New Zealand, Week 1: Sleeplessness, Sea Lions, Sheep–and Timeless Terrain

This first week has been a whirlwind of new experiences–being tossed into a frenzied, perpetual schedule with new people, in a completely new place, in a polar-opposite time zone. To be honest, it’s been hard to find time to stop and reflect–our days begin at 6am and end at 6pm, leaving only a few hours for cleaning up, philosophizing, and the satisfying anarchy of free time–but the flurry of magnificent sceneries and wildlife have made it all more than worth it.

Our first stop was the college town of Dunedin. On our first morning, I woke up a bit too early (5am to be exact, thanks to my ever-persistent jetlag) and took a walk through the town, which was relaxing and exactly what I needed (after being thrust into a slew of lectures immediately following the 24 hours of air travel and layovers the afternoon before).

It’s insanely cold here–we’re in the middle of winter, and the sun doesn’t rise until 8am–but the quiet darkness of the sleepy city and the sense of solitude it presents, with its suppressed but soon-to-explode energy, was rejuvenating.

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Later that day, we saw sea lions along the shores of the Otago Peninsula–and a few of them even chased us for a few seconds, but all in good fun. Experiencing the wildness and abrasiveness of nature so up-close and personal was exhilarating–

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(Sleeping sea lion! Followed by some obligatory, fluffy New Zealand sheep.)

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–and not to mention, the uniquely anti-social yellow-eyed penguin was a fascinating and comical sight to behold. If you look closely in the next photo, you can see him dramatically waddling in after a solo hunt in the waves like some plucky, lone hero in an action film.

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Cruising Milford Sound the following day was like being on another planet in some strange, cold, ethereal galaxy–

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–and the desolate beauty of the fiord felt almost spiritual.

These waters plunge to a depth of 512 meters (1,680 feet) and the peaks reach up to 2,045 meters (6,710 feet). They’ve been sculpted and molded over hundreds of thousands of years. Standing there on the boat and staring up at the waterfalls, right in the midst of this cosmic timeline, I felt like I was witnessing all of time at once in a single, surreal, geological moment. A humbling and liberating experience: something I’ll likely never be able to recreate (but am beyond thankful to carry with me through memory).

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One of the highlights of this week was going on an 8-hour long hike along the Routeburn Track the next day, where I discovered how pleasurable the feeling of sore muscles can be. The energetic guides had packed us lunches to devour at the halfway point, where I washed my apple in a cool stream (cheers to New Zealand’s seemingly never-ending flow of clean, natural water), chowed down on some of the best trail mix and fruit I’d ever had, and happily appreciated that food always tastes better after some prolonged energy-burning and cheerful discomfort. (Here’s to the joys of eating to live, not living to eat!)

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Our lunch spot was humbling, to say the least:

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Throughout the hike, I couldn’t help but notice that the air felt cleaner, richer than any air I’d ever breathed. Even after the hike had ended, my body and mind were still insatiated, craving more movement and dynamism. I promised myself that one day, I’d come back and hike the entirety of New Zealand’s days-long tracks.

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The breathtaking view from the top–

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In Queenstown, we had our first free day–which many people spent bungy-jumping. I wasn’t in the mood to drop $200, so I opted for a solo 10k jog around lake through the downtown district, along the serene Lake Wakapitu, and through the Ben Lomond forest instead.

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The sense of exploration, freedom, and adventure while running alone through this new terrain was truly indescribable. And the view of “The Remarkables” I stumbled on wasn’t bad at all, either.

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Next week, we continue our trek through the rugged South island. Beyond stoked for the slew of new experiences and sights that await!!

 

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