Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Journey to Middle Earth

Last Saturday, we got on a bus at the square in Christchurch and met Rex, our tour-guide. Apparently he was previously a director for NZ television and such for most of his life and now he travels and gives tours through Middle Earth!  Our tour was his 455th time taking people to Edoras, Capital of Rohan (geographically known as Mount Sunday).
Rex talked the whole trip about Christchurch history, New Zealand info, and then got into the Lord of the Rings scoop.  He told us about the casting of the actors and who the director had originally wanted in the movies and showed us pictures of scenes, actors, and maps. We made several stops along the way, the first of which was at a gorge.  The water is so intensely blue because it is filtered by the rocky mountain sides as it runs down and into the valley gorge.
We had another photo opportunity at Lake Camp where 100 little vacation homes are nestled between two lakes at the base of towering mountains.  It was beautiful.
We stopped at a little tea shop in a tiny town to get our lunches for later and spend a bit of time outside.  Then back in our off-roading tour bus, we got onto a gravel road and found ourselves in Rohan at the base of Mount Sunday, where the Golden Hall of Edoras once stood. 
 Rex showed us pictures from the Two Towers so we could see the identical scenery. He told us that they had to take down the entire village and Golden Hall for environmental preservation reasons and that the Tolkien family had refused to have any of the scenes set up anywhere except for Europe.
Rex then pointed up to a white marker at the top of Mount Sunday and said he wanted to see us there in about 30 minutes.  Little did we know we still had to plummet through sparkling blue rivers and streams before driving up part of the mountain.  On our way through the last river before heading up the mountain, we rocked side to side and suddenly got stuck in the pebble bottom and buried half of the wheel into the river bottom.  The 15 passengers piled out of the bus and the women sat on the prairie land while the men set up a "come-a-long" and hammered pegs into the ground to get the bus out.
After about an hour we finally defeated the river and got back into the bus.  Rex then stopped up on the mountain, handed out swords and axes and we started our trek up to the top of Mount Sunday.  I got to stand right where Princess Eowyn stands on the deck of the Golden Hall.  We saw the identical marking on the mountain as in a still frame of the movie, Helm's Deep, and a peninsula where Aragorn pauses on his horse.  
The peninsula is to the right and Helm's Deep is to the left:
It was crazy windy on top of Mount Sunday; we could even lean completely into the wind and it would hold us up!  We took lots of pictures with Aragorn's sword, Gimli's axe, and the banner of Rohan.  Here's Julia as Eowyn in the wind:
Defeated by Julia:
It was an incredible trip, even though I hadn't seen Lord of the Rings for about 3 years.  On the ride back, Rex put in several inside the scenes DVDs about the making of the 3 films.  Peter Jackson, the director, filmed everything for all three movies in about 2 years.  He chose around 100 locations in New Zealand for all of the filming.  The next night, we crowded into the Stevens Hall Lounge and watched The Two Towers and showed all of our friends where we stood and told them all about the inside info we learned!  Now I can say that I have truly been to Middle Earth!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hokitika Wildfoods Festival

This weekend we went to the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival!  It's about 10 minutes away from Greymouth on the West Coast, so we left Friday early evening and drove the sweet sweet Chariot through Arthur's Pass.  Along the 4 hour drive, we stopped at the battle ground of where the battle happens in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  This is me screaming "For Narnia!!!" 
This is the sunset as we were about an hour from Hokitika.  It was quite nice.
We got to Hokitika and drove around aimlessly until we found our campsite on Beach Street.  It was dark and we were dreading having to set up our tents, but fortunately we ran into some of our friends from school and stayed in their 20-person tent! (I think it was technically an 8-person tent, but it had plenty of room with 15 people.)  Our campsite was right on the beach so we walked 10 feet from our tent and could see huge bonfires lining the shoreline with people clustered around the fire, the soft dark sand under our feet and the waves crashing on the sand.  It was an amazing sight.
