New Zealand Pt II

Wednesday

Tuesday in New Zealand wore me out. Driving all across the South Island exhausted me. However, when I laid down in my hostel bed that Tuesday night, all I could think about was 9:30 am Wednesday morning. Two days prior I had booked AJ Hackett Bungy at Kawarau Bridge for the early morning jump. I was so nervous about it because I’m absolutely terrified of heights. Nonetheless,  I decided against my better judgement that bungy jumping was a right of passage in New Zealand. I couldn’t not jump, right? Despite being in bed by 10:30 pm, I tossed and turned until around 1:30. When I finally fell asleep, I had a dream about the jump, and woke up around 6:45 am completely sweating. Even my unconscious mind was terrified. I rolled myself out of bed, went to the hostel kitchen, and made myself breakfast. My stomach was turning, though, and I couldn’t even eat the banana peanut-butter toast. So instead, I took an early morning walk around Queenstown. There was hardly anyone around at 7:30 but as I walked to the edge of the lake, the town came alive with thrill seekers everywhere looking to start their next adventure in the Adventure Capital of the World.

Finally, I made my way to my rental car and made my way down to the Kawarau Bridge. The jump was about a 25 minute drive from Queenstown, and as I drove the sun was coming up over the Crown Range. The sunlight streamed onto the hillside to my right and I couldn’t help but notice the way every bush and tree on the mountain looked healthier, more alive. But the closer I got to Kawarau made my heart beat faster. At one point in the drive I had thoughts about turning around and just not showing. When I arrived, there was no one else in the parking lot. I checked the clock and realized I was almost 30 minutes too early. So, I sat in my car with the heat blasting and just contemplated the life choice I was about to make. Once the workers arrived and opened the doors, I went inside because I knew if I sat there any longer I was going to chicken out. I checked in with the front desk, was weighed, and put my stuff in a locker. I stood in the bathroom for a little bit basically shaking, and telling myself “you can do this.”

I headed out to the bridge, only to realize no one else had jumped yet. I took one step onto it, looked over the side, and turned to head back inside. But before I could go, one of the workers yelled to me, “This way!” I stopped with my back towards her, closed my eyes, took a really long and deep breathe, and then turned back and walked (really slowly) to the center of the bridge. And that’s when anxiety took over. The kind girl asked me where I was from while she started safety procedures, but I barely even heard her over the sound of my heart pounding in my chest, and in my ears. She could clearly see I was losing my mind, and she put her hand on my shoulder and told me that the guys would help keep me calm, because that’s their job, after-all. After the harness was attached, I was moved closer to the edge so the guys working could attach the rest of the bungy equipment. It was super cold and my eyes were watering but I’m almost positive that they may have been tears. I couldn’t control my breathing and Luke (the worker) asked me questions to distract me from myself. Once everything was secure, Luke walked me to the edge of the platform. “You can do this, you came all the way here, paid for the jump, and now you’re going to do this.” “Just focus on the mountain in front, and on the count of three I want you not to think, and just jump.”

He forced me to turn and look at the cameras. “Look like you’re enjoying yourself just for the picture.” But when I turned and looked, the crowd that had formed to watch was standing there cheering and I thought “well now I can’t back out because that would be embarrassing.”

“Three, two, one….”

I didn’t think. I just jumped. Arms spread eagle, eyes on the mountain. In .5 seconds, it was over, and the bungy was snapping back, once, twice, and the third time I was being lowered into the yellow boat below. I didn’t even scream or make a noise. I was just smiling to myself, proud.  “You did it.”

I walked up the stairs on the side of the gorge just smiling because the adrenaline was still pumping. When I got up there, there was no one I knew there. No one to be thankful that I was still alive except for me. And in that moment, I realized that I could do anything. That being alone wasn’t scary, because even though I was by myself, some strangers cheered me on, gave me the encouragement, to conquer my fear of heights. And none of those people standing on the bridge side will ever know that, but they gave me the confidence to do something that terrified me, and for that I’ll forever be grateful.

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Kawarau Bridge Bungy; Queenstown, NZ

Bungy jumping was another thing I could add to the long list of amazing adventures that Australia and New Zealand brought to me. On the drive back to center city Queenstown, I was so exhausted. I looked forward to the moment where I could crawl back into my comfy hostel bed and sleep. I figured I deserved a lazy afternoon, and decided to stay in the bed until around 4:30 pm, when a new roommate checked into our room. His name was David, and he was from Ireland. We talked for awhile before deciding to call Fergburger (only the best burger place in all of the Southern Hemisphere), and get take out for dinner. We picked up our food, and went and sat by the lake while we ate. David was super interesting, because he had traveled a lot, and told me some really awesome stories about his training for skydiving, and about where he had been in Australia.

Thursday

Sam and I had planned to drive to Mount Cook, but between the two of us, getting up early was almost impossible. We decided that we would check out Moke Lake and Glenorchy, which was about a 45 minute drive from Queenstown. Our first stop was Moke Lake, which was just a short drive from the town. We took a gravel road around a mountain, which led us to the water. It was so beautiful, because it was completely surrounded by mountains, with green pastures and a rocky slope. There was a small farm right on the lake, and we tried to pet the horses that were fenced in. However, Sam and I were awful at trying to convince the horses to come over, so we decided to leave and make our way towards the next destination.

 

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We listened to good music and enjoyed the views on our way to Glenorchy. There were too many places that I wanted to stop and take pictures, but I felt bad because Sam was becoming my own personal photographer for the trip, so I decided to save him the trouble and soaked in every view I could, while he drove. Glenorchy was a really small town, but it was surrounded by huge mountains that had snow covering the top of them. It was surreal to be in a place where it felt like 65 degrees but also seeing snow covering mountains in every direction that I looked. Part of me wishes I had taken the time to capture all of the beauty on camera, but in that moment I was just enjoying myself, and enjoying the views. We sat by the lake and watched the jet boats make their rounds. The water was so clear and so cold. We only sat there for about 10 minutes before the breeze became too much to bear. Before we left, I grabbed a handful of rocks from the beach which was probably super illegal but I had made a promise to a friend that I would bring back a part of New Zealand.

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We drove all over until we were super tired. But on our way back I saw a farm where I was able to feed and pet sheep which was my goal from day 1. So, Sam took a nap in the car while I spent an uncanny amount of time hanging out with sheep, as well as llamas, alpacas, a mini-horse, a cow, and a lot of ducks. I spoke with the owner of the little farm and she told me about each of her animals, while we walked around and fed them. She had been a farmer there for more than 20 years, starting with only 4 sheep and a goat. From there, her farm grew to become more than 15 sheep, 3 cows, 6 llamas, and 3 alpacas. In addition, ducks and chickens gather to be fed by her, so she considers them all her family. I admired this woman and the way she loved each of the animals, and the passion she had for taking care of them. I thanked her, and headed back to the car where poor Sam had been waiting (but sleeping) for probably 45 or more minutes. (Sorry Sam). We headed back to Queenstown, and hung out in the hostel for the rest of the night, since our plans for Friday included more than 6 hours driving.

