…for such a time as this

Stories about the adventure that is Peace Corps Tonga

another world….New Zealand

I have returned safely to Tonga. New Zealand is such a lush, green, clean place. If you have not gone, I recommend it highly. I took the trip with Todd, a PC volunteer on my island, Sachi, a Japanese volunteer on my island and Toru, a Japanese volunteer on the main island. Different from us PC volunteers, the Japanese volunteers are learning not only Tongan, but also English while they are here. We knew that this would be a challenge during a trip, but Todd and I were confident we could make it happen.

Some Highlights: We spent our first few days in the bustling city of Auckland on the North Island of New Zealand. The night Todd and I arrived, we tried to “go out.” Please remember that this is the first opportunity we’ve had to be in a real city in 10 months. Let’s just say that it was a bit overwhelming. The lights, the action and the people! There were so many people, in such a rush to be somewhere. I wasn’t feeling up to this outing because I didn’t feel ready to hit the city. I have my old jeans, a sweater that I bought that day and I hadn’t showered in a hot shower in over a month. We walked around for about a half hour and decided not to get a drink, but to go back for showers and bed. We stayed at a hostel, which was a new experience for me, but very clean and well organized. I was impressed.

The next few days, we spent in the city. We went to the Auckland Museum and learned all about the Mauri culture. It’s so similar to Tongan culture. The food, the language, the clothes, ect. The thing that struck us here was how stimulating being in a museum was. In Tonga, when we ask cultural questions, we are usually met with vague answers or a simple “I don’t know.” Here, our tour guide had answers and she was thankful for our questions. We spent 4 hours with her, it was lovely. The museum even had a section on Tonga. I took pictures to show my students…that their culture is on display in other countries!

On our walk back to the city, we enjoyed thai food and a diet coke! I can’t forget that that morning, I had my first grande non-fat, 2 pump mocha at Starbucks! I had dreamed about that. And I had one everyday of the trip! I also got my hair cut and styled that afternoon. The stylist took one look at my hair and asked why it was so damaged. I had to laugh and I explained that I live on a 5 mile island, in the middle of the south pacific with nearly no vegetables and very little fruit. I guess she didn’t totally understand because she tried to sell me an expensive protein builder for my hair, I had to laugh…the thought of using a $50 bottle of protein builder with my bucket bath in Ha’apai was just comical.

After a few days of shopping a pampering, we rented a car and drove the 4 hour journey to Ohakune, the quaint ski resort town. We stayed at a perfect condo with three bedrooms, 2 bath, and Jacuzzi. The very best part was the washer, dryer AND dishwasher! (see picture) I washed and dried everything, even though they weren’t dirty, just to help get the shape back to my clothes! The first day on the slopes was a bummer, it was raining! We took a few runs and decided to cut our losses. The next day (due to weather) we decided to see some of the sights. We found Huka falls, swam in some hot springs and enjoyed a real cheeseburger and pizza. The next two days in Ohakune, we snowboarded and skied Wakapapa and Tuora Ski Fields. The difference between New Zealand and California slopes is the size. There are many smaller ski fields in New Zealand, you have many choices. But they tend to have 8-10 intermediate to expert runs and only a few chair lifts (including the T-bar, not a snowboarders best friend). I like to find one or two runs that I really like, and stick to those for the day. Toru, from Nagano, Japan (the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics) and Todd who went to school in Bolder, CO made it their goal to ski the whole mountain. I enjoyed my time on the slopes, talking to people from all over the world and enjoying some different scenery. I took some videos of getting on and off of the chair lifts, boarding down the mountain and putting my board on so that my students can see what snowboarding on snow is like. On day 2, I was flying down one of the runs and caught an edge. I fell straight on my right shoulder. I knew I did something to it but I was determined to keep on going.

After week one of skiing and seeing the North Island, we drove North a bit and dropped Todd and Sachi off in Waitomo for their adventures in caves with glow worms. Toru and I made the 3 hour trek back to Auckland for our flight to Queenstown on the South Island. The JICA volunteers are not allowed to drive, so Todd and I took turns. This was an adventure in itself. Driving on the left side of the road has its challenges (unprotected RIGHT turns?), but I conquered it!

Also a quick note, I was so impressed by NZ’s road system! There was a lot of construction, but their roads were clean, well maintained and marked. (I know, I am pretty nerdy when it comes to this stuff!)

Toru and I enjoyed an uneventful 3 hour flight to the South Island (that’s more than I can say for flights around Tonga!) and checked into our hotel. I was immediately impressed by the customer service and smiles of the employees, nope, still not in Tonga. I chose this hotel for a variety of reasons, one of which was the bath tub. Yes, I took a bath each night, a highlight of my trip.

Toru and I were scheduled to heli-ski and board the next morning, but when we woke up and got the call, the weather was too foggy to fly in the helicopter. We chose to ski and board at The Remarkables, a ski field about 30 minutes from Queenstown. Since there are many slopes to choose from, I thought transportation from our hotel might be an issue. Not so, Queenstown has it down. You take the free city bus into the middle of the city, buy your lift tickets, pick up your gear and hop on a free bus to the slopes. It’s such a well oiled machine, I was so thankful…again, not Tonga.

It was a lovely day on the mountain, the sun was shining and it wasn’t too cold, only -5 degrees Celsius. Again, snowboarding, the reason I came to New Zealand did not disappoint. At this point, my shoulder was really starting to bother me, so I quit a little earlier that day. I grabbed a newspaper and got up-to-date on local news. (Another thing I miss dreadfully) That night, Toru and I found a great little Japanese place to have dinner. Traveling with Japanese volunteers has its advantages; you get to eat the BEST sashimi and sushi! They even had a dish that Nagano was famous for, a real treat.

The day we were waiting for had arrived. Heli-boarding! Please read the below blog post for a moment by moment run down. But what I can say here was that it was worth every penny. Perfect slopes, wide open terrain that only me and my 4 other group mates touched and some epic runs! And you get picked up in a helicopter, what’s not to like??
Toru headed home the next day, I had a day to myself. I enjoyed my mocha at Starbucks, uploaded pictures at an alarming rate, got a pedicure and massage, saw a movie (Inception-fabulous!) and walked around Queenstown. Queenstown is situated on a lake between several mountain ranges, absolute beauty. I walked through the park, found a duck pond and took some pictures.

The next day I flew back to Auckland, was met by Todd and we did our final shopping before heading back to Tonga. Among other things, here’s a list of what I filled my suitcase with…a terabyte hard drive (too many people’s computers are crashing, I am backing my stuff up!), 3 bottles of red wine, 6 blocks of cheese, sour cream, chocolate frosting and sprinkles, door stops, a few English teaching books, sunglasses, long sleeve shirts, splenda, shampoo, body wash, face wash, camping pad, head lamp, camping towel, cinnamon, oregano and pasta packets. I know, crazy. We spent the last night eating a great dinner and having some drinks with some new Samoan friends. The night ended with an impromptu dance party. Priceless.
Todd had some friends that fed us our last meal and took us to the airport. What a perfect trip!


1 Comment»

  Corrie wrote @

Just read both of the NZ blogs. I’m glad you had a fun trip and are having such crazy cool adventures! Sorry about your shoulder. Hope it heals quickly!

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