Study abroad blog: Zach Lazar '10 in New Zealand

By Zach Lazar

3/20/2009 – 03/29/2009I’d like to start by apologizing to my readers for not updating last week, but I have been having quite an adventure, and blogging simply isn’t extreme enough. Let’s see, where were we…

Ah yes, when we last left our brave adventurer (me, played by either myself or Colin Farrell), he was about to set off for the Fiordlands. At approximately 6:00 p.m. on Fri. the 20th, the bus and vans set out, carrying about 80 members of the University of Otago Tramping (hiking) Club (OUTC). Most of the people on the trip were international/study abroad/exchange students like myself, utilizing the club to see the country. It was a pleasant drive through beautiful terrain and thousands of sheep, which pretty much describes driving anywhere outside of a city in NZ. We took a pit stop for diner, descending like locusts onto some podunk town called Gore and taking all their Subway.

We were broken into smaller groups, my group of 11 was bound for the Tutoko Valley. We were two Kiwis, two Singaporeans, and seven Americans -one of whom went to high school with some people I lived on T4 with freshman year. It’s a small world after all. We were dropped of in pitch darkness miles from everyone else at about 1a.m. Not wanting to travel too deep into the woods in the dark, we pitched our tent flies in the small parking lot, actually tying one to the ‘No Camping’ sign. Early the next morning we ate some ‘Coco Pops’ (NZ Coco Krispies) and headed into the bush. The first leg was jungle path. It was an official trail, but more strenuous than any trail I’ve seen in the states. We climbed walls of roots, jumped from stone to stone over streams, clutched vines while we tiptoed around rock ledges and so on and so forth. Ultimately our efforts to stay relatively clean were in vain, as the last bit of the jungle trek was all mud. One misstep put me knee deep and sinking, I had to pull myself out by a vine Indiana Jones style. Oh, and all of this is done with a big heavy backpack.

Finally we busted out of the woods and came to the beautiful Tutoko river, in the valley of the Tutoko mountain. After a power bar, some beef jerky (which I had to get in the import section of the grocery store, it was rather pricey) and some other random foods, we decided to head up the river toward the glacier. Talking to a tramping pro later, allegedly there is a trail that does this. We did not take this trail. Our leaders messed up. Instead we walked along the stony banks of the glacial river, often walking across it as the bank became impassable on one side and not the other. It was only knee to thigh deep, but the water was flowing fast, and until about 30 minutes ago had been ice for thousands of years – so it was a little cold. A couple times there was no path on either side, so we just hiked up the river for a good 40 meters. The plus side is the mud came off. A few times we had to climb up into the bush on the side of the river to continue, scrambling up growth on hands and knees, the ‘ground’ breaking away underneath you to reveal that it was actually just moss covering some roots, and that the real ground was a good 20 feet down.

At the end of the eight hour hike we took up camp near the glacier and settled in to make dinner. That’s when the sandflies made their final assault.

We had some problems with these guys all day, but they tend to leave you alone if you’re moving fast enough. At evening they swarm, and we had nowhere to hide. They are about the size of gnats, but bite worse than mosquitoes. They also don’t care if you’re wearing bug repellent. I had New Zealand Army repellent on. If the New Zealand army can’t protect you from them, who can? I wound up with about 30 bites at the end of the trip. They last about two weeks.

Once we got a fire going they buggered off, apparently they don’t like smoke. We made pasta and beans and other good things, and then laid back and looked up at the stars above the mountain tops. It unsettling to look up and not see the big dipper. To one side I could see Orion, the other held the Southern Cross. Then there was just a mess of stars in the middle, the kind you can’t see anywhere near a town, that I just couldn’t make heads or tails of. Some of them were shooting across the sky. My buddy said how it felt like looking at stars from another planet. I agreed.

Anyway, next morning I woke up, looked at my watch, and realized we had 5 minutes until the time we were planning on heading back to catch the bus. And no one else was awake. Our leaders kind of sucked. After waking everyone up, getting back into my wet boots, and breaking the ice off of my gaiters, we managed to break camp and set off back. We somehow found a more direct route back to the lunch spot, and after a shortened break made great time tearing back through the jungle. I think in part it was because we were less concerned that before about avoiding mud or standing water, we just headed straight through. At this point we were already wet and dirty, and with water in our boots stepping through anything was of little concern.

Ultimately it was an awesome hike, in a stunning landscape, and we made it back in one piece. Minus what the sandflies took. New Zealand is a hell of a place.

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Last Thursday, a friend of mine called me and asked if I wanted to go swing dancing with her and her friends. I admitted my lack of swing knowledge, but consented anyway. On my way there I learned that this friend’s parents are professional swing dancers and the two others we were with were also quite experienced. We get to the pub where its going down and I’m surprised to find the hot swinging band I could hear up the street has a median member age of about 80. Anyway, I got some quick lessons, made a fool of myself, had a couple pints, then enjoyed making a fool of myself. The other guy in our group was like a young Fred Astaire, so I didn’t bother trying to match him, I just kept making my partner spin. By the end of the night both ladies were complimenting me on how good I had gotten so quickly, I’m just saying. You know. In case. Like Founders Day or something…ladies…

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Finally, surfing.This last weekend I had a couple surf lessons through the University’s Rec center. Board and wetsuit rental, transportation, and instructors included for a pretty damn good price. 2 Days, 9AM-1PM. There were about 8 of us in the group plus two instructors, the students were all Americans except for one Swede. This wasn’t surprising though, as any Kiwi who had any interest in surfing would probably have explored it before getting to University. Anyway, being from the Midwest I was not use to the height of some of these waves out on the Otago Peninsula. According to the surfing gurus, the NZ south island has some of the most consistent waves good for surfing, and would be considered ideal except for it being too cold during winter. It also happens to be the southernmost place you can surf in the world.

I pretty quickly got the hang of jumping up onto my board into the correct stance (when on dry land) as its similar to a martial arts stance I know from the Macalester Martial Arts Club (who have a show coming up that you should see). It’s a little trickier though when your are on water and moving. Catching the wave and just body surfing wasn’t too hard, and was a lot of fun. By the time I felt comfortable enough to try standing however, the current had picked up so strong that even the instructors, 20 year surfing veterans, were complaining. Getting in became easy, the trouble was getting out to the waves.

The second day (today) was a lot better, we started fresh with a little experience under our belts and excellent surf conditions. Most participants, including myself, caught some good waves and stood on the board. I’m not great yet, and my day actually ended when I got to far forward, nosedived, and broke the tether of my board with about 5 minutes remaining before it was time to leave. That being said, I got some numbers from people in my cl
ass and we’re going to try to get out again before the weather turns bad (mid to late April, according the the instructor.) Plus, I got this (as the Kiwi’s would say) sweetas new facebook profile pic.

Tune in next week for more adventures.

To read more of Zach’s blog visit: http://zlazar.travellerspoint.com/