Well, the introductory stage of my semester in New Zealand is officially over: classes start tomorrow! I’m excited in theory, because I think my classes are going to be really great, but I’m also going to miss having so much time to explore the area. I do have three-day weekends, which will be nice. I’m a little bit nervous just because I really have no idea what the workload will be like, but three classes as opposed to the typical five at Geneseo is bound to be at least a little less time-consuming. Less class means more hiking trips – that’s alright with me.
The thing that’s weird about hiking here (besides the fact that it’s called tramping) is that a lot of the mountains are just like… grass. I’m used to hiking in the Adirondacks, where you follow trails through the trees all the way up and then finally get a spectacular view at the peak. Climbing these mountains is like walking up a really steep meadow the whole way. Granted, I haven’t seen that much of the country yet, so maybe there are forest-y mountains somewhere else. Even as is, it’s still beautiful scenery, but I foresee a lot of sunburn if I have to tramp without trees. Apparently there’s a hole in the ozone layer above New Zealand so the sun is even stronger. This is potentially very dangerous as I am quite likely the palest person to have ever visited this country.
I went to Akaroa yesterday with Erika, Queue, and Montana (names have been changed to protect the innocent). Akaroa is a pretty big harbor on the Banks Peninsula, which looks like a giant crab claw if you see it on a map, and there’s a nice little seaside village to walk around in. We took the bus there in the morning and received excellent commentary – free of charge! – from the bus driver the whole way there. The bus ride through the windy mountain roads reminded me forcibly of our death-defying trips through France with Bruno, the craziest bus driver who has ever lived. (Side note: Kiwi bus drivers are turning out to be one of my favorite things about New Zealand. There’s one metro driver who yells “Thar she blows!” every time he gets within sight of your destination.) So, THIS bus driver told us a lot about the history of the New Zealand dollar and included some pretty hilarious opinions about the economic downturn in the United States. Eventually, he did actually start talking about Akaroa and the things to do and see there, which include swimming with dolphins in the bay (“I don’t have any experience with this myself, but if you’re lucky enough to be pregnant, the dolphins can hear what’s in your tummy: a baby!”).
When we got to the village, we rented kayaks and took them out into the harbor. The mountains come right to the edge of the turquoise water – it was amazing. It was actually like kayaking on Lake George, only more tropical-looking – I was surprised for a second when I splashed myself and the water was salty! After we’d been paddling for over an hour, we pulled the kayaks up onto a rocky little beach and climbed up the hills to introduce ourselves to a pair of cows that we’d seen from the water. I don’t even know how those cows got up there, but I don’t think they’re getting down anytime soon. They didn’t really like us, even though we were being perfectly friendly, and started mooing to another cow on a hill across the way. On the way back, two dolphins started swimming alongside us and came up about three feet from Erika and Montana in their kayak! By the time we got back to the village, we’d been out for about three and a half hours, and were really hungry. We stopped at this little place on the way back to the bus and had one of the most delicious meals I can remember: seafood chowder (all local NZ seafood) and crushed apple cider. We made one quick stop on the bus ride home to taste some cheese at a little cheese factory, and then went back over the mountains.
It was a completely incredible day; I still can’t really believe that I’m here! Everyone from home: start booking your spring break plane tickets. I have some dolphin friends that would love to meet you!