A Travellerspoint blog

Canyoning in the Waitakere Ranges

Day 4: The Blue Canyon, West of Auckland, New Zealand.

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Upon completing my skydive I was feeling euphoric and rearing to go for my next excursion so I decided to pop into the travel shop at my hostel. The Beach Bum tour of Waiheke Island was suggested to me and it sounded like the perfect way to unwind and get in touch with the natural side of New Zealand. Unfortunately 'twas not to be, as the tour would not be running the following day because the guide had to attend a funeral. Then I inquired about "canyoning," something I knew little to nothing about, but a fellow traveler in the shop told me she had a wonderful experience doing it and I would certainly not be disappointed. It looked a bit more energy-exhaustive than I was hoping for, though I held by my motto of saying yes to any activity I felt hesitation towards. So the next day…

Waking up at 7:30 this morning after a mere two hours of sleep, I was far from prepared for the day ahead. A full day of canyoning in the rainforest: trekking through the river, abseiling, going down natural rock slides, and jumping from waterfalls…sounds like a fun adrenalin-filled day, does it not?

Arriving early (for once) at the bus stop, the CanyonNZ van pulled up within minutes and out stepped a tall and muscular mustached man with a somewhat indiscernible accent - all ingredients for a wonderful day. After one more arrival (a young British girl) and a waiting time of 25 minutes…it looked as though no one else would be joining us for the festivities. Our guide seemed concerned as two strapping men were meant to be part of the group and without them we would have significantly less man power to carry the supplies required for canyoning. He offered us a chance to opt out mentioning in passing that we may have difficulty with the backpacks…but as this was my last day, I would not have another opportunity any time soon and off we went into the rainforest of New Zealand.

After getting kitted up and putting on our massive backpacks, we began the hike. It took a mere 15 minutes before I was fully winded and my face had flushed to a burnt tomato-red. The guide began to patronize me, demanding I hurry up because now I was in the "real world," (as opposed to the faux one I had been in previously?). About an hour of hiking in silence passed (I was reprimanded numerous times for chatting) before we reached the point in the river where we were to begin our "canyoning." Once again I was made to feel like a kindergartner as he insisted I look him in the eyes while he gave me his dozenth speech about the dangers of the events to come. To say I was on the verge of punching him in the face is putting it lightly.

Jumping into the water felt like body-slamming an iceberg. With the wind completely knocked out of me, I surfaced the water gasping for breath whilst simultaneously wiping my nose; it was hardly an elegant display and the guide seemed none too pleased with my performance. Apathetically asking if I was alright he then quickly trudged us on to our first natural rock slide…this was a milder endeavor and would have been rather enjoyable had I not swallowed a pint's worth of murky river water.

The further along we went, the more perilous the jump-offs and rock slides became…then we arrived at our first abseil. Though my confidence had increased a great deal, the guide felt I was far from ready to take on this endeavor myself, so he insisted I be lowered down the 20 meter (~approximate) waterfall. He jerkily let me down, making me smash repeatedly into the rock face. On the first ledge I was allowed to stand and he asked that I lean back into the harness, but as the rope had too much slack I feared of falling straight onto my bum. So I informed him that the rope was loose and he was more than quick to oblige and yank it up - slamming me face down into the rock ledge. Cheers mate. Suspicion leads me to believe that he did this intentionally…perhaps as revenge for having to deal with such a nervous nancy?

We completed the last abseil and I was more than grateful to be nearly through with the day…my body was cold and achy and I would have donated my kidneys to get as far away from this man as humanly possible. But as he had been vehemently rushing us throughout the day, I had every intention of taking my sweet-ass time on the last leg of the hike. Hours had gone by without us being able to take a moment to enjoy the lush rainforest canopy and I had signed up for this excursion with the expectation of touring another part of New Zealand in a unique way. Of course, he was not having any of that as he continued to push us along demanding silence and concentration. One of his weak excuses was that if the sun set then one of us broke our ankles this would pose a very dangerous situation and would be near impossible to have us rescued in. He added that just being in the rainforest at all during the night would make it far too treacherous for us to continue. I found these all to be unsatisfactory, as it was only 3.30 in the afternoon and we had a mere 30 minutes of walking left. Additionally when we walked slowly and carefully (as I prefer to do), were we not less apt to be injured?

