Thursday, April 29, 2010

Aotearoa part 4

Our first hut
Near the peak at a waterfall fed lake
on the way to the first hut
Treacherous part on the way to the peak
Group shot of us ready to take on the track

Finally, the last part of my holiday travels across NZ end at the Routeburn Track in Fiordland National Park.

My host parents, host brother, and I drove up to Te Anau (T-OW-NOW) to stay for the day before the big hike and my host dad also had business to attend to there. Te Anau is a town that has been working on increasing tourism to compete with the likes of Queenstown, but its doubtful that it will ever happen. It is a BEAUTIFUL place right on incredible fiords, but there is only one road to get in AND out of the town. However, it is also a very popular place for people to have vacation houses in and is still considered a big destination on the South Island. We ate the cheese rolls that I had rolled at school a couple of weeks before and it was a long enough time for them to not seem appalling to me anymore. When we woke up the next morning we got our heavy packs together and went to meet the rest of the people we were going with. Me, Pip (host dad), Liam (host brother), Eric (family friend), Nika (Eric's daughter and my friend), Julia (Nika's sister), and then 2 of Julia's friends in all.

We drove up to the start of the track all very excited for the tramp and our last few days of holiday. We assessed our haul of lollies for the next three days and decided it would be enough and then we were off. It took us about 5 minutes before we started to sing sing-a-long-songs and then about another 10 minutes before we stopped singing because of what we saw infront of us: spectacular snow capped mountains. Just like out of Lord of the Rings ae?- I thought to myself. Its really hard to describe though. Just imagine yourself walking up to the top of a mountain with all you need on your back surrounded by untouched national park filled with mountains, fiords, endless amounts of waterfalls and streams , and basically just pure mother nature. Pictures can help with it, but it really does not compare at all to the feeling you get while you are there.

The huts that we stayed at, housed 50 people and were extremely nice. The Routeburn Track along with all the other tracks surrounding that area in Fiordland National Park are world class and in turn attracts people from all over the world. So in the huts I got to meet people from Aussie, USA, parts of Asia, Germany, and more. Everyone is there for the same reason and can all sit down, relax, and enjoy the other peoples company for the night before their long day of hiking the next early morning. Our group spent most of our time playing charades, cards, scrabble, and other funny little games. 

The second day of our hike took us to the very top of the mountain where we were supposed to get some pretty spectacular views, however the weather was not on our side and we were stuck in a cloud the whole time. This was no matter because the day before was amazing enough for me and it was quite an eerily cool feeling to be up so high yet not quite knowing where you are. It was definitely a climb that day to make it to the top but we made and and had a very deserving marmite and cheese sandwhich. O yes! BREAKING NEWS: i like marmite and vegemite now. O and i guess while I am at it with breaking news I might as well say that I have also learned my schools haka for rugby and I also know the NZ national anthem in English and Maori. I am very happy with all of this.... anyways we later made it to our next hut and resumed our fun games and all that shizz. We made a delicious curry dinner and had lots of hot chocolate (we packed a whole lot of stuff).

There is not much to write about here because it was mostly the same thing for the 3 days but what I can say is that these 3 days held some of the most breath taking views that anyone could ever see in their life and that I am a very very lucky person to have been able to go there. This was the best tramp of all and will be one of the major things that sticks out to me in my memories on NZ

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Aotearoa part 3

Beach we went swimming at and spent the whole day on
Fun in the hut with everyone
Stewart Island Chain Link, linking it to the rest of New Zealand (The whole Blue Light group)
On the vomit voyage back to the main land

Now my journey over my holiday goes to Stewart Island, the third and smallest of the main islands of NZ. Through school I got signed up to do a three day tramp across the island with a group called Blue Light. Its a group of police volunteers that try to set up better relations with youth by taking them on little trips. The trip started with a departure from Bluff (a place world renowned for oysters and also the most southern point on the South Island) by ferry to the island. The ferry crosses one of the roughest strips of water over the Foveaux Straight. It is where the Pacific Ocean meets another body of water (its either the Tasman Sea or Indian Ocean) and it gets very very shallow and makes the waves big and powerful. Luckily going there it was a very flat day and no one got sea sick. Upon arriving it was sussed out that there were 2 kids from each school around Invercargill and there were 12 of us in all with 3 leaders. 2 of the leaders were really cool while the other definitely had something against me. Whether it be I am from the US or my school got me into the group late or something else, he just did not like me.

