New Zealand Post Card – 3/11/02

New Zealand Post Card – 3/11/02

G’day Mates,

I just sent this update to myself and could not believe how long I had to scroll down for. Just print it and read it in the bathroom. Let me know what you think or just let me know if anyone actually reads it besides myself.

Hope you are all well. Welcome as usual to all the newcomers. I just keep meeting more great people along the way. I am really enjoying the trip. For you new additions, my letters are just a way to keep my friends back home updated. They are usually quickly typed so ignore all errors. I also tend to write a ton so they are more like chapters than letters. This chapter is about 9 pages long in Word. I think it is worth reading though. I will be sending some pics following this letter to prove I am totally insane.

As always, thank you so much to everyone for sending me letters and your best wishes after reading my chapters. I love hearing from my friends. I really do.

This does contain my most adventurous activities I’ve encountered in my lifetime thus far. Modest, aren’t I? Just give yourself an hour or so. All I can say is, Kiwi’s are crazy! Maybe it won’t really take you an hour.

Quick overview for those that prefer the short version: I finished my last letter saying the upcoming week or two would make the previous weeks look like a lazy day in the park. I was right. My most recent lazy weeks starting Fri., Oct. 26 ending Mon., Nov 12 have been filled with:

Punakaiki Rocks, panning for gold (which I found), a ½ day glacier walk on Franz Joseph, 3 bungee jumps, high speed jet boat, roller coaster helicopter ride, white water rafting, again, almost another bungee jump, a sky dive, a fly-by-wire, an aerobatic flight, a hang glide, puzzleworld, canyoning, bead making, abseils or repelling, Milford Sound (bus, boat, plane), an Elm Tour adventure with penguins and sea lions and fur seals and Albatross, The Tranz Alpine (one of the top 6 rated train journeys in the world), my favorite adventure yet which you must read about, the worlds Antarctic training center, swimming with 500 dolphins (totally surreal), a couple of movies America’s Sweethearts, Legally Blonde and  The Others (which I highly recommend), and now the internet to write to all of you. Whew!! How lazy can I get? I am on holiday.


Many people are asking how I am traveling around. I am basically backpacking this whole trip (with a rolling duffel bag). I am staying at youth hostels, which average around $12. They have been really great. When I was in Western Australia, I arrived in a city and then decided on which camping trip to take to the next destination and continued down the west coast. In New Zealand I am making my own itinerary and using the “Magic Bus”. It is like a hop-on and off bus that travels around the country. They arrange the rooms for you while you are on the bus. You just tell them which hostel you want to stay in. Several tours are included in their itineraries and then you can stay longer and add on whatever you want. You just tell the driver what day you want to get picked up next. If you are not sure, you can always call it in to the main office. Time is your only limitation. I do wish I had put more time in for New Zealand. The bus is what has made it so easy to meet so many great people. Even after a few short days, it has been hard to say goodbye to some new friends. But I know so many of us will continue to keep in touch. Upon my return to Australia, I will take the Pioneer/Greyhound buses to cities of my choice as I research them. I’ll stay till I’ve either seen enough or had enough. Again, I will be hostelling. I will be in Fiji in 10 days but I am not exactly sure what I will be doing there. I know I am taking a Captain Cook Islands cruise for 4 nights starting on the 27th. I’ll figure the rest out when I get there.


I was right how I ended my last letter. My lazy day in the park had started. It started with

Fri. Oct. 26 Nelson – Greymouth

We visited Punakaiki Rocks or “Pancake Rocks”. They are incredible formations made millions of years ago and they were really beautiful. I took one whole roll of film there.

Sat. Oct 27 Greymouth – Franz Joseph

We stopped at Ross, a town where I was able to pan for gold and found some. They put it in a tiny bottle for me along with my Quartz, Jade and other stones I found in my pan. That was fun.

