Farewell New Zealand

The last day of the trip was spent touring the earthquake devastated city of Christchurch.  The whole downtown center was shut off due to the extensive damage experienced in the historic earthquakes of 2011.  It was sad and humbling to see so many businesses and homes completely destroyed.  Makes you very thankful to have a healthy, loving family.

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Christchurch was devastated

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Support from across the globe

After our city tour and an utterly disappointing visit to the Antarctic Center (a museum dedicated to the Antarctic), we went to a great Thai restaurant for our last meal together on the trip.  The brotherly camaraderie was stronger than it’s ever been before.  The trip was a true bonding experience and I’m more thankful than ever to have such dependable and caring brothers.  Cheers to the most memorable trip to date!

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Unforgettable experience

Sometimes your hike turns into a float trip…

We woke up to the howl of the wind and cackle of the rain on the tin roof of the hut.  We knew we had an especially brutal 9 km ahead until we reached the legendary hot pools of the Welcome Flat Hut.  We began our trek through the steep and stony forest on the now soaked path that served more as a stream.  We were already soaked but determined to make it to the welcome confines of the next hut.  We marched along until we reached a raging waterfall that rivaled anything we’ve seen on our numerous white-water rafting trips.

A vigorous debate began about whether we should traverse the treacherous waterfall or turn back and walk the 10 km back to safety.  Eventually we reached the consensus that we would head back and try to beat the rising river that now resembled something you’d find in the rain forests of Brazil (or at least I think).  Little did we know that the adventure was just beginning…

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There appears to be rain in the forecast

The hike back was one of the most physically and mentally draining stretches I have endured.  We encountered several impassable streams and waterfalls that we either had to cross together in partner groups with arms linked or go over and around the river, fighting through endless underbrush without a trail.  All of this occurred under some of the heaviest rain I’ve ever experienced.  (Being from the Texas Gulf Coast, this is a strong statement).

The end of the journey back to the safety of the car served as a culmination of everything we had made it through to that point.  We faced a raging, over-flowing river filled with countless rapids and drop offs.  We could see our car but had no choice but to cross this fortress of fast-moving, icy, glacier water.  After a multitude of alternatives were discussed, we decided that the four of us would link together and cross.  We linked up, not without plenty of fear and doubt, and plunged into the icy water.  The four of us were able to withstand the force of the rapid and make it safely to shore.  I had never been more relieved.  We sat by the car in our soaking wet clothes and recounted our incredible escape.

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We made it back alive..and smiling

Copland Track

Alarm clocks went off early Friday morning and somehow we were able to stumble out the door.  We met our friendly Kiwi friend Paul and headed for the rainy West Coast of New Zealand.  The drive was beautiful and included a jaunt through snowy, beautiful Arthur’s Pass.  We also passed rain forests and fields full of grazing sheep.  Quite the ecological buffet.

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Snow-capped mountains

After a roughly six hour drive, we finally arrived at Copland Track with reasonably clear skies.  We all counted our blessings and headed for the hut, where we would be staying for the night.  Huts are man-made shacks placed at intervals along well-established tracks.  Most of the major “tracks” or hiking trails are equipped with these lodgings.  Fitting convenience for such an active country.

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Self-incriminating, I know

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Not all those who wander are lost…yet.

The trek was beautiful but was not without wrong turns and tough choices.  At one point, we thought that the first hut had been removed and that we would have to trek 20 km that night to get to the second hut.  We eventually found the first hut while under the threat of enveloping darkness and heavy rain.  We cooked a very basic meal over an open flame and played some cards that night.

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Not exactly encouraging weather

Sumner Beach

The next day we woke up late, filled our backpacks and headed a couple of miles out of town to Sumner Beach.  We walked around the beach for a couple of hours and explored some of the caves along the shore.  The ocean’s vastness immediately grants you perspective on how far away you actually are.  I felt like we were on a different planet.

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Sumner Beach

For dinner, Max introduced us to his favorite Indian restaurant.  It was there that I first met stuffed naan.  Naan, for those less familiar with Indian food, is  a leavened oven-baked flatbread.  To me, it’s alot like an Indian tortilla.  It’s even better when stuffed with meat and dipped in curry.

