Month: July 2017
Are you planning a visit to New Zealand?
Would you like to drive madly around the top half of North Island and cram in as many bucket list adventures as humanly possible in just 1 week?
Are you looking for some Top Tips from a person barely old enough to rent the car she used on said bucket-list-cramming road trip?
Well, that is amazingly specific. The following tips are for you then:
TOP TIP #1:
If you are coming from somewhere that is not the UK, Australia, or another such confused country, remember that cars drive on the left-hand side of the road here in New Zealand. Strangely, remembering to drive on the opposite side of the road than you’re accustomed to may prove to be a lot less tricky than remembering that your turn signal lever is also on the opposite side of the steering wheel. If this is the case, just know that you will spend the entirety of your trip flipping the windshield wipers on when you want to turn and flipping the turn signal on when you need the windshield wipers (and then panic-pushing every button in the car as you search for the wipers while driving blind through a heavy rainstorm).
TOP TIP #2:
As you drive the most treacherous cliff roads of your life through Coromandel, try not to think about the fact that the lives of your friends in the seats next to you rest in your ability to not drive into the side of the curvy mountain with no guardrails or into the very large semi-trucks barreling towards you on the side of the road that you’re used to driving on. If your road trip squad is European like mine, it helps to quietly curse the excellent European public transit system for being the reason that half of your crew can’t drive and it is up to you to not kill everyone and/or total the car (this also helps distract you from thinking about the fact that you all decided not to buy the full coverage insurance on the car because everyone was feeling a lot more confident in your driving abilities back at the rental agency than they are now).
TOP TIP #3:
In Auckland, the cheap Airbnb you thought was a great find may actually be a boarding school for English language learners. If this is the case, feel free to creep around the eerily silent and empty property (looking for clues as to where you are in the also eerily silent and empty classrooms and offices and giving looks of solidarity to the other backpackers also creeping around and wondering if they are at the start of a horror film) and then leave the next day without ever meeting your Airbnb host or fully figuring out what this unlocked house is that you just spent the night in.
Auckland Sky Tower views
TOP TIP #4:
If you decide to hit up Hot Water Beach in Coromandel, do a bit of research beforehand so you are aware that “hot water beach” does not mean “hot water ocean” and that you will have to dig big ole’ craters in the sand to reach the underground hot springs. This will be helpful knowledge because it will encourage you to buy a shovel from one of the many stands on your way to the beach instead of:
Walking past every one of the stands as you wonder why people in New Zealand are so into shovels
Realizing your mistake only when you reach the mass of people lying in self-dug spa pools at the beach
Attempting very inefficiently to dig your own pools with your hands
Finally, having to barter your digging services in exchange for the use of other (wiser) peoples’ shovels.
Notice all the informed people who knew to bring shovels
TOP TIP #5:
Along with the rest of your squad, buy all the flavors of Tim Tams that you can find in this magical country and use the sugar rush to fuel your next stretch of driving. Tell yourself that your subsequent sugar crash can always be balanced out with too many cups of coffee and attempt to beat down your guilt over the terrible health choices you are making by bringing to mind the several times that you ate only bananas for a meal because no one could be bothered to spend money in a restaurant.
TOP TIP #6:
If you’re looking for a place to get that killer New Zealand bungee jump in, I would recommend heading to Taupo. I would also recommend saying yes if a Taupo tourism film crew asks if they can record you and your roommate’s tandem jump for a promotional video they are creating for the area. That way, a clip of you and said roommate velcroed together, screaming “I regret it” and laughing like maniacs while you fall from 155 feet over the Waikato River will forever exist on a VisitTaupo tourism website somewhere in cyber space.
Notice the camera crew, notice the mutual grip-of-death. Also, I definitely did not use my phone to take a snap of this off of a computer screen instead of paying for it. I’m sorry Taupo Bungee, you were very expensive and I needed the money for Tim Tams & bananas.
TOP TIP #7:
If you’re feeling fit, absolutely spend a day hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (but like really assess how much damage the Tim Tams have done to your fitness level because there’s no real way to call it quits once you’re halfway through the hike and miles away from civilization in either direction). During your hike, I would highly recommend sliding dangerously down steep slopes and attempting to pull yourself uphill on cables with one hand because you’re trying really hard to take cool GoPro videos.
TOP TIP #8:
Head to Matamata to see Hobbiton– the set of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit – where you can tour an entire tiny town of hobbit houses in the rolling New Zealand countryside and drink real cider at a fake pub in the middle of a fake movie world. I don’t care that you think The Lord of the Rings is nerdy and that you don’t even like The Hobbit – no one is too cool to not like what I have just described, come on.
If you are not freakishly a foot taller than all of your friends like I am, may I suggest finding some short people to go with you on your Hobbiton tour. This way, when you take pictures in front of Bilbo Baggins’ house, you will look a lot like Gandalf posing with actual hobbit residents.
Next time, I will go all out and bring a Gandalf hat and stick
TOP TIP #9:
Realize that, even driving miles and miles every day for a week, you will see just a tiny tiny bit of New Zealand and will probably go home already planning your next road trip around Kiwi country.
