Archive for December, 2010


Used: 2008

Napier was always on my to-do list but its location from Auckland was always a detrurrant. It’s too far for a day or weekend trip and too far for just 1.5 days, which is usually how much time I spent in each place during a holiday weekend. Plus, there were always places a lot closer with more to do, so Napier was pushed to the backburner during my main time in the country. When it came to organizing my summer hols back in the Land of the Long White Cloud, I quickly added Napier to my tour and tried to figure out a way to get there for a few days on my way back to the South Island. After my return to Rotorua after my East End weekend, I was finally on a Intercity bus out of town down south. The 3 hour ride wasn’t too bad and it was funny, at about the half way point, the driver stops on the side of the road and we wait for about 5 minutes before another bus stops going in the other direction. The drivers get out and switch, so each is driving the bus back in the direction they just came from. Too funny! I have also been on Intercity buses that drive to pick up or drop off drivers too at their houses. Only in New Zealand. Anyway, the bus stop in Napier is not in the center of town at all and it’s quick a hike into the main part of town, where my hostel was.

I stayed at the Criterion Art Deco Backpackers in the center of all the tourist stuff, right on the high street. I loved it! Cheap single, big rooms, loads of comfy couches both in the living area with computers as well as the tv room. Huge clean kitchen. Free breakfest! I was there during the week before Christmas and it was dead quiet. The streets might get loud during the weekend, but during the week, it was so quiet. The interior is really interesting as it’s an old hotel and very different. So not modern at all, but very clean (of course) and different, which I love.

I was in town for 2 full days and saw and did everything I wanted. The town was totally destroyed in an huge earthquake in 1931 and they rebuilt the town in the style of the day, which was art deco and most of the buildings are still around and it’s a largest collection of art deco buildings in the world. If you are into that, this place is a must! I went on the walking tour of town and it was really interesting. Even if I am not fully interested in the subject, I love stuff like this. In the afternoon I went on a tour of the town jail which is another thing I didn’t know much about but found the tour interesting. And it being New Zealand, if the prisoner was on good behavoir, they were allowed “free time” around town. Love it. That would have never happened in the US. Anyway, of course, it’s no longer a prison and actually was a backpackers accomodation when I was here, but apparently it’s not anymore, which is kind of dissapointing! I wonder why it’s not anymore. Anyway, a very interesting walk up to this side of town anyway.

Art Deco-ness in Napier

Napier Jail - Look at how easy it is to "escape". Classic New Zealand

The next day was super chill. Got a late start with Breakfast in town, took a nice long walk up to the Bluff Hill Domain (saw a corgi, my first in all the time I had been overseas!), talked to my family on the phone and just enjoyed the fantastic view. So beautiful that day. Walked back into town, went to Bugar Fuel for what would be the last time and can’t remember what I did in the afternoon.

View of Napier, from Bluff walk

The following day I went to Marineland which is/was sort of like a very small Sea World. It got a lot of flack for animal shows and is this animal cruelty” and all that whatnot. It actually officially closed down when their last dolphin died a few weeks before my visit, but to cash in a little bit on the summer tourists, they opened to limited hours and attractions and the one thing that appealed to me was getting to hold a little blue penguin! I had to buy the admission as well as the picture fee but for less then NZ$20, it was well worth it in my book. Yell that I committed animal curelty all you want, but if just sitting there with a towel and a penguin perched on my lap is cruel and unusual punnishment, then pah to you. Otherwise, yeah, the place was pretty depressing. But a good way to kill a morning before my bus ride to Wellington.

I'm holding a little blue penguin!

This region is known for its winary but doing wine tours alone really isn’t my thing, so I didn’t go to any. But apparently farther south in Hastings, it’s wine central. I certainly drank my share while in New Zealand, but going wine tasting isn’t really fun alone.

Moral: I loved Napier! It was such a surprise. I think the weather may have had something to do with it as it was lovely when I was there. This is an area I would love to return too as well as doing the East Cape on my own time too. Agh, I wish NZ wasn’t so far as I would love to do this all again in like 10 days. But travel for 10 days to do something I have kind of already done? There are other places that I want to go first. But this is on my top 10 places to return.

