it was only about 7pm. We decided to try one more place. Luckily, the office there was just getting ready to close, but they gave us a room first. Whew, crisis averted.

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Road sign Warning: gravel, steep, narrow, winding – Coromandel Peninsula

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What else does the road want to throw at us? Well, we did also have to drive through a small stream. Luckily our little car made it through.

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(Ooh, a sign with an exclamation point on it. That’s got to be a good sign.)

Coming from Illinois, the highways are incredibly straight. You can almost close your eyes while driving and be just fine. The biggest obstacle is a deer deciding to play frogger across the highway.

Meanwhile, the Coromandel Peninsula is a whole new adventure. If you can drive in a straight line for 25  meters, you are lucky. It is a bit like a roller coaster ride. All the car needs to do is to be able to do a 360 degree turn every now and then and you would have a ride.

It was funny because we were driving around the curvy roads and along comes a sign that says the next 5km are going to be windy. Uh, and what were the 10km we just drove considered? They certainly were not straight.

Hiking Mount Doom – Day 5

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Today was the exciting day to hike “the best one-day hike in New Zealand,” otherwise known as the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The crossing takes you past multiple amazing sceneries – the most beautiful probably being the Emerald lakes.

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The walk is a 19.8km walk, not counting the ascent to Mount Doom. It was unlike all the other hikes I have done so far because here I was surrounded by old lava flows, instead of dense forests or tussock. We got lucky with the weather yet again. The sun must be following me. They had huge amounts of rain here until today. I had talked to multiple hikers and they had waited out the storm for multiple days. This morning the air was crisp and fresh. There was not a rain cloud in sight until later in the afternoon. Even then we were lucky. It literally started to rain as soon as we had our seat belts buckled in our car after the hike. It was like the rain held off just for us.

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After climbing more and more…and even more steps we finally made it to the base of Mt. Ngauruhoe, know better known as Mount Doom. Mount Doom is a volcano, so to climb it you climb up an old lava flow. The ground is fine particles of rock which is basically sand. Walking across deep dry sand on the beach is fairly hard. You sink in and don’t exactly move all that far. Now, add a slope to that. It doesn’t work. Every step I took up, I slid right back down to where I had started. I honestly wasn’t sure if I was going to make it up to the top before it got dark.

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After hours of climbing I finally made it to the summit of Mount Doom! It was much colder than I was expecting. When I think volcano, heat and hot lava normally come to mind. For the last part of the climb we were in a gigantic cloud. Ice had formed on the rocks around us. Even though I had gloves on my fingers were frozen. Looking into the volcano’s caldera was really neat though. There was even an interesting rainbow-like formation in the cloud that I was standing in.

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Coming back down the volcano was probably my favorite part of the whole hike. It was incredibly fun! Have you ever had a chance to ski down a volcano? No, I hadn’t either and I didn’t even know there would ever be an opportunity to, yet, now I have. My problem of slipping down the mountain earlier, now worked to my advantage. I basically skied down the old lava flow. Literally, I was slip sliding down the mountain in a more or less controlled manner that resembled skiing, but without skis. I got down in record time!

Another reason I love hiking is because of the people I randomly meet. If they are out doing these hikes, they are going to be interesting and exciting people. On our way up Mount Doom I met two guys from England who are taking a gap year from school. We ended up becoming instant friends (the kindness of sharing a sandwich and mandarin orange at the top of Mount Doom will do that) and hiked with each other for the rest of our journey.

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Later in the day we passed by the Emerald lakes. These are probably the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen. The pictures look like I must have edited the water color, but I haven’t. They are an unreal color in real life.

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