Friday

Friday was my last full day in New Zealand, and I had been dying to get to Aoraki / Mount Cook, which is the tallest mountain in New Zealand. The drive from Queenstown to Mount Cook was 3 hours, so we decided to leave pretty early to have a full day there. We hopped in the car, put on the music, and just drove. The scenery along the way was mind blowing. We went from mountains, to valleys, to lakes, and back to mountains the entire way there. I couldn’t believe (and I’m sure I repeated myself many times to Sam), that I was there, in New Zealand, experiencing all these things, and seeing these views. The lakes we passed by had electric blue water, and they didn’t even look real to me. Once we got closer to Mount Cook, the landscape just kept getting better (and I wasn’t even sure that was possible). We only stopped once for gas and the bathroom, which put us there around 12 pm. It was overcast, and pretty cold, but we were prepared. We took the Hooker Valley Track to the glacier. It was supposed to be a 1.5 hour hike but Sam and I basically ran past all the other tourists, only stopping every once in a while so I could take a picture or drink out of a natural spring. There was so many cool views. The glacier on top of Mount Cook is melting, unfortunately, and so there were many different streams and a small lake that was formed by the glacier water. On the sides of the mountain, natural springs were flowing, and on the top of the mountain, there was snow. It wasn’t as cold as I had expected it to be, but when we came to the end of the track, where the glacier was, the wind picked up and it was freezing.

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But the temperature didn’t really bother me, because I was preoccupied with the glacier that was right in front of me. I lost count after 27 but I’m pretty sure Sam was tired of hearing me say “WOOOOOOW,” but I couldn’t help it because the beauty all around me had me speechless. There were people eating lunch on a picnic table next to the glacier, others were down along where the water met the rocks. So Sam and I waited until everyone took their pictures, then we took ours, and afterwards we stood back just to admire the view. I picked up a sheet of ice, which I thought was pretty cool since it was the first time I had seen a glacier in person, and got to hold a piece of it in my hand.

The hike back to the parking lot felt long, and all Sam and I could talk about for some reason was getting a mango smoothie. We went to the cafe at the lodge at Mount Cook to eat lunch. Unfortunately, they didn’t have mango smoothies. But nevertheless, we ate and were ready to take on the 3 hour drive back. But first, Sam showed me these green/blue lakes that were on the other side of Mount Cook. However, I had hurt my knee earlier in the week and going up and down the stairs to the lakes was getting pretty hard, so we decided to call it a day and head back to Queenstown. On our way out, we stopped on the side of the rode so we could get the iconic Mount Cook in the background of our picture. We made a pretty bogan set up with my GoPro on his bookbag, sat it straight up in the middle of the road, and tried to get our picture. I believe it took 4 or 5 times before we got a decent picture that we both liked, but not after we were almost hit by a huge Jucy van.

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Our entire way back we listened to music and talked. I reflected on the past week because it was my last afternoon and sunset in Queenstown. Luckily, we arrived in town just in time for sunset and I was able to capture a few good pictures of the little town in the fading sunlight. It was gorgeous and I couldn’t help but be thankful for all of the beautiful things I was able to do and see in New Zealand. I was also thankful for the friendship I had made with Sam in such a short amount of time. It was an almost instant friendship and I felt blessed because I was able to share my experiences with someone, and I knew I had made a friend for a life time.

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Sam and I got back to Adventure Q2, changed, and then went to eat dinner at Sam’s favorite restaurant Madam Woo. We were super hungry so we ordered so much food. It was all really good, and I ate these chicken wings like I had never seen food before. The couple next to us even comment on it. I felt bad, but oh well, the coconut rice and the sweet wings were such a good combo. Afterwards, I made Sam come to Patagonia chocolates with me so I could get ice cream. We went down by the lakeside and hung out, but I couldn’t finish the ice cream so we gave the rest to a drunk group of friends, and walked back to the hostel.

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View from the rooftop of Madam Woo

That evening I packed all my things into my large Osprey backpack, and I was pretty certain I was breaking every weight restriction possible.

On Saturday, my flight wasn’t scheduled until 1:30pm out of Queenstown, but I had to return my rental car, and I wanted to get a souvenir for my family. Once I returned the rental car, I went to check-in, got my ticket, went through security, and then sat and waited for my flight to board. I was so sad to be leaving New Zealand, but I was excited to go back to my friends, and to be in the comfort of my own room and not a hostel.

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Thinking back on the whole experience, there were a few things that I learned while I was there. The first is that everything usually works out, and sometimes better than you expect. That even when you end up 6 hours away from your final destination, it will be okay, and you will get there. Detours that are unexpected will always make for a good story. Second, when you’re in a hostel, talk to everyone and anyone. Learning about other people and how they got where they are is always rewarding, and sometimes you’ll make friends that you end up spending the entire time with. Leaving your comfort zone is important, that’s where the growth happens. And maybe it all seems really cliche, but I didn’t truly know any of this before I experienced it for myself.

The morning I arrived in Queenstown, I was terrified of being alone, doing things on my own, being in a completely different hemisphere than my family. But when I changed my mindset, when I focused on the fact that I had come here, completely on my own, I knew it was something I could be proud of. Something that not many people, especially my age, had experienced before. It was a moment that I could really say that I felt like an adult, and not just a really big kid.

So, New Zealand, thank you for your beauty. Thank you for the opportunity to grow. Thank you for good friends, and good food. Thank you for adventure. Thank you for teaching me that I’m strong enough to take on the world by myself. Thank you for the immense amount of sheep. Thank you for the metaphorical mountains that I climbed. Thank you for the real ones. Thank you.

 

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New Zealand Thoughts; Part I

My journey to New Zealand began on Saturday morning around 8 am. My flight was scheduled to depart at 6:25 am Australian time and arrive in Queenstown, NZ at 12:40 pm. A four hour delay characterised my Saturday morning. We were scheduled to board at 10:30 am for an 11:00 am departure. Unfortunately, flying with Jetstar means delayed or cancelled flights are to be expected. We boarded and I decided to relax and just enjoy the flight because there’s nothing you can really do about a delay. However, 3:15 minutes into the 3:30 minute flight, a flight attendant made an important announcement.

“We have a message from the captain.”

Heart stops.

What could that be?

“Due to an issue with an important radar, we will be landing you in Christchurch”

What!?!? I exchanged worried looks with the guy next to me, but then he just laughed and said “typical.”

But I was not okay with this. My first time traveling completely solo for a trip and this is how it starts?? I was furious, but I was more nervous than anything because all I could think was “how am I getting to Queenstown?”


In case you were curious. 

Once we landed, the Jetstar staff quickly gave us the option of being bussed (for free, paid by Jetstar) or to buy our own flight to Queenstown. Being a broke study abroad student, I had no choice but to endure the bus ride from Christchurch to Queenstown. In a car, we would make it in 6 hours at best; via bus, 7 or 8 hours is a normal trip. All I could do was be thankful that I had landed safely, so I headed through customs and out to the coach bus.

Everyone on board speculated that Jetstar knew all along that we could not land in Queenstown,  but decided to fly us there anyway. Whatever the reason may have been, the bus ride wasn’t all that bad. I have had countless hours on buses for field hockey, so sleeping wasn’t an issue. But another bright side of the situation, I was able to see parts of New Zealand that otherwise I wouldn’t have seen. Despite the detours, we arrived in Queenstown at around 12:45 am. I quickly called a cab (although apparently they had already arranged for cabs to get us) and jumped in with a few other people who were going into town. Luckily, the driver was very friendly and only charged me for 9$ of the 45$ ride.

I arrived at my hostel at around 1:15 am, grabbed the envelope from the counter with my name on it, and borderline sprinted for my bed.