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New Zealand – Living

Used: 2007/2008

So after 2 weeks of job hunting and hostel hopping, I scored the sweetest temp job EVER in Auckland. I was so happy that I actually sucked up the 69cents/minute and call my sister on my mobile, I was so happy. Now I needed a place to live until August when my job would end, about 6 months. The upside of arriving in New Zealand in February/March is that there would be more short term and temp jobs as that is when all the kids go back to school. The downside is that all the cheap housing is gone because everyone is back in school. I was currently crashing up at Princeton Apartments up by the university because it was dirt cheap for my own room. The first room I was in was right above the restaurant and bus stop and was wicked loud and smelled funky. The second room I was in was way higher and pushed back, but because I was up so high, the water pressure was nil which sucks for my thick hair. I needed something more stable, plus with a tv. I am one of those weird people, especially being a girl, I would much rather have my own tv then my own bathroom.

Anyway, the weekend before I started work was dedicated to me finding a place to live. The place I got all my working stuff dealt with suggested the newspaper and Saturday has lots of listings, so I picked it up the next day and started walking around. I called a few place, but lots were way out of my price range, thanks to students. I found a listing for a boarding house a little out of town and took the bus there and actually on my way to one place, I stumbled across Bond Street Lodge and just rang the doorbell and was immediately greeted by Vicki. Bond Street was brand new and when I said I was looking for a room, she gave me the grand tour and what her plans where for the place and told her what my plans were, she immediately started working out a deal since I was staying so long. I ended up getting a single room on the ground floor for the dirt cheap price of NZ$160/week plus a refundable 1 week bond of the same amount that I would get back when I moved out. No contract was signed, just my word that I would stay at least 3 months and give a weeks notice when I was leaving. I was to pay my rent by the week, you know, whenever. And that was it! Since I had already paid for another week at Princeton, I told her I could move in the following weekend and she said that was fine. And for the most part the place was great! Since I had just arrived and I didn’t know how much I was going to be taking home from my paycheck each week and how much I would need on day to day things, it was a great place to start. I loved that the bathrooms where like home and you got the whole room when you locked the door for shower, sink and toilet. I never had to wait for one of the 4 on my floor. All the public areas were cleaned every single day and I never had a problem there. There was a slight door slamming problem that annoyed the hell out of me, but if that is the least of my issues, then that is hardly a complaint. Also, I wasn’t aware at first, but none of the rooms came with a heater! When I asked about it, I was told that the previous owners had a problem with people stealing them, which was annoying. If I could have rented one with a refundable bond, that would have been great, but oh well. I waited it out until about the middle of June before I just couldn’t take it anymore and bought a ceramic heater that hardly worked. I mean, it worked just fine, but since the walls were cement, it was always cold. I had the thing running 24 hours a day and it wasn’t until nearly a month later that I turned it off because it was finally too hot. On the other side of it all, I was saving so much money because my rent and lack of bills was so low. Kingsland is the last stop in “zone 1” so I did take the bus to work everyday but it was cheap and I walked into town on the weekends if I was going. I loved the buses in Auckland! I almost always got a seat and since the stop was like half way down the block, if the bus was stopped at the corner the the driver saw me running late for it, he would open the door for me. So nice! Loved that everyone says thanks (ta!) all the time.

Table space in my Bond Street place, kickin' it olde skool with those pictures!

