There & Back Again…

13 05 2010

Here are a couple of pics from the NZ journey!

Kaikoura, NZ

Hanmer Springs, NZ

Greetings, friends! Apologies again for such an extended gap between postings. I suppose it’s a good sign though when I don’t have heaps of time to sit around on a computer, rambling nonsense at you! Prepare yourselves as I catch you up on all the happenings of the rest of the NZ trip, & bring you up to speed. Sit tight, little ones, whilst mama Grae tells you a story…

To pick up right where I left off- we made it to Nelson, along the Northern tip of the island, but arrived late at night & had many a place to be the next day, so we didn’t get to see much more than the McDonald’s and Nelson highways the next morning. We had planned to go horseback riding there, but the locals said that riding would be much better down south where it would be more scenic. They suggested that we visit the nearby national park for the day instead. Thus we drove up to Abel Tasman National Park, just past Motueka, and stopped in a little town called Marahau. Luke was keen to take a big hike, and I was not keen to, so before things escalated into a fight, we decided to part ways and do our own thing. 🙂 Luke took off for his 3 hour afternoon hike, and I made my way out to the local beach. I took a lovely stroll down the coastline, and for the first time was able to bust out my bathing suit without feeling like I’d quickly die of hypothermia. The scenery was beautiful (per usual), and I took some fantastic photos of the adjacent mountainous valley, covered in scrubby brush mixed with aloe-like flora; a gorgeous contrast. I waded through a small inlet to an islet just off of the beach and took pictures of the various birds that had camped out there. I decided to lie down for a bit, with my jacket as a pillow, desperately hoping to get back some of the tan that I’ve gradually lost over the past month. I began to feel these miniscule little nips on my skin, & swatted away whatever was the douchey perpetrator. Minutes later, more nips. Then, an ensuing fire in my skin. I quickly jolted up, & scratched furiously all over my thighs and stomach, searching for the source of pain. Then I remembered. Somewhere recently, I had read something about “sandflies” in New Zealand. The words “nuisance” “itchy” “biting females” all came to mind, as I recalled the paragraph about them in the South Island guide book. Son of a bee-sting. I was absolutely covered in sandfly bites. Those little effers had gotten me good. Real good. Touche, lady sanflies, touche. Of course, the clueless little American girl wandering helpless on the beaches of New Zealand, bikini-clad and vulnerable, optimistically setting up camp on the idyllic shoreline.  I was a perfect target. Itchy, angry, & cursing the little she-devils, I made my way back to the mainland & gave up my quest for tanned skin. Narcissism will get ya every time.

I found internet at the local information center, and tooled around until Bear-freaking-Grylls made it back from his 15k hike. I felt little empathy for him as he stumbled in panting and sweaty. He wasn’t freaking covered in sandfly bites, why should I? We hopped back in the car & made our way Southwest, choosing to bypass Westport in an effort to get to Greymouth sooner, and ultimately to Wanaka & Queenstown sooner. Stayed the night in Greymouth, & had a smooth but rainy drive down to the glaciers the following day. The temperature was rapidly decreasing, & the windshield fogged up far too often for my liking. First purchase in town was a RAINCOAT. We had planned to take a helicopter tour of the Fox Glacier, Franz Josef Glacier, & Mount Cook, but alas the weather decided to be a hooker & thus prevented us from doing so. The only option at this point consisted of crossing the street to the Glacier info center, where they had a little movie theater that showed a film on the glaciers, in an attempt to recreate the sensory experience of taking a helicopter tour. On the way into the theater, the ticket-seller-man said “Just so you know, it’s a bit dim in there. I’m missing some lights, so watch your step.” I nodded, hardly paying attention, and we made our way into the theatre. As I’m strolling in, I hear a giant THUD behind me. I turn to see Luke, on the ground, looking confused and disoriented. My immediate thought was that he had legitimately fallen accidentally, until I realized that he in fact, had not. No friends, he had hurled himself at the ground, purely out of comedic motivation, and had plastered on a look of innocence for the appearance of genuiness. He had pulled it off so effortlessly though, I couldn’t help but lose my shit. It was so cleverly & subtlely done, just following the ticket-man’s warning. I was laughing so hysterically that the people on the other side of the theatre started laughing at my laughing. My stomach was still cramping when we finally took our seats to enjoy the feature film. The movie was about 20 minutes long, filmed circa 1990, & was a bit of a laugh in & of itself. I will say that it was a smart move on their part to implement an option like this for when the weather isn’t conducive to actual glacier tours. Following the joke of a movie, we drove to the Fox Glacier hike entrance, where we did a miniature hike in the pouring rain to catch a REAL glimpse of the glacier. It really was a beautiful sight, in spite of the heavy fog, bleak skyline, & miserably cold rain. I can imagine that it would be a breathtaking experience to hike across. Alas, such was not our luck, & we pressed on toward Wanaka.

