from Denmark to Dunedin

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware ~ Buber

from Denmark to Dunedin

North Carolina’s summers comprise of an unwavering heat combined with a stickly sweet humidity. Walking out of the airport was like walking into a bizarre other-reality. Used to the crisp winter days in Dunedin, my hair wilted and my lungs worked double time to find fresh oxygen (because I’m pretty sure my lungs weren’t meant for 100% humidity). My puffy jacket, strung across my duffel, looked as out of place as an elephant at a convention for mice.

I tried writing this post so much earlier. Yet, my past attempts at writing never became fully coherent (to anyone besides myself). I wrote about tears and goodbyes, my overwhelming desire to be back in New Zealand and mostly my sadness over not being with my flatmates. I still want to be able to pop into the main room and chat with one of them, to laugh with them.  To pull pranks on Karen and be bewildered at Megan’s kiwi phrases. To distract Abby from studying and then eat dinner all together.

Now home for the past few days, I find myself able to reflect more clearly on both my time in Denmark and New Zealand. Below is my collection of thoughts regarding the challenges and differences to studying abroad in Denmark and New Zealand.

Nothing symbolizes my home in Denmark more than my bright pink bicycle. Out of colours at the rental shop, this was trusty ride every day. Here it sits in front of my host family's house in Olstykke.

Nothing symbolizes my home in Denmark more than my bright pink bicycle. The only colour left at the rental shop, this was my trusty ride every day. Here it sits in front of my host family’s house in Olstykke.

My home in New Zealand

My home in New Zealand

Culture Shock:

Immersing myself in Denmark and Danish culture provided a bigger jolt to my system. To go along with this, returning home from Denmark felt much stranger. Walking into Newark off the plane from Reykjavik felt like entering a foreign land all over again. On the other hand, I found New Zealand easy to assimilate into, partially because of the shared language and partially because of cultural ideals.

One of the most striking differences was outward openness. While the Danes may seem unfriendly to strangers, the Kiwis treat you like their long-lost cousin. Okay, so that’s a wee bit of an exaggeration, but that’s how it felt going from Copenhagen to Dunedin. To be fair, it’s definitely NOT that the Danes are unfriendly. Rather, this perception is created by a culture of keeping to oneself. Though let me assure you that Danes are extremely kind, helpful, and (dare I say it) friendly if you make the effort.

In New Zealand, I had insta-acquaintances. People in class were talkative and it was easy to make these ‘school’ friends (i.e. people you see in class/school, but not so much otherwise). Likewise, the easy chatter of conversation filled the buses. On a particularly long ride back from Queenstown, the guy sitting in front of me even held a lengthy phone conversation. In Denmark, talking wasn’t forbidden on public transport, but if you were chatting away during morning commute it better be because someone was in the hospital or your grandma had just died. Communication was more through unspoken gestures, a small nod as someone made room for you on the train, or the requisite understanding smile at anyone with young children.

Needless to say, I found the open and friendly atmosphere of New Zealand more similar to my home in NC. This doesn’t mean either was better. In fact, I quite liked being able to go about my business in Denmark without worrying about what others were doing. I could zone out on the commute without worrying about making conversation with a stranger just to be polite.

Tivoli A favorite spot in Copenhagen. Here the unspoken Danish silence was broken as families and friends relaxed and enjoyed this Danish version of an amusement park.

A favorite spot in Copenhagen. Here the unspoken Danish silence was broken as families and friends relaxed and enjoyed this Danish version of an amusement park. My friend Jill took this photo and it is one of my favourites ever of Tivoli!


In Denmark, DIS gave us 4 weeks of travel (one of these weeks was around DK and another was with your core course). This meant I had 2 unimpeded weeks to take off elsewhere. If you’ve read my blog up to this point, you’ll know that I spent a week in Romania (read more here: and the other in Italy (find the post here:

Because I had these weeks off of school, I didn’t feel the need to travel on weekends. I know many who did, but I stayed for two reasons. First, I didn’t want all of my study abroad time in Denmark to be spent outside of Denmark. Staying on weekends meant more time to do things with my host family, explore Copenhagen, and hang out with friends.  Second, travel is exhausting. With all the travel breaks, the DIS school calendar was broken up into two weeks of class followed by one week of travel. This effectively meant that, if you travelled from Saturday-Friday (as I usually did), you only had two weekends to relax, hang around Copenhagen, and catch up on schoolwork (which I guarantee no one was doing during the travel breaks). While I do wish I had gone away for at least one weekend, I definitely couldn’t have handled the stress of travelling every single weekend.

From my week in Romania

From my week in Romania

So, is it hypocritical if I tell you now that I travelled most weekends in NZ? I don’t think so, because it was a very different situation from Denmark. For one, we didn’t have multiple weeks off. This meant I needed to fit my travel in on the weekends. For another, my travel in New Zealand often meant a couple hour road trip with my flatmates. From Dunedin, buses ran everywhere and we only flew once (for our mid-semester break to the North Island). Also, since Megan had a car, our weekend trips often meant piling in and blasting some good road-trip music. I still don’t know how Karen slept through it—that girl has a gift, put her in a car, and 10 minutes later she’s nodding off!


