Insect bites, scratches, no showers, heavy packs and early mornings are rarely associated with a holiday, but for myself and six other Australian members of the Ukrainian Youth Association of Australia, they formed part of a holiday of a lifetime - a 10 day trek down the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand.
On the 25th of September our Melbourne contingent was full of excitement and trepidation as we said goodbye to our farewell party and headed through the silver doors at Tullamarine to board our Qantas flight for Christchurch, New Zealand. Having landed safely and negotiated the funny accents, we finally made it to our hotel where the Sydneysiders were waiting for us. After a very loud and giggly hello it was evident that the Australian-Ukrainian assault on New Zealand had begun! Our trek (or 'tramp' as they say in New Zealand) was to begin on the 28th in Nelson. This gave us a few days to enjoy the commercial side of the south island before being strewn into the bush. I'm sure we left the New Zealanders laughing when they saw seven little CYMivtsi (us) squashed into a little van loaded with rucksacks as we made the drive up the east coast to Nelson, where the adventure was to begin. As the morning of the hike neared, our excitement was tangible.
The following morning we were up bright and early ready to be collected by Steve (our guide) from New Zealand Nature Safaris. After meeting the non-Ukrainian members that were to make up our group of 12, we completed our food shopping and headed out to Katharanga National Park to begin our trek. There aren't many words that describe the beauty that we witnessed in our neighbouring country. Angry seas with black beaches bounded by rainforests and back-dropped by snow covered peaks, glaciers, hot pools, seals and penguins in the wild, glow worms watching over us as we slept under rock overhangs, aqua lakes surrounded by mountain ranges and gushing rivers that they call "creeks"... This was a place where splendour abounded.
There is something to be said about stepping out of the square that we live in. Walking down gorges, carrying our packs on our heads, climbing mountains in the rain and learning to cook in one billy-can seemed to reduce the weight of the burdens that we face at home. Here the air was clean and the atmosphere friendly, we worried only about what we needed to take in our packs and what was on the menu for the day. Our group was wonderful and we soon saw to it that the non-Ukrainians were given a crash course in our language, this resulted in many laughs and endless questions of "how do you say...". If the west coast had never heard Ukrainian singing, we made up for it - our walking was often accompanied by many songs, often ones we had learned at camp.
We finished the hike in Queenstown, and after a few days of recuperation and showers, we headed back to Christchurch to make our trip home. Our welcoming committee was there on cue to behold seven tanned and toned CYM members bearing not only millions of sandfly bites, but smiles that hinted of the memories held within!