Category Archives: Travel

21,000 Steps (And Then a Whole Lot More)

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It was Friday morning, and my flatmates, Mary and Courtney, and I had just trekked into the city only to be told that the car company did not rent cars to people under 21, despite the information online which had indicated otherwise. It’s times like these that I wish I took a note from Superbad and had the license of a 25-year-old organ donor from Hawaii. The friendly woman at the front desk sent us next door to a small café for breakfast while she tried to sort things out. She kindly took it upon herself to call another rental company, and fifteen minutes later she sent us even further down the road to check out the minivan in their lot.

The license that I sadly don't have

The license that I sadly don’t have

When we arrived, the door was locked and the office was vacant; a hanging sign told us to call a phone number for assistance. After a few rings, a woman picked up and told us that she would be back in the office in two minutes. After twenty minutes of attempting to amuse ourselves in an empty parking lot, she strolled into the office and made us aware that the company would rent us the car only if we didn’t want any insurance coverage. Despite my aspirations to become a soccer mom for a weekend, my desire to pay thousands of dollars in the event of an accident was significantly smaller, so we declined the minivan and walked the hour back to our flat. When we finally arrived, we collapsed in the kitchen and explained to our Kiwi host, Jes, how five miles of walking, four phone calls, three games of parking lot Ninja, two car rental companies, and one chocolate muffin had managed to wipe away visions of weekend adventures to the Otago Peninsula, the Catlins, and the Moeraki Boulders.

“We’ll just be spontaneous then,” Jes concluded. A few moments later, she brought up one of the activities from our Bucket List that hung on the wall. “How about Baldwin Street?”

When someone wants to know if you’d like to walk up the steepest street in the world, there is really only one question you can ask: “What time should we leave?”

“How about 3:00?” Jes replied.

I glanced at my watch. It was 2:58. In approximately two minutes we were out the door, completely ready to conquer the climb ahead of us. For your entertainment, the entire ordeal has been depicted for you in the following ( and highly accurate) manner below:

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For your convenience:

How steep the street actually is

For those of you at home who haven’t pulled out your Guinness Book of World Records, here is what the steepest street in the world looks like

For no reason at all:

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We made our way back down Baldwin just as the sun was about to set. As we neared the bottom, Jes asked the question that was to spur our second spontaneous decision that evening: “Do you all feel like going to Signal Hill?”

We had already walked all the way to Baldwin Street, and Signal Hill would be on our way home..Putting them together just made sense!

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Oh come on, you knew it was only a matter of time before I put a Frozen reference in here, didn’t you?

For the record, Signal Hill is not really a hill; it’s more like a marathon of steep streets. We still booked it the entire way to the top, each pretending that we weren’t about to keel over from the exertion. For my part, I had to make up an elaborate story about a wheezing squirrel named Jeremy that was following us in order to cover up the origin of the uncomfortable gasping noises. I offered to stay behind to fight the asthmatic creature off, but the jig was up when someone pointed out there are no squirrels in New Zealand.

We made it to the top just in time to watch the fading colors in the sky. The magnificent view was worth the exhausting climb, and although I was slightly disappointed Jeremy couldn’t join us (I had grown quite attached to my imaginary squirrel), I was content being with my fabulous flatmates.

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Signal Hill at sunset

The flatties at the top of Signal Hill

The flatties at the top of Signal Hill

We skipped back home in the dark, blasting happy tunes, and enjoying the art of getting lost in the Botanical Gardens. Collapsing in the kitchen for the second time that day, Jes took a look at the pedometer she’d been required to wear for physio and informed us that we’d walked about 21,000 steps that afternoon. All in all, that put Mary, Courtney, and me at about 15 miles for the day.

Although our day had not turned out like we’d planned, we had everything we could really want. We had plenty of adventures, plenty of laughter, and plenty of good company. Even with tired legs, it’s pretty hard to not be content with all of that.

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Love at First Hike

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“Oh my gosh, guys! Look at this! No seriously, look at it! Are you looking?” We were still eight minutes away from getting dropped off at the foot of the trail that would lead us up Mount Cargill, and I already had my face pressed up against the car window. I may have been slightly enthusiastic about the views, because Megan finally pulled the car over and let me jump out to take a photo.

View of Blueskin Bay through the trees

View of Blueskin Bay through the tree

“No seriously guys, I think this is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen!” I declared for maybe the one-hundredth time in the last five minutes.

