Just like that, my two months in the South Pacific are over. As I sit in the LAX United terminal waiting to board my flight to Chicago, it’s hard to believe I’m back in the states.
I definitely ended this leg with a pretty great week. My last few days of volunteer work were relatively quiet, and when the final Friday rolled around I have to admit I was pretty relieved to be done with my two months of manual labor.
We filled the weekend the best way we know, by heading outside. Another great day was spent climbing at the Whakapapa Crag, but my last morning at the Center we did something completely new to me. Seb, one of the instructors, Bart, and I decided to go canyoning in the Mangatepopo gorge. Essentially, we had four hours floating down the icy river on our backs. It was nonstop entertainment as every few hundred feet there would be a rapid that we would run, or a an opportunity to cliff jump from as high as 30 feet. To finish our morning, the water flows into a massive 70 foot waterfall. Rather than jumping into the shallow rock pool below, we abseiled down the side of the rock face right next to the roaring waterfall. My adrenaline was definitely pumping the whole day and it was a fantastic way to finish off my time at the Center.
A few hours later I was on a an InterCity Coach bus down to Wellington, where I stayed for my last two days in New Zealand. I absolutely loved my time in the city, and I felt like the capital contained all the usual offerings of a large metropolis while also having quite a bit of small town charm. Here’s how I filled my days:
Most people know how much I like to climb mountains. So when I heard that there was a small volcanic mountain in the heart of Wellington which gave visitors exceptional views of the harbour, I had to make my way over there. The hour walk from my hostel to the summit was beautiful, thanks mostly to the fact that the last forty minutes were through the dense green forest that surrounds the mountaintop. When I did reach the top, I was rewarded with the amazing views that were promised. Luckily, the weather was great, with mostly blue skies, giving me clear views of the city sprawl along the rolling green hills descending into the ocean waters. I didn’t stay for too long as the strong wind that blows through Wellington 200 days a year threatened to take me with it.
Wellington Cable Car
Wellington’s original cable car began operating in 1902 to transport the city’s residents up the steep hills which surround the CBD. 116 years later the service is still running strong, and today is also a major tourist attraction. For only $4 you can ride the car from Lambton Quay, a popular shopping street in the city center, up to the botanical gardens. It passes by the university leading many students to get multi trip tickets and use the cable car to bypass the steep walk up to their dorms. I made the 10 minute trip up and enjoyed the great view from the top.
Since I was already atop the gardens, I decided to walk through them on my way back down into the city center. The hour downhill walk passes through the garden’s marvelous collection of native plants, from succulent and rose gardens to rainforest and dense bush. Using a free walking tour app that I downloaded called Welly Walks, I learned a bit about the history of the gardens as well as the different species I passed.
Wanting a break from the mess of the political scene in the states, I decided it would be nice to learn a bit more about the New Zealand political system. I embarked on a free tour of the three buildings that house the New Zealand Parliament, the Bee Hive (Executive Wing), Parliament House, and Library. I was very captivated by the information I received on the tour, and loved learning about the relationship with Britain, the evolution of the parliament throughout the years, and the usual debate cycle which takes place when the representatives are in session.
Pretty much every visitor guide, travel website, and recommendation I looked at before coming to Wellington said I had to check out Cuba Street. The road is lined with dozens of chic cafes, vintage shops, and modern dining options. While everyone got the memo and I was certainly not the only tourist there, I still appreciated the vibe of the relaxed street. I spent a couple hours wandering through the various stores and stopping to try some delicious hot chocolate.
Another strong recommendation I received was to pay a visit to the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa, which is right on the waterfront in the CBD. I had been told by some that it was the best museum they ever visited, and that I could spend a whole day there. While I wouldn’t award it the title of best museum, I definitely enjoyed checking out the various exhibitions and spent about five hours at the museum. With information and exhibitions about the elements of the landscape, flora and fauna, Maori settlement and culture, European colonization, war contribution, Kiwi art, and more, the museum did a pretty good job of educating me on all things New Zealand.
Another 24 Hours in Sydney
Following my two days in Wellington, I flew back to Sydney, from where I had booked my return flight to the states. With another day to kill, I hopped on a train into the city.
I grabbed a bus from the CBD to do the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk. This cement path starts at the famous Bondi Beach and follows the coastline south to Coogee Beach. The walk is over four miles and stays right on the water as it climbs and descends past natural cliff side, white sand beaches, and the green backyards of nearby residents. It was great to see a different side of the city and admire the gorgeous sights along the way. I did my best to take in the blue skies and and 80 degree weather before I return to March in Chicago.
In the evening I met up with Sam Kerr, an Australian former counselor of mine at Camp Nebagamon for Boys. I forgot that Sam lived in Sydney when I was there back in February, but made sure to link up with him when I was back. It had been over three and a half years since I had seen him, so it was great to catch up. We went to a pub in The Rocks and had a some nice conversation over a tasty meal. It’s always great to reunite with an old friend, and I was really glad I got the chance to have a chat with him before leaving town.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been two months since I was in this same airport, getting ready to start my adventure. It’s been a fantastic two months, full of incredible views, kind people, and hard work. Australia and New Zealand treated me very well, and I have no doubt that I will be returning at some point as I barely scratched the surface of what those countries have to offer. I’m thankful for the opportunities I had, from walking up bridges to seeing penguins waddle on the beach to bathing in the pacific to rock climbing on the side of a mountain. I’m grateful for the people I met, from the fellow volunteers who became friends to the locals who welcomed me with open arms and showed me around to the international travelers who I shared hostel rooms, tours, and transportation with. I will certainly look back on this experience fondly with happy memories, and while I am sad to have left, and I am constantly looking forward to the next adventure that awaits.