Day 48: Christchurch

Get ready for a lengthy post folks.

Throughout my travels in NZ I had heard not so great reviews about Christchurch. To the point where Lake Tekapo was an added stop on my itinerary to decrease the amount of time I would be in Christchurch. Needless to say my expectations for the city were not great. To my pleasant surprise, I had one of the most interesting days of my whole trip.

As you may know, Christchurch was struck by a series of earthquakes beginning in September 2010 and culminating in NZ’s worst earthquake in 80 years in February 2011. For whatever reason I was under the impression that most of the earthquake damage had been repaired. I could not have been further off. There are large gaps on every street where prominent buildings once stood, construction everywhere attempting to restore some salvageable structures, and many untouched destroyed sites and surrounding rubble. 3 years later you literally cannot walk down a street without reminders of destruction from the quake.

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I started my morning off at the botanical gardens. I’m not usually one to be mesmerized by plants but they had seriously some of the coolest flowers I’ve ever seen! Everyone should be relieved to know I have discovered my favourite flower: Dalias (hint hint nudge nudge).

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I then visited the museum on Canterbury to check out their street art exhibit–beyond cool.

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Here are some of my fav pieces from the exhibit.

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I also visited a new exhibit by artist Ian Strange that showcased his project inspired by the earthquake. He selected a number of homes that would soon be demolished due to structural damage. He then lit the homes strategically and created a really interesting collection of photographs that are meant to question the notion of home.

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So the coolest part about Christchurch right now is it’s “transitional projects”. The city is literally in the middle of being completely rebuilt and out of all the destruction, some VERY cool creative and innovative projects have emerged. The damage from the earthquake was devastating but the silver lining is that they have a very unique opportunity to re-model large chunks of their city in more sustainable and contemporary ways. How many cities get the chance to have at least half of a clean slate?

This location is probably the most iconic post-earthquake attraction. Pictured below is the Re:START mall–a 51-store shopping centre made out of shipping containers. This place is neatooo.

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Gap Filler is a creative urban regeneration initiative that sees vacant sites transformed into temporary, creative, people-centred hubs of activity. There are also other organizations that have similar objectives and aim to inject life back into the city by putting what would otherwise be dreary vacancy to creative use. Here are some examples of these transitional projects below.

Pylon chess

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Snakes and Ladders

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This art installation is called 185 Empty Chairs and is located where the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church once stood. The empty chairs are a memorial that represent the loss experienced in Christchurch from the earthquake. There are still services here every Sunday.

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This is a collaborative community work of art where anyone can bring their own fabric and/or miscellaneous item that can be woven in to the mosaic. I saw everything from normal fabric, to Popsicle sticks, a bra, and a diaper.

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This is my favourite gap filler! This is called the Dance-o-Mat. Anyone can simply put $2 in the machine and plug in their phone or iPod to have the surround sound blare your music. Let the dance party begin on the outdoor stage. The dance floor is also available for rent for dance classes; the project was initiated to offer all the damaged dance studios a space post earthquake but is more than open to the general public as well.

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Right now the Festival of Flowers is going on in Christchurch in Cathedral Square. There are a number of super cool installations in here but this one had to be my fav.

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I finished my day off doing a drop-in at a local crossfit gym. This particular gym is owned by two All Blacks brothers. Lucky for me Thursdays they go long and we had to do the WOD from hell. But great box overall and drop-in rate includes a t-shirt!

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I am flying out to Brisbane tomorrow morning and just like that my pre-exchange trip comes to a close, as well as my daily posts–you are all probably sick of having to read so much anyways. But fear not I will continue to blog, just a bit less frequently. Stay tuned for more adventures in Oz 🙂

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Day 46-47: Lake Tekapo

The drive from Queenstown to Lake Tekapo was absolutely beautiful. When I come back to NZ one day I would definitely opt to rent a car–so many spots to stop off the beaten path and enjoy the scenery.

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Lake Tekapo is roughly half way between Queenstown and Christchurch. It’s a very very small tourist town with under 500 permanent residents. My hostel was right on the lake and I relaxed on the beach yesterday afternoon–a nice change of pace from Queenstown. In honour of Elai, I returned to a restaurant I had spotted earlier for a yummy meal–bread and dip platter and pork belly! So nom.

