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New Zealand!

a travel blog by alli_ockinga

All done with Korea, and moved on down under!

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Livin' it up in the Hellhole of the Pacific

Paihia, New Zealand

Kia Ora, everyone! After 30+ hours of travel, I finally made it out of the Land of the Morning Calm and into Auckland, New Zealand. After a few days in Auckland to shake the jet lag and get my feet on the ground again, I headed north to Paihia in the beautiful Bay of Islands.

A little history: back in the 1800s, Paihia was the main whaling port for the European powers that were in the South Pacific. Thus, all the sailors and various unsavories stopped off here every few weeks, and naturally, a degenerate crowd grew to call the place home. For some time, it's nickname was, in fact, "the hellhole of the pacific." Locals love to report that back then, the only establishment with a higher gross income than the brothels were the pubs, and even then, only just. These days, it's quite a bit more calm in the bay. Over 144 islands to explore at my leisure! And explore them I did.

For the first bit, I was still attempting to get over the reverse culture shock of leaving Asia. It took a bit to get out of my Korea Shell, but soon enough, I took up with an English lad who was thrilled to have found himself traveling with an American Girl. (Which makes...one of him. The general reaction to my nationality is a sort of disappointed look, and then some sort of comment along the lines of, "why can't you just be more like your older brother, Canada...he never seems to get into trouble like you..." Well, sorry for all the muck-ups, folks, it's really not my fault.) Anyway. That first day, I lazed about on the beach. The weather's been lovely, especially after coming from dead winter in Seoul. The next day, I went on a little cruise and saw my first dolphins! Turns out my aquatic photography skills leave quite a lot to be desired, so I abandoned the attempt and just watched them frolic. One word: CUTE.

Next day, I went for a little paddle and explored the various inlets and coves throughout the bay. It felt good to be out in a kayak again--first time in a year! I also went for a little coastal walk, which afforded plenty of good photos. Unfortunately, I left my cable in my room, so you don't get to see them this time around.

Long story short, it's gorgeous here, I love it, people are unbelievably friendly (even the bus dirvers say, "Have a lovely day, darling!") and I may never come home. Well, at the least, I know where I'm retiring.

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on February 8, 2010 from Paihia, New Zealand
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In pictures

Rotorua, New Zealand

dolphins! (maybe...the phots's not showing up on this computer, don't know why) and geeking out where Lord of the Rings was filmed

happy at Cathedral Cove, and out for a paddle!

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on February 9, 2010 from Rotorua, New Zealand
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Glaciers! Kayaks! Treehouses!

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

My dear uncle Denny informs me that I am doing a "pissy job" of informing all my devoted readers of my actions here in the Land Down Under. Sorry. But internet is costly here. Nonetheless, I hate to keep you all waiting with baited breath, so here's an update on what I'm doing down here.

Once again I can say this has been an amazing week. First things first: I landed a job cleaning tree houses at the Rainforest Retreat. Yes. I WORK IN A TREEHOUSE IN THE RAINFOREST!! Hahaha. Of course I do. I'm not getting paid in actual money, but rather in accomodation (though sadly not in a treehouse), food and alcohol. Works for me! Freezes up the travel budget anyway. So I'm currently situated in Franz Joseph, on the west coast of the south island, "gateway to glacier country." It's a bit Stanleyesque in that only about 75 people live here, and they're all either in the hospitality industry, or they're outdoor guides and tour people. Just a dot on the map, really, but it's got a bookstore and coffee shop and it's absolutely beautiful here among the mountains and rainforest. It's quite strange going from Seoul to here. But, good strange.

Yesterday, I got to go up on the Franz Joseph glacier. It was absolutely stunning. Probably about the coolest thing I've ever gotten to do. We were on the ice for a full day, and got to go into some really amazing crevasses and ice caves, and I got to try my hand at ice climbing!! Not that I need another hobby. But it was truly breathtaking, and now I definitely know the real meaning of glacial. I'll put some pictures up the next time I'm online, if I remember to bring my camera cord. Oh technology, you've thwarted me again.

