NZ Tour w/Parents

The last two weeks my parents and I have driven literally almost all the way around the country: Auckland to Hamilton, Taupo, Wellington, ferry to Picton, Blenheim, Kaikoura, Christchurch, Dunedin, along the south coast past Invercargill, west to Te Anau, Milford Sound, Queenstown, the glaciers, up the West Coast and tonight we’re in Greymouth. It’s been a heck of a lot of driving, but the sights we’ve seen have been innumerable, totally unique, and stunningly beautiful. I’m only shooting slide film this time around, so these photos won’t be online, but I’m still in the process of posting lots of photos from when Kirk was here, and our trip to Fiji.

Stateside in a week and a half.

Semester Finished!

This past Monday I took my last exam! I’ve officially finished my semester here at The University of Waikato, and just like that, it’s nearly over. Five months in New Zealand… in the past.

Yesterday I was overcome with nostalgia. I noticed how pretty the sunset was from my bedroom window and wished I would have made a point to have watched more of them. Immediately I grabbed my camera and leaned out the window to take photos, trying to preserve memories from what little time I had left. I started wondering if I had explored the city enough, had I traveled enough, did I meet enough new people? Had I spent my time wisely, had I learned about myself, have I changed, have I matured? ‘Personal growth’ is what’s supposed to happen on Study Abroad, that’s the real point, isn’t it? It’s what everyone writes on the application form for the ‘What do you hope to gain from this experience?’ essay question.

Well, I think I’ve learned a few things. I guess I’ll find out for sure when I head back to where I came from. There are things here that I’ve become fond of (like cheap “Takeaway” joints on every corner or the complete lack of SUVs on the roads) that I’ve become used to – and therefore forgotten – that I think I’ll realize, once I’m stateside, that I really miss.

My parents arrive in 4 days to come travel the country with me. After that, they’re off to Fiji, and I’m on a plane back home. During international student orientation the first week of school, a speaker talked about culture shock, and reverse culture shock – missing the country you studied in after you left. I figured that was rather odd and didn’t give it much thought. After this semester here though, I won’t be surprised once I’m home if I do experience some of that reverse culture shock. I know it probably sounds hackneyed, but the places, people, and experience has really been unforgettable.

Cafe Society

Twilight has just settled over downtown Hamilton. Night life has started to revive Victoria Street, the main boulevard. I’m seated outside La Commune Cafe, the unofficial hippie establishment in town. Mismatched forest green and cream chairs, rusty red Formica table tops, and a couple of planters pack the tiny interior and spill onto the sidewalk. Next door at the relaxed Go Vino restaurant, an exuberant group of locals lounge on a few couches; no doubt their empty wine glasses have enhanced their social zest. The atmosphere inside the café is buzzing, the attire on the sidewalk varied. The seasons, still in limbo between spring and summer, allow strapless minidresses to walk past merino sweaters. Cars buzz by, blobs of color blurring from left to right, out of reach of my focused vision.

I’ve become a serial café frequenter, casually searching for the ideal atmosphere. My logic concludes that when patronizing cafés I’m not really paying for the coffee, but rather for the the space at the table where I sit and the ensuing ambience that floats by: the aroma of espresso, the music, and the conversations. My list of visited locales has grown to nearly fifteen different Hamilton cafés, all of them possessing their own quirks. Scott’s Epicurean, in my opinion, has the best-tasting espresso, but like most cafés, it closes at 4PM, despite its prime central location. The back door at The Rocket Espresso Bar is usually left open, allowing breezes and birdsong to imbue the mood. Esquire’s Coffee, even though a chain, offers an hour of free internet with any purchase, and has the most friendly young employees around.

Before arriving in New Zealand, I was the typical college student who’s favorite java joint was the corner Starbucks. I assumed that gourmet coffee just naturally came with caramel, vanilla, or hazelnut flavoring. The first time I visited a coffee shop in Hamilton, my flatmate Alice accompanied me. After placing our orders, she turned to me, her jaw hanging open. You ordered your coffee with a flavored syrup shot? I looked at her, feeling accused of murder. Yes? I answered, questioningly. Alice has been working in cafés making coffee since she was fourteen. She has a rather, refined palette for espresso. Ordinarily, she doesn’t trust any café that offers flavor shots because that means “they must have to mask the real taste of their coffee beans.” I have come to agree. Really good espresso is not supposed to be bitter, but actually laced with some sweetness. It takes excellent beans and an equally exceptional barista (coffee maker) to create a superior tasting coffee.

Kiwi café society is bustling and vibrant. Edgy, modern paintings from local artists add personality to bistro walls. Live music from amateur musicians fills the air on Friday nights, and people sit on each others laps to make the most of the minimal square-footage. On weekday afternoons, as conversation layers itself over coffee cups, friends reveal new facets of their personality to their companions. The atmosphere is positively toxic. I love sitting in cafés to study for class or write on my laptop. I’ve become almost addicted to this culture, needing my fix of café atmosphere every day.

New Photos

After a looong hiatus, I’ve finally posted more photos. These are still from the trip I took with Theresa, nearly 3 months ago… but I’m catching up! By the end of this week I vow to to post even more new photos, ones from when Kelly was here.

Have a look at my new photos.