Skydiving in Glenorchy


Weekend in Queenstown


I didn’t give a second thought to what I would eat abroad. Food, right? Turns out this was a bigger part of my adventure than I anticipated. In Denmark, meal times are important, especially evening supper, which can stretch on for hours. For me, it was a chance to get to know my host family better. Often, it was the one time we were all together during the day (as Lauren and I had classes, and Henning and Jette ran around to various places).

Danish food was also very different from what I was used to. Liver pate, herring, rugbrød (which I’ve searched in vain for in the US) and countless other dansk mad (Danish food). Additionally, my host family ate a lot of meat , always having a meat main at dinner (the favourite was frikadeller—a mix of beef and pork meatballs). Coming from a mostly non-meat diet (no fancy reason, just due to flavor preferences) this was an adjustment for me.

A smaller adjustment in DK was the numerous bakeries and cafes. Here, you could sit for hours with a friend and a pastry/coffee without feeling pressured to leave. There was something distinctive about the Danish bakery aroma, a mix of almond extract, pastry butter, and other foreign smells. We have a German café/bakery here in NC and whenever I walk into it, the smell transports me back to Denmark.

Direktør snegl from Lagkagehuset (aka the best thing you'll ever eat. ever.). somehow I didn't try this until my last days in Denmark--if you're ever in Copenhagen don't make the same mistake I did!

Direktør snegl from Lagkagehuset (aka the best thing you’ll ever eat. ever.). somehow I didn’t try this until my last days in Denmark–if you’re ever in Copenhagen don’t make the same mistake I did!

If I thought I was eating a lot of meat in Denmark, it was nothing compared to New Zealand, land of sheep and cows. Megan’s family had connections to every farm in Southland (or so it seemed). This meant our flat had an unending supply of meat. Our freezer was chock full of pork chops, lamb chops, roasts, fresh bacon, and other random bags of farm-fresh meat. Once a week, Megan would cook up tea (Kiwi for dinner) and we’d sit down to a full table of meat, vegetables, and an assortment of homemade relishes.

As in Denmark, meal times became more important to me in New Zealand. As I mentioned, my family doesn’t really do the family-style dinners at home. We used to when I was little, but somewhere along the line we started doing catch-as-catch-can (Shuster for find your own food).

With my flatmates, our meals were planned out weekly. Each of us was in charge of cooking dinner for everyone once per week. This system had many perks. For one, my flatmates are great cooks so I got to eat their delicious meals! For another, I’m usually pretty low key about cooking for myself, but cooking for others spurred me to try more complex recipes. Overall, dinners with my flatmates were a fun way to relax and talk after a day of classes. (If that sounds familiar, it’s because I adapted it from my earlier post on flat-life found here: I already miss sitting around the dinner table with the girls, chatting simultaneously about nothing and everything.


This is where I’ll leave you. Before I do, I need to make one last goodbye: to this blog.

Can I be honest with you? I had no idea what travel writing was before this August.  I was heading away from the life I knew and loved to spend a year abroad. One day, I received an email sent out en masse from my university’s abroad department, calling for student bloggers. Since I’m being honest, I should probably also tell you that I’d never blogged before.

I’ll admit that it was rough at the start. I’m not an English major nor a particularly elegant writer. Just ask Lauren (my roommate in DK) and she’d tell you that I constantly bemoaned blogging. I couldn’t enjoy it because I hadn’t figured out what worked best for me. I worried that I was making mistakes and not creating an engaging blog. Because of this, it took me forever to write a post and I began dreading sitting down to blog.

So, what changed? I realized that my blog didn’t have to be perfect. Instead of imposing a stiff writing style, I found a casual approach. I like writing in my own voice. Sometimes I write with humour, while other posts take a more serious spin. But when I go back and read my blog, I can always recognize the me in my words.

These past few months I’ve truly enjoyed writing about my adventures and sharing them with you. Whether you’ve read one post or all of them, thank you for partaking in my year abroad, from Denmark to Dunedin.


Away we go

I’m suffering from my first broken heart. Not for a person, but for a time and place.

Leaving feels impossible, yet here I am on the eve of my departure. I could spin the whole NZ has become my home/I had the time of my life/I’m a different person, but I’ll spare you the countless study abroad goodbye clichés (though, they seem mostly true from my experience). Instead, I’ll give you a look at how I’m handling the prospect of departing Dunedin.

Last night I couldn’t sleep because I was so distressed about the idea of leaving. And when I say distressed, I mean tearing up (okay it wasn’t pretty-I was a blubbering sob-ball). I don’t know what happened. I’m not a big crier or emotion-shower. I tend to get quiet, so my midnight cry fest took me by surprise (don’t deny it—we all have those moments).

Then, the realization hit me so hard it could have bowled me over (you know, if a realization was a physical property and not merely a concept). The realization that I have loved everything about this semester. Well, I could have done without the mismatched Dunedin weather, but that’s neither here nor there.

