Midsemester Break Travel in the South Island

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My second week of midsemester break was just as amazing as the first and taught me so much about myself that I never bothered to contemplate. After taking my mom to the airport’s international terminal and having a very teary goodbye, I hopped on the bus for three minutes over to the domestic terminal. I had made plans with some friends (Mei, Jamie, and Louisa) that I made through my program, IFSA, to head to the South Island for a week! After we had decided that we wanted to fly into Queenstown and road trip up to Christchurch, I began doing the pre-planning. One thing about me is that I love vigorous planning. Google calendar has changed my life into organized chaos and my Notes app is filled with many random detailed lists. So, I had no problem making a general map of our trip and timing out when/where we would be each night. I booked hostels and a rental car and had many ideas of possible pit stops.

I was so excited to go to the South Island because literally every kiwi I had talked to told me that it was a must-see. That didn’t fully process in my head until I was there, and, boy, were they right. First off, the scenic view flying into Queenstown was the most beautiful and magnificent thing I had ever seen. Mountains and ocean crashed together. The mountains so high, I thought we would bump into them and the water so vast, I remembered that New Zealand is an island country. We circled the mountains for what felt like forever, and each time we looked out the window, Mei and I just turned to each other and giggled at how spectacular it was. I thought landing would hide all of the mountains we’d just seen, but no. We de-boarded the plane outside and were greeted by the mountains that were surrounding us. Even better, our hostel was planted right in front of the most picturesque body of water. To this day, I can not get over how breathtaking the sight was.

Now, another thing about me, though I am good at pre-planning, I am not so good at in-the-moment planning. I had completely forgotten to find stuff to do in Queenstown and Christchurch because I was focused on the driving part of the week. This meant that we didn’t really have an itinerary for either location. I don’t usually do well with no itinerary because I have learned that I get overwhelmed trying to haste together plans. BUT, when you are with a group, its not so overwhelming. Queenstown is known as the adventure capitol of NZ, so it wasn’t surprising that the hostel we were staying at had a whole desk dedicated to guiding tourists to popular places and fun activities. We ended up jumping right in. We had some breakfast and thought about what we wanted to do in the adventure capitol of NZ. I absolutely love a good swing set, so what would be better than swings? Answer: swinging off a cliff! I honestly did not think that I would be “risking my life” on my first day in Queenstown, but their was availability and Jamie was interested in doing it too. So, we got our stuff together and headed to the car that took us up to a mountain where we then swung off a platform for a 60m fall. It was surreal! We were upside down, looking at this beautiful view, wind in our hair. I had never felt so alive. Everything went by so quickly that I felt like I was back on land in the blink of an eye, but the experience was so memorable. It was the first time I had done something ”dare-devil-y” in years, and it just made me so grateful to be in this place at this time.

If the first day in Queenstown hadn’t been adrenaline filled enough, the second day threw me for a whirl. Louisa, the avid bike-rider that she is, suggested we rent some bikes and do a tour around the town. You know that saying “it’s like riding a bike”? Yeah, that doesn’t really apply to me. In my childhood, I can recall three separate times that I had to be taught to ride a bike because I just kept forgetting. Needless to say, I was quite worried about my skills, but I was up for the challenge. We got on the bikes, and after several seat adjustments, I was off to a nice and wobbly start. Louisa and Mei told me about the buttons on the bike that would change the gears for uphill and downhill climbing. I had forgotten about the uphills in New Zealand. I’m not going to lie; I was painfully trailing behind my three friends for the majority of the first quarter of the trip. Despite this, the view was undeniably gorgeous and the feeling I got when I was able to pedal smoothly was just unbelievable. I had started to get a grip on the gears and even if I fell behind treading uphill, I was able to quickly recover the distance by speeding up after the hill. My favorite part was going downhill. I thought it would be terrifying, like I would definitely tumble over, but it was liberating. I only had to worry about breaking if needed and the rush was awesome. After a quick three-hour trip one-way, we decided to turn back. I don’t if I had gotten to cocky in my abilities or what, but on the way back I was dangerously close to the edge of a mountain, so I turned the other way and over corrected. I ended up tumbling off the edge, but was saved by a very, very prickly bush. I was poked and prodded by the bush needles and I didn’t know how I was going to get out. Thankfully, Jamie was trailing behind me and was able to help me out when she saw the mess I had gotten myself into. Though I was in agony and could have cried there on the spot, I was determined to hold off on the waterworks until we got back to the hostel. I was able to finish the ride, and the return trip was not as extraneous as the first one, so my spirits were actually quite high when we were done. Yes I fell and yes I was in pain (and sore!), but I am so proud of myself for doing it and the nature we were surrounded by was incomparable. Definitely worth the bruises.