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I got up this morning and headed up Mt John. As per usual, awesome views from the top of Lake Tekapo, well known for its bright blue water. There is also a pretty well known observatory at the top of Mt John that is used primarily by the University of Canterbury and is renowned as one of the best in the world for viewing the Southern skies.

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Day 45: Milford Sounds

The bus picked me up for my daytrip to Milford Sounds first thing this morning. The driver was an old man with a cynical, dry sense of humour. He urged everyone on the tour to ask him any questions that came to mind and added “now I don’t know everything, if I did I wouldn’t be driving this bloody thing”.

The drive to Milford was gorgeous and we stopped a bunch of times to take some pics at photo worthy spots. Largely the drive is through a number of different mountain ranges–feels kinda like driving in BC. We also stopped to get some fresh water at a stream, see a kea (alpine parrot), and check out the mirror lakes.

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An added bonus was that our driver happens to be on the “a-team” for the Hobbit production team. That means that when they need transportation for the film he among 23 other guys are the first ones to be called. So he was able to point out lots of lesser known filming locations. Sounded like a pretty good gig too–five star accommodation at the location, celeb sightings, and beautiful driving. He did say that logistically it was pretty crazy as the largest production team was 1,000 people–requiring a convoy of 170 vehicles for transport.

We arrived at Milford Sound in the late afternoon and enjoyed a nice long boat ride. The area are a result of a gigantic glacier from the ice age melting years and years ago. As a result Milford Sound is home to some of the tallest sea cliffs in the world. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking the whole cruise. The cruise took us down the narrow straights all the way to where it meets the Tasman Sea and back.

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Day 44: The Adventure Capital of the World

What a day in Queenstown.

I set off first thing in the morning to climb Queenstown Hill. It’s about a 2 hour round trip with some pretty steep uphills. If there’s one thing I’ve learned this trip it’s that 500m is not as short as it sounds going up a huge hill. When I reached the summit the views were unreal but the cloud cover was actually quite low so I couldn’t see the tops of the big mountains.

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After my descent I skyped mom and dad and nearly put my mother into cardiac arrest when I told her my plans for the afternoon.

12:30 rolled around and it was time for me to get in the van that would take me to the skydive drop zone! I couldn’t let the adventure capital of the world pass me by without dabbling in some extreme activities. So the adrenalin junkie inside me signed up to jump out of a plane from 12,000 ft.

It was about a 20 minute drive to the drop zone, where you are taken through a very methodical prep process. It’s quite the operation really–they jump over 200 people a day on a good day–and a gold mine at that. First you got your dive suit, the closest I will ever look to an astronaut. Second you got harnessed up and got a quick briefing on everything you need to know to jump (not much). Then you met your instructor and your photographer who interviewed you pre-departure. Before I knew it, I was walking to the plane that I would eventually jump from. It was about a 10 minute ascent in a small plane with about 12 other people. The views on the flight up were nothing short of spectacular.

I was seated near the door of the plan so I knew I would be one of the first to jump. We reached 12,000 ft and one tandem headed off the jumps and my instructor and I were up. It all happens very quickly without much time to get too nervous or even think about backing out. It’s was kind of just “alright, we’re up”, you inch towards the edge of the plane, hang your legs over the side and wait for your instructor to take the leap of faith. 45 seconds of exhilarating free fall with literally the most amazing views you could ever get. By the time 45 secs rolls around you’re like “so how bout that parachute” as you near the ground, and right on cue, you’re jerked upwards for a moment of calm before continuing your descent. The ride to the ground from that point is pretty damn relaxing relatively speaking and also filled with relief. Before long, I was back on the ground and ready to go again if only my bank account would permit.

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Overall, unreallllll. Couldn’t be happier I crossed this off my bucket list in such a beautiful place. Oh and if you’re wondering how they got such great pics, there was a photographer assigned specifically to me that actually jumps beside you with a go pro on his head for video as well as a fancy canon for pictures.

I didn’t want to eat before my jump so by the time I got back to town I was pretty hungry. I decided to hit up the infamous Ferg Burger for a massive and delicious juicy burger. This place and it’s sister bakery have lines almost all the time and are open 6am to 4:30am–that’s right they close for only 1.5 hrs to clean every day!