We walked from the town of Oban off into the bush to reach our first hut. It was a very cold and rainy day but our spirits were not dampened because the island was so amazing to be on. Even though it is so close to Invercargill, they are nothing alike. It reminded me of a cold and rainier Bay of Islands. Very tropical with crystal clear water. Stewart Island is known for having Kiwis, the flightless bird to which NZ people are named after, Sea Lions, and penguins. Those are all very cool things but unfortunately we did not see any of those except for penguins on far off rocks. This is probably because we were so loud as we walked and anything that would have been alive around us would have been running as fast as it could in the other direction. The first hut was pretty cool and me and some of the mates I made went hunting for possums. A NZ pest that people kill all the time but it is quite different than the possums in the US. These are black and furry and look more like lemurs to me, but everyone HATES them. We saw a lot but never quite got one. We also had one of my Maori mates telling stories of the "waka days" basically taking the mickey of his own heritage, and it was so funny everyone was left in tears (more than half the people we were with were Maori). Waka in Maori means boat and that is what the Maori people came in to NZ with, and I swear with the made up stories he was telling he could do stand up comedy at all the major cities in NZ. It would not really work in any other country because no one would get the Maori humor but I have to say that it was pure genious.

The next day we made our way to Port William that was a little bay with glassy clear water. We were so hot and tired from all our walking, and even though it was raining and cold enough to see your breath we decided that we were going to go swimming. I also must say that there is nothing between NZ and Antarctica. So we went to the warf and stripped down to our poly props (like under armor) and dove in. FREEEEEEEEZZZZINNNGGGG! but at the same time SO awesome. We had our own bay to ourselves with a big beach and we stayed out there from 3 pm till about 10pm, not swimming anymore of course but just chilling on the beach with warm clothes. Great great day with lots of laughs and stories and hot chocolate.

The last day was not our best day... I had the worst blisters on the back of my heel, my shoes were completely soaked, we were all completely buggered, and it was rainy and windy as hell. I am not complaining at all thought because it was still freakin awesome but it was not as good as the first 2 days. But when we got back everyone bought the biggest meals of fish and chips that we have ever had and just demolished them... leading to what also made the day not so good. We arrive to catch the ferry only to hear to that the water is very very rough but that they are still going to take the chances of going across ensuring our safety was of the utmost concern. They did say however that if you could stay another night on the island and take the boat out the next day that would be the better option. I was not excited for this...

WARING: this is kinda gross and not completely necessary to read. If you dont want to, go to the next SAFE ZONE reading spot.

As the boat started to hit the big waves everyone was squealing with joy and even this one American guy came to the very front of the boat to ride the waves as this was the place that got the most air. The waves were taller than the boat at times and the fun lasted for about ummm, 5 minutes. Next thing I know a chick next to me is puking in a barf bag. I run away in the other direction to an old woman who has just puked on the ground. I look for another place to take safe refuge on the boat to realize that over half the people on it have their faces in a bag. Even the giddy american was embarrassingly handing used barf bag after used barf bag to the ship's crew. Fish and chips was not looking like the best choice at this moment, especially when I was looking at it all over the floor now. Not from me though, I do not get sea sick but I have to tell you I was on the verge from everyone else all around me. When we finally made it back I was very thankful and just glad to be able to stand solid (and not have puke bombs going off everywhere around me). I went home and got ready for the Routeburn Track which I would be leaving for the following morning for another 3 day tramp. I dont know if you are keeping count but it was 2 days tramping on north island, 3 days on Stewart island, and now 3 days on the Routeburn with less than a day between each. I was starting to feel pretty bloody knackered, but still having the best time of my life!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Aotearoa part 2