That night we joined Max for his farewell party.  We had a great time watching the college kids play their favorite game, “Danger Can”.  The premise was simple.  Stand in a circle, take turns crushing a can of beer on your forehead while chanting, “Danger Can, Danger Can, Danger Can.”  Inevitably, the can explodes on someone’s forehead and everyone goes nuts.  Awesome.  We were almost positive we would not be ready for our 7 am hike, or tramp as the locals call it.

New Zealand continued–Christchurch

Wednesday June 20th 2012

Today we would finally get to see our little brother Max, who was studying abroad in Christchurch, NZ.  Christchurch is, sadly, most famous for a crippling earthquake endured in June 2011 (just one year before we would make our way down).  Max was not even sure he would be able to complete his study abroad program at one point.  Luckily, he has been fine and has thoroughly enjoyed his time on the South Island.

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You learn something new everyday

One thing that is remarkable about New Zealand is the ease and economy of air travel.  Our flight was close to 70 USD and the airport security wasn’t a tad bit invasive or time-consuming.  The plane was new, stewardesses were friendly.  Definitely reinforces my earlier diatribe on the hassle of US air travel.  The US has numerous challenges that New Zealand does not face but it was still noteworthy how pleasant the experience was.  It also didn’t hurt to have these views of the Southern Alps on the way in.

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Ladies and gentlemen, The Southern Alps

After arriving in Christchurch, we headed over to the Foundry, a student pub on the University of Canterbury’s campus.  We had the unique experience of catching the end of an NBA finals game live.  This immediately brought me back to similar evenings at Mabee Dining Hall, on the campus of Trinity University.  I started to notice the announcers talk about the game and, specifically, their generous use of strong adjectives.   “Pivotal, crucial, important, momentous.”  After spending just a few days in New Zealand, this struck me as pretty comical.  There is so much going on and so much to see in the world while these sporting events are occurring.  That’s not to say that I didn’t get wrapped up in the game at all.  Similar to my earlier post on the recent Houston Rockets playoff game I went to, the idea reinforced was that sports are an entertainment outlet.  Placing more importance or weight on sports than your other entertainment outlets could turn you into a buffoon losing a shouting match with a thirteen year old.

We spent the evening walking around town until we found a seemingly ramshackle Chinese restaurant that was immensely popular with the UC students.  The building was cramped and the accommodations were modest but the atmosphere was inviting.  There were large tables of college students sharing bottles of wine and loudly chattering.  The warmth and happiness of the students was palpable.  This place reminded me of Main Street Pizza in San Antonio, Texas.  Main Street had legendary $3 personal pizzas and the famously corny free “Trini-Tea”, offered for Trinity University students.  I can remember so many nights spent there having loud, inappropriate and carefree conversations with friends.

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Main Street Pizza San Antonio, TX

More Auckland–Gourmet breakfast, Davonport, and Mt. Eden

Because we couldn’t get enough of the neighborhood, Brad and I walked back to Ponsonby for breakfast and coffee.  The weather has picked up considerably and now feels more like spring.  We had a spectacular gourmet meal, eggs benedict with salmon for myself and cream cheese filled pancakes for Brad.

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My favorite neighborhood in Auckland

That afternoon we took a ferry to Davonport, a small, scenic peninsula near Auckland.  The island was filled with unique cafes and shops.  There was a perfect hill to climb and take scenic shots of the bay.  The most relaxing afternoon I’ve had in awhile.

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Contemplating my next meal

After arriving back at the hotel, we decided to take the city bus out to Mt. Eden.  Mt. Eden was a moderate hike up a volcanic mountain that offered surreal views of the city and the massive volcanic crater at the top.  After taking it all in, we took a walk around the surrounding neighborhood.  This neighborhood was once again characterized by lively small businesses, restaurants, and bars.  A nice contrast to the “big box” stores and sprawling parking lots of Texas.  We ate dinner in the area and went back to the hotel (where we crashed at 8 and 830 pm, respectively)…Not sure if we’ll ever fully adjust to the time change.

