Tuesday in New Zealand wore me out. Driving all across the South Island exhausted me. However, when I laid down in my hostel bed that Tuesday night, all I could think about was 9:30 am Wednesday morning. Two days prior I had booked AJ Hackett Bungy at Kawarau Bridge for the early morning jump. I was so nervous about it because I’m absolutely terrified of heights. Nonetheless, I decided against my better judgement that bungy jumping was a right of passage in New Zealand. I couldn’t not jump, right? Despite being in bed by 10:30 pm, I tossed and turned until around 1:30. When I finally fell asleep, I had a dream about the jump, and woke up around 6:45 am completely sweating. Even my unconscious mind was terrified. I rolled myself out of bed, went to the hostel kitchen, and made myself breakfast. My stomach was turning, though, and I couldn’t even eat the banana peanut-butter toast. So instead, I took an early morning walk around Queenstown. There was hardly anyone around at 7:30 but as I walked to the edge of the lake, the town came alive with thrill seekers everywhere looking to start their next adventure in the Adventure Capital of the World.
Finally, I made my way to my rental car and made my way down to the Kawarau Bridge. The jump was about a 25 minute drive from Queenstown, and as I drove the sun was coming up over the Crown Range. The sunlight streamed onto the hillside to my right and I couldn’t help but notice the way every bush and tree on the mountain looked healthier, more alive. But the closer I got to Kawarau made my heart beat faster. At one point in the drive I had thoughts about turning around and just not showing. When I arrived, there was no one else in the parking lot. I checked the clock and realized I was almost 30 minutes too early. So, I sat in my car with the heat blasting and just contemplated the life choice I was about to make. Once the workers arrived and opened the doors, I went inside because I knew if I sat there any longer I was going to chicken out. I checked in with the front desk, was weighed, and put my stuff in a locker. I stood in the bathroom for a little bit basically shaking, and telling myself “you can do this.”
I headed out to the bridge, only to realize no one else had jumped yet. I took one step onto it, looked over the side, and turned to head back inside. But before I could go, one of the workers yelled to me, “This way!” I stopped with my back towards her, closed my eyes, took a really long and deep breathe, and then turned back and walked (really slowly) to the center of the bridge. And that’s when anxiety took over. The kind girl asked me where I was from while she started safety procedures, but I barely even heard her over the sound of my heart pounding in my chest, and in my ears. She could clearly see I was losing my mind, and she put her hand on my shoulder and told me that the guys would help keep me calm, because that’s their job, after-all. After the harness was attached, I was moved closer to the edge so the guys working could attach the rest of the bungy equipment. It was super cold and my eyes were watering but I’m almost positive that they may have been tears. I couldn’t control my breathing and Luke (the worker) asked me questions to distract me from myself. Once everything was secure, Luke walked me to the edge of the platform. “You can do this, you came all the way here, paid for the jump, and now you’re going to do this.” “Just focus on the mountain in front, and on the count of three I want you not to think, and just jump.”
He forced me to turn and look at the cameras. “Look like you’re enjoying yourself just for the picture.” But when I turned and looked, the crowd that had formed to watch was standing there cheering and I thought “well now I can’t back out because that would be embarrassing.”
“Three, two, one….”
I didn’t think. I just jumped. Arms spread eagle, eyes on the mountain. In .5 seconds, it was over, and the bungy was snapping back, once, twice, and the third time I was being lowered into the yellow boat below. I didn’t even scream or make a noise. I was just smiling to myself, proud. “You did it.”
I walked up the stairs on the side of the gorge just smiling because the adrenaline was still pumping. When I got up there, there was no one I knew there. No one to be thankful that I was still alive except for me. And in that moment, I realized that I could do anything. That being alone wasn’t scary, because even though I was by myself, some strangers cheered me on, gave me the encouragement, to conquer my fear of heights. And none of those people standing on the bridge side will ever know that, but they gave me the confidence to do something that terrified me, and for that I’ll forever be grateful.
