Tag Archives: Otago Peninsula

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.

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