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Fiji April 29, 2013

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After four weeks in Australia, the Pacific Program embarked on a journey to an unprecedented: FIJI!!

Our first destination in Fiji was The Hideaway Resort on the Coral Coast of Viti Levu. Boy, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. The Fijian people accept tourists with world renowned hospitality and accommodations, and as college students accustomed to youth hostels and dormitories, we were on top of the world living in sunny, picturesque beach-side resorts! Here are some of the scenes that were ordinary at Hideaway:




After our stay at Hideaway, the group headed off the “mainland” and into the Mamanuca Islands, an island chain that is the most popular destination for visitors to Fiji. The resort we stayed at, Mana Island Resort, was more isolated and “unconnected” (NO INTERNET!) than our previous stay. During our stay on Mana, I tried my best to get out and explore the amazing oceanic tropical landscapes.




After Mana Island, my fellow travelers and I were faced with an impending reality that none of us wanted to swallow: Our time exploring the Pacific was soon to come to an end. After Mana, we headed back into the “large city” of Nadi, staying at the Tanoa Skylodge. Though Nadi was not as “tourism-oriented” as the other resorts, our location was appropriate for the time of the semester we were about to encounter: FINALS. Undoubtedly, one of the greatest tragedies I will be able to claim in my life is that I spent a day IN FIJI studying for a college final!

Though my time in the Pacific has come to an all-too abrupt end, I can make the indisputable claim that I have had a fantastic life experience that will stay with me for as long as I live. 


Brisbane and Heron Island April 29, 2013

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As our six weeks in New Zealand came to an end, we were reminded (unpleasantly) of how quickly time was slipping by us this semester!  Though the country, landscape, people, and culture of New Zealand were all magnificent, the time nevertheless came for us to depart and head to the next great unknown: Australia.

We spent our first two weeks in Brisbane, located in the state of Queensland. Brisbane, uncertainly, has had more beautiful fortnights than the one we spent there. It rained… every day. This was not a new occurrence, as flooding had been going on throughout Queensland for quite some time. Still, the location of Brisbane provided some unique hiking landscapes. While in Brisbane, the program took a trip to Lamington National Park, which is unique because of the diversity of biomes that are included in such a small range of land. Through a break in the rain (I’m telling you: it never ended), I managed to capture a snapshot of a waterfall in Lamington:


After Brisbane, we were all eager to head towards a more… accommodating climate. Sure enough, our next stop was sure to provide exactly what we needed. After an overnight bus trip north up the eastern coast of Queensland and a two-hour ferry ride, we arrived at the destination to which I had been looking forward the most: Heron Island.  Located on the southern edge of the Great Barrier Reef, Heron Island is anything but developed. Our sleeping accommodations were with the Heron Island Research Station owned by the University of Queensland:




The island is also a temporary home for large migratory bird populations. A researcher from the station who was conducting research on one particular species allowed us to come around on her “rounds” with her… and here are the adorable chicks that we got to examine!!!!




Paradise doesn’t really come close, and neither do these pictures…Image

The Routeburn Track April 29, 2013

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During one of our final weekends stationed in Wellington, a large chunk of the Pacific Program flew south to Queenstown: the adventure sports capital of the world.. or so I’m told. Though the town’s tourist season comes to a peak during the winter season, Queenstown was a more than entertaining and lively place to visit. We made sure to visit Ferg Buger and Ferg Baker– two of the most popular restaurants in Queenstown. The former boasts the claim of having the best burger in the Southern Hemisphere… We ate there twice 😀 !!

My stay in this alpine haven town did not last long, however, because the following morning some comrades and I piled into a van and began a most anticipated adventure: conquering the Routeburn Track—one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks” and named one of the two “most beautiful walking areas in the world” by Sir Edmond Hillary.

Unsurprisingly, our three-day two-night trek through the Southern Alps did not disappoint.





The weekend was perhaps one of my most enjoyable memories of my trip Down Under. Walking through this undisturbed landscapes, marveling at the dramatic geology of the region and the beautifully pristine alpine lakes, I have vivid memories of moments in which I was purely taken aback by the sheer beauty that this land held.

As I mentioned early, Sir Edmond Hillary named two most beautiful walking areas in the world. The Routeburn was one; the other was another New Zealand walking track in Otago known as the Milford Track. I am now determined to return to New Zealand one day and complete the Milford Track.  Undoubtedly, I won’t be disappointed.


Topping Taranaki! February 1, 2013

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One week ago (January 26), Kaitlin and I set out early on what was destined to be one of the most intense days of hiking we have ever done.  From our campsite on the beautiful beaches of New Plymouth, we were driven south to the North Egmont Visitors’ Centre.  Our destination was kilometers in the sky– we were headed to the summit of Mount Taranaki.  Equipped with liters upon liters of water and provisions to endure the worst case scenarios, we were on our way by 9:15AM.

These first few steps were, by far, the calmest section of the trail.  It did not take long for the gradient to change.