After about 5 months, I was getting tired. Tired of doors slamming, tired of sharing, little things that didn’t bug me when I first arrived were starting to get on my nerves. Plus, I had just applied for a job where I was the “preferred candidate” for another temp job at the same company I was already at for another 9 months. There was no way I could survive another 9 months in this place. I also had evened out a lot. I knew how much I was spending and saving each week. I could afford an upgrade. As soon as I signed my work contract and deposited my visa papers to stay longer (fingers crossed on approval!) I went on the hunt to find a studio. I emailed around and the only place to call me back were CitySales and I made an appointment for the following day to meet with an agent at an apartment I was interested in. She told me about 2 available units in the building. The first one was on a lower floor with a view of the parking garage across the street and had a stereo and dvd player (oh, besides being fully furnished, which I needed because I didn’t have or want anything). Plus I would get a week free to start with that place and it was listed as $290/week. The next unit was on the 15th (out of 18) floors and had a view of the harbor. I was sold, minus the extras and it was listed at $300/week. But since I was signing a lease for 9 months (plus over the holiday season, which apparently is hard to rent out, so different then Australia!) I got it for $290/week, plus a 2 week bond which was returned to me when I moved out, plus a fee to to the agency I used of one weeks rent PLUS tax, which was probably the worst part. But oh well. The place was fabulous. I loved it. I loved sitting on my awesome maroon leather couch looking out my window, reading, watching the ships come in and out. I loved my view of the Hyatt next door, on those summer weekend nights when it was filled with wedding parties to spy on. I leaned over my balcony around the side of my building and I had a perfect view of SkyTower. I had a washing machine/dryer combo that took forever and didn’t do a good job, but it was free. I had my own bathroom. Agh, even just sitting here writing about it now, I miss it! (And I love my current apartment too!). Even though I had to pay that fee for CitySales, I would use them again. My agent was awesome and every time I emailed her regarding something, no matter how small, she was very prompt about turn around. But I had to deal with toilet paper and paying my electric bill every month, which was new to me! In my other place, it was all provided, but tis the cost of having my own space. Well worth it, especially since I lived in the boarding house for so long to save. I took my heater with me when I left Bond Street, even though my new place had a heater and even though the space was probably 10 times the size of my old room, the insulation was so much better, I actually turned it off during the day and rarely at night. And if you don’t know ceramic heaters, those things give off like NO HEAT.

Rare, sunny day in Auckland! View from my awesome apt.

Lean over the balcony to the right, around my building and this was my view at night.

This is a listing to another unit in the building I lived in. Not the same unit but just on the other side of the building, to give you an idea of how awesome it was!

Moral: I liked both places I lived and I liked that I mixed it up a bit. It was nice at first to live with a bunch of people, but I am kind of a loner and like to have my own space for everything and liked that I lived in town too. The boarding house definitely mixed it up and I got to know another side of town, by living in it, but my view in my studio=LOVE. The sky changes so much in New Zealand, that I took so many pictures and have decorated my new place with them. I made two great choices when it came to living in New Zealand’s biggest city.

Used: 2007/2008

Another area I ended up in twice was The Coromandel. The first time I went on Queen’s Birthday weekend in 2007. I stayed in Waihi, not knowing how freakin’ far it was from Haihei, but it was a nice drive and as always, you live and learn. And even though it was a holiday weekend, I knew what “holiday traffic” translated to in New Zealander at this point. I didn’t really do much my first time there as it rained nearly the entire weekend. I went on Cathedral Cove Kayaking tour and loved it. Since I was by myself, I went with the guide and unfortunately, he “drove” the kayak, but oh well. The trip was awesome and informative! And all the guides are from New Zealand, not like a lot of the guides on the South Island (I’ll get to that at some point). I loved that everyone was local. After the tour, I walked up to Hot Water beach, but it wasn’t too much fun being there alone. The water there is pretty nuts though. During low tied, you dig into the sand and hot water comes up, thanks to a freak of nature in the ground. How anyone discovered it, is beyond me. I tried to go horseback riding too, but the tours weren’t running because of the rain.

Artsy-fartsy kayak picture

I am not a train nerd by any means, but since I was in the area, I decided to ride the Goldfields Railway in Waihi and it was actually kind of fun! It killed a few hours before I returned to Auckland (and shopping for the month of course).

Riding the Rails, New Zealand country-side

When the family came to visit and my sister stayed an extra week, after we dumped the parents off at the airport, we kept heading south for the town of Whitianga, which is one of the larger towns in The Coromandel. We stayed at Turtle Cove hostel in a double room in one of their trailers in the backyard. Unfortunately, we didn’t know but this was a stop off for the Kiwi Experience bus and on our first night, the place was packed and loud and the nearest bathroom was across the backyard in the house. But owners were wicked friendly and they allowed free use of shovels and buckets for Hot Water Beach, which my sister took eagerly. During our time in Whitianga, we took the ferry across the bay, went on some hikes around Shakespeare Reserve and of course, I had to take my sister on the kayaking trip I had been on earlier that year. But this time, I had to drive the kayak! We split it up and each took a turn as you stop for a coffee and tea break at Cathedral Cove. We then spent the rest of the afternoon at Hot Water Beach, where I promptly fell asleep and got horribly burned (what else is new). All in all, a great time and even better with a friend!

