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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

 

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5 Things You Thought You Knew About Studying Abroad in Europe

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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.

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  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!

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  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.

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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.