Saturday, March 22, 2008

I have seen the promised land, and it is good.

Where to begin? I guess I should start by informing you that this promises to be a very, very long post. But there's really nothing I can do about that. I was in New Zealand for two unbelievable weeks filled with skydiving, glacier climbing, cave river-rafting, hiking, trail running, exploring, bungee jumping, and driving on the wrong side of the road (by our standards anyway). So step off, because I've got stories to tell.

I guess I'll start with my flight across the pond from San Fran to Sydney. I overnighted in my ol' stompin' ground of Charlotte before setting out on my journey so let it be known that I had quite a famous time boozing and catching up with some of my old QC amigos the night before I flew out. This worked out in my favor though, as I was so dehydrated from the night of cold beers and merriment that I think I only had to pee about 2 times in the next 30 flight hours. Seriously, comments were made upon landing by the people sitting next to me. "Did you even get up once during the flight?" the fat-neck, red-nosed, boring guy sitting next to me asked. "We were beginning to think that you don't have any normal bodily fuctions." (this is a direct quote). I had actually gotten up once, when they were both out of their seats no doubt rifling through the other passengers' carry ons or feeling up flight attendants in the lavatory. I didn't feel they needed to know this, so I told them that I actually hadn't peed since I was 4 years old and I was flying to Sydney to see a world-renowned pee specialist and thank you very much for brining it up and making me all self-conscious and stuff about it. As I had hoped, that was the last time I had to talk to them.

I had a 12 hour layover in Sydney so I decided that, instead of getting hammered in the airport bar and spending 8 hours naming the ceiling tiles, I would catch the train into the Circular Quey and see some sights. I bought a day pass for the train from a very attractive but quite smug Aussie girl who may or may not have ripped me off as A.) She thought I was a really stupid American, and B.) Being, in fact, a stupid American, I hadn't really had time to cement the whole exchange rate thing thing yet. Is 13,000 Australian dollars about right for a train ticket? Oh well, it doesn't matter now.

This part of the journey worked out quite well, as the Circular Quey (pronounced "key") has pretty much all the marquee Sydney sights like the Sydney Opera House, Royal Botanical Gardens, and Sydney Harbor Bridge. As luck would have it, they were actually hosting an open water swim competition on the day I was touring, so I of course watched a bit of that. An open water swim in the Sydney Harbor? Are you kidding - is there a better place anywhere?? Anyway, pictures:

So anyway, out of Sydney and on to Wellington, New Zealand where my good buddy Scott lives - working in a blood bank, playing in a band, and basically just loving the shit out of life since he moved there about 2 years ago.

Wellington is a pretty cool city. It's nestled in the hills of the lower north island and it's the cultural center of the country. It somehow manages to be very modern and hip and totally laid back at the same time. Let me explain a little bit about the culture and lifestyle in New Zealand. First of all, houses and cars are not all brand new and shiny. People live in nice places and they take care of their shit, but nobody is trying to have a super fancy 3,000 square foot house and two lexus SUVs. The cars on the road are, for the most part, a little bit older and fairly small. Almost as if - gasp! - they're used for transportation instead of status symbols. People have jobs and careers, but there is really no judgement placed on what a person does or how much scratch they bring home. You could talk to a Wellington native for hours on end, and they might not once even ask you "what kind of work" you're in. All in all, it's probably not a bad place to call home.

This is the city, along with the view of the bay from Scott's patio:

Not bad.

We went on a hike through the hills and mountains one day and got some pretty spectacular views.

After a couple fun-filled days in Wellington it was off to Queenstown, a city in the South Island that is billed as the adventure capital of the world. More on that later, but I must also say that Queenstown has some of the most breathtaking scenery and views I have ever seen in my life. It's sort of hard to explain, but everything is so stunningly beautiful that's it's almost frustrating. You look out at the picturesque mountains and bluer-than-blue lakes and I think a part of you knows that there's no way to convey this sight to others, and that even your own memory will probably not do it justice over time. Anyway, for what it's worth, here's some of the better shots:

Now as I mentioned, if it's adventure you crave, Queenstown has everything you could want just short of live human hunting expeditions. My first foree into this smorgasborg of excitement and sensory overwhelment was the Nevis Highwire bungee jump ( ). This is the 3rd highest bungee jump in the world. At 134 meters (439 feet for the lay-person), you get an 8.5 second freefall before the cord even begins to break your fall and you can stop crying like a 7-year old girl.

The routine goes like this: They put you on a bus and take you up a very narrow, winding mountain road on the edge of a cliff that the bus may or may not topple off of, depending on the driving skill and current level of sobriety of Nash, your long-haired, hippie burn-out bus driver. When/if you make it to the top, you're shipped via cable car to a steel room haning over the middle of a gorge above the Nevis River. It looks a little something like this:

Once you're "safely" in the hanging room platform thingy, they begin tossing people into the canyon. There are glass sections of the floor so you can spend most of your waiting time looking down at the bottom of this canyon, just in case you hadn't already shat your pants in fear. When it's your turn to be hurled off the edge, they strap your feet to the cord, walk you to the edge of a 2 foot square platform and tell that they are going to count down from 4. At 1, you are to dive into the canyon, headfirst, completely defying every self-preservation instinct you have ever had.


Okay, this post has been sitting unfinished in my "draft" section for just a shade over four score. I'm not going to finish it. The trip was unbelievable from beginning to end, and this was about the middle of it. I decided I would either delete it or post it, so here it is.