It’s always difficult to come home from a vacation, especially when you’ve got mounds of work to finish. I suppose my last act of procrastination, and the last leg of my holiday, will be here at the keyboard recounting my week in the South Island of New Zealand.
On the 23 of April, a group of us set out from Auckland to Queenstown at 4 AM. The misery of that bus ride is indescribable. When you get into Queenstown, you’re greeted by this tiny city surrounded by breathtaking mountains and lakes. It’s small, pretty squared off but packed with restaurants, bars and travel agencies. We spent the first day recovering from our flight and sleeping after eating at Fergburger, which is supposed to be the best burger in NZ. Not terrible by American standards, but it’s no In N Out. The rest of the night was spent bar hopping, which is pretty much the main attraction for backpackers in the actual city of Queenstown.
Wednesday morning we caught a bus to Arrowtown, a former gold-mining community about 30 km outside the city. As autumn has just arrived in New Zealand, the scenery was some of the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here. One of the downsides of living in Los Angeles is that you skip seasons. Unfortunately, as fall is my favorite time of the year, I haven’t seen the leaves change colors since my senior year of high school. To experience that again was simply unbelievable — it’s crazy how you miss the little things. We checked out an old Chinese settlement that had been recreated by the town’s historical society. Fascinating how Asian populations sprung to wherever there was the slightest taste of gold in the late 19th-century. Unfortunately for them, their travels were largely ill-fated. That night, we hitched with a buddy to Lake Wanaka to stay for a few days.
Wanaka is an incredible town as well. The typical sleepy-eyed lake community has a ton to offer young tourists trying to escape the insanity of the hostel circuit. Thursday morning, ten of us trekked to Have a Shot, this joint that has a ton of random recreational activities like a driving range and target shooting. What a blast. We spent about an hour on this “battlefield,” where we shot styrofoam balls at each other from pressure-powered turrets. Pretty ridiculous, and probably the best workout I’ve had since running cross country. I took out some aggression on the driving range then we headed back into town to watch Iron Man 3 at this alternative movie theatre. Really cool place, set up with couches and loveseats instead of the traditional fold-down chair. There’s only one theatre, and they have an intermission during which they serve massive cookies and ice cream.
Friday we went back to Queenstown, but the day was a giant wash. Shit weather. We tried to street luge from a gorgeous view that looked over the city, but the tracks were way too wet. We went once and it was pretty miserable. On the plus side, we got a refund — we bought the tickets for $10 and got $23 back. Don’t know how that works but okay.
The bungy day: Saturday morning. Bright and early, we headed to the Kawarau River, from where we were preparing to plunge 43 meters from a 100+ year-old bridge. It’s actually such a ridiculous concept, but pretty cool how it’s taken off as an adventure sport across the globe. The Kawarau Bungy was the first commercial bungy in the world as well. Here’s how it works: they take $200 from you, then direct you to the platform where you’re going to second guess your decision for ten minutes before you jump. They put a tiny-ass harness through your legs, strap it around your waist and buckle you in with a single carabiner. Then, they put a towel — I shit you not, a single towel — around your legs and pull them together with a strap to make sure you can’t swim if for some reason your bungy breaks and you find yourself flailing in the water below. They then push you to the ledge, make you stand directly over the drop and count to three. No push, just a countdown. Let me tell you how hard it is to go against every instinct in your body and jump off a bridge. Pretty difficult. Anyway, you free fall for about three seconds then rip right back up with the rubber bands serving as your bungy cord. There’s a team of guys in a boat at the bottom to grab you while you’re dangling, then you go inside and decide if you want to spend another $50 on pictures while you’re adrenaline is pumping like never before in your life. Can’t honestly tell you that I remember the rest of my day. We ate Fergburger again, but the adrenaline rush just carried through until sundown. Oh yeah — we stayed at possibly the worst hostel in the Pacific. BASE, which is pretty popular for young travelers in NZ, is this chain of hostels that always has an accompanying bar. It’s for the party scene, and I mean you literally have to be drunk 24 hours a day to be comfortable here. Food stolen, trash-littered halls, nonstop bass from the room above you. Awful company, but for some reason we keep finding ourselves stuck in these hostels. If you’re travelling, stay at a YHA — much cleaner, smaller and friendlier staff. We used their kitchen to cook lunches.
From 7 AM to 8 PM Sunday, I found myself on a trip to Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound. The weather was gloomy, as it rains 2 of 3 days down there, but the scenery was so intense. Five hours on a bus through largely untouched forests and greenery was bearable, and the rain added to the experience. Waterfalls dripped down the side of every mountain. Once we got the actual sound, which is created from melted glaciers, we hopped on a boat and trekked to the Tasman Sea. I would post the pictures but they don’t do a quarter of the justice the place deserves. I had a moment there, just staring into those massive mountains that surrounded the sound and our boat. You realize how small you are in the grand scheme of things, and how much beauty the world has to offer. Of all the places to be in the world, the fact that I was here — on the other side of anywhere that has ever been of relevance to me in my entire life — just sunk in. It’s truly breathtaking.
As we left Queenstown, it hit me that this would be the last time I ever see this place — I’ll never get the opportunity to revisit. Even if I did, there are too many places to travel and experience for me to come back. For the rest of my life, this place will serve as a memory, a postcard in my mind. And when you think that, as morbid as it sounds, you recognize your mortality. There’s only so much you can do with the time you’re given, especially when you have no idea exactly how much time you really have. When I lost myself in those mountains and waters, I guess I realized how important it is to soak in every day and finish it with purpose. Am I really on the right track in life? For the first time in a long time I questioned the goals I’ve set for myself. I don’t want to find time slipping away. I don’t want to arrange my life around my deadlines. Right now, I’m scared of that. Scared shitless actually. Always a bit paranoid and anxious, I can already sense graduating college in twelve months. College. University. The new life I’ve made for myself is, undeniably, in its final stretch. I have confidence that things will pan out the way I want. The problem now, however, is defining what it is that I really want. Another day of internal strife, but hey. Sometimes you just have to break off and absorb all that the world offers you.