Continuing to Franz Joseph Glacier the weather was not very good so I was not able to do the Heli-Hike as planned, but I did do a 1/2-day walk on the glacier. It started with having to walk and climb up to the glacier. That near winded me out. Boy, I’m really out of shape. Then on approach, we attached these big heavy tallins to our special boots we had to wear. Once on the glacier, I saw some ice holes filled with really clear water so naturally I just had to drink some. It was so lovely. Really clean and refreshing. It reminded me of the water from the iceberg I drank in Iceland. Well, it froze my hands of course as I was lapping it from my hands. I couldn’t let 2 days go without a mishap so as I stood up… I fell straight back. Plunk. I was really lucky it was not the side of a cliff or that a larger hole was not right behind me. I still have the colorful bruise on the left side of my bum. It’s just above the one I had from my accident on the 4-wheel quad bike. Just one more souvenir. I was ok and so we just continued the climb and it was magnificent.

Sun Oct. 28 Franz to Queenstown

Coming into Queenstown we stopped at the Kawarau Bridge. So, you ask? Well, it was built in 1880 and was renovated to be the very first bungy site in the world finished in 1988. The bridge stands at 143ft above the very cold river. How do I know that? Well, I couldn’t resist. This was to be my first Queenstown adrenaline rush. The first of oh so many, I would have had no idea. As my feet were shackled up, I was asked if I was adventurous. Of course I said and they said then of course you want to touch water. “Well of course I do”, I replied. Well, it took me a while and a few countdowns as I asked myself what I thought I was doing, but off I finally went. (Not on my own though. I stood there so long, they were annoyed I’m sure. I just stared out and said shaking; I’ll never go on my own. You will need to give me a gentle nudge of encouragement. I basically begged them to push me. I know they are just never supposed to do that but I said I’ll stand here till you do. So, off I finally went. I plunged below 143 ft. into the freezing cold water and soaked myself to just below my shoulders (remember, I was upside down). I heard the applause and some cheers that I finally went I’m sure. Well, I managed to grab the back of my ankles after bobbing up and down for a while and they lowered me onto a raft. As I lay on my back and looked up I thought, “I did it”. I climbed my way back up and just laughed and shook from basic cold and… stupidity. That was bungy jump # 5.

The day was not over yet. What more in one day? Let’s do it again. But let’s start from higher up this time. Ok, Rob said. So we took the gondola to the skyline up to Bob’s Peak with an incredible view from 1490 ft up in the air with a magnificent view of Queenstown, the lake and the snow-capped mountains that surrounded it. They call this one “The Ledge”. It is 1300 ft above the city and the jump is a 154 ft drop. Each time I imagine just getting up there and flying off. It is just never that easy for me. It is so traumatic for me I have no bloody idea why I keep doing it. I wonder if I will ever stop. I held the rope as this time they harness you in by your waist. It made me feel more secure holding the rope. I thought it might make it easier. They said you could run off if you like. I said that would probably be the only way I’d go. I ran right to the edge but stopped so abruptly. I backed up and ran again. I stopped… again. I said ok this time, I’ll do it. So I ran forward and he stopped me. I said what, wasn’t I running fast enough. He just laughed and said no and if you don’t jump out you will get hurt. So, 3…2…1   Bungy!!!!! I just kept running in the air as I screamed bloody murder on my way down. As my cord pulled me up I just looked up at the guys and screamed, “Thank you”. I’m always yelling something as I swing wildly in the air. At least it was for a “G” audience this time. I sat up holding my cord and dangled 1300ft above Queenstown and just admired the view as they lifted me back up to the top. Wow!! The guys asked if I bought the video. I said no and they thought that was a shame. They felt it would have been worth it just to watch me run back and forth. Bungy jump #6 was now done.

What else did Queenstown have in store for me I wondered?

The next day I just made bookings for the week and ran around town and had a delish Venison pie for lunch. Later I headed back up on the gondola to the sky tower with Emma, Louise and Rob and had a lovely buffet dinner as we watched all the city lights go on. It was really beautiful and fun.