Kawarau Bridge Bungy; Queenstown, NZ
Bungy jumping was another thing I could add to the long list of amazing adventures that Australia and New Zealand brought to me. On the drive back to center city Queenstown, I was so exhausted. I looked forward to the moment where I could crawl back into my comfy hostel bed and sleep. I figured I deserved a lazy afternoon, and decided to stay in the bed until around 4:30 pm, when a new roommate checked into our room. His name was David, and he was from Ireland. We talked for awhile before deciding to call Fergburger (only the best burger place in all of the Southern Hemisphere), and get take out for dinner. We picked up our food, and went and sat by the lake while we ate. David was super interesting, because he had traveled a lot, and told me some really awesome stories about his training for skydiving, and about where he had been in Australia.
Sam and I had planned to drive to Mount Cook, but between the two of us, getting up early was almost impossible. We decided that we would check out Moke Lake and Glenorchy, which was about a 45 minute drive from Queenstown. Our first stop was Moke Lake, which was just a short drive from the town. We took a gravel road around a mountain, which led us to the water. It was so beautiful, because it was completely surrounded by mountains, with green pastures and a rocky slope. There was a small farm right on the lake, and we tried to pet the horses that were fenced in. However, Sam and I were awful at trying to convince the horses to come over, so we decided to leave and make our way towards the next destination.
We listened to good music and enjoyed the views on our way to Glenorchy. There were too many places that I wanted to stop and take pictures, but I felt bad because Sam was becoming my own personal photographer for the trip, so I decided to save him the trouble and soaked in every view I could, while he drove. Glenorchy was a really small town, but it was surrounded by huge mountains that had snow covering the top of them. It was surreal to be in a place where it felt like 65 degrees but also seeing snow covering mountains in every direction that I looked. Part of me wishes I had taken the time to capture all of the beauty on camera, but in that moment I was just enjoying myself, and enjoying the views. We sat by the lake and watched the jet boats make their rounds. The water was so clear and so cold. We only sat there for about 10 minutes before the breeze became too much to bear. Before we left, I grabbed a handful of rocks from the beach which was probably super illegal but I had made a promise to a friend that I would bring back a part of New Zealand.
We drove all over until we were super tired. But on our way back I saw a farm where I was able to feed and pet sheep which was my goal from day 1. So, Sam took a nap in the car while I spent an uncanny amount of time hanging out with sheep, as well as llamas, alpacas, a mini-horse, a cow, and a lot of ducks. I spoke with the owner of the little farm and she told me about each of her animals, while we walked around and fed them. She had been a farmer there for more than 20 years, starting with only 4 sheep and a goat. From there, her farm grew to become more than 15 sheep, 3 cows, 6 llamas, and 3 alpacas. In addition, ducks and chickens gather to be fed by her, so she considers them all her family. I admired this woman and the way she loved each of the animals, and the passion she had for taking care of them. I thanked her, and headed back to the car where poor Sam had been waiting (but sleeping) for probably 45 or more minutes. (Sorry Sam). We headed back to Queenstown, and hung out in the hostel for the rest of the night, since our plans for Friday included more than 6 hours driving.
Friday was my last full day in New Zealand, and I had been dying to get to Aoraki / Mount Cook, which is the tallest mountain in New Zealand. The drive from Queenstown to Mount Cook was 3 hours, so we decided to leave pretty early to have a full day there. We hopped in the car, put on the music, and just drove. The scenery along the way was mind blowing. We went from mountains, to valleys, to lakes, and back to mountains the entire way there. I couldn’t believe (and I’m sure I repeated myself many times to Sam), that I was there, in New Zealand, experiencing all these things, and seeing these views. The lakes we passed by had electric blue water, and they didn’t even look real to me. Once we got closer to Mount Cook, the landscape just kept getting better (and I wasn’t even sure that was possible). We only stopped once for gas and the bathroom, which put us there around 12 pm. It was overcast, and pretty cold, but we were prepared. We took the Hooker Valley Track to the glacier. It was supposed to be a 1.5 hour hike but Sam and I basically ran past all the other tourists, only stopping every once in a while so I could take a picture or drink out of a natural spring. There was so many cool views. The glacier on top of Mount Cook is melting, unfortunately, and so there were many different streams and a small lake that was formed by the glacier water. On the sides of the mountain, natural springs were flowing, and on the top of the mountain, there was snow. It wasn’t as cold as I had expected it to be, but when we came to the end of the track, where the glacier was, the wind picked up and it was freezing.
