April 29, 2015

Mid-Semester Break

Kia orana kōtou kātoatoa! (Hello everyone!)

There has been quite some time since my last update, sorry about that! My two week mid-semester break finished up a week and half ago and since then I’ve been studying for Marine Science and Cook Islands Māori exams, finishing up an orchestration for a small chamber orchestra, and generally getting back into the swing of things at Uni. This update, though, is going to cover the fun travels I had during mid-semester break.

So! On Sunday, April 5, my IFSA Butler friends and I met at 4:00am to catch a 5:00am bus to the airport were we boarded our short flight to Queenstown, New Zealand. 

Queenstown, South Island
(via google.com/images)
Air New Zealand flights are so nice. The staff are very friendly, the planes are more spacious than the planes in the States, and they even offer you a complimentary bag of chips or a cookie on most flights. We were even offered the complimentary snack, regardless of the fact that our flight was only an hour and a half long and was earlier than most people even wake up, let alone eat. Luckily I was able to sleep on the plane. 

The descent into Queenstown was spectacular. The Queenstown airport is situated in a small crook between immense mountains near the edge of Lake Wakatipu.  All but the tops of the mountains were obstructed by a dense cloud layer during out descent, but once we de-planed and the cloud layer burned off around noon we got an appreciation for how massive the mountains really were, and how small it made the town feel.
Tops of mountains from plane. Silver in the bottom of picture is the left-wing engine of the plane.
Excuse the reflection of my camera in the glass...
Cloud cover from that morning.
Lake Wakatipu and the mountain range, The Remarkables.
I kid you not, that's what they're called.
After moving into our hostel that morning, our first and most important order of business was to visit the CookieTime Cookie Bar (obviously...). I got a banoffee (spiced banana toffee) cookie and one of the best mochas I’ve had in New Zealand thus far, which is saying something. It was slightly colder in Queenstown than I was expecting it to be, so maybe it was just that the coffee was better because it warmed me up.

So hip with my hat...and shorts...?
At noon we boarded a small boat to take a cruise of Lake Wakatipu, the lake that Queenstown sits next to. The lake was beautiful, and we were provided with a delicious burger and complimentary glass of beer or wine for lunch.

Our chariot.
On the cruise!
Lake Wakatipu, The Remarkables, and Hidden Island from the ship. The Island (small green bit)
is hidden from most points on the shore, hence the name.
After our cruise we went back to the hostel to nap since we were all pretty tired from waking up so early. Later we met up for dinner, which for me was scallops in a ginger/soy sauce. Oh man, were they amazing. The scallops came with the roe, which the server warned me about once he realised we were from the US. He explained that the scallops might not be what I'm expecting since the US is one of the only countries that doesn't serve scallops with the roe, but I'm glad I tried them because they were really delicious. After dinner we went for ice cream and then headed back to the hotel to crash.

On Monday, April 6, the group split up to enjoy our own activities. Two girls from the IFSA group and myself started out our day with a gondola ride to the top of one of the smaller mountains near Queenstown for a zip-line tour!

From the top of the gondola.
Ready to zip-line!

Heh, that face though...
Afterward we all headed our separate ways for lunch to wait for our friends to finish their adventures. Later the whole group met up again for dinner at the famous “Fergburger” where the burgers were as big as my face. I had my first non-alcoholic ginger beer that night as well, and it was so delicious and refreshing. The US equivalent “ginger ale” doesn’t even remotely compare to how good the ginger beer was.

There's a burger in that huge bag...
One Tuesday, April 7, we took a bus tour to/from Milford Sound, a fjord west of Queenstown, with a cruise into the Sound in-between. The day was sunny and perfect, and Milford Sound was really beautiful. There’s really nothing more I can say about that day, I’ll just let the pictures do the talking…

We started with a drive around Lake Wakatipu....
Look, a paraglider!
...then through a valley...

...past the Mirror Lakes...
...down a road through a mountain...
...to Milford Sound!
We saw rainbows...
...and waterfalls.

Twas a good day.
On Wednesday, April 8, the group headed to Lake Wanaka to hike and I stayed behind in Queenstown to do a (incoming: nerd alert) Lord of the Rings Tour!! Hehehe. The guide took myself and two others on a tour of the local filming locations for the LOTR trilogy and to one location where a part of The Hobbit was filmed. The sites were actually not as obvious as I was expecting. It was pretty cool to put some of the movie shots in context and see what is around those locations in real life.

The Remarkables, used for many of the shots
with snow-capped mountains in the background. 
High, snow-capped peak to the right of the picture
used for the attempted walk of the Fellowship over the mountain before they decide
instead to take the route through the Mines of Moria.
We stopped in the little town of Glenorchy en route,
the building on the left is the library...
Glenorchy marina.
Green forest of Lothlórien.
Over the hill to...
And finally, through the farm to...
Beorn's house! (The Hobbit trilogy)
On Thursday, April 9, my Queenstown visit came to an end and I left the group and flew back solo to Auckland because the next day my parents arrived for a visit! At the end of the flight the pilot came through the speakers and did his obligatory "thank you for flying, please come again" speech, at the end of which he said "we welcome all new visitors to Auckland, but if you live here, welcome home". It was a strange moment in which I didn't feel like a student or a tourist or a temporary resident...I really felt like I was home.

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