Karen and I were talking today. She said she was sad. She asked if I thought we would ever all be together again. I wanted so badly to say yes. But I knew I couldn’t. We all live in different places. In the US. In the world.  I don’t want to make a bold statement and say I will definitely come back here (for how do I know what comes next in life?). Yet, I truly hope I make the opportunity for myself.

What makes me sad, though, is that even if I come back to Dunedin, it won’t be the same. The same people will have moved on, the environment will have changed. I will never again be able to walk up to 361 Leith, unlock the door, and feel 100% at home.

Unlike last semester I never felt homesick here. I never wished I was back at Cornell. I had a serious moment a few weeks back. The thought of dropping from Cornell and transferring to Otago briefly flitted across my mind. May I emphasize the briefly. My rational side immediately nixed the idea. Oh how I wish I didn’t think things through. But that’s just not me.

Yet, as bitter as leaving will be, I am somewhat glad it is a sorrowful one. That statement probably requires some explanation, yes? While I am leaving part of my heart in New Zealand (couldn’t escape all the clichés, eh), the breaking off of this piece signifies all the wonderful times I’ve had (went for the metaphor and hoping it makes sense). For, this I am glad. Glad that I went abroad and forever happy that I came to New Zealand.

Aotearoa Land of the long white cloud

Land of the long white cloud

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Finally Finals

Finals week at Cornell is intense. Going to study in the library is like walking into a war zone. People rush in early to get a prime study spot and then guard it against intruders for the rest of the day. If you so much as cough it’s warrant for anyone in the vicinity to look up at stare you down—as if to say, how dare you break the coveted silence! Sneaking food into the library is generally accepted by fellow study goers. However, should the food be smelly or messy, forget about it. And if you should dare to eat an apple or any other food which makes noise, you will be exiled. To be honest, I’ve been on the sending end of some death glares to people who loudly crunched chips or blasted their music into those Apple earbuds (which, guaranteed, everyone sitting in a 10 foot radius around you can hear).

After living in Dunedin for the past few months, I knew better than to expect a similar finals environment here at the University of Otago. Don’t get me wrong—people take their finals very seriously. Indeed, most finals count for at least 50% of your final grade (as opposed to the measly 25% most Cornell finals are worth). Yet, I don’t feel the same nervous buzz in the air here, a buzz which permeates Olin, Uris, or any of the other CU libraries for the duration of finals.

I spent today studying in the psychology upper-level lab. It was a semi-relaxed atmosphere, with about 10 of us scattered around the room. People worked diligently, focusing on their studying, but the occasional break of silence wasn’t met with hostility. Rather, someone would let out a sigh (could’ve been of relief or despair, but I’m betting on the latter) and make a comment about a particular class. This was invitation for anyone, not solely that person’s study buddy, to join in. For instance, one guy asked his friend what the mean for the last Abnormal Psych exam had been. This turned into a conversation about the class, with a few others making disparaging comments about how rough that exam had gone for them.

It's too nice a day to be studying, yet there I was, pausing to take a photo on my way to the library.

It’s too nice a day to be studying, yet there I was, pausing to take a photo on my way to the library.

At Cornell I feel solidarity with others, simply from the common factor that everyone’s stressed. We all know that feeling of impending doom which unites each student, regardless of college (okay the doom bit may be a tiny bit of an overstatement). Still, I don’t see much interaction between people who don’t know each other. Sure, friends will whisper for a few minutes, but no one runs up to join in. You might exchange a smile with someone sitting across from you, as if to say, We’re all in this together (no HSM reference intended and if you don’t get that—all the better for you!). Yet, that’s all they are: a random person sitting across from you. The language barrier is never broken.

The atmosphere here was a refreshing change. People respected each other’s space, but there was a feeling of solidarity as well as fellowship. I felt comfortable and relaxed, not concerned with what others were. One girl, coming in around noon, brought brownies for everyone to snack on. I have no idea who she was (and I don’t think anyone else did either), but the brownies were the perfect pick-me-up. I felt as if I was studying with a group of acquaintances. You know the type. These are the people you know just well enough to let your guard down, but not so well that you’ll get distracted and spend an hour chatting. The environment was perfectly conducive to studying, and I was able to plug away through my notes.

Can you see the leaves changing color? It's almost winter time!

Can you see the leaves changing color? It’s almost winter time!

Being abroad has changed my perspective on so many things. Studying and school is just one of them. The Kiwi outlook on life is much more comprehensive than what I see in the US. I found this to be the case in Denmark as well. People view school and education as one of many important components of a happy life. In Denmark, the home and life outside of work was even weighted higher. Here in New Zealand, it seems that there is a balance.

It has me wondering, “What is it with the US that creates such a high-pressure environment which we wring our students through?” (Not to say that this is only found in the US.)  I don’t have a good answer. I’m sure you can find multiple factors influencing the different outlooks. Yet, for me, for now, it is enough to wonder. It is enough to reflect and think about how I want to experience my life, and how much weight I’ll give to each component. I don’t have an answer for that yet either. But I know that I want to carry the vigour I’ve found for life with me always.

So, thanks for bearing through the metaphysical musings (okay, okay, and perhaps somewhat sappy meanderings) in this post. I’ll end it with a picture:


One of Abby or Karen’s photos of Milford Sound.