Tues. Oct 30 Queenstown till Sun. Nov 4 (What a week of adventure)

So today, Rob and I thought, lets throw us off of a “pod” 1300 ft above a beautiful canyon. So we drove in a 4WD to a canyon where we saw the 1300 ft cables across the valley and at the same height with this “pod” right in the center of it. How do we get there? You take a cable car across the canyon to it while you happily anticipate jumping out of it. Well for some it is happy. For me, it sickened my tummy. I just cried as I contemplated why am I doing this again. It seems to get harder each time. I really tried going into it saying this time there will be no drama, but I was in my own world in my own head and the tears just streaked down my face. I think I freaked a couple of other girls out as they started crying before their jumps as well. I tried to talk to one but her English was broken and she just needed to be by herself to prepare. I completely understood. Well, the pod was 1300 ft above the rocks that lined the ground but the bungy cord was only 440 ft. Yes, I did say 440 ft. I don’t know what I was thinking. So many other people do it was all I could come up with so I could do it too. I watched one at a time, strangers plunging into the canyon, some with smiles some with terror. The floor of the pod was partially done in glass, so I could see each jumper dangling as they were slowly lifted 440 ft back into the pod. Accomplishment was the one thing they all seemed to share. I wanted that too. So, I finally heard my name as they sat me in the chair and pointed out the video camera. I knew how scared I was cause I could not even smile into it. That is so unlike me. I just cried. The fellow that shackled me up was at the Kawarau bridge jump and just then I heard him over the loudspeaker that was in the pod, “Don’t worry Elisa, it will all be over soon”. His encouraging words made me cry even more. I thought that was so sweet to give me so much support. Remember, this was supposed to be fun. I’m shaking my head even as I type this. Anyway, the guy ready to throw me over the edge was the same guy who nudged me at the bridge as well. It was pretty funny to see them again. This time there was no pushing. I was either going to fly or go home in defeat. I didn’t want that to happen. I stood at the edge in complete terror. It was so far down. I was afraid I would not jump out enough. I was afraid I would not understand what handle to pull to pull myself into a sitting position after my second bounce. There was too much to do and I just couldn’t focus on what they were saying.  He spoke into my ear for several minutes. I could feel the terror in my throat and my feet were like dead weights cemented to the ground. He had to remind me to breath…twice. He then asked, “Do you want to go?” You know the answer he said. If you say yes you will do it. I finally, timidly just nodded. He counted 3…2…1… BBUUNNGGYYEEEEEeeeeeeeeee!!!! I was flying. It was an 8 second freefall. 1st bounce and my lower back went snap. Ouch, that would for sure give me a few problems. Then, how to get to the sitting position. I had to wait for the second bounce. I’m screaming, I can’t find the handle. There it is. I pulled… Oh my God, my right leg has fallen out I’m screaming. I’m falling. I was terrified. Then I pulled harder and my left leg fell out also. AHHHH!

Oh, that was supposed to happen. I laugh again as I am typing this. It was really funny. Now I’m in a sitting position and I feel them pulling me up and there was this sudden drop. Ahhh!! Again, it was supposed to happen. I just loved floating up and cried I did it. It was so emotional and it was not even 10am yet. I made it through Bungy #7. One girl was not so lucky. The rope somehow hit her foot and she fractured it in two places. So the last 6 days of her holiday would be spent in a cast. What would be next?

Well, let’s go to the Shotover River and take a high-speed jet boat and do 360 degree turns at the edge of the canyon and ride under the Oxen Bridge. That was fun, I want more today. Ok, then it was time to climb to the top of the canyon in a 4WD and wait for the helicopter to pick us up to take us on a roller coaster ride through the twisted Skipper’s Canyon and land us next to a white water raft. No problem. So, we rafted with “Chief” our guide through rapids named, Mother, Minors Revenge, Oh Shit, Lemon Squeeze, Toilet, Pinball, Jaws, The Sequel, Cascade and the end was Sauna. (Stace, there were no Sinuous, Tortured Gorges). So we paddled through them all managing to sit upright. Then, Chief yells, everyone jump right!!! So, the others on the left side of the raft jump over to my side and over we went. Oh, bugger, it was COLD! I stayed in for a while riding it out on my back next to the safety in the canoe while trying to take pictures. I had my underwater camera with me. Then, the highlight, we rafted through a black tunnel 560 feet long. That was really exciting. So, when it was all over, we dried off and went into the sauna and then we were on our way back to town.

