Hello once again everyone! I'm back after a whirlwind of a vacation, trying hard to get back into the groove of school and homework and responsibilities... not the easiest of tasks, but I'm always up for a challenge. For the last two weeks, I've been taking full advantage of my university's mid-semester break to do a bit of travelling around the North and South Islands. I was able to cover quite a bit of ground, and undertake a number of awesome (and sometimes awesomely scary) adventures. I should also mention that this vacation was an extra special one, as I got to share it with my fiance, Michael. He's currently living and working in Washington D.C., and it was the first time we'd seen each since I left for NZ almost three months ago. Since it was also Michael's first visit to the country, I tried my hardest to show him a fair representation of all wonderful things NZ has to offer--no easy task on such a limited time frame. But in the end I think we did a pretty good job it. If nothing else, we definitely came out with some excellent stories!
We began our adventure up on the North Island in Auckland, NZ's largest city. (Take note here; it's a common misconception that Auckland is also New Zealand's capital city, when that honor actually goes to Wellington.) While it's not quite on the same level as New York City, Auckland was definitely quite a change from the grassy hills and brightly colored bungalows that make up Dunedin. With plenty of modern high rises, the futuristic Sky Tower, and a diverse population, the "City of Sails" had the bustling feel of a metropolis, but without the intimidating size or crowdedness.
After seeing the sights and taking a trip to the nearby volcanic island of Waiheke, we decided to try our hand at driving on the opposite side of the road and brave the motorway to Rotorua. The second we arrived, we immediately realized what the Rotarians back in Dunedin had meant when they said they city was "stinky." Because it is. Very very stinky. Located in an area of constant thermal activity, Rotorua comes complete with steaming rocks, bubbling mud, spurting geysers, and an oh-so-lovely rotten egg smell wafting throughout the entire city. You also have to make sure you watch where you step, and stay on the lookout for "KEEP OUT. ACTIVE THERMAL AREA." signs. Stepping in a boiling pit of mud wouldn't exactly make for the best time while on vacation. We did have a great time, however; seeing an authentic Maori village and song/dance performance, watching the Pohutu geyser do its thing, and careening down a mountainside on little plastic carts on wheels, known here as the Luge.
After two days had passed --and just when we were almost used to the sulfur smell--we hopped back in the car and headed for our first truly extreme adventure: black water rafting in the Waitomo caves. It was absolutely insane, the things we were doing with zero caving experience at all. After training for a grand total of five minutes, we started out with a 37m abseil into the cave. And I don' t know about you, but when I'm strapped onto a smallish-looking rope and dropping 100 feet down a black hole with only a cushion of jagged rocks to break any potential fall, you start to seriously wonder why it was again you thought this was a good idea. Needless to say our guides taught us well, and everything went perfectly. Soon we found ourselves lost in an endless chasm of rock and dark, with only our head lamps and the green luminescence of the sticky, thread-like glow worms to light our way. I got to zip line from a ledge to the cave floor below, just off a cliff into a FREEZING underground river, and scale up (yes I said up) a raging waterfall. It was scary, exciting, cold, and utterly amazing.
I hate to cut this short, but in the interest of space and attention span, I'll get into our adventures in the South Island the next time around. But as a quick preview, it involves gale force winds, more cliff jumping (only this time from significantly higher up) and getting stranded in Fiordland. So stay tuned, more is on the way!