Must Do New Zealand Adventures: South Island

Last winter break I did a winter session course to New Zealand. It is even more amazing than what is portrayed in The Lord of the Ring movies. It is literally paradise on earth, you have the best of everything. There are a range of climates from mountains, beaches, rainforests and volcanoes. No one-cent and five-cent coins, which means that most prices end in a zero, or are rounded up. Crosswalks have no lights so you can basically cross the road whenever you like, though there are a few exceptions in very busy areas. It doesn’t mean that you should stop watching for cars, not everyone stops for pedestrians. Restaurant bills are not delivered to your table you will either pay beforehand or have to go up to the register to pay. In some places they don’t keep track of what you have ordered; they will just trust you to tell them what you had. There is no tipping! There are also no snakes, venomous insects, scorpions and only has one venomous spider, which is very rare up to the point it has an almost mythical status. These are just a few things that make New Zealand even better. Though you can’t forget about the amazing sites and activities. Listed below are some must do adventures on New Zealand’s South Island, in no specific order.

Queenstown 20160101_211016

Queenstown is your typical tourist town, high prices and many people. Disregarding those things it is a very picturesque town on Lake Wakatipu with street performers, stores and restaurants lining the streets, a gondola and a beach. It is a great town to stay at for holidays, night life and shopping. There is also a gondola where you can get breathtaking views of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.  Queenstown also has a mouth- watering burger joint called Ferburger. Their line is usually a half block if not a block long and their wide varieties of burgers are about the size of a young child’s face. The half-hour wait is soo worth it. To end, Queesntown is world-famous for adventure, this leads into my next topic…

Extreme Sports:20151229_14500520160101_14251420160101_143416

Since Queenstown is the tourist destination in New Zealand they offer a wide range of extreme activities such as skydiving, jet boating and bungee/bungy jumping. If you don’t know, jet boating and bungee jumping was invented in New Zealand. And many times we do spontaneous things while on vacation, so might as well do one of these activities. Jet boating is the ultimate water sport where you power your way through narrow river canyons. You all know what bungee jumping is, and there are two iconic spots to bungee jump a hour away from Queesntown. The first is Kawarau Bridge, a 43 meter (~141 ft) jump into the river below. It is one of the most popular bungee sites, attrackting thousands of thrill seekers every year. For the more daring there is the Nevis Bungy which is New Zealand’s biggest at 134m (~440 ft) above the Nevis River. There are age, weight and medical restrictions for many of these activities. Unfortunately, I ran into this problem at the Nevis jump, I was a few pounds short for their weight limit. At least I was allowed to travel to the jumping site that is held above the river by two wires to watch.

Mount Cook20160102_143204
20160102_132211

Mount Cook is the highest mountain and longest glaciers in New Zealand. There is a lovely day hike (more like 4 hours) to a small lake at the base of the mountain. The hike is pretty flat and has several suspended bridges that are fun to bounce around on. The scenery is amazing, mountains, a river, and flora that were unlike anything I’ve seen. The flora actually somewhat reminded me or a Dr. Seuss book, there were rolling grass areas with these
spiky looking plants that shoot straight up in the air. The trail ends at the small lake which was the chalky white color with small ice blocks. There was a small rocky beach you can walk down to to get to the lake from the picnic area. I have to say, the hike to the lake was more enjoyable than the ending destination.

Kaikoura20160105_210731

Kaikoura is a very cute, small town that is on the ocean and has rocky beaches. Kaikoura itself wasn’t that outstanding as a town but it too had amazing views and was home to many Maori people, the indigenous people of NZ, consisting of 3% of the population. There is a Maori tour ran by a Maori that I thought was worth doing, to learn about their history and culture. Kaikoura is also a popular spot to go whale watching and swim with the dolphins. I was fortunate enough to swim with the dolphins and it is something that I will always remember. As I have never been snorkeling I really got the full experience in this activity. Everyone had to wear a head to toe wetsuits with goggles and snorkel. Since the suits were so buoyant there was no need for life jackets. This was an activity I highly recommend. You are delivered as close as possible to a pod of dolphins. The time I went there were 30 or more dolphins swimming around you,  it was awesome! If you are somewhat claustrophobic this might not be for you. Being encased in a wesuit add in being in the ocean you feel alone and closed in. Even I had a tiny anxiety attack. Also don’t worry if the dolphins move away you get back into the boat to follow them. The time I went we were on and off the boat 5 times before we headed back. And like many similar businesses if the weather is bad or no dolphins are to be found you get a refund and are able to reschedule.

