We made our way to the small town of Wanaka. It is surrounded by mountains and is right next to Lake Wanaka which is this gorgeous glacier lake. It is a town where a lot of people move to when they want to escape the hustle and bustle of its larger neighbor, Queenstown. I spent my time there hiking and reading and enjoying the lake views. There was this fun place called Puzzling World with a huge maze that takes and hour to get out of and tons of optical illusion type activities. It showed how they made the hobbits look smaller in Lord of the Rings and stuff like that. It was a fun, non-outdoor activity for the day. Another awesome thing about Wanaka is that it is home to the Presidio.....the coolest movie theatre in the world. At least the coolest theatre I have ever been to. It has one screen and shows 3 movies each day. They gutted out the chairs and replaced them with vintage sofas and seats...they are all super worn and comfortable. They sell beer, wine, and homemade ice-cream. During intermission, they have fresh baked cookies that are super huge and to die for. For $3 a cookie, the must make a killing. I think that they have a vent from the oven going directly into the theatre so you can smell them baking while you watch the movie. I thought this theatre was so fantastic that I saw a movie there for 3 of the 4 days I spent in Wanaka. I would hike by day and watch movies by night. I saw Gran Torino, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Changeling. And yes, I got a cookie at every intermission....I thought about those cookies all day long while I was hiking :)
After Wanaka, we headed to Queenstown, since we were scheduled for a multi-day hike out of that city. Queenstown is the infamous party, adventure city of New Zealand. I have heard that you either love it or hate it. Well....after about 5 minutes in the city I decided that I was in love!!!! It was definitely bigger then Wanaka and a lot more obnoxious. You can bungee jump, sky dive, para glide, repel down canyons, jet boat, and anything else that you can think of. During the summer they hang out in the glacier lake and in the winter they snow ski on the surrounding mountains. There are over 40 bars, tons of restaurants and shopping around.....it was a functioning city surrounded by gorgeous New Zealand views. I understood why so many people were drawn to it and why others may be a bit put-off. In our hostel, we made friends with this Israeli guy named Ziv. He happened to be doing the same hike as we were planning on doing so we started hanging out with him. Alan had also made friends with this Swedish girl named Mikeala. She was traveling around NZ doing WWOOFing, which is where you work on organic farms for free while the owners feed you and give you shelter. She signed up for the hike as well so we had a group of 4. The day before we left, we ran around the city getting our hut passes and grocery shopping for the hike. This would be my first multi-day hike in which I had to carry everything and fend for myself....there was no guide or porter service. I had been hiking a lot so I felt that physically I would be able to handle it. To splurge one last time before we left civilization, we went to this famous burger place called Furburgers. We figured it would be a good place to carb load and get some energy for the mountains. There was one burger there called Big Al's. It was the ultimate burger with 2 patties, 2 fried eggs, cheese, bacon, beets, lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo. It was a heart attack in a bun! Ziv said that he did not half-ass anything when it came to food and that you were either a Big Al or a Big Loser....so he ordered the ultimate burger. When I saw this thing I thought that there was no way in hell he was going to be able to finish it. Well, he proved me wrong, not only did he finish the whole thing, but he ate it in less then 10 minutes...we had hardly started into our regular burgers. I laughed saying that he would not have to eat for days...and that is when he realized that it was Passover. He was supposed to go have a holiday dinner with some other Jewish people in town....This was one of my first introductions to Ziv, the crazy Israeli guy that I would be traveling with for the next week.
During my travels, I have met tons of German, Swiss, & Israeli people. Before New Zealand, I have never really hung out with anyone from Israel and I don't have many Jewish friends back home. I have heard many stereotypes along my way ....that they travel in groups, talk really loud, and negotiate every price...VERY cheap! I am not big into stereotypes, but that is what I had been told by other travelers. I take it all with a grain of salt, because I am American and there are tons of stereotypes about us along the traveling circuit as well. Anyways, in the past month I have met several Israeli travelers and they could not be farther from the stereotypes. In fact, they have been generous with everything and were extremely nice people. I actually realized that maybe we had a common thread since we both came from countries where our governments are extremely involved in world relations and there is a pre-conceived notion about us simply because of where we are from. As an American, I am constantly being asked questions about my government, Obama, the economy...people quizzing me on life back home and why we are ignorant to the world around us. It gets old pretty fast....I've got my answers down pat and rattle them off to the new people that I meet. I hope that by the time I walk away, they have a different view of America and they question the stereotypes that they have been taught. I think that Israeli people go through a similar process in traveling. When you sit down and really talk to someone on a personal level you realize they are just humans...they go through the same emotions and stages of life as everyone else...regardless of where you are from.
