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Sydney, Australia April 26, 2013

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I have now been in Sydney for about 4 days and I absolutely love this place! (despite the internet I already mentioned) We arrived Saturday around 3pm after 2 flights from Rockhampton to Brisbane and then Brisbane to Sydney. My brother, Taylor, got here about 4 hours ahead of me so I was super excited to find him once I got to the hotel! Upon arriving at the hotel I was happy to find that we actually have some space here! This is the first actual hotel we’ve stayed in rather than a research station or hostel. I have 2 roommates, Angelena and Lindsey, and there is a pull out couch for my brother to sleep on! As soon as I set my bags down I tried to get some internet so that I could find Taylor, however the hotel’s internet was down 😦 Needless to say, I ended up wandering Sydney for about 2 hours trying to find any type of Wifi I could so that I could locate him. I finally stumbled upon a sketchy little place that read “Cafe, convenience and internet” so I bought a water bottle and sat down to hopefully contact Taylor. After I had been sitting for a while the owner came and sat down next to me and I had a great conversation with him, learning some cool facts about Sydney, while waiting an hour for Taylor to find me. Once we found each other the night went smoothly. Many of us went out on the town to explore Kings Cross area and celebrate Scott’s 20th birthday! It was a very successful night!

Me and Taylor the first night out!
Me and Taylor the first night out!

The next morning we woke up and headed down to the harbor. Me, Taylor, Lindsey and Mark decided to explore Circular Quay, which is where the famous Opera house and Sydney Bridge are. There was a great little market going on so we got to do a little shopping and eat some good food. Also there was a cool street performer that we stopped to watch and Mark actually got called on to be a part of her act. It turned out to be a great morning laughing and walking around the city. Next, we jumped on the ferry to go to Manly Beach where we spent the day laying out and watching surfers along with a little shopping and ice cream on the side! Manly is a very touristy area and filled with tons of people! We jumped on the ferry back at the exact right time to catch sunset over the Sydney Bridge and Harbor! I had never seen a sunset so beautiful — not even on Heron Island!! By the end of the day I was exhausted and had a research paper due Monday morning so the rest of the night was work!

The famous opera house!
The famous opera house!
Mark in the street performance!
Mark in the street performance!
Ferry Ride headed to Manly!
Ferry Ride headed to Manly!
Markets at Circular Quay
Markets at Circular Quay
Manly Beach!
Manly Beach!
Beautiful sunset over the Sydney Bridge
Beautiful sunset over the Sydney Bridge
Ferry Ride from Manly to Circular Quay!
Ferry Ride from Manly to Circular Quay!

Monday came and for Biology class we headed to Long Reef Marine Park to collect data on species diversity and abundance on different areas in relation to their exposure to wave energy! The view from the park was breathtaking and had many of the guys longing to play the golf course which over looked it! All in all it was another great day of Class!

Where we collected all of our data for the day
Where we collected all of our data for the day
Me and Lindsey overlooking  Long Reef Marine Park
Me and Lindsey overlooking Long Reef Marine Park
Long reef marine park
Long reef marine park

It is now Tuesday and I am sitting in Gloria Jean’s Coffee shop waiting to head up to the top of Sydney tower for another day of “class” This time its for my science, technology, and human values class and we will be hearing about the urban development of Sydney while overlooking the entire city from many meters up! I will have to update y’all on that later along with my other Sydney adventures. Tomorrow I’m off to the Blue Mountains!

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Heron Island! April 26, 2013

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I’ve gotten a lot of complaints recently about not updating my blog, but in my defense it hasn’t all been out of laziness — the internet in Australia is slower than road-runner dial up in the States! However, I’m going to try to catch up by doing a lot of them tonight!

I’m not real sure where I left y’all off, but I’ll start with our trip to the Australia Zoo! I love that over here a day long trip to Steve Irwin’s zoo is considered class, nonetheless I feel like I am learning so much while I am here! The Australia Zoo was completely set up by Steve Irwin and is still run by his family! We got to hold baby alligators and watch all the shows on crocodiles, snakes, platypuses, koalas, otters, tasmanian devils, and more! This zoo was so well organized and clean. They truly care about the animals here.

Holding a baby Gator!
Holding a baby Gator!
Crocodile Show -- I felt like I was watching the Crocodile Hunter live!
Crocodile Show — I felt like I was watching the Crocodile Hunter live!
Henry the Tiger!
Henry the Tiger!
The otters cuddling!
The otters cuddling!

