Weeks 2 & 3 in New Zealand: Exploring close to home
Dunedin, where I am taking classes as part of my MBA exchange program, has the makings of a great college town. It’s got a lot of restaurants, bars, a nice octagon center to sit and a beautiful campus. The problem, for us, is that we are here in the middle of summer and the town is dead. There is no one here, and the few groups of people we do see are not socializing with other people. I’m about 65% extrovert, I really do need my alone time but too much alone time and I start to go crazy. Then again, without people or video/TV streaming to distract me I’m reading much more. I am also starting to deal with some of the worries and issues I’ve been holding on to for too long. It’s so easy to distract myself from myself back home, I don’t really have that option any more, which is a good but sometimes painful thing.
Exploring Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula
Despite a sleep town, Maria and are making the most of Dunedin. Our first week here the international office at the University of Otago was kind enough to give us free tickets for a train ride on the Taieri Gorge Railway. Maria and I had a blast standing outside between the train cars the entire trip taking pictures and laughing as we passed through forests, tunnels, farmland and eventually into the gorge itself. If you haven’t had the chance to sit outside on a train, do it, it’s a ridiculous amount of fun.
The second week we rented a car and explored the Otago Peninsula. It is breathtakingly beautiful, similar to Northern California with it’s rolling green hills but with water more clear and blue than the Caribbean and more sheep too. We winded our way down backgrounds, ending up at Sandfly Beach where we where greeted with Sea Lions surfing in the waves and hanging out on the beach. Later in the night we visited a Little Blue Penguin Colony on the very tip of the Peninsula where we saw about 150 penguins come to shore after a long day in the ocean. Penguins come to shore in groups called rafts, you can see the groups forming in the distant water, watch them swim to shore like a black bullet cutting to shore and all of the sudden out pops 50 penguins! They shake themselves off and scramble quickly to their nests in the grass rocks. This penguin-viewing platform let us see the penguins in their nests too, which was great. Penguins in the wild, amazing.
First Backpacking Trip – Rakiura Great Walk, Stewart Island
With two weeks of school under our belt Maria and I set off for our first backpacking trip on Stewart Island. Stewart Island is a small island off the southern tip of New Zealand, so probably as far south in the world I will ever go unless I end up in Antarctica! The island has only 400 residents and is almost entirely a national park and home to over 18,000 Kiwi birds. There are three multi-day treks available, we decided on the 3 day/2 night Rakiura Great walk covering just over 8 miles a day. By all accounts it’s an easy trek, hugging the coast line and weaving through the forest. The water is crystal clear, incredibly blue and very cold. The forests are filled with so many interesting birds, and despite hearing a Kiwi in the middle of night, I was not able to see one.
Most of New Zealand’s tracks have DOC huts on them where you can sleep for the night. The huts range from primitive, though far less primitive than an AT shelter, to luxury backwoods camping. The Great walks have the nicest of the huts, with running cold water, gas cooking/grilling, thing mattresses to sleep on.
After a lack of socializing in Dunedin, I was thrilled to meet new people on the tail. We shared a bunkroom for two nights with a witty and kind Dutch couple, a group of 4 lovely Aussies and on the last night a gentle man from France who had was on his last night of an 8 day trek. We talked, played games and bonded over our shared distained of some fellow hikers who snored and talked so loudly on the first night that none of us got any sleep. I have a friend and former camp counselor hat likes to say that nothing bonds people like group punishment. I get it now.
Assesment after my first shakedown hike
While the trail doesn’t have any super steep sections, it’s not entirely flat either. It didn’t take long for me to feel how out of backpacking shape I am. It’s hard for me to imagine hiking day in and day out for five months on the AT. I have some serious doubts creeping in, when 8 miles seems hard, how is 12, 16, 20 going to feel? Luckily, outside of some sore arches (I’m getting use to new orthotics), I was never sore after taking my pack off. Hopefully the 200 or so miles of backpacking I’m doing in New Zealand will help give me confidence.
On a high note, I’m very happy with all my gear. I didn’t carry anything I didn’t need and everything worked really well. I think I may have to switch sleeping bags when summer hits though, as I was dying in my 20 degree Z-Pack sleeping bag and the nighttime temps where in the mid 40’s. My Good To-Go meals where the envy of many people on the trail, as where my Go Macro Macrobars and my 22 Days Nutrition Bars. Super happy with my combination of Glutenfreeda Instant Oatmeal and Manitoba Hemp Hearts in the morning as well. Just enough umph in that breakfast to get me about 11 am without stopping.
Tomorrow Maria and I are off to Mount Cook! I am so excited to see some of the epic landscapes you envision when you think of New Zealand. We’ve got a day hike, star gazing tour, over night backpacking trip to Mueller Hut and a day at the hot springs planned. I’m also hoping we will find some great cherries and orchards along the way.
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