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Flying High

[This is a haphazard post about skydiving. It is a continuation  of yesterday’s post and contains lots of adjectives which are spin offs of ‘amazing’. You have been warned.]

Fantastic day, just incredible! First things first: I survived skydiving! Watching the scenery as we went up in the plane was amazing. We were sitting flat in the back of the tiny plane (just room for four—no seats and just a window/door-like thing that could be pulled open when it was time for us to jump). It was a perfect day—not one cloud in sight. We could see Mount Aspiring, Lake Wanaka, and a glacier-fed river from the top among other things.

Surprisingly, when the moment came to jump, I wasn’t scared. Perhaps it’s because you’re securely fastened to another person (and they’re the one pushing you out of the plane). But, the air rushes up so quickly (well, really you move through the air) that the resistance makes it feel like you’re going slowly. I had time to really enjoy the free fall and take in the scenery. I kinda wish we had more time to free fall. After that, the parachute opens and you spiral slowly down towards the launch site.

Imagine that tiny person is me and you have a picture of what I looked like earlier today. -disclaimer: it's not me, as you would need  either a. a person hanging out a plane and taking photos or b.  skydiving simultaneously from afar to get this shot

Imagine that tiny person is me and you have a picture of what I looked like earlier today. disclaimer: it’s not me and this is not my photo. you would need either a. a person hanging out a plane and taking photos or b. skydiving simultaneously from afar to get this shot (but actually, how did they get this? now I want to know!)

Interestingly, I didn’t really get the same adrenaline rush that I did while bungy jumping. I think it has to do with the lack of scale-perspective in skydiving. Does that make sense? I think so. Because with skydiving, you’re so high up that there is nothing left next to you. There is nothing to rush past you, flashing in your visual field to indicate the crazy speed you’re hurtling towards the earth at (200 kph!). But also, nature in NZ is so grand on an overwhelming scale (okay grammar nuts: I know I’m not supposed to start a sentence with ‘because’ or ‘but’. But just go with it for this post, please?). The mountains, hills, and valleys just engulf you completely. So, when skydiving, you’re at least 12000 feet up, but then you have these huge 7,000 ft tall mountains. When you jump, it doesn’t look that far down, because your focus is drawn to these enormous mountains on the horizon, and not the tiny lines of roadways or other clues that would give away how terrifyingly high up you actually are.

Backing the story up a bit, it’s time to introduce the other people crazy enough to sign up for skydiving, because it wouldn’t have been as much fun without them. With me on the drive over from Queenstown to Glenorchy was an Irish couple. They had moved to London for work, and the guy wasn’t too keen on the city life of London. So, after 2 years, they decided to do a world trip. They had just been to South America (Bolivia is apparently the place to go) and are heading to Africa after NZ. Wow. I am constantly amazed by the people I meet here and their stories.

The Irish couple got to go first (the plane holds 4 total—so the two of them plus the two instructors). I went with a German girl, Neva, who is au pairing in Glenorchy. Her host family was with her and they were so nice. We all chatted before Neva and I headed up, as their two adorable kids bounced around. Also, I am so thankful because one of them offered to hold my camera and take photos as we skydived. She got some amazing shots of the area around the airfield, and one spectacular shot after the parachute had deployed, and we were floating over the mountains (pics will be up soon!).

Skydive Paradise (seriously though, that's what the company's called) -note: not my photo, click on it to get to the website--but it might not work for US IPs.

Skydive Paradise (seriously though, that’s what the company’s called)
-note: not my photo, click on it to get to the website–but it might not work for US IPs.

So, I’m ending the post here. Not the best crafted piece of literature, I’ll admit, but it perfectly captures my adventure. I’ll leave you with this advice to take or leave as you wish: If you have the chance, do it. Do it because it’s amazing, incredible, awesome, and all those other adjectives combined.

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Flying Solo

I’m having the most incredible weekend in Queenstown. I don’t know where to start because everything is going so well. This is my first solo trip and I was a tad nervous before leaving. Yet, the notion of travelling alone is somewhat thrilling to me, especially in New Zealand. There’s something romanticized about the idea traveling solo (not lovey-dovey—think romanticism of the American westward movement). I’m so glad I took the chance (especially since my romantic westward movement didn’t end with cholera).

Yesterday, I caught the bus from Dunedin west towards Queenstown (now my westward references make so much more sense don’t they?). I was dreading the ride  as 5 hours cooped up in a bus isn’t my cup of tea, but it was quite pleasant. The only seat left when I got on the bus was the first row. But this meant I had a spectacular view the whole ride. While everyone else was dozing, I was fighting to keep my eyes open. NZ is everything people hype it up to be and more. From grassy hills (with baby lambs and cows this time of year!) to snowy mountain ranges, it is by far the most scenic place I’ve been. The whole time I kept thinking, “I’m so lucky to be here.”

Queenstown!! (note: this is definitely not my picture--I wish I was this good! my computer isn't accepting my camera's SD card for the time being so this is from the site).

(note: this is definitely not my picture–I wish I was this good! my computer isn’t accepting my camera’s SD card for the time being so this is from the site).