Lamington National Park. Here we hiked 4 trails and did a canopy walk in the tops of the trees. Sadly, my camera died halfway through the hikes, but I still got some amazing pictures of the beginning. This hike was through a very wet rainforest and the tree canopy was so thick that at one point it was pouring rain, yet we could not feel a drop. We got to see wild wallabies and kangaroos just chillen in the forest which I found so cool! Also the waterfall that the trails ended in was breathtaking! It was quite a nice day of “class”

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A thin part of the canopy — you can actually see the sky!
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Overlooking the Waterfall!
me and lindsey on the hike
me and lindsey on the hike

 

For the upcoming weekend we went to Gold Coast, Australia. We headed to the train for a 90 minute trip south of Brisbane to Gold Coast. Here, we finally caught some great weather! This weekend didn’t have much to report in the way of great adventures, but I had a ton of fun! We laid on the beach, played around with some surf boards, shopped, and went out all weekend! Somehow Lindsey, Mark, Scott, and I ended up with an awesome hostel set up! The other 12 people in our group got stuck in large 6 person rooms with sets of bunk beds and communal bathrooms, but the 4 of us got an apartment to ourselves with private rooms and bathrooms, our own kitchen, living room, and even a balcony! Leading up to the weekend here there had been massive storms so a lot of the time we were there the beaches were “closed.” However, I learned that closed to Australians merely means proceed at your own risk so we were still able to layout and swim on the beaches as well as watch some amazing surfers! I had never seen waves so high in my life — up to 12 feet tall at any time. Overall, the weekend was amazing. Just to give you an idea.. Gold Coast is considered the Las Vegas of Australia!

Our last night out in Brisbane!
Our last night out in Brisbane!
Gold Coast!
Gold Coast!
Gold Coast!
Gold Coast!
Teaching the locals about sororities!
Teaching the locals about sororities!

After an amazing weekend in Gold Coast with the first pretty weather that Australia had brought us it was back to work for our last weekend in Brisbane. Classes went by quickly with many great trips back to South bank in between. On Friday we headed off to Moreton island for the day. About 20 of us decided to do a day long tour of Moreton island which was about an hour ferry ride away. The weather was not perfect — but at least it didn’t rain! We were kept super busy starting off with a 10 am snorkel on 4 separate ship wrecks! I was so excited to get into the water and see some great stuff. The wet suits they gave us are my favorite I’ve ever worn. I know that sounds dumb, but I seriously felt like a ninja in my neon green and black wet suit. The snorkel provided us with sharks, sea turtles, and fish galore! Next, we ran to the other end of the island where we embarked on a 4-wheel drive adventure through the sand dunes at the higher elevations. This was such a cool experience, I wish I had pictures to explain it! We drove the ATVs all along the waters edge and then also through tracks and dunes. We could get up to 40 km/hour and have some real fun flying down some of the hills and around the curves! I wish I had pictures of the amazing views up there of the entire Pacific ocean. Once we were done with the ATV adventure we grabbed a quick bite and then headed to the sail boats! I had never been sailing before and I actually had no clue that there was an actual skill to being able to sail. Christo, one of the guys on my trip, took me and Lindsey on his catamaran with us and showed us the ropes though. With the conclusion of our sailing excursions it was time to head back to the ferry and get back to Brisbane before an overnight bus ride to Gladstone so we could catch an early ferry to Heron Island!

Moreton Island!
Moreton Island!
One of the ship wrecks we snorkeled through
One of the ship wrecks we snorkeled through
All of us on our ATVs
All of us on our ATVs
Sea Turtle!
Sea Turtle!
our attempt at an underwater picture!
our attempt at an underwater picture!
Sailing the pacific ocean!
Sailing the pacific ocean!
feeling like ninjas..
feeling like ninjas..

The bus ride was surprisingly fun! I had downloaded an entire season of Criminal Minds that me and Mark watched until we passed out and then awoke to being in Gladstone! The ferry ride over to Heron Island was quite a bumpy one! I, luckily, didn’t get sick, but many others had a hard time for the two hours of massive swells. Heron Island is absolutely beautiful and a rare gem to be able to experience. It is located on the southern end of the Great barrier reef. The entire island takes 20 minutes to circumnavigate and the closet land is 80 km away! The only things located on the entire island is the University of Queensland research station (where I stayed) and a small resort for special guests. The only reason we even got to go to this island is because our program director is a renowned scientist and has many permits for research on protected parks so I am very thankful for that! I got to scuba dive so many times this week it was incredible! I had never seen such diverse sea life! Just to name a few — I saw lion fish, fire corals, sharks, sea turtles, manta rays, octopus, lobsters, crabs, and more! My favorite fish were the parrot fish — they eat coral and then poop out sand, which creates islands like Heron Island. There were also so many neon blue and yellow fish. I just couldn’t believe the vast array of colors seen under the water. No one on the trip had a camera that could go 60 meters deep so sadly I have no evidence of these incredible dives. I think the most amazing thing to me was that if you didn’t chase the animals then they gladly played with you! The manta rays would circle us and play just like all the other fish. We also got super lucky that the currents and wind conditions were kind of bad meaning that many of the resort guests could not go on the dives, but because we were researchers we were allowed! One night we ate dinner and watched the sunset over the jetty and then the next morning awoke at 445 am to watch it rise on “shark bay” I will never forget those views looking out on crystal clear water with no land in site. Class on Heron Island was amazing also. Over the course of the week me, Mark, caroline, and Leonid had a project of analyzing the giant clam populations on the reef. Our goal was to determine distant gradients as related to size of the clams. Once we determined where the clams thrived our goal was to understand all aspects of that microhabitat and what allows them to survive here. We measured things such as nutrient levels, wave energy, oxygen content, and more. This week has thoroughly excited me for my future career working in biomedical science. I loved getting a tan while doing field research. I also learned so much from the researchers that work full time on Heron Island. They even let me help them capture a sea turtle and tag it to monitor its diet and habitat to determine why the turtles population is decreasing so rapidly. All in all this week was my favorite by far!