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On Sunday morning, I took a very expensive cab ride to the Omega car rental hub right outside of town. I was nervous mostly because I had never rented a car before but also because they drive on the left hand side in NZ, so I was out of my element to say the least. Once I got my car, I drove into town just trying to find the free parking. By this point, I started to feel alone, realizing I would be spending the next 7 days in a foreign place, completely on my own. Naturally, calling my mom was my first instinct. Whenever I feel alone, or I miss home, or I just need someone to talk to, she always has my back. I parked in a spot along the lake front and dialed her all too familiar number. Fighting back the urge to cry, I listened to closely until I heard her calming voice.

We chatted and I expressed to her my concerns but told her that I felt safe I just didn’t like the feeling of being on my own. Talking to my family instantly made things better, and I felt completely ready to take on whatever this week would bring. They gave me a list of things to do in town, and a list of top restaurants to eat in.

Once I had breakfast at Vudu cafe, I made my way up to the Gondola to the mountain top that overlooks Queenstown. After I spent a good 20 minutes just staring at the beauty of the little town below, I decided to go for a hike. I had no where to be and no one to answer to, which was one of the most freeing feelings I’ve ever had (next to jumping out of a plane of course). I hiked the Tiki Trail and found countless places to stop, rest, and just enjoy the beauty of this new place. In each direction,I saw large mountains covered in dry shrubbery, tall pines, and brown, green, and yellow grass. Below, there were beautiful electric blue waters. The temperature was a nice 72 degrees Fahrenheit, 22 degrees Celsius, and the wind was slightly blowing, which cooled my skin burning under the hot sun. But it was quiet up there, and I just listened to the sounds of the wind and an occasional bird. Once I came to the top of the trail, I found a paraglider who was about to take off. He was friendly and we chatted for a bit while he geared up. I asked him how long he’d been doing it, and he told me 7 years. We talked a bit more before he took off running down the side of the mountain and off into the air. I stood there admiring him in that moment because he was gliding over top of Queenstown, no doubt he had the best views from above.

Somewhere on the trek back down I hurt my knee, so getting back to the Skyline and Gondola wasn’t easy. But I made it and once I got there I decided I couldn’t leave without going for one run on the Luge track. I bought my ticket and headed for the lift. Once I was up there they gave me some safety instructions and sent me on my way. To my surprise, it was super fun. I’m sure if I had raced someone else it would have been much more exciting but I enjoyed the feeling of going down the mountain quickly. At the end, I hopped off the luge and headed for the Gondola back to town.

In the kitchen that night, I met a few people who had worked at the hostel. Sam was the first person I really talked to. He’s from the States, but has been living in Queenstown since last fall. Sam told me about how he ended up there; he decided one day to sell his car, buy a one-way plane ticket, and left. One of the biggest reasons he has chosen to stay in Queenstown is because it instantly felt like home the minute he arrived. The biggest advantage and his favorite part of being there is meeting new people everyday from all over the world.

Sam and Colin both invited me to go with them to Highlands in Cromwell on Monday, and I suddenly realised how much fun the week was destined to be.

Monday

On Monday, I woke up pretty early to finish putting together a paper that I had due at 4 pm. I headed to Starbucks because I couldn’t connect to the hostel wifi. I was stressing only because I needed to find the proper citation for more than one of my sources but I was scheduled to leave at 11:30 am for go-carting in Cromwell with Sam, Colin, Jack, Abbie, and Adam. Luckily, I finished my paper, submitted it, and had time to eat before we left. We headed to Cromwell and for the first time I left Queenstown to go on an adventure. The drive to Cromwell was about 45 minutes and the road took us through the Nevis canon. The mountains were surrounding us in every direction that I could see. I noticed how winding the roads were, and that a short drive can turn out to be longer than expected.

We arrived late to the Highlands motor park but just in time to start the first race. Originally I just tagged along for the drive and didn’t expect to race but Colin and Sam convinced me and I paid for a single 10 minute race. I decided that waiting for the second round would give me the best advantage to scope out my competition. However,  I had no shot at actually beating Adam because he was really good. The race itself was really fun. I didn’t come in dead last so that was a plus, and I got a pretty good time.

Afterwards Sam and I drove to Wanaka, a little town about an hour from Queenstown. It’s known for it’s gorgeous lake, but also for this really famous tree that sits right in the middle of the lake. This tree was on my list of things to see in New Zealand because of the gorgeous views around and behind it. We made it to the tree, which was rather uneventful, but scenic nonetheless. The tree (pictured below) had swarms of people by it and that’s how I knew I had found the right place.


We headed to a burrito stand in town that Sam raved about, but it was closed. Instead we got fire oven pizza to share and sat on a bench. By this time, it was about 5 pm and I was so tired, so we headed back to Queenstown via the Crown Range, which is a beautiful stretch of winding roads that lead through a valley of sheep farms and tall mountains. The part I found to be the most interesting was how the sheep fences ended about half way up some mountains, and the sheep would be standing on what looked like 90 angles, way high up on the side of the mountain enjoying their taste of dead grass.

On our way back we stopped at a few different over looks so I could get pictures. Sam was about done with having to take my picture at every chance, but he was a trooper and stuck through it. We decided we wanted to watch the sunset from the top of a mountain range called the Remarkables, and so we drove right past Queenstown and straight up to the mountain. The road on the mountain was gravel and winding. In some parts there wasn’t a guard-railing and I was having mini-panic attacks the entire way up. The rock and gravel made for a bumpy ride up. When we got up there, we quickly realized that if we wanted to watch it from the top, we would have to hike the rest of the way up, which was a two-hour hike return trip. We figured we weren’t equipped to make the hike back in the dark, so we left and headed back to town. On the way down we stopped to admire the little city from high up on an overlook. It was really windy and I could barely stand up on the rock, but I needed to have a picture of that view because as far as the eye could see it was just a valley of mountains, farm land, lakes, river systems, and sheep; more sheep than people. From that view, the world looked really big, and I instantly felt small.

Tuesday
I woke up around 7:15 am, ready to go to Milford sound. The drive to Milford is about 3 1/2 hours, but usually takes longer due to the twisting and winding nature of New Zealand roads. Luckily, that drive wouldn’t be so bad since Sam agreed to come along. However, when I checked my phone, I saw that Sam had messaged me saying he was unable to make it because he was house hunting. All I could think was great, but I couldn’t blame Sam for having adult responsibilities. I was also bummed because that drive alone was going to be difficult but I figured, why not, and headed for Milford sound.

On the way there, I only stopped once for coffee. I made really good time and was on highway 94 before 11:30 am. I was guaranteed to be there by 12:30 so I could catch the 1 pm tour of the sound by boat. It was all working out so perfectly, until half way down the road when I realized that I had less than half a tank of gas and no phone signal. I kept telling myself “there will be a gas station” but I was dead wrong. At about 12:00pm I started to panic thinking, what if I run out of gas, in the middle of no where New Zealand, without phone service? And that’s when being alone began to feel scary.  The devil on my shoulder said “just keep going” but something in the back of my mind said “you should turn back.” So for a solid 10 km I fought with myself about what to do. I didn’t want to turn back because I wanted to see Milford and I didn’t want to have come all this way just to not make it there. But on the other hand, being stranded in a foreign country on a back road didn’t seem appealing either.

