I’m afraid I’m falling down on the job already, because guess what? Keeping a travel journal turns out to be a difficult task when you travel a lot and don’t have much time to write. But I thought I’d start by sharing a little about the whirlwind trip I took to Australia and New Zealand. Then maybe I’ll go back to gush about Puerto Rico and some of the shorter trips I’ve taken since. That is, if I have time before I actually move to New Zealand in less than two months!
So I visited the University of Canterbury for the first time in early July to meet my adviser, discuss my research, and brainstorm some ways to collaborate with my colleagues here in Ohio. Let me tell you – a week is not enough time to fly to the other side of the world and back. Somehow or another, I think I’m still jet-lagged a month later.
Regardless, international flights are nice (I was on Qantas for the really long legs). Not the whole being-in-the-air-for-16-hours thing, or trying to sleep sitting up (with constant noise and random lights) crammed in between Aunt Marge and Paul Bunyan (this part was beyond miserable), but it was just a cool experience (though not one I’d like to do on a regular basis). American flights don’t even give you pretzels anymore, let alone hot meals and snacks and all the beverages you want. You have your own media screen with access to hundreds of movies and TV shows and music and games. Plus did I mention that it was a double decker plane? Neato. Overall though, traveling all the way to Australia/New Zealand is pretty tough. It takes more than a day to get there, so even if you manage to catch a wink on the plane, you’ll still be a fat-ankled zombie when you land (yes, apparently even 23 year old marathon runners should invest in compression socks).
Due to some delays, both on the business end of things and then again at the airport, I was rerouted from my original itinerary. I eventually landed in Melbourne, Australia (via Dallas and Brisbane) on Friday morning, a little under a full day before I would catch the next leg of the flight to Christchurch, New Zealand (by the way, apparently getting your passport stamped is a thing of the past. I was beyond disappointed). So I checked into the Holiday Inn, took a much needed shower, and caught the SkyBus to the city center. I spent the entire day walking around every nook and cranny of the beautiful city, from the Botanical Gardens (it was winter there, but not cold at all and still very beautiful in the gardens and parks) to the art center and cathedral and even China Town and more. I haven’t spent a lot of time in major US cities, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this one was probably better. It was clean, felt safe, and people were overall pretty friendly (my worst encounter was with a bus driver who wanted to make me throw away my sandwich before getting on. Let’s just say that I was tired and starving and just spent my last Australian cash on this dinner that I intended to eat back at my hotel room. I think he could tell I was about to cry, so he let me leave the sandwich up front for the duration of the trip). This quick jaunt definitely whetted my appetite for more traveling in Australia, and I was disappointed to have only a day there.
Saturday morning I caught my flight to Christchurch. Most people I’ve talked to were under the impression that New Zealand is super close to Australia. Relative to the distance from the United States, I suppose this is true. However, it was still a 3 hour flight. And if I made you think Qantas was a nice airline, Air New Zealand was even better. First of all, I couldn’t contain my laughter during the safety video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnM7xuhzjWY – Bear Grylls is awesome). They took the typical safety instructions and turned it into a comedy adventure film. I think this is brilliant. Everyone was watching, compared to the almost nobody that pays attention to the demonstration on US flights. I was then promptly served breakfast – coffee and orange juice (and even alcoholic beverages available for the true new Zealanders who apparently drink whenever it strikes their fancy – even if it’s first thing in the morning) and fruit salad and the best frittata I’ve ever had with potatoes and bacon. I can only imagine what it’s like to fly first class on these airlines, if that’s what the cheap seats get you. I landed mid-afternoon and took the bus to my hotel. That evening I met up with one of my adviser’s other students (also from Ohio!) who has been my go-to for questions about moving abroad, getting a student visa, what the school is like, etc. It was fun to finally meet. She was also living with a British and a Dutch guy, and it was cool to see how they lived their lives to enable long term travel. Major vagabonding inspiration.
Sunday was spent wandering the area on my own again. I walked all over, looking for decent neighborhoods to keep in mind when the time comes to arrange my housing (you’d think I’d have done that already, but things usually don’t become available until the last possible minute there). I found a local arts market, which was very cute and kind of reminded me of a smaller scale (and classier) Yellow Springs Street Fair. It was held at the Riccarton House and Bush, which was a mansion from the 19th century with a huge fenced in rainforest-like “bush” with walking paths and some of the coolest trees I’ve ever seen (picture huge above-the-ground roots snaking all over for a dozen yards).
Then I walked to campus to scope out the location of my meetings the following day. Overall, I was not too impressed. Christchurch and the University are still recovering from from major earthquakes, but I guess I thought renovations would be farther along. I’m hoping someday soon they’ll be as picturesque as I had been fantasizing they were. Regardless of appearance, it’s a great school and I’ll be working with some very impressive people. I also imagine I’ll learn to love Christchurch (even though I’m more looking forward to getting out of the city and going on adventures).
The most “New Zealand-esque” experience I had time for on this trip was a short hike on my last day. I took a bus ride into the Port Hills, where I rode a gondola to the top of a small-ish mountain and hiked around and explored the port city at the base. It was a pretty dreary day, but still a redeeming last experience to take home with me. I’ll see if I can figure out how to post some pictures.
Coming back was pretty miserable. I had to wake up at 3am to catch a flight to Sydney where I had a 5 hour layover (long enough to be bored to tears, but not long enough to go out and explore – at least I got to see the opera house and beautiful blue harbors flying over them) before my long flight Dallas, where I then had an 8 (!!) hour layover. The total door-to-door time getting back was pushing 40 hours, and I felt like a zombie for weeks. I am excited to go back, but wish it wasn’t quite so soon. I have so much left to do!