At this point, L had gotten tired from all of the driving, and he finally took my up on my offer to drive. I was both excited and nervous as I took the wheel, but after about 20 minutes, it began to come naturally. Also, we were in the middle of nowhere, NZ, so it wasn’t as if I was having to do much navigating or maneuvering exactly. After arriving safely in Wanaka, and checking into a local motel, I got to do my first blog entry in ages– where I left off the last time. Post-blogging, there was a bit of an altercation for God-knows-what reason, & I went to bed exhausted & grumpy. And itchy like you wouldn’t believe. The following morning, I called to make reservations for horseback riding in the Cordrona Valley- about a 30 minute drive outside Wanaka. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thoroughly checked the directions to the stables since it appeared quite easy & direct on the map, & the waitress at brunch had said “oh, just go straight, and you’ll see signs for the Cordrona Valley!” I trusted the waitress on this one, and we ended up going the absolute wrong direction. L was frustrated that I hadn’t prepared the venture properly, I was stressed because we were running out of time & we were LOST, & after a snide remark or two from spanky in the driver’s seat, I lost it. We pulled over at a local pub, and I marched my way across the highway to call up the stables and cancel our appointment. L was insistent that we not cancel, and that I was just losing my temper, & that we should continue on and try to make the appointment. It escalated in a bit of a yelling match out front of the pub, geriatric curious bystanders included, as Luke physically was blocking me from entering the phone booth. The innocent little old folks gawked wide-eyed as I yelled “Don’t you speak to me that way! You hurt my feelings! You’re being such a douchebag! How was I supposed to know we were on the wrong road” etc. & Luke hurled retorts right back at me. It was epic. Straight out of a movie, really. I was so frustrated & burnt out from the constant moving around, & I think that getting lost + L’s bad-ittude was the straw that broke the camel’s proverbial back. Long story short, I didn’t make it into the phone booth despite my best efforts, & we got back into the car with directions to the stables. We arrived about ten minutes late, but they hadn’t yet departed, and we were able to have our afternoon ride. It made me realize how very much I miss horseback riding. I got on the horse with my stomach in knots from all the morning’s stress, and I got off on cloud 9. It was so fantastic being on a horse again, especially in such idyllic scenery. We took a 2 hour trail weaving through the Cordrona Valley, & I was at the tail end of the horses (no pun intended) so I was able to pull back occasionally and have a good run on Dawn, my little Appaloosa mare. It was definitely what I needed. Luke wasn’t as content on “Hopi” – I suppose riding isn’t as comfy for males… Regardless, I had a great afternoon and got lots of pictures & videos which of course will ultimately make it to facebook.

That afternoon Luke decided he wanted to do more hiking/mountain climbing, so I dropped him off somewhere in the Cordrona Valley to do his own thing, while I drove myself back to Wanaka to shop around and have dinner. I saw probably the most beautiful sunset of my LIFE over Lake Wanaka, & scarfed down a BLT & “chups” at a local pub. Side note: The New Zealand accent is really quite different from the Australian accent, though most Americans would probably have a difficult time telling the difference. After having spent so much time in Melbourne, hearing the Kiwi accent was almost like hearing another language. I found it hard to believe that I had ever confused the two. To give you an idea of some of the main differences- Kiwis would pronounce “fish & chips” more as “fush & chups”, & “teddy bear” as “tiddy beeyah.” The i’s in words sound more like u’s and the e’s sound like i’s. Uff you read thus aloud, you wull heeyah the dufferince. At least that’s how the stronger kiwi accents sound. A pretty weak attempt at explaining the sound of the Kiwi accent, but an attempt nonetheless!:) As I watched the sun go down over the glacier covered mountains and the mandarin & magenta sky reflected off the lake, & it made me realize how blessed I was to be experiencing something so undeniably heavenly. But the itchiness from the sandfly bites brought me back down to earth shortly thereafter…