But the temperature didn’t really bother me, because I was preoccupied with the glacier that was right in front of me. I lost count after 27 but I’m pretty sure Sam was tired of hearing me say “WOOOOOOW,” but I couldn’t help it because the beauty all around me had me speechless. There were people eating lunch on a picnic table next to the glacier, others were down along where the water met the rocks. So Sam and I waited until everyone took their pictures, then we took ours, and afterwards we stood back just to admire the view. I picked up a sheet of ice, which I thought was pretty cool since it was the first time I had seen a glacier in person, and got to hold a piece of it in my hand.
The hike back to the parking lot felt long, and all Sam and I could talk about for some reason was getting a mango smoothie. We went to the cafe at the lodge at Mount Cook to eat lunch. Unfortunately, they didn’t have mango smoothies. But nevertheless, we ate and were ready to take on the 3 hour drive back. But first, Sam showed me these green/blue lakes that were on the other side of Mount Cook. However, I had hurt my knee earlier in the week and going up and down the stairs to the lakes was getting pretty hard, so we decided to call it a day and head back to Queenstown. On our way out, we stopped on the side of the rode so we could get the iconic Mount Cook in the background of our picture. We made a pretty bogan set up with my GoPro on his bookbag, sat it straight up in the middle of the road, and tried to get our picture. I believe it took 4 or 5 times before we got a decent picture that we both liked, but not after we were almost hit by a huge Jucy van.
Our entire way back we listened to music and talked. I reflected on the past week because it was my last afternoon and sunset in Queenstown. Luckily, we arrived in town just in time for sunset and I was able to capture a few good pictures of the little town in the fading sunlight. It was gorgeous and I couldn’t help but be thankful for all of the beautiful things I was able to do and see in New Zealand. I was also thankful for the friendship I had made with Sam in such a short amount of time. It was an almost instant friendship and I felt blessed because I was able to share my experiences with someone, and I knew I had made a friend for a life time.
Sam and I got back to Adventure Q2, changed, and then went to eat dinner at Sam’s favorite restaurant Madam Woo. We were super hungry so we ordered so much food. It was all really good, and I ate these chicken wings like I had never seen food before. The couple next to us even comment on it. I felt bad, but oh well, the coconut rice and the sweet wings were such a good combo. Afterwards, I made Sam come to Patagonia chocolates with me so I could get ice cream. We went down by the lakeside and hung out, but I couldn’t finish the ice cream so we gave the rest to a drunk group of friends, and walked back to the hostel.
View from the rooftop of Madam Woo
That evening I packed all my things into my large Osprey backpack, and I was pretty certain I was breaking every weight restriction possible.
On Saturday, my flight wasn’t scheduled until 1:30pm out of Queenstown, but I had to return my rental car, and I wanted to get a souvenir for my family. Once I returned the rental car, I went to check-in, got my ticket, went through security, and then sat and waited for my flight to board. I was so sad to be leaving New Zealand, but I was excited to go back to my friends, and to be in the comfort of my own room and not a hostel.
Thinking back on the whole experience, there were a few things that I learned while I was there. The first is that everything usually works out, and sometimes better than you expect. That even when you end up 6 hours away from your final destination, it will be okay, and you will get there. Detours that are unexpected will always make for a good story. Second, when you’re in a hostel, talk to everyone and anyone. Learning about other people and how they got where they are is always rewarding, and sometimes you’ll make friends that you end up spending the entire time with. Leaving your comfort zone is important, that’s where the growth happens. And maybe it all seems really cliche, but I didn’t truly know any of this before I experienced it for myself.
The morning I arrived in Queenstown, I was terrified of being alone, doing things on my own, being in a completely different hemisphere than my family. But when I changed my mindset, when I focused on the fact that I had come here, completely on my own, I knew it was something I could be proud of. Something that not many people, especially my age, had experienced before. It was a moment that I could really say that I felt like an adult, and not just a really big kid.
So, New Zealand, thank you for your beauty. Thank you for the opportunity to grow. Thank you for good friends, and good food. Thank you for adventure. Thank you for teaching me that I’m strong enough to take on the world by myself. Thank you for the immense amount of sheep. Thank you for the metaphorical mountains that I climbed. Thank you for the real ones. Thank you.