We rolled into Queenstown after dark and I managed to find my way to the backpackers lodge. After settling in I tried to go to bed early. This did not happen. Why? Did I mention the main activity of this trip: skydiving. So, it’s understandable that I was a bit tense. After 2 hours of unsuccessful snoozing I decided to write some thoughts down. In case you’re wondering, “What does a person think before skydiving?” Here’s the answer:

Wow. I am so nervous right now. Like pit of energy buzzing around my stomach nervous. Tomorrow I take on skydiving, weather permitting of course. I would like to take this opportunity to take back everything I ever said about bungy being scarier. Seriously, I keep imagining the plane ride up and then the jump… eek! 

It was only after I had woken up at 7 am and got ready, that I found a message on my phone from the night before. Skydiving was cancelled because of scheduled maintenance on the plane. All that nervous build up for nothing! But they put my name down for tomorrow and hopefully it doesn’t get cancelled again because I leave Monday.

After hearing from the skydive people, I called the bike rental place to see if I could switch the bike from Sunday to today.  No problem they said! I’m so glad I rented a bike. I took the Lake Wakatipu trail and then headed up to Jack’s Point. It was 50 km of stunning views. I didn’t really appreciate Queenstown’s beauty last time when we all came down, mostly because we stayed in the main city centre (okay Abby and Karen will kill me for saying that—so disclaimer: we did each do varying parts of the Ben Lomond hike, but in my defence the views weren’t of Queenstown per se).

Biking was a perfect way to explore and the route wasn’t hard since it followed right along the lake most of the way. My favourite moment was finding a rope swing. It was a little difficult to balance on, but swinging out over the water was so fun!

Lake Wakatipu (again not my pic, see the other pic for the link)

Lake Wakatipu
(again not my pic, see the other pic for the link)

I got a little tired at the end of the ride, so now I’m resting back at the lodge. I’m trying to decide whether to head out for dinner with some others I met here or not, but I’m completely knackered (knackered = a kiwi’s favourite word for exhausted). So, for now, it’s hanging out in front of the fireplace chatting with a girl I met yesterday and some Germans (they just arrived in New Zealand an hour ago—I don’t know how they’re still awake!). Something delicious is wafting from the kitchen (I think it’s a French couple—they were cooking when I arrived last night too) and Jimmy, the resident cat, is making the rounds. The idea of staying in this hyggily (happily taken from my times in Denmark) atmosphere is getting more and more appealing as I write. All in all, not a bad way to end the day :)

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Wanderings in Wellington

If I ever move to New Zealand, it will be to Wellington. Though I only spent a day there, it is beyond a doubt my favorite city we visited. Though to be fair, the only other city we visited was Auckland (and we just happened to be there Easter weekend so the city was eerily quiet—I felt like I was in one of those apocalyptic movies where all human life is wiped out).

When we left off last time, I had parted from Abby and Karen and found my way to Wellington. They were headed to Palmerston North to drop off Wilbur, our trusty car. After that, they were catching a ridiculously early bus to Wellington. We weren’t planning to meet up because they only had a few hours before catching the ferry to the South Island.

So, I woke up that morning with a plan to see as much as I could of Wellington. My first stop; the Te Papa museum.  The best way to describe it is in comparison to the Museum of Natural History, but with a focus on New Zealand. I was walking through an exhibit, when I saw a familiar figure ahead. I walked up behind her and shouted, “BOO!” Luckily for me, it was indeed Abby (though she didn’t seem too shocked—either I need to work on my stealth skills or she was just too tired from the early morning bus ride to care).


Karen had apparently wandered off to find food, which makes sense as Wellington is the foodie capital of NZ. Meanwhile, Abby and I decided to take a tour of the parliament (which was free!).  No pictures were allowed on the tour (they confiscated our cameras along most everything else in our bags), but there was some amazing artwork throughout the building. My favourite was an exhibit of the Earth, Sea, and Sky, which filled up an entire hallway. It was nice to be in a government building that had more than just portraits of past officials (though there were those too).

One interesting tidbit from the tour: the Parliament building is 400 meters away from a fault line (a little too close in my opinion). However, a few years ago they completely redid the base of the building to make it earthquake-proof. Interesting fact #2 comes from the iconic Beehive building (a symbol of the government, similar to how the White House is a symbol of our president). Ironically enough, the Beehive is empty. There is nothing in the center, and the outer area is used for a few offices and as entertainment space.

The Beehive

The Beehive

After the tour, we headed back to Te Papa to meet up with Karen. By this point, it was time for them to head to the ferry. I walked them over to the terminal, waved goodbye, and then headed to the historic cable cars. There is one cable car route, which runs from Wellington central up to Kelburn Lookout and the Botanic Gardens.  From the top, I had a stunning view of the Wellington harbour and surrounding cityscape.

I had planned an hour to spend in the gardens, but they were spread out over an immense area. I easily could have spent an entire day wandering along the paths.