“Alyssa, we haven’t even started hiking yet!” Hira and Taylor reminded me with a laugh as we all piled back into the car. No matter, I was still supremely impressed and quite certain that the views could not possibly get any more beautiful than they already were.

A few short minutes into our hike, and I realized that I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Steep wooden steps led us through a mesh of ferns and crowds of leafy green shrubs. Trees arched towards each other overhead, bent in an embrace that filtered the sun into soft patches of light that speckled our path. Every few minutes, the covering of trees would thin and the vegetation would fall away just enough for us to catch glimpses of Blueskin Bay’s majestic mountains draped in silver fog.

As the trail finally subsided into a more gradual ascent towards the summit, I could feel my excitement mounting and my pace begin to quicken. Suddenly, the path forked in different directions, with the branch to the left leading towards the Organ Pipe Rocks, and the other heading towards the top of the mountain. Although it could take us four days to decide what kind of food we wanted to eat for dinner, it took us only a matter of seconds to decide that a detour to the Organ Pipes was a must. From our rocky vantage point, we were able to soak in uninterrupted views of what lay below us. Fueled by our desire to see more, we eventually pushed onwards towards the top of the mountain.

Hira and I at the Organ Pipe Rocks

Hira and I at the Organ Pipe Rocks

When Hira and Taylor stopped for some quick photos, I fervently scurried ahead. As the path bent towards the right, I spotted a small, faded sign subtly pointing in the opposite direction towards Butters Peak. Although the path was overgrown, the openness of the rocks at the top promised another clear view of all of our surroundings.

“Hira! Taylor! I’m going up the trail to the left!” I shouted, already bushwhacking my way through to the top. A few moments later, Hira and Taylor had made their way up behind me, and we found ourselves with a 360 degree view of our surroundings. The Blueskin Bay was once again revealed to us, and the Otago Peninsula finally came into sight.

Otago Peninsula from Butters Peak

Panorama of the Otago Peninsula from Butters Peak

Standing at the top of the Peak, the wind whipping around us as we took in Dunedin in all its glory, I was hit suddenly by the full force of an emotion that I had only been catching snippets of for the past few weeks. It was what I had felt for a brief moment when I first glimpsed the snowcapped mountains towering over the fields of sheep as we zoomed along on the train. It was what I had felt as I sat around the table with my flatmates, eating tacos and laughing so hard that I lost my breath. And it was what I had felt at every gap in the trees as we scaled the mountain. But here, on Butters Peak, I finally knew what it was. It was love.

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Panorama of Blueskin Bay from Butters Peak

It was the kind of love that made me feel completely content when I was home in Boston, and the kind of love that made me thrilled to return to Richmond each semester. It was the kind of love that makes someone happy despite the challenges. It was the kind of love that takes a place and makes it a home. I couldn’t claim that I would never again feel frustrated by a pad of Sticky notes that cost $8.99 rather than $2.49, or that I would never get sick of rolling out of bed when it is only 27 degrees inside, but I became certain of one thing: I will miss New Zealand when it is time for me to go. My hope is that, at the end of it all, I will look back and know that I cherished my moments here, and made the most of everything that came my way.

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Standing on Butters Peak

No Train, No Gain

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The New Zealand flag at the foot of the mountains in Middlemarch

The New Zealand flag at the foot of the mountains in Middlemarch

The buzz of my alarm clock shattered the morning calm that lay like a protective glass windowpane between me and the busyness of the waking world. Although I wanted nothing more than to roll over in my sleeping bag and pretend that the frigid air permeating my bedroom did not exist, this morning I could not delay the inevitable. Confronting the cold, I slid out of bed and padded to the kitchen in search of breakfast.

Once my body acclimated to the chill, the pace of my morning routine began to accelerate. Soon, I was out the door, my feet propelling me in the direction of Taylor and Hira’s flat. After a week of being in Dunedin, we had decided it was time to see some of the countryside.

The railroad behind our train

The railroad behind our train

We made the twenty-minute trek to the Dunedin Train Station, where we caught the Taeri Gorge Railway train which was taking us to Middlemarch, a town at the base of the snowcapped mountains where Lord of the Rings was filmed.

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We rolled through miles and miles of sheep-speckled plains and hills canvassed in yellow wildflowers. We passed over gorgeous flowing rivers and under long stone tunnels. We let the wind whip our hair, and we froze our hands taking pictures off the back deck. But it wasn’t until the snowcapped mountains came into full view that reality hit: I was in New Zealand.