The rest of our time in Queenstown was just as amazing, so we were sad to leave, but ready for our road trip. The driving itself went very smoothly. Louisa, who was our designated driver, handled the winding roads like a pro. Though I had hoped to drive in NZ, I was not envious of the loops and turns Louisa took on. We made pit stops at the Puzzle World, Wanaka, Twizzle, and Lake Tekapo. We were able to bend our brains with some super trippy puzzles, see the Wanaka tree, say we were Twizzlers, and cruise around the lake. We also made a stop on the side of the road to get a distant view of Mount Cook, the tallest mountain in NZ. All-in-all the road trip was very successful.

Our time in Christchurch also proved to be packed with impromptu activities. On our first day there, the four of us went to the main street where found so many cute stores, restaurants, and shops. To my surprise, there was a very nice piercing shop. One of the things on my “List of Things To Do in New Zealand” was get a piercing and add to my growing collection. Mei also had been wanting to get her ears pierced. With about 2 seconds of thought, we marched into the shop and were pleased to hear they had availability for walk-ins. About thirty minutes later, we walked out with new holes in our ears. While this may seem irrelevant to my overall point, it actually hits the nail right on the head. I love piercings because they make me feel much more confident in my skin. Though I didn’t think the day could get better, within a matter of minutes, my mood went from amazing to fan-freaking-tastic.

The following nights in Christchurch were just as quickly decided. One night we went to a high school production of “Heathers”. No, we didn’t know anyone that went to the high school. But we saw a flier on a pole, and we were a group of gals that love musicals. We figured out the bus system to take the 20 min trip to the school. Though it felt out-of-place being surrounded by doting friends and family members, I was so happy to be there. It’s a great musical and it definitely wasn’t how I imagined spending the night. The next day, we went to an improv show. I have some experience with improv because one of my friends from Vassar is a member of a comedy troupe. So, I was thrilled when I was called on to give one of the performers a personality. If you don’t know, improv shows usually rely on audience participation in forming the general aspects of the show. One person may ask an audience member for an occupation or a deep secret they must hide etc.. My person asked what I thought his spirit animal was and I don’t know what came over me to say “a badger”. The show was absolutely phenomenal and incredibly funny. The person whom I bestowed “a badger” upon was very good at executing the part. I was able to speak with the cast after the show which was really nice because I got to learn more about improv in New Zealand. Leaving the show, I was overcome with a wash of realization. I had completed so much of my days without a meticulous calendar.

That is one of the biggest takeaways from this trip. While planning and being organized are valuable characteristics, there can be a “too far”. Sometimes, I find myself so obsessed with keeping to the time of my schedule that I freak out if I take longer to do something than anticipated. What had started out as a useful tool became another reason for my stress. It felt so different not planning my days. Going with the flow. With my friends, I was able to let go of that control and was rewarded with new experiences, new confidence, and new joy. Since break, I have found myself not being so picky about my schedule as I used to be. I extend myself courtesies and look for new opportunities each day. Through this trip, I was able to learn more about myself and what I want going forward. I really hope this is something I take back with me. I hope that I will continue to look for spontaneous opportunities for new adventures!