We were so full of adrenaline we decided to take the Gondola back up the mountain and literally fly off of the Ledge just one more time. Rob went straight away. Then it was my turn. But wait, they had to change the roll of film in the camera. I said, don’t worry, I don’t need them. I’m the wrong one to make wait. It took over 5 min. as I sat all harnessed up ready to plunge. I’ll make a long story short. I ran to the edge 6 times with long pauses in between. The guys had a rope around their necks saying please…. This is taking longer than Ben Hur. I will, I will, just one more time. It had been like 10 min. Finally, 5…4…3…2…1 and I just sat down and said I can’t do it, I just can’t do it. That was it. Nevis, 440ft was my last bungy jump. (By the way, this time I bought the video so I do have the pleasure of watching myself run back and forth.) Now I could go on and do things I enjoyed without all of the fear. What would that be? Well we danced part of the night away in a couple of pubs The Hot Rock and The World. They saw us every day that week. We just had to dance the adrenaline out for the next day. Then I watched BH 90210 until 2am when I finally crashed.

Wed, Oct. 31 Day 70 of my 173 day trip and Halloween

What would make this Halloween different and memorable besides just being in New Zealand, because apparently, that is just not enough? Let’s jump 12,000ft out of a plane and when we leave the plane, let’s do a summersault. So, I asked my jumpmaster to flip me over and we did just that. From 12,000 feet, I watched the earth circle from underneath me, which was just too cool. The freefall was 50 seconds and at a speed of 125 mph. My lower back was again, not as happy as the rest of me but again I was lucky. Right before we went up in our plane, one of the videographers had a difficult landing right in front of us and broke his foot. I later saw him in town the next day on crutches and a cast. I do love skydiving. Everyone should try it at least once. You just fall through the earth in slow motion. It’s wild. Queenstown was definitely the most beautiful jump. The scenery was amazing. I tried to take control of the parachute but I really was not strong enough. We just turned as if we were on our sides in these fast 360-degree turns one after another while plummeting to the earth.


After the skydive we did another 4WD up the canyon to these cables across the canyon holding this rocket ship (high speed tether plane) that you lie in and control yourself. I’m the one that signed us up for it and when I saw it, I said I can’t do that. It was so high up in the air and we were alone in the middle of nowhere. It was just Rob and I and our driver and cameraman. Well, I suited up and it was my turn to be hoisted up backwards 344 ft in this metal contraption. It was up to me to release myself from the cable and I closed my eyes as I released the lever. I did just that and I soared just 8 ft above the ground up to the other side screaming pretty much all the way. Speeds can reach up to 106 miles per hour and I just flew up into the clouds and then down into the canyon. After my first pass over ground, I stopped being afraid and just really enjoyed it all. It was fun and lasted for just over 8 minutes. It was called the “Fly by Wire”. I highly recommend it. Well that was it for the day. We walked around town, and danced with this life-sized skeleton that kept falling apart on me at this big Halloween party. I’ll definitely remember this Halloween.


Hope you all had a great Halloween by the way.


Thurs., Nov 1

It was to be a quiet day as it was only one activity. I went aerobatic flying in a Red Bull, Pitts Special S2A. We did loops, outside loops, hammerheads, 4-pt hesitation turns, barrel rolls, cubans, 1/2 reverse cubans and who knows what else. Mark was an excellent pilot but I was really nervous when I saw him. He was so young at a ripe 21 years and he was going to flip me around in a plane. I really debated it. This was to be my third aerobatic flight and he was just great. It was very smooth. We were 6500 ft up over a lake and hit 4g’s and -2g’s.