The snowcapped mountains coming into view

The snowcapped mountains coming into view

Without any language barrier to overcome or extreme cultural differences to tackle, it sometimes feels like I could be anywhere in the U.S. Yet, out there, seeing what I had only seen before in pictures of this place, I felt the full, invigorating force of being halfway around the world. It was magnificent.

After another three hours of train travel back to Dunedin, our desire for glorious views was fully satisfied. The walk back to our flats flew by as Taylor, Hira and I talked about all of the wonderful travel possibilities that we would soon have the opportunity to experience. We began to wonder if there was even enough time to do everything that we wanted to do.

What I do know, however, is that this small taste of what New Zealand has to offer left me thoroughly ready for more. And I am certain that whatever we pack into our days and weeks will lead to wonderful months filled with jaw-dropping views and exceptional memories.

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Liquid Sunshine

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Otago Clocktower

Otago Clocktower

My first few days in Dunedin have been extremely pleasant; I’ve been living in a flat that is cozy in nearly every way without actually being warm. The outside is quaint, each bedroom is charming, and the living area is…Well, the living area looked like a 1970’s office space until my flatmates and I took it upon ourselves to do some rearranging. When we arrived, the kitchen table was up against one wall, right beneath a large bulletin board with a series of flyers on how to conserve energy and what to do with our rubbish. An oversized calendar, a wall clock, a microwave, and a jubilee of pens all succeeded in making the space look like an old-fashioned corporate break room.

In a matter of minutes, we relocated many of the informational flyers and the clock, moved the microwave off of the kitchen table, and scooted the kitchen table away from the wall. In an attempt to spruce the place up, my flatmates and I posted a series of memorable quotations on the cork board that had already been uttered by one of us in the past week. Given the time it took us to revamp the kitchen and accumulate odd inside jokes, we expect that our flat will grow to be more homey as the days go by.

Meanwhile, I am hopeful that I will grow more accustomed to the cold the longer I live here. Walking down the streets of Dunedin, I’ve seen women in dresses, runners in shorts, and several people in T-shirts. I’m still routinely losing feeling in my extremities and wishing that a fleece onesie will magically appear in my room. I’m certainly not the only one; I think my laptop may also be wishing for a fleece jacket or a trip to Hawaii right about now. My third night here, my computer felt like a block of ice and refused to hold any charge. Thinking it was on the verge of collapsing, I rushed it to the library and prayed that some heat might revive it. The jolt of warmth seems to have set it right, but I have taken to tucking it into my bed when it’s not in use.

As for the New Zealanders, their warm personalities seem to counteract the cold weather. Coming back from the library the other day, I turned a corner just in time to watch an adorable three-year-old who was walking with his father trip over an orange cone which marked a construction zone. I immediately froze; I could see that tears were about to come to his eyes, and I was worried he’d gotten scraped up by his spill. But before so much as a wail from the child, another man walking in front of me scooped the little tike off the ground and placed him into his father’s arms. What shocked me wasn’t just that it took under three seconds for this whole event to take place, but that there was no look of “Who is this man picking up my child?” on the father’s face. There was virtually no other exchange between the two men; one smiled his thanks while the other hurried on his way. Perhaps the little boy was just as stunned as I was, because the teary-eyed look had vanished as soon as he’d found he was no longer lying facedown on the ground, but rather was being hugged tight in his father’s arms.

Inspired by this display of kindness, I asked a woman walking a few paces in front of me if she needed help carrying two bicycle wheels. She gave me an odd look and shook her head “No” and I realized that maybe they weren’t all that heavy, and instead of being a nice gesture it looked like I was trying to steal one off of her.

As I wondered why anyone would steal a single bicycle wheel without a tire on it, it started to rain. In a few short moments (as is customary in Dunedin) the sky was completely overrun by clouds. While I watched giant droplets slide off the hood of my rain jacket, I couldn’t help but smile as I thought back to another drizzly afternoon a few days earlier. I had just been about to leave the post office when I remarked to my friends how the rain had come back full force since we had ducked inside. A man who had just walked through the doors quickly corrected me, saying “It never rains in Dunedin! There’s only liquid sunshine!” So, while I probably won’t offer to carry anyone’s bike wheels for a while, I can certainly strive to embrace the type of Kiwi attitude that is capable of turning storms into sunshine.

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My Adventures as a Kiwi

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Originally, I was thinking that I would just give my KDL followers a few teaser posts as I made the transition over to The Wonderful World of the Wanderer for the semester, but after returning to the United States, I have decided that  ought to share my adventures here too. While I enjoyed changing it up for a bit, KDL is still my blogging home base, and I’m excited to share my semester with you all!