Ziv was the first Israeli that I spent a good amount of time with. He was such a unique character. He is extremely goofy and acts aloof most of the time, but is actually very quick and intelligent. English is his second language behind Hebrew. I have never met someone who is so witty with a second language. Most people know English, but can't bring humor into the conversation naturally. For instance, I will never be cleverly funny when I speak Spanish because I am concentrating on speaking correctly....it will never be innate for me. But Ziv was hilarious! He had just gotten out of the mandated-Israeli military a year ago...so most of his sentences or conversations started with " Well, when I was in the military...." Everything we talked about somehow related back to the military, but I suppose that was his life for the past 3 years and is a major part of growing up in Israel since everyone has to do it.
So we had our group of 4 for the Routeburn Track. This would be my first multi-day hike on my own...no guide...no porter service...NADA. I had to carry everything on my back to survive for the next 3 days. Thank goodness I had 3 other friends hiking with me...because I learned a few things along the way. First of all...as naive as it sounds, I didn't realize the whole concept of what ever you bring into the nature you need to take out of the nature...such as trash. So whatever I ate or used I had to carry with me for the entire hike. If I peeled an orange or had a can of tuna...I would carry the remnants with me. There were bathrooms at the huts with septic tanks so I did not have to carry the T.P. with me, but otherwise, you couldn't leave anything else behind. Second thing that I didn't take into account while hiking was that you needed to bring your own cooking utensils. I was stocked up on my food, but I didn't have a pot, cup, or utensils to cook and eat with. DUHHHH ANDREA...did I think that all this stuff would magically appear in the forest? I am not sure what I was thinking, but my friends had some things that I could use. I was definitely an amateur at this hiking thing, but I learned a lot and will be more prepared next time around.
Our last night of the hike, there was an Israeli family staying at the hut. They were hanging a plack on the hut wall in memory of their daughter that had died on the hike a year earlier. Apparently, she had hiked the tracked independently and had gotten off course and fell off a cliff. It took them 2 weeks to find the body. It was a heart wrenching story and brought tears to my eyes as I watched the family mourn. They came to walk the Routeburn track, pay respect to the area where she fell off, and finish the part of the track that she didn't get to walk. Since her death, the wildlife department has put up markers to make the track more clear.
The last day of the hike, Alan & Mikaela left in the early morning because they were heading to a different town for the night. Ziv and I were both heading back to the same town so we hiked the last day together. When we woke up it was pouring rain outside. Everyone around me was putting on there waterproof boots & Gor-Tex everything! They all had their ski pole walking sticks and were ready to hike in the freezing rain. I, on the other hand, pulled out my $5 poncho that I bought in Peru and glanced down at my non waterproof shoes and realized it was going to be a long day. I ended up surviving the rain and freezing weather, but at the end of the day - more expensive gear makes for a more pleasurable hiking experience. I think I will purchase some hiking socks and rain pants for the next time around.
Ziv and I arrived to Queenstown. It was Saturday night, the day before Easter and a school holiday. We drove to every hostel in town and they were all booked. There was not a dorm room available in the entire town. Ziv had a car, and normally I wouldn't mind crashing out in a car, but we hadn't showered in days and had been sleeping in sleeping bags....we were ready for a good nights rest. We decided to splurge and split a hotel room for the night. Instead of spending the regular $25 NZ ( $12 us) we spent $80 NZ ($40 us) each for the room. That is a lot of money for my budget right now. I made sure to take all the shampoo and lotion, drink all of the instant coffee packs and steal the toilet paper. There was a queen bed and single bed in the room. Ziv was nice enough to give me the Queen bed. He also mentioned how much cooler this night would be if I was his girlfriend, Karen. I guess he would have loved to have been alone with Karen in a hotel room. Well, sorry Charlie....I'm not Karen :) I was sooo exhausted, but I held my eyelids open to watch hours of TV since we had paid for it. Plus, it had been weeks since I watched TV. It was actually really nice to have a decent place to sleep for the night.
Since Queenstown was booked for the next few days, I decided to ride with Ziv to the small town of Te Anau. I needed to go to this town for the Milford Track that I was going to do in a few days anyways, so it wasn't a big deal to go a few days earlier. We packed up his station wagon and headed out on the road...jamming out to Simon & Garfunkel and various Hebrew music. It was nice to talk to him about his Jewish culture and the type of life he had growing up. Alan and Mikaela were also in the same town so we had a few days together before we all went our different directions.
This morning I said goodbye to Alan, Ziv, & Mikaela. It was fun having Alan and the others as travel companions for awhile, but it is time that I head out on my own again. It is always weird leaving the comforts of a travel companion, but after a few days you are back to yourself again.....there is always another adventure ahead.
I am doing a 4 day hike tomorrow...it is the most famous hike in New Zealand, the Milford Track. I am glad for my experience on the Routeburn as I think I will be way more prepared this time around. I'll let you know how it goes. Goodbye for now :)