In New Zealand, “kia ora” is an informal greeting that comes from the Māori, the indigenous Polynesian people that discovered the country back in the fourteenth century, and loosely means “be well.” It has been adopted by the whole country and, as such, it was how we were greeted on Random Walk New Zealand by almost everyone we met.
For those who are still getting to know the Booth community and its Booth-isms, Random Walks are our version of first-year orientation trips, in which four second-years lead fourteen incoming students to roughly 35 locations in the U.S. and abroad. (Quick note: the nerds among us may recognize that the name “Random Walk” is a play on the financial theory of the same name—developed by one of Booth’s own Nobel laureates, Eugene Fama. In short, it states that stock market prices fluctuate arbitrarily and cannot be predicted, thus supporting the efficient-market hypothesis. I will let our Investments professors take it from here, since this will quickly get beyond me!)
This year, I was lucky enough to co-lead the New Zealand trip (along with three of my favorite Boothies, Rena Nishijima, Sean Madison, and Kristian Schott), during which we spent roughly ten days exploring both the North and South Islands. While each Random Walk has its own distinct vibe, the New Zealand trip is known for pairing outdoorsy adventures with cultural experiences—a description that could not have been more accurate.
We kicked off our trip with a nearly sixteen-hour direct flight from O’Hare to Auckland. I’d like to give a special shout-out to Kristian, who binge-watched all three Lord of the Rings movies in succession—close to a 10-hour pursuit. (Disappointingly, the airline offered the theatrical versions, totaling only an aggregate 558 minutes, while the extended versions come in at a whopping 686.) After a quick flight down to Queenstown, the fun began!
Queenstown is known for its adventure sports, and it certainly did not disappoint. On our first night, we took a gondola ride to the top of Bob’s Peak. This spot provided a spectacular view of the city beneath us, as well as Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountain ranges. Most of our crew followed this ride up the mountain with a “luge” ride (a contraption sort of analogous to a sled meets a go-cart) back down. The following day, we bussed to Milford Sound and took a stunning cruise that wound through massive rockfaces and breathtaking waterfalls (note: we literally went through waterfalls, as in, people on the boat deck got soaked!). On our last day in Queenstown, half of the group went bungee jumping, while the other half went on an arduous hike, reaching an elevation surpassing that of Bob’s Peak and providing even more gorgeous views of the lakes and mountains surrounding the city. We finished off the day back altogether with a ride on New Zealand’s iconic shotover jet, a high-speed boat that zips, zags, and pulls tight 360 degree turns daringly close to canyon walls.
The next part of our trip brought us to the southern tip of the North Island, to a place called Rotorua, known for its geothermal activity and chronic sulfur smell. Here, we enjoyed more jampacked days. First off was a ziplining tour that included a 720-foot run more than 70 feet off the ground. The high-flying exploit was complemented by our guides teaching us about the local flora, fauna, and preservation projects that are underway to keep New Zealand’s forests lush. We spent that evening at the Tamaki Māori Village, journeying back in time to experience ancient New Zealand traditions, including a haka, their ceremonial war dance, and a hangi, or traditional feast from food cooked in an underground pit. The following morning, we visited the natural geysers and bubbling mud pools at Rotorua’s geothermal center, which houses a pair of kiwi birds, a species native to the country and its unofficial symbol (also why New Zealanders are colloquially known as “Kiwis”). Our last adventure in Rotorua was mountain biking—yet another new experience for most of the group.
On the road north to Auckland, we stopped off in Hobbiton, where both Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies were filmed, as well as the Glowworm Caves, which included a silent boat ride through caverns lit only by New Zealand’s luminous worms. When we arrived in Auckland, our group enjoyed a last dinner together at the top of the Sky Tower, clocking in at nearly 1,100 feet and making it the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere. The next day, we explored the city before boarding our lengthy flight back to the States.
All in all, the trip flew by, as each day was filled to the brim with new experiences that sometimes pushed us outside of our comfort zones. While my favorite activities were mountain biking and visiting the Tamaki Village, my unofficial highlight was that our series of bus rides, flights, and group meals provided ample opportunity for everyone to talk and get to know each other. To me, the New Zealand Random Walk is a perfect representation of The Booth Experience: you will meet incredible people and build strong, lifelong connections, but you will also challenge yourself beyond what you thought was possible, and saying yes to new (and potentially uncomfortable) experiences will pay off in ways you could not have imagined.
And now, it’s time to return to Chicago and get this school year started!