The Green Dragon in Hobbiton, New Zealand

The Green Dragon in Hobbiton, New Zealand

Cheers!

Traveling Into Tomorrow

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When I landed in Dunedin three weeks ago, I posted a recollection of my travels on Wonderful World of the Wanderer. Since all magnificently lucky travel stories deserve to be told twice, here it is:

Something interesting about being halfway around the world is that the time difference puts us a day ahead of people in the states. Technically I think this means that I’m licensed to call home and let them know if the future is looking bright. The price of being able to travel into the future, however, is a grueling series of plane flights and layovers.

To start my journey, my parents and I took off for San Francisco, where we spent some time taking in the sights. We were able to climb the Coit Tower, walk along the Pier, see Lombard and Steiner Street, visit the Golden Gate, and stuff our faces with Boudin sourdough and Ghirardelli chocolate. It was incredibly nice to spend time with my parents in one of my favorite cities in the world. IMG_3493 - Version 2

But after some wonderful adventures in San Francisco, it was time for my parents to drop me off at the airport. Thirteen hours later I arrived in Auckland; I was exhausted, overwhelmed by the airport, and feeling completely alone. After hauling my bags off of the belt, I attempted to prepare myself to go through customs and catch my plane to Dunedin.

One of my greatest talents in life is my capability to get lost anywhere. Passing as a tourist in my own hometown? Easy. Looking like a freshman on my college campus? No problem. So, naturally, I got lost as soon as I grabbed my bags. I tried to wander around for a bit, hoping I would stumble upon a line on the floor that I could follow to my exact destination. I ambled towards an exit that claimed to be able to lead me to the domestic terminals, finding instead that it led me to a curb outside of the airport. I decided that I couldn’t lug my bags around any further, and that I needed some help. “Excuse me?” I asked a woman walking past. “Do you know how to get to the domestic terminals?”

“Well, I normally walk to it by taking this path right here,” she motioned to a green line that was painted on the ground. “It takes you right to it. But today I’m riding the bus, so you can follow me.” As I struggled to follow her, my bags incapable of any synchronized movement, my newfound guide began to explain how I could have grabbed a cart for my bags, or that I could have left my bags at a bag drop inside. “No worries now, you can just do it at the domestic terminal.”

The bus to the terminal arrived shortly afterwards, and my guide helped me load my suitcases aboard, and then promptly proceeded to help an older gentlemen with his suitcase, making sure both he and his bag didn’t tumble over. I couldn’t help but think of a mother duck collecting ducklings as she went. Upon arriving in the terminal, she helped the older man off the bus and brought him his suitcase, all the while making sure I was still behind her. She made sure we found someone with a wheelchair for the man, and then she rolled his bag to where he needed it before turning back to me. “This way, this way.”

She took me to the premium desk, although I was certainly not a premium passenger, and made sure my baggage could be dropped off. “Maybe I should ask them where I should go,” I said out loud, feeling guilty that this woman had to drag me around the airport. “No, no, follow me, we’ll go to security next,” she called, leading me onwards and letting me know which security rules applied in New Zealand.

As soon as we were through security, I once again mused that I should ask someone for my gate (which was unmarked on my ticket), not wanting this kind woman who also had a flight to catch to have to take me the whole way there. But once again, she shushed me, saying, “No, no, follow me.” At this point I had no idea how this woman would get me to my gate if we didn’t even know the number, but I was too tired to care that I once again had no idea where I was headed.

“Let’s see if I can’t get you in the Koru Lounge. It’s a much nicer place to wait than at your gate. Can I take her as my guest?” She asked a woman at the entrance of a swanky looking airport sitting area. Once she was given the OK, she ushered me in and lead me to a comfy seating area, and began pointing out where to get food, coffee, and Internet. “You can use the bathrooms or take a shower over there. Do you see the man in the checkered shirt who just sat down? That’s Ma’a Nonu. He’s a famous rugby player on the New Zealand All Blacks. You’ll start seeing him on TV a lot.”

As I gazed around the lounge in amazement, I began to wonder what I had done to earn this woman’s pity and to end up in this airport wonderland. Perhaps it was the baffled look that had permanently taken over my face, or the fact that I was struggling to find the words to thank her and was having trouble stringing sentences together. Before leaving to catch her flight, she handed me her business card and made me promise to tuck into the food for a good breakfast so I didn’t waste my pennies. Then she offered me a place to stay if I ever made it to New Zealand’s capital and said “Let’s see if you make it to Wellington” before disappearing out the lounge door towards her gate.