After picking L up from his hike, I drove us to Queenstown, further South. I hadn’t anticipated that we’d actually make it that far, but it worked out that we had plenty of time, which was a blessing. Our first night in Queenstown was laid back- L had dinner at an Indian restaurant & I spent the evening lounging around & watching tv in the room. At this point I was feeling pretty depleted. The next morning we drove to the adjacent town of Arrowtown, about 15k’s away to find Mass. We pulled up to the little church of St. Patrick’s, unfortunately about 24 minutes late. As we walked inside, we noticed that there was no priest. In fact, the altar wasn’t even set up for Mass. One of the parishoners was reading announcements, and they closed the service with an off-key, but endearing & beautiful hymn being read off of an overhead projector. As it turns out, there aren’t enough priests in the area for a legitimate Mass to be said every Sunday. Every other week they must have their own makeshift service without Communion. I was struck first with sadness that there weren’t enough priests in the area to say Mass for a whole town’s worth of people, and then struck secondly by the beauty of what I had encountered. Not only were these people gathering in spite of the lack of a priest and a proper full Communion service, they were worshipping so humbly together, without instruments, without anything, it seemed. All that mattered was that they had come together for the purpose of worshipping Christ in that little church. And His presence was more than enough for them to celebrate. It was such a moving experience. As I took photos after the service concluded, I was approached by multiple aged individuals, asking where I was from and thanking me for coming to the service. They were Dominican nuns, and were the ones responsible for holding services when there was no priest available. They were so unbelievably warm and excited to share their church with us. I was truly humbled by their faith and their emanating love. Goodness, there is so much beauty in the world.

We drove back into Queenstown and began the day’s activities. First we had lunch at a little Thai place, then made our way to the gondolas that took you up the mountain face. At the top- one of the most striking views I had experienced thus far in New Zealand. A bird’s eye view of Queenstown and the Bay. Unbelievable. The blue of the water almost hurt your eyes as it reflected the afternoon sun. We enjoyed a cappuccino, took pictures, and prompted by posters- made our way to the paragliding information center. After shelling out a casual $200 each, we were guided another 15-20 minutes up the mountain to the takeoff zone. After being strapped in securely, whispering a series of nervous prayers, & bidding farewell to Luke, my guide & I literally ran off the side of the mountain. It was unreal. The sail caught the wind in just a couple seconds, and then there I was, in flight! Nothing below me but evergreen mountain forest! The breeze carried us to the side facing Queenstown, and the guide gave me the reins to steer us over the city. I can’t even begin to describe how exhilarating the experience was- as close to those dreams of flying as one could encounter, except for perhaps hangliding. It was silent above the town, apart from my screams as he we picked up downward speed and he turned us into a series of loops. So much fun. We glided to a landing on a sports field in the heart of the city, and I thanked God as we touched down again upon terra firma.

a paraglider over queenstown. pretty decent view, eh?

Luke insisted on a game of mini golf, at the base of the mountain. Random, I know. Like, I didn’t come to New Zealand for mini golf. But I went along with it, against my better judgment.

I knew I shouldn’t have agreed to do it. By the end of the course I was probably 24 over par and in a rotten mood– the endorphins from flight, gone, and the adrenaline having turned to frustration at the idiotic mechanical golf course & my inability to putt a straight line. I nearly through my club at a number of the cheesy props that accompanied each hole. Luke proudly waltzed across the course, finishing -1 under par and grinning like a freaking cheshire cat. Jerk. I was feeling grouchy, and probably a bit hypoglycemic, so we made our way to food. After a lovely dinner at the Beefeater Steakhouse, where I indulged in a glass of cabernet sauvignon and filet mignon wrapped in bacon, drizzled in a creamy mushroom sauce (my mouth waters just thinking about it), we made our way back to the hotel. Luke hadn’t quite gotten his kicks out with the paragliding, so he took off again in search of thrills. I, on the other hand, ordered myself a lovely in-room massage. Latisha showed up at my room just as Luke was returning from his failed mission. The bungee jumping place had been closed, so he was forced to entertain himself as I had the knots of anxiety and outdoorsy stress massaged from my shoulderblades. Fantastic end to the day. Props to you, Latisha of the magic Brazilian hands.

