Day 83 – Queenstown, New Zealand

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View from the top of Queenstown Hill

I’m tired. Exhausted really. But the good kind of tired. I had a little bit of a sleep in this morning before checking-out of my hostel. I made a short walk down the street to drop off my bags at the YHA since the Haka Lodge didn’t have any availability past tonight.

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After leaving my bags behind, I walked around the corner to Nomads to meet up with Helen and Elise for the last time. They left for the airport this morning, which marks the last of my Auckland squad to leave Queenstown.

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Luckily, Amy is still in town for one more day so she invited me to climb Queenstown Hill with a group of her friends from the Stray bus. I was the only one from the Kiwi bus but everybody was very friendly from the start, which made the long hike uphill more enjoyable. I’ve realized that even when you’re solo traveling, you’re never really alone. I’ve said it time and time again, but you actually do meet a ton of people that are doing the exact same thing as you. You immediately have something in common and it has gotten easier to break the ice. I feel like this trip has really forced me to come out of my shell and talk to people, which is exactly what I wanted.

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Reppin’ my @vagabrothers gear at the top of Queenstown Hill

The hike itself was probably one of the most tiring walks that I have done. It started with a steep walk uphill just outside the main square. We were all huffing and puffing before we had even reached the beginning of the trail. The hike was almost completely steep uphill climbs but the views were amazing. I had to stop several times to catch my breath and chug some water, but when we finally reached the top, the feeling of achievement washed over me.

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Once at the top, we took loads of pictures, marveled at the Remarkables and took in the views. The walk back down wasn’t so bad and we all had one thing on our minds… Fergburger. I decided to pass on another burger and opted for my first chicken, bacon and mushroom pie from Fergbaker and fries with aioli.

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That’s all for now. I’ve got some plans to go out tonight but I think I will leave that for tomorrow’s blog while I’m still buzzing from today’s hike.

Day 82 – Queenstown, New Zealand

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Today was a bit of a recovery day after yesterday’s activities. This morning I took a little walk around Queenstown and got lost in the little side streets that I had not seen before.

I wandered for a bit before deciding on a smoked salmon bagel sandwich from a place called Balls & Bangels. The little shop also sells assorted stuffed donuts that looked delicious but I was still stuffed from last night’s s’mores shake from the infamous Cookie Bar.

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A burger a day #burgerchallenge

I spent the rest of the afternoon finishing the last season of Reign on Netflix before meeting up with Helen, Elise and Nathan at Fergburger (for the third time). Tomorrow will be another gloomy morning because the last of my Kiwi Experience friends will be leaving. It’s been a fun run but it’s definitely not a goodbye, just another see you later. Disclaimer: I do not have a tattoo.

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Make Mates. Moments. Memories. #kiwiexperience

Day 81 – Queenstown, New Zealand

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Winter in June. I’ve been looking forward to snowboarding since I started my trip back in April, mostly because I wanted to be able to say that I went snowboarding in June! How cool! Anyways, I knew Queenstown was going to be the perfect place for it. While everyone else was busy jumping off of stuff, I decided to have a try on the slopes.

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I should preface by saying that the last time I boarded was about fifteen years ago in Lake Tahoe, and that was also the first time. I thought I would opt out of the lessons and give it a go on my own. Apparently I forgot how terrifying snowboarding was because I was so focused on how I was going to jump off the ski lift.

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Amy and I both booked a day trip to Cardrona and we shuffled our way up the beginner slope for our first go. On my first run down the hill, I started to pick up speed before crashing down at the bottom. Even Amy exclaimed, “Wow, you were going really fast.” My immediate response was, “That’s because I forgot how to stop.” The thing with snowboarding is that you have to lean back onto your heels to slow down your momentum, which 9 times out of 10 usually results in me falling on my butt … literally.

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I spent the rest of the day going over skills that I had watched on Youtube the night before and started to get comfortable on the board again. It is definitely way harder and more terrifying than I remembered. At the end of the day, I didn’t quite conquer the mountain BUT I did have fun and that’s the most important thing, right?

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Day 80 – Queenstown, New Zealand

This morning was the day that we have all been dreading. Today was the day that we had to say goodbye to our beloved kiwi bus. While we have lost a few good friends along the way, we all agreed that we were so lucky to have found each other and share our experiences with such a great group of friends.

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Originally, I had planned some extra days in my New Zealand trip to hop off the bus and explore places like Rotorua and Wellington more in depth, but after I made such good friends on the bus, I didn’t want to leave them right away. Most of us met in Auckland only two weeks ago, but it feels like we have known each other for much longer. Even the girls that we picked up on our way to Lake Mahinapua, it feels like they have been traveling with us since the beginning.

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We all shared the same fears before we started our journey on the Kiwi Experience. The company has a reputation as being catered to 18-year-olds and people that want to constantly party. Our bus ranged from ages 18-35+ but I think we all had the same priorities when it came to traveling New Zealand so it worked out perfectly.

After we said goodbye to Melanie, Sarah, and our bus driver, Jared, we walked Alice to her bus stop on her way to the airport. I checked-out of Nomads and left my bags at my next hostel, the beloved Haka Lodge. Luckily, I still have a few days left in Queenstown with a handful of passengers from our original bus before I have to say goodbye again.

