At the beginning of my travels, I tried to find the most inexpensive ways possible to travel and see the world. After finding out that I had been accepted into the Marine Corps and was supposed to report in for the entry level training a few weeks later, I quit my job in Brisbane, Australia and bought tickets to see a few more places in the area. From Sydney round trip tickets to New Zealand were very cheap so very shortly after finding airfare, I was off to Christchurch. Another primary expense on any trip is the lodging costs. After reading extensively about ways to travel safely and cheaply, I decided to try out couch surfing which not only saved lot of money by essentially reducing accommodation expenses to zero, but it also introduced me to many kind and fascinating people that were willing to open their homes. Although I had tested out couch surfing to meet up for coffee with people in different cities in Australia and had successfully made several friends via the social website, this trip was my first time to stay overnight in someone's house. Despite the inevitable slightly awkward meeting, the family was extremely sweet and welcomed me into their home with open arms. I spent a few days exploring Christchurch and they toured me around the city as their guest showing off all the historical and interesting parts. They also introduced me to their friends and family, which was a unique but very interesting way to see a new city, stepping into an established family and a full network of friends.
While visiting one of their friend's sushi restaurant, the families sons and I were invited to a BBQ later that day. That afternoon we headed out to the countryside at the edge of town and after a bit of a bumpy ride, we reached their friend's beautiful sprawling home. After taking the tour of the house, outdoor patio area, swimming pool, and tennis court, we headed out to the barns to grab 4 wheelers and dirt bikes. The gents offered me my pick of the lot so I jumped on one of the bikes and followed the group out into the trails leading through the farm. We spent nearly the next two hours cruising around trails and nearly colliding with some of the sheep out in the paddock. This was very unexpectedly one of my best travel memories to this day spending an afternoon riding dirt bikes up to the top of the local mountain and seeing the stunning stretch of landscape and the distant city and ocean. It was exhilarating to be so independent traveling around and I had met such a great group that willingly invited me out to this beautiful farm. After returning we spent a lazy afternoon lounging poolside laughing and joking. When we returned that night to my couch surfing host family, they helped me find and book my flight onwards to Queentown and we said our goodbyes early the next morning.
-Queenstown- although after my first few days in the country I would have enjoyed spending more time in Christchurch, my excitement was building as the plane drew closer for landing in the extremely scenic town of Queenstown. After all this is the stunning landscape that was used as the background for the Lord of the Rings series!! I spent the first afternoon on the trails exploring the surrounding hillside and Wanaka Lake before returning to town to check out the small city center. Much of the town is focused on the ski tourism in the area, but at the time I had never participated in the snowy pastime and did not want to spend my limited days learning on the slopes.
As I was walking around I saw a large poster for the World's First bungy jump in one of the shop windows. Intrigued, I went inside the small store to inquire about it. As it turns out this tiny city was the first commercial spot where AJ Hackett immortalized the sport and the first jump was located only a few miles away. Despite having no desire to participate in bunny jumping (read more about bungy jumping), I essentially pressured myself into going to do it since it was such an important one and after all.. who knew when I'd be back in Queenstown. Kawarau Bridge is rather small sitting only 43 meters off the water. The place was completely empty as I was checking in except for a group that was already gathered out on the bridge. After signing all the documents assuming full responsibility for being an idiot and doing the jump, I headed out to join them. Turns out it was the entire Irish Rugby team who were in town doing final training before the start of the rugby World Cup a few days later. It gets even better, they were accompanied by AJ Hackett, the legend himself!
Meeting them and talking kept me distracted until it was my turn. I stepped up onto the little platform, realizing just how high 43m was and still not fully relying on the little cord hooked around my ankles to catch me and pull me back up. Yet I still stepped up and at the end of the count down, leaped forward off the platform. I had already down cliff diving several times so it wasn't hard to jump, but it was an odd sensation to be caught mid air (well just before being fully submerged in the water because they dipped me in to about elbow deep) and bouncing back up several times. Eventually as the bounces subsided, they lowered me down into a little boat waiting at the the bottom and I was all smiles as I bounded up the stairs from the bottom of the ravine.
Heading back into town I went to grab one of the famous burgers at Ferburger. Although more pricy than an average burger these came with a mess of fries and the juicy burger was one of the best I've had! As I walked up to order at the counter I heard my name and turned around to see some of the rugby team sitting in the restaurant and waving me over. I spent the next few hours hanging out and drinking around in all the local bars. As a big rugby fan it was quite exciting to casually become drinking buddies with these outstanding athletes who had also been featured on the front page of the newspaper that morning and had the whole town buzzing. One of them had apparently failed to do the bungy jump earlier, so after significant shit talking he had agreed to do it that night. Unfortunately even with their local popularity strings could not be pulled to get us back out for night jumps so we had to resume drinking the town dry.
The next morning I dragged myself out of bed wishing I'd had a few less beers and headed to the bus station to catch my early morning bus back to Christchurch. Thankfully the route back was absolutely stunning and well worth the extra travel time on the bus instead of just catching a flight. I met another solo American traveling on the bus who was actually in the US Army and spent the next few hours asking for loads of advice about my upcoming military training. He shared lots of advice and a few horror stories before kindly offering to send me some goodies while I was going through OCS. Despite my limited ability to stay in touch during the training, a few short months later he was back from deployment and timing worked out perfectly that he was in the D.C. area and able to come down to Quantico for my graduation. At my commissioning ceremony he even got to be my silver dollar salute (a tradition I knew nothing about but thankfully he had explained).
This trip to New Zealand was one of my first solo ones and I realized that although the destinations were incredible, the people I got to meet along the way were just as important as the amazing places that I was seeing!
Hostel Average Cost: $40
Currency: New Zealand Dollar
Drink: Although I discovered more of the vineyards while visiting the North Island, I definitely appreciated the quality and the price of the variety of wines in NZ!
Food: Any lamb meal is absolutely fantastic, but also Fergburger can not be missed.
Electric Outlet: Type I- also used in Australia
Visa: Not required