Wow- life has already gotten busy. Since I last wrote, we finished our travels on the South Island, attended orientation, and moved into our apartment in Wellington. I’ll write an update about orientation and the move in later. For now, I’ll write about our time in Queenstown, Wanaka, and Franz Josef. Mostly, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. This portion of the trip can be summarized in five words: gorgeous view after gorgeous view.
After leaving Te Anau, Elijah and I drove to Queenstown- the adventure capital of the world. Queenstown is known for being a place made for adrenaline junkies. You can sky dive, bungie jump, white water raft, jet boat, etc. We did none of that. Ha! Instead, I caught a stomach bug.
Luckily that didn’t last long, and we visited some wineries, did some hikes, and spent a lot of time admiring the stunning views. I am not exaggerating when I say that Queenstown may be the most beautiful place I have ever been.
Queenstown was a breath of fresh air after being in remote areas and small towns. As much as I enjoyed the Catlins and Te Anau, arriving in Queenstown reminded me that I like to be close to things. I like having multiple restaurant options, multiple activity options. I like to be able to attend events and be surrounded by people. Small towns and rural areas are fantastic for vacation, but not as permanent homes.
In Queenstown, I discovered my favorite café so far in New Zealand: Bespoke Kitchen. It was full of gluten free, dairy free, refined sugar free treats. I walked away with a box full of snickers bars, muffins, and lemon bread. Later, I discovered that Bespoke Kitchen was named the best café in New Zealand in 2015. (I just wanted to throw that out there for everyone who is reading this thinking, “It probably wasn’t THAT good. She just liked it because it had gluten free/dairy free desserts.”)
On our way to Franz Josef, we spent one night in Wanaka. Wanaka is a town about an hour and a half outside of Queenstown. It is on a lake and is known for its outdoor activities as well as being situated near some wineries. We attended a small farmers market, hiked up a mountain (I don’t know why I keep doing this to myself…), visited an amazing, and trippy place called Puzzling World, and found #thatwanakatree –a famous tree on social media.
After Wanaka, we drove up the coast to Franz Josef. This is considered glacier country. There are two glaciers up there: Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. Years ago, you could hike up the glaciers. However, the glacier faces have receded due to global warming, so it is unsafe for people to hike up anymore. The only way to walk on the glacier is to take a guided heli-hike where you get transported via helicopter to the top of a glacier and led on a hike by an experienced guide. Sadly, these tours require specific weather conditions because it needs to be safe for the helicopter to fly and land on the glacier. We were not in luck. Our tour got cancelled twice.
Instead, we had to settle for hiking near the glacier. It is a sad substitute as you can’t get close to the glacier-just close enough to see it. However, you do hike through the glacier valley observing where the glacier has been and how it carved the area. There are signs along the way denoting where the glacier was at different points in time. It was amazing to see how far the glacier has moved. It looks stationary, but it can move up to 5 meters a day! After passing the sign for 2009, we still had another 10 minutes to walk until we came to the rope where you could see the glacier in the distance. That’s how far it has moved in just 10 years!
Next came the 5 hour drive back to Queenstown to catch our flight to Wellington. Driving here has been quite an adventure. Not only do they drive on the left side of the road, but the roads are narrow and extremely windy. In a lot of ways, it felt like learning to drive again. Every other time I went to turn I’d hit the windshield wipers before remembering the turn signal was on the other side. Since I am so used to being situated on the left side of the car, it was hard to learn to accurately perceive where the car was in relation to the surroundings. It constantly felt like I was too close to the center line. Unfortunately, the roads are so narrow that I had to learn quickly, lest I scrape the left side of the car along the side of a bridge, or edge off the side of a cliff! It’s probably pretty hard to do the latter, but it doesn’t feel like it when you are driving, and it certainly doesn’t feel like it when you’re riding in the passenger seat looking down over the steep slope. Luckily, Elijah and I both successfully stayed on the road and managed to return the car without a scratch.
On the 29th of January, we boarded a flight to return to Wellington, thus ending our South Island vacation. As the trip came to a close, I found myself thinking more and more about what lies ahead with this Fulbright. I continue to feel both excited and terrified. I am excited about what I will learn and experience, and terrified that I won’t be able to do it, that I’ll somehow fail. This entire opportunity is so different from anything I have ever done that it often feels like I don’t know where to start. Then I remember that I do know where to start-it’s just out of my comfort zone. In my opinion, forcing oneself out of one’s comfort zone is one of the most challenging things, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. So for now, I’m trying to focus on the latter part. I’m taking deep breaths and taking it one day at a time. I’m reminding myself that I earned my place here and I am capable of conquering the challenges that lie ahead.