Cathedral Cove, New Zealand

New Zealand "traffic", waiting for the light to change on a pretty long one-lane bridge

Ready for digging at Hot Water Beach! Can you see the steam?

Moral: New Zealand is a single persons paradise. I rarely had trouble doing things alone or finding single rooms, but for some reason, it was kind of hard in The Coromandel. I had a much better time when I went with my sister. I don’t know if it was because of summer, but I am going to say it was because I had someone with me! The beach is always better with a friend. The Coromandel is another tourist fav but I think I have done all I want and like Paihia, I’m done for now.

Used: 2007/2008

My first big holiday weekend in New Zealand was Easter. They call it their version of Thanksgiving because it’s a 4 day weekend, but that is where the comparison ends. Everything is closed on Good Friday, Easter Sunday and a day I never knew existed, Easter Monday (hello Jew Girl!). But everything is opened Saturday. What a gyp! Anyway, where is a town that’s only matter of survival is tourism and therefore, most things have to be open on holidays? Rotorua (aka: RotoVegas, amongst other names)! The town is about 3 hours south of Auckland and a huge tourist spot. Everyone told me that traffic during this weekend was nuts and since I had never driven on “the other side of the road” I didn’t want to risk it during a busy holiday weekend. I live in LA, I know how bad it can be! Before I left, I booked my hostel (Kiwi-Paka), bus ticket for Friday morning (not knowing the buses and trains have very limited runs and ended up taking a taxi to SkyCity) and a half day of rafting on the Kaituna River with Kaitaki Adventures and then would figure out what to do with the rest of my weekend.

Lake Rotorua

Free Thermal Pools around Rotorua

The bus ride was uneventful and the roads were bare. Where was all this traffic I was hearing about? I got into town and walked quit a distance to my hostel. I could have called for a shuttle, but I wanted to walk and get a feel for the town. The hostel was on the other side of the free geothermal park in town and for me this was perfect. I liked quiet. The room was very clean and comfortable. Kiwi Paka (used to be) owned by YHA and therefore was very clean and had everything I could want for NZ$40 a night in my own double room complete with desk, chair, mirror and loads of hooks! I walked back into town and went to the Polynesian Spa as I got a free ticket when I bought my rafting ticket at the travel store at ACB. Score! The spa was pleasant but I don’t know if I would have paid for it. For free, hell yeah!

Woke up early Saturday morning and went on the rafting trip which was great! The part of the Kaituna river rafters can go down has the highest commercial waterfall (at 7meters) in the world that you can “legally” raft down. Going down that was probably the most scared I have ever been in my life (didn’t help that I had no idea how high 7m was!) but my group didn’t flip and only one person fell out, thankgod it wasn’t me! The trip only lasted until lunchtime (for some reason I thought it was going to be all day) and I now had nearly 2 and a half days to kill. A shuttle came and picked me up and dropped me off at my hostel and in that, I got a feel for the town. It’s pretty big and unlike a lot of other NZ towns, not very walkable. I also took notice of the holiday “traffic”. THERE WAS NONE! Maybe more then usual, but I am used to bumper to bumper jams and there was nothing even close to that in Rotorua. So I made the executive decision when I was trying to figure out the rest of my weekend and to hire a car while in town. The hostel hooked me up with a local rental car company and the women came and picked me up and drove me back to the office to work out the details. I was so nervous driving out of the gravel driveway and of course, flipped the wrong side of the wheel and my wipers came on when I wanted my turn signal. I kept glancing to my upper right and there was no mirror. I kept gliding to the left, not wanting to hit anyway. I felt 16 again and just starting to drive. It was creepy and great at the same time. I drove out of town a bit and went to The Buried Village because I had been to Pompeii before and loved it and thought this would be kind of similar. It was, but kind of a disappointment too. It was so tiny, but then I guess anything compared to Pompeii will be. Still kind of interesting because the volcano that exploded and covered the village was way more recent.

Sunday I woke up bright and early and went to the Agrodome, which is most famous for the Zorb. I didn’t have any interest in doing the Zorb myself (though I did want to go and watch people do it) but I wanted to go to their famous Farm Show. I bought a ticket to that as well as the farm tour and enjoyed both thoroughly. The show was extremely entertaining and showed all sorts of sheep and at the end, lets the audience come up and have their pictures taken with all the animals. I really enjoyed the farm tour as well, if only because the guide didn’t sugar coat anything. The sheep we were petting today could easily end up on our plates in a few weeks. It made me a little sad (I loves me the meat) but I value honesty quite highly and liked that they admit to stuff like that up front. In the afternoon, I went to Whakawarewa which is part Maori Village and part thermal park. I liked that it had a little bit of both in it. I took the free tour at the top of the hour and it was a good intro to the park.