Personally, I can’t wait to get back to New Zealand, explore the South Island, and hopefully get to the bottom of a few important questions I have like WHY IS THE GRASS HERE SO GREEN???
Does the NZ government hire workers to paint every blade of grass in the country neon green every night? Are these workers hobbits and Hobbiton was actually their home before they were pushed off their land and forced to work in secret for the NZ government’s Grass Painting Division?
I truly do not know.
My family visited me in Australia before my final exams at the University of Sydney. Contrary to what you may think, this was actually perfect timing for me because I like to do all of my studying in maniacal, coffee-fueled focus sessions the night before and morning of exams (0/10 would not recommend this method of study).
Among other things, the fam and I hiked and antique shopped and watched movies in a family-owned cinema in the little town of Bowral, NSW.
We also lost our rental car for 3 hours in a parking garage in Sydney and subsequently missed our flight to Cairns. This was slightly less fun than the antique shopping and movie watching and even more physically exhausting than the hiking (picture me and my aunt running up and down the steep non-pedestrian entry ramps of every parking garage in the greater Darling Harbour area).
We did finally make it to Cairns (1 day and 2 very long drives between Bowral and the Sydney Airport later) and I’m immensely thankful we did. Because the only thing better than getting to scuba dive over the Great Barrier Reef is getting to see your grandma don goggles and a giant orange life jacket and snorkel for the first time in her life (did I mention over the Great Barrier Reef?).
As if I am not lucky enough, I also got to witness my mom fall headfirst into the ocean while trying to put on a pair of very large flippers. I am truly blessed.
A very sincere thank you to the crew at Ocean Freedom who treated my grandma as if she was their collective grandma and (literally and metaphorically) held her hand throughout the entire trip. There was a very genuine level of love for the reef and respect for the water that I felt from every crew member I was able to talk with. My grandma loved her snorkeling helper, Scott, so much that I think she may be trying to legally adopt him. He spent our entire boat ride home discussing the sea life we had seen and answering my questions about threats to the reef.
Something I learned from Scott and the rest of the crew that really stuck with me is that – though coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef is widely reported about in the news and heavily visible on social media – it’s not actually the reef’s greatest threat. Natural disasters like tropical cyclones and naturally-occurring overpopulation of organisms like the crown-of-thorns starfish are responsible for huge amounts of reef destruction each year. I also had no idea that a “bleached” coral does not mean a “dead” coral and that there is a distinct possibility that the bleached areas of the Great Barrier Reef can become healthy again.
Reef bleaching caused by warming ocean temperatures and reef destruction caused by overfishing, pollution, and coastal development are also huge problems and I understand why these issues are highlighted the most in news coverage – because we as a society have direct control over these issues through our carbon emissions, pollution, land development, etc. Human actions are having a profoundly negative impact on ocean ecosystems around the world and are making it incredibly more difficult for reefs to deal with and recover from their naturally-occurring threats. But, the hopeful, science-based outlook on reef loss that I felt from the crew on my dive trip – in contrast to the hopeless, “all is lost” language that I often see in news articles about the “Death of the Great Barrier Reef” – reminded me of how important it is to always do my research on issues – whether climate-related, political, or anything else – and to look to science to form my understanding of events and problems.
We live in an age of information overload and newspaper headlines and viral Facebook videos often respond to this by sensationalizing and politicizing issues rather than feeding us the “boring” facts that are easily overlooked. Yes, we should be saddened that large chunks of the Great Barrier Reef have been bleached due to human-induced global warming. But, being sad and letting everyone on our social media pages know that we are sad is much less useful than doing our research, forming a comprehensive understanding of coral reef threats, and then actually involving ourselves in efforts to save the reefs that we now know are able to be saved because we did our research and formed a comprehensive understanding of coral reef threats.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the avalanche of societal problems that is dropped on our heads every time we dare to open a newspaper. But, it’s important to remember that there are people out there fighting the good fight and slowly working to chip away at these problems – often behind-the-scenes or in ways that we don’t even realize we should be working. Like the nice man on my dive trip who was training for his job and who opened my eyes to the fact that there are Australian government employees out there who are paid to scuba around the world’s most famous reef and depopulate crown-of-thorns starfish with an injection gun and apparently incredibly good luck. Who knew?
Anyway, enjoy the above video, which features some very cool scuba shots of the reef and some even cooler shots of my grandma. It should go without saying that – no – you should not touch or pick up anything on the Great Barrier Reef unless you are given permission by a diving instructor, researcher, or some other human who is responsible and knows what he or she is doing (both for safety reasons and because the reef is not a petting zoo and needs to be protected (see above rant)). I was lucky enough to be the only certified diver on my boat so I got an unplanned private dive with two very cool instructors who let me linger at all the spots I liked, searched out White Tipped Reef Sharks for me to see, and took GoPro videos for me in all the places I was too scared to get close to because I am a subpar diver and was terrified of breaking off chunks of reef with my jerky flipper movements.
If you’re interested, the dive company that my family and I used is http://www.cairnspremierreefislandtours.com
They have an Advanced Ecotourism Certification through Ecotourism Australia (you can check out the criteria for ecotourism certifications at https://www.ecotourism.org.au) & I can personally vouch for the very cool and very responsible crew, at least on my own trip.