I have now been in NZ for almost 3 months and the winter season in Queenstown is well underway, so I thought I’d give a little update about what I’ve been doing. I posted my last blog on the 4th of June, with the mountains still a few weeks away from opening. There was hope that the lifts would start spinning early due to some good snowfall, but sadly temperatures rose and this all melted. Meaning the mountains actually opened a little later than planned at the end of June. It has therefore been about 4 weeks since I took my first steps up a ski mountain. Before we get onto that though there are a few things to cover before the season.
With the snow a bit delayed and a few of my friends here now having time off between their last job and starting for the ski fields we went on a little road trip to Dunedin. Dunedin is about 3.5 hours drive east of Queenstown on the coast. It’s known for its Scottish and Maori heritage, Victorian and Edwardian architecture, and a large student population. Sadly the weather wasn’t looking too amazing but we made the best of it regardless. We arrived late at our hostel and headed to sleep with the hope of catching sunrise the following day at Saint Clair Beach. When we woke the weather couldn’t have been much worse. It with thick fog limiting visibility to only a few 100 meters, but it didn’t deter us. After a stroll along the seafront where we stumbled across a lone sleeping sea lion, we moved onto Tunnel Beach. As the name suggests the beach is only accessible via a hand-carved tunnel that leads down from the headland to the beach itself. While it was a cool little spot it was hardly beach weather so having enjoyed the spectacle we moved on once more.
This time we headed to Sandfly Bay. Again it would have been glorious on a lovely summers day, but cold and wet in June wasn’t ideal conditions. Although a little gloomy it was still an impressive place to visit and this time instead of just 1 sea lion encounter there were at least 10+ dotted across the beach with more arriving out the sea as we wandered the beach. They would waddle out the sea and then just collapse in the sand exhausted from their ocean voyage. We completed all of this before midday so then decided to head to the Otago Museum where we enjoyed the planetarium show before exploring the rest of the exhibits.
The next day was a slow starter and I don’t think we really got going until around midday this time. The first stop was Baldwin Street supposedly the worlds steepest street, with a 35% gradient. Although the pictures don’t do it justice I can assure you it’s pretty bloody steep. Trust me when I say you wouldn’t want to live at the top, leave your house then remember you’ve forgotten your wallet at the bottom and have to trudge all the way back to go get it. After Baldwin street, we drove out to Harington Point which sits at the end of the Otago Peninsula. The site is home to the Royal Albatros centre as well as a beach colonised by blue penguins. Sadly we saw neither, just lots of seagulls, but the drive and serenity of the place were still good to experience. That evening we also tried to sample Dunedin nightlife but unfortunately, the famous student scene wasn’t too lively on a Wednesday night. Plus it was slap bang in exam season dampening the mood further. We still enjoyed a few pints at a few bars located around the Octagon, the central hub of Dunedin, where there is lots of Scottish architecture.
After 3 nights and two days, we then departed Dunedin, and made the trip back to Queenstown, this time taking a different route home detouring to Moeraki Boulder Beach, which as the name suggest is a beach with some boulders on it. Although it doesn’t sound much it was a cool little spot and the spherical boulders which have the appearance of being man-made are completely natural, which makes them more impressive. I also took my first dip in NZ waters off the beach with Elgan. It was bloody freezing and will be some time before I’m back in the ocean I imagine. That concludes the little trip to Dunedin with Laila, Elgan and Cian. I aim to do a few more expeditions around Queenstown before the end of winter to tick a few things off before I leave and head north to travel the rest of the country.
Back to life in Queenstown and it really is a magical place to live. It’s just like a little bubble of action, adventure, extreme sports & drinking haha. There are sooo many bars and while everything else in Queenstown might be expensive alcohol is probably the cheapest here in the whole country. There is always something going on, be that a pub quiz, pool competition, comedy nights or just a good old fashion piss up in a bar. You can always find something to do and people to do it with. And that’s just the stuff in town. The scenery of the place is breathtaking and it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever lived. It’s not a big place and has almost a small-town vibe. I’ve also been lucky enough to make lots of great new friends who are also here for the winter so you are constantly running into people, it’s like being back on a university campus. Look up from most streets and you’ll be reminded that you are also surrounded by the most stunning mountains, lakes and wilderness. It’s not hard to see why it had such global reach and appeal before the pandemic. Even now with borders shut to all but Australia*, it seems half of Aus is currently over here as well as any renaming backpackers in NZ giving it some buzz at the moment. I would love a car to be able to explore things a little further afield but at the same time, I’m also spending much of my free time up the mountains now. There have been a few little festivals in town, one being the Welcome to Winter festival in early July where there were fireworks, bands and a Christmas market type thing popped up. Plus the annual Luma Festival in Queenstown Botanical Gardens. Which was a festival of artistic light installations dotted throughout the gardens. Again with different performers and a mini-festival / DJ deep in the forest of the gardens. On the whole, I’ve settled into life in Queenstown really well and am so happy to be here and although it’s winter the weather isn’t too bad and most of the time sunny and crips with temperatures similar if not better than an English winter. On the whole, it’s a great town with an awesome atmosphere and stunning natural beauty. I’ve met great people already and am having an amazing time learning a new skill in Snowboarding.
