Kia Ora: Arriving in New Zealand

In Short:

I’m alive.
I’m in Christchurch, NZ, have made friends and seen parts of the city and moved into my flat on campus.

In Long:


I stepped off the 14-hour plane night with probably about 3 hours of intermittent sleep. Air New Zealand provided the best service I have ever received on a plane, which is no surprise from an airline that shows their safety video with the actors and director of LOTR, among other Kiwi stars. Yeah, that video that went viral in Canada? They actually use it.
They won Best Airline of the Year for 2015. I had a vegetarian-lactose free meal, and it was hella delicious, all fruits, veggies and legumes. I even had a gin and tonic as I watched a couple movies. I sat next to twin 21 year old Kiwis that were returning from a Whistler snowboarding trip. They educated me on how to pronounce the name of the region I live in, and I made fun of them for pronouncing ‘bear’ and ‘beer’ the same way.

I got off the plane going mental at the fact I was in Auckland, NZ and also because I hadn’t slept enough. My hands were shaking, not even from nervousness, and I could feel my body swaying like a fir tree in a clear-cut forest when I stood still. The line up for biosecurity and wait time to get my luggage was far too long. I had to declare my outdoor gear, so the guard asked me about my wetsuit and looked at the bottom of the hiking boots, probably to see if there’s mud that may carry potentially invasive species’ seeds.
Small-story-short, I missed my flight connecting to Christchurch. I didn’t realize I had to walk 15 mins to another terminal for domestic flights by following a green line painted on sidewalks and roads, and by then, all the airline members at the help desk had heard my name called multiple times over the PA and the plane left without me.
Zombie Sarah felt tired tears coming on but I stopped myself when I realized how amazing it was that I got to miss a flight in a country that speaks English. There are worse things in life, and the sunrise was looking pretty good Down Under.
I got my new boarding pass for a flight 5 hours away, which is a long time I’m guessing by the way she sympathetically called me ‘honey’ and explained that it’s because of the ICC Cricket World Cup going on.

I found a pay phone and somehow got in contact with the friend coming to get me in Chch. You only get 30 mins of free wi-fi in Auckland airport, which is a real bummer when you don’t have a phone – it all worked out anyway.
I went to grab a coffee and listened to the lady in front of me. She ordered a ‘trim’ chai tea. I decided to test out if I’d heard right and ordered a trim flat-white. ‘Trim’ is the skinny word in Kiwiland. I already learned something new.

I’m now sitting against a window at Gate 31, listening to French music in my earbuds and Kiwi accents over the PA. I can feel the heat of the North Island sunshine coming through the thick paned windows. It won’t be this hot in Christchurch.
The difference between here and the last airport I spent time in, is that the people on the PA keep announcing all these bags and random phones that have been left behind in various waiting places. In Israel, you would quickly bring that to the IDF’s attention and there would be a lockdown.
I feel safe already.

I’ve already talked to multiple Kiwis and have not understood a thing they’ve said to me. There’s a two second delay where my brain does the math to figure out that no, she is not saying “shit” she is saying “shirt.” It makes for good times.

Without wi-fi I’ve been reading a book about an American Aboriginal’s life and I feel a bit tortured as I see the torquoise blue Pacific and some cool looking trees 100ft from the huge landing strip out the window. I’m itching to feel the NZ summer sunshine on my pale Canadian skin, especially because the climate is different here than on the South Island.
Auckland even smells like tropical. It’s a bit sticky with humidity and smells like dust and recently cut hay on nearby farms.When I walked to the terminal I’m in now, I noticed the air smells very sweet with flowers.

I’ve noticed that there are faces from all around the world passing through this airport. It’s much like Vancouver in that sense, I mean who wouldn’t want to come to New Zealand. There was even Mandarin announced over the PA. You can also play spot-the-tourist, which is funny because that’s what I am. Although, I feel like I fit in quite well until I open my mouth and my accent betrays me. I’ll be boarding my flight soon-ish and I’ll be on the South Island and touring around Governor’s Bay with the family I’m staying with for a couple of days. They’re the parents of my old best friend in elementary school and they’ve moved to Chch and have made a beautiful life for themselves.

Weekend 1:

People really do say ‘g’day’ here. I tried saying it but it’s not the same.
New Zealanders definitely sound different than Aussies. Australians speak with more of a flow and a twang, and Kiwis  speak more abruptly and their vowels are a lot more committed. Like the word ‘bed’ would be ‘beed.’

