How time flies! I can’t believe that my first semester is already coming to a close here in Auckland! In just a couple of weeks’ time I’ll be sitting my final exams and free to wander the hills of New Zealand for the Summer. What will I do over the Summer? Live like a hermit in some remote shack? Act like an adult and get a paying job? Only time will tell. At any rate, I must first conquer my exams before I can get to that point. In an effort to distract myself from studying, I thought that I may as well update the Go Abroad blog with my trials and tribulations. I can only hope that you, the reader, can find a similar respite in reading this as I have in writing this. With that, I hope you enjoy this installation of my odd odyssey – the one in which I take a whirlwind tour of New Zealand’s South Island.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that each semester here is divided by a two-week academic break where people are free to do whatever and go wherever they want. I, as well as three other exchange students, saw little gain from idly milling about Auckland, so we joined the myriad other exchange students in planning a grand circuit of The South Island. The four of us were of different nationalities and backgrounds; the common thread between us being that we had nothing to do over the break and whatever we may have wanted to do, we certainly could not afford to do ourselves. We decided to rent a campervan and complete a loop of The Southern South Island. The situation began to take the form of a setup to a joke: “So an American, a Dutchman, a German, and an Italian walk into a campervan…”.
Our journey began peacefully enough with a flight from Auckland to Christchurch. We spent a day and a half in Christchurch, but if there is one thing that I found to be the most striking about that city, it’s the eerie silence that pervades it. We arrived on a perfectly temperate and cloudless Saturday, and I cannot say that I have ever encountered a city quite as lifeless on a beautiful weekend as Christchurch. This is no fault of the residents, I should say – much has changed in Christchurch since the earthquakes that struck it nearly a decade ago. It’s not seen as a safe place to live, and because of that, people have been migrating out. Most of the buildings that comprised Christchurch’s central business district have been torn down, and vacant lots still remain where those buildings once stood. The most lively thing that happened to me there was that some man on a bus threatened to punch me. This, however, was not the sort of excitement that I was seeking in coming to Christchurch, so I cannot reflect positively on that encounter.
Our first night out in the campervan was perhaps the one that was the most impressionable on me, as we camped out in rolling plains at the foot on The Southern Alps. That night was the third time in my life where I recall being able to see the Milky Way in the night sky well. With no clouds and no light, the stars were so numerous that it was difficult for me to identify constellations! It’s a shame to think how rare instances like that in my life are – how rare they have become in most anybody’s life. As the night passed, so too did the day eventually come, and further South we pressed on.
Now, it should be noted that the going further South only means that our trip became colder and colder, and this was perhaps my greatest personal impediment. While the sun often shone on our journey, and a strong and enjoyable sun it was, the cold that quickly consumed the nights was piercing and inescapable. While cooking in our van provided some warmth, it was often short lived, and the humidity from cooking often lead to the windows freezing over on the inside of the van. This is the price that one pays for travelling cheaply. Being from New England, which is, in my view, an all around more extreme place weather-wise, I have developed a tolerance of the cold – not an appreciation.
Weather aside, our travels lead us to places both terrific and awe-inspiring. The Dutchman of our group was a great fan of Lord of the Rings, and as such our trip was oriented around visiting the various landmarks that composed Tolkein’s Middle Earth. From Edoras to Fangorn we drove, as free as the wind. We were also able to catch a glimpse of the summit of Mount Cook; the tallest mountain in Australasia. It may have been a false peak that I saw – you can never be too sure with mountains that tall.
What lands and scenes awaited us on this trip? Watch out for part 2 of this story and find out!