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After I went for a little walk around town, sat on the beach for a while, and then walked through the Queenstown gardens.

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Being the crazy person that I am, I decided the weather was so nice now that I couldn’t pass up a chance to take in the views from Queenstown Hill with clear skies. So back up I went.

The views really were worth the immobility and absolute exhaustion!

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Day 42-43: Franz Josef

Yesterday was a loooong travel day. I departed Nelson at 7:20AM and arrived in Franz Josef at 5:00PM. We made a few stops along the way, one at the infamous Pancake Rocks pictured below. The layered appearance of the rocks is still one of the many mysteries of the natural world. The drive was quite beautiful the whole way; the whole west coast looks like the scenery from the opening scenes of the 2005 King Kong movie (I think that may actually have been where it was shot but must verify on imdb).

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Franz Josef is a very small tourist town famous for the local Franz Josef glacier.

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After a quick walk around town I went for a run on the Connery Gorge walking trail. New Zealand’s parks department is really on top of their game–every place we have been has tons of great trails that are scenic, well-marked, and very well kept! Trail running is so far superior to road running because you have to focus on where you’re stepping and briefly forget how much running sucks.

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Since 2008, the Franz Josef glacier has been receding dramatically due in large part to the 1.5 degree temperature increase attributed to global warming. The only way the general public/tourists can access the glacier is by helicopter which runs you upwards of $300/person. I’ve been there done that in Alberta and also am trying to escape winter not be reminded of it so I opted to take a shuttle to the bottom of the glacier and go on a number of different walks.

The first track was called Peter’s pool where you could take in beautiful views of the glaciers reflection in the water.

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The second trail takes you out onto the riverbed where the glacier extended to at one point hundreds of years ago. At the end of the trail is a lookout to the glacier (150m away) and there is a sign that says the glacier extended to where you are standing only 3 years ago in 2010!

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The characteristic that sets Fran Josef apart from other glaciers is the fact that it comes down into a temperate rainforest–I walked across the river bed in a tank top and shorts. This is supposedly true of only three glaciers in the world, Franz Josef, Fox (nearby), and one in Argentina. It is actually quite strange and cool to see mountains amidst tropical foliage.

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On my out of the park I completed a survey for a research assistant from a local university. The survey asked questions about my experience at the glacier, if I would have visited knowing it could only be accessed by helicopter, if I believe humans have played a large role in global climate change, and what my expectations for the glacier are in the future. So it is pretty clear that New Zealanders are getting worried about the future of their beautiful natural environment and how that will affect the tourism industry. My shuttle driver told me that I was lucky because fog had delayed all helicopter rides while I was hiking but usually they go by as often as every three minutes and have become a common complaint of visiting tourists since 2010 when you could no longer access the glacier by foot.

The drive to Queenstown was long but beautiful. Our driver and his friend had a youttube channel about tourism in Queenstown so made a couple of really nice photo op pit stops.

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Finally got to Queenstown and had time for a quick walk around the town. The village is very cute–kinda like an interwest village but more authentic. The surrounding hills are filled with $1M++ beautiful homes.

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Had a little chuckle when I saw this–a bar charging $20 cover for their “arctic bar” held at -5 degrees, complete with heavy parka rental upon entry. They don’t even know the half of it.

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Day 41: Picton–>Nelson

In an effort to save on my two most precious resources, time and money, I took the red eye ferry from Wellington to Picton (first stop on the South Island). I got into Picton early in the morning and had a few hours to kill before my bus came so I went for a stroll around the town and then on a one hour walk out to a spot called Bob’s Bay.

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Picton is part of the area called the Malborough Sounds. The scenery out on the water here is gorgeous.

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I arrived at my hostel in Nelson around 4:30 and spent the evening exploring the town and it’s surroundings. Below is the Queen’s Gardens, a beautiful park on the outskirts of the quaint little town.

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I finished the night off with a hike to what is regarded as “the centre of New Zealand” by most land surveyors. The monument sits at the top of a hill from which the views of Nelson and the area are unrealllll.

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Early start tomorrow and off to Franz Josef.

