Student Perspectives ) NEW ZEALAND
University Of Otago
Arcadia University Student
New Zealand is known for its beauty and diversity. The South Island takes about 12 hours from top to bottom, and in that space of time you can see albatross on the Otago Peninsula and snow capped mountains in the majestic Southern Alps, go swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura, climb a glacier at Franz Josef, or be in sunny Nelson. The North Island boasts dormant volcanoes in Tongariro National Park, geothermal parks in Rotorua, golden beaches of Coromandel, and a humbling peak at Cape Reinga. People come from all over the world to see only a quarter of these sights, and I have been lucky enough to see them all.
I have kept an active blog during my time in New Zealand, and it has been an exceptional tool in both documenting my life at the moment, but also in reflecting on what I have gained from each experience or place I have gone. I kept it more as a close friend journal, rather than a way to boast about my time here. Scattered with photos and feelings, it will truly be a great way to remember my time here.
During my first semester at Otago University, I did not do as much traveling as the other Arcadia students. I felt as though I should experience life in Dunedin with the group of friends that I had come to adore rather than go away on the weekends with solely Americans. Since I was going to be in the country for a year, I thought the summer holidays would be a better opportunity for me to travel and see the sights. It would force me to leave Dunedin and move to much sunnier cities during the summer months. However, when I envisioned this, I saw myself with at least one other person and meeting loads of travelers on the way. Unfortunately, this is not what happened in the slightest and I have come to regret the decision. I should have explored NZ with people who I enjoyed spending time with, rather than chancing meeting people along the way in the summer. Lucky for me though, I was able to do a bit more driving around during the second semester, and enjoy it much more.
“A world traveler? Yes. Backpacker? No. I like to experience the way of life – settle down somewhere new and become one of the locals.”
In mid-October I purchased a Magic Bus pass which allowed me to cruise around both islands in a hop-on hop-off fashion. It was going to be perfect – I could spend as much or little time in each place as I wanted and I was going to meet fellow travelers to spend time with. I headed on the Magic Bus to Twizel, where I was meeting a couch surfing host to stay with for the night. He was more than kind, and allowed me to take his bike for a wander in the sunshine. I was riding along a river which was riddled with hazel bushes and sheep going for a wander, and stopped to make a call to a friend. When they were not able to talk, an overwhelming emotion of loneliness swept across me. This was not the first time this feeling had creeped up on me as after all of the kiwis and internationals had left for the semester, I was often alone in my flat for the day as Otago was a ghost town once exams had finished. As I looked back towards the direction I had just biked, a stunning view of Mount Cook was framed by the sun, pine trees, and the river. And I started crying. I had had enough of the feelings of not having a person by my side – to share the experiences I was going to have on my trip. In that moment, I was done with New Zealand. I was ready to give up and go home. I felt so guilty – I was crying in this gorgeous place, looking at a spectacular snow capped mountain where people would kill to be, missing home. Home-sickness was never something I have battled with, and I have had my fair share of time away from home. From this simple breakdown, I learned I can be prone to missing home. I would love to say that I snapped out of it after a moment of self pity, but I think it was the start of a great learning process, which evolved with the continuation of my travels.
A day trip to Cape Reinga was the most humbling experience I have ever had. After the 4 hour bus ride from Paihia, we arrived to the Cape after hearing Maori tales and the significance of the point. There is a tree which has been living since the Maoris arrived, where one’s spirit leaves New Zealand forever once death has come. The spindly tree with a full set of branches and leaves, sat off a cliff jutting into the water. It had weathered years of blistering sun and treacherous salty sea storms. I cannot fully put into words what it felt like to be there, but I sat on a bench admiring at the tree for quite a while. I felt so close to NZ in that moment – so connected. This sacred place for the Maoris was striking and simple, and I could imagine a spirit sitting in the tree, waiting to jump off. I had never felt such a calming sense come over me, and I feel like it brought me closer to the NZ spirit. The following day, I hopped on the Magic bus and headed south to Auckland.
We made heaps of stops along the way, all places to jump off and look at the ocean from another angle. There were no clouds in the sky and the temperature was above 23⁰C , which is a far cry for Dunedin in summer. At a lookout point, the bus driver once again told us to depart the bus and wander around for 15 minutes. I was with a man who brought along his DSLR camera everywhere and as he looked out over the ocean he said to me, “I could look at these views for days.” Not an uncommon saying, but a thought came to me immediately. “I have seen these views from every angle. They don’t get old, but once you have seen a beautiful vista enough times, they all look similar.” I feel as though I had been in NZ for long enough that I was becoming a local. I was sick of being on this bus full of tourists, because I was not a tourist. This was finally my home.