And with that, we shall come onto the snowboarding. My ski pass for the season gives me access to 3 mountains, two of which are here in Queenstown (QT), Coronet Peak & The Remarkables, with the 3rd being Mt Hutt which is about an hour outside of Christchurch and 5 hours north of QT, we hope to take a trip there at some point during the winter. On the 24th of June, the Remarks opened up although there was barely enough snow. For me, it didn’t matter as I just needed the baby slopes which are accessed by the magic carpets. So I headed up the mountain with all the gear and absolutely no idea what I was to be doing. Well, I tell a lie I had some idea as I had been watching numerous Youtube videos telling me what I should practise and work on during my first few times on the slopes. But other than that I was still pretty clueless. I did intend on having a lesson from the get go, but my friend told me it would be a waste to have one so early and much of what they would go over you could learn for yourself. Then once you have the basics down get a lesson so they can tweak things and you’ll benefit from it much more. It was sound advice.
The first day I just got accustomed to being on a snowboard, practised skating around with one foot strapped in and the other free and then worked on coming down the mountain on just my heel edge. All in all, I was pretty happy with how I went on my first day and I didn’t have too many bumps or bruises. I was back up there the next day and this time working on my toe side. Essentially with snowboarding, you have the two sides of the board, that being the heel and toe side, you have to be comfortable and confident on both and then you just transition from your heels to your toes as you slalom your way down the mountain. After the first day, I felt pretty confident on the heels but needed to work on the toe side. So dedicated day two to this. By the afternoon I felt confident enough to try my first actual run and chair lift. Getting off the chairlift was actually one of the scariest parts as you only have one foot bound into the snowboard and have to skate off gracefully before strapping your other foot in and heading down the run. There have been many times I have done it far from gracefully. I managed to come down the green run okay and the final run of the day was my best making it all the way without falling over. I then had a few days off before going back the next Monday. This time there had been lots of snow and the conditions were a little different, the visibility was also very bad and I had a bit of a horrid morning. On my first run, I fell over right in front of one of the snow guns and got blasted meaning my googles froze over and I couldn’t see for the rest of the run which was terrifying. I braved a few more runs which were equally terrifying before stopping for lunch. After coming back from lunch the underside of my board had broken so I had to call it a day and head back down the mountain. Thankfully the place I brought my board from replaced it free of charge. By this point, the other mountain had now opened and I went here for a day, their green beginner run was really nice so I spent the day coming down this and was now happily linking my turns. I also tried a little blue run which was scary but I made it down.
After just 4 days of boarding and learning on my own, I felt I had done really well and had come down my first blue runs. However, I felt I was at the point where I needed some actual guidance from an instructor to really kick on. Therefore the next day I had myself booked in for a group lesson. There are about 5 different ability levels for the group lessons and after speaking with the instructors they place you in the group they feel fits you best. Amazingly for me, it was determined that although there were people better and worse than me, there was no one on my level so instead of having a group lesson I now had a 1 on 1 private lesson. My instructor, who was amazing at what she did, modified a few things on my board to change my stance and then just went over all the techniques I needed to know. It really cemented what I should be doing and how I should be doing it. The lesson was a big success and it was now over to me to keep on practising and getting more and more comfortable on the board, going at higher speeds and taking on harder and harder runs. I have now had a total of 12 days up the mountains, covering over 22km on the board and doing 120 runs (although 34 of these were from the magic carpets on the first 2 days). I now feel confident and comfortable on the board and am happy coming down the blue runs. I’m getting more confident going faster and faster and have even done a few jumps too. Overall it’s been so fun and I’ve loved learning something new and challenging myself again! It’s also beautiful being up the mountains and the rush of coming down the slope is first class. I’m about ready to tackle my first red and then black runs as well as getting more comfortable doing bigger jumps and starting to learn some tricks. Anyone who follows my Everitts Adventures Instagram account will have seen the updates and I shall be sure to keep posting on there. My aim by the end of the season is to be more than confident coming down the black runs and also have a fair few tricks in my locker, the key one being a 360. Although if we nail that I’ll see if we can get that backflip going although it might be a bit ambitious haha. I think by European standards or other ski resorts NZ doesn’t come close but I’ve never experienced anything different. I’m hoping starting at the bottom will mean in the future I can explore even better places to board and hopefully learning somewhere a little bit more tricky will mean when I hit up other places it will be all that easier. Canada 2022 could be on the cards at this point but we shall see haha.