For a self-professed Yogi (claiming to do Bikram Yoga every day), he is impossibly high-strung. It would not have surprised me if at his breaking point his mustache began to twist and steam poured out of his ears (à la Captain Hook). I would have happily mentioned this to him, but as I am quite certain he would have taken that as an opportunity to throw me from a cliff, so I kept my trap shut.

Arriving back in Auckland at 5:45 with all limbs in tact, I was left with only 15 minutes to shower and change before I was meant to meet a new friend…dilemma. Especially considering I had no mobile phone or means of contact. But all's well that ends well and I was off for my evening's adventures.

May 11, 2010

Posted by Sashaf1234 21:25 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Skydiving From 16,000 Feet

Day 2 in Auckland, New Zealand

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As my body is dangling outside the plane and the air is rushing towards me, I can see nothing but the blue yonder gingerly adorned with hundreds of tufted clouds. Oh yes…and two bodies ahead of me hurling towards the earth like asteroids from space. My heart is beating rapidly as I attempt to breathe in the thinning oxygen, but as this is not meant to be a moment of zen I sway to-and-fro then dive into the cold New Zealand sky (literally throwing caution to the wind).

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Plummeting from 16,000 feet in the air I am still somehow able to gain my bearings: like the fact that we are racing rapidly towards the cloud sheet below, unable to see land clearly as of yet. Yet the phrase "free-falling" does not sufficiently explain what it is that I am doing for the first 75 seconds in the air. "Flying" feels to be a far more fitting term. That's right Amelia Earhart…jealous?. Even though from this height it is impossible to comprehend the speed at which I am descending, but once I have leapt from the comforts of the plane - somehow my nervousness dissipates completely.

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Not once does the thought, "Please God, don't let me die," cross my mind; something I find largely surprising as I have whispered this prayer hundreds if not thousands of times when facing chancy or treacherous scenarios (e.g. turbulent flights, unsavory carnival rides, swims in the ocean where man-eating sharks have been spotted on numerous occasions). I quickly reflect back on my previous skydive of 9,000 feet: realizing that both then and now I am wholly enjoying the experience, regardless of the overwhelming fears and physical manifestations of anxiety which had been controlling me during the flight up.

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Though I had hoped to make some impressive facial expressions and/or gestures towards the cameraman who jumped along with me - the forces of the wind make it near impossible to have substantial control over my movements. My attempt to blow a kiss at the camera looks more akin to an infant learning the use her extremities than a 22-year-old former wimp conquering her fears in the most ostentatious of ways. I am at the will of the sky and at this moment it is impossible for my mind to concentrate on anything other than the sensations occurring around and to my body. Yogis and spiritual seekers alike may rejoice - I have discovered the speedy solution to reaching a true state of meditation - skydiving.

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Coming through the clouds is beyond surreal. It is the manifestation of my childhood curiosity: what it would feel like to be within the clouds sans the protection of an airplane or other transport vehicle. My yen to touch and go through them has now been satisfied. Another item from my Bucket List is complete - √ (check).

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The parachute opens up and we come down towards the hilly green landscape doing 360 degree spins whilst I am at the helm (a.k.a. steering the parachute). Soon we land and the feeling of hard earth under my feet does not bring a sense of relief, but rather a touch of nostalgia since I have just finished the highest skydive now possible (without supplemental oxygen). It is a feat I had never hoped or thought to accomplish for the majority of my life, but today am more than proud that I have.

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Posted by Sashaf1234 19:42 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Day 1 (Part Two): Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day