Farm Show, Rotorua

Baby Lambs at Farm Show, Rotorua

1 of the 40million sheep in New Zealand, saying whazzzup

Whakarewarewa, Rotorua

Smell the steam!

Me breathing it all in. Thankgod I have the worst sense of smell and can't smell it!

Monday I went to Wai-O-Tapu and saw the Lady Knox Geyser go off, which was actually kind of super lame. Unlike the geysers I have seen in the US and Iceland, they advertise when this one goes off. I wonder how they always know and it wasn’t until I showed up that I found out that they throw baking soda into it every day at the same time so tourists can watch it go off. LAME! But that is tourism in New Zealand. Everything is an experience. Wai-O-Tapu was pretty cool, but I am not like super into rocks and stuff. If you are then this is the place for you! Also, I think I was getting a little burned out on thermal activity. No regrets in going, of course, but I doubt I’ll ever be back. Besides that, the place is HUGE and I got a nice long walk out of it. I don’t really remember what I did in the afternoon. Maybe went shopping because I had a car? I don’t really remember.

Ranger about to pour in the baking soda at Lady Knox Geyser

There she blows!

Colour and steam at Wai-O-Tapu

Goes on forever, Wai-O-Tapu

Safety, New Zealand-style

I took it easy on Monday and all I did was just go back to the river I went rafting on on my first day to take some pictures and video of people rafting down the 7m fall. Of course, during my tour they took pictures, but I never buy them as they are always overpriced and since I am always alone, it’s never worth the bang for my buck. And I don’t mind if it’s not me, as usually I just want the picture or video to show people what I did, not me actually doing it. Dropped the car off, got a ride back to the bus station from the rental car owner and bus back to Auckland! If I had to do it over again, I would have just rented a car and driven to and from Auckland. But you live and learn! And I learned that not only does everyone in Auckland over exaggerate how bad their traffic is, that even on a holiday weekend, it’s still not nearly as bad as a normal day in LA.

I then ended up back in Rotorua two more times during my travels down under. At the end of the year, when my family came, and we were driving back up from Wellington, I said, we could either spend 2 days in ROT or WLG and 1 in the other and my family chose 2 days in WLG, so we were only in ROT for an evening and the following morning. We stayed at the Rotorua Motor Lodge which I remembered seeing on my Easter weekend trip as it overlooks Whakawarewa and even though the place was kind of shanty and smelled funny, I thought it would be something different. And it was! My sister and mine’s room overlooked the thermal park! We just did dinner at night and the next morning I dropped my Dad off at the Rotorua Museum and then drove my sister and mom to the farm show. I sat out as we were at the end of 12 days and I just needed a break. And while I liked the farm show a lot, I didn’t need to see it again. My mom, who is a teacher, LOVED it and it was a total highlight of the trip, don’t know what that says about her or the trip. She loves things that are campy yet informative and the farm show totally covers that. We then picked my Dad up, had lunch and hightailed it to Auckland.

The following year, I ended up back AGAIN in Rotorua because the tour I wanted to take of the East Cape started and ended there, so I ended up there for about 4 more days with pretty much nothing to do as up until then, I had done everything. I stayed at Kiwi Paka and rented a car from the same place and pretty much just hung out that week. I was in Rotorua for so long because I booked a bus ticket so far in advance and got it dirt cheap and the hostel there was better and cheaper then in Auckland. I had just done all the touristy stuff already. I don’t even remember how I killed time for 4 days. I went to the Rotorua Museum and actually quite enjoyed it. Lots of stuff on the history of the town, not just on it’s geothermal history either. I took a road trip to Taupo for the day. And just drove.

One thing I didn’t do was go to a Maori show and dinner. I don’t know, this just didn’t appeal to me at all. When I was in Hawaii like 15 years ago, we got some cheap tickets to the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) and I just felt uncomfortable there. I like traveling and experiencing new cultures, but in natural environments, not Disneyland-type places that only exist to entertain tourists. After a while, I did come to respect all these shows, because they are EVERYWHERE and it’s a good way for the Maori to make money in Whitey’s world. What can you do about that. It just wasn’t for me.

