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Fiji! March 30, 2013

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             As soon as we got off the airplane, we felt the air so thick we felt like swimming through it. I LOVED IT! There’s nothing like having some warm and moist air to cheer me up.  As we got to the bus, we were greeted by a group of Fijians ready to help load our luggage into a van. Everything was so green! As our bus drove into the night and took us from Nadi (pronounced Nandi) to the Coral Coast, I noticed the road was really bumpy. It soon became clear that we were in a developing country even though we couldn’t see the surroundings. We stopped for McDonald’s and then finally made it to our resort…that’s right…resort.

We were staying for our first week in Fiji at the Hideaway Resort. Most people were vacationing there, but we were studying and playing in the off hours. Within the first few minutes the staff was already attempting to learn our names and get to know us. Porters took our bags to our ocean-side bures (cottages). When Dan and I walked into the room, we saw “Bula! Welcome Home!” laid out on the bed in cuttings of palm fronds. That was a very nice touch. Considering we were used to hostels at this point, we were all super happy.

The next week consisted of taking classes, a couple free days, playing in the pool, some diving, visiting the bar on occasion, making friends with the locals, watching rugby, laying in hammocks, watching a fire-walking ceremony and drinking kava. What a week!

Next up was Mana Island. We had to take a bus back to Nandi and then ride a ferry into the Mamanuca islands to Mana. I woke up not feeling so hot and by the time I was on Mana Island, I had a ~102 fever. I got some medicine at the clinic they had and was in bed for a solid 24 hours except for meals and class. The medicine did the trick and I slowly got better. In the three days we were there, I managed to still get some pretty killer pictures.

I had a blast hanging with Nikki on the ferry ride back to Nandi from the Mamanucas. Next up was finals and more importantly…EASTER! I woke up and walked a ways to mass with a few other students. The mass itself was in English but the music was in Fijian! I had a blast trying to sing. J We also got to see roughly 12 baptisms! That was refreshing. Lastly we took finals and wrote papers before heading back home to the amazing USA!

North Island Madness! (NZ Weekend 3) January 29, 2013

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Thursday, Jan. 24

After my essay test in history and packing for the weekend, Colin Andrews, Raj, Colin Ludwig, Angelena, Shelly, Nick, and I all packed ourselves into the Mom-mobile for what was to be one of the best weekends in my life. We left the Weir House around six thirty at night and drove all the way up to the Waitomo Caves just outside Te Kuiti. The drive took us around six hours. Even at night, the landscape was beautiful. The moon was full and lit up the land around us. We drove and saw Mt. Ruapehu under the moonlight. Once we got to the hostel across from the caves, we passed out. That’s pretty much a theme for us on weekend adventures.

Friday, Jan. 25

We woke up and headed across the street to the caving company. After grabbing a quick bagel sandwich breakfast, we were headed on our way. We got outfitted in thick wetsuits (10 mil) and climbing gear before we rode to the cave entrance. After a tutorial on how to enter the cave, we controlled our descent into the hole and abseiled roughly 50 meters into the cave. The glowworms were one of the first things we noticed. They look like little blue stars in the night sky. It’s amazing! We eventually got in the water and formed a chain of inner tubes so that we could row faster. The deeper we went down the river, the tighter the ceiling got and the more worms we saw. Once we stopped, we sat in awe and one of the guides sang a beautiful song in Maori, the native language. He told us that they recorded many of the songs from the Lord of the Rings movies there due to its acoustic qualities. We continued on by going through some squeezes and even climbing some waterfalls! Oh and I forgot to mention the zip line into pure darkness that they tried to scare us on.

One of the squeezes

One of the squeezes

Afterwards we were provided with a hot meal to help combat how much energy we’d lost trying to keep warm. Then we were off to Hamilton! We checked into our hostel and stopped by a pub for lunch. We then headed outside of Hamilton to meet up with the other group of 13 to go horseback riding. We rode horses for two and a half hours in one of the most beautiful places in the world for a whopping 35 NZD! What a steal! I’d pay that again and again and again. I got the hang of controlling an animal ten times my size pretty quickly and had a blast. We even forded a stream and saw more glowworms. About forty minutes into the hike, the sun had gone down and we were now trail-riding by pure moonlight! Afterwards we drove back to Hamilton and passed out…surprise surprise.

Saturday, Jan. 26

This morning we woke up, snagged some Dunkin’ Donuts, and drove out to Hobbiton. This was my first time driving and I LOVED IT! Driving on the other side of the rode proved to be easier than I thought. Turning on the blinker instead of the windshield…now that was a bit more difficult. I drove us through some beautiful roads back to the location of The Shire. Colin, Raj, and Angelena did the tour while the rest of us headed back to Matamata. We shopped around and I got some anti-histamines because my allergies were kickin’ in.