I love that this was class for me
I love that this was class for me
One of the Giant Clams I was collecting data on!
One of the Giant Clams I was collecting data on!
Huge Ray!
Huge Ray!
Sunset on Heron Island
Sunset on Heron Island
Beach day on the island!
Beach day on the island!
Sunset!
Sunset!
Lemon shark right next to me!
Lemon shark right next to me!
Bye Heron Island! I'll Miss you!
Bye Heron Island! I’ll Miss you!
Sunset on the Jetty
Sunset on the Jetty
4:45 AM sunrise on Heron Island
4:45 AM sunrise on Heron Island
4:45 AM sunrise on Heron Island
4:45 AM sunrise on Heron Island
4:45 AM sunrise on Heron Island
4:45 AM sunrise on Heron Island
4:45 AM sunrise on Heron Island
4:45 AM sunrise on Heron Island

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4:45 AM sunrise on Heron Island
4:45 AM sunrise on Heron Island
The water was so clear in Heron Island!
The water was so clear in Heron Island!
I love the ocean!
I love the ocean!

Brisbane, Australia April 26, 2013

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Well I’ve been in Australia for 4 days now — and I’m loving it! It is not nearly as picturesque as New Zealand, at least in the natural environment point of view. However, the city of Brisbane literally feels just like home to me. My first impression is the Australia is the US just on the other side of the world! Its been very rainy here since we’ve been here, but that hasn’t stopped my exploring. My first full day here -Saturday- I went to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, which was the first ever Koala sanctuary in the world and now has over 200 koalas along with Kangaroos, wallabies, reptiles, birds, barn animals and every other native Australian species you would want to see. My day spent at Lone Pine was definitely one to make my favorite days list. Not only did I cuddle all of these adorable animals but I fed them and learned about them and how to protect them — truly a day to remember!

Dingo!
Dingo!
Just chillen with a Kangaroo
Just chillen with a Kangaroo
so proud of myself for getting that close to an Emu!
so proud of myself for getting that close to an Emu!
Tasmanian devil
Tasmanian devil
holding the cutest Koala ever, Misty!
holding the cutest Koala ever, Misty!
Feeding the Roos!
Feeding the Roos!
So many roos just chilling!
So many roos just chilling!

That night we explored SouthBank, which is an area of Brisbane that has a beach that has water from the Brisbane river pumped into an area and filtered with chlorine to make it ideal for swimming/laying out! We went to dinner down here at a place called Burrito Brothers overlooking the river and Victoria Bridge and it was delicious! We also rode a massive Ferris Wheel where you could overlook the entire city and it glowed purple — another great experience! It also has tons of amazing restaurants and shops to explore so we headed back to Southbank Sunday during the day! We found that they have a market in the streets during the weekend days. I found tons of great authentic Australian goods and racked up on some good souvenirs before heading to a nice lunch at a little bistro on the bank and then laying out — even though it was raining!

Southbank beach area!
Southbank beach area!
Market on Southbank!
Market on Southbank!
Riding the ferris wheel at night over looking Brisbane City!
Riding the ferris wheel at night over looking Brisbane City!
Ferris Wheel overlooking Brisbane city!
Ferris Wheel overlooking Brisbane city!
Hard to see but its the city late at night
Hard to see but its the city late at night

Monday morning brought the beginning of classes for this portion of the trip and another rainy morning! However, I found a great coffee shop (which I’m sitting in right now) that is close to class, has a cheap Latte, and much higher quality wifi than my hostel! I will update y’all as my adventures continue! I hope to be making a couple day trips to Gold coast, Moreton island and Fraser island to get some good beach time in along with beginning all my great scuba diving to come! Thanks for keeping up with my travels, I’m getting sad that I’m beginning the latter half of this amazing experience — I never want it to end!

Queenstown, NZ April 26, 2013

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Okay so this weekend was probably one of the best ones of my life, I still can’t believe I experienced all that I did in one short weekend! The professors were very nice and for our last weekend they gave us Monday off, so we had a 4 day weekend. Most of us decided to take advantage of a longer break and fly down to the southern part of the South Island of New Zealand. So Friday we flew to Queenstown, NZ as a group of 40 students, but each with our own plans because this city has so much to do! It is dubbed the “adventure capital of the world.” Upon arrival we picked up our rental car, a toyota highlander, and headed for our first stop — bungee jumping off the karawu Bridge. I thought this was cool because the Karawu bridge was the first bridge that bungee jumping had ever been done off of. I watched several people go before heading my way up the bridge to make the jump. The staff convinced me to get dunked in the river below and so I went in up to about my waist! It was absolutely thrilling!! I’m normally not a “screamer” on roller coasters or anything, but I sure did scream as I jumped off of that bridge. It was such a crazy feeling being so “free” as you plunged towards rocks and river, but then quickly yanked back up by the bungee. I would love to do it over and over again! The picture are kind of in backwards order.. I’m not sure why.

Right after dipping into the river!
Right after dipping into the river!
Mid air!
Mid air!
About to Jump!
About to Jump!