Just when I had done about as much praying as someone could do in 10 minutes, a sign appeared in the distance, “emergency petroleum.”  And I thought to myself, how quickly can a prayer be answered?? Once I came to the turn, I saw the winding gravel and dirt road through the forest and thought to myself “is this where I die?” At any rate, I knew this emergency gas would be the only way I was making it to Milford Sound. So I headed down the road for about 3 km before I came to a pair of hitch hikers in the middle of the road. I slowed down to let them hop in. The couple was from Belgium, and they had been back packing and camping throughout Fiordland National Park for about two weeks. They were really sweet and I felt bad that I couldn’t drive them for longer, but they assured me that every km counted. When we approached the small abandoned looking town, they thanked me, collected their things from the trunk, and headed back onto the road. Inside the small store, I asked the woman for help and if I could purchase gas from her. She walked out with me, took one look at the gas gauge, and told me I was lucky to have made it here, because otherwise I would have run out of gas before making it back to Te Anau, which was the nearest town with petrol (98.3 km in the other direction). Once I paid for the gas, she hand pumped 10 liters out of a gas tank from the 1950’s, and sent me on my way. Silently I thanked God for answering my prayer for gas. I took a moment and thought about how badly the situation could have turned out, but really amazing was that I found gas, made friends from Belgium, and found a small stream to relax by before continuing my journey to Milford.

Back on the main road, I started to see extremely tall mountains, that were hidden by a hazy cloud cover. The lush green trees were damp from the moisture in the air, and I could feel the temperature change as I made my way closer to the sound. The mountains were so tall and the road wound around them. There were many places where the road turned to a one way bridge or stretch. At one point, a stream with a gorgeous blue waterfall appeared on my left and I decided to stop up ahead and walk back to it so I could take a picture and feel the water. Finally after another 35 km of driving, I came to the tunnel that leads to Milford sound. Since it is a one way tunnel,  a row of lined up cars were stopped waiting for their turn to go. I put my car in park and got out to take some pictures of the mountain on my right because at the top through the clouds  I could see snow but a constant stream of water right through middle. When the light turned green, I jumped back into my car and drove through a tunnel that was more like a mine-shaft.

Eventually I made it to Milford Sound, but I had missed the tour by 45 minutes. The next ferry wasn’t until 3:15 pm and I walked away from the counter without buying a ticket. But then I thought to myself, why would I come all this way just to turn back around and drive four hours back without seeing the inside of Milford sound? I headed back to the counter, purchased a ticket, and headed to my car to take a much needed nap. When I woke up, it was almost time to board the cruise. The cruise was two hours long as it went slowly around the inside of the beautiful sound. The tour guides gave us information about the Maori names and stories about the structures of the sound. They told us about the first Western explorers, and other historical facts. All of the information was interesting because I love learning about history, but it was hard to focus on what they were saying because the beauty of the scenery around me was engulfing. The guides explained that the sound has hundreds of permanent waterfalls around the sound. However, thousands more can be seen after a heavy rain. At Milford, it rains two out of three days. We reached the Tasman Sea and turned around. We came to a spot under Sterling Falls and we went directly under the waterfall. It was so cold, so I decided to run back inside the boat before the water could actually touch me, but some people preferred to get soaked.

Once the cruise was over, I headed straight for the car so I could try to beat the sun back to Queenstown. However, I knew there was no way I could avoid driving in the dark on the windy back roads of New Zealand. I kept checking my gas tank because I was worried that I may not have enough gas to make it back to Lake Te Anau. Luckily, I made it to the town, filled my tank with fuel, drank some coffee, and headed back to Queenstown. The sun was setting behind me, but the most beautiful yellow and orange skies could be seen in my rear view mirror. The yellow and green fields of grass as well as sheep could be seen flying by. In the distance I could see the rolling hills, so I turned up my favorite song, rolled the windows down so I could feel the cool air, and then I just enjoyed the ride with the views because what else could I do? There was no one but me to experience how beautiful that moment was but it made me so grateful for the opportunities I had been given, and for being able to experience the completely raw beauty that New Zealand had to offer.

Once I made it back to the hostel safely, I ate dinner because I was starving. I proceeded to head straight to bed because I was exhausted, and had to be up early for my next adventure, which was Bungee jumping. However, as I laid down and got comfortable, I started to panic thinking about jumping off a bridge, and ended up being awake until around 1:30 am. But when I finally drifted off to sleep, I dreamed I was flying above Lake Wanaka.

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Today as I write about my adventures in New Zealand, I’m struggling with feelings of inadequacy, feelings of insecurity, feelings of sadness, and feelings that I wish I could make go away. But I’m learning that these feelings are normal and that in these moments I need to patient with myself, and take the moments of stillness as a time to reflect and recover. Reflecting on my trip to New Zealand has helped me understand something about myself. I understand now that I am strong enough to make it through these spells of depression. I know this because I am strong enough to spend an entire week by myself in a foreign country, and make the most of it in every way.

Someone very close to me told me “go out there and travel alone because this is a once in a life time opportunity that not many people have the chance to experience, and you’ll look back on this as one of the most life-shaping times in your life.”

He was right. Traveling alone was better than I could have ever expected. It taught me so much about how to deal with unexpected travel delays, how to put myself out there, how to ask questions, and most importantly it taught me how to be content with being alone, and doing things on my own; it taught me how to be still and enjoy listening to the sound of just the wind on top of a mountain.

Life can be full of beautiful moments in extraordinary places, so Take Risks And Value Every Lesson. 

 

 

 

Meet Clara 

I have wanted to make a post about some of the friends I’ve made here. It’s important to me to write about these experiences because some day they will just be memories, and some of them may be vague, so I’ve decided to make it a point to write about the people that are impacting my time here and helping me make the most of this great adventure, so here it goes.

Meet Clara

I’ve only known this sweet girl for a short period of time, but I’ve already come to have an amazing friend in her.

Clara and I met through a mutual friend, whom she came to visit for the weekend. I had the privilege of spending the weekend getting to know her and her story. Although we’ve only known each other for a short time, she has quickly become someone I will be friends with for a life time.

Clara was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina but she has never actually lived there. She spent the next six years living in Paraguay. After those first six years, she moved to Uruguay where she remained for about ten years before moving to Kenya. She spent three years in Kenya finishing her high-school career there. If you think about it in terms of continents, Clara has now lived on three different ones, which is more than most people can say they have in their life time, let alone in 20 years. 

She took a gap year before she applied to schools in Spain, Germany, Holland and Australia. She decided on CQ University in Cairns, Australia. She choose CQU because one of her friends moved to Australia a couple months ago, and he told her how amazing Australia was. CQU also had the program that she is most interested in. She is studying Contemporary Music, which combines music and business. She also mentioned that CQU allows students to record their own CD and get 70 hours of studio time per month.

She is passionate about music, especially Ed Sheeran. He was her inspiration to dedicating her life to music. She told me she was thinking of studying business or something that was considered to be a ‘safe’ major, seeing as music could go very right or very wrong. However, Ed Sheeran inspired her to keep on trying with music and to keep on pursuing something that she loves to do. (May I add she has the voice of an angel). She added “at the end of the day you only live once and you don’t want to spend your whole life doing something you’re not passionate about.” Music and songwriting have been the best way for Clara to express herself. She noted that she’s always had a hard time expressing her self in words but music helps her so much with putting her feelings into something tangible.

Clara has lived in many countries, but Kenya is by far her favorite. She says that is because it is so different from all of the other countries she has lived in, and because it is where she has made some of her life-long friends. She has been able to meet people from all over the world by being in Kenya. She also loves the beautiful landscapes. She would really like to visit Thailand, but says that she enjoys traveling and would want to go anywhere in the world if she could.