Manuela and Iida on the train to Welly
Beach in Paraparaumu
Bungy ball sling shot thing in the middle of the city

Current location: Assistant Principal's Office at Southland Boys High School (but just using the computer)

Now my journey through "The Land of the Long White Cloud" moves to the the southern part of the North Island by plane to Palmerston North. I am picked up by my AFS Bolivian friend, Manuela, and her host family and taken to their house in Levin. It is a town about half the size of Invercargill and sits on flat land surrounded by hills to one side, mountains to another, and then the big Mt. Ruapehu and Mt. Tongariro (this is Mt. Doom in Lord of the Rings and is very spectacular) sitting off in the distance. Manuela's family consists of just a host mother and father, and kids that live in other parts of NZ. They live in a pretty big 2 story house that the father built himself. I was very surprised when I heard this because the house had many intricacies and things that you would think one man could not do himself.

My first day there we went to Paraparaumu for a car museum, which surprsingly was very fun and interesting. Some of the very first cars ever made were there and it was massive. Just rows and rows of old cars like Fords and... well other cars. I am not interested in cars at all but it was still very cool to go to and it had a lot of history there.

Back at the house we had delicious fish and chips and Manuela made everyone Cappacinos (thats gotta be spelled wrong) because she is origionally from Italy and is very good at making those things. The next day we went to the Country's capitol, Wellington. We woke up at 6 and caught the 6:30 train to Windy Welly with Manuela's friends Iida (Finland) and Christian (Germany). It was a 1 and 1/2 hour comfortable ride with all the business people on their way to work. We were very loud kids taking pictures the whole time and I am quite sure that all the people around were not to pleased. It was the first time that we exchange kids had been without any adults on our way to a big city to explore it alone and do whatever we wanted and we were, needless to say, giddy. It wasnt like being with NZ kids that you sometimes feel uncomfortable around because you want to fit in all the time, because international kids always immediately share a common bond and almost automatically become great friends. We would not see anyone in the city or the train ever again and we are not trying to impress any kids at school so it was complete relaxed freedom and we were taking it all in.

We pull up to the city and it was a MASSIVE difference to Levin or Invercargill with people EVERYWHERE! People driving their cars, riding their bikes, and walking all with a purpose to get to their jobs. It was just so busy and I loved it. We walked by the Bee Hive, the capitol building, and then decided we wanted to got to Te Papa, the national museum. A big plus being that it was FREE! This museum was amazing with all kinds of NZ history and cool things to do. We then road the Wellington Cable Car up the hill to the Carter Observatory. Also amazing because I love learning about space and the rest of the universe. It blew our minds a lot, and I did not understand half of the stuff but it was really brilliant.

We ate, went around the shops, and then finally decided we needed to do something exciting! Me and Iida chose to do this Bungy-Ball-Slingshot in the middle of the city. SO exhilerating! But the funny thing was that we had to wear one of those doctors masks, with a freakin fighter jet pilot mask over that. We told the guy working there that it must be a joke but he responded that it muffles our screams so the business people in the surrounding buildings would not sue the bungy company. We had quite a laugh about that... only you could not hear it because we were already wearing the masks. After that it was getting late and we had to get back to the train so we said our last goodbyes to the awesome city and were off.

The very next morning we woke up and got ready for my first ever "real" tramp into the hills around Levin and hoping that we might actually be able to shoot some deer. It was pretty cool to get my first shooting permit I have to say. So Mr. Day, Manuela, Iida, and myself were off for our two day treck. I was in charge of carring the rifle the whole way which sounded cool at the time, but ended up being a huge pain in the arse (NZ speak for ass), but I got over it. It was 2 hours on a track through the bush and went into a 3 hour walk up and through and across and in and across again and up a river all the way to the hut we would be staying at. It was quite literally roughing it and we got to cook all of our food and hang around outside roaring at deer to get them to come over to kill. I learned that deer roar as a territorial thing, so if you roar and they roar back they will usually come closer to defend their area. My roar was somewhere between a raspy bark and dry heaving, but I did get a lot of responses surprisingly. It was a very cold night but we had a warm fire inside and it was a great time just to be in the wild.

