Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Kepler Track

Sorry it's been so long since my last post! It's been super busy here with classes, trips, and planning for our midsemester break this week. At the moment I am staying with Charlotte's (Donna's flat host) family in Whengarie, the northernmost city on New Zealand's north island, after a five day journey up from our home in Dunedin (which is near the bottom of the south island).  But more about this adventure later, for now I want to talk about our trip last weekend, the Kepler Track!

My flatmate Lanndon and I planned this trip to Kepler for two weeks before we left. It was insane (and freaking expensive!) to plan out food, shelter, and transport for 11 people, but in the end it was well worth the effort. Aside from a few questionable decisions it was a fantastic trip.

On Friday afternoon after class last week we all climbed into Maeve's car (Maeve is my flat host) or the rental van that Lanndon hired (rented). We arrived at Henry Creek campsite about an hour after the sun set. Henry Creek sits on the edge of a Lake Te Anau, located in the fiordlands of the south island. The night sky over the lake was fantastic! We found a campsite on some very plush mossy ground, and began to set up camp. Camp was, unfortunately, nothing more than a fly thrown over the plush mossy ground, which meant we spent an evening with a swarm of sandflies keeping us company.

The rocky shores of Lake Te Anau at Henry Creek Camp

The next morning we woke up, ate, and drove to the car park where we would begin our trek on the Kepler track. We strapped on our packs and began ascending the mountain, Mt. Luxmore.

On our way!

The woods at the base of Mt. Luxmore were full of prehistoric looking ferns and a number of other fascinating plants and fungi.

Cool looking mushroom we found under some ferns

After around six hours of hiking up a winding trail we made it above the treeline. The view down into the valley below and out over lake Te Anau was exhilarating. We could even see where our camp had been the night before!

View from the above the treeline on Mt. Luxmore
After about an hour hiking above the treeline we found our home for the night, the Luxmore Hut. We picked our bunks, dropped our heavy bags, grabbed a quick bite, and then a few of us set back out onto the trail to climb to the summit. As we climbed higher and higher the wind became so fierce that we were unable to scramble the along the narrow path against the side of the cliff all the way to the top for fear of being blown off. We stopped about twenty meters from the top, took some pictures, and decided we would be better off not risking our lives to see the very top.

A view of neighboring mountains from the summit.

If you can't tell by my hair, the wind was intense!
On the way down from the summit, we stopped at a snow fed mountaintop pool and decided to take a dip. It was so freaking cold! We found out later that the water from this pool trickled down the mountain in a stream that was used to supply the drinking water reserves at the Luxmore Hut. Whoops.
Very cold! The boys in the group changed our minds about going all the way in once we felt the water.
We hiked back to the hut and set about getting dinner prepared. With only one pot, a pile of veggies, and two kilos of pasta to cook for eleven people, we had to improvise a bit. We cooked the pasta in two batches, using the bag from some veggies as a strainer, and cooked up those veggies in tomato sauce to throw on top with some cheese. It turned out pretty dang good, especially considering our embarrassing lack of equipment. (we ended up serving the veggies and sauce mixture with the tin cans from the tomato sauce..)

That night, a massive storm blew in. The mountaintop wind shook the hut to the point that Donna and I were concerned the roof would be torn off. It began to pour, continuing to rain the day after as well.

After breakfast the next day we spent about an hour exploring some caves near the hut. It was hard to take pictures because it was pitch black without our torches (flashlights) but it was awesome to see the stalactites and slide around on the slippery mineral coated floors. 

Heading into the caves
We were drenched by the time we climbed out and back to the hut, luckily Donna and I brought ponchos (anoraks, technically) and waterproof pants. Most of our group wasn't so well prepared, however.

Soaked but enjoying the sights

I tried to take a ton of pictures on the way down the mountain, but unfortunately the rain caused most of them turn out awfully blurry and distorted with water all over the lens of the GoPro. If you look at the picture above (specifically to the right of my head) you can see what I mean, and it's much clearer than most of the shots I took.

The hike back down was magnificent in the rain. It added a new dimension to the already beautiful forest we had trudged through the day before. After we returned home Lanndon discovered that the forest we had hiked through was actually a legitimate rainforest, and it sure lived up to that description while we were there.

PK, Donna, and Lanndon in front of a giant prehistoric fern tree thing
We eventually made it back to the carpark, all of us tired, sweaty, and wet. I know I smelled absolutely horrendous after marinating in a sweaty baselayer under my anorak all day. We climbed into the car, and three hours later were back at our home in Dunedin for some well deserved showers. It was an amazing journey. 