Christcurch20160105_110507 20160104_110230

Christchuch is the largest city on the South Island. In 2010-12 Christcurch experienced devistating earthquakes which forever changed the city. When I visited the destruction from the earthquakes could still be seen around the entire city. This was eye-opening to see since in Montana earthquakes are almost nonexistent.  It was definitely surprising and heartbreaking to see all the damage left. But what surprised me the most was what the city did after the earthquakes. They turned a horrible natural disaster into a new beginning. All around the city there were little innovated places. One was an area of temporary trailer sized businesses, another a musical park made out of recycled material. There was an area testing out 3D printed designs to grow plant and shops made out of train cars. The street art all over the city was outstanding. I just happened to be there during the Spectrum Street Art Festival that consisted of street art, graffiti, video etc. all around the city.

Abel Tasman National Park20160109_101241

Abel Tasman is a coastal National Park that has several beaches and has a wide variety of Flora and fur seal rookeries and little blue penguin populations. It is usually recommended to plan a whole day just for this. There is a very easy trail that stretches along the coast that leads to several different beaches, depending on how long you want to walk. If wanting to stay overnight there are a couple of lodges and campsites throughout the park. I would recommend kayaking one way and walking back the other. By kayaking you get a better view of the seal rookeries and maybe a little blue penguin. You also get a better view of the smaller islands just off the coast. I kayaked to this small, somewhat secluded beach for lunch and relaxing and then walked back. If plan to go all day take water, sunscreen and a swimsuit. The burning time this far south is 10 minutes, yikes! There are water faucets available at some areas but they are more for washing and rinsing, not drinking. The water is so beautiful and clear it would be hard to stay away, hence the swimsuit. Warning the one bathroom that was at the beach I was at was awful, it stank to high heaven. Not sure this applies to all but approach with caution!

Milford Sound20151230_140805 20151230_125349

Milford sound is within Fiordland National Park. This too is an all day trip. Even though from Queenstown it is located an hour away, straight across, due to road regulations in NZ getting there was more like a 4 hour trip. If you do a bus tour you pass through stunning landscapes including mountain ranges, glacier-carved valleys, crystal clear lakes and native rainforest. There are several things to do at Milford Sound such as, hiking, kayaking and cruises. The cruise was an ideal way to see Milford Sound. It is just over two hours, you get to see wildlife as well as the stunning waterfalls and steep mountain sides. The sights rival that of Glacier National Park, daresay, maybe even surpass those of Glacier.

 

My Father, Rum Running, and a Vintage Porsche

Life is tough.  Between work, binge watching Breaking Bad, and microwaving ramen noodles, don’t you have enough stress?  Imagine adding in the fact that you drive a manual transmission car with no cup holders.  How are you supposed to hold the wheel, text, drink your coffee, and shift gears with only two hands?

Ze Germans, even to this day, don’t care that your supersized coke has nowhere to call home in your vehicle.  They do not build cars to coddle your beverage until you decide that the second half of those 42 oz’s is ready to be thrown in the garbage.  What they do build, however, are cars that…you know what?  They don’t build cars.  Let me start over.  They take a few cows, turn them into supple leather seats, and then once they have determined that the seats are microscopically perfect in every way, they add four wheels to the bottom and call it a car.  Being that German is a by-word for precision, they of course include top of the line components and a powerful engine.  Hiding all of this underneath is a body design that usually says something along the lines of: “Hey, I’m a restrained and highly refined piece of impeccable engineering.  I’m driven by a lawyer that you can’t afford and every other Saturday I am pampered with a fresh coat of wax by a man in a white lab coat.”

The story of my German car is a little different.  You see, until only recently, Porsche never quite figured out how to SELL cars.  For the most part the company just built whatever they liked and the only reason customers made a purchase is because they were quite good looking and drove like no other automobile could.  My Porsche is no exception.  In 1970, Porsche believed that they needed to offer an entry level sports car at an affordable price.  Seems like a good idea right?  I can own a Porsche but I don’t have to sell any body parts to be able to afford it.  Perfect!  Well, in their infinite wisdom, Porsche decided to collaborate with Volkswagen on this project. (Dieselgate anyone?…Yeah.  Smart move.)

blueprint_lg
Porsche 914 Blueprint

Anyway the end result was essentially a mid-engined Porsche supercar.  They deemed it model number 914.  The 914 was perfectly engineered; low to the ground with a wide stance and perfect 50/50 weight distribution.  The body was an edgy design that was way ahead of its time.  It had two trunks, one in the front and one in the back, thanks to the engine being in the middle.  What was Volkswagen’s contribution?  A tiny four cylinder engine that made more noise than power.  It was all show and no go.  Despite being incredibly slow and underpowered, the car went on sale anyway.  In 1976, Porsche cancelled the 914 program after a production run of just under 119,000 vehicles.