Once we picked them up from Hobbiton, Angelena drove us past Hamilton and to Bridal Veil Falls. After a short hike we saw a stunning 40-meter waterfall! In the states I’d normally have to hike for hours to see something this beautiful. We finished the drive to Raglan on the west coast and had lunch.

My horse's name was blue...even though he's white

My horse’s name was blue…even though he’s white

After lunch came the real fun. We rented surfboards and wetsuits for four hours for only 25 NZD! I couldn’t believe it. I drove the Mom-mobile, fully laden with five surfboards stacked on top, to the beach. I got up on the first wave and was instantly elated. Four hours later, I had ridden tons of waves, bit it on a few, and all around had a fantastic time. Not only did everyone get up and have a great time, we were in Raglan, the surfing capital of New Zealand. This place was simply stunning. I’m beginning to think this country will never stop surprising me with its scenery. Once we brought the boards back to the outfitter, we headed back to Hamilton and you guessed it…passed out.

 

Fun wave

Fun wave

 

 

Sunday, Jan. 27

This weekend just keeps going. We woke up later than normal, nine-ish, and grabbed breakfast at the River Kitchen. The food was so good and we were so hungry that most of us ate a meal and a half. I then drove us down to New Plymouth near Mt. Taranaki. On the way I was driving over ridges in grasslands and through valleys in lush forests. I was having way too much fun. We also tried to stop at a few wineries with no luck. We did however have plenty of luck when we stopped at The Three Sisters and it was almost low tide.

 

I’m so glad I didn’t miss the sign. I’ve never seen somewhere this beautiful. The Tasman Sea was warm and the sights were incredible. This place had sparkling black sand beaches, sea caves, tall islands, tidal pools, brilliantly blue water, lush green vegetation, colorful rocks, a curved coastline that was visible for miles, and even little fishies swimming around our feet! The tide changed around 3 vertical feet in the hour and a half we were there. Just incredible.

Arch near The Three Sisters

Arch near The Three Sisters

After lunch in New Plymouth at Burger Fuel, Colin Andrews drove us to Mt. Taranaki for more pictures. The mountain forms a peninsula so we could see both coastlines even from the inland side. The rest of the drive entailed more stunning scenery and us being really silly along the way. We got back to Wellington around midnight.

The whole group!

The whole group!

Christo’s Weekend in Lake Taupo January 21, 2013

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Jan. 17,

We had an early bus ride that left at 8 am from next to Kelburn Park. On the way up to Lake Taupo, we took notes in our field journals for Bio 2100. We had lunch in Taihapi and later stopped at the Whakapapa Visitor center to do more 2100 work. After that we just finished our ride into Lake Taupo.

Once we arrived, Dan Bowman and I took a nap in our room. All of our alarms failed and we missed dinner. We ended up getting the dregs of what was left. Oh well. After that Raj, Colin, Angelena and I went into town to explore. Along the walk we got to take pictures of a beautiful sunset and the small hot springs along the shoreline of the lake along with some ducklings.

Sunset over Taupo

Lake Taupo is one of the super-volcanoes of the world. The lake, which is the size of Singapore, is really just a crater lake that used to be the top of a volcano. This explains all of the thermal activity in the area.

We found a pub in town actually met some Americans on a big tour. After a while, we caught a taxi back because the walk was so long and the weather was cold and windy.

Jan. 18,

The next morning, at the usual 8 am, we headed out for our hike through Tongariro National Park. Since one of the volcanoes is currently very active and recently erupted, the usual trail we would take was closed. Instead we hiked up towards the backside of Mt. Ngaurahoe, aka Mt. Doom from Lord of The Rings. We had demanding and yet fabulous weather. After hiking through a beech forest, we entered an arid climate on top of a lava flow. At one point we were being sleeted on which was pretty cool. The hike ended on a high and very windy ridge in between the upper and lower Tama lakes. What a beautiful site. This was the first time the program had made this hike without cloud cover. Everything was in clear view and Dr. Garton was the happiest I’ve ever seen him.

Mt. Ruapehu in the Distance

Mount Nguarahoe and Upper Tama Lake

After hiking we headed back to the hotel. The group went out to dinner at The Shed and we got steak. We had a great time there and then went back to the hotel and crashed.

Dinner at the Shed
Dinner at the Shed

Jan. 19,

At 8 am of course, we were on our way to see more sights on the tour bus. We stopped at a road cut to look at the layers of rock, a geothermal power station, and a bubbling geothermal area called Craters of the Moon. Lastly we stopped by Huka Falls. This is near where the Waikato River drains Lake Taupo. The falls are enormous! They let our 100 cubic meters of water a second during the spring snowmelt!