I'll leave you with another picture from the summit of Mt. Luxmore. I hope to post again soon about our adventures during midsemester break! Check back soon to see adorable pictures of baby seals, horses, and a variety of breathtaking views.

Kia Ora!

I love New Zealand

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Queenstown Round Two!

Our second foray into Queenstown began with the group sleepily climbing onto a bus at 9am Friday morning (Thursday nights are big party nights here in Dunedin, students are too impatient to wait until Friday nights for the weekend to start).

After a four hour ride on a bus that barely managed to climb most of the hills between Dunedin and Queenstown, we jumped out at the banks of the Shotover River. A brief safety talk was given, and then we were loaded onto jetboats and sent spinning down the river. The boat drivers where insanely good, swooping by the sides of the rocky ravine with barely inches to spare and doing 360 degree (or more) spins whenever there was enough room. I still can’t get over the fantastic blue color of the water around here. According to the boat driver that blue color is the result of a mineral from the glaciers that feed many of the rivers in the Fiordlands.  

After dinner that night we visited a different kind of glacier, the Ice Bar. It’s exactly what it sounds like, a bar made entirely out of ice inside a large walk in freezer. Even the glasses were made out of ice!

Chilling with Donna and Nikki at the Ice Bar

The next day the real fun began. We packed our bags and piled back on the bus bright and early, heading to one of the Great Walks of New Zealand, The Routeburn Track.

We started from the Routeburn Shelter and (some of us) hiked all the way up to Conical Hill and back for a total of 9 hours of hiking.

Routeburn Shelter and Conical Hill circled in red. Click for an expanded view

It was easily one of the most gorgeous hikes I've ever been on.  Even the slight drizzle as we stepped off the bus seemed to enhance the beauty of the beech forest. The variability of the environment as we trudged along was astounding as well. Every time we turned a corner I wanted to whip out my camera and take more pictures, and that’s pretty much what I ended up doing. I'll leave you with a few of my favorites.

Getting Started!

Still stream in the valley

Grasslands in the valley
Flora at higher elevations

Sheer cliffs and snow capped mountains

From the top of Conical Hill
Selfshot on the way down

One more thing! My flatmate and I are planning a three day trip for a bunch of us to the Kepler Track (another Great Walk) in two weeks. It's gonna be awesome!

Kia Ora!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

We Survived Orientation!

Things are finally settling down in Dunedin after the insanity of Orientation Week (O-week). Avoiding the piles of burning couches and impromptu street parties, we went to a few of the school sponsored events including a hypnotist and a crazy concert by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. I never want to be in a mosh pit again. Ever.

The weekend of Orientation Week we took a bus down to the beautiful St. Claire's beach for a morning of surf lessons. Our instructor was a super nice Canadian surfer named Garret who spent plenty of one on one time with everyone in the class. I picked it up pretty quickly and had a ball. If I can figure out how to get my hands on a surfboard for cheap I'd love to go back and do some surfing on my own.

St. Claire's Beach, taken with a GoPro
The day after that we went on a tour of the Cadbury Chocolate Factory and the Speight's Brewery. The Cadbury tour guide (who reminded everyone of Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory) took us through each of the floors of the facility and up a mysterious giant purple silo that he refused to explain until after he had shown us what it did. After climbing up the dark sticky spiral staircase inside the silo, the tour guide gave a small speech about a large, intimidating machine hanging in front of us, and then pressed a big red button. There was a metallic clang and a cascade of chocolate came rushing out and down to the very bottom of the silo. I made the mistake of standing too close to the railing, and the splashes from the chocolate fall got all over my shoes. According to the tour guide this device serves no functional purpose whatsoever besides dumping one metric ton of liquid chocolate onto the tour groups that get taken through the factory. Cool.

