The move to New Zealand was easy enough. The people are extraordinarily friendly and my diet consisted of fish and chips, Asian food, and the muesli bars. The part of the experience that I didn’t see coming was my love-hate relationship with nature.

In order to immerse myself in the local culture, I took a course focused on the Māori (indigenous New Zealanders) relationship with the land and how it has evolved through colonization. I also attended the university’s activities fair to ensure I got to know some locals. I quickly learned that the students at the University of Canterbury were adrenaline junkies.

A Beginner’s Guide to White Water Kayaking

Group of students kayaking
At the activities fair, I made the bold decision to join UCCC, the white-water kayaking club. With this fun group of Kiwis, I would learn to appreciate all that life had to offer.

The first thing this welcoming group had to teach me was rolling. That means getting in a kayak, in a pool, and flipping over. Some people can apparently do this with ease. I could only do it with the assistance of the kayaker assigned to ensuring I wouldn’t drown.

The next thing was paddling. We went out to a lake and practiced moving in a straight line. While this sounds easy, it is harder than it looks.

The last thing you need to know is the “oh crap strap.” This is the tab that you pull on to exit the kayak. It is a last resort because you lose the kayak downstream and are exposed to the elements of the water.

Finally after weeks of practice, I made it to the semiannual girls trip. We road tripped an hour and a half away from campus to the Hurunui river with small rapids and no waterfalls. After setting up our overnight gear, we were ready to take it on.

I got dressed in a borrowed wetsuit, a kayak skirt, and a helmet. I was assigned an amazing, strong lady who helped save me and keep me out of rough patches in the river. Immediately after entering the water I flipped and she was right there beside me, flipping me right side up. She stayed by my side when I was backwards, too slow, and the rare time I was too fast.

This happened about a dozen more times. After two hours on the river, I was soaked, tired, and hungry. Then I forgot to keep my hips loose, got stuck on a rock, and my savior was pulled away in the rapids. I immediately flipped over, bad timing, and banged on my kayak hoping someone would hear and save me.

I hit my helmet on a rock, waited under water for what felt like an eternity, and franticly searched for my oh crap strap. While blinded under water I reached everywhere and thought “this is the end.”

I felt as though I was staring death in the face when I finally felt it. I pulled the strap, flew out of my kayak, and took a breath of fresh air.

The rest of the trip down the river was uneventful. We pulled our kayaks out, and headed back for a big dinner and a deep sleep.

Then we did it all over again the next day.

A Beginners Guide to Backpacking

A group of students pausing on a hike for a posed photo with mountains in the background.
The most immersive course I took at the University of Canterbury was “Land Ethics and Journeys.” In this course, we learned about the Māori relationship with the land and how that relationship has changed in New Zealand over time.

The final for the course was a three-day backpacking trip through Mount Somers. We were put into groups of 8 students and sent into the wilderness for two nights with a seasoned adventurer as our guide.

I learned a lot about packing from this trip. You want the heaviest items to be at the center of your back. That means sleeping bag on bottom, cookware/ tent in the middle, and clothes or other necessities at the top. Most backpacks come with a “brain” (the pouch on top) where you can put items that should be easy to reach, such as first aid, snacks, and a raincoat.

Packing food and water is an interesting time. It is important to take into account, everything you bring on the trip you also have to take out. I learned that it is not uncommon to eat your whole apple so that you don’t have to carry the core around.

On a brighter note, there are no bears in New Zealand, so you don’t have to worry about hiding your food away from your campsite!

You also want to be cognizant of the wildlife around you. Take the path most traveled because then you aren’t stepping on new plants by trying to be a trailblazer.

Finally, nighttime in New Zealand. The stars on this camping trip were brighter and fuller than any night sky I had ever seen before. Be sure to look for the southern cross, a famous constellation in the southern hemisphere. On the other hand, eat a full meal and pack lots of clothes because the nights are cold. If it is cold enough, shove any clothes that you are not wearing into your sleeping bag so that it is as full as possible and leaves no room for cold air.

To Wrap it All Up

Two students posing with surf boards on the beachIf you are the adventurous type, and you’re considering a trip to New Zealand, DO IT! The people there are incredible and will help you adventure in a thrilling but safe way. While it is important to do your research, you can also learn along the way.

New Zealand offers bungee jumping, sky diving, surfing, scuba diving and so much more. I tried to get out and explore as often as my coursework would allow me to. Even as I did the same hike for the twentieth time, I never got sick of the view.

For those who are not seeking an adrenaline rush, there are other options that don’t require a lot of activity. I went on a boat tour of Milford Sound and saw dolphins, seals, and a view that was to die for. They have caves where the worms glow and provide a starry night while underground. There are also super fun Lord of the Rings tours for mega fans and anyone else that is interested in a good time. If you are as lucky as me, your tour guide will be a Hobbit from the first movie of the Hobbit series!

Though I still sometimes question my sanity for adventuring across New Zealand, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I would recommend New Zealand for anyone and everyone. There is so much to do and it is easy to get around the country. Between the public metro, intercity busses, and cheap flights your next adventure is always just around the corner.

Sara Baldazo is studying Economics and Cell and Molecular Biology at Tulane University and studied abroad with IFSA at University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand Fall 2019.