If you had to give me life advice, what would it be?

“Choose your friends wisely, you don’t want to waste your time with people who aren’t worth it.”

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Clara and I met under less than ideal conditions. However, I have come to know her very well since we met a few weeks back and although we’re far away from each other (North Queensland vs. South Queensland) we’ve remained connected through Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. We’ve talked every day since we met and I am more than thankful for the friend I have in her. Clara is one of the most genuinely nice girls I have ever met and that is rare in today’s society. She has taught me so much about friendship and loyalty in a weekend, more than I could have learned in a whole semester abroad. I am beyond thankful for our international friendship and the lessons I’ve learned through her. One of the things our friendship has taught me is that no matter where you’re from, whether it’s Argentina or The United States, kindness is a universal language. If you’re kind to someone, you can connect with them, regardless of cultural backgrounds. So go out and be kind, you’ll never know what type of friendship and connections can form.

I’ll see ya in April, Clara ❤

 

 

 

“How big is your small?”

I wish I could tell you that it’s easy. That picking up and traveling across the world is a breeze. But I would be lying. And maybe for some people it is, in fact, easy. Some people can pick up and leave the comfort of their world and be completely satisfied with never looking back. Fortunately for me, I have a life back home worth missing. I have a community full of wonderful and loving teammates and friends, and an overwhelmingly supportive family. So, I wish I could tell you that each new place I travel to makes me fall more in love with this country. I wish it were that simple. Don’t get me wrong, I love Australia. Each city grasps a piece of my heart, stamped with the beauty and allure of this big island. But home is home. Home is love. Home is where the heart is, where it always was. With that being said, each new day is a new challenge, a new chance to grow in ways I could have never imagined. Each day that passes, I am thankful for this opportunity. For the friends I’ve met, the places I’ve seen, and the experiences that are shaping who I am. These experiences are also teaching me to love and appreciate the things in my life that I have otherwise taken for granted for so long.

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These past few weeks have been filled with procrastination, stress, coffee, more procrastination, and not enough coffee. Mid-sems normally begin in week seven, but I had exams beginning in week six, which means studying should have began in week five. Yet, with every passing day, I could not bring myself to sit down, lock myself away in the library, and study. How could I want to study? The weather was beautiful, and the beaches called my name. The time came, however, to be a responsible adult and decide that studying was more important than a few extra hours on the beach.

On Monday of last week, stress set in when I began to realise that these next few weeks would be nonstop time spent in the library. Three mid-sem exams to complete before I could think about taking a break, and instead of anxiety-induced power-studying, it quickly turned to anxiety-induced power-napping. Tuesday’s exam came and went, and I was one test closer to being Sydney-bound. I felt prepared for Wednesday’s exam, and completed the online exam in less than thirty minutes. In retrospect, I wish I had taken my time during the exam, but nevertheless, I passed and I’m learning to accept a pass is a pass and that is good enough.

Wednesday night I was able to breathe a bit, and take a break. I went to HousePower, which a Christian group that meets weekly. The group is associated with Hillsong Church (to all my FCA people out there, you know why this is a big deal). I went there early, and met with my friend Rohan. We were sitting outside of a room that we do not normally meet in and a guy came up to us frantically asking around if we had seen any Beats by Dre wireless headphones in the room. We told him we hadn’t, but we would look for them. Rohan then began to tell me what the Lord is doing in his life. Rohan had heard the news that afternoon, that he was able to further his education (get a PhD) and work (a job through Bond). He mentioned to me that he had prayed for this opportunity very recently, and that the Lord had been faithful in answering him and providing him with the means necessary to further his education. With that, we joined the rest of the HousePower group and had sushi. It was a good way to really sit down, relax, and rejoice in the Lord before the rest of my week turned to panic and mayhem.

Thursday was full on panic mode. I woke up early in the morning to finish packing for my trip to Sydney, and to finish making a study guide for the exam on Monday. Feeling rushed, I hurried to downtown Gold Coast for my free cultural event through my program, TEAN. The event was a schedule SkyClimb across the largest skyscraper on the GC, Q1. Once the group had arrived and filled out the necessary paper work, we were suited up. The woman who worked there helped us get on all of our gear; the gear consisted of a gray jumpsuit, a harness, and a hat. After she gave us the run down, and we were all checked to go, we headed for the elevator to the top. My anxiety was through the roof (literally and figuratively). We stepped off the elevator and into the observation deck, and I was almost sweating through my ugly gray suit. One of the girls in our group was so scared she decided she could not go, and part of me understood her decision. Nevertheless, I climbed through the door, was attached to the railing, and started my ascent to the tallest point on the Gold Coast. The wind was so strongly that I could not keep my hat on (see picture below); thankfully the hats were attached to our suits because I clearly would have lost mine.

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After the climb, I rushed from Surfer’s Paradise, back to Bond, and caught the bus to Gold Coast airport for my 5:10 pm flight to Sydney. The trip there went smoothly, and my friend and I arrived just in time to board the flight right away, and at 5:07 pm, we were off. The flight itself was very quick. It felt like five minutes on the plane before we began our descent into Sydney. And so began the worst encounter I have ever had with public transportation. 

Sydney is one of the most iconic places in Australia. The biggest reason for this is it is characterized by the Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and Darling Harbour. One would assume that with the influx of tourists in that area of the city, public transportation would be an effective way to move about the city. And if one assumed that, one would be wrong. We found the entrance to the train that leaves from the Domestic Terminal in the airport and goes directly into the city. My friend Matthew lent his Opal card to me, which gave me access to all of the public transportation systems such as the ferries, the buses, and the trains. Once we arrived at Central Station, it was a nightmare trying to figure out which bus to take from the station to our accommodation, which was an Airbnb in Petersham, a suburb of Sydney. After what felt like ages, we found the proper bus route and were on our way.

Natalie and David, along with their adorable dog Lela, were there to welcome us into their home when we arrived. Once we had checked in with them, we made our way down to any open restaurant we could find, since we were starving. We ate quickly, went back to the flat, and went straight to sleep, because we knew that we had big plans for Friday. The forecast for Sydney was grim, but we decided to make the best of the situation and try to get to as many places in Sydney as possible.

In the morning, there was a ferry from Drummoyne to Circular Quay at 9:30 am. We took an Uber to the ferry wharf, and caught the next ferry to downtown Sydney. The weather was as predicted, overcast and slightly chilly, but the excitement of seeing the Opera House from the water was enough for me to ignore the weather bit. The ferry ride did not last long and before I knew it, I was under the Sydney Harbour bridge staring the iconic Opera House in the face. All I could think about, however, was Nemo.

We ate breakfast at a wonderful cafe, and I had the most delicious french toast. It was the best french toast I had had so far in Australia, so it was definitely something worth writing about. Once we had finished, we strolled down the street on our way to the Opera House. It is just as massive and beautiful in person as it is in real life. Of course I had to take the tourist picture near the bridge and with the Opera House, because honestly, did I even go if there wasn’t proof? We did not go inside or really get a good look around it before we headed off to the Royal Botanical Gardens in search of even more beautiful sites. When we were ready to head off to Bondi (a famous beach town in Sydney), we tried using the online journey planner for the public transportation system. (This is where my trouble and frustration with the buses really began). It took us about 45 minutes to finally get to Bondi, and by that time the sun had come out.

