An Aussie Jumped the Ditch: Day Eight

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Well kids, we made it.

I’m sitting at Sydney Airport, waiting for our transfer flight through to our home on the Gold Coast, editing together footage I collected this week, and I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit emotional.

It’s probably the exhaustion from the week just sending me delirious, but hey. I’m emotional all the same.

Today was a day of self-exploration – not in a poxy ‘finding myself’ sense, but more in the sense that because our flight left Queenstown at three o’clock, we unfortunately weren’t able to head up to Coronet Peak with the rest of the tour group today. It’s alright, though, because the weather was a bit average, so the slopes at Coronet Peak apparently reflected that.

To anyone who hasn’t travelled much before, I’ve found that on the last day of any overseas holiday, you go a bit mad with what I’ve christened ‘Last Minute Syndrome’, or LMS. LMS dictates your final few hours for you, and forces you to soak up as many experiences as humanly possible before your check-in time at the airport. LMS hit me hard today!

Today we made the most of our last few hours in New Zealand, and had a stroll through Queenstown’s streets, sampling the local delicacies (namely Fergburger – I consumed that godly creation four times in three days. I’m not even ashamed to admit it. I’d highly recommend ordering the Salad Burger; it’s not on the menu, but it’s a vegan’s dream come true!) Anyway, I digress. We had a wander, and found the best fudge I’ve ever tasted, as well as taking some time to pick up a few souvenirs and relish being tourists for the last day of our trip.

We then hot-footed it through the town – I was puffing more than I care to admit – and headed up to the Skyline Gondola site. It had started to drizzle a bit at this point, but we weren’t phased. LMS strikes again! We packed our gondola with our bags and ourselves, and enjoyed the view on the way to the top. The rain-soaked horizon looked surprisingly beautiful as we stared down on the city. It was nice to take a moment to absorb the splendour that is Queenstown; I for one had no idea just how stunning it would be compared to the pictures I’d seen. We hopped out at the top, and made our way to the real purpose of our trip up the mountain: the luge!

The luge in Queenstown is a must-do for anyone travelling with children, or anyone who perceives themselves to still be a child at heart. It’s a long racetrack filled with sharp turns, u-turns and declines that would set any heart racing. We’d pre-paid for three runs down the luge track, and we wanted to make the most of our time up there, despite the rain. So we did.

Anyone that knows me is well aware that I have a tendency to be rather competitive. It’s this fact that makes me giggle here at the airport; I’m sparing a thought for my poor fiancé that spent his morning getting side-charged and overtaken by a gold medal-obsessed maniac. Sean, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry… but I was the clear winner, three out of three races. Better luck next time, chump.

We finished up our races and again took the gondola back down into Queenstown. By this stage, it was time for us to collect our luggage from our accommodation and journey off to the airport. Pro-tip: catch the airport shuttle from outside McDonalds in the centre of town. It’s $12 per person, departs every fifteen minutes, and takes roughly twenty minutes to reach the airport. Beauty!

Now, finally, I sit here in the departures lounge, sifting through a week’s worth of footage, and thanking my lucky stars that I got to spend such a memorable week with a wonderful group of people. I got to meet people from New Zealand, England and Germany, to name a few, as well as bonding with a fellow tour member who caught the same flight to Christchurch as I did, a week ago today.

I could rave for hours about the quality of my time away in New Zealand with Haka Tours, but for the sake of you readers out there, I’ll keep it short. I was so immensely impressed throughout the week at the relaxed nature of the tour. Not once were we given a blow-by-blow schedule of everything that was to happen during the week, which meant that we as a group got the chance to spend quality time together and form genuine friendships.   The quality of the accommodation continued to astound me; I’ve already said it in a previous post, but I’ll definitely be utilizing hostel accommodation in my future travels. I was also impressed by the quality of the tour itself. Breakfast was a group effort every morning, and was provided as part of the tour. Ollie, our host, was informative and awesome at making us all feel safe and looked after, particularly on those mountain roads! Our snow field days were all brilliantly managed, and not once did I question what was happening, or what to do next. Haka Tours have definitely created a genuine product that allows you to establish a home away from home, and I’m so, so thankful that I had the opportunity to be a part of it. I can’t wait for my next one. Kia Ora!