Next we decided to go mountain luging since it was such a beautiful day! To get to the track you take a gondola up a mountain where you can see the entire city of Queenstown; the view was breathtaking! We even got to see a wedding take place in the restaurant at the top of the gondola! The mountain luging track was so much fun.. kind of like go carts, but better. I went through the track 3 times and then decided to lay out a bit and do some souvenir shopping before heading down the gondola to enjoy a frappuccino on the Beach in Queenstown as the sunset! It was a perfect ending to an already perfect day!

The beach in Queenstown
The beach in Queenstown
Over looking Queenstown from the Mountain Luge track
Over looking Queenstown from the Mountain Luge track
View from the Gondola ride!
View from the Gondola ride!

Around 8pm we hit the road to head to Fox Glaciers. The car ride was actually a lot of fun. We started a tally of how many possums we killed.. there is an estimate of 90 million australian possums in New Zealand and they are terrible pests with no natural predators so the local population loves for you to take them out! And I must say, we didn’t try to hit any of them, but they are literally EVERYWHERE at night! We finally settled in to our hostel about 12:30 at night to be up by 7am and on the glacier. Glacier climbing was absolutely unreal. First off, I’ve never even seen more than 6inches of snow, much less a 13 km long glacier! We embarked on a 8 hour ice climbing adventure where we learned to use crampons (spiked shoes) and ice axes to navigate through crevices and slopes of the glacier. I never imagined I’d be climbing vertical walls of ice, but it was so great! I also learned to belay someone else as they climbed. Literally it was the definition of a perfect day.

The four of us on the glacier
The four of us on the glacier
Phi Mu on the glacier :)
Phi Mu on the glacier 🙂
Taken for scale.. look how tiny the people are
Taken for scale.. look how tiny the people are
I made it to the top!
I made it to the top!
Inside a crevice!
Inside a crevice!
climbing, climbing, climbing
climbing, climbing, climbing

We get off the glacier around 4pm to a rude awakening… as we talk to our guide, Scott, we tell him that our plan is to drive 7 hours that night to Milford Sound to do a sunrise kayaking tour. He then informs us that there is a tunnel to get to Milford Sound that closes at 7:30 pm and doesn’t reopen until 7:30 am. At this point we are about 6 hours from that tunnel and have no hope of getting to it in time. So we had several problems.. 1. our hostel we booked for the night was inside of Milford sound, which we now couldn’t get to meaning we had no where to stay that night. 2. Our kayaking tour was supposed to start promptly at 8am and the tunnel didn’t even reopen until 7:30 am. 3. there is no cell phone service except in Queenstown, which is 4 hours away so we couldn’t even call people to make new arrangements. So we just decided to start driving towards queens town and see what we could do at that point, just hoping that our friends already in Milford didn’t pay for our hostel figuring we would arrive later. We even made a pit stop at a beach nearby because our minds were so blown that we could be climbing a glacier and then 30 minutes later be laying on a beach! This country is incredible with its diversity of landscapes in such a small area.

The beach right outside of Fox Glacier
The beach right outside of Fox Glacier
Just hanging out on the beach after a day of ice climbing!
Just hanging out on the beach after a day of ice climbing!

We finally made it to Queenstown around 11pm where we found a McDonalds with free wi-fi and starting calling hotels and hostels in Te Anau — the closest city to the tunnel. After a while we found a motel in Manapouri, right outside of Te Anau, which could give us a room with one twin bed and 1 queen bed and they said they’d leave the key for us with the bar tender in a nearby bar! Crazy I know! So we finally arrived there around 1am and planned to get up at 5 am to hit the road to be at the tunnel as soon as it opened. Next thing I know, I wake up to “guys, its 6:30 the alarm didn’t go off!!!” I think we set a record for getting in the car as fast as humanly possible. We were literally packed and driving within 2 minutes of waking up. We tried to get a little service to call the kayaking company. They were really nice, but said there was no way to make our original plan with all of our friends, but they would try to get us on another tour later on in the day. However, we sped that way and literally ended up running in the lodge as they were heading to take off, signed a quick waiver and were in the kayaks within minutes. I still have no idea how we were so lucky with timing, finding somewhere to stay, and not getting stopped by any road work that we were “definitely going to hit” but it worked out perfectly! Where we are kayaking, Milford Sound, is called the 8th wonder of the natural world and it definitely lives up to its name! It was absolutely breathtaking I wish pictures could portray how amazing it was. There were walls of rock up to 3000 meters high just straight up and the water was absolutely clear! We saw seals playing and taunting the sea gulls with fish I can’t even describe how incredible this kayaking was. The morning started off a bit eerie with a lot of low clouds, but then mostly burned off by midday. Our guide called it a “strip-tease” that Milford Sound was giving us.

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Panorama of the low cloud cover early in the morning
160 meter high waterfall -- triple the size of Niagara falls!
160 meter high waterfall — triple the size of Niagara falls!
The clouds began to burn off
The clouds began to burn off
Kayaking a little swamp-like area only a couple feet deep
Kayaking a little swamp-like area only a couple feet deep
In action
In action
Milford Sound
Milford Sound
Seal playing right next to our kayak!
Seal playing right next to our kayak!