I have had the best time ever living in Governor’s Bay with the Kloss family. They picked me up from the airport even after my flight was 5 hours late. On top of that I told them the wrong time and they had to wait an hour in the airport..
After all that they still let me sit in the passenger seat so I could experience driving on the opposite side of the road.
Let me tell you, it’s freaky, even when you have slept normally. At some point I sat in the back and whoever it is that is sitting on the left side of the car would look back and talk to me and I would be freaking out because they were supposed to be driving and not talking!

I don’t have enough hands to count how many times I had to say out loud ‘wow I’m in New Zealand right now.” I still say it, and don’t want it to change.

The Kloss’ took me on a tour all over the city, understanding what it’s like to have fresh eyes in NZ and what the differences are compared to Canada.
They knew I wanted to surf while I’m here so they took me to both surf spots in Sumner. It’s accessible by bus, so I’m hoping I get out there sometimes. The swell was beautifully drawn out with a period of about 10 seconds and the waves were big enough for a short board, I’d say.
[insert shaka emoticon here ;)]
One of the daughters plays hockey, so on my first night of being in NZ as a Canadian, I went to a game of puck.. wow.
They didn’t heat it like we do, so we could see our breaths watching the game.

Today we hiked in the bush (not called a forest) and picked blackberries for snackin, just like we would in BC. There are some crazy similarities here and it makes me so happy. The weirdest thing is that all the more tropical species of plants are the exact same as what I saw in Israel. Strange. They even have the invasive species Scotch Broom, like us.

Cool things and observations:
– I saw some sheep! I thought it was exciting! Nobody else did. Some people just have them in their back yards
– There’s no such thing as ‘store’ they say shops. And grocery stores = supermarkets
-Gas was 1.88 a litre here…
-They measure with km/h and kg, not lbs.
-The earthquake is still a recent thing. One of the things I’ve heard most is this sentence: “It’s brand new because the old one was destroyed in the earthquake.”
– In Canada = hockey and field hockey.
In New Zealand = ice hockey and hockey.
– The power outlets generate 240V, which is sometimes over 100V more than Canada’s do, so you can easily blow your appliances and set fires if you don’t read the fine details first

Moving in:

I’ve have now moved into my flat in the suburb called Ilam. I live on the fourth floor, with 4 other people – 2 guys, 2 girls.
I live with 2 kiwis, one American and the other girl that’s here from UBC – probably not a coincidence they put us together.
There are SO many Americans here. I’ve heard more American accents than Kiwi in the last couple of days, and I’m sure that won’t change living in a residence with mostly exchange students.
My room is huge and quite lovely.
I also have a family of pigeons as my roommates. Right outside my windowsill is a mama pigeon sitting on 2 eggs, and the dad comes along with food every now and then. Her name is Penelope and his is Peter.
My goal for the last 3 months was just to get here.
And now I’m actually here, and everyone is asking me what my plans are and I don’t actually have any! I feel free and a bit nervous about that, because 4 months really isn’t a lot of time to mess around with in a country full of paths and adventures.

Observations and accomplishments:
-I’m enjoying being alone, but not lonely in this country.
– I’m terrified of the sun, it burns fast and hard
– Southerlies are cold, mean winds
– Orion’s Belt is upside down
– There’s no such thing as brewed coffee, only espresso drinks
– I set up my NZ bank account
– Got my student card
– The rec centre is huge and free – even the climbing wall and fitness classes
– Bananas are imported from Peru and Ecuador
– Zucchinis are called courgettes and red peppers are called capsicums, like in other Commonwealth countries
– I forgot to re-pack my rain jacket and most pairs of shorts when I unpacked in Vancouver
– Cicadas are the noisiest insects I’ve ever encountered
– I only get 20GB of wifi a month in my room through ethernet
– I forgot how much I love cooking for myself

1) When I look out into nothingness off of the beaches of Christchurch, I no longer can say “the next thing out there is Japan.”
The next thing out there is actually Chile.
2) I am 3x closer to the South Pole right now, than I am to Vancouver. Pilots stop in Chch on their way to Antarctica.

This is my current, and quite relevant, jam:

Before I left for living on uni campus, I went for a hike up to the top of the cliffs in Governors Bay by myself. See photos below.
A few of the trails still said to watch out because of falling rocks due to earthquakes. Aftershocks are still taking place, even 5 years after the massive 2010 earthquake the changed this city forever. The other day there was a 3.5 but I didn’t feel it. Cantabrians are quite sensitive to the quakes now, so they can.
On my hike, a little bird followed me all the way up the trail! It would fly around me and next to me and would just be yelling at me. At first I thought I was near it’s nest or something, but then it followed me for a good 20 mins, and sometimes flew ahead of me, so I followed it. I already talk and sing to myself when I’m alone, but if anyone saw me on that mountain, it was a whole new level of crazy.
That bird and I became best friends. He decided not to come all the way back to Gov’s Bay because he had important stuff to do. I understood that commitment.
At one point I was taking pictures of him on a rock and he flew right between my legs onto another rock.