We took more pictures than my phone or GoPro could even hold. There were street art pieces all along the sidewalk leading down to the beach. There were so many beautiful murals of either words, portraits, or just random designs. I could not pick just a few to take phones in front of because they were absolutely gorgeous pieces of art. We then headed out to these insane rock structures on the north end of the beach. The waves were crashing over the rocks, which made for the perfect picture opportunity. After we left that spot, we decided to walk the famous Bondi to Coogee coastal walk. The real driving force behind that decision was my annoying and persistent request to see Giles Baths, a natural pool in Coogee.

I completely underestimated how long or how hard the Coastal Walk would be. The entire length of the walkway was complete with hills, cliffs, and stairs. However, despite the effort needed to make the trip, it was worth it. The views were amazing. One after the other I was able to see jetting cliff structures that went out over the sea. There were so many clear and natural pools that you could swim in. In some places the effects of erosion were undeniable. At one point, the walkway took us past a graveyard and we had to detour through it because part of the walkway had been ruined by storms back in June of 2016. Sometimes we stopped to read the headstones. The graves were massive, and many of them were very old. Towards the end of the walk, going up the stairs became more impossible. From beginning to end, it felt as though we had walked 6 km or more. In the end, though, it was worth it. The Giles Baths entrance never looked so sweet, and I basically ran to the water. It was cold and refreshing and I jumped right in to wake. There were others there, and some were snorkeling, playing on rocks, or soaking in the late afternoon sun. We stopped at a fish and chips place for dinner, before attempting once again to figure out the Sydney transportation system. We hopped on the 374 going towards Central Station in order to catch yet another bus to the Airbnb. However, we quickly realised we had taken the wrong bus (per the journey planners instruction) and we had to get off at a stop, and walk back to where we started. It was frustrating and after a long day of walking, we were less than thrilled to be walking back to square one.

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On Saturday, it was raining in the morning. Natalie recommended we ate at the Italian cafe just around the corner, which was known for its delicious pastries and sandwiches. Since it was raining, we headed to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. We spent the morning walking around checking out the exhibits there. There was an Indigenous Australian collection, European and Asian art collection, and an exhibition for Modern Contemporary art, which featured many pieces from Australian teenagers. It was amazing to me how many of the pieces were done by high school students. Some of the pieces were beautiful and deep, others were creative and fun. Once we had seen all of the free exhibits and made our way around each of them, we decided to go and find something else to do. Unfortunately, it was raining even harder than before, and by the time we made it back to our accommodation, it was time to get ready for dinner. I was craving Italian, and so we set out to find a great pizza place. Lucio’s in Darlinghurst was recommended to us, and we took a bus into the city. However, once again, the bus journey planner gave us the wrong bus route for getting there and once we hopped off, realising we were in the wrong place, I decided I was done with trying the public transport, and I ordered an Uber driver. Dinner was delicious and after a long and tiring second day in Sydney, I fell asleep happy and stuffed with delicious pizza.

Sunday was similar weather, so Blue Mountains (a hike that I was dying to go on) was out of the question. We caught a bus into the city to go to the Paddy’s Markets. We walked around there a bit and bought a couple small souvenirs. We walked around the city and found a place to have brunch. On the way there, I found a Starbucks that sold brewed coffee (first cup of brewed wonderful deliciousness I’ve had since arriving here) and I was thrilled. Once we found the brunch place, I was craving french toast , so I had another stack of french toast with berries on top. During our time in the cafe, the sun came out and it turned out to be a beautiful day. We walked through Hyde park, past a World War I memorial, and to St. Mary’s Cathedral. We walked through the Cathedral, which was a very humbling and spiritual experience. Many people there were praying, others were just respectfully admiring the beauty and extravagance of the wonderful church. The stained glass windows were glistening in with the sunlight hitting them and I was mesmerized by all of it.

In the afternoon, I wanted to go to Hillsong Church in Baulkham Hills. The church was pretty far from our accommodation and after a $50 Uber and a free bus ride there, we finally made it to the church whose music has been a huge part of my faith since I became a Christian. It was all very exciting to me, to get off the bus, and see how many people had come from all over to worship. We were there earlier than the service, and the concierge was friendly, and took us to seats where we could see the stage clearly. At 6:00 pm sharp, the service started, and the worship was as amazing as I had anticipated. The music, that had moved me in so many ways, was being played live, right in front of me. In Sydney, Australia. Here. At Hillsong. It was a surreal experience to say the least. But the worship, and the extravagance of the church wasn’t what made it so special to me. It was the messaged that I needed to hear, that really showed me this was the place I was meant to be in that moment.

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“How big is your small?”

That was the pastor’s first words to the church.

He then described the story in the Bible in Matthew 17. “Jesus replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

The pastor went on to talk about the small things in life that God gives us, and we are to use those small things (like a mustard seed) and do big things with them; and not expecting that having big things will bring happiness. He also talked about how we as humans take small things, and place big importance on it, that usually takes our focus off of God.

So there I was, feeling convicted because the entire weekend, I was making something so small (bad public transportation) into something so big (letting it ruin my mood for the weekend). I was not rejoicing in the small, every day blessing (like being able to travel to Sydney for a weekend, being able to breathe, being able to walk, appreciating the beauty of the city) rather, I was stuck making one small thing, way too big.

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On my flight home, I realised that I had learned yet another lesson about my attitude and perspective on life. I could be in any place, doing something amazing, something not many people get to experience in a life time; but if I’m not actively enjoying it, and changing my perspective when things aren’t the way I’d like them to be, then how will I be happy in the mundane? In the every day, 9 to 5 jobs later in life? It’s not a small thing to be able to study in a different country. It’s not small to be able to travel from city to city. But missing a bus and ending up in the wrong place is a small thing, a small thing that doesn’t deserve to be big enough to ruin a trip. Someone special to me once said “Perspective is everything.”

So how big is your small?

“Leave the ground, love the free fall”


I’ve found that when I leave the Gold Coast for a weekend trip, by the end of that weekend I am itching to get back here. I reckon that this place is my second home. That if I can’t be home, where my friends and family make being home worth while, that I should be here, my second home. I belong here, where my friends are. Those friends make being 9,000 miles away from my family, not only bearable, but one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. So when I come home, here, to my second home, where there is nothing but warm smiles and generally good vibes all around, I am thankful. Grateful. 
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Days are turning to weeks, weeks to months, and I’ve already been here for a month. It’s a strange feeling to think that I’ve established a routine, have traveled to three different cities, and have had three full weeks of classes here on the Gold Coast. It feels like a blur and I’m afraid if I blink, it’ll all be over way too quickly than I’m prepared for. Each day I meet a new amazing person. Whether that person is on my campus, or in the cities I’ve traveled to, I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many people from different cultural backgrounds. 
I have friends from Qatar, Canada, Australia, Kenya, and some from all over the U.S. Each and every one of them is so unique and the strength of the relationships I’ve made here are already so strong, that homesickness is a rare feeling. Even when I’m feeling that way, they are there to cheer me up. To bring me back to the present moment. 