On Saturday morning, Julia, Lori and I walked down the street to a nice eatery and I got a great hot chocolate (because New Zealand has the best hot chocolates in the world).  When we got back to the tent the rest of the group was starting to wake up and we got ready to go to the festival!  All 5 Mizzou girls wore tiger ears and tails, but that was nothing compared to some of the incredible costumes we saw when we finally got to the festival!  There were Ninja Turtles, Telletubbies, brigades of ballerinas in tutus (male and female), Power Rangers, and tons of other colorful people!
At the Wildfoods Festival I ate:
Waffles with blackberries and cream
A pickled Huhu Grub
Ice cream with strawberries and chocolate
Worm Truffle
Kahlua and Milk
Corn on the cob
Chocolate cupcake
Fresh scallops
Bacon and onion sandwich
There were bands playing all day at 2 or 3 different stages and we spent a decent amount of time lying in the grass and soaking up the west coast sunshine.  When we were finished trying weird foods, we went back to the beach and played around; Jen taught us the waltz and there was a dog that kept barking for us to throw rocks for it to pretend to chase.  
After dinner we went back to the beach and watched the sunset.
There was a dance later that evening back in one of the tents where the festival took place where we grooved and swing danced and flipped.  We spent the night on the beach again walking from bonfire to bonfire under the clear sky and bright moon.
In the morning we bought a much needed breakfast of eggs, toast, baked beans, sausages, bacon, and hot sauce.  I bought a nice sling purse and a ring at the market along the street and then we piled back into the Chariot and made our way back through the pass back to Lincoln (and got passed by a whopping 100 cars along the way!)
If you ever have a chance and are in New Zealand in March, you must go to the Hokitika Wild Foods Festival!  I hope all is well!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hanmer Springs, NZ

You know when you are stuck at school or at work and you start dreaming of wonderful things you could do that would make your life more exciting? Like road trips and unexpected visitors and great deals on accommodations and hot springs and climbing mountains and playing cards and doing really whatever you want?  This was that dream.
Hanmer Springs is about 2 hours away from Lincoln, although it is about 3 hours away if you get lost, and about 4 hours away if you get a flat tire.  
We left Saturday after breakfast with our backpacks, hiking boots, and sack lunches and soaked up each other's company, the iPod music, and the breathtaking view all the way to Hanmer.  Our first mission was to find a place to stay, so we drove to the one street with accommodations, compared the rates of about 4 different places, and instantly decided on an extremely inexpensive house for 7 of us.  We ate our sack lunches at our dining room table and headed out to tramp the Waterfall Track on the edge of town.  Here's a photo of me on our way up to the waterfall!
On our way down from the waterfall, we ran into another group from Lincoln and offered them our floor since our house was so stinking huge. We arranged to meet up with them later at the Hot Springs.
The Springs were right down the street from our house. We spent the evening hopping from pool to pool until we found which of the 9 springs we liked the most. Some were 39 degrees Celsius and the hottest one was 41 degrees Celsius and smelt strongly of sulfur.
For dinner, we made rice (we eat a TON of rice), chicken, teriyaki and curry sauces, mixed vegetables, bread, butter, and jam, and a pound of garlic in it all! Delicious. Jennifer served us a bottle of Pinot Noir, which wasn't terrible until I drank some along with my curry chicken! It intensified the spice by a million!
We went to the pub down the street for some drinks and ended the evening with some Hokey Pokey ice cream (a New Zealand favorite) and a game of cards.
The next morning, we had planned to wake up at 5:15am and hike up a mountain down the street to watch the sunrise...but none of us actually woke up. So I got up a couple hours later and got to soak up the scenery outside on our back porch.
Here's the family picture we took of the 14 of us who stayed in the house! Notice the beautiful mountain in the background, our cat, and the wonderful landscape architecture in the front yard.
After a breakfast of eggs, toast, and fresh fruit, we headed out to Jack's Pass.  It was a beautiful hike with a wonderful variety of terrain.  When we reached the end of the tree line, half of the group went back to the car and we kept going to the top of 3 different peaks.  Here's a picture of the last peak we reached before sprinting down the mountain so that the other half of the group wasn't waiting on us.