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Mt. Eden

Afternoon Tour- Waheke Island

This afternoon, we hopped on a ferry to tour a wet and windy Waheke Island.  Waheke Island is normally a paradise similar to Hawaii.  Due to the reverse Southern Hemisphere weather, we were greeted with a cold and rainy day.  We kept trying to spin it as a one of a kind experience to be at a beautiful place in such unfortunate weather.  Despite this, we braved the wet and cold and made a tumultuous twenty minute walk to a very nice lunch at a small café.  We enjoyed watching the storm unfold over fish and chips.

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I whip my hair back and forth, my hair back and forth

Over lunch, the storm had picked up considerably forcing us to ditch the foot travel and use the Island’s public buses.  We headed towards the beach, where the wind was howling and rain was pouring steadily.  Great opportunity for photos illustrating nature’s fury.  We took another bus from there until we got back to the ferry.  Arriving at the ferry station in downtown Auckland was a very interesting experience.  There was a large line of professionally dressed people lining up for the ferry back to Waheke Island.  Commuting back and forth via a 35 minute ferry seems to be a decent existence when compared to the hellish commute some experience in Houston or Dallas.

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A parting gift from the day

For the evening, we decided on exploring Ponsonby.  We took a cheap cab ride to Ponsonby Road and walked until we found a charming bar/restaurant.  We were ecstatic to hear that pizzas were on special for $7.  This was a huge coup for volume eaters like us.  We promptly ordered a pitcher of beer in celebration of the cost savings.  Interesting enough, our waitress was a girl from Seattle who quit medical school to move to New Zealand on a whim.  It was inspiring to hear about someone who refused to say no to their fantasy.

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Down on Main Street

What better way to tour Auckland than a morning run?

Today we woke up at sunrise for a long run and tour of the city.  We set out with our sights on running across the Harbor Bridge (a task I was initially dubious of).  We easily made it to the Harbor Bridge but, unfortunately, were not able to cross it on foot.  We proceeded to run along the coast with stunning views of St. Mary’s Bay as a backdrop.  The overcast winter weather gave it the feel of an Earnest Hemingway novel.  We ran through the nearby upper middle-class neighborhood and both noted striking similarities between Northern California and these neighborhoods.  We ended up stumbling upon the beautiful suburb of Ponsonby decorated with neighborhood bakeries, cafes, and bars.  Reminded us of the West U/Rice Village neighborhood of Houston.  Definitely a place we plan on exploring later.

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A particularly eccentric piece of street art

We then snaked our way across an urban highway bridge with stunning views of the skyline.  Finally, we made our way through the modern Auckland University campus. The campus seamlessly blended into the surrounding city.  Urban campuses like this seem to exemplify the learning philosophy of a university.  Many academics view learning as a life-long process that should blend effortlessly into our everyday life and communities.

New Zealand- Arrival

The first day in Auckland flew by.  We had a cab ride with an amicable Fijian, learning along the way that New Zealand has a significant number of immigrants from Fiji.  Additionally, he shared with us that New Zealanders often vacation in Fiji.  It’s less than a three hour plane flight between the two islands.

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The unescapable Sky Tower

The rest of the day was spent walking from sight to sight in a jet-lagged trance.  My favorite portion was the revamped Harbor area (per Wikipedia, it was revitalized for the 2011 Rugby World Cup).  One can only imagine the debauchery that took place.  From here, we snapped some great photos of the harbor and cityscape.  After that, we headed to the hotel for a much needed nap and clean up session.  It reminds me of the Peter Griffin quote, “I haven’t brushed my teeth in three days aaaand nobody’s noticed.”

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A dreary day at the harbor

Once we finished properly applying deodorant, we walked over to the Sky Tower to check out the views from the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere.  There were people bungee-jumping from the top deck, totally insane.  Nope, not for me.  We actually saw an eight year old girl doing it, how emasculating!  Almost as emasculating as writing a travel journal.

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Panoramic view of Auckland

We finished off the day with an overpriced Italian dinner on the Harbor.  Our collective exhaustion created an ideal environment for a classic mid 20’s existential funk-cleansing conversation.  We finished our pizza and trudged our way back to the hotel for some of the most rewarding sleep I’ve had in a long time.