Fast forward to 2005.  I was 14 years old, and a freshman in high school who knew everything.  All freshman know everything right?  That’s part of being a freshman…until a Senior puts you in your place.  A few years earlier, my Father had purchased and restored a Porsche 912.  It was, and to this day is, gorgeous. The color of the paint alone could make you pass out.  It’s like having wine and chocolate with Scarlett Johansson, except you’ve just spilled your wine on her dress “accidentally.”  Now your panic stricken, chocolate covered hands are smearing chocolaty perfection into the crimson rivers in an attempt to clean her ruined dress.  The result is a deep burgundy bliss.  Come back to reality with me for a second, my goal was to elicit the emotion felt from seeing such a perfect paint color…not bring you into whatever odd fantasies I may or may not have. What I fantasize about on my own time is between me and Scarlett Johansson.

13923771_10154432554041323_29834924354796848_o
My Father’s 1969 Porsche 912

After my Father had finished the restoration of his 912, it was time for him to find my first car.  Keep in mind, I grew up in a decade where Paul Walker was driving cheap Honda Civic’s with neon lights painting the asphalt underneath…and when his movie franchise was still within an acceptable number of sequels.  Being the testosterone filled yuppie that I was at the time, I naturally assumed that I was fast and furious and as such I required a car reminiscent of those in the film.  My Father was smarter than this, realizing that not even a few months later our garage would be strewn with blown up turbos and every other failed experiment I would attempt to install on my Japanese street racer.  In an attempt to change my teenage view on what cars are cool, he dragged me along to a Porsche car show in his perfect 912.  We walked around, looking at the various vintage Porsches and discussing my upcoming future with life behind a steering wheel.  We discussed what cars would be a good first car for me, with him hinting at the possibility of something vintage or at least something we can wrench on in the garage…something that didn’t require a laptop and a degree in advanced mechanical engineering to fix. Then, out of nowhere, there it was.  My first ever sighting of a 914.  I pointed at it, my mouth gaping open, trying to form words instead of the befuddled umm and err noises it was leaking.  It was the kind of point that your parent would slap your hand out of the air and explain: “Don’t point.  It’s rude to point.”

Throughout all of this my Mother was under the impression that my first car would be something safe and used, a certified pre-owned Toyota Camry perhaps. How wrong she was.  Almost immediately after my first 914 sighting, my Father purchased one.  This was back before the vintage Porsche market skyrocketed, when old ones could be had for next to nothing.  It quietly sat in his office warehouse, collecting dust, waiting for the right moment to pounce on its 15 year old, acne fighting prey: Me.  Looking back on this, I sometimes wonder if he was just working up the courage to tell my Mother what he had done.  It was September of 2006.  My sophomore year of high school had just begun.  One night at the dinner table my Father explained he had purchased a white 1971 914 for me, and that we would restore it together and finish it by the time I had my license.

The Day My 914 Came Home. (This image was taken on an ancient flip phone...)
The Day My 914 Came Home. (This image was taken on an ancient flip phone)

It had cost him $1,500, all of which I would have to pay back as a lesson that I needed to work to afford my own car.  You’re thinking: “Wow!  A Porsche for $1,500?  What a steal!” No.  You know when you buy a Coke from the vending machine and two roll out because the second one was so dented and crushed that the machine couldn’t hold it in place?  This car was that second Coke.  There was a rust hole the size of Chuck Norris’ fist right behind the driver door handle.  The engine bay was a concoction of oil spray, dirt, grime, and of course more rust. The car would start, but honestly you were doing yourself, your neighbors, and the environment a favor by not starting it.  I don’t know what was inside the transmission, probably just a pile of metal chunks and broken pieces, but every shift resulted in schreeching or grinding noises, further killing the already-on-its-last-leg transmission.  This car was, and theres no other words for it, complete and utter crap.  But it was my complete and utter crap.

Over the next few years (yes you guessed it, the car was nowhere near complete by the time I had my license) I learned a lot about all of the components required to propel a car in any given direction…because my car had none of them.  They were strewn across the garage in various states of repair, awaiting that glorious day when they would be called back into action.  The one thing the car did have going for it was a massive motor upgrade.  My Father had dismantled the original motor and installed all new high performance internals.  It now had a big bore kit, and the original fuel injection was tossed in favor of a dual-carburetor setup. Once the motor was installed, we invited a few friends to share and participate in that drumroll please moment when the motor would be started for the first time. My Pop turned the key and the Porsche fired right up, like it was brand new.  It ran and sounded great…for all of about 30 seconds.  It then decided to empty every drop of oil it had onto the driveway below it.  For the sake of keeping this story from getting too long, and since I know my Father will read this, let’s just chalk it up to the fact that we are all human and sometimes we make mistakes…Love you Dad.