I think it’s safe to say that I was the luckiest and most grateful person at the Auckland airport that day. Somehow her display of kindness made me feel less alone, and made New Zealand feel less far from home. Safely in Dunedin now, I’d like to send a message back home: The future is looking bright.

 

Fear

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When people hear that I’m studying abroad in New Zealand, they tend to ask a lot of questions. The first usually being “Why?” (Except from Lord of the Rings fans, who unswervingly offer their approval of my venture). For the sake of those who do not know what it’s like to binge watch 12 plus hours of hobbits marching through majestic mountain scenery or have Frodo’s face tattooed to their arm, I will tell you why I chose New Zealand.

It all began when I was five, when I dreamed of traveling to Australia. As some of you may know, Steve Irwin was one of my childhood heroes, and I never quite outgrew the desire to go to there and wrestle crocodiles, or at least meet people who did. I wanted to be out in the wild, and spend my time snuggling with koalas and kicking it with kangaroos. But as I began to look into Australia as a study abroad destination, I started to discover that less Australians wrestle crocodiles than one might expect, and that the country housed a plethora of large cities and poisonous animals (something Irwin should have prepared me for), both of which would limit my access to the outdoors. By the time my study abroad adviser told me that I was really looking for New Zealand and had laid out the study abroad pamphlet in front of me, I was sold (it didn’t hurt that I had also found out that koalas have an extremely high rate of chlamydia). With it’s unparalleled beauty and it’s unrivaled access to the outdoors, New Zealand quickly jumped over my previous study abroad considerations like Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne.

It’s also not entirely uncommon when you mention New Zealand to hear stories about past vacations and business trips, and uncle’s friend’s sister-in-law’s flightless bird’s visit to Wellington. I’ve heard stories of dangerous roads with the most beautiful views, and tales of miracle men magically parachuting from the sky to save stranded drivers, and once, I was taken to a kind woman’s house to be shown a magnificent painting of a young Maori man. Most of the time, I love and appreciate the stories that people share with me. They make me feel like I’m not going to fall off the globe without a trace if I take a 20 hour flight across the world, and they confirm that I’ve chosen a good place on the map to live for five months.

But as I begin my trip, I think that what holds the most relevance for me is something that came up during a conversation with my neighbor just before I left. We were standing in my backyard, surrounded by the organized chaos of my younger brother’s high school graduation party, when she asked “Are you scared?” For a brief moment, I felt shocked, and then I felt an overwhelming sense of appreciation for her question. I’d spent countless hours talking with what felt like hundreds of people about my trip, and I’d been asked what felt like hundreds of times if I was excited to go, but no one had ever asked me if I was scared. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure what I felt. In that moment, I felt shell shocked, caught somewhere between consciously knowing I was leaving and utterly incapable of accessing the emotions that go along with that realization.

I supposed that maybe once I stepped foot on the plane that would take me from San Francisco to New Zealand, leaving my parents behind to enjoy another day in the city, I might be utterly terrified. Maybe I wouldn’t be scared until I arrived at the airport on the other side of the world, or once I made it to my flat, or once orientation began. Although I wasn’t certain when that moment (most likely, moments) of fright would hit me square on, I knew that it would happen. And I appreciated that my neighbor understood that being frightened of an experience and valuing it were not mutually exclusive: “I was nervous to go to Spain when I studied abroad, but I think it’s good to be scared. If you’re not scared, then you’re not out of your comfort zone, and then you’re not really gaining anything from the experience.”

It’s these words that I will carry with me as I set off for New Zealand. Instead of being ashamed of whatever fear I may recognize in myself as I move forward towards this adventure, I will embrace it. It is only when we embrace our fear that we turn it into a tool capable of helping us grow. If we are ashamed of our fear, we either push it down or let it push us down, and either way we are limited and consumed by it. When we embrace our fear, exciting doors we never knew existed are opened, and the colors appear brighter and more beautiful than they ever did when we were merely comfortable and secure.

As I prepare to hop on the plane tonight, and any denial that protected me from my nervousness has started to melt away, I realize that I am starting to feel afraid. When I realize this, all I can think is, “Well, I must be doing something right.”

 


 

 

Exactly three weeks ago, I published this post on my travel blog, The Wonderful World of the Wanderer. 21 days in Dunedin has proven my theory: I really must have done something right.