The next morning we packed up and prepared for our day long drive back to Christchurch. About an hour into the drive, we spontaneously decided to pick up two female hitchhikers along the side of the road. They were headed toward Christchurch as well, so we told them to hop in. I figured that two young female hitchhikers couldn’t possibly be serial killers. Turns out, they were to American college students, 19 & 20, studying abroad outside of Christchurch, and hitchhiking their way around New Zealand. Ballsy. It was really nice to interact with some Americans, and with someone else in general, since L & I had barely spoken to anyone else for about a week! We played word games, stopped for lunch where they bought us ice cream, & took photos of each other in front of Lake Tekapu, with an amazing view of Mount Cook in the distance. It was there that Butterfingers McPherson (aka Luke) dropped my camera and potentially mortally wounded her. Grrgrr. I’m hoping to take it to a shop and get it stitched up right quick. Keep your fingers crossed. We forged onward, dropped the girls off near their Uni, engaged in farewells with promises of facebook friending, and I (yes, I) drove us the rest of the way to Christchurch. 🙂

although this is probably what I looked like to others on the road…

We dropped off the rental car (on time, hooray!) and checked in to the RIDICULOUS 5 star hotel that I had found on for about $95 American dollars. Seriously,, it’s amazing. A late dinner at a little Japanese restaurant, and a couple drinks later, I passed out until the horrific, hellish alarm at 4 AM. I was seriously loopy on the shuttle to the airport, but we made it to our 6:30 flight and back to Melbourne safe and sound! All seemed to be going swimmingly when Luke noted upon arrival at customs that his wallet was missing. Nightmare. At this point, we parted ways for him to hunt down the wallet and for me to take all of our luggage through customs. I began to freak out, remembering that I had a shell in my bag that I had picked up in Kaikoura. I worried that the department of health and agriculture or whatever was going to jail me for bringing in a potentially dangerous biological specimen. As my hands grew clammy, and my thoughts turned to Australian imprisonment, a security guard looked at my passport and ticket and said “right this way ma’am,” directing me to a woman standing alone, separate from the lines for general baggage inspection/x ray and ultimately the exit. “Oh no,” I thought. “I’m done for.” The little sniffing dogs have smelled the shell in my bag, and I’m going to Aussie prison. Why did I bring the shell. I didn’t need that shell. It was pretty yes, but it was a stupid decision. The shell wasn’t worth going to jail for. The woman smiled, inspected my information, and pointed to a series of doors behind her. I marched forward (uttering ‘morituri te salutant‘), only to find upon opening the doors, that I was in the central lobby of the airport. Free. I hadn’t even had my luggage glanced at or inspected or sniffed once, and they let me back in to Australia without a second thought!! Needless to say, I was overjoyed at the realization that I wasn’t going to be sleeping in a cold dark cell, bribing fellow bio-threat prisoners with my cheese sandwiches to leave me alone. I was back in Melbourne, a free woman, and boy, was I glad.

I spent the last two days SLEEPING like a freaking brick, and to be honest, I still don’t feel 100% awake yet. I hadn’t realized how much the trip had taken out of me until I could barely rouse myself out of bed 2 days after our return! It’s great to be back in civilization, knowing where I’m going to sleep tonight, & not freezing my buns off in glacial monsoons or being eaten alive by those damned sandflies. All in all though, New Zealand was fantastic. And no, I didn’t see any Orcs, any Hobbits, or even a real, live Kiwi bird! I’ll be back to venture around the North Island one day though, for sure. But damn, did I ever see some SHEEP. They are not joking. There are a crap ton of sheep there. More sheep than people, apparently. They were everywhere, and I mean everywhere.A myriad of sheep, indeed.

Tonight is book club, which I didn’t actually read the book for, so let me rephrase that; tonight is when I’ll sit drinking the duty-free bourbon that I purchased, as I listen to a group of amateur literary critics discuss a novel that I haven’t the faintest idea about. Sounds good to me.

Will write again soon, friends. Thinking of you all, and hoping that I haven’t bored you to death with my ridiculousness.






2 responses

14 05 2010

OMG. This is amazing. This is like reading Bill Bryson Grae. I love it.

17 05 2010

My favorite parts of this entry:

“feel these miniscule little nips on my skin”


“I got off on cloud 9”

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