Day 39-40: Wonderful Wellington

We started off our second day in Wellington by heading to the famous Weta Cave by public bus. The Weta Cave is a small museum of the work done by the Weta Workshop–the company responsible for all the props, costumes, and special effects makeup for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the Hobbit, and a number of other acclaimed films. The workshop is named after the native New Zealand insect the Weta, which translates to ugly little monster because when the company got it’s start it was involved mostly with horror films…making ugly little monsters.

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The trolls and Gollum are an example of something the workshop would create for the reference of their counterparts at Weta Digital–responsible for all digital special effects of the LOTR trilogy.

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The Cave displays a number of props and costumes from Weta’s various projects, with LOTR as the focus. There is also a great video they shot especially for visitors to the Weta Cave that talks about the history of the company. It explains how the company was founded by a core group of four or five New Zealanders, one being Peter Jackson who would go on to land the Director role of LOTR and, in turn, land Weta Workshop and Digital the role of digital effects, props, and costumes. It’s pretty crazy they were able to undertake this project given they were a fairly young company (under 10 yrs) and it sounded like they learnt a lot as they went. The companies have won many awards, including a number of Oscars for their work.

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We also went on the Caves “Window into the Workshop” tour. In this one hour guided tour we had a girl that works in the workshop take us through a room packed full of props they’ve worked on over the years and stopped to explain a number of the processes. The tour was super interesting and informative but also changed the way I will watch movies.

Our guide took us through the design process of any given prop–she said any given gun or sword could require up to 500 preliminary sketches before the prototyping phase even begins. She explained how costumes like intricate armour suits from LOTR are rarely from what they appear to be. Most of the suits from LOTR specifically had two versions–one primarily metal (70kgs) and one primarily rubber and other synthetics. She said that the actors only wear the real metal suits about 20% of the time for close-ups. Similarly most swords and weaponry are made from rubber. We saw props from movies like King Kong, Avatar, LOTR, Narnia, and more.

We also learned about their chain mail making process–requiring individually linking of each and every link. Another interesting thing was the sets they create called miniature or bigatures. These are models of say castles that are used to capture the shots they need for the film. The mini models are only around 5×5 ft while the big models can be up to 7m tall. Either way, no where near as big as they appear in the movies. We also saw the prosthetics they made for the elves in LOTR and the section of the workshop dedicated to making private artwork.

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We spent the rest of the day wandering the lovely shops of Wellington. There are tons and tons of cute independent boutiques; I especially loved all the home decor stores–sooo up my alley.

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Started off my last day in Wellingon with a picturesque run along the water all the way to Oriental Bay. Not bad for an inner city beach!

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It wasn’t til we got to NZ that we realized we were literally JUST missing Wellington 7s, poor planning on our part. Luckily we got the next best thing and were able to catch the opening parade today. We immediately scoped out the Canadian float pre-parade and said hi, managed to dig up my Rugby Canada jacket and everything!

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All 16 teams had floats in the parade and each float was preceded by some nationally themed act.

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For example, the Scottish had bagpipes, Samoans had tribal dancers, pretty sure Canada picked up random Canadian vacationers in Canada clothes and paraphernalia.

But leave it to the Americans to fly in the goddamn army to lead them in. They also had some cheerleaders following the army.

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The parade culminated at Civic Square where each team was formally welcomed and the captains said a few words. We managed to get a pic with a few of NZ’s very own infamous All Blacks and reigning world champs–beyond cool.

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Elai and I ended our time together with a nommy din din at a Cajun restaurant. After dinner we went to a cool local bar called the Library. It’s literally like a Library, books everywhere and you sit on cool vintage couches.

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Guest Post from Detourtoaussie: Attempt at 40 Days in a Nutshell

Day 40 already, are we? For all you troopers who have stuck it out with us to this point, you already know all the good, bad and ugly (mostly good) we’ve gone through up til now. From the beaches, elephants and curry in Thailand, to the rice paddies, monkeys and Infinity Pool in Bali, and finally the hitchhiking, museums and waterfalls in New Zealand, these six weeks cannot simply be summed up in any sort of list or collage. Day by day, we go back to our hotel or hostel feeling like we did so many things in twelve hours and yet I sit here on Day 40 wondering how Boxing day literally feels like yesterday. Without a doubt, there are so many photos and memories that didn’t even make it to the blog-o-sphere — That’s the beauty and the reason why I love traveling. It provides a highly personal opportunity for robust experiences by introducing chaos, learning and interesting people into the comfort of everyday life.