He handed out a variety of candies as he took us through the rest of the factory, most of which I've never seen before. New Zealand has a type of candy called "Crunchies" which are little bits of honeycomb and toffee covered in chocolate. There are also "Jaffas" which are basically giant M&Ms with an orange flavored candy coating (although our tour guide was adamant that the Cadbury chocolate inside of a Jaffa is way better than the kind in M&Ms). If you've been following my blog, you may remember I mentioned that the steepest residential street in the world is Baldwin Street, found right here in Dunedin. Once a year, Cadbury sponsors an event where they release 25,000 giant Jaffas at the top of Baldwin Street to race all the way to the bottom. You can read more about the event at

Jaffa Race
After the Cadbury tour we headed over to Speight's Brewery for a tour and tasting session. The Speight's Brewery is currently undergoing some heavy renovations as a result of the earthquake in Christchurch last year. The brewery there was completely demolished so the one in Dunedin is in the process of becoming the number one brewery in all of the south island. Our guide for this tour had an awesome south island accent and absolutely loved Speight's beers, especially the "Gold Medal Ale," which gets its name from the two gold medals it won at the Melbourne Exhibition in 1880. We were shown around the entire gravity fed factory, from the water extraction and treatment rooms (Speight's pulls all its own water from underground) all the way to the massive copper fermentation vessels. Once the tour was over our guide told us he was going to "Buy everyone some beers!" and led us to a small bar inside the brewery where the tour group had open access to taps of a number of different varieties of Speight's beer (and cider!). I tried a little of everything (there were 5 types of ales to choose from and one cider) and although I still haven't developed much of a taste for beer, the cider they make is fantastic.

Speight's Brewery, Dunedin NZ

This weekend we're heading back to Queenstown! This time we're tramping the Routeburn Track (eight hours of hiking) and possibly going bungy jumping again depending on how things go.

See you later! I miss everyone back home!

Monday, February 18, 2013


Last Thursday six of us piled into a car that was supposed to seat only five and set off for Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world. Besides the fact that I knew I wanted to go bungy, we really didn't have much of a plan. The car ride up was probably through some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever had the pleasure of admiring. My tablet, loaded with books and games for the trip, lay forgotten in my lap for the entirety of the ride.

White sky, blue water, and stony banks

After arriving in Queenstown we got settled in the hostel, and then argued over what we should do the next day. One of the hosts at the hostel began to rave about how amazing river surfing was, so we all bought tickets to that. River surfing is essentially white water rafting, but instead of a raft everyone rides a boogie board.

That night Donna and I separated from the group and went out for a fantastic valentines day dinner. It was one of the prettiest (and most expensive, but totally worth it) meals I've ever eaten.

The next day we woke up bright and early to catch the bus to the Kawarau bridge for my bungy. The Kawarau bridge sits 43m above the surface of the beautifully blue river below. It is also the first commercially opened bungy jump in the world.  

When we set out for the bridge I was going to be the only one of our group that was jumping. By the time we got there however, three other members of our group had nervously agreed to jump as well.

I was up first, and after getting my harness and GoPro set up, made my way to the edge of the bridge. Looking down made my head spin, but there was a line behind me so I tried not to hesitate. I thanked the goofy bungy operator who had set up my harness, and leapt into the blue below.

Look out below!
The few seconds of freefall were intense, and the water rushing up to me exhilarating. As the bungy stretched to it's limit, I was plunged face first into the water below, and then immediately yanked back out, soaked but laughing.

There's GoPro footage of the jump on Facebook if you want to get a better idea of what it was like.

The rest of the group who were jumping followed suit, and soon we were all piled back into the bus and on our way to the next activity for the day, river surfing.

We arrived at the part of river we were surfing, a few kilometers upstream of the bridge we had jumped from over the Kawarau river just a few hours ago. The section of the river we were to be riding is known as the Chinese Dogleg. We struggled into our wetsuits and fins, grabbed our boards, and splashed into the water.

After some basic training from our guides, we set off downstream. The calm parts of the river were absolutely gorgeous, and we passed a number of beautiful views. One of them was a set piece for the Fellowship of the Ring, where the fellowship passes under the pillars of the kings.

Pillars of the Kings

There were no kings to be seen from our boards below as they were computer generated for the film, but the cliffs were still amazing to see.

The rapid parts of the river were a different matter entirely. It's hard not to appreciate the raw power that water can hold after you've been subject to it's wrath with nothing more than a life vest and a boogie board to keep your head above the surface of it's boiling madness.

It was a blast getting tossed around by the crazy white water, but after the end of our two hour trip we were all exhausted from clinging to our boards and kicking frantically to make sure we didn't get smashed into the sides. The guides had their hands full rescuing those of us that were pulled off the safest paths, but they did an excellent job and I'm sure none of us were in any real danger.

We headed back home to Dunedin the next day, much of our group complaining of being sore but sorry we had to leave Queenstown behind us. Donna and I will be headed back up there in a few weeks, and can't wait to see what we do next time.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Settling in Dunedin

The town of Dunedin (pronounced du-nee-den) is our home for the next few months. It is the second largest city on New Zealand's south island and sits right on the head of the Otago Peninsula. There are a number of unique attractions, such as the Dunedin Railway Station, the Dunedin Botanical Gardens (literally right up the street from my flat!), Baldwin Street (considered to be the steepest residential street on Earth), and more pubs and bars than you can shake a mug at.