View from somewhere in the Rotorua area

Moral: For a town I was always kind of meh on, I sure ended up passing through a lot! Like Auckland, I never knew when I would be back, so I did all the touristy things I wanted to do on my first time there and then of course, ended up there the most, besides Auckland. Rotorua is a great tourist town. It’s sort of like Vegas in that way where pretty much they found their niche and cashed in on it and you have to give them props for that. There is loads to do and it changes all the time and there is always new stuff to do.

NSE – National Student Exchange

Used: 2002

There have been a couple of posts floating around lately of peoples regrets in not doing a study abroad while in college. This used to be one of the few ways kids traveled overseas on the cheap (aka: mom and dad) or for the first time. Things have changed a lot in the last 10 or 20 years in the way of traveling and just because you didn’t do a proper study abroad doesn’t mean you are going to be stuck at home for the rest of your life. Nor can “staying home” (not leaving the country) be frowned upon! It took leaving the country for me to realize how lucky we are in the US. We can surf and ski, see fine art, hike in the sun and snow and about a million other things in the same day (depending on where you live in the country) without the need of a passport. There are very few (if any!) countries that you can do all that.

When it came time for me to decide on where to “study abroad” I wanted to go everything. I wanted to do a semester in London and a year in Australia. So you may think it was an odd choice for me then to choose a whole different program and do a semester at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst through the National Student Exchange . To back the truck up even more, I think I have said this before, but I did not like school. I went to college because it was expected of me (both my parents went to ivy-ish schools (Mom=Barnard, Dad=Berkeley) so I was 2nd generation) and I knew I couldn’t get a job without it. I knew I wasn’t ready for the “real world” so I killed time with college and worked and did internships. I used my summer vacations for travel and spent all the money I earned during the year. I associated LA with “working hard” while everything else was play. Why would I want to spend a whole bunch of money and be stuck in class every day? When I was in the study abroad office, I found out about the NSE and changed my plan. I lived at home, commuted to school and worked. This was not the “typical, Felicity college experience” my year saw and wanted to achieve. I liked where I ended up, but I wanted to experience something different as well. I wanted to live in a dorm. I wanted to have no work commitments. I wanted to see what it was like when school was your world. To not have a car. To live in a small college town. To see snow fall from the sky! UMass fit all those expectations. After 3 years, I knew I didn’t want it forever (and in hindsight, I could have never really gone to a school like that), but what else is a “study abroad” if not to learn and experience a different culture? Sign me up! If you look at the schools who participate, it’s mainly state schools. No ivys, just middle of the road schools for the everyday student. Most schools have a 1:1 exchange which means you have to send people to the same school you accept people. Oddly (or not) U of Hawaii at Manoa (in Honolulu) was the top school in the country. One kid from CSUN went there and all she took was hula and whatnot because it was her last semester! Anyway, I was a little worried about not getting into UMass, but luckily, CSUN is one of the top 10 schools in the program because everyone wants to come to LA and CSULA is not only in a crappy neighborhood, but they only accept kids for the year, while CSUN does semester. I think nearly everyone (if not everyone) my year got “accepted” for their first choice schools. UMass here I come! I also got accepted into the group that got to pay in-state California tuition, which meant I was paying less then kids at UMass paid for the same school. Score! The biggest expense I had that semester was living in a dorm and paying for the food, but for one semester, I think I can afford it. One semester won’t kill me.

The experience was fantastic! There were some kids on the program from Hawaii who had never seen snow before and while I had, I had never seen it fall from the sky. It snowed super early that semester, like the week before Halloween, which apparently is really early, but I loved it, mainly because I knew I was leaving in December and not coming back. I lived in one of the quiet dorms and enjoyed it. I got along with my roommate for the most part. As I said when I left, it could have been worse. I didn’t work for the first time in nearly 3 years. I helped out at the college radio station and read the news on Friday mornings with another Californian who read the sports (though he was a perm student, I thought it was still funny) because while I worked for a huge commercial station back in LA, there was no way I would ever make it on-air or really wanted too. And what else is college for but trying new things you could never do otherwise? I met a guy and “hung out” for a few weeks until I came back to California and it kind of fizzled and I didn’t care too much. I walked around the campus in the snow a lot. I would take the free bus into town and hang out at Wal-Mart and the $4 movie theater. I experienced cold weather I have never felt before and my eyes would start to water and I wasn’t crying. And after finals I came back to California and jumped back into my old life.

