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Hammocks and hard places, a semester in New Zealand

By Alexander Tange, DMJX

We found our hammocks around midnight. In pitch-black darkness. The kind you only find when you are good and properly lost. Our campsite was neither cozy nor legal, strictly speaking, but it was the only place with enough trees to hang three hammocks without having to summit a small volcanic mountain. One of my campmates was hit with a beer can coming from a car on the motorway five metres up a hill right next to our hammocks, and the other ended up sleeping with his feet above his head due to poor hammock management skills.

This might not sound like a highlight from my trip to New Zealand. It does not even sound very nice, come to think of it. But it is the first thing that comes to mind, when I think back on my trip to New Zealand. Because it is in this place between volcanic-rocks and a hard place, that the real beauty of the islands lies.

I’ve never owned a pair of hiking boots and I don’t know the difference between poison ivy and ferns. But when I found myself surrounded by mountains, incredible fern-forests and ridiculous birds everywhere, it was enough to convert a city-dweller to an outdoorsmand. It also helps that everything else is terribly expensive, and nature is free. So if you want to take a trip down under, get ready to share a beer-stained mattress in the back of your cruiser-van with your mates or prepare to meet New Zealand face-first as you learn to sleep in a hammock.

The islands also offer plenty of opportunities to throw yourself of every imaginable tall surface – rocks, bridges, canyons – with your safety gear of choice – bungee, chute or swing. But unless you’re made of money, you really should pack those hiking shoes and brace for some of the most breathtaking mountain views and weird nature you can imagine. Just remember to clean them, or you might start your trip with a fine ranging from $400 to $100,000 depending on the severity of the biological threat your filthy luggage poses.

More of a city kind of gal or guy? Auckland – New Zealand’s biggest city by population and our place of study – has everything you want. As long as you want craft beer, clubs or diversity. Never have I ever seen a more diverse group of people in one place. Only 59 percent of the city is white, and it’s shrinking with huge migrations coming from Asia and the Pacific islands that are becoming uninhabitable because of the pollution it took to make the device you’re reading this on.

So if a diverse population is your thing, you’ll love Auckland. If you inherited a major estate recently, you’ll find you kicks in Queenstown, burning money on adrenaline rushes. If you’re a regular student, you’ll find the most astonishing mountain island that you could walk and hike around for a year and still be surprised at what you find. My advice? Buy a crate of fine New Zealand craft beer, load it into the van you bought with your friends and share it with people from ethnicities you’ve barely heard of while you explore the islands.

Bilbo was right when he decided to leave the Shire (that you can also visit) and go adventuring in this astonishing place.

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