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Domino, black bean and cheese arepa from Caribe

The rest of my day was spent dawdling a bit. I booked my snowboarding trip for tomorrow and got fitted for my gear and equipment. I walked around and explored the last day on Winterfest by the lakefront and had an arepa and churros for lunch/dinner. Tomorrow should be a fun day on the slopes, but I am anticipating a lot of falling on my ass.

Day 79 – Queenstown, New Zealand

 

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View from the Observation Deck at Skyline Queenstown

It was our last full day in Queenstown as a group. In the morning, the girls went to the canyon with Sarah to watch her conquer the zipline while I stayed back at the hostel to do some laundry. Melanie had her zipline and canyon swing yesterday and Elise and Nathan went on their jet boat ride in the morning, followed by Nathan’s Nevis canyon swing and not one, but two bungies. When they say there is no shortage of adrenaline activities in Queenstown, they ain’t kidding!

 

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The Remarkables, both us and the mountains.

Around 4:30, the group of us loaded up on the gondolas and headed up the mountain to The Ledge Bungy, where Helen was scheduled for her nighttime bungy jump. The rest of us stayed out on the observation deck while the sun went down and then marveled at the lights of the city beneath us. At 6:30, we all watched as Helen plucked up enough courage and literally jumped off a cliff into the darkness and cheered her on from the sidelines.

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Cheers to travel friends! Not a bad way to end our run.

I am seriously so proud of all my friends today. After the last jump, we went back to the hostel and then went out for burgers at Devil Burger before heading to the pub to catch the end of the rugby game.

Day 78 – Milford Sound, New Zealand

If you think the South Island is beautiful, then you have to drive from Wanaka to Queenstown and to Milford Sound! My first activity was a day trip to Milford on the Kiwi bus and a cruise down to the Tasman Sea.

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On the drive further south, our driver told us about the history and folk legends around Milford Sound. Milford is actually not a sound but a fiord, which by definition requires a glacier to carve out the edges into a sea or other large body of water. Also, Milford was the last of fourteen fiords to be discovered d/t the entrance being well-hidden by the overlapping cliffs from out at sea.

The drive started early in the morning with a few routine stops, and once the sun had come out, we made some photo stops on our way down. The first stop was to view the magnificent Misty Mountains from LOTR. After all the nerds finished taking our pictures, our new driver, took us to the Mirror Lakes since the weather was good enough to see the reflective surface.

Like Lake Matheson, the water at the Mirror Lakes reflects the mountains perfectly when there is no rain or wind disturbing the surface. We were lucky with our forecast since it normally rains at Milford 50% of the time.

After the lake, we drove through a tunnel, which opened up into a beautiful valley. It felt like we were entering a new world inside the national park. Our last stop was at The Chasm, which is part of the Cleddau River that comes down from the Darran Mountains. The current swirls the river against the huge stones and carves out a unique pattern. It reminded me of the soft edges of Antelope Canyon but with a river.

We arrived at the pier around 1pm, just in time to catch our cruise into Milford Sound. We had lunch on the catamaran and sailed down towards the Tasman Sea. From the boat you are just surrounded by steep cliff sides on both sides of you.

There were some waterfalls that the boat took us up beside before turning around and returning to port. Milford was the perfect combination of crystal blue water, dramatic cliffs, and waterfalls. Needless to say, I was a very happy camper.

Day 77 – Queenstown, New Zealand


Happy Queenstown Day! We left Wanaka in the morning and started our journey to the much-anticipated Queenstown.


Our first stop was at a place called Puzzling World, which is like the Wonder World in San Marcos. They have an illusion room and a giant 3-D maze outside, but I decided to have breakfast at the café and tackle some of the brain puzzles set out of the table.


After Puzzling World, we made another stop in a little town at a place called Mrs. Jones’ Fruit Shop where I bought a “real fruit ice cream,” which was vanilla soft serve with strawberries blended into a cup. It wasn’t super exciting but it was good and paired with the cold winter weather. We are now sitting in the low 30s (-2 to 0°C).

When we arrived in Queenstown, we made our final stop at AJ Hackett Bungy, named after the first man to invent the bungy jump. The office is located on the edge of a cliff and you can watch as people brave up the courage and jump off the bridge in front of you. Two of our passengers were jumping the same day so we watched from the observation desk while the other passengers paid for their various bungies and other extreme sport activities.


Queenstown is known as the Adventure Capital of the World, bungy jumps, canyon swings, sky dives, jet-boating, there is no shortage of adrenaline in this town. The town also sits on a beautiful lake and is surrounded by The Remarkables mountain range. I’m so glad I will be spending a week here, because there is so much to see and do and eat.

Day 76 – Wanaka, New Zealand

Everything is beautiful in the South Island! We left the Rainbow Retreat this morning at 0730 and arrived at Lake Matheson just after sunrise. I took a short walk to see the lake and marveled at the reflection of Mount Cook on the lake’s surface. The water in Lake Matheson is stained a dark brown/black color d/t the the dark tree bark in the area. Behind the lake is a beautiful backdrop of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, the two tallest mountains in New Zealand.