Little highlights: Manuela's host family had a three legged dog, really good fish and chips, did some dancing in the shops in Wellington, and much more stupid little things.

All in all I had a blast on the North Island but it was time for me to come home for my three day tramp on Stewart Island.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Aotearoa part 1

Place where treaty of Waitangi was signed.
Host Family
Bay of Islands
Cape Reinga
Hole in the Rock

Aotearoa means New Zealand in the Maori language, and that is what I saw over the Easter Holidays. Literally, I almost saw all of New Zeleand.

I may or may not be able to fit this in to one post but lets see shall we.

The Easter holidays started off to an amazing start with getting out of school early on Thursday to travel to one of New Zealand's must see places, The Bay of Islands. But before we could get there, we were picked up in Auckland by my host sister in this wicked as silver Hyundai van (she works for them and was able to use it as a family bus) and driven to her flat to stay there for the night. Just a nice relaxing evening and I also had the pleasure of eating Hell's pizza for the first time, one of NZ's favorite eateries. Auckland is NZ's biggest cities and it actually reminds me a lot of my hometown of Tampa. A tight city center right on the water with nice houses and apartments that line the water all up the bay. Its a lot like Bayshore for people that live in Tampa. Auckland has about 1 and 1/2 million living there and is the most "busy" place in NZ. The farther south in the country you get from Auckland, the more you hate Auckland. And if I would tell someone from Auckland that I am living in Invercargill (a major city on the south island) they would either not know where it is or just say "O... Invercargill..." Auckland is like a different country to the people on the south island, as the south island is to people in Auckland. People that live in the big city are just considered busy townies. It is a very weird relationship to have in such a small country with an equally small population. Not sure if I have said this before, but NZ is known for having 40million sheep (i think its a little less now) and 4 million people.

We then left Auckland the next day for the Bay of Islands which also might as well be in a different country... well at least from Invercargill at any rate. Invercargill is the cloudiest place in NZ and is cold and rainy and windy almost all year. Bay of Islands looked like it could have been our of some amazing Caribbean island... but better. Sandy shores combined with other rocky shores and often cliffs cover the coastline of this Kiwi getaway. Quite literally a bay of islands, the place was definitely not bad on the eyes. Our vacation house that we rented sat right at the end of a peninsula on a hill that led right down to the clear blue water. The peninsula is part of a town called Russell, one of New Zealand's first white people inhabited towns. There is a lot of NZ history on this part of the country because this is where the European people came NZ, came up with the Maori written language, and collaborated and signed the Treaty of Waitangi with the Maori people. This is STILL a very very big issue in NZ and has helped shine light on the differences I find between the white and Maori people. (Its all very complicated and there is more to this whole thing but this is the gist of what I have learned) When the treaty was signed the white people were highly more educated than the Maori people and had the treaty written in both Maori and English and through the misinterpretations of the Maori people with the treaty they were seen as taken advantage of by the white people by modern day Maori people. They essentially signed over the right to vast majorities of their land guns, some European commodities, etc. At the time the Maori people thought the treaty was good but now as time has gone by they see it as wrongful. To this day the Maori people still are fighting the Treaty of Waitangi and trying to attain lands lost in this treaty. OK, so now it gets weird with the whole thing that it was many many years ago and people saying that Maori people today are not affected by it and cant claim land that was peacefully signed away that long ago by their ancestors. Also it should be noted that there are no longer any pure blooded Maori people in NZ anymore. This makes Maori people mad at white people and vice versa. For example: my host father sells farms and was going to sell one to this guy when a Maori man stopped it because the land used the be his ancestors and was wrongfully taken away so the government gave it back to him. Its hard to say who is right in this argument, but its definitely taught me something very interesting about NZ.

wow I just got really off track... anyways the Russell is a really cool place to stay in with a very limited touristy feel and great restaurants right on the beach. While we were there we took a day trip up to Cape Reinga, the most northern tip of NZ where a lighthouse sits right at the end. This is where the Pacific ocean meets the Tasman Sea in a fantastic way. You can see the line where they meet on a windy day that starts right at the shore and goes far out into the sea. It truly is brilliant. On the drive there you could definitely tell you were approaching the end of some land even though it was still very hill. After that we all swan at the most northern beach in NZ and then we did one of the coolest things ever. Sand boarding! you get a boogey board at the top of these MASSIVE and STEEP sand dunes and just run and dive with it down them. You fly down them so fast and hit the bottom and skid for about 40 meters.

