Lets get one thing straight: that flight was slightly horrendous. Florida to Houston to Los Angeles to Auckland to Christchurch is a bit much if you ask me! Besides the scramble of getting stuck in customs and having to make it to our connecting flight on time (this therefore included sprinting with our luggage though 20 mph winds and having no idea if we were headed the correct direction), we finally made it to Christchurch… and boy was it worth it! The views outside of the plane were absolutely breathtaking (*look at the link below to see for yourself) and it was downright chilly when we finally stepped outside of the airport with the whole gang together at last.
There are 19 other students on the program with me, all of which loaded up the bus and took off for our tour of Christchurch! I was shocked to see how bad of shape some parts of the town remained since the Christchurch earthquakes that occurred in 2010, however construction was taking part on every street corner. The city has a lot of character and some businesses are even set up in re-purposed shipping containers. Can I just add that it’s incredibly weird to be going down the wrong lane on the road? I was walking past a car and thought an 8 year old was driving because she was sitting in an American’s idea of the driver’s seat. After getting a tour of the city, we stopped by a local supermarket to grab a little lunch where I dined upon KFC (don’t get mad at me for not embracing the culture… the only other option was McDonald’s.)
Upon arrival at our YMCA hostel accommodations, we were assigned rooms and set up before heading to orientation. With a free afternoon to explore the city, my new friends and I decided the park across the street sounded like the best idea. It was a lot like Central Park in that there were dozens of bridges and fountains and trails to explore.
Our second day in Christchurch was a nice 6:30 wake up for breakfast and lectures until lunchtime. Some of our meals aren’t provided with the program, so we went to a supermarket and split up the costs of peanut butter sandwich making. The next few hours we spent at the Canterbury Museum learning about the history of New Zealand as well as what kind of species we will likely come across once we leave the city and start our adventures.
Wednesday was another full morning of lectures from really interesting speakers discussing topics from everything like the native people named the Maori and their history all the way to tourism and its role on recreational land use. Later we all piled onto the bus to go visit the Ko Tane Maori experience to partake in the native’s culture firsthand. We participated in hilarious tribal dancing and chanting, feeding deer and “tame eels” (creepy I know but also fascinating), and ended the night with a feast of all of their traditional foods which was amazinggg after all of those peanut butter sandwiches.
This morning we got our first glimpse of New Zealand outside of Christchurch and boy is it beautiful. Most of our time today was spent in our tour bus gazing at passing fields and pastures on our way to Hinewai Reserve. If you don’t know what the New Zealand landscape looks like, imagine a combination of Norway’s crazy mountains and the sea duo along with Scotland’s fog and INSANE number of sheep. I must have seen several thousand sheep today and have come to the conclusion they’re the world’s most adorable creature. I’m praying I get to cuddle one later in the trip… Hinewai Reserve is a gorgeous area set aside for conservation and research, and we got to spend our time learning from a well-known NZ biologist, hitting the trail, and stopping for lunch beneath a 600 year old tree. It was so refreshing to get out in the cool mountain air and see such breathtaking vistas! Along the way back to Christchurch for dinner, we stopped at Little River, a very cute town with shops along a wharf and then to Birdlings Flat to see some intense waves. It’s weird to think the closest thing when you look across the ocean would be Chile!
Tomorrow we leave Christchurch behind and head to Mount Cook for the next few days! No words can express everyone’s excitement as we get to go on some more serious hikes and experience the real New Zealand. So far I’m love love loving my time here in NZ and can’t wait to see what else is in store for us!
P.S. → I apologize for not being able to update very often… WiFi is extremely hard to come by and even when I can find it, it costs money and I dont have much time leftover from the day’s activities to spend writing. But I’ll try to keep you updated as much as possible throughout the next few weeks in New Zealand so you know what I’m up to!