Friday morning, I boarded a coach bus with Lauren to head to Byron Bay. My stomach was in knots because in less than an hour I was due to be free-falling from 14,000 ft above the earth. The whole way I was praying for safety (and asking God why I love adrenaline so much). Once we got there, I left the comfort of my seat next to Lauren, and headed for what I hoped would be the greatest experience I’ve had so far. When we got there, there were heaps of people everywhere. After waiting for what felt like forever, they made an announcement that, due to ISSUES WITH THE PLANE, we couldn’t go and were rescheduled for Sunday morning. The panic that had set in was gone, and we headed into down town Byron to meet up with the rest of the group.
Normally, I wouldn’t have booked a trip through the Student Flight centre on campus. A trip to Byron could have cost me next to nothing if I had known. However, I had booked the trip very early on and thought, why not make the best of it? So Lauren and I did what we do best, and hit the beach for the afternoon. The water was crystal clear and perfect temperature. After taking the best nap ever, Amanda joined us on the beach and we had fresh coconut water from a coconut street vendor. After we had enough sun, we walked back to our beach hostel to clean up and go explore the town of Byron. 
After walking around a bit, we were hungry and tired so we stopped at a juice bar for some Açai bowls. They were delicious and I promise I ate mine in about three minutes. Once we were finished, we went back to the hostel to get ready for our night out with the group. Our tour guides, the Adventure Dudes, took us to a famous bar in downtown Byron. 

On Saturday morning, Lauren, Amanda, Tyler and I went for a hike up to Cape Byron and the lighthouse. We hiked about six miles through town, forest, and beach. The views I had from the top of that little mountain were absolutely breathtaking. I could look out over the ocean and see surfers looking to catch waves, people running and playing along the beach, and a great view of the Pacific Ocean. The sun was beating down on us all day but each new view gave us the energy to keep going. We eventually stopped at a grassy hill side near the light house, and trekked down to see the view. It was surreal to stand there with the wind blowing and the sounds of the sea crashing against the rocks. We looked down into the water and saw a sea turtle and a couple of wild dolphins. After making our way to the top of Cape Byron, we made our way down to the most Easterly point of Australia’s mainland. The view from there was just as incredible. From there we went to Watergos beach; we took pictures on rock structures with ocean crashing in the background. Amanda took an award winning photo of Tyler on a rock (literally award winning, they both got mugs from the Adventure Dudes).
By the end of the hike, we had sore feet and full hearts. We hurried back to the hostel because we were due to go kayaking with dolphins in the ocean. Unfortunately, the wind had picked up and so we were unable to go into the ocean. We went through the Brunswick River instead, which is known for its rich and thriving eco system. Lauren and I were on a mission to burn some calories so we worked pretty hard to paddle fast and hopefully see some wildlife. We stopped along the inlet to the river and parked the kayaks on the beach. We spent some time there just enjoying nature and exploring the beach. Lauren picked some flowers and one of our guides told us that it was The Salt-Water Hibiscus 🌺. This plant was used by Indigenous Australians for a number of reasons, but the branches were mainly used to carve spears because the wood would float in the water after being thrown. 
By the time we got back to the shore, we were all exhausted. After hiking about six and a half miles and kayaking for two, we needed to relax. The Adventure Dudes were cooking dinner for the group on the terrace of the hostel and so I went to call home and relax on the rooftop. Dinner consisted of burgers, hot dogs, potato salad, corn, and chips. After dinner, the group set out for the Beach Hotel bar. I was exhausted and knew I had to be up early for my Skydive, so I called it an early night and went back to go to bed. 

I set my alarm for 5:15 am, but I could hardly even think about going to sleep. My mind was racing thinking that in less than twelve hours, I would be jumping out of a plane. I woke back up at 6:15 am which was five minutes before I was supposed to leave. I was in full panic mode because I didn’t want to miss my opportunity to jump. Luckily, I made it in time to catch the bus. The bus ride there was oddly calming. I felt this sense of peace instead of what I expected to be feeling. Amanda, Tyler, and I were first to go once we were there because we had to make an 11 am boat to go snorkeling. Within minutes, we geared up and were going through the instructions. The instructor told us that it was all very simple. All we need to do once we were about to jump was make a banana shape with our bodies: head back, feet back under the plane, arms on our straps until we feel a tap on our shoulder. They were simple instructions. Nearly five minutes later, we were piling into the smallest plane I’ve ever seen or been into. 
Take off was rough, the runway was just grass and we basically just bounced up and down the entire way. I sat by the window just looking out over the beautiful landscape of Byron Bay. We went out over the ocean during our fifteen minute flight to altitude, and I couldn’t help but think of how beautiful the world looked from this view and this angle. I’m terrified of heights. I’m terrified of the feeling of falling. I should have been steady freaking out, my heart should have been racing, my mind should have been preparing myself for the worst, and my anxiety should have been through the roof. But it wasn’t. I was the most calm I have ever been. I was so calm that I had to check my own pulse to make sure I was actually alive, to make sure I wasn’t misreading what my body was saying. 
Tyler was the first to go out. The door of the plane opened and I felt the wind rushing in, cold and refreshing. One by one, three people flipped out of the plane. One second on the edge and they were gone. I was the fourth to go. We inched closer to the side and when I put my legs down at first they were forced to the left, until I put them up under the plane. I put my head back, held on to my harness, and we flipped out of the plane.
The free fall was fast. The wind was rushing all around me and it was happening so fast. Kev, my instructor, tapped my shoulder, which meant I could put my arms out. As soon as I did, it truly felt like I was flying. I looked all around me and saw the Coast line, the valleys, and mountains all in one view. The air was cold but as we fell it warmed up. Kevin pulled the chute and I looked up to make sure that it had actually deployed. Once we were sailing through the air, I took off the eye protectors so I could see without a glare. I just kept repeating “this is so amazing”, but the feeling really doesn’t have words to describe it. Kevin let me control where we went by pulling on each side of the parachute. When we landed, we landed right in a circle area with rocks, which apparently is pretty hard to do. I sat there trying to wrap my head around the experience while simultaneously kissing the ground.

 
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If you ever have the chance, SkyDive. It was hands down the most amazing feeling I’ve ever had in my life. I couldn’t explain it, words, pictures, and videos will never do it justice. So please, if you are able, experience it for yourself and you’ll know exactly what I mean. If you never take risks, you’ll never learn. Being vulnerable is scary, but taking the leap of faith and living in the moment is ALWAYS worth it. But you have to be willing to leave the comfort zone. Leave the place you’re grounded and love the free fall. 

“Excuse me while I eat my weight in Tim Tams”

Looking out of the window in seat 12F on Jetstar Flight JQ444, I realised something important. This moment that I’m living in; it is fleeting. These four months are flying by. And I’m terrified of how fast that its moving, how quickly these experiences are turning to memories. Someday, the detail of each memory will fade. So I realised something else, something more important. I need to be present and I need to make these moments last.
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On Thursday the 26th at 5:15 am, I left the comfort of my new home to journey to a different state, a different city. The buses in Gold Coast do not run that early (especially not on Australia Day; a public holiday). So my friend Lauren and I called an Uber driver to drive us to a bus stop in order to catch the 777 to Gold Coast airport. Naively, we arrived one hour prior to the flight, under the assumption that Australian airports were similar to American airports. We were wrong. The airports in Australia are different, in fact, they are friendlier and way less chaotic. But, in any case, being there early meant we had time to get food and hang out before boarding our flight. 

7:25 am rolled around and we began to board our flight, and by 7:45 am we were off. The flight was scheduled to be two hours and twenty minutes long, but we made it there in just under two hours. Stepping off of the plane and onto the Tarmac I immediately experienced a major difference between Melbourne and the Gold Coast. Melbourne was MUCH colder. However, it was refreshing to feel the cool breeze; to look at the cloud covered sky. It was different, it was a break from the harsh sunlight and strong humidity of the Gold Coast.