The almighty big bore motor made a second appearance after once again being dismantled and rebuilt.  Only this time around it was discovered that the engine block was cracked and would need to be replaced.  On to motor attempt number three we go.  Third time is a charm right?  Well, as it turns out, it was!  I was finally able to drive the car.  I drove the car in this state on and off for a few months as every night more work was being done to it.  It had minimal interior pieces, no heater (California…didn’t really need one), old suspension, old tires, something that didn’t really deserve the term “brakes” but would eventually bring the car to a stop after some praying and holding the door handle in case you needed to bail.  But you know what?  It had that big motor!  I learned a lot about how cars handled during these few months.  Mine didn’t handle, that’s essentially how I learned.  I would go screaming up Angeles Crest Highway in this thing, quick as can be on the straights.  However, once you threw a bend into the equation, the car would buck and shake like a bed in a honeymoon suite.  The 40 year old suspension just wasn’t up to the task, and would simply collapse at the thought of going around a corner.  Nevertheless, I had proven to myself that, yes, I was fast and furious.

Of course, as we all know by now, my Father is much too smart to be letting his son take Utter Crap up and down one of the most dangerous roads in the country. The 914 was decommissioned once again.  This time, all new performance suspension was to be installed, as well as an anti-roll bar in the front.  A new exhaust system, new brakes, and tires also made their way into the equation. This car was loud and proud now.  The suspension was so stiff that driving over a pothole was similar to jumping off the roof of your house in your superman costume, hoping you could fly.  Here’s the problem though:  You can fix the car, but you can’t fix your less than intelligent son.  Yet again, my Father defeated even this problem.  How?  He took me out of school for a day and took me to the racetrack with the new and improved Porsche.  Let me repeat myself.  I’ll break it down in steps for you.  1.  He took me out of school.  2.  He took me to a RACETRACK.  Dad:1  All my loser friends sitting in class that day:0.

We spent the day with the Porsche Club of America out at Willow Springs Raceway.  As it turns out, I was quite skilled at the whole track driving thing.  I repeatedly had the car stepping its tail out on corner entry and not once did I lose control or go off track.  In fact, the only time I really made a mistake was about half way through the day.  I had made quite a few laps around the track by

cp__9685
First Trackday With The 914

this point and was picking up speed with each and every one.  Just before the straightaway is a very long second gear corner.  It is imperative to be quick in this corner so you can maximize your speed on the straight. Now, I said second gear corner.  Well, turns out it’s really more of a third gear corner.  By the time I was exiting the corner, I had that car revving so far over the redline it was a miracle the motor didn’t explode and shoot bits of piston all over the track.  For reference, the car has a redline of about 5,500 RPM or so, I had it somewhere around the 6,500 RPM mark.  If this motor has 9 lives like cats do, that was easily one of them being pissed away into oblivion by your (slightly more intelligent now that he has done a trackday) son.

Let’s skip ahead a few years.  It’s 2009 and I am off to college in Montana.  The Porsche stayed behind in the luxurious warm weather of Southern California.  By this point it was no longer my Utter Crap.  It was Utter Perfection.  The interior was clean and perfect, the paint shiny and new, and no the motor hadn’t blown up yet although it probably had lost a few more lives throughout my final years of high school.  The 914 would sit for months at a time, occasionally being driven by my Father just to make sure it was still in tip top shape.  I would call home and the first thing out of my mouth would be “How is my car?”  My Pop did another trackday or two in it, but in the end it was placed in storage, doomed to become another “barn find” or God forbid on that depressing piece of television known as Storage Wars.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  It was eating at me.  I had to be with my beloved car.

I decided it was time to bring the Porsche to Montana.  I had another vehicle by now, a Toyota Tacoma to be exact, and the Porsche had garage space ready and waiting.  It was the perfect setup.  No college kids would ding my car as I would never take it to campus.  A few of my friends decided to go to Vegas that year for Memorial Day weekend.  I thought this was a perfect chance to grab the 914

The Porsche En Route to Montana, Photo Taken Somewhere Just North Of Vegas
The Porsche En Route to Montana, Photo Taken Somewhere Just North of Las Vegas

from California and drive it up to Montana.  I’d meet up with them in Vegas, spend the weekend there, and complete the rest of the drive after.  I phoned my Father and he agreed it was a good plan. A few weeks later I received a call from him.  He wanted in.  First off, I had been out of the house for a few years now, leaving just my Father and two ladies: My sister and my Mother.  Let’s just say some dude time in Vegas with a bunch of college kids seemed like a nice vacation.  The 1,200 mile road trip in a vintage Porsche was just the icing on the cake.

