First things first, I’m not really sure how to do this trip justice in words and pictures. If you ever (for whatever random reason) have a chance to go to New Zealand, drop everything immediately and get your butt down there. I know I say this basically every time I go somewhere new, but someday I’m going to be a Kiwi (a nickname for the people who live there, I don’t want to be a fruit or a bird). No doubt about it.
The tour that a handful of my friends (Kyle, Lexa, Katie, Shannon, Jenna, Doug and Karen) and I did was a road trip of the South Island with about 45 other college students, one awesome tour guide from Sydney (Max), an inflatable sheep named Fluffy (our mascot), and a stellar Kiwi bus driver (Seagull—yes, that’s his name). It was actually incredible how well we all got along, and how little drama there was (actually, I don’t think there was any!) the entire trip. All of us were from the U.S. or Canada, as it worked out (except for one guy from the Neatherlands), and we were all studying abroad or living throughout Australia. After our trip, it was really nice to visit other cities and stay with the new friends we had made in New Zealand. A bunch of us are actually planning a good ol’ fashioned road trip within the next year or so to visit everyone when we get back! I couldn’t imagine a better group of people to be with in New Zealand (if you were a part of Fluffy’s Flock, I LOVE YOU AND MISS YOU!)!
The first day of our travels, Lexa, Shannon and I flew into Auckland (the largets city in New Zealand, located on the North Island) late at night on and cozied up in the airport for what was probably the worst layover of our lives (1am-6am, not fun). Luckily, there was a McDonald’s (“Macca’s,” as they call it here) in the airport and we passed the time by eating numerous 30-cent ice cream cones (the one thing that’s less expensive in Australia!).
When we finally arrived in Christchurch (on the South Island) around 9am on Thursday the 28th, after a short flight featuring a gorgeous New Zealand sunrise, a nap was the first thing in order for me. Later in the day we explored a bit of Christchurch and met up with the rest of the Badgers and a couple dozen others in our tour group who were staying at the same hostel.
Bright and early the next morning, we hopped on the bus, gathered up the rest of the crew that was staying at a different hostel nearby, and started on our road trip to Queenstown. Seagull made sure to tell us “kiddies” (his nickname for us the entire trip) of the safety features of the bus as soon as we were on our way, noting that we didn’t need to wear our seatbelts unless a police car pulled us over.
So of course, as soon as we got onto the open road, we were pulled over for going 5km over the speed limit (thankfully, nothing came of it but it was pretty funny at the time).
Seagull, who’s probably a world famous radio star and we just didn’t know (seriously, he had the voice of an angel and hilarious commentary to pair it with), soon filled us in on a little bit of info about New Zealand. Here are some *FuN fAcTs* about the land of the Kiwis:
- Much of the country looks like something straight out of Jurassic Park…because technically, it is! Volcanos formed New Zealand so, being in the middle of an ocean that’s only accessed by boat/plane, there are no native mammals and only a few native species of reptiles/amphibians and birds (no snakes!). Everything else was brought over by settlers, including possums, which are now actually considered an invasive species because they’re eating the old plant species that haven’t evolved to defend themselves against mammals.
- … and by “everything” I mean mostly sheep, cattle and deer. According to Seagull, there are 3 million people and 60 million sheep that live in New Zealand. A little math would make that 20 sheep for every person.
- New Zealand is where you’ll find Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, a.k.a. the place with the longest name in the English language.
- New Zealand is home to the Māori people, a group of Polynesians who settled on the islands several centuries before the British did in the 1800s. Today, many still live on the islands (they’re the second-largest ethnic group in the nation, after those of European descent). Their cultural influence in still present as well, especially in Kiwi art
After a drive past many, many, many, many, many sheep farms, we came across the town of Geraldine to stop for a quick break… and also to see the world’s largest knit sweater, of course. The sweater was knit by a local man named Michael Linton, and measures 5ft in diameter and 7ft, 3in in height. But wait, folks, there’s more—Michael also set ANOTHER world record, this one with his daughter, for the world’s largest spring steel mosaic (64m long and weighing 485kg). Right before we left, he also showed us a puzzle that he made on his computer after many, many years that features a box where, no matter how you turn it/flip it/movie it (or even use the four corners), it’ll add up to a certain number every single time. It’s amazing that this man who owns a knitting shop in the middle of nowhere, New Zealand, holds two world records and is probably smarter than you or I could ever hope to be.
We cruised around the countryside for about an hour or two before stopping at Morelea Farm, a beautiful sheep farm in the town of Fairlie. The farmer who lived there showed us around the area before shearing a sheep for us (which made the funniest face I’ve ever seen an animal make in my entire life) and putting on a sheepdog herding demonstration (those little guys can RUN!).
All the while he told us about the business of raising sheep, which was a really neat personal glimpse into the tough industry that so many Kiwis throughout the nation are involved in. Finally, he took us back to the main house where his wife and a few other women had made us an absolutely incredible meal: lamb (sorry, sheep I had pet only minutes before), steak, sausages, fresh bread, potatoes, pasta, vegetables, and finally ice cream with homemade apple crisp. If I had to eat only one meal for the rest of my life, it would be that meal.
… aaand on the road again! We stopped a few more times after Morelea Farm, mostly to check out the incredible scenery that makes up the gorgeous landscape of New Zealand. See for yourself:
After day a long day of riding in the bus with about 50 new friends, we finally arrived in Queenstown… and the real adventure began.