The past two weeks here in New Zealand have been very exciting, so I’ll try to keep this short but I’ve got a lot to say. We just had our mid-trimester break, which comprised the university giving students 2 weeks off of school just to let us have a bit of a mental and physical holiday after the first 6 weeks of class. Crazy, right? Well, it is for me, who is used to having just one weekday off for Labor Day in the first 15-ish weeks (depending on when Thanksgiving Break falls; this year it’s 17 weeks), then 3 days off for Thanksgiving, then continuing through until finals with only a weekend between the last day of regular classes and the first day of final exams. Here, the academic semester is much shorter and students are given more frequent and longer breaks, a 1 week exam preparation period WITH NO CLASSES, and 2 weeks to take final exams so that students generally will have no more than one exam per day (rather than, say, 1 test on Tuesday, 3 tests on Wednesday, and an essay due on Thursday). The new system has made my stress levels drop exponentially, I look forward to class much more than I did at home, and I feel like I actually have time to study outside of class so I am able to more adequately prepare for tests.
That’s a bit tangential though; I actually want to focus on what happened during the break, not just the fact that we had one and it’s unusual for me. My New Zealand Flora and Fauna class went back a week early, so I was only able to travel for half of the break, but my 8 days of holiday were definitely not wasted. I spent the week in the South Island, traveling from the northern tip all the way down the west coast before flying home. Here are the places I visited along the way:
This was my first taste of the South Island. We took the ferry over on a chilly, rainy, windy day but the scenery was still breathtaking.
Me with Markus, Thijs, and Luiza on the ferry
Welcome to Picton, South Island!
Nelson was the first city we visited. The town was completely dead on a winter weekend, but felt cozy nonetheless. We wandered past a beautiful Gothic cathedral…
And went to the “center of New Zealand” (which is not actually the geographic center; it was a point designated to make surveying easier… which we did not know until AFTER the very steep climb to the spot)
We watched the sun set over Nelson to end our first day.
Abel Tasman National Park:
We took a short day trip into the national park for our second day. The weather was absolutely stunning as we hiked through the trees and along the beach
We could clearly see the Southern Alps on the horizon all day, which only added to the beauty of the scenery
A few of us got lucky and were able to get up close to a very cute and very curious endemic flightless bird, the weka!
Punakaiki was our least glamourous stop on paper, but ended up being easily one of my absolute favorites. We stayed in a beach hostel with this view out our back door… not bad, eh?
Franz Josef Glacier:
Next stop, Franz Josef! The hike to the glacier was an easy climb through the riverbed where glacier runoff has carved a path over centuries.
Although the hike and the glacier were both beautiful, it was also a sobering experience. There were pictures and signs along the way reminding us of what the glacier used to look like and how much the ice has receded. We walked over ground that was once covered by the ice of the glacier for almost the entire 45 minute hike. Franz Josef is one of the places I have seen climate change at its most visible, and it has spurred me to be even more conscious than I already am of our impact on the world and the immediacy of the need for action to prevent further damage.
We got lucky to be at the glacier on a relatively calm day; there is a small reflecting pool near the trailhead called Peter’s Pool, which provided a stunning mirror image of the mountains
Queenstown was our last stop. The city has very modern, upscale vibes and was full of skiers and other winter sport enthusiasts. It was also the first place I’ve had a GOOD burger in this country (sorry New Zealand, you’ve got a lot of things going for you but just can’t do a hamburger like we do), so that definitely swayed me in the city’s favor. If you go there, make it a point to stop by Fergburger. It’ll be busy, but don’t worry; they move quickly and it is worth the wait! While most of the places we stopped were pretty quiet since it is the off season for South Island travel, Queenstown was bustling from morning until midnight. We spent two days there, and the group split up to do various things: skiing, hiking, wandering around the city, and for a few of us, bungy jumping