Also, in a nod to how diverse this country is, last week I was up in the Nelson area (north of here) kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park. It was sunny and gorgeous. I went hiking (tramping, in the local dialect) in the park for about 12 km and then paddled back. SO RAD. This week has provided some much-needed outdoor therapy as I work on getting grounded again. I really tried to keep sight of the big picture in this last year abroad, but it got difficult sometimes in the Korean madness, when everything around me was so foreign and just purchasing cough syrup was a victory worthy of highest celebration. But I can feel myself coming back. I am really happy here. Also, my uncle Joe is getting me in touch with a friend whose family owns a winery down here, so if that pans out, I think I'll head up that way on my way back north. Joe has been a far more helpful uncle than Denny, though I love them both the same.

For now, it's back to the treehouse for some dinner. Stay tuned for pictures!

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on February 27, 2010 from Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand
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Queenstown, New Zealand

I said goodbye to Franz Josef and the treehouses a couple days ago. FJ is located on the west coast of the south island, and is known for being generally rugged and home to lots of what we might call "characters." I did in fact find this to be the case. It was a good time, but now it's back to the adventuring as I prepare for a four-day trek (or "tramp" as they say here) called the Routeburn. This is one of New Zealand's nine Great Walks, of which I've done pieces of two already: the Tongariro Crossing is part of the Tongariro Northern Circuit, and I also did a 6km segment of the Abel Tasman.

My travels have led me into Queenstown, billed as the adventure capital of the country. Lonely Planet remarked, no one's ever come to Queenstown and said, "I'm bored." True that. Most people come here to engage in various terrifying activities like canyon swings, bungy jumping and skydiving, all of which I steadfastly refuse. I enjoy most water- and land-based pursuits, but I'm not so much about being dropped from high places. Ask my dear friend Ryan how much fun I am at a carnival. Anwer: no fun, because I won't go on any of the rides. Luckily he is a scaredy-cat too when it comes to those things. And since I tend to get sick even on just slightly too-quick elevators, I am, to say the least, not an adrenalin junkie. Which is fine. I have learned, over the last couple years, that I'm just not that extreme.

Next up is the Routeburn. Should be awesome!

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on March 12, 2010 from Queenstown, New Zealand
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Lady on a Tramp

Queenstown, New Zealand

I've just had the best shower in the entire world, because it's the first I've had in four long, sweaty days after finishing the Routeburn Track in fjordland, south New Zealand. For my first solo backpacking trip--without the guidance of a responsible adult male--I'd say it went fairly well. I was certainly glad of every piece of gear I brought with me (specifically the wet-weather variety) because it was a wild trip.

Day one was brilliant. Awesome weather, stunning views:

Each night, we stayed in backcountry huts. NZ, hospitable country that it is, has an extensive hut system for trampers (as we're called). Huts may be a bit of a misnomer. It brings to mind shoddy structures hastily thrown together made of twigs and dried grass. A more apt term would be basic cabin, which admittedly does not have the same ring as Backcountry Hut, though it does contain the marketing advantage of double alliteration. About the huts, though. I stayed in a different hut each of the three nights on the tramp, and they vaired in capacity but all had the same basic functions (drinking water, gas for cooking, wood stove, bunks). I can't describe how nice it was not to have to set up a tent at the end of 11km of hiking. It certainly does a lot for the morale to know that you've got a roof waiting for you at the end of the section.

Day two rained steadily all day long, but I did manage to capture some breathtaking views of the Harris Saddle and Lake Mackenzie thanks to the waterproof camera bag that Michelle and Hannah gave me as a leaving-Asia present. (Faithful readers will remember M&H as my best Korea friends.)
My rain jacket, which I used with great success all throughout the Korean monsoon season, proved to be somewhat less effective than I had hoped, but all turned out well in the end once we got a fire going to dry everything out.

Day three was clear and cold. There's no escaping the onset of winter here in Fjordland Nat'l Park, as it got down to a frigid -12C last night (about 4 degrees F). I have developed something close to an addiction to Raro, the Kiwi answer to Tang, on this trip. Since I couldn't very well have my beloved Chai latter, it's tough to beat a cup of hot Raro in tough alpine weather! This was a relatively easy day, mostly flat, but with a spectacular ending.

