New Zealand, Week 2: Surreal Sights & Swimming with Dolphins

We started off this week with a visit to Fork Farm (cue the adorable sheep)–

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The next day, we arrived at Mount Cook, where some of us got to see snow for the first time. After checking in, a few of us went on a spontaneous hike.

Frolicking along a stream–

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Me attempting to look majestic whilst sitting on a rock (trying to channel the spirit of Friedrich’s “Wanderer”)–

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I couldn’t help but notice how the mountains in Mount Cook are so starkly juxtaposed–one deep-charcoal and rocky, the next one icy and barren, the next one emerald green–like they’re all from different planets.

The next day, we went on a four-hour hike through Hooker Valley. The landscape was absolutely surreal; I felt like I was in a dream.

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We sat and ate lunch by a lake–

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The air was chilling but the sun’s brilliant rays kept us warm–and as soon as someone would stand in front of my leg or arm, the air between us would instantly become cold. It was like witchcraft!

A glorious view–

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The above photo was taken mere seconds before the sun finished setting behind the mountain. Within moments, the valley became cold again, veiled in shadow, and we found ourselves rushing to put our jackets and sweaters back on–like the sun was never there. It’s crazy how humbling these enormous, sprawling landscapes are, making us feel so small but in the most uplifting of ways.

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The Maori cultural performance in Christchurch the next day proved to be a vivid, illuminating glimpse into the indigenous culture of New Zealand. We enjoyed a delicious Maori three-course meal afterwards (kumara/sweet potato soup is my new favorite), and the hokey pokey ice cream and kiwi pavlova for dessert was divine.

We also saw a kea bird (parrot) at their bird sanctuary (one of the many bird species indigenous and unique to New Zealand)–

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Some personal favorite sights from the Canterbury Museum and Botanical Garden in Christchurch–

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We saw quite a bit of the aftermath from the destructive 2011 earthquake during our bus tour of the city as well; almost six years later and the city is still heaving to make ends meet. But this tragedy has brought the community closer together, and the infrastructure improves every time there’s a disturbance; the city’s continually finding new things to build and improve upon. 

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It’s moving and inspiring to see how the earthquakes have sparked such a resurgence of creativity and community: a testament to the power of human resilience. The city is adorned in street art and monuments–

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Listening to the tour guide illuminate the stories behind the city, one of my favorite quotes popped into my head; “No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell” (Carl Jung). Along a similar vein, Kierkegaard also wrote, “It belongs to the imperfection of everything human that man can only attain his desire by passing through its opposite.”

I guess that’s the irony of life. Sometimes these catastrophes and obstacles are more than we can bear, and we break–but if we’re strong enough, finding and creating ways to endure, we allow ourselves to rise to higher states. In a way, that’s when we stop surviving and begin thriving. It’s that process of understanding and delving into the intimidating part of life and the world, the unknown, that allows us–and sometimes forces us–to grow. (Not to trivialize these kinds of tragedies with abstractions–just trying to see the slivers of beauty, truth, and meaning that can be offered through the pain and struggle.)

Enjoyed a lovely lunch along the shores of Akaroa as well–the best salad I’ve ever tasted (catering to my obsession with roasted vegetables and ricotta cheese).

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Climbing through the Hinewai Reserve the next day, I felt like I was exploring a prehistoric earth (strong Jurassic Park vibes), hiking boots barely making it through the slippery, muddy trail and surrounded by a cacophony of native trees.

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Most of the meticulous texts, photos, and pamphlets pictured below are hand-written and taken by the outrageously knowledgeable manager of the reserve, Hugh Wilson (the J.R.R. Tolkien of Banks Peninsula)–

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So far, my favorite part of this trip has hands-down been swimming with wild dusky dolphins in Kaikoura. It was freezing the morning of the excursion, the waves were significantly more temperamental than they would’ve been on an ideal day (resulting in half of the swimmers getting seasick during our 30-minute search for a pod of dolphins)–but after plunging into the water, waterproof phone case haphazardly strung around my neck and lungs heaving from a skintight wetsuit, I suddenly found myself feeling pleasantly at home–floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, immersed in deep waves and surrounded by the most charismatic, spirited animals.

If I had to explain the feeling, it was liberating, thrilling, and meditative all at once–but it’s hard to do justice to the experience with words. Perhaps “cathartic” is the right adjective. I just remember that I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time, and that it was the fastest half-hour of my life.

Here’s a short clip of the swim–

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These photos were taken after the swim, with the dolphins dancing all around our boat–

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The most fascinating part of all this is how these dolphins flocked to us because they were interested in us. How cool is that?! The whole experience was more about their satisfaction than ours–and that’s what made it even more fun and enthralling.

I couldn’t help but anthropomorphize their idiosyncrasies and invent personalities for them the entire time. There was one dolphin that left the pod to dart and zig-zag along with us long after our boat motors had already turned on to propel us back towards the shore. I fell in love with his energetic, unique, playful personality (and I sincerely hope he’s happy wherever he is now–and just as weird).

Some views from our hike around the Kaikoura peninsula–

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Ran into some more free-spirited fur seals!

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Kayaking at Abel Tasman–

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Next week, we head to Nelson and then to the north island!

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2 thoughts on “New Zealand, Week 2: Surreal Sights & Swimming with Dolphins

  1. You could certainly see your skills in the work you write.
    The world hopes for more passionate writers such as you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe.
    At all times follow your heart.

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