For more information on Haka Tours, click here.

An Aussie Jumped the Ditch: Day Seven

Processed with VSCO with c8 presetSeven days have already passed. Wow! I’ve had a great time in New Zealand this week, and today was no exception.

Firstly, we were blessed with impeccable weather – another ‘bluebird day’ – and we certainly made the most of it. We left our Haka Lodge nice and early, in order to head up to The Remarkables. I know it’s been said a thousand times before, but heck. They are bloody remarkable. Our tour guide told us this morning that the bloke that mapped out this particular mountain range, he noticed that it had ranges that faced both north and south, and on his cartographer’s map, he jotted down: ‘that is remarkable.’ He was one hundred percent correct.

Aside from the pristine conditions, the ski fields themselves are beautiful. There’s a variety of slopes, ranging from a beginners’ decline, up to professional-standard courses, meaning that there was truly something for everyone on-site.

I, again, started at the beginners’ track – no more than a mere decline – and I was surrounded by not only freakishly talented 4-year-olds today, but also a fair few fellow nervous adults, which comforted me. I wasn’t the only inept snowboarder out there today. Thank heck! I strapped up my boots and stood up, and after a day off the snow, I was pleased to see that my ability remained basically the same. I actually, to my surprise, managed to rocket down the slopes faster than I thought I could. I didn’t even fall down! I was so stoked that I began jumping up and down at the bottom of the slope… and presently fell on my ass as a result. Yep, not quite professional yet. But still, I was happy with my progress!

I’m not sure if it was the weather, or my new-found confidence, or perhaps a nifty concoction of the two, but something clicked in me, and I thought: let’s try a ski course! Maniacal. Still! We headed up to the green slope chairlift (green being the lowest difficulty, followed by blue, black, diamond and double-diamond) and I tried my luck on seating myself into the chairlift, while strapped to my board. I managed! Shock horror!   It’s pretty unnerving, sitting on a glorified swing, held in only by a metal bar, drifting above the heads of other skiiers and boarders. I tried to focus my energy on looking straight ahead, and I prepared for the – what I assumed to be effortless – dismount at the top.

The top came, and I promptly fell backwards onto my poor fiancé. Sorry! So much for effortless. I quickly recovered and whisked myself over to the starting point, and boy, that view. If only I had my camera with me! I prepped myself for the takeoff, pushed off, and it began. I felt like I was flying! I weaved through the other snowboarders with surprising accuracy, and made my way down the slope. I kept yelling out to my fiancé in shock that I was still upright. I must’ve looked and sounded ridiculous, but I didn’t care! I was so proud of myself, and so glad I’d taken a chance and done something that five days ago, I was absolutely petrified of. I made it down a course! I’m still surprised, but already looking forward to my next trip to Queenstown to tackle it again.

For more information on Haka Tours, click here.

An Aussie Jumped the Ditch: Day Six

Processed with VSCO with c8 presetA much-needed day for some, today was the first and only day on the tour that we did not traipse to any ski fields. Today was a day for our own adventures!

We started by getting up early – what’s new – and heading down to the Queenstown Information Centre, ready to be collected for our first activity for the day: horse riding through Glenorchy. I found myself practically skipping there; I’d never ridden a horse before, and couldn’t be more enthused if I tried.

The bus drove us out to Glenorchy and we were met by members of the Dart Stables team, who took us to another bus, and drove us out to their stables property, to be fitted for riding boots, helmets and jackets. My jacket in particular made me feel like I was channeling my inner Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club. No complaints here. We headed out to the paddocks, and were immediately met by about a dozen of the most gorgeous horses I’d ever seen. The tour morning was brilliantly run; I participated in The River Wild trek, which is a 2-hour journey on horseback through the wintery banks of the Dart River. My horse’s name was Vinnie; he was a charmer and I’m so glad my first horse-riding experience was with such a calm and skilled horse. Our tour leader was telling us that a vast majority of the Dart Stables horses are movie stars, having been part of films like Lord of the Rings, Hercules, and the latest Mission Impossible film – all shot in New Zealand.

