Saturday, June 30, 2012

Flying like a kiwi

It would be a waste to fly 23 hours around the world to Australia, and not check out its neighbor New Zealand. Along with 3 friends, I traveled to NZ after finals finished. It was an interesting mix of nationalities with a girl from California, a girl from Mexico, and a guy from Australia. With only 6 days to see the country, our itinerary could only include the South Island, and not even the whole thing. Flew into Christchurch and rented a car before setting off on a journey to Queenstown.

The drive itself was gorgeous! We passed snow covered mountains and beautiful lakes and medows. And of course lots of sheep! We made many stops along to way for pictures (of the scenery, not the sheep). The whole thing looked like a scene out of a fantasy movie. I can definitely see why Lord of the Rings was filmed here.

We arrived in Queenstown just before sunset and booked accommodation at a hostel. Queenstown is a cute little town that is dominated by young people looking for adventures like skydiving or snowboarding or bungy jumping. Of course we had to take advantage of this. The four of us booked skydiving for the following morning before setting out to the bars.

The next day dawned sunny and clear- perfect skydiving weather. We listened to the briefing and got on a bus to go to our diving destination. At this point I was a little nervous, but mostly excited. The company had a 100% safety record in the 20 years they had been flying, and it was a tandem jump so all I had to do was smile at the camera and enjoy the fall.

Getting in the plane I was slightly more nervous. The all squished in got ready for the flight. My dive was from 9000 feet which was the lowest. Sadly it meant only 20 seconds of freefall. Sitting on the edge of the plane and looking over the edge my nerves got worse. I was really doing this. I was really jumping out of a perfectly good plane towards the ground 9000 feet below. The instructor pushed us off and I was freefalling.

The strange thing is that it doesn't feel like a drop on a rollar coaster where you leave your stomach above you. When you reach terminal velocity you are just falling. It was such an amazing feeling. I kept trying to smile at the camera, and before I knew it the instructor pulled the shoot and I was hanging there looking over the amazing view. This lasted about 7 minutes as we slowly descended towards the ground.

Arriving on the ground I had the biggest smile on my face- that was AMAZING!!! I can't believe I did it. I was all set to go again, but my wallet would not have been so keen on that. We headed back to town and got burgers from the famous local restaurant Fergburger. There is always a line for this place- thats how good it is. Throughout the trip I got Fergburger 3 times. Once a chicken burger, once a regualar beef cheese burger, and once a venison burger. All of them were delicous.

That night it began snowing. And the next morning, the town was covered in a thin white blanket- perfect day for skiing. One of my friends was skiing, one was snowboarding, and one wasn't going at all. I've never downhill skiied or snowboarded before, so I decided to try skiing because it was suposed to be easier. On the way to Cardona Mountain our bus hit the side of the road and ended up in a ditch. They soon got it out, but it was definitly an interesting thing to see.

Upon arriving at the slopes I put on the skis and tried to go down the hill towards where the lift was, and I fell. At that point I decided I needed some lessons. The morning was spent learning how to stop, slow down, turn, etc. And by the afternoon I decided it was time to try the real mountain. My first run down I wiped out several times, but on my second run I managed not to fall, albeit I was traveling very slowly. By then it was the end of the day, so we headed back- thankfully without ending up in snowcovered ditches.

We began our drive up to Fox Glacier the next afternoon. We'd been told it was a 4 hour drive, but that didn't take into account the bad conditions of the road as we later found out. During a stop in a small town along the way we were told not to continue for risk of our 2 wheel drive car not being able to make it up the snow covered hills. So we ended up staying the night and setting off early in the morning for the glacier.

The glacier was definitly worth the early morning drive. It was beautiful!! We took a guided all day tour that took us to the main part of the glacier. We had to wear special ice climbing crampons to prevent slipping. The glacier was cold, but we lucked out with having good weather. Apparently it snows or rains about 200 days of the year.

The ice formations were sooo cool (literally!). We got to climb through caves and crevices and around all sorts of ice formations. Our guide was really nice and very passionate about what she was doing. I was a bit cold by the end of the day, but had an amazing time and took so many pictures!

The rest of the journey mainly consisted of driving back. We spent the final day in Christchurch which was pretty uneventful. The town was badly harmed by the earthquakes it has had recently, and most of the touristy places have been closed. It was sad to see so much destruction. We flew out that night. It was a nice trip, but it is nice to be back in Australia.

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