Fri. Nov 2

Let’s only go up to 2400 ft in the air today. So I went up to Coronet Peak in the Remarkable’s Mountain ranges and did my first hang glide. It was cool and a bit scary. He would dive us down right above the tree line and find a way to lift us back up. It was wild. I loved it. Never the less, I was glad to get back to the ground. But I did enjoy it a ton. Then I caught a bus out of town to Wanaka’s Puzzle World, which was a blast. They have this huge wood maze that you just get lost in. The object is to climb the 4 color towers, one in each corner. I did it in 40 min. The average time is 45 min to 1 hour. So, I think I did pretty well. Then they had this whole series of fun rooms with optical illusions, faces, 3-D images, holograms and just a bunch of fun stuff. After that my bus driver took me to the police station over $5. If you want to hear about that, write to me. We were there for 10 minutes before the driver realized that he better take me on the 1-hour ride back to town. Another experience. Once again, I spent the evening at the world with all my new buddies. We always had a great time there.


Sat. Nov 3

I was a bit tired and the weather was lousy with it quite cold and drizzly. I was scheduled for a 12pm 12-Mile Delta Canyoning Trip. This was by far the most different thing I had done. I debated all morning if I should cancel and just finally relax. Just go, Elisa I said. Just do it. I heard it was fun. So, I was suited up more than I ever had been in booties, gloves, facemask, helmet, wetsuit, jacket etc. I could still move though and later found out I could still definitely feel the freezing cold water that would soak my skin. We started with a 4WD to the canyon and a walk to the start, which was enough for me at that point. Let’s just get right into and abseil or repel to the first waterfall. Lean back I was told and just use your feet to climb down. I was pleased with myself as I used them to push off the wall repeatedly and before I knew it, I was on the bottom. I was using my camera to take some great pics until… I’ll get to that later. So, that day I slid down waterfalls on my belly and on my back. Some were really scary looking. I just closed my eyes while trying to avoid the rocks just to the left and right of me. I don’t know how I never really hit hard. Sometimes we just had to slide down one right after another. Sometimes we had to jump into the forming white foam at the bottom of one of those awful looking gorges. You just took a deep breath and yelled Geronimo. One of my guides was Maori and he had the greatest sense of humor. So, one stunt on which I volunteered to go first was an abseil. This was much tougher than the first as there were no really strong foot supports anywhere or rocks to balance my feet on. So, knowing I could not touch the rope, I’m repelling down and the guides yell feet straight out and arms out. I did what they said and splash, they let me go, back first, into the freezing water. Everyone laughed, including me, as now they all knew what to expect. Each time you felt like you warmed up a bit, they had you in the water again. I was really cold by this time and quite miserable actually. I could barely feel my fingers and my nose and ears. I kept tripping as I was climbing the rocks because my feet were so numb, I couldn’t feel them. But there was no way out but to keep going. So now they are having us climb up these rocks with the help of a rope, and it was really difficult. All this climbing just to have us jump into this rough waterfall and end up where we started. This was supposed to be fun and on a warm day, maybe it would be. I said, no thanks this time. My guides said, nope, get up here. So, up I went. They got me up but I couldn’t bring myself to jump. I have a terrible fear of heights. So he offered to hold my hand and jump with me. Ok, I said. 1…2…3…and we jumped. We were so high up. I’ve jumped into waterfalls before but never from so high up. We jumped right into it and it was fun. That was when I saw my camera fly off my arm and down the waterfall where I knew it would pass more rocks and waterfalls and just run the current down to the river. Someone one day I hope will enjoy my pics of my last white-water rafting trip (bugger) and this canyoning day. I was really disappointed but too cold to worry about it. I’m more bummed out about it now. I’m sure my rafting photos would have been great.


I finished my day at the bead shop making some really nice jewelry. That was nice and relaxing and I had a good time. It is a popular pastime here in NZ.


Sun. Nov 4

I took a bus 4 hours to the Fiordland National Park at Milford Sound. We stopped along the way in several places and it was really breathtaking. One stop I filled my water bottle from the flowing river off of the glacier and the water was so clear and refreshing. I then had an inspiring 2 1/2 hour cruise filled with beautiful scenery seals and penguins. Right there in the wild, Yellow-Eyed Penguins native to New Zealand and some of the rarest penguins in the world. Then I had a 40 min flight back to Queenstown in a Cessna. We flew over and into the snow capped peaks that dominated the skyline.