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The Gods have smiled upon me - my backpack arrived at my hostel just a few hours after me. I was informed about its imminent arrival via email and with that stress calmed I quickly organized myself to head out into the city of Auckland. With my mood considerably lifted, it was only fitting that I stumble upon some charming things in town. The first of which being the fountain in front of Auckland's Art Gallery which someone had playfully filled with bubble bath - it was overflowing, but looked fitting with the colorful mural as its backdrop.
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Wiping off some bubbles from my feet, I ventured onwards to go about my first day errands (not always fun, but must be done regardless). Whilst hopping back and forth between shops comparing the prices of adapters, I saw a lovely homage to mothers on their day of all days. Quickly noting an opportunity to give my mum something special even when we are far apart, I scoured the windows for a blank post-it but twas an exercise in futility. The only available slots left were solely reachable if I were to be upon a tall fellow's broad shoulders (as I saw a few other ladies do). Fortunately my desperation was noticed by a charming little girl and her mother. They had purchased their own pack of post-it notes and she encouraged her daughter to share one with me. I was very pleasantly surprised when this adorable tot handed me a few sheets. It was a small but noble gesture and even though we did not speak the same language, I hope they understood how grateful I was.
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Back at the hostel I met a couple of my roommates and have suggested the idea of renting a car for tomorrow to explore the natural wonders that lie outside the borders of the city. So we'll see what adventures tomorrow shall hold...

Posted by Sashaf1234 22:39 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Day 1: Arrival in Auckland, New Zealand

May 9, 2010: Auckland, New Zealand

semi-overcast 62 °F

From New York it was just 24 short hours to Auckland, New Zealand where I was graciously greeted by the stopping of an empty baggage carousel - the airline has lost my one and only bag (a backpack of course). They tried to comfort me with the fact that the bag should arrive in at least 24 hours, though they are unsure of its whereabouts. So now I am really down to the basics: I have on a tee shirt and leggings and with me is my trusty camera and laptop (the latter two being of the utmost importance fortunately).

I have checked into my hostel and it has a lovely rooftop deck, where I am writing from now, as well as a jacuzzi - which I hope to use later. I am going to peruse through the dozens of information brochures on Auckland and will soon decide what shenanigans to get into today. All while keeping my fingers crossed in hopes of receiving my backpack sooner rather than later.

Posted by Sashaf1234 16:39 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Preface

Reasons Why I Am Starting This Blog

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After traveling around New Zealand, Australia, and Fiji for three months I have become smitten with the backpacker lifestyle. This was a tough pill to swallow for many of my family and friends; mainly because they could not fathom why I would prefer living out of a backpack schlepping from one grimy hostel to another when I have spent the majority of my life at posh homes both on the Upper East Side in New York and in Central London. They are accustomed to my girlish tendencies: I was always reluctant to part with my beloved collection of high heels when traveling and rarely exhibited a desire to be a risk taker.

From the age of fifteen I have been dead-set on becoming a print journalist and this passion has not weaned over the years. But my passion for travel has laid dormant during my time at University since I spent my summers interning or visiting friends and family in London. As a teenager, summers were dedicated to globe-trotting and volunteering; both integral in shaping the person I am today. Though I regret not pursuing these interests further in the past few years, now that I have a degree under my belt and no familial obligations tying me down, I am free to do just that.

This past January I began a relatively short trip which ended up inspiring me to live life as a proper backpacker for the next year. I began with a two and a half week tour of New Zealand, both the North and South Islands. Then I continued on to Australia - where I spent time in Sydney and Melbourne, traveled up and down the East Coast, and sailed the Whitsunday Islands. Additionally I spent five days island-hopping in Fiji. On the third day of my travels I decided to do the first truly terrifying thing of my 22 years - bungy jumping off the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand. The days leading up to it I barely slept, repeatedly waking up in a cold sweat because of the murderously bloody nightmares I was having. The morning of I was almost certain I would either faint or throw-up prior to the jump. Needless to say, I was nervous. Luckily a girl on my tour was kind enough to do a tandem jump with me, easing my overwhelming anxiety somewhat. Once harnessed up and standing on the ledge, I very begrudgingly inched towards the end (never once looking out or down) whilst swearing up a storm. The people working there eventually had to put their feet behind mine and move me towards the edge then push me off. To be honest, it was far from the most enjoyable experience. The feeling of free falling only to be counteracted by jolts to my ankles was less than fun. Regardless, it put into motion the motto I decided to employ for the rest of my trip: I would say yes to everything that my gut said no to.

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Three months later, I had conquered dozens of fears and managed to shake my previously inhibited lifestyle. So after a short trip back to New York, I find myself once again starting my travels in New Zealand. This time it will be on my own dime so in addition to freelancing, I will also be endeavoring some menial labor - perhaps farming, washing dishes, or sheep shearing? But it will all be part of the experience that I hope to share through my writing and photography.

Posted by Sashaf1234 16:37 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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