After our stop at Lake Matheson, we had a quick photo-op of the Fox Glacier, the third largest glacier in New Zealand (even bigger than Franz Josef).

The next stop was a short walk to Thunder Creek Falls. As soon as I stepped off the bus, I immediately felt the temperature difference as it is getting colder. We are now more than halfway down the South Island and winter is becoming more and more apparent.

Our last scenic stop of the day was at Lake Hawea. The lake sits just outside of the town of Wanaka and is surrounded by beautiful mountains in every direction. The landscape around the South Island is probably one of the top reasons why New Zealand is quickly becoming my favorite country. The beauty of New Zealand is unlike anywhere else I’ve seen in the world, mostly because it remains untouched.


When we arrived in Wanaka, I dropped my bags off at the YHA and walked across the park to Lake Wanaka. The town is small but the backdrop is jaw-dropping with mountains and the huge lake just a stone’s throw from the main street.


We are leaving Wanaka tomorrow morning and heading to the much-anticipated, Queenstown, also known as the Adventure Capital of New Zealand. I’ve given myself an entire week to stay in Queenstown so I’m really looking forward to staying in the same place for a bit. However, it is also the point where I part ways with my friends from the Kiwi bus. After traveling with most of them since Auckland, it’s gonna be hard to say goodbye.

Day 75 – Franz Josef, New Zealand

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I feel great! Today was one of the highlights of my entire trip. I have been planning to hike the Franz Josef Glacier since I first saw it on Youtube last year. I even prepaid for my trip when I landed in Auckland, because I was so sure I wanted to do it. Our group consisted of nine of us from the Kiwi bus and another couple that joined us with our guide, Felicity.


We had our free breakfast at the hostel and walked over to the Franz Josef Glacier Guides hub to check-in, fill out our health waivers and suit up into all our gear. We had a quick introduction on how to put our crampons on our hiking boots (spikes for walking on ice) and walked to the helipad.

Part of the reason why I booked the heli-hike was because I have never been in a helicopter before. Flying between mountains and overlooking a glacier seemed like a pretty good place for my first helicopter flight, and it certainly did not disappoint. We had another safety briefing and then loaded up into two separate helicopters.

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If you look closely, you can see the tiny people and gives you a scale of how big the glacier is

Our actual flight to the glacier was short but very scenic. In the past, groups were able to climb directly onto the glacier but in 2012 part of the glacier collapsed so now the only way to access Franz Josef glacier is to fly onto it. This was probably my favorite part of the entire hike and at the end you get to fly back down and marvel at where you just were.

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This rock is as tall as the Eiffel Tower but looks small d/t lack of perspective

Once we landed on the ice, we applied our crampons and started to ascend to higher ground. The bottom of the glacier is mixed with dirt as it is quite active and moves approximately two meters per day. The ice at the top of the glacier is a magnificent blue color and there’s even a waterfall. The guides spend hours every day, chipping new trails into the ice and maintaining steps for their tours. Every day the glacier is changing and our guide, Felicity, was telling us that after a big rainfall the path can look completely different as new ice features emerge.

 

We spent about three hours traversing the glacier, squeezing through ice crevices and ascending and descending the manmade steps into the ice. We were lucky enough to have the best weather, as it was sunny and warm with clear skies for the entire hike. I had so much fun and the hike was not very strenuous at all. It was actually a lot of fun walking with crampons, which made walking way easier.

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After the hike, I got the window seat on the flight down and then we walked back to the hub to return our gear. Half our group left to do other activities and the other half went to a café for lunch. After lunch we went back to the hub to take advantage of our free access to the glacier hot pools, which were basically three huge hot tubs with the hottest one being around 40° C.

I had a nice and relaxing time in the hot pools before winding back down at the hostel. Tonight should be a good night because our hostel pub hosts an all-you-can-eat pizza night for dinner. Also, since we have two nights in Franz Josef, we are meeting up with the bus behind us where we’ll see some familiar faces from our tour that spend an extra night on the North Island.

Day 74 – Franz Josef, New Zealand

We were able to sleep in this morning because our bus wasn’t scheduled to leave Lake Mahinapua until 1130. I had a rough night because of all the alcohol-infused guests that were surrounding me. All in all, we had a good night of fun but a bad night of sleep. Oh well, I got over it.


We didn’t have too much driving today to cover to get to Franz Josef, so we only had one midday stop at a cafe. When we arrived at our next destination, half the bus stopped to attend a short briefing for tomorrow’s activity and then we piled back onto the bus to check-in to our new hostel.


After dropping our stuff in our room, Melanie and I had a very short walk around town (all of two streets) before returning the the hostel kitchen to make lunch. It seemed like everybody in the kitchen was cooking some sort of noodle or instant soup today. During our walk, we were pleasantly surprised to see the most vibrant rainbow in the sky that I’ve ever seen. It was so amazing to see the alpine mountains in the background with their tips covered in snow! Tonight will probably be a quiet night in the hostel for me because tomorrow morning I’ve got something really special planned. Stay tuned to find out!