Utter Perfection made it from start to finish without a single hiccup.  It even doubled as a rum running vehicle on the stretch from Los Angeles to Vegas. Unlike Vegas, alcohol is cheap in California and can be bought in massive portions.  Plus, the 914 has two trunks right?  Don’t judge me, I was clearly putting my college education to use.  To this day the 914 is with me in Montana. It has since done a few autocross races, seen some early winter fun in the snow, and even made an appearance at a few car shows.

This story isn’t really about the car though.  It is about my Father.  When i began writing it, that wasn’t my intention.  After reading it however, I refuse to edit a single part of it.  On that drive from Los Angeles to Montana, my Dad told me that these 914’s are slowly but surely creeping up in value.  He suggested I enjoy it a little longer and then look at selling it and maybe getting something else that I can once again restore and watch go up in value.  I’ll never forget this talk as long as I live.  Here’s why:  I told him that I don’t really care if the car is worth a dollar or a fortune, I won’t sell.  Someday he will pass away, but you know what?  That Porsche never will.  As long as it is by my side I will always have my Father with me.

5 Things You Thought You Knew About Studying Abroad in Europe

prague_group

I’m going to go ahead and make a biased, totally un-researched assumption right off the bat: every person who has studied abroad would describe the experience as “life-changing.” I can make that assumption with unwarranted confidence because that’s the only way most people, including myself, can capture everything in an accurate phrase without boring the person who asked. “Life-changing” is the only way we can describe riding a time machine to Rome or standing where a queen once stood or being overwhelmed with the immense diversity that’s crammed into such a small area of the world. “Life-changing” is also the only way we can talk about living where no one knows you and finding your truest self by hanging out with strangers (who eventually become your best friends).

Unfortunately, describing a study abroad experience as “life-changing” is also one of the most cliché ways to go about it—and it’s not the only cliché about studying abroad that needs to be examined a little closer. If you’re thinking about studying abroad, or maybe just avoiding homework, here are some common misconceptions to be aware of:

  1. Studying abroad is just for rich kids.

Studying abroad is definitely more expensive than staying put, but I trust that most people can make it work. Let me break it down by using the University of Montana as an example: UM is partnered with over 50 international schools in about 25 different countries, which means that you can pay your tuition to UM while studying at a school abroad. So, if you choose a partner program, you’ll probably only have to budget extra for travel and living expenses, which can also be supplemented by a wide variety of scholarship opportunities if you play your cards right.

Plus, once you get there, traveling around the area is surprisingly affordable – plane tickets can be around 50€/round trip if you’re savvy and hostel reservations are even cheaper than that.

20160703_234945

  1. Studying in Europe = 6 months of non-stop partying

It’s true that almost every European country you visit is going to say they’re the best at making and drinking some sort of alcohol (I was in Germany, so, naturally, they loved their beer). That being said, however, there’s actually a lot to do over there besides partying – while I was abroad, I spent most of my time exploring different countries, going to all sorts of events in the community, hanging out with friends, and even volunteering at a local refugee shelter. And partying, of course.

Plus, there’s a cool old church around just about every corner if you ever get really bored.

  1. You’ll make tons of local friends.

Locals tend to hang out with themselves, so meeting and befriending them can be a little challenging. The good news is that you immediately get tossed in with a huge group of international students who are also looking to make friends for the next six months or so. It’s like a freshman year in the dorms all over again!

20160723_204557

  1. You’ll be fluent in that one language by the end of it.

Clearly this depends on a lot of factors, including your prior knowledge of the language and the region that you study in. Top three phrases I
recommend prioritizing, no matter the language or level: “Excuse me,” “Please,” and “Can I pet your dog?”

  1. You don’t actually study when you’re studying abroad.

I studied considerably less, but I still had to keep up with it. To generalize, the European education system differs from the American one majorly through class structure and expectations. Most people I’ve talked to agree that classes have less consistent evaluations (i.e., homework), meaning your final grade basically depends on your final exam. However, that also means you’ll have more free-time during the semester to do some experiential learning, like actually living your life in Europe, instead.

20160702_215324

As an obvious disclaimer, not everyone will have the same experience that I did. Some people will party with their local friends for all six months, speaking the language fluently, blowing life savings on crêpes and seafood, and not showing up to class until the last week – and they’ll probably have a freaking awesome time doing it.

As cliché as it sounds, studying abroad changes lives – but you’ll never know how it can change yours until just get on the plane and go.