To end this blog I also wanted to reflect on the fact that on the 24th of July 2021 I left home exactly 1000 days ago. Little did I know that when I stepped out my front door to head to Gatwick airport on the 28th of October 2018 that I still wouldn’t have been home since. When I departed the plan was always to travel Asia for 6 months then head to Australia for the year, meaning I knew I would be gone well over a year probably around 2. But I certainly would have thought I’d have made it back for a visit by now. Without covid, I would have likely visited the Christmas just passed. But the way things went with a global pandemic, staying this side of the world seemed my best option. And luckily, it proved the right one. In the years to come, people will ask how did covid impact you? My response will be it may have been one of the best things that could have crazily happened to me. It meant I lived in Aus for another year, fell in love with that country, done well for myself professionally, saved lots of money, lived a normal life while 90% of the world didn’t. And then I got to continue my plans a year later by flying to NZ after all. Where I was then able to experience the country and a ski season while no one else was allowed and hopefully come home with covid nearly all but a distant memory and barely feeling its impact personally. Even as I was writing this blog the travel bubble which allowed me to travel from Aus to NZ shut for 8 weeks due to outbreaks in Syndey and Melbourne with both back in lockdown. Meaning I made it over at the perfect time plus now have the ski slopes practically to myself for the rest of the season. And while yes it means I haven’t been home for longer than I would have liked, I feel so privileged to say that I’ve had the best time while all this has been going on. I don’t mean to come across as arrogant when I say that, I know this has been an incredibly tough time for millions probably billions of people, people have lost lives and loved ones and I have every sympathy in the world for those that have had a horrid time these past 18 months. But for me, that just hasn’t been the case. That isn’t to belittle anyone else, I feel so privileged and have so much gratitude when making that statement. But equally, you get out of life what you put in. It was a bit of a risk staying so far from home when this was all starting, who knows how it could have turned out. I got promoted and done well at work because I worked hard and done a good job. I risked coming to NZ solo and with no working rights, knowing hardly anyone in the country and it’s paid off. I’ve taken risks and thankfully been rewarded as a result. But I also know there has been lots of good fortune, mostly out of my control which I’m grateful for too.
I plan to come home a week or two before Christmas meaning by this point I will have been gone over 3 years. And although I am absolutely loving my time in NZ and will continue to do so until I come home. Now that I have a fixed return date, for the first time since I left, I am very much looking forward to coming back and seeing everyone. 3 years is a hell of a long time to not have hugged my mum and dad or told them I love them in person. To not have kissed my grandparents and made precious memories with them, I even missed my grandad’s 90th birthday a few days ago. To not have played with my cousin’s children who by now are all grown up and hopefully still remember who I am. I’ve missed numerous birthdays, Christmases, weddings, family events and gatherings. I’ve had friends buy houses, get engaged and have children of their own who I’ve never met. I’ve missed a lot the past 3 years which I will never get back and that’s really shit. However, I feel I’ve gained so much more than I’ve missed. And while it is sad to think of all the things I did miss, all the amazing times and things I’ve experienced over that same period outweighs all of that 1000 times over. In those 1000 days, I’ve explored 10 countries and lived in 2. I travelled with 3 of my best friends and made countless more friendships for life. I’ve made memories, lived experiences and felt emotions that will stay with me until I die and which, have quite literally, challenged, molded and developed me into a better person today because of it. To put it bluntly, I’ve had the best fucking 1000 days and I wouldn’t change a second of it. That is exactly why I love this and have been so happy doing it for so long. If it didn’t outweigh the things missed at home why ever would I continue to keep doing it? And although I’m so excited for all the reunions that are to come at home, I’d be more than happy to head off for another 1000 days straight after to experience it all over again. To where I’m not entirely sure right now, it depends on the state of the world. But I’m certainly not ready to stop exploring just yet. I know that time will come, I guess I shall just instinctively know I’m done and just want to settle. But until that moment arrives, I would be doing myself a disservice by not continuing to experience and live this wonderful thing called life as much as I can.
P.s. mum I promise it won’t be 1000 days again and I’ll be sure to visit more frequently as I do continue to globe-trot.