We ended our kayaking adventure around 1:30 pm and had a little lunch before heading back towards Queenstown area. However we stopped several times to take pictures. I can’t even describe the drive back… when on the road you could look up and see no sky just walls and walls of rock formations with massive waterfalls flowing all the way down. It was insane to me. We also stopped and did a couple short 15 minute hikes to a couple look outs and good scenery. Once we got in to Te Anau we stopped at lake Te Anau and layed out to end our perfect day! I wish I could relay how amazing it truly was — I will never forget this experience.

Lake Te Anau!
Lake Te Anau!
Mirror Lakes
Mirror Lakes
Mirror Lakes!
Mirror Lakes!
The Chasm
The Chasm
Driving through parts of Milford Sound
Driving through parts of Milford Sound
Incredible, pictures can't do it justice
Incredible, pictures can’t do it justice
The tunnel through a mountain to get to Milford Sound!
The tunnel through a mountain to get to Milford Sound!
The Chasm!
The Chasm!

That night we were very happy to make it to our hostel before 1am and get a real dinner that didn’t consist of beef jerky and some fruit&nut bars. Monday morning we woke up to it raining and decided to do a little shopping before our 1pm flight back to Wellington! I got a great deal on a Kathmandu fleece — was $220 marked down to $30 — I probably don’t really need it, but how do you pass that up!? Then we decided to go for some indoor mini golf before heading to the airport. I can honestly say that was the first flight that I have ever fell asleep before take off and woken up back on the ground in Welly. Here is a good time to also mention that their airports are totally different than ours! You are not allowed through security until 30 minutes before departure and they call your flight. They also did not check my ID or passport once. We were allowed to bring razors, as much liquid as we wanted, and didn’t even have to take off jackets/belts/shoes for security! It was definitely a shock to the system to be in an airport in a country that has never had any terrorist action taken against them. On the flight back I left my wallet.. thankfully I realized I didn’t have it before I left the airport and went back to the gate where the flight attendant checked the plane and found it for me! However, I’m thankful for my friends here because I was so tired/exhausted that I firmly believed it wasn’t on the plane, I had left it in Queenstown and wasn’t even going to go check but my friend literally pushed me and said “GO ASK THEM ABOUT IT!!” and I found it. We head to Brisbane, Australia Friday so without a wallet/passport/credit cards I have no idea what I would have done so thank God for some amazing friends on this trip! This week is finals week which is a little depressing, but its even crazier to me that this experience is almost half way over! I leave New Zealand Friday never knowing if I’ll be back and that’s crazy to me. Wellington and these people have become home to me and I’m definitely feeling sad to go. I probably won’t update again until I’m in Aussie in a week or so!

Bye Y’all!

Playing some indoor mini-golf Monday Morning
Playing some indoor mini-golf Monday Morning
Hello from the Airport!
Hello from the Airport!

updates! April 26, 2013

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I normally don’t post about my week days honestly because I never have time to sit down and get my thoughts together. However, this past week was absolutely amazing so I have to at least write a quick blurb on it! So, normally classes around here are pretty typical for college classes with the exception that its nice to see what I’m learning actually up close in personal on the weekends. However, this week I had 3 separate “field trips” that counted as class for those respective days. I started the week off with going to the Taputeranga Marine reserve which is only about 15 minutes outside of Wellington and is a reserve for all marine wildlife meaning tons of great things to see! There was of course an educational side to it, but I really just liked taking amazing pictures on a gorgeous rock beach along with playing with sea stars, baby octopuses, crabs and other wildlife! We also got some sights of dolphins and whales playing in the distance!

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Picking up the sea star out of the ocean!
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The tide pools we “played in” for class

When we got done “playing” in the water and learning about all of the native species of New Zealand waters we headed to the top of Mt. Victoria! Mt. Victoria is on the edge of Wellington and provides one of the best views I have ever witnessed. It was cool to look down on the city and see all the places we hang out and the bay we go kayaking in and everything!

View of Wellington from the top of Mt. Victoria
View of Wellington from the top of Mt. Victoria

All these pictures honestly don’t do this day justice but I’m doing my best to try and relate how absolutely gorgeous and CLEAN this entire country is! My next interesting day was Wednesday when my NZ history class got to actually go sit in on Parliament’s “question time” I learned that every established country other than the US actually has one of these question times and I found it honestly very entertaining and blunt. The opposing parties would purposely ask questions mostly to the prime minister or the minister of finance to try to embarrass them and call them out on doing a poor job! There were some very low blows made including telling ministers to get out of the room or just straight up laughing and calling the prime minister a liar while screaming to interrupt his point! I visited our senate back in 2007 and I can definitely say it was nothing like NZ parliament at all! It was also kind of humorous to hear them talk about how huge of a problem they are in having a $9 billion deficit, when I know the US has that deficit many times over. NZ ministers also play a lot of political decisions off of what the US does so that kind of made us feel a little special to hear that!

NZ's parliament buildings with the "beehive" on the left.
NZ’s parliament buildings with the “beehive” on the left.
The room where "question time" is held
The room where “question time” is held

Next was Thursday, not only did we have 2 more “field trips” for one of my classes, but it was also the beginning of the International sevens Rugby tournament that is held in Wellington each year. New Zealanders and Australians take this tournament very seriously and it isn’t all about the rugby, it is also their version of Mardi Gras/Halloween all rolled into one weekend! There was a parade down Lambton Quay on Thursday to kick it all off and I was there to watch it! it was highly entertained with each country having music and entertainers along with sponsors!