Moral: I am really glad I did this “study abroad” instead of one actually overseas. I wouldn’t have wanted to waste my time in a foreign country being stuck in class. The following summer I did my own grand tour of Europe and didn’t have to waste a minute in class. And isn’t experiencing a culture and life outside what you normally experience the point of study abroad? I’d say I achieved that. And I didn’t even need my passport! If your school is part of this program, I would highly recommend it!

*Sorry, I have no pictures. This was 2002 and I still used a film camera at this point. And actually, I didn’t take too many pictures while I was there either*

Used: 2007

Winter in New Zealand is long. They celebrate Queen’s Birthday week the first week in June and they don’t have one single national holiday day off until Labour Day at the end of October, their version of the un-official start to both the summer and holiday (aka: silly) season. We thought it was bad when places deck it out for the hols at the start of November? Try not having the bumper of Halloween and Thanksgiving to push it off. And New Zealand winters are hard. Rain and wind and snow. Even for someone who loved winter, it was a bit rough going at parts. Luckily, I mixed it up, switched jobs 3 times and went to Wellington for a week before settling into a new 9 month position. I couldn’t imagine doing it non-stop.

Anyway, for Labor Day weekend, I did a quick weekend trip down to Hamilton (The Tron!), a quick detour to Raglan and caving in Waitomo, the main reason for the trip! Private rooms in Raglan were sold out for the holiday weekend, so I ended up at a generic American-style hotel in Hamilton, which is like one of the most boring-big cities in New Zealand. It’s a major farm town and like every farm convention in the country is held here at some point. There are some gardens, but it gets a pretty bad rap from Aucklanders, so I didn’t care much to see anything. Besides, the place I stay had cable, which I hadn’t seen in nearly a year, so I was like a pig in shit watching CNN (International!) and Sky Movies at night. Whatever, it was my vacation.

I drove down on Saturday morning to Raglan to see the beach town and grab some lunch, but the weather was horribly overcast and the waves looked really rough and cold, so I just took some pictures, tried to take an alternative way out of town and promptly ended up lost on a dirt road. This was probably the scariest drive I did in New Zealand as while I had a map, I still had no idea where I was going to end up. Plus all the dirt and my cell phone was out of range. I past a couple of people driving the other way, but still. Not all that fun. I drove back to Hamilton, thankful for the drive to be over.

Raglan

The tree looks like this all the time. Shows how windy it gets!

The next day, I woke up bright and early and drove down (on typical empty roads) to Waitomo for a full day of Black Water Rafting . Essentially, black water rafting, is floating down a river inside a cave (hence the “Black”). My tour included everything! Abseiling, which was super hard. It’s hard to let your body just drop off a cliff, so unnatural! Flying fox, which is clipping youself to a line and swinging about 20 yards in totally darkness. Jumping off cliffs into freezing water in your inner tube and just rafting around the internal rivers. I did the black abyss tour and while some people say that the 3 hour tour was enough, I loved the 5 hour tour. By the end I was so cold and tried and just wanted it to end and then the next thing I knew, it was over, so perfect timing!! Everything was included, all you have to bring is yourself and a swim costume, perfect!

I love doing these full day tours. They aren’t that much more then the 3 hour tours, plus start later in the day and take up the whole day. The cost of two half day activities in New Zealand ends up costing a lot more. Definitely one of the highlights of my time in New Zealand.

The following day, I just took my time getting back to Auckland, taking advantage that I had a car and stopped at Sylvia Park, the biggest mall in the country to stock up on supplies that I had been putting off for a while. Whenever I had access to a car, I ended up buying like a months worth of groceries instead of just wanted I needed for the week, thanks to this rare luxury. Another “perk” of living abroad!

Cliffs of New Zealand, near Raglan

Moral: I can’t think of anywhere else in the world to go caving like this. I mean, I am sure it exists, but nowhere else in New Zealand or Australia (or North America)!. A must for every tourist, especially those like me who like to keep close to the ground.