Wellington Botanical Garden Rose Garden

Wellington Botanical Garden Rose Garden

View from

View from Kelburn Lookout

I had almost made it the center of the gardens when my phone buzzed. A text from Abby: “We missed the ferry, going to be around for a while.” I immediately called them to make sure I understood correctly. As Abby explained, I tried to sound concerned about the missed ferry (but they could probably hear me grinning through the phone—I’m not great at deceiving people). Honestly, I couldn’t have been happier that they missed their ferry. Two main factors went into my unapologetic glee:  1. I had people to hang out with for the rest of the day and 2. Karen is a total foodie so I knew she would find us a good place for dinner.

After dumping their backpacks in my hotel room, we headed out. First stop was a hole-in-the wall crepe stand. The guy working was from France and he travelled around, working in restaurants that needed a hand in French cuisine. Best. Crepes. Ever. After that we wandered up and down Cuba Street looking in the small, somewhat whimsical shops.

Finally, it was an acceptable time to start thinking about dinner. Karen had looked up reviews for a bunch of places. However, finding the perfect place to eat with 3 people who have different tastes is not easy. It was quite the procedure deciding on a restaurant. We walked up and down the streets of Wellington for over an hour. Just as we were about to concede defeat, we noticed a random restaurant with a neon elephant in the window. Somehow through the haze of our hunger, it seemed like perfect choice. Sounds tacky, I know, but it was a hit! The food was South East Asian and the restaurant was cozy with the perfect amount of noise.

Later when we were paying for our meal, the hostess recommended a great dessert place a few blocks away. It was something else. Located above a takeout Kebab stall, we had to walk up an unmarked flight of stairs to get to it. We never would have known about it without the recommendation. It was a classy little café, themed as a library, and the desserts were phenomenal. It was the perfect way to end the last night of our North Island adventures.


Full map of our trip: over 1600 km, and 30 hours of driving. A million times worth it!

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Friendly Faces

Perhaps I should’ve named this post, “The ongoing saga of the North Island.” In any case, the story picks up a day after Hobbiton. We drove to Turangi to spend the night before I split off from Abby and Karen. I was heading to Wellington to fly back to Dunedin, while they were bussing their way down the South Island. The Turangi hostel was more like a backpackers lodge full of friendly people, a little older than the usual hostel crowd. The guy in charge was from France and had an amazing collection of paintings. He had recently moved to New Zealand and had his studio set up in a spare room. The paintings were amazing; very realist inspired (we thought they were photos at first!).

The next day, we had a leisurely breakfast and ended up talking with a girl from Switzerland. She was from the Italian-influenced part of Switzerland and had spent a few weeks in Australia learning English before coming to NZ (her English was near-perfect). I wish I could pick up languages as easily as she seemed too (7 years of French and I’m still a moderate conversationalist). I’m always amazed at how easy it is to make friends when we travel. Sure, we may never see them again, but it makes for good conversations and memories. We always invite people to have dinner with us if they come to Dunedin, but somehow Dunedin isn’t on most backpackers’ bucket lists.

After breakfast, I headed to the bus, which ended up being two hours late. On a happy coincidence, our Swiss friend spotted me at the bus stop and hung around to talk until my bus came, so time flew by! The bus ride to Wellington was fairly uneventful until we were an hour out of Wellington. The road wound its way along the ocean, perhaps only 5 or 6 feet above, but it felt like we were driving right on top of the water. As an added effect, the sun was setting and appeared as a large yellow orb floating among the clouds. It was, by far, one of the most beautiful moments I’ve seen here.

When we got to Wellington, I must have looked somewhat lost (I was) and thankfully someone came up and offered directions to the nearest bus station. I think this says something for the friendliness of the kiwis—they constantly go out of their way to help others. I had planned to walk to my hotel, but a 5 minute bus ride over the 40 minute walk sounded good. I got on what I thought was the right bus (it was), but I had no idea where to get off. Again, I was saved by the help of a stranger. The bus driver told me where to get off and pointed me in the right direction. Somehow, I still couldn’t find the hotel and ended up going to another one to ask for directions. The receptionist smiled and reassured me that my hotel was indeed on this street. Apparently, the downstairs was a historic pub which you had to go through to get to the hotel part (not true–I later found a side door!).

Oh, did I mention it was ANZAC day? No? Well, for those who don’t know, ANZAC stands for Australia New Zealand Army Corps. Anzac day is similar to our Veterans’ Day, but it commemorates the contributions to the Allied powers during WWI. While NZ did not make a huge dent in the war effort (small country=less people to send), they are extremely proud of their contributions. Needless to say, Anzac day is a huge deal and the pub was packed with people (mostly middle-aged, some dressed in uniform) watching rugby, horse races, and bagpipes (a tradition on Anzac day).

When I entered, I could not for the life of me see any door leading to the hotel part. So I was standing with my duffel in the pub for a few minutes (looking very out of place). Yet again, someone offered up help, pointing me in the right direction.

Checking in ended up being pretty funny when the guy behind the reception desk asked where I was from. When I said North Carolina, he got really excited and enthusiastically asked “Chapel Hill?” I was taken aback as a lot of people here don’t know the States outside of California, NY, or Texas. He continued on, “I’m a big fan of Chapel Hill! Big fan! You wanna know why?”  Then he rushed on without waiting for a confirmation that I would indeed want to know why (which I did anyways), “Basketball! Michael Jordan, man that guy is a legend.” We talked for a few minutes about basketball, Michael Jordon (someone who we North Carolinians proudly claim), and how everyone in NC must play basketball (his perception of the great Tarheel state).