The sevens kick-off parade on Lambton Quay!
The sevens kick-off parade on Lambton Quay!
Uncle Sam came to support the American rugby team!
Uncle Sam came to support the American rugby team!
The American players!
The American players!
Here comes Canada!
Here comes Canada!

Weekend #3 — Wellington, NZ January 27, 2013

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For my 3rd weekend me and my friends decided to stay in Wellington to both save some money for upcoming plans and also explore the city itself some! I expected this weekend to go pretty slowly as we had nothing planned, but it flew by and turned out to be amazing! Friday was spent walking around the city getting some authentic souvenirs and having some good meals along with a lot of good people watching! We also met some local kids our age that told us we should attend the Pacific Jewelers Wellington Cup on Saturday, which is the premier social event of New Zealand culture and about equal to the Kentucky Derby in the States. Friday night we attended a local concert in the botanical gardens and it turned out to be nothing I expected! I felt like I travelled back to the 1970′s between the music, dancing, and outfits I saw there. That experience was out of this world and a great local thing to stumble on to — not to mention it was a free concert!

Me and Lindsey at the botanical gardens concert!

Me and Lindsey at the botanical gardens concert!

We also managed to go by the local Salvation army to get the guys some sport coats for the Wellington cup since they didn’t bring theirs with them to New Zealand. Saturday morning we woke up early to get to the train station where we took about a 40 minute train ride to Tretham, NZ. I saw more people at this horse race than I have the entire time I’ve been here! The outfits were crazy and in between each race they had fashion contests with some of the prizes being up to $3000! I loved this experience because it was not a typical tourist thing to do! The crowd consisted of mostly New Zealanders and Australians so it was nice to see their real culture and not just see the tourist side of things. We had a great day at the track – and it was an all day event! An American horse, Blood Brotha, (and the horse I picked to win) won the Wellington Cup at the end of the day!

Blood Brotha - the American horse that won it all!

Blood Brotha – the American horse that won it all!

The Wellington Cup!

The Wellington Cup!

Our group at the race!

Our group at the race!

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So much fun watching the races!

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Pacific Jewellers Wellington Cup!

We finally got back to Wellington around sunset which was gorgeous by the way… and promptly went to bed. We didn’t have any real plans for Sunday, but when we awoke it was an absolutely beautiful day! Scott, Mark, and I ended up forgetting our studies for the day (oops) and went down to the harbor and the bay to enjoy the gorgeous day! We ended up just relaxing by the water and having some delicious iced coffee. (Here the iced coffee doesn’t mean ice cubes in your coffee, it means ice cream in your coffee) Fun Fact: New Zealand is the only country to surpass Americans in ice cream consumption per person! We also decided to get in the water some and Kayak and stand-up paddle board around the bay and Harbor. We saw several stingrays while kayaking!

Our site laying out all day!

Our site laying out all day!

People jumping off the platforms in the Wharf!

People jumping off the platforms in the Wharf!

We ended up wasting about 7 hours, but had the time of our lives. I sadly couldn’t get any photos of us kayaking or paddling boarding, but it might have been one of my best memories thus far! By Sunday night (tonight) we had quite a good sun burn and some delirious hours of studying ahead of us, but if I could go back no way would I change it! I think this weekend in Wellington might have been one of the best yet, but hey I can say that about every weekend! This upcoming week I have another midterm in my HTS class and then we get to visit Parliament on Thursday to hear there debates which I’m pretty excited about! Also this weekend is the famous “sevens weekend” in New Zealand. Sevens is an international rugby tournament, but also has massive parades and everyone flocks to Wellington for the weekend. It has been compared to America’s Mardi Gras so get excited for my next post! I’m off to bed now (since its 2AM as I write this), but leave me comments!

 

Cheers!

Steph

Weekend 2 – Lake Taupo, NZ January 27, 2013

Posted by sgrimes7 in Travel Log.
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Well, I said I was going to get better about posting timely, but that was obviously a fib. Life here is just so hectic with so many opportunities I never want to pass up on that the only extra time I have goes to sleep and school work. However, here is my attempt at summarizes my adventures of Lake Taupo. First off let me start by saying that although I was advised to pack pants for the trip I slept in late and packed in about 2 minutes so pants were left behind. With that being said… the pictures of me in star wars pajama pants or in shorts when every one else is bundled up can be attributed to my packing misfortunes.

The entire Georgia Tech group of 50 students accompanied me on this trip to Lake Taupo and it was a much more educational trip than my first weekend of excursions, though still a blast and some great sites to be seen! Lake Taupo is the 2nd largest lake in the southern hemisphere and is absolutely gorgeous! I would have sworn it was an ocean when seeing the beautiful waves and beaches that boarded the water. The first day was spent mainly in transit up to Lake Taupo taking several stops at some pretty look outs. Once reaching our resort I had one of the best meals I’ve had this entire time with fresh mussels, beef curry, and baked ham! We hit the sack pretty early because we had a 20 km hike starting at 8am the next morning!

Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo

 

Normally this trip does the alpine crossing between Ngauruhoe, Tongariro, and Ruapehu mountains, but due to Ngauruhoe’s eruptions in the last couples months that track was closed. However we hiked the upper tama lakes, which turned out to be absolutely beautiful (and windy!) I was definitely not dressed for the occasion with only a light fleece and shorts, but I made it with the help of my friend Megan’s PJ pants! The hike began in an Antarctic Forest and then turned to shrubs and grasses quickly. The peak of the hike was atop a steep hill that stood in between Mt. Tongariro and Ruapehu on one side and Mt. Ngauruhoe on the other. The climb up to these spectacular views was very steep and windy! At the very top I honestly thought I would be blown off the mountain!

The Beginning of our hike in the Antarctic Forest!

The Beginning of our hike in the Antarctic Forest!

The infamous Star Wars PJ pants!

The infamous Star Wars PJ pants!

Beautiful Waterfall midway in the hike!

Beautiful Waterfall midway in the hike!

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View from the other side of the summit with Mt. Ruapehu in the background.

View from the other side of the summit with Mt. Ruapehu in the background.

View from the Peak of the Hike! The lake is the lower Tama Lake with Mt. Ngauruhoe in the background.

View from the Peak of the Hike! The lake is the lower Tama Lake with Mt. Ngauruhoe in the background.

Needless to say at the end of those 20 Kilometers I was nearly freezing and exhausted! So after some dinner it was just about bedtime for me. The next morning held more activities including seeing the Geothermal power plant that produces all the power for the city along with a “Craters of the Moon” exhibit and the gorgeous Huka Falls! After lunch we had free time to just explore Lake Taupo – I decided to just check out the natural hot springs in Lake Taupo. It was exactly what I needed for my sore and exhausted body! At parts the water was so hot I couldn’t even stand it, but you could wade until you felt the perfect temperature between the cold water of the deep middle and the geothermal swells towards the edges. Needless to say it was a perfect end to our weekend in Lake Taupo!

Hanging out at the Hot Springs!

Hanging out at the Hot Springs!

Huka Falls!

Huka Falls!

The next day was pretty much all transit aside from stoping at the Tangiwai rail memorial site. This disaster was the 8th largest railway disaster in the world and happened in 1953. Mt. Ruapehu erupted starting a lahar or mudslide of lava, water, boulders and anything else it took in its path. The railway was about 20 miles from the summit of Ruapehu, yet the lahar easily took out the bridge and 151 people lost their lives that day. Our bus driver, Barry, actually had 2 uncles die in this disaster so it was very interesting for him to recount how he remembered the day and stories behind it. The bridge has now been rebuilt with a sophisticated lahar warning system in place. Overall that was a run through of my second weekend of adventures with a big week of school ahead of me! We only take 2 classes for the first 6 weeks and a separate 2 classes for another 6 weeks so with this past week being the 3rd week we had midterms to take and papers to write! However I know I will be better about blogging about my 3rd weekend because I’m about to write it right now! :)

Cheers!

Weekend Adventures January 27, 2013

Posted by sgrimes7 in Travel Log.
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I’m sorry I’ve been so slow at getting this written I have just been so busy and also wanted to say so much about my first weekend excursions. I’m not sure that even now I will get it all adequately portrayed but I will do my best. We started the weekend on Friday morning at 8am. I get a knock on my door and its my new friend Megan telling me that her and Mark had gotten the van and it was outside! this is what I walk down to see…

Hertzy!

This is when I knew that I was in for a treat! There was 11 of us piling in this 12 person van and taking of for the northern part of the North Island. Our original plan was to horseback ride part of the country side and then go black water rafting in the Waitomo caves — we did not know what we were getting ourselves into! First off one of the professors had told us to stop by Mount Taranaki on the way. Well we took his advice and ended up hiking about 2 miles in a “danger zone” for only  ”experienced alpine hikers” in Egmont National Park! Oh my goodness was that site beautiful though. I had never been so close to a volcano much less such a massive one!

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Mount Taranaki!

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Beautiful Panoramic view of the landscape we hiked!

Here are a couple shots of a couple of us starting and midway through our impromptu hike!

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After the hike we had a quick lunch in the visitors center which turned out to be delicious! We then thought we were off for our horseback ride.. little did we know we would stumble upon the most gorgeous beach I’ve ever laid eyes on! and it was deserted!! I think thats what took us all by surprise — in America this place would be commercialized and built up, but with the country of New Zealand having the same population of Atlanta there are so many natural landscapes that are undisturbed! Also, the sand was black – almost like tar but after taking a couple steps I realized I was walking on one of the softest landscapes I even knew existed. We stopped for a couple photo opportunities but had to get back on the road so we could make to the Horse trek by 8pm! However we vowed to stop by the beach on our return trip to Wellington (even if it was a little out of the way!)

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So onward to Hamilton, New Zealand we went. When we got there the horses were waiting for us and our trek was supposed to allow us to see the famous New Zealand glowworms! I automatically fell in love with my horse, Stacy, and I’m already plotting to move here and adopt her! We saw much more than glowworms as we trotted into the sunset and through the hillsides. By the time night fell we were riding through a couple streams where the banks were lined with hundreds of glowworms.. they were beautiful! However, in my eyes the stars stole the show! I have never seen so many stars in my lifetime. It was also great to see the different constellation in the Southern Hemisphere that we never see back home – such as the Southern Cross. If I had been bouncing up and down or horseback I would have sworn I had entered a planetarium!

