Australia has truly been a gateway to areas of the globe that were previously too far away to even contemplate visiting. This last week we had another week off from classes, and I was blessed with the opportunity to meet up with my dad in the amazing country of New Zealand.
I took a red-eye out of Perth on Friday night and arrived in Auckland early Saturday morning. My dad and I were able to cover a lot of ground in the eight nights we were there, and one thing was consistent throughout – the jaw dropping and awe-inspiring scenery.
Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand with a population of almost 1.5 million, which is considerable because the total population of New Zealand is only 4 million people. For anyone who has visited Vancouver, British Columbia, Auckland is fairly similar to that city.
Our first adventure was to hop aboard an America’s Cup sailboat for a two-hour cruise around the harbor. This was a great experience, and we learned the basics of sailing and even helped to pull in the sails and do other various tasks as we marveled at the beauty of our surroundings. The boat seemingly glided over the water as we criss-crossed the harbor. Later that afternoon we ventured up the Sky Tower, which is the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere at just over 1,000 feet tall.
The following day we drove further north to an area called the Bay of Islands. We went on a boat tour of the bay and once again marveled at the sheer beauty of the place. Dolphins even came alongside our boat and spent time interacting with us. I had never seen a dolphin up close before, and they were so fun to watch. Not that you care in the least, but if I could be any animal I would definitely be a dolphin 🙂
The boat also took us through a large hole in a rock, which is surprisingly called “Hole in the Rock.” People here tend to name things as they are; which can be boring, but it can also be a nice warning when you come to a place such as “Shark Bay.”
After taking a small ferry to an even smaller town for dinner, the next day we drove across the west coast of the North Island. The rolling green hills and the coastline made the drive fly by. Also, one of my friends told me before I left that his mental picture of New Zealand included sheep everywhere. Well, his thoughts on NZ were correct, and there are probably more sheep there than people.
Our next stop was the magnificent Queenstown in the South Island. As I stepped off the airplane and onto the tarmac, I once again marveled at my surroundings. The snow-covered mountains surrounded us. Queenstown is reminiscent of a fun ski town with about 12,000 people. It is situated on a large lake and is a popular tourist, vacation and extreme sport destination.
We took a day trip to a place called Milford Sound. The drive took roughly five hours, but it’s hard to complain about a long bus-trip when the scenery around every corner left me awestruck.
When we arrived, we boarded a boat to give us a tour of the Sound. The pictures just aren’t able to capture the magnitude of the mountains rising out of the water. I have included a picture where you can see a tiny white speck, which is actually a fairly large tour boat at the base of the mountains. That may help to provide some perspective to the magnitude of Milford Sound. We also got to see seals and more dolphins on the tour.
In Queenstown I partook in its reputation for being an extreme sport destination by going skydiving! A company drove us south of Queenstown to an even smaller town called Glenorchy, where a lot of the filming for the Lord of the Rings trilogy took place and where they are also about to start filming parts of the third segment of the Chronicles of Narnia.
I had a brief orientation about the procedures, met my tandem partner, got suited up, and before I knew it I was walking toward the airplane leaving my somewhat nervous dad behind. My tandem partner showed me his altimeter watch at 800ft, and I thought we were already quite high. However, we still had over 11,000ft to climb before I would jump out! I was mostly excited and, surprisingly, not too nervous. I tried to take it all in because I knew it would be over shortly. The best part was when we leveled out at 12,000ft and they flung the door open. Looking down I remember saying a quick prayer and realizing that I would actually be jumping out in a matter of seconds. Crazy!
Before I knew it, we were out of the plane. It only felt like I was falling for a second or two, and then it was just really windy as I plummeted toward the earth. We had about 45 seconds of freefall before the parachute opened and everything instantly became so peaceful and serene as we softly floated around for about five minutes before landing safely on the ground, much to the relief of my dad (and probably my mom for that matter, but she didn’t find out I went skydiving until she opened her email and saw the pictures I forwarded her).
The next day we drove to Franz Josef glacier and hiked to the base. Driving to the glacier I told my dad that I thought I’d be under-impressed by the glacier. However, I was wrong and it was well worth the drive and the hike.
The following day we drove another 2 hours to catch the TranzApline train, which is supposed to be one of the top ten most scenic train rides in the world. The train ride was a great experience, but it was also the only time where I was slightly disappointed with the scenery. The weather was really bad and that prevented us from viewing the Southern Alps as we went through them.
The train took us to Christchurch, where we spent our last night. The city has roughly 300,000 people and has an English influence. The large Cathedral is the main attraction of the city. The architecture was beautiful and reminded me of one of the countless similar churches in Europe. The botanical gardens were also very nice and so was our last meal – I thought it was appropriate to have lamb the last night in honor of the thousands we passed by over the course of the week.
Well, thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed hearing about my New Zealand adventures. I’m back in Perth now ready to hit the books for a rather busy last month of school.