Mon Nov 5  Queenstown – Dunedin

Upon arrival in Dunedin I left on a 6 hour Elm-Tour Adventure. We went to a private conservation beach and saw Albatross flying so peacefully in the only mainland colony in the world. They can have up to a 10ft wingspan and can fly 186 miles a day rarely flapping their wings. They just soared. It was really lovely. The cliffs were gorgeous. Then we went to Taiaroa Heads and saw Stewart Island Shags (pretty black birds), Hookers Sea Lions, and more Yellow-Eyed Penguins. They are so cute. I loved watching them waddle. We then climbed down these huge grass hills to see the fur seal colonies on the rocks at the ocean below and I was tuckered out at the climbs back up. But I managed to make each trek. We were then taken to the Otago Peninsula to see Black Oyster Catchers with their bright orange beaks and bright orange long legs. One actually chased us by yelling at us in a direction away from its nest. It was really neat. The bird was really going crazy. We then saw the eggs just lying out in the open on the beach. It just yelped until we finally went in the opposite direction. It was a great experience. We then saw “Miss Piggy”, this huge sea lion, and I mean huge, just park herself on the beach right at the shoreline as we walked up to her. She was completely disinterested in us. She was trying to play with some fur seals. They didn’t want any part of it. She is just a bit confused our guide explained.


Tues Nov 6 and Nov 7 Christchurch

Tues I just walked around and Wed I took the Tranz Alpine to Greymouth return. It is rated as one of the top 6 rail journeys in the world. It was beautiful. That took all day.


Thurs Nov 8 Christchurch

Today was my greatest day yet. For those of you that truly know me will understand why. I took a local bus out of town and found….. An Outlet Mall. Yes, a real outlet mall. Not to the same scale as ours, but never the less, an outlet mall. I walked till my back ached. It was excellent. The day wasn’t over yet. The best was yet to come. On the bus back to town, I got off as I passed…. Yes, a K-Mart. My eyes were not deceiving me. It was a K-Mart. Not a Big K but it was big enough. My suitcase is now busting. I am so tired of the same clothes after 2 ½ months; I picked up some cheap pants for like $6 at the outlet stores. Then I found 2nd hand shops and they were the best. I refrained a lot. It was just good to have a relaxing day of shopping. (Lisa, I was hunched over at the end of the day more than you would remember.  I thought about you a lot that day.)


Fri Nov 9 Christchurch

I went to the world Antarctic training center. It was fantastic. I put on a suit and went into the snow room with the air blowing and froze in a couple of min. I don’t know how people live there.


Sat Nov 10 Christchurch to Kaikoura

This was an amazing day. I was going on a swim with the dolphins in the Kaikoura Peninsula. I was suited up in the thickest wetsuit I have ever had on and put on my booties and flippers, my hat, mask and snorkel and we jetted out to what was totally surreal. There was a pod of 500 dolphins. They were everywhere. The Dusky Dolphins are known as the acrobats of the sea. They were just flipping and flying and performing for us. They are just the cutest show-offs.  Anyway, we just got in the water and they were all over us. Then they circle around so we got back on the boat and followed them and went back into the water with them. I was with them for over 1 hour. They just come up and want to dance around you and play. That was a great day.

Sun Nov 11 Kaikoura – Picton – Ferry crossing back to north island to Wellington

It was a road trip to the ship and then 3 hours on the InterIslander back to the North Island. I was sorry to leave the south. It was really beautiful. In town I decided to see a couple of movies that night. I saw Legally Blonde, which left me smiling and The Others, which I highly recommend.

Mon Nov 12 Wellington

Today, I walked around town and went to another bead making shop and made a new eyeglass chain for myself. I had some orange beef and sweet and sour pork and loved it but it is still not like Chinese back home. I miss that tons. Well, I leave NZ for Fiji on Nov. 22 and return on Dec. 1 to Auckland for 2 days. On Dec. 3 I will go back to Australia to start a whole new adventure in the land down under. This time, I get to see the south and the east coast. I can’t wait!

Well, congratulations to those of you that made it all the way. I know it was long. Go relax and get something to eat. Who knows what will be next.

I miss you all and you are all in my thoughts and prayers.