Little conversations like this make me smile. I get asked where I’m from frequently when traveling in NZ because of my non-kiwi accent (so far I’ve been asked if I’m Canadian and Russian… go figure). I think that people are truly interested in knowing—it’s not just small talk. It just goes to show the friendly and curious nature of the Kiwis.

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Adventures in Hobbitland

I have my younger brother to thank for encouraging me to read the Lord of the Rings books. And by encourage, I mean that we made a bet. Disappointed that his older sister was heading off to NZ without having read the beloved series, he bet me that I wouldn’t finish the trilogy and the precursor book, The Hobbit, before I set foot back in the US. Now, as everyone knows, there is no purer form of motivation than the prospect of winning a bet (especially if said bet is made with a sibling).

So it is due to my brother that, when I headed to the North Island a few weeks ago, I was able to better appreciate our stop at Hobbiton (aka the Shire). Hobbiton lies in Matamata on what originally was a family cattle farm. The family still operates their farm as well as presides over Hobbiton nowadays. Indeed, on our way in we saw many blasé sheep going about their day. They must be used to the rumble of the green Hobbiton bus going by because not one payed any attention to it.

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It was everything I had imagined and more. The level of work and detail put into the set is just incredible.  Our guide recounted several factors which went into the process of creating Hobbiton. Much is due to director Peter Jackson, who wanted to remain as true to the books as possible.  

In one instance, the crew even disguised a pear tree to look like a plum tree. This is because the book describes the Shire as having a pear, apple, and plum tree. However, planting a real plum tree would have thrown off the size-scale of Hobbiton because of the tree’s size. So, Jackson had a pear tree planted, which he then stripped of pears, and had plums attached individually. During filming, shots were frequently spoiled by plums falling to the ground.

There are countless other examples of the painstakingly scrupulous work which went into Hobbiton. I walked away with a much better appreciation of the behind-the-scenes effort that goes into movie making (this blog gives a good overview if you’re curious:

hobbit home!

We timed our visit perfectly, as it started to rain just as we headed to the Green Dragon. An exact replica of the one featured in the movies, the Green Dragon has been open since 2012. We were able to relax with hobbit-style food and drink as we listened to the rain start to fall.

The Green Dragon

The Green Dragon

Here’s where the story picks up again. Despite the rain, Karen decided she wanted to head back to the hobbit holes for more pictures. Abby and I waved her off with a reminder to be back at the Green Dragon in 20 minutes to catch the bus back.  Well, 20 minutes later Abby and I boarded the Hobbiton bus. The first ones on, we settled into our seats and waited for Karen to come bouncing in.

Five minutes later the bus was buzzing with talk and laughter, but still no site of Karen. An additional five minutes after that, the tour guide worryingly asked if anybody was missing a person. Up went my hand, along with Abby’s. He went back out to search for her, but to no avail. The bus couldn’t delay for one person, so we got dropped back at the main  office and gift shop (10 minutes down the road from Hobbiton). Abby and I watched the green bus take off, our ride back to Rotorua.

Of course they eventually found Karen (probably blissfully wandering among the hobbit holes–we joked that if we lost Karen anywhere along the trip, she would probably be happiest at Hobbiton). Luckily she caught a ride back to the main area where we were waiting. Even luckier, we all got a ride back to Rotorua with one of the Hobbiton vans (they were going to pick up more people. So, at the end of the day, Karen’s disappearance just added another chapter to our Hobbiton adventures.

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If you’re looking to read a novel, you might want to skip this post. I have major writer’s block today (uncharacteristic of me, I know—usually I have too much to say), but I want to share the next segment of my North Island Adventures (I know—I have a gajillion posts just on the North Island, but it was one of those trips-of-a-lifetime). So, if you’re still there, the rest of this post will be snapshot moments explained through small blurbs and pictures.

Part 1:

Driving from Auckland to Rotorua, we detoured to Waitomo for the glowworm caves. We did a tour of the Aranui cave before heading to the glowworm cave. Both were beautiful, but the glowworms were absolutely breathtaking. We floated in complete silence through the dark cave system to arrive at the primary glowworm grotto. No photography was allowed because any flash extinguishes the glowworms’ light for up to 8 hours (i.e. pretty bad news for a tourist sit which revolves around the glow of the glowworms). Luckily, professional photographers have done a much better job than I ever would. As always, with photos that I didn’t take, just click the photo to get to the original site.


The glow-worm sets up a snare of sticky silk threads. Flying insects see the glow-worm’s light in the dark and fly towards it, then get trapped and eaten.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Aranui Cave

Aranui Cave (there was fantastic lighting in this cave for photos)

Part 2

After the caves we spent the night in Rotorua. The next morning we got up early for white water rafting. It was so fun. We rafted down the Kaituna River over multiple rapids, including the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world (Tutea Falls). Once we had gone down the route, our instructor decided to have some fun with us. Somehow he convinced us that we needed to paddle back up the last 1 meter fall. Also, I got moved to the front of the raft for this section. I think the pictures below say it all…

Going down Tutea Falls

Going down Tutea Falls


That person getting bombarded with water at the front–yep that’s me.