Day four took me out of the track, where I caught a bus to Milford Sound, at the advice of my grandpa. Unfortunately, it was another dreary day on the coast, so the experience was

a little less magical for me than for him, perhaps. Still worth it though. This particular cruise that I went on evidently catered to Asians, because our buffet lunch definitely required fine chopsticks skills, which of course I have now. Thanks Korea! It was the first time I've used them since leaving six weeks ago. Then I went into the bathroom, and found an empty bottle of soju in there. (This, faithful readers will also recall, is the cheap-as-chips alcohol of choice in Korea. Sort of like if vodka met sake down a dark dark alley...Ah, memories.) I bet the bottle's owner was much warmer than me.

And last, some glacial fun that I didn't get to put up here because I kept forgetting while in Franz! So I've got just about two weeks left until I come back to the good old U.S. of A. Some times I feel better about that than other times. I'll be happy to see the faces, and I think I've gotten over the worst of the culture shock of being back in the western world by now. As it evident from the many references above, I still miss Korea quite frequently, and I suppose I always will. It's hard to imagine myself "home" right now. But I can't wait to see the faces of home, and my bank account can't wait to have a rest, either. Until next time!

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on March 18, 2010 from Queenstown, New Zealand
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Last leg of a long journey

Auckland, New Zealand

Hello again, faithful readers. Fourteen months ago, I wrote my first blog as I was preparing to jet off to Seoul, and here I am now trying to wrap it all up as I return home. Home, I should note, is rather a fluid concept at present: after a couple days in Girl World with my ladies in Seattle, I'm spending a few weeks in Wenatchee, then back to Seattle, where the aforementioned ladies have been so considerate as to procure an apartment for me. It's so soon! I can't wait to see my friends and family after so long away.

Before that though, I've had a few more adventures to speak of. I finished off the south Island last week in great style, leaving Christchurch for Kaikoura, a little coastal town where most of the entertainment is pulled from the seaside. Accordingly, I went on a little fishing excursion with my friend Jack, another English lad. As we were preparing to step into the boat, someone spotted a sizable octopus hiding in the rocks. I was really excited. I like octopi. Darren, our Scottish first mate, was excited too. As I was engaged in appreciative comments about the wonder of nature and what amazing creatures they are, Darren promptly reached into the sea with a hook, pulled up the animal and cut off its head, tossing it unceremoniously back into the ocean. "Bait," he said. Oh. It was that kind of a fishing trip.

A couple minutes later, one of the girls was staring in the bait bucket, looking a little queasy. "The legs are still moving," she observed. She was right. The bloody mass of

tentacles continued to writhe in the bucket, despite the obvious inconvenience of headlessness. "Ah, yeah," said Darren. "It'll survive for hours." I didn't have much time to marvel about the incredible adaptive qualities of octopi before it was time to start fishing. After the octopus incident, we were all a little apprehensive about the trip, wondering just what we'd gotten ourselves into, but in reality the actual act of fishing didn't require much of us. Darren showed us how to do it. "Drop," he said, letting down the line. "Wait." Two minutes of silence ensued while we waited for the line to go slack, indicating it had hit bottom. Immediately, there was a tug on the line. "Jerk," said Darren. "Reel." With that, he set to cranking the line, and before you know it, there was a bright orange sea perch being hauled into the boat.

"That was well quick," Jack noted.
"This ain't Dover," Darren retorted, once again beheading the fish without ceremony.

Laconic though the delivery was, Darren's formula worked. We dropped, waited, jerked

and reeled up dozens of fish, mostly perch, but Jack managed to haul in a couple blue cod as well. I had better luck with the crayfish myself. After fishing, we went to our captain's house, where he cut up the perch and set out some soy sauce and wasabi for some fresh-caught sushi. Good stuff. Then, he gave us all a couple pours of his moonshine whiskey. As a rule, I'm not much of a whiskey girl, but under the circumstances it seemed appropriate. We steamed up the crayfish for one of the best meals I've ever had. Good times in Kaikoura, and in New Zealand in general.

That said, it's been quite a long walkabout, and I look forward to being home. Thanks to everyone that has followed along with me this year. I hope to write many more stories of many more places in the years to come. See you all soon!

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on March 29, 2010 from Auckland, New Zealand
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Hey everyone! In February 2009 I left the Pac Northwest for South Korea to teach English for a year. This is what I'm up to! Keep in touch!

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