…A brief account of my journey to Middle Earth (aka. New Zealand, aka. land of beautiful mountains)…
Most study abroad students, it seems, save at least a few weeks post-exams (after the official study abroad period) to travel. And why not! Having travelled so far to a place like Australia, NZ was temptation too great to resist.
One of my best friends from primary school, Joel, lived in Wellington at the time I studied abroad, so before i’d even left for Australia we planned a grand tour of NZ south island for the weeks after my time at UQ had finished. We arranged the trip with a company called kiwi tours, and before I knew it UQ exams had finished and I was flying out to Wellington to see Joel again. It was pretty crazy to re-unite – I hadn’t seen him for 3 years! We hung out for a bit in Wellington then took the ferry to south island to start the trip. At the beginning it wasn’t all fun, because transitioning from lovely sunny Australia at the near height of summer to the mild NZ temperature of 15 degrees was terrible. I remember curling up in the corner of the ferry wearing 4 jumpers and my woolly hat, just shivering all the way to south island.
We started in a little coastal town called Picton where we boarded the kiwi tours coach, which travelled clockwise around the coast of the island for 2 weeks. In a nutshell the trip was mostly jumping between hostels in coastal towns and cities. At each stop there would be loads of different things to do. To name a few, me and Joel ended up surfing on the west coast, kayaking in big glacial lakes, bungie jumping the world famous Nevis bungie jump, went mountain biking and partied with loads of other backpackers we met along the way. Bye bye leftover money 🙂
One of the most notable sights on the trip was Milford Sound, a famous fiord on the west coast of south island with the most incredible views. If you are ever fortunate enough to find yourself in New Zealand, this is a sight you shouldn’t miss (Also, if you didn’t already know, most of the Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand, and i’m a massive Tolkien nerd. I was insanely excited to visit places like the southern alps, aka. misty mountains in the LotR flms, which were just as notable as Milford Sound).
Hostel living was tough but rewarding. You have to cook your own dinners in most hostels, meaning a quick shop at the nearest supermarket at each stop. The diet was mostly pasta and snacks like crackers. At one point we came across a fruit market which sold Joel a massive 8kg sack of apples for 7 dollars, so that kept us going for a bit too. The sleeping situation in hostels also takes some getting used to. You could be sharing a dorm with 4 people in one place and 20 people in the next, and alarms will be blaring from 4 am. But it’s all worth it because you meet some amazing characters in these places, and the freedom of hostel living is what backpacker culture relies on.
After the 2 weeks exploring the south we travelled back to where Joel was based on north island, Palmerston north. I stayed with the family Joel was living with, who graciously hosted this random smelly English backpacker for a week. It just so happened that during my stay there, the family were hosting a wedding ceremony! It was an honour to be a part of the wedding, which involved features of Māori culture, elements of which are still deeply rooted in the life of many New Zealanders and which remains a deeply loved cultural heritage.
Unfortunately I didn’t have time to explore much of north island before my return trip to the UK, but it’s on my future travel plans list! The north island is known to be the more culturally rich of the two islands, whereas south island is where most of the famous natural sites and mountain ranges are. If you visit I would recommend spending at least 2 weeks on each island to experience the minimal amount of what there is to see in NZ. For such a small country, it is so rich in new experiences. So if you have time post-studies, don’t rush off back home if you don’t have to! Experience the country you’re in and anything else you want to see nearby without the stress of university.