Part 3

After rafting we headed to Wai-o-Tapu, a park which is home to stunning geothermal activity. The natural colors were gorgeous. Afterwards, on the recommendation of our rafting guide, we headed down the road until we got to a bridge. Parking on the side (along with numerous other cars), we climbed down to the water below. It was geothermally heated and made the perfect swimming hole.

Geothermal wonders at Wai-o-Tapu

Geothermal wonders at Wai-o-Tapu

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The Champagne Pool: trace amounts of arsenic and antimony are extracted from the water by the sulphur in the pool, creating the beautiful colouring

Hot springs under a roadway make for a relaxing afternoon (don't be misled into thinking we were sketchily hanging under a roadway--there were actually a bunch of people right around the bend)

Hot springs under a roadway make for a relaxing afternoon (don’t be misled into thinking we were sketchily hanging under a roadway–there were actually a bunch of people right around the bend)

And that’s it for today :)

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500 miles

You know that song by the Proclaimers? The one that goes, ‘But I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more…’Okay, if you haven’t heard it, go look it up on google/youtube/[insert other media of choice] because it is a fantastic song. But that’s beside the point. The point is this: if you substitute the word ‘drive’ for walk’ you will get a good sense of how I feel right now.

Okay, to understand we need to back up a few weeks to when we were planning this massive North Island adventure. Sitting at our kitchen table, Abby, Karen, and I were throwing around ideas. Somewhere along the way, we decided to go to Cape Reinga, the northernmost tip of New Zealand. If you’ve ever seen a map of NZ, you’ll know that this tip lies on a strip of land, which juts out from the main body of the North Island. In case you haven’t seen a map, here you go:

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See what I mean? Needless to say, Cape Reinga was a little isolated from the other hotspots on our itinerary. Nonetheless, we added it to the list. Somewhere along the planning process, we decided it would be a good idea to drive from Whangerei -> Cape Reinga and then from Cape Reinga -> Auckland. Oh yeah, and we would do it in 1 day. Take a good look at the map above. That’s a lot of driving. That’s 685 kilometres of driving to be precise. That’s the distance from my house in Chapel Hill to New Jersey.

Okay, now fast-forward back to present-day. We woke up in Whangerei and jumped into the car for a day of driving.  Let me remind you that it is only our second day of driving in New Zealand. And if driving on the ‘wrong’ side wasn’t hard enough, the road to Cape Reinga involved a wheel-gripping hour on a mountainous, cliff-side road full of switchbacks and hairpin turns. I had the pleasure of driving this stretch (though Abby did it on the way back in the dark, so you won’t hear me complaining!). I have never concentrated so hard while driving. It felt like I was in one of those simulations where one wrong turn spells game over.

Five hours later, around 2 pm, we arrived at Cape Reinga. It was a gorgeous day, the sky was blue, the sun was out, and the views were incredible. Instead of trying to describe it, let me show you:

Northernmost tip of New Zealand. What a site!

Northernmost tip of New Zealand. What a site!

Cape Reinga: where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. You can see the whitecaps where the 2 bodies of water meet.

Cape Reinga: where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. You can see the whitecaps where the 2 bodies of water meet.

Rejuvenated by the fresh air and ocean breeze we headed back to Wilbur, our trusty car, for the longer portion of the trip. It was hard to get back in the car knowing we still had 7 hours of driving left. We plugged my ipod into my headphone speakers and settled in for the long haul. Around 6 pm, the light started fading. We could see the mountain looming before us. The very one where the road danced around the mountainside, coming dangerously close to dropping off the edge. A scream from Karen sent the car swerving.

She had spotted food.

We pulled over to eat before setting out to brave the twists and turns of the mountain.

There is a special type of silence that exists on a mountain at night. The pitch dark enveloped us, cocooned as we were within the car. Except for one car that passed us 10 minutes in, we saw no one else the entire hour’s drive. I think that if a plane had been flying overhead, they would have seen only a tiny pinprick of light slowly maneuvering its way.

When the road finally straightened out and we descended from the mountain, we let out a collective sigh of relief. At the first rest area, we stopped so I could fill up my water bottle. As I headed back to the car, I happened to glance up and I caught the best view I had seen all day. The stars were out in full force, with the Milky Way blazing a trail across the sky. I yelled for the others, waking Karen up from her nap in the process. I have a special affection for the night sky. I’ve been obsessed since stargazing while at a farm out in the backcountry of Australia (but that’s a story for another time). In any case, the night sky show turned this stop for water into my favorite moment of the day.

After that, it was an uneventful drive to Auckland. We got in around 1 am, and I should go to sleep now, but I just needed to sit and write everything down first. 

You know we're friends if we can survive 13 hours in a car together!

You know we’re friends if we can survive 13 hours in a car together!

[note: I’m just getting around to posting this, even though I wrote it earlier]

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Class Blog: Voices from Cornell Abroad

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