This week was pretty low key here in New Zealand.  Both my cousin Maegan and her husband Mark were working this week, which left me on my own to explore some of the neighborhoods surrounding their house.  This also allowed me to get to see more of the differences between America and New Zealand. 

I started the week hiking up a large hill by Maegan's house that took me about an hour to hike up.  Since it was winter and a bit chilly I have been dressing in layers.  Apparently none of the homes in New Zealand use insulation when building and very few have central heat or powerful heaters.  Mae and Mark's house has a small heater in the living rooms and they close all the doors around the house to keep that one room warm.  At night there are heating pads on their beds that they turn on before getting in bed to warm them up before going to sleep.  As a result during winter it seems extra cold within the house. So every morning I put on many layers of clothes before going out.  As I started walking up the hill I saw many of the other people on the hill were in shorts and t-shirts.  One guy saw me in all my layers and turned to me and said, "A bugger of a hill here huh?"  Obviously I was standing out in my long pants, sweatshirt, and hat.  By the top of the hill I was a few layers less and looked like I ran a few miles.  At the top of the hill was a really cute cafe called Cup.  It had a beautiful view over Christchurch and the day was so clear I could see all the mountains on the west end of the island.  At the cafe I had a cup a tea and enjoyed the view.

The next day I decided to take a walk around the Avon River that runs through Christchurch and right by Mae and Mark's house.  It was a bit of a walk that lead to me a cool park where kids were playing rugby.  Rugby is a huge game here.  Mark says it is the national sport of the country.  Kids grow up playing rugby or football (soccer) and are often seen walking with a rugby ball in hand.  This year the  Rugby World Cup is going to take place in New Zealand and before the earthquake Christchurch was going to be a location for the games.  Unfortunately the earthquake has badly damaged the stadium and all the games have been relocated.  The Christchurch rugby team has also been forced to play all of their games at visitor's stadiums.  With all that hardship they were able to make it into the championship game that took place in Australia.  While here I was able to participate in a Friday night get together to watch the Rugby Championship.  Hanging out with Mark and Mae's friends eating fish and chips (fries) and watching a big deal sports event was pretty similar to a watching football in America. 

I then spent Thursday with Christine, Mark's mum, who took me out to lunch with her sisters and then to an awesome rock quarry outside of town where I hiked around the art gardens while she went and got a haircut.  For lunch Christine's sisters always get McDonalds, which I found quiet interesting.  In New Zealand McDonald's burgers, fries, and drinks are much smaller than they are in the states.  I bought lunch from a different vendor next to McDonalds that had some really good chicken tikka wrap in naan bread.  It was good and I was happy to eat something different than I am used to.  I am finding that New Zealand has all types of food but they tend to have similar diets to what I found in England.  The food here contains more breading and meats than fruits and vegetables and everyone drinks tea.  My favorite things have been the words for things.  For example: Soda is called Fizzy, Toffee is called Hokey Pokey, Dinner is called Tea, Ground beef is called Mince, and Jello is called jelly. 

On Saturday Maegan, her friend Heidi and I took a trip to a small seaside town of Akaroa. 
Driving to Akaroa we drove through some of the amazing scenery that made Peter Jackson chose this country for Lord of the Rings.  It was a beautiful drive.  The town of Akaroa was founded by French whalers and traders and still retains it's French feel. (Click here to see the Video of Akaroa) It was a really cool place where we were able to walk around the french village, see some cute shops and have a cute lunch in a old country dairy.  A Dairy is a small convenient store that sells meat pies, tea, coffee, and sodas.  It is like a small convenient store, similar to a 7-Eleven with tables.  We were also able to explore some of the Maori cultural buildings.  The Maori are the people living in New Zealand prior to the Europeans settlers.  We were able to see one of their Marae centers, which is a gathering place for the Maori people for celebrations, funerals, and village meetings.  We were also able to explore one of the older cemeteries in the area.  Some of the headstones dated back to the 1880's.  At that time there was a plague that wiped out many people.   Most of the inhabitants of the cemetary where buried during this time.  Unfortunately the earthquake damaged many of the headstones in the cemetary.  In one day we managed to see many different things.  All in all it was a great trip.

I am finding that much of New Zealand is very similar to England with a pacific island culture (the Maori) mixed in.  They are a British Colony that developed into a CommonWealth so that does explain it.  After living in England for a 14 months after collge I got used to their way of life so New Zealand's culture is not as shocking to me as some of the other places I have been.  My favorite things so far are the cups of tea everyone offers or provides, chocolate digestives (cookies), the funny words for things (such as "The Wap Waps" which means the middle of nowhere, "stubby's" which mean short shorts), the amazing landscape, and the fun people. 

This Wed. I a going on a road trip with Mae to the West Coast.  The West Coast is most known for it's beautiful landscape. We plan to drive through the mountains to Castle Hill, the beginning of the mountain pass to the West Coast, then through Arthur's Pass, home of some amazing waterfalls, and on through some amazing scenery to the Franz Josef Glacier.  We plan to then spend 3 days on the West Coast visiting different sites.  We are going to return to Christchurch on Friday to pick up Mark and the camper van we have rented for 4 days and start another road trip up the South Island to Kaikoura to see some seals, then to Blenheim to see some of the wine country, then to Picton to catch a ferry through the Queen Charlotte Sound to the North Island.  Once on the North Island we plan to drive through some of New Zealands famous volcanos and then camp by Mark's aunts house somewhere on the Northern Island.  We plan to stay with Mark's aunt for Sunday and Monday and then fly back to Christchurch.  On Tuesday morning I will then depart this beautiful place for my next adventue to Australia.  It is going to be great.  I cannot wait to tell you about it....Stay tuned!