Beach Day:

Had a killer day on Sumner Beach yesterday. It was 27 degrees in Christchurch CBD, (what they call downtown; Central Business District) but it was much cooler at the beach with the breeze coming off the Pacific. My Canadian friend, Maya, and I cooled off the in the water, and it was actually so warm once you got in! We stayed in and hopped in the surf for a bit. When we told Kiwis we’d gone in, they told us most people wouldn’t even consider going in without a wetsuit, even now. Canadian Pride right here.
Then the 5 of us (2 Kiwis, 3 Canadians) went up the mountain to Godley Head Reserve and saw the water from above. Unbelievable. I’ll post pics below.


Another cool things about NZ is that you can walk around barefoot and people may judge you, but they will still serve you in restaurants and stores. I’ve been taking full advantage of this, and walked around the CBD barefoot when a couple of my Canadian girlfriends and I biked into town. Appropriately enough, I’m developing wicked hobbit feet and I’m proud of it.
I would like to mention we biked and shoulder checked in the opposite direction than we’ve been conditioned to do in North America, and we survived. You can tell when someone’s a foreigner on sidewalks and paths because of the side they walk on. I have definitely crashed into someone on stairs and accidentally forced a biker off the sidewalk for that very reason… The learning curve is steeper than expected. Anyhoo, we biked into town through Hagley Park and saw where the ICC Cricket World Cup is playing today. I just watched a youtube video in order to understand the game, and the games they play are 50 over. That means that the game actually can last an entire day, and there’s only 11 players on a team (plus a sub). So intense! I’ve also never watched a sport where I’ve seen for example, Afghanistan or Pakistan, being represented in a sports uniform. It’s really cool.

It’s interesting being on exchange because where you come from is your identity. If it wasn’t weird, I’d wear my Canadian flag around as a cape, because everyone assumes I’m American. There are a LOT of American exchangers here on programs through their unis, which makes it easy for me to get lumped into the U-S-of-A crowd – not that that’s bad, I just love my country very much.
I’ve also been loving meeting people from Cali, Oregon and Washington because of the automatic West Coast bond that follows suit. So much Cascadian pride coming from the West Coasters, and I’m definitely on board with it (I can talk about cedars and firs forever and they can too).
I’ve also realized that Canadians have accents, despite how neutral we feel on the spectrum of worldy accents.
I asked one guy “what are you guys talking about” and he looked at me and said “you’re from Canada aren’t you.”
Damn. That easy? I swear I don’t say a-boot, but they swear I do.

Got my metro card sussed out (so expensive, I miss the uPass!) , so my flatmate and I decided to go explore another beach called New Brighton Beach.
It’s got a pier and a lot of palm trees. It was kind of ghost town though, which is not surprising. Christchurch really is in the middle of recovering from huge infrastructural loss due to the earthquake of 2010. It happened almost 5 years ago, but it’s gonna take years to really recover from. Don’t get me wrong, there’s tons of life here, but there are a lot of areas that feel like a cemetery.
The most eerie thing for me was seeing the big cathedral in the CBD. All that’s left of the huge old church is a dark carcass filled with pigeons. In it’s day I imagine it was the pinnacle of the city, as it is in the centre of what is called Cathedral Square. People that come up to see it don’t talk, they just look at it solemnly and pensively, as if they’re paying their respects to a fallen hero. It’s the Ground Zero of Christchurch.
But out of the rubble, there’s so much art!
This city is FULL of street art of all kinds. I’ll attach pictures for you to see some of the murals and cultural and political statements people have made. This city is making an epic comeback and it’s really inspiring to see and be a part of.

Things I’m currently stoked on:
1) Bought a scheissty skateboard for $20 to get around better
2) Going for a tramp (hike) next Sunday with the Tramping Club
3) Made the best homemade sangria last night
4) The gym is so awesome here
5) I’m going to try drawing more often in the journal Ariel made me

I’m keen to start classes, even though it does feel like I’m on vacation. I’m signed up for a forestry class, a NZ population ecology class, a marine bio class with a field trip (hell ya!) and a sick Sport Coaching class (their Kinesiology) where I get to learn about NZ culture through sports. Apparently we get to see a Crusader’s Super Rugby match.. no complaints.

If you have time, watch this movie! (Karin and mum, that means you.)
The film is called Boy.
The director and writer, Taika Waititi, also plays as one of the main characters. It’s a beautiful drama about a Maori boy named Boy, and the relationship he has to his washed up father.

Four months is a long time to do a week-by-week blog.
Playing it by ear!

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