Friday, September 17, 2010

I jump

"Spring Break 2010" was the catchphrase of the last week of August—a great week. Three of us began the "vacation" (from what?) with an impromptu hitchhiking adventure south into the Catlins. We didn't quite make it to where we wanted to go, but we met some kooky kiwis and did reach a beautiful beach named Kaka Point.

Jamie, Michelle and I have fun in the sun.

Once we realized that we were trapped here due to low traffic, we found a nice little camping spot for the night in the woods, where we had a campfire and slept for the night. For those of you who don't know, New Zealand is a land of birds, or at least should be. The only native mammals are seafaring creatures and bats. This resulted in some strange bird evolutions such as the lovably ugly kiwi and the moa, the ostrich's bulkier (now extinct) cousin. We're not quite sure what birds we heard that night, but we felt as though we were in prehistoric times. We heard the beat of massive wings above our tent and the calls were indescribable.

Our next adventure was to Wanaka and Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand and home to the pictured kiwi statue.

I should be a model.

Our lovely flatmate Katya's lovely mother hosted us in Wanaka, and Jamie, Mackenzie and I had our minds set on the Nevis. One of the influences in my choice to study in New Zealand was the Nevis, the world's third-highest (formerly highest) bungy jumping platform. I have skydived before, but I was very much looking forward to bungy because of the opportunity to leap forward into the empty air rather than scoot backwards into empty air, as I did when parachuting.

How I expected to look when jumping.

I was last to jump in my group (just as in parachuting), so I got to watch my friends fall screaming while waiting my turn. I was not disappointed. The operator straps you in before having you waddle to the edge, takes your picture, and very nonchalantly counts down from four. I wasn't sure how I would react when falling, but I let out something that was later described to me as, "ROAR." It was one of the most freeing roars of my life, and an experience that will stay with me forever—a very satisfying purchase.


Our follow-up adventure the next day was Puzzling World, a fantastic collection of illusions, phantasmagoria, and large, fenced maze. It is a good lesson in how much we rely upon certain sensory cues that can so easily mislead our judgment. See below.


At this point half of our party wanted to return to Dunedin and the other half wanted to continue west, so Jamie and I were dropped off on the edge of town and hitchhiked to a campground in Lumsden where we planned to stay the night. We weren't quite sure of where to set up our tent, so I introduced myself to the owners of a nearby house and posed my query. Before I knew it, we were offered beds, meals, and showers, which we accepted gladly! Thank you again, Ted and Shirley! It is always nice to be reminded of the kindness in the world.

Our plan was to hitch all the way to Milford Sound through Te Anau, more than 200 km. We made it into Te Anau to hear reports of snow on the road to Milford later that night, with the road closing at 5:30. We tried for more than an hour to catch a ride north but then despaired, deciding to hike around the nearby lake and find a campsite there. As we were walking back along the road we heard a voice scream, "Jamie! Noah!" We exchanged a quizzical look and turned to see our friend and flatmate Michelle in a rental car with her vacationing father and sister. They were on their way to—yes—Milford Sound! They kindly squeezed us in and took us the remaining two hours into the Wild West of the south island. This is often described as one of the most scenic drives in the world, and it has my vote, though what we finally reached was even better: Picture Jurassic Park with a background of snowy mountains.

Actually, just look at this picture!

We spent one night there, but I will surely remember this place. There were two annoyances, however: sandflies and Keas. The Maori have a legend that the gods populated this place with sandflies to preserve its beauty against opportunistic humans who otherwise would have settled the area and spoiled it natural wonders. Instead they—and we—are too annoyed by sandfly bites to stay too long. The Keas are the squirrels of New Zealand, begging for food from tourists and threatening to hop into your car if you are forgetful about closing your doors.

Say hello, but don't feed it!

The Pitcher family drove us back to Dunedin over the next couple of days. Thank you, Pitcher family! Since then I have started my guitar lessons, which are inspiring, and have been practicing every day. I also entered a pool tournament (for free) and made it through to the quarterfinals but then lost to a skilled Kiwi named Pierre. The better pool player won, Pierre. Lastly, I saw my first real "show": Miss Saigon. The sets, music, and lighting were fantastic, and the dancing and plot were good. I think I might become a repeat customer when I have the money to spend.

Love from New Zealand!