The Waikato River just before the falls
The Waikato River just before the falls

After our educational trip was over, it was time for some relaxation. Colin, Raj, Angelena, Shelly, Chris, Andrew, and I all chartered a fishing boat and went out to try our luck at fishing for rainbow trout on Lake Taupo. For the first five of our six hours on the boat, we caught nothing. I was about to blame my families luck with fishing before we caught four fish in the last hour. We ended up being able to keep three of them. Once we were off the boat, we headed to a restaurant where they cooked the fish up for us. The only way you can eat trout in NZ is if you catch them and take them to a restaurant! Crazy huh?

Raj's big catch!
Raj’s big catch!

Angelena, Raj, Shelly and I walked back in the dark. Raj and I tried our luck at a hole in one challenge and failed miserably like we expected. After that we walked to where the hot springs made small pools that drained into the lake. We got in and chatted with some locals before heading back for a good nights sleep.

Jan. 20,

The next day of course started at the same time and we were on our journey back home. We stopped for a bunch of 2100 field journey entries and scenic outlooks. I don’t think I’ve ever taken so many pictures of the same mountains in my life. We finally made it back to our home in Wellington, after which pretty much everyone fell asleep.

Weekend #1 in New Zealand January 20, 2013

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Thursday, Jan.  10

After class was over Raj, Caroline, and I went down to town to grab some maps before our journey. They didn’t do us much good and we almost missed the ferry. We power-walked through wind and rain for a solid 45 minutes. After trekking through the industrial district of Wellington, we finally made the ferry.

The ride was a blast. For the first part, we played games inside and tried not to get seasick in the moderate swell of the Cook Straight (3-5 meters). After a while, we thought we’d take a crack at standing on the deck. Boy was it windy. I felt like I was going to get blown off the ship at one point.

Really windy out there

Really windy out there

We took some great pictures and the waves settled down once we began the second half of the journey through the inlets. Gorgeous would be a modest term for this place. It was unbelievable.

Cook Straight Waves

Cook Straight Waves

The Inlet

The Inlet

Once we arrived in Picton, we checked into the Fat Cod, my first hostel experience. After we checked in, we went to an Irish Pub named…drum roll…Irish Pub! I thought that was funny. By this time we were starving and ate two giant platters of basically pure starches.

Jan, 11

It was a good thing we gorged ourselves that night because after a short night of sleeping next to a snoring Samoan, we got our rental car and headed to the Queen Charlotte Track.  First we grabbed breakfast at Coranado and had French toast with caramelized bananas on top!

Our Car!

Our Car!

Epic. Oh and I forgot to mention we got stuck with a twelve-seater manual transit bus. Colin Ludwig ended up being the hero and driving it. I was in the Highlander with Colin Andrews. We had a blast getting used to riding on the left…on a MOUNTAIN PASS! Haha.

Once we were there, we literally hiked 17 miles in roughly five hours. During our hike, or tramp as the kiwi’s say, we saw the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever witnessed. We ran into a cow, hid in a grain field, chased ducks, went swimming at a beach, got pinched by crabs and much more! After we swam, I didn’t want to put my socks back on my wet feet. Raj, Angelena, Andrew, and I ended up walking the last mile and a half barefoot. Angelena gave up towards the end but the rest of us became men. At least that’s how we justified our stupidity. We then followed up that by taking showers so cold we got brain-freezes.

One of the many views

One of the many views

Now that we were sufficiently sore, we drove towards Nelson and stopped in Havelock at the Mussel Pot. We were all giddy by this point and were joking around constantly. After that we drove over another mountain pass to get to Nelson. We checked into our much nicer hostel and almost immediately passed out.

Jan. 12,

We woke up promptly at 6 am and grabbed breakfast before heading to Abel Tasman National Park. Since my legs were tired, when I tried to ninja jump down from my bed, I ended up on my butt with my head hung in shame. That was a pretty funny way to start out the day. On the way to the park my camera died. Angelena had a camera for our kayak so I was fine. After the orientation we got on the water and fought a headwind for a solid thirty minute warm up. Today was obviously the upper body workout. We finally all grouped up at beach and had lunch. Angelena is an excellent paddler by the way. After lunch we went and kayaked under arches and in caves. That was incredible. We then headed over to see seals and boy did we ever! At one point we had two swimming around and under our kayak! They were the cutest.

Later we went to another beach and found another baby seal! We got close enough to get pictures with it. SO CUTE!!! We then played with some jellyfish and headed back to shore. The tide change meant we landed a good quarter mile out from where we launched.  I also had a run in with another kayak on landing and got a sweet cut.

Now it was time to go back to the hostel. We missed Nelson by accident and got to the mountains before we realized it. Once we were finally back, Raj went and accidentally broke his sunglasses by tossing them on his bed. Too funny. We walked over to get some food at a takeout and stumbled upon the best bar in New Zealand. We got served kumara and salmon cakes, Hawaiian pizza, and incredible beverages. We even got to meet the head brewer!