If I had any expectations coming into this trip, these six weeks have far surpassed them. I couldn’t have asked for a better person with which to take this pre-exchange trip. Not everyone would be willing to follow the smell of butter and cheese down the street to the exact bakery producing it. Very few would throw down in a workout in a public park — Jumping up and down stairs, swinging on play structures and doing cartwheels on a soccer field. Almost no one would try to get on a flight to New Zealand with a dodgy phone picture of a computer screen. Thus far, only Barber has proven to be more than happy to do all of the above. Luckily, both our blogs, Emily Gets Wanderlost and Detour to Aussie (detourtoaussie.tumblr.com) will be valuable tools for us to relive the highlights of this trip.

Barber — Thank you for being so handy with maps and directions, appreciating beaches and loving delicious food as much as I do. Most of all, I’m thankful that we have become such great friends over the last three years and even more so because of this trip. Here’s to hoping for even bigger and better things waiting for us in Aussie. Onwards and upwards, my friend!

In the wise words of Dr. Seuss from ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’, please be careful on any stairs, cobble stone roads or probably just flat ground you may encounter in the South Island.

“You’ll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!”

-ELai

Day 38: Wandering Wellington

Proceed with caution, this post is lengthier than most, Wellington had so much room for activities today! It really is the “cutest little capital”.

Elai and I got up and went for a jog around the city this morn. I’ve come to appreciate running as a great method of exploration in new places. Wellington is a pretty small and concentrated city with a population of only 200,000 in the downtown and 400,000 when the greater area is included. Needless to say it’s pretty easy to cover but there is so much to see.

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We kicked off the day at the famous Te Papa museum. This place is massive, 6 floors high, with exhibits on everything from giant squid, Maori culture, to fashion. Speaking of which, my favourite exhibit was hands down the limited time WOW installation (World of Wearable Art). WOW is a contest for designers all over the world to push the limits of fashion. Winning applicants will have their work displayed in the annual WOW theatrical production in Wellington. Most of these designs are something Lady Gaga would die to wear.

Dress made entirely of seashells.

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Piece from the Bizarre Bras section of the show.

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This laser-cut dress was inspired by the famous ink-blot test of the 20s used in psych to determine personality traits.

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Okay I couldn’t help document this. The NZ McDonald’s Gods literally had me in mind when they cooked up this menu item: deep fried macaroni bites. That’s right, heaven hidden in a McNugget box. I saw these advertised at the beginning of the trip and put off buying them until later only to realize they were being pulled from every location as they ran out. So basically I’m pretty sure this is the only franchise with these bites left and I couldn’t risk missing out #FOMO.

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After this we headed up Wellington’s historic cable car to the Botanical Gardens. Great view from the top and gorgeous gardens, especially lovely rose garden!

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Before heading to dinner we went for a wander by the NZ parliament buildings. Wellington is the capital of NZ despite most people assuming it is Auckland.

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We popped into the National Library on a whim to look around and wandered into the coolest exhibition on New Zealand innovation. The exhibit displayed past national inventions and highlighted some very cool up and coming people and companies that are doing some super cool innovative work.

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Last but certainly not least we wandered into the New Zealand Rugby Union office! The reception area was filled with All Blacks memorabilia and their prized trophy case–too cool. We also got the low down on where to stand for the Wellington 7s Parade–the opening ceremony so to speak for the HSBC 7s tourney taking place this weekend in Wellington.

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Finished the night with dinner, gelato, and a walk around the waterfront. Wellington won me over pretty quickly.

Day 37: Tongariro–>Wellington

We had originally planned to complete the Tongariro Crossing–a 6-8 hour trek between the mountains in the National Park–but the bus schedule forced us to cut our stay one day short. The Tongariro National Park is
New Zealand’s only World Heritage Site (other sites include Canada’s Lake Louise, shameless Canada plug). As a substitute we decided to do one of the areas many hikes before getting on our afternoon bus to Wellington.

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We settled on a two hour loop hike from Whakapapa to Taranaki Falls. It was a really awesome trail and we even got lucky enough to have a rainbow at the falls!

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Really beautiful area all in all, I will definitely we back one day to do the crossing!

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