We were, quite literally, in the clouds.  As we rose in altitude, the trail became less and less friendly.  Pretty soon, we were scrambling over rocks, falling up scoria fields, and tramping across fields of alpine snow.


We praised the heavens when steps were provided.  Kaitlin still doesn’t look that thankful, though, does she?


Finally, the wind and sun removed the shroud of cloudy unknown we had existed in for hours, leaving us with our formidable destination in clear view:Image

Our climb continued, and we finally reached the crater of Taranaki.  It is covered by snow and ice year-round.  From here, we were only a few minutes’ dash from the tip-top!!!


After playing in the snow like the giddy Atlanta natives that we are, Kaitlin and I pulled up our boot-straps and began the final climb to the summit.  Our views quickly solidified one conclusion in our minds:  It was worth it!

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Here is a great view of Taranaki, taken from a NASA satellite.  We were on top of that!!!

Recapitulating the Indescribable January 20, 2013

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Boy… I have let far too much time fly by without posting to this blog.  The task of putting down into words (and pictures) all that I have experiencs thus far has only grown more daunting with each passing day.  The time has come, however, for me to man up, sit down, and share with you all what I have been up to.

Let’s begin at the beginning:  On the evening of January 3, I departed from the US and headed across the Pacific.  Completely disregarding the existence of January 4, my comrades and I arrived in Wellington (and after a quick connection via Auckland) on Saturday morning, January 5.  This is Wellington:

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Our route (Wellington -> Picton):

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Once we arrived in Picton, we retrieved our rental car and headed straight through New Zealand’s beautiful countryside to Abel Tasman National Park.  Though time was short, we managed to cover ground and hike to Appletree Bay, a beautiful and deserted beach.

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Our second day in Abel Tasman was only more beautiful than the first,  and we spent this day traversing the calm seas of Abel Tasman in sea kayaks, stopping to frolick on a sunny beach or gaze at the wildlife.

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I think that the group that I travelled with was really great, and I have really enjoyed getting to know each and every one of them (and everyone in the Pacific Program, for that matter).

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On Sunday, our group fragmented. Though some went to catch the mid-afternoon ferry back to the North Island, some of my comrades and I desired one more day exploring the wilderness of the South Island.  Upon the suggestion of a hostel employee, we chose to hike to Whistering Falls along the Hacket Track. Though the clouds slowly gathered throughout the day, we still enjoyed ourselves, and had more than enough time to climb mountains, play in rivers, and jump off of a bridge.  Here was my view from the summit:

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Time was our limiting factor, however, and we had to hurry back to Picton to catch our red-eye ferry back to Wellington.  We made the boarding call with literally seconds (100, to be exact) to spare.

Again, for yours and my sanity, I will skip discussing any school-related details.  Just know that for the next three days (Monday-Wednesday): I awoke at 7, was in class by 8, and dreamt only of returning to the great wilderness of this beautiful country.

On Thursday (1/17), everyone on my program departed Wellington bright and early.  This was our first program-organized field trip, and we were headed for the Taupo Volcanic Area.  Along the way, we stopped a few times to catch some great views of the interior of the North Island.  Here is one of my favorites:


After a painfully long bus ride, we finally arrived at our destination: the Lakeland Resort– across the street from beautiful Lake Taupo.

On Saturday, we headed to Tongariro National Park and hiked along the Upper Tama Path.  The weather along the way was extremely variable:  In some areas, the sun was hot and the air was still.  Just a stones throw away, however, the misty air was spitting snow and sleet.  Furthermore, once we were up to about 1400 meters in elevation, the wind was consistent and strong… enough to make the normal force between you and the ground feel non-existent. Needless to say, layers were a necessity on the hike, and I was glad to have every one of mine!  A great outdoorsman I know always told me:  “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it!”  He would thrive in the New Zealand backcountry; I’m sure of it. (I MISS YOU, DAD!)

The changing scenery along the hike:






Me, at the summit, about to take flight:


After everyone had returned safely to the tour bus, we headed back to Taupo.  The sunset was spectacular.


On Saturday morning, the group and I went on a guided bus tour of some of the more geologically interesting areas of the Taupo Volcanic Area.  Much of our time was strictly academic, but we did see some things worth sharing.  For instance, the geothermal hotbed known as Craters of the Moon:



Here’s a good one, though not exactly academically relevant:


Huka Falls was our next stop.


For the remainder of our afternoon, we explored the city of Taupo.  Some went bungy jumping, others went fishing in Taupo.  I found the hot springs to be particularly captivating, and spent quite a while chatting with some locals while trying to find the perfect Goldlocks spot (not too hot, not too cold) in the shallow river.

On Sunday, the group had to make the long haul back to Wellington, but not without some great photo-ops!

Here is Mount Ruapehu in the clear skies:


And this is Mount Ngauruhoe.  Some of you might recognize this as Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings movies:


Well great!  I’ve now recaptured some of the highlights of my most recent activities over the past two weeks.  These pale in comparison to the actual experiences, but I am doing my best to put what I can into words.