We had a quick snack at the house before packing up and looking around the town a bit.  This is a photo of the grape vines just outside of Hanmer toward Christchurch.
It was a beautiful weekend, even though it ended with a flat tire on the way back, but we made it home safe and sound for another week of classes!
Stay tuned for adventures at the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival and I'll try to get around to some entries about Uni life, the papers I'm taking, and what goes on during the week!  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch is about 20 minutes away from Lincoln, which is where Lincoln University is!  We decided to have a weekend in Christchurch instead of trying to get a bigger trip planned, so the weekend started out with a rugby game!  
The game was Christchurch Crusaders vs. Wellington Hurricanes.  Luckily we had a guy with us who plays rugby for Cornell and is trying out for the team at Lincoln Uni, so he was able to keep us informed about everything that went on.  The game started with horses and crusaders running around the field (although we were just entering the stadium when this happened, so we didn't actually get to see them) and then a helicopter came touched down on the field and 2 people ran out of it; one was a crusader player and the other was some woman who ran the other direction.  Rugby games are only 80 minutes long and consist of scrums,
picking players up to catch the ball when it is thrown in, and tries, which are basically touchdowns.
On Saturday, we had breakfast in the dining hall and grabbed our sack lunches (made by the dining hall) and took the Chariot into Christchurch.  The Chariot belongs to Jennifer, one of the girls from Missouri who's staying at Lincoln for the whole year, and is a white, squat, 7-seater, 1989, van.  It's beautiful. We spent most of the early afternoon walking around the city and stopping in tourist shops and such.  We ate our sack lunches on the square, watched the people walk by, fed the birds, and walked through the market that's set up most days of the week.
We drove to the edge of town to the Gondola and met some friends at 2pm.  After contemplating whether we should gondola up or gondola down, we decided to hike up the mountain to the cafe and then take the gondola ride down as a reward for our hard work on the way up!  However, this was a terrible idea. As soon as we started our hike up the mountain, it started raining, and the incline was ridiculously steep.  We would walk about 10 steps and then pause, take a picture of the scenery, take a sip of water, and keep going.  The steepness finally let up and we came across a little gazebo and a beautiful view of Lyttleton Harbor down the other side of the mountain.
Someone thought it'd be a good idea to take the road up to the cafe instead of a trail, so we started walking along the street and saw some random sheep over the ledge (they are everywhere!) and finally decided we should have taken a trail, so we took some sweet photos and turned back.  
As we climbed the trail, the rain got harder and the scenery slowly disappeared due to the fact that we were climbing into a cloud, hmph.  We stumbled into the building, kissed the floor of civilization (figuratively), looked through the souvenir shop, and went to the cafe.  The building has a 360 degree view but we inconveniently chose to go to the gondola on a rainy day (because it always rains when we hike on the weekends!) so we could only see white all around us.  I ordered a hot chocolate, which was by far the best I've ever had.  They put a delicious layer of foam on the top and sprinkle the top with chocolate powder after placing regular and berry marshmallows on the side!  Mmmm my mouth is watering just thinking about it!  We ended the rainy day with a gondola ride down the mountain!
I walked to Lincoln Baptist Church on Sunday with some people from CF (Christian Fellowship at Lincoln Uni) in the sunshine!  This was the first full day of sunshine I had since I arrived in New Zealand!  I went to their flat after church for nachos.  It's really nice getting to spend relaxing afternoons in a real house with entertaining and conversational kiwis, and good food! 
I hopped on the bus after lunch and went back to Christchurch to look for a bike shop and to tour through the Botanic Gardens!  There is a flower show coming up soon, so there is beautiful floral art all around the city!
I didn't find a used bike shop, and hardly touched the gardens, but I could seriously spend a week in there!  There are enormous climbing trees,
a little river with people being punted around by 18th century dressed punters, 
afternoon concerts, and neat garden decor.