The landscape of NZ was nothing short of amazing, but I needed to go back to Dunedin. Back home. After I had booked a very, very expensive flight back home for the next morning, I had the biggest revelation. Sitting on a bench, looking at the sparkling Sky Tower light up from the sun against clear blue skies, was when I figured myself out. I am not a backpacker. Not in any sense. A world traveler? Yes. Backpacker? No. I like to experience the way of life – settle down somewhere new and become one of the locals. This allows for day trips and weekend trips, but I do not have the mindset to constantly be on the move. I love to explore new places, but I need to have a constant. A constant bed or a constant person – neither of which I had my entire trip. Study abroad is perfect for me in this sense, as I can be somewhere completely foreign, yet still have a home to go back to. The realization was a bit of a disappointment for me, as it meant that the prospect of backpacking around Europe one day was slim. However, I can now make decisions based on this knowledge, leading to a better experience.
After I arrived in Dunedin the next morning, I felt whole again. I had a constant bed, and a constant person. During my two week hiatus, I planned out a final excursion to the West Coast of the South Island. Having a finite plan with an end date in sight gave me the courage to fly up to Nelson and start all over again. Although I knew I would be on the move, having a plan lead to a more stable mind.
Abel Tasman National Park is one of the most beautiful places I have been to in NZ. Golden beaches, rich bush lined tracks, clear blue waters and the sun always shining on your back. I took a water taxi to a cove which puts you about 4 hours into the track and was greeted by dolphins along the way. It was a perfect day – sunny, but not too hot. Starting along the track, I met up with a German girl and began chatting to her, making small talk as we climbed up the clay tracks. She was so friendly and had just been to Southeast Asia, so I enjoyed listening to her talk about her time there. The leg of the track that I did is nice and flat, with little side walks leading down to beaches. The bush was so green and alive with the song of birds. I enjoyed every minute of the walk, and having someone with me was the cherry on top. I was so amazed at how having another person to share an experience with, even a stranger, makes the trip more memorable in a positive way. I impressed myself with starting up a conversation with the girl, and how she stayed with me for the whole day. My confidence in traveling increased dramatically – I could meet people along the way no problem! The only problem however, was the people on the Magic Bus, on both islands, tended to travel in their own groups or just bus around by themselves. No one was really interested in making friendships as they were there to see the sights and head back home. I had never had someone to spend the day with (not for lack of trying however), and it taught me that another person to share time with is key to traveling.
After the start of semester number two, I felt like a full on Kiwi. Want to know the best places to go in Dunedin? I have been to all of them twice. I felt like a proud mum showing off her babies to the new internationals. I think the summer months taught me that it was alright to be settled and truly know a city rather than bits and pieces of a country. My confidence increased so much and I feel as though my personality emerged as well.
“I have transformed so much in this past year, and learned so much about myself. I feel as though I will take a chunk of NZ home with me…”
The Catlins were an area of the South Island which I was going to be happy not to explore. It seemed like an area that did not have much to offer and most people are not up to doing long day trips. However, in the middle of March, we surprisingly headed to Balclutha and went to all the hot spots for a day. It was raining miserably, which put a huge damper on our plans, but we all stuck it out. After going to Cathedral Caves (which I would love to get married in one day), we stopped at the Petrified Forest. You can see fossils from millions of years ago, laying in an area of rock which would look like nothing more than a stone ledge going into the ocean. Being with three geology majors, this was heaven. However, I was more than happy to look at the rocks which resembled wood and move on. Yes the fossils were interesting, but I just wanted to see them and then head to the next spot. And this was the place where I figured out what sort of sightseeing I truly enjoy. I love to wander around a city looking at old buildings rich with history, or head into little cafés to people watch. I enjoy walking around crowded streets, exploring; however this is not what NZ is best for. I am happy to look at a sight, take a quick photo, and move on. Perhaps it was the people who I came with (as they loved to stand on a wood rock for about 10 minutes and then move to another to do the same), but I now know that I can only look at a landscape or other sight for so long before I feel the need to move on. I am stimulated by the hustle and bustle of city life rather than a sunset.
At the start of my second semester, a friend and I drove up to the top of Mt. Cargill to a stunning vista. You can see almost from Moeraki Boulders to Green Island. The whole of the peninsula boasts itself majestically. Even though I have said I like to see something and move on, this was a place that I could stay forever. It was like looking down at your home proudly. And this was my home.
I have transformed so much in this past year, and learned so much about myself. I feel as though I will take a chunk of NZ home with me to New York, and share it with anyone who would like to listen. The planning and executing trips to see vistas and extreme scenery helped me come out of my shell and gain a great sense of confidence. Although I have seen so much, there are still a few things that I have yet to do in New Zealand. And, you can never leave your home for too long.