One tip I would give to anyone wanting to participate in a Dart Stables trek, is wear thick, warm socks. It seems simple enough, but I was wearing what I thought to be a trek-worthy pair of socks, and my feet were numb with cold within the first fifteen minutes. If you’re like me, and your body temperature runs cold, you’d be smart to even wear two pairs. However, if you forget and head to Glenorchy ill-prepared, the Dart Stables office sells great socks for $5 a pair – tried and tested by yours truly today.

After the horse trek sadly came to a close, we headed back into Queenstown, just in time for our next tour departure. We were off to the Kawarau Bridge Bungy, courtesy of AJ Hackett. I’d spent most of the week preparing myself for this afternoon; I wouldn’t say I have an issue or fear of heights, it’s more a fear of plummeting face-first towards the ground. Regardless, I threw caution to the wind and booked my session anyway, because you only live once, right?

Upon our arrival at the Kawarau Bridge, I felt my stomach churn. All of my mental preparation started to slip away. I faced my fears, though, and headed out to the bridge to start getting ready. That’s when my vision started blurring, I felt incredibly dizzy and I couldn’t hear anything anyone was saying to me. Joy! My first panic attack. How embarrassing. Everyone on the tour knew I was out at the bungy site, and I felt sicker knowing that I’d have to tell everyone I chickened out.

I went back inside to sit down, and realized that at the end of the day, I’d gotten myself out to the site, and pressed on amid my one trivial, yet very real, fear. I forgave myself for not wanting to participate in the bungy, and instead I gave the zipline a crack. It was fantastic! It reaffirmed in me that my fear is more safety-based; I got strapped into the zipline in the ‘Superman’ harness, meaning that I went flying down the hill looking like a total comic book heroine, but I felt totally secured, and not once fearful of my safety. To add to that, there was no headfirst plummeting involved, which thrilled me greatly.

The point of the past few paragraphs is mainly to address any fellow fearfuls out there: it’s okay. It’s totally okay to not want to tear through the air at terminal velocity. Just because others can do it, doesn’t mean you have to! You’re welcome to, you absolutely are. But it’s important on your holiday breaks to not put unwarranted pressure on yourself to do something potentially beyond your means. I had a great time today, even without the bungy, and that’s what matters.

For more information on Haka Tours, click here.

For more information on Dart Stables, click here.

For more information on the Kawarau Bridge Bungy and AJ Hackett, click here.

An Aussie Jumped the Ditch: Day Five

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Well well well, what a day!

We left our beautiful Wanaka accommodation this morning. I was genuinely upset to leave that town – I’m already planning my next trip back!   It was ridiculously cold this morning, too, so I think I’ve finally adopted some late winter sniffles, but not to worry! We shall press on.

We drove out to Treble Cone this morning. I won’t ruin it for you if you’re planning on heading out to the Treble Cone fields anytime soon, but I will say this: wow. The view is spectacular, and really feels like magic; it feels like you’re looking at this giant, marvellous painting.

Avid skiiers and snowboarders refer to the weather we had today as a ‘bluebird day’. We were blessed with not a single cloud in the sky; it was the perfect day to hit the slopes! Treble Cone was packed with snow-goers today, all eager to get that perfect run down the mountain. It was a balmy -6 degrees today, which meant every sip of the hot chocolate I downed at midday did not go to waste.

The way that the beginner slope is accessed at Treble Cone is different to the other slopes we’ve visited thus far; instead of a ‘magic carpet’ conveyor belt taking you up to the mountain, there’s a chairlift-type contraption holding long, curved steel rods called ‘J-bars’. The theory is that you tuck the circular J-bar base either between your legs, or under your arm, and you’re carried up the mountain that way – all the while, steering yourself on either your skiis or your board. According to some of the other members of our group, the J-bar method is not the easiest for beginners, and today I found out why.

After walking up the beginner slope myself a few times for practice, I decided I’d try to get up the mountain using the J-bar. I tucked the circular part under my arm, and held on for dear life… for about eight seconds, after which point I lost control of my board, and went flying, ass first, onto solid ice. I fell straight on my tailbone and immediately was in intense pain. It was totally my fault, but dang. I’d love to have had access to a chairlift instead, but if you’re at a slope that has a J-bar pulley lift installed, I’d definitely recommend being on skiis to use it, and not a board, at least while you’re finding your feet!