Dunedin Railway Station
Dunedin Railway Station

Dunedin is also home to the University of Otago (where we will be attending this semester) and the brand new Forsyth Barr Stadium, home of the Highlanders Super Rugby team. The stadium is unique because it is the first (and for now only) covered stadium on the planet with natural turf. We'll be going to watch the Highlanders take on the Chiefs late next week!

Otago Clocktower
University Clocktower
The Otago Peninsula that lies below Dunedin is considered one of the best cycling destinations in New Zealand. It provides magnificent views of the ocean and overlooks of Dunedin as well. I haven't seen it for myself yet but I can't wait to find some bikes and give it a ride.

Even though we've just arrived in Dunedin we'll be heading out to Queenstown early tomorrow for a weekend of tramping and exploring in the adventure capital of the world. I'll post an update of our adventures there as soon as I can (hopefully with bungy jumping videos as well!!). Once we have our student cards and don't have to worry about overusing the internet in our flats I'll upload all of the pictures we have so far and go into greater detail on some of the stuff we did during orientation on the north island.

See you later, and Kia Ora!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Kia Ora from New Zealand!

(Kia Ora is the typical greeting used by the native Maori people of New Zealand. It translates directly as "be healthy" and can be used for greetings, farewells, thanks, and a variety of other purposes)

Hi everyone! We've finally made it to Dunedin, New Zealand, our home for the next 5 months. Both Donna and I are alive and well and and having a blast. The last four days have been spent bouncing around the north island while participating in a slew of activities that introduced us to our new home. It's 11 o'clock at night here so I'm not going to get into everything we've done, but I'll try to list them off for now and maybe I'll go into more detail later. Internet has been nonexistent during our orientation period or I would have updated sooner, but now that we've finally settled at the University of Otago that shouldn't be a problem.

Anyhow, some of the activities we've participated in:

  • Hiking (called tramping here) up a long dormant volcano to an overlook of the city of Auckland and then going for a swim in the sea at it's base
  • Stopping in Matamata, aka "Hobbiton" for lunch. I had a delicious steak and mushroom pie alongside some ginger beer and took pictures next to a few hobbit-hole styled buildings.
  • Watching an experienced farmhand demonstrate how to quickly shear a sheep, milk a cow, and how they use their dogs for herding. Gus and Gandalf (two of the herding dogs) showed us their ability to jump from the back of one sheep to another in order to quickly get across an entire flock of sheep. They were amazing to watch.
  • Exploring a conservation center to see the native (and endangered) Kiwi bird and a bunch of other native and non native animals
  • Bathing in natural hot springs in the town of Rotorua
  • Jogging around smelly but beautiful sulfur lakes as the sun rose
  • Experiencing an eruption of the Lady Knox geyser
  • Touring a volcanic area with a ton of amazing volcanic activity such as boiling mud and the "Devils Bath,"  a bright yellow surface pond with a pH of only 2
  • Zorbing, an outdoor sport where two or three people and a small amount of water are put inside a giant inflatable ball and then rolled down a steep grassy hill. Fantastic fun.
  • Visiting the Tamaki Maori Village to gain a better cultural understanding of the native Maori people
  • Learning the traditional Maori dance, the "Haka" (Donna has video evidence, oh boy)
  • Eating food cooked in a traditional Maori style in an underground oven called a "Hāngi"

Pictures and further explanations to come. Kia Ora!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Last Thoughts from the United States

We're currently sitting in the LAX airport next to Gate 25, waiting to board. The last couple of days have been a blur. Between chalky rock climbing and bouldering, exploring the bustling streets of Hollywood, watching whales leap from the water off the coast of Santa Monica, and enjoying sweet frozen yogurt in Old Pasadena, the last couple of days have slipped into the past.

In Hollywood
In Hollywood

Now we only have a few hours remaining before leaving the United States for six months. It's been a blast visiting Allen in California but I'm super excited to finally be leaving. Donna keeps telling me stories about her memories in New Zealand and I can't wait to have some of my own.

There are plenty of other Study Abroad students waiting to board, so I'm gonna turn my computer off and attempt to socialize a bit before we get moving.

My next post will be from New Zealand! See you then!

End of Route 66
End of Route 66