That night Angelena, Raj, Jared, Rick, and I hiked to the geographical center of New Zealand. We had an incredible view of the stars and of the city, bay, and mountains. Crazy huh? Also we walked on the field where the first game of rugby in NZ was played. On the way down I ran ahead and scared the living daylights out of the group. That was fantastic.

Jan 13,

We basically woke up and drove back to Picton to catch the ferry. We barely made the ferry because we accidentally took a scenic route through wine country. I’m glad we got lost because it was breath taking.

Just outside wine country

Just outside wine country

The Adventure Begins! January 20, 2013

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Jan 3rd, 2012.

I woke up to the smell of french toast and seeing my family as well as my girlfriend, Susan. After breakfast we went to drop me off at the airport. Susan surprised me with a big gift bag full of sweets, snacks, and games. 🙂 I got to the gate way ahead of time and for some reason everyone I encountered at the airport was nicer than I normally remember. The first of four flights was to Memphis. After I arrived I had a three hour layover! I decided to explore and see what there was to do in the airport. I swear there were more employees than passengers there. Let’s just say no one noticed when I moonwalked on the moving sidewalk for a considerable amount of time.

Look at all the people!
Look at all the people!

Needless to say, I couldn’t moonwalk for three hours. Instead I went to get some Moe’s because NZ doesn’t have mexican food. After that I finally boarded my flight and was on my way to LAX to meet up with the group!

Upon arriving at LAX, I learned that my bag had taken a direct flight to LA and that I would have to pick it up at the baggage claim office. Once I got that all figured out, I had to make my way around the airport to another terminal. I met up with Caroline, Kari, and Maria. We decided since we had such a long layover, we would go eat in the international terminal before going through security. We got some last minute Mexican because they don’t have Mexican food in NZ. We finished the food in no time and promptly played hearts for a while.

Next we went through security and met up with the group at the gate. Air New Zealand was really weird about the weight of carry-ons so there was a mild panic. At first I was told my (tiny) daypack was too heavy and that I would have to check it. I said I’d take out stuff I need and I just took it onboard anyway. I guess I lucked out.

The 14-hour flight went by much faster than expected. Even I got about two hours of sleep! Most people slept more. We had touch screen TV’s with on demand movies, shows, music, and free drinks. Not too bad right?

The Group on the PlaneSince Susan had given me a huge bag of goodies, so of course I ended up sharing most of it with my new friends on the plane. Going through customs in Auckland, the lady that was asking what kind of food I was bringing jokingly asked, “Is there anything healthy?” That cracked me up.

Jan 5th, 2013 (note the 4th never happened)

We had time to catch our breath, get our bags again, get to another terminal, go through security for the third time for the day (with shoes on! It was more relaxed here), and play the carry-on sneak through game again. The last flight was a short one-hour flight. I sat next to an English couple that had moved to NZ and learned a lot about what I would be encountering for the next six weeks. They were super-helpful.Mount Som'n'ernuther

After we landed, we got our bags and got on a bus to head to the Weir House. The drive was strange because it was our first time seeing the backwards roads. Not getting freaked out took some getting used to. The driver took us to Wellington and then way, way, up a hill to the Weir House. It became quite clear we would be hiking a lot. In fact, the couple on the flight said we’d have thighs like linebackers by the time we left.

Once we arrived at the Weir House, we got our keys and set up our internet. We took some, at least in my case, very needed showers, and ate lunch. After that we decided to fight jet lag and head down to explore the town. We ended up jumping off a platform into a bunch of jellyfish! They didn’t really sting and the drop was really fun, so it was worth it.

The platform that didn't require wavers! Isn't that nice?
The platform that didn’t require waivers! Isn’t that nice?

None of us new how to get anywhere, so of course we took a very circuitous route anywhere we went on Saturday.

The Weir House!!!
The Weir House!!!

We headed back up for dinner and then promptly headed out for a night on the town. It was about to be Rachel’s birthday so we had another reason to party. Rolling 44 deep, we showed up at a bar Susan had suggested for us. Colin immediately started bargaining for a group price. In the end we got half price drinks all night!. What a deal! We tried a few other places that night, but Hope Bros was our best deal and best place by far. I led the group back because I had looked at a map and figured out how we should navigate.

We woke up, had breakfast, orientation for a few hours, a tour of where we were having classes, and then finally lunch. After lunch we headed down to Oriental Bay to hang out. It was a forty minute walk and I led the way again. We took some silly pictures and once again tried to go jellyfish dodging. On the way back we went to the New World grocery store. I stocked up for pb&j’s and even got some wine. It ‘s way cheaper than beer here.

Finally we had dinner and then I tried to blog but accidentally fell asleep for five hours. Whoops! In the morning I have class at 8 am! Here we go!