The next day we did a speed boat ride to the famous Hole in the Rock, and actually went through the whole in the rock! I was not expecting that one! On the way there we saw a school of about 40 dolphins jumping and playing around in the water. Never seen anything like that before. And the rock was also fantastic, when I come back to NZ I am definitely doing that boat ride again.

The rest of the trip was spent relaxing and playing gin rummy (sp?). A perfect start to a perfect vacation.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich

Now I know why they say this in the song, Down Under, because vegemite is disgusting. Well actually in New Zealand they have Marmite which is almost the exact thing, but whatever they taste like the saltiest smoothe spread you have ever had. They in no way compare to our peanut butter that I was told to believe in the States. I made the mistake of thinking vegemite was a chocolate spread at my host sister's flat, smearing tons of the stuff on a piece of toast, which in turn made me gag and spit the vile thing into the sink. I guess you are supposed to eat it on toast with a lot of butter and the thinnest spread of the stuff.

Ok I have not written in here in awhile (with good reason) but a TON of stuff has happened so I am going to try and get through 2 today.

A few weeks ago I had been awarded with a part in a short play because I was sitting closest to my drama teacher at the time when the other guy managed to not show up. So anyway, BAM I am in a competition called Sheila Win. Our play was taken out of Hamlet and we did a modern interpretation of it, wearing actual gear worn in WW2. I played the messanger and had a couple of lines to memorize and we had about zero practices before the actual competion. I should also mention that the winners of the competion win a free trip to Christchurch for five days for a bigger Shakespeare competition. Shakespeare is really not my thing at all but I really wanted to win this trip because my school won last year and they had a blast there. So with our gear all set and our lines memorized we went to the show at Center Stage in Invercargill. It was actually very nerve wracking because our play was meant to be serious and I am not the most serious guy, and it wasn't until we got right on stage that I realized how many fighting scenes we had...

The play started off good, and then my part came on. How stupid I must have looked up there! I completely forget sometimes that I have a different accent then other people and that not everyone knows I am from America. First line: "Gracious my Lord, I should report that which I say I saw." Confused faces in the crowd I'm sure thinking to themselves "what the hell kinda accent is this guy trying to put on???" Well anyways I am then strangled by the main character and shoved to the ground on stage. Then another guy comes out and the main charater strangles him to death. then another guy comes out and they fight again, pause, then again, pause, and then that guy kills the main character. The play is only 11 minutes long and as you can see the last five minutes were a constant barely-rehearsed fighting scene. Bound to look stupid on stage with high school kids trying to be serious and constantly fighting. I also forgot to mention that at the end I was a scavenger and had to take all the gear off the dead main character including his shirt (that happened to be a tight long sleeve one that took at least 20 awkward seconds to rip off) I believe that our very serious take on the play somehow came out looking somewhere between funny, awkward, and bleak. Well thats over with and needless to say we did not win. However, another team from our school did, so thats good. They were 3 guys that were also in our play but did another funny one on there own that was very impressive. I do have to say though, that all in all it was a very good time and I am SO glad I did it. I mean come on, how random to do this in New Zealand. Who knows maybe I will still be able to go to Wellington anyways with those guys as, I dont know, stage manager?

I am trying to remember other stuff I did before the play, but it was mostly sports practices and getting more acquainted with New Zealand and the people here. I can honestly say I feel more like I live here now than a tourist. Especially in Invercargill, it just feels like home, and since I have been doing sports, getting involved in school, doing lame shakespeare things, doing school production, and other stuff, people here see me more than just a random exchange student. This makes me very happy as this is the exact thing I would like to achieve.