With the end of the first session for my program coming to a close and all the exams finished up, 3 friends and I got ready to jet off to Queenstown, New Zealand for 6 days. This trip had been highly anticipated because since everything is so far from Australia, the only opportunity we have to travel outside of the country is during our spring break. It honestly still throws me off that it is spring break in October, but I am slowly getting used to the flipped seasons. Anyway, this trip was unlike any other I have taken in my life. I now have a newfound respect for all the planning that my parents do for our family vacations because planning a week in a new country is no small task. We decided to embrace the student lifestyle and booked ourselves to stay at 2 hostels for the week. The two hostels were very different from each other but were both filled with dozens of student travelers on a budget from everywhere in the world. I think our decision to embrace the hostel life was really key because often nowadays a lot of abroad students immediately turn to Airbnb first when looking for accommodation and forget the age-old tradition of rolling the dice and booking beds in hostel rooms with strangers. Through staying in hostels, we found out how international Queenstown truly is as many of the people we met were on work-study in Queenstown which meant the majority of hospitality workers in Queenstown were foreign and staying for only a month or so. When you walk through Queenstown, which is a relatively average-sized town, you can hear five different languages spoken within 100ft walking down the street. Also, since the town center is only about four streets in total you run into the same people over and over which allowed us to feel more at home in Queenstown in six days than we have in Sydney in 2 months.
While in Queenstown we got up to a variety of things including a day trip to the beautiful Milford Sound. We attempted to head out here on a bus tour on Tuesday but got turned around halfway through because an avalanche has closed the road! Fortunately, we made it out there two days later after 4 hours on a coach bus on the most twisty-turny roads you have ever seen. This drive really emphasized how beautiful but remote New Zealand is. Outside of Queenstown, there really was not much at all and like Australia, the majority of the population lives from city to city. We also hiked up Queenstown hill which was an exhausting 2 hours up but was 100% worth it for the view.
We also did do some thrill-seeking in the adrenaline capital of the world. We went extreme jet boating in the pouring rain which led to some hilarious pictures as we were thrown around a boat in a full raincoat and bright orange goggles! We also were fortunate enough that the weather cleared up enough that we got to skydive on the morning of our last day! This was one of the craziest but amazing experiences of my entire life and I am so glad that my friend Olivia pushed me to sign up for it. The anticipation was incredibly nerve-wracking but once you take the leap and fall out of the plane there is nothing like it. Interestingly, once I was out of the plane I was not scared at all because by that point you are kind of just in it!
One interesting thing that I noticed while in Queenstown was the tension the locals had with Australia. While in Sydney, I had not really noticed the rivalry but when on the tour bus out to the Milford sound the guide accidentally said that a New Zealand actor was from Australia and he immediately apologized saying that he couldn’t believe he had made such a catastrophic mistake. Although the two countries rival I did not find them extremely different. However, I will say while in Queenstown I was wearing at least 5 layers at all times as the mountain tops were still covered in snow. However, outside of just the obvious geographical and climate differences, I did not find the lifestyles very different. Both countries have a heavy emphasis on getting outdoors and moving at a slower pace. No one was in a rush to get anywhere and when the sun came out everyone was embracing it. I personally couldn’t even tell the difference between a New Zealand accent and an Australian accent. However, the one big difference I found laid in the size. New Zealand is obviously much smaller, and Queenstown is one of the major tourist destinations and it is not even a city. Going from Sydney which is a major city with a lot of daily hustle and bustle, Queenstown represented the polar opposite to that. I never once saw anyone in a suit going to work or rushing around with a Starbucks coffee in hand. Almost everyone was wearing sneakers or even hiking shoes and was wandering to their destination instead of moving with a purpose.
When it came to the end of the week, we were very sad to leave Queenstown but also ecstatic to get back to Sydney. Even though we have only lived in Sydney for a short 2 months, it already feels like home and the lifestyle (and weather) have been extremely captivating and although Queenstown was so beautiful and spectacular, nothing can replace the pull of Sydney.