Anyway, my busted tailbone and I skulked up to the café, sat down with a hot chocolate, and read some Harry Potter for the rest of the afternoon. We have a packed day in Queenstown tomorrow doing some super fun things, and I basically made the executive decision to look after my bruised and battered body, just a little, so that I can properly enjoy my time out tomorrow. I also spent a solid thirty minutes admiring the gorgeous local kea birds; they’re the only type of alpine parrot in the world! What legends.

My injury aside, I really did have a great time up at Treble Cone today, as cold as it was. I’m looking forward to going back one day, staring that J-bar square in the face, and beating it once and for all.

For more information on Haka Tours, click here.

An Aussie Jumped the Ditch: Day Four

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I woke up this morning from what was possibly the best sleep of my year thus far. Thank you, hostel bed! We left our accommodation eagerly; we were heading out to Cardrona today. The drive was hectic! I am continually baffled by how New Zealand’s mountain roads have no protective barriers up. Our tour guide was explaining to us that they’re designed really well, so that in case of an uncontrolled vehicle, it would roll in toward the hill anyway. It’s mathematics and science that’s beyond my expertise, but I’m appreciative all the same.

After the crazy climb to the top of the mountain, we reached the ski field. Well, we were pretty sure we reached it; the sky had become completely white due to snowfall, and I personally couldn’t tell where the snow stopped and the sky began. Regardless, we unpacked the van and headed into the site.  I was less nervous than I’d been previously; at least I knew how to carry my board without looking totally out of place.  I also got some swanky new gloves today, so I looked the part.  That fact is likely irrelevant to this blog post, but honestly.  They’re bright pink and warmer than anything and basically I just really like them.  Anyway, moving swiftly on.

I am really, truly happy with how today went. It was my first day without any lessons to start me off, and I was a bit nervous as to my ability, or lack thereof, completely free to fail on any given slope. There I was, ready to cop bruised knees, a sore bum, and entertain a ski field full of experts with my lack of talent. I took the lift, or what’s called the ‘magic carpet’, to the top of the beginner slope. I buckled up my snowboard, stood up, and braced for the familiar feeling of crashing face first into the snow… yet it never came. All of a sudden, I was actually snowboarding! I could manouvre past other skiiers, pick up speed and slow down, and maintain an upright position! Mind you, I probably resembled a baby flamingo to anyone else, but that’s beside the point.

The point is, I’ve been learning heaps, and today I got to put it into practice.  And I’m a bit dang proud of myself, just quietly.

I enjoyed a solid three hours out on the slopes today, before the visibility on the mountain dropped even further, and it was near impossible to see more than ten metres ahead of myself. We decided within the team to call it quits by about two o’clock, and we headed back into Wanaka for the afternoon, which I spent meandering around the beautiful town, picking up some goodies and taking in the view.

I’m really starting to enjoy my time out on the mountains we visit, rather than dreading any embarrassing moments. I’ve learned from the other members of the tour that more than anything, a snow holiday is all about embracing the surrounds, and giving it a red-hot go.

For more information on Haka Tours, click here.

An Aussie Jumped the Ditch: Day Three

Processed with VSCO with c8 presetOkay, so great news. I can feel my legs again. Celebrations all round!

Today we set off super early from the beautiful Lake Tekapo, and headed straight out to Ohau.   Like I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Ohau is a smaller ski field with less beginner runs, but that didn’t stop me from having a great time up there today! My lesson went great; I picked up the whole ‘being strapped to a foreign object and barreling down an icy slope at top speed’ concept a bit faster than yesterday, and I was even able to navigate a bit better. Honestly, I was still fearful of the terrain; the slopes were quite icy due to the time of the morning that we were up there. Not to worry – there’s always tomorrow!

I would definitely recommend Ohau to anyone who is confident on a snowboard or skis. A total hidden gem! The property felt like it was straight out of the seventies. The staff were all super friendly, and the lodge on site was stocked with the best food, which I didn’t ask about but am guessing is mostly homemade. For any ginger lovers out there, the ginger slice was out of this world.

By about two o’clock this afternoon, the temperature really dropped, and the sun slipped behind the clouds. There was a lot of snowfall throughout the afternoon, which unfortunately for me as a beginner, meant that visibility was quite poor, and I had to retire for the day. We all finished up by half past three, and set off back down the mountain. I must say, it’s a bit terrifying being bound to the side of a mountain in full-blown snowfall. I felt like one of those mountain goats in North America.

