Last-second mash-up: Queenstown and Milford Sound, Castle Hill, Cute Cafe, random caves

Classes ended, and study week began, and an excuse to explore Christchurch and its cute cafes.
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My friend Eliana and I posted up in Lemon Tree Cafe, a spot filled with antique-tchotchkes and delicious mochas. We caffeinated and studied and my study guides came together in kindergarden-style with colored pencils and pictures.

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We took a study break to walk around the still transitioning city from the earthquake 4 years ago. Magnificent buildings give an apocalyptic tone as shipping crates hold up their façades.

A few days later, I was eager to go hiking locally, and read about these caves in the nearby port hills accessible via bus. I went exploring…

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The caves could be reached only via the closed-due-to-rockfall hiking path that I went on anyway (hey, I’m a geologist in training!). The hike was a treat with views of the ocean and New Brighton’s sandbar, and some sheep friends on the track. There was ample rockfall to scramble over and the trail was certainly non-existent in some spots, but worth the effort to see some caves.

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Later that week, Eliana and I took a day trip to Castle Hill to see some Narnia rocks– fantastic limestones exposed close to the Castle Hill mapping area of field camp ages ago. We played, did handstands and backbends and climbed about these outrageous structures.

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The winter weather meant that our surrounding mountains were snow-capped and massive. We hitchhiked back to Christchurch at the end of the day with a man driving a black jaguar and wearing cow-print fuzzy pants with a purple goatee!

The next day, I made my way down south to Queenstown and towards Fiordland National Park. The Remarkables were true to their name, and were stark and glorious outside our accommodation for the 4 days my friends and I were there. Four of us shared a two-queen bedroom at a reduced winter-rate at the Rydges, which was more economical for us, but also much more upscale than the hostels we have become familiar with.

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After a day of downhill skiing, and falling over in the snow, Kristie and I took a bus trip to see Milford Sounds, one of the most iconic sights on the South Island.

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We stopped at many beautiful sights along the way too enjoy the atypically wonderful weather and soak in jagged peaks and isolated river-bends.

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After 4-5 hours of driving and stopping for views, and after a trip though a long tunnel carved out of granite, we came to Milford Sounds, and drooled at the post-glacial landscape.

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The journey to the sound came with a 2 hour cruise about, and just our luck we began the boat ride only to be greeted by dolphins. Our captain told informed us that it had been a month since they had seen them in the Sound! 

Kristie and I bared the freezing wind to stare at the landscape and the clarity of the water. We encountered fur seals swimming and sunning, and waterfalls that misted up rainbows, and mountains jutting out of the water.

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We ended the day with a rest-stop at the Alpine center in Te Anau and hung out with some alpacas. Stars popped up in the sky as we returned to Queenstown, and enjoyed our last night in the chilly winter air, not-quite-so ready to return to Christchurch the next day to face finals and the ticking clock.

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Hiking and Dumplings and Foraminifera

These past few weeks have been Christchurch-centric as university life and studies force us international students back to academic reality. In an effort to keep up our “joie de aventure” we peace out to go on quick hikes that take only an hour or so, but still give us delicious views like these from Taylor’s Mistake, a hike out by the beach:
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The weather has oscillated between the encroaching winter and reminders of the end of summer. We adjust layers accordingly. And in those winter days, sometimes you just have to make dumplings…

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Adapted from a recipe by Sachie Nomura, a chef in New Zealand:

  • gyoza wrappers (50)
  • 1/4 cabbage
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 eggs, scrambled
  • 1 bunch garlic chives, chopped
  • 4 dried, soaked (maybe 30min?), squeezed and chopped shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 Tbsp ginger, grated
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp sesame oil

Dipping sauce

  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • Some garlic chive can sneak on in
  • chili oil if you want it!

Cut up cabbage and rub with salt. Let sit for 10ish minutes and then squeeze the cabbage to get some moisture out. Mix squeezed cabbage with eggs, chives, mushrooms, ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil. Put a pinch of salt in there too after tasting!

With DRY hands, take a wrapper, put a teaspoon of filling in the center, brush the outer edge of half the wrapper with water and then squeeze the edges together to form a semi-circle and seal the top. Squish a bunch together over cabbage leaves in a bamboo steamer and steam for 10ish minutes until they look cooked. Gather up some friends and eat while warm!

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Cooking adventures will continue, as will random hikes about after hours of looking at cute little foraminifera like this benthic guy up above! Eyeing the spring back home while crunching leaves under my feet as we move into winter weather here.

Getting oriented round #2: University of Canterbury and around

Classes started this week: mineralogy, sedimentology, Maori Culture, and Directed research. It’s a great schedule with a heavy first half of the week that tapers off toward Thursday and Friday– I’m anticipating morning hikes and bike rides, maybe morning trips to the beach? I’m savoring the summer weather here while it lasts.

Next to the Moa at the  Christchurch Museum

Giulia and I next to the Moa at the Christchurch Museum

My friend Giulia visited this week (dear friend from adventures in Peru two summers ago, happened to be in the “area”), so after or before class we were off exploring the Christchurch/Canterbury region. In Christchurch, we explored the museum that had ample natural and human history of New Zealand. We sauntered through the sites that take advantage of the open spaces from the devastating earthquake in 2011.

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The Dance-O-Mat is a machine that (for $2) you can plug in your mp3 and blast music for 30 min from 4 speakers that surround a dance platform. It’s perfect for random dance parties, and apparently people host Zumba classes on occasion! Rebuilding was evident throughout the area and many buildings were still in shambles even after 4 years. Residents are frustrated with this, but to the visitor, it is incredible how much progress has been made. Shipping crates have been appropriated as storefronts and comprise the Re:Start mall in the center of downtown. There are coffee shops and retail stores and frozen yogurt stands within these shipping containers and it’s such a funky fun way of recognizing the destruction of the earthquake while intentionally moving forward.

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We also went to the Willowbank wildlife reserve (sort of like a zoo). We saw cute bunny rabbits (LOOK! SO CUTE!) and wallabies (ALSO CUTE) and kiwi birds (photos courtesy of Giulia). It  was fun to see all the native New Zealand animals in one spot, and to see a kiwi in the flesh/feathers (they are nocturnal, so we entered a dark habitat room and played eye-spy kiwi edition).

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We explored the Port Hills to the south of the city and went on a hike called Bridle Path. We took the P bus into the city center and caught the 28 to Lyttleton that dropped us off at the Christchurch Gondola where we found the trailhead and started the upward journey. It was a steep climb but we reached the top in 30-45min. We climbed down the other side (for 1.5hrs of walking one way) into the small port town of Lyttleton and treated ourselves to a lunch of fish and chips. We were amply refueled for the walk back (another 1.5hrs). Giulia is an ornithologist/bird queen and it was such a joy to have her pointing out the European species that the British brought over to help NZ feel more like home, and to identify the native species.

This silver-eye was one of the cute little birdies we saw! Photo creds to Giulia

This silver-eye was one of the cute little birdies we saw! Photo creds to Giulia

We took a food tour of south and southeast Asia, eating Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Indian food (restaurant Arjee Bhajee for Indian was insanely good) during the week. Our tastebuds were happy and an otherwise hectic week was pacified by hanging out with a great friend.