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Me and Stacy!

DSC00243 393154_10151229269479141_145806034_n This Horse back rid in trek is also where I first realized a major difference between New Zealand and American cultures — New Zealanders are so laid back and simple — we worry too much!! As an example of this I asked our leader (as it was pitch black outside): “So do horses have good night vision?” Leader: “Hell if I know, I sure hope so!”

That would never happen in America! However after leaving Stacy behind :( we headed to our hostel for the night. Had two of my friends not known this place was where we were staying I would have never found it. I’m sad now that I didn’t get a picture, but we arrived around 11:30 pm to a green glowing building that just says “BACKPACKERS.” It turned out to be a nice little hostel (as long as you don’t mind sleeping in beds that fold like tacos when you lie down and sharing a bathroom with some 40 year old men). Either way it was my first hostel stay and I was proud to put a pin on the map as the first Memphian to ever stay there!!

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First one from Memphis, TN to stay at that hostel in Hamilton, New Zealand!

The next morning we woke up, found a cute little cafe, and had an absolutely amazing breakfast before departing for the Waitomo caves! Once we arrived at the caves we split into 2 groups to go on the 5 hour long adventure! My group had 6 of us from Georgia Tech and then 1 New Zealander and 1 Australian who turned out to be great locals to meet! First things first though, we got suited up in a wet suit, neoprene jacket, neoprene socks, booties, helmets and abseiling gear. After feeling like I just doubled my weight in gear we hit the “practice course” to learn how to abseil using a New Zealand “rack” That was quick, fun, and easy. Now we approach the cave…. here is lesson number 2 in New Zealanders live simple, care-free lives… They don’t tell you ahead of time that this abseiling technique you just learned about 5 minutes ago you will now perform by yourself and you abseil 200 ft into the cave through a tiny crevice into the pitch black. I thought that abseil was never going to end! Looking back, it was a blast, but I remember thinking so when will I hit the ground?? Next we get to a path where they instruct us all to turn off our lights and clip us on to a Zip line.. lesson 3 in New Zealand life, they think its great fun to just throw stuff at you. All we were told is do not turn your light on, and watch out for the big rock at the end, bye!! as they push you through an opening in the cave. Again — it turned out to be exhilarating I just couldn’t stop thinking “this would never happen in America!!” After those two adventures I was just expecting to be surprised and that I was. For the rest of the 5 hours we tubed in an icy cold river, learned the life cycle of a glow worm — which turns out is really glowing poop– and made our way through the Waitomo cave. Toward the end they say alright the way we get out is free climbing a couple waterfalls, now a free climb up also means its a free fall down so don’t let go! Woah, thats reassuring I thought but here I went.. and it might have been one of the best experiences I have had to date. Knowing that you are free climbing natural limestone 200 feet below ground as these huge waterfalls rush over you is intoxicating. I would go back and do it over and over. Here are a couple photos of the caving adventure..

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Crawling through on of the crevices in the cave!

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Our group pre-departure!

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Learning to Abseil on a New Zealand “rack”

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First success Abseiling on the practice course!

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Inside the cave!

Needless to say, I was tired after that day! That night we got an awesome deal at an actual hotel! (The horse and Jockey inn) and believe me I slept like a baby! The next day some of the group went to go see the “shire” where they filmed parts of the lord of the rings series, but I stayed behind and checked out some local markets, which including having some of the best home grown peaches! Then we were off back to our favorite beach! Upon returning to the beach I mentioned earlier there was a couple sitting on an ATV who approached me, warning me to watch out for the fishing line! We started talking to them and he was a native who had a torpedo like contraption that propelled itself 2km into the pacific ocean dragging baited hooks along and then he would pull it in to see what was for dinner! It was actually very interesting and he caught a baby Shark!!

Robby with the baby shark!

Robby with the baby shark!

After laying out/swimming/learning how the locals fish we headed back to Wellington for a nice hot shower and clean bed! I can honestly say I did not expect to love this weekend as much as I did. I wouldn’t change a think I have done here so far and I am a little worried the upcoming weekends cannot stand up to this one! However tomorrow I head out for Lake Taupo and the volcanic region there for 4 days so we’ll see how it compares! I promise to try and be a little better with blogging on time! Until then E noho ra (Goodbye in Maori!)

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Our weekend #1 group on the beach!

Stephanie Grimes January 27, 2013

Posted by sgrimes7 in Travel Log.
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Hi! – I’m Stephanie Grimes and I’m a second year Biology major from Memphis, TN. I’m on the Georgia Tech Pacific Program, which includes several cities in New Zealand, Australia, and Fiji. At Georgia Tech I am in Phi Mu Sorority, a morale leader for GT for the Kids, a GT tour guide, and on the executive board for American Society of Microbiologists. My plans are to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical science and work for a pharmaceutical company working to perfect medicines and treatments for nervous system disorders. I have never left North/South America before so this experience is monumental for me! My blog will recount all of my journeys throughout the pacific and southern hemisphere! Thanks for following me!