By seven o’clock this evening, we reached our next destination: Wanaka. What a cool town! We’ve just gotten back from dinner at the best little Mexican joint. I can hardly move from the sheer weight of the nachos I consumed.

My last observation for the day is accommodation-focused: I am so, so thoroughly impressed by the standard of ‘flashpackers’ accommodation we have been based at. I always assumed that budget or hostel properties were old, dirty and packed with people. I opted for a private room on tour, and I am blown away by the quality of each spot. In two of the three rooms so far, we have had a private bathroom, our bed has always been comfortable, wifi has always been accessible, and the location of each property is really central and convenient. It’s definitely changed the mental stigma around hostels that I had developed, and I’m interested in utilizing them as an accommodation option more in the future!

The next stop for me today is bed. It’s been a huge few days of learning, and I need to get some sleep before a big day at Cardrona tomorrow! This week is going so quickly, and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to come along and check out the action.

For more information on Haka Tours, click here.

An Aussie Jumped the Ditch: Day Two

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Gone are the days when I think of snow as clouds on earth. There go my dreams of fluffy white powder that you could curl up and enjoy an enjoyable, albeit cold, sleep.

Snow hurts. Lots.

Today we spent most of the day at Mt. Hutt. We left Haka Lodge just after 7am and set off to collect our gear, and head up to the slopes. I had my first ever snowboard lesson in the morning, and given that I know how to skateboard and wakeboard, I had already written off the lesson as a piece of cake.

I now sit on my bed at our accommodation tonight with completely stiff legs, and a rear end that is not enjoying being rested upon. It wasn’t until our tour leader took us out to the beautiful Lake Tekapo Hot Springs, and I submerged myself in a much-needed 39°C hot pool, that my knees finally started to forgive me.

Today I copped so much of a wintry hiding that I don’t know how I was whizzed past by a class full of six year olds.   Talk about a shock to the system.

That aside, I actually managed to snowboard a bit without falling on my ass and looking like a total fish out of water. It was even caught on film; this seems to be a good thing, seeing as based on my current dead-leg situation, I doubt it will be replicated with ease tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, we’re heading off to Ohau in the morning. Ohau is a smaller snow field that’s about a two-hour drive from where we’re based here at Lake Tekapo tonight. I’m hoping that the fields accommodate for a twenty-something-year-old geriatric with two bad knees and a camera’s worth of epic ski field stack footage.

For more information on Haka Tours, click here.

An Aussie Jumped the Ditch: Day One

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When I was nine years old, I was watching the Rugby World Cup with my dad and my two brothers. Australia was playing New Zealand. The All-Blacks started performing the Haka, and nine-year-old Cassidy burst into tears, because of how moved she was and how passionate the All-Blacks were.   She told her dad that she wanted to move to New Zealand.

Clearly, that did not happen.

That aside, nine-year-old Cassidy became frighteningly passionate about New Zealand, its people and its history, and she promised herself that one day she’d visit the country. That since fostered itself into who I am now: twenty-two years old, sitting on a plane that’s headed straight for Christchurch.

I’m spending the next seven days as the travel blogger for Haka Tours’ Snow Safari. How exciting! I’ll get to go behind-the-scenes and take you inside a Haka Tours trip, showing you first-hand how great the South Island is for skiing, snowboarding and general awesomeness. I’ll put together the best footage of me shredding on the slopes, to inspire you to travel to New Zealand too.

Slight problem. I’ve never seen snow.

I’m hoping to get through the next week on sheer adrenaline and willpower alone. (And two days’ worth of beginner lessons, of course!)

We touched down in Christchurch early this afternoon, and headed to our first destination: Haka Lodge, Christchurch. It feels like a real rabbit warren; there’s storeys upon storeys of dorms, private rooms and common areas. This paragraph is coming to you from the comfort of the common room couch, and my feet are being warmed by the fireplace that the Haka team have been tending to for me. I’m thawing myself out in advance!

Tomorrow we’re up at 6am to drive for two hours to Mt. Hutt. I’ll be sure to get it all on film. And by ‘all’, I mean footage of myself stacking it face-first into the snow, approximately four hundred times.

For more information on Haka Tours, click here.