After Nicole and Mads arrived on a flight just an hour after us, the SkyBus took us into the city, where we caught yet another Uber to our accomodation. (Uber drivers have become my best friends, and the main source of drainage to my bank account). When we arrived at the Nunnery, we checked into the hostel, made our beds, and went to find food. Being in one of Australia’s best cities for food, it wasn’t hard to find a great place to eat. And after what felt like waiting forever, I stuffed my face with a personal sized pizza in under four minutes. The rest of our first day in Melbourne was filled with good food and an even better (and much needed) nap. 

When I couldn’t sleep any longer and my friends were passed out, I made my way into the court yard in the middle of our hostel. I was feeling the worst pang of homesickness I’d felt since I’d been here. Every part of my body ached for home. The smell of my house, the sounds of my parents cooking, the feeling of holding my sweet nephew, my siblings, my friends, my university. All of these things and people I take for granted. 

A man took notice of my distraught face, and struck up a conversation. 
R: “What’s wrong?” 

C: “I’m homesick and missing my family, that’s all.”

R: “Well, would you like to write to them? That always helps me when I feel homesick.”
After about an hour, I’d learned that Rohan is 34. He lives in New Zealand but he’s from Seattle, Washington. He moved there about seven months ago when he took up the New Zealand government’s offer to live and work there. He has two dogs, who are making the journey from California to New Zealand. However, because of their breed and anatomy, it takes much effort to get them across the ocean. Most airlines and vets refused to help Rohan due to the chance that his dogs could die in flight. Rohan is staying in Melbourne until 14 February, when his dogs are finally allowed to fly from Melbourne to Auckland. 

He kindly spoke to me, reassuring me that homesickness is normal, but not to let it affect my experience here because it’s rare. He then gave me a post card so that I could write to my family. 

Later that night, my friends and I walked down the streets of Fitzroy in Melbourne. Fitzroy is one of the coolest towns I’ve ever been to. We went to a rooftop bar that overlooked the city of Melbourne and stayed until about sundown. It was one of the colder nights during our stay and we had not packed properly (remember to check the forecast of the cities you’re traveling to BEFORE!!!!!! you go there). 

The rest of the night was seemingly uneventful. We had late night Chinese food from China Bar (highly recommend 10/10 best takeout food I’ve had since I’ve been here). 

On Friday morning, we had a slow start. We felt sleep deprived and ended up wasting much of our morning just laying in bed. However, it was much needed. Around 11:30 am we finally started our day and made our way outside of the city to a famous spot in Mt Martha. I couldn’t even begin to describe the things we saw there. The water was crystal clear blue, the rocks were perfectly eroded making what is known as the Mt Martha Pillars. We ascended down the side of the cliff and I could hardly wait to jump from the highest point possible into that clear blue water. I was the first to jump, along side my friend who had driven us there. My stomach turned the second I looked down over the edge but it was too late to worry, maybe 2.5 seconds in the air and I had already reached the water. When I came back up for air, I couldn’t even help but laugh and smile at the same time. I turned back and looked up to tell my friends to jump on in, because the water was amazing. 

I lost track of how many times I actually jumped off. But every time it got better, less scary. One by one we all jumped, even Lauren and Nicole jumped (after a long bit of talking them into it). 

On our way back to the city, we were all buggered (Aussie term for tired). So we stopped to get some local fish and chips. We stopped along a beach that was famous for its decorative shacks. When we first stepped out of the car, we heard people screaming “shark, shark! Get out of the water!” We hurried to see many people running toward the beach. However, to everyone’s surprise, it was four energetic dolphins playing around in very shallow water. Once everyone realised their mistake, many went back into the water to watch them. 

Our plans for Saturday kept changing because we weren’t sure exactly what to do. We finally decided on walking around the city. So we headed for a place famous for its delicious brunch. Brunch at Stagerlee’s on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy is hands down a must on any Melbourne to-do list. Each one of us had a dish that was beyond amazing. With full stomachs and happy hearts, we set out to find the free tram zone that runs into the city. 

Also, side note, America, why don’t you take some tips from Australia on how to have BETTER PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION?! 

We found the right stop and hopped on the tram, however, per my faulty directions we got off on the wrong stop. Fortunately, Melbourne is a great city to be lost in. We eventually made it to Hosier Lane in downtown Melbourne. Hosier Lane is a place where graffiti art is welcomed and celebrated. Melbourne is a city that recognises graffiti as an expression of art, which is why you can find murals on walls all over the city, but especially in these designated areas such as Hosier and AC/DC streets. After some aimless walking, we found a Melbourne information centre and stopped to find a map. We talked to man there who suggested a few stops, which is how we ended up at the National Gallery of Victoria. Floors two and three of the Gallery offer free exhibits for people to explore. One of the exhibits was Italian jewels Bulgari styles of the early to mid 1900’s. Jewellery of stars such as Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly were on display for the public. The collection was beautiful, and I wanted to take home every piece in that display. For the rest of the afternoon we walked around the free exhibitions of art. 

After we changed, we headed to Fitzroy Social, a modern bar in central Fitzroy. There we enjoyed some happy hour specials and a viewing of Home Alone on the wall above where we sat. After that, we made our way down to Bimbos, a local hipster bar. We stuck out because we’re not local and everyone in there knew everyone. We went to the rooftop bar to check it out but we ended up leaving and calling it an early night.

All in all, Melbourne was one of the most impressive cities I have ever been to. It is clean, the people are friendly (ah, except bikers who yell at you for being in the bike lane), and the food is amazing. The progressive ideas about art and creativity deem Melbourne the top of my list of recommended places to see in Australia.

So thank you, Melbourne, for being one of my favourite places in the country (so far😉).

Until next time 🤙🏼

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When we were younger, it was engraved in our minds that we weren’t supposed to talk to strangers. If your parents were anything like mine, you had this rule. With that, however, we were taught that anyone we didn’t know, was dangerous. They were someone who had a hidden agenda or was out to harm you. But my friends, this is the farthest thing from the truth. Talking to strangers is how you learn. You learn where the most secluded beaches are, how to get the tram around the city for free. You learn about other people’s lives and their stories. You learn that not everyone is out to get you. You learn that people all over are similar because they want, they love, they hurt. They’re joyful, compassionate, and understanding. So please, DO talk to strangers. You’ll never know what will come out of it, but 99% of the time it’s a really good decision.

On that note, excuse me while I eat my weight in Tim Tams. 

“I realised how badly I need Chipotle”

It’s extraordinary how fast things can change in life. It’s even more fascinating how quickly people can change, or rather, show their true colors. In any case, at this stage of life, learning is a natural part of the process. We learn about the world around us, we learn about the people around us; but more importantly, we learn about ourselves. We learn the type of people we want to be, the type of people we want to surround ourselves with. Most of us know by now what type of people we like and what type of people we can’t surround ourselves with. But rarely are we able to distinguish that from the first time we meet someone, and other times, you know instantly.

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This week was a learning experience. Life taught me a lot of lessons in just 7 days. I learned about the formation of Australia, billions and billions of years ago. I also learned that in order to relate to another person, you have to be culturally aware of their beliefs and values. I learned which types of jelly fish can kill you and how to look for them. I learned that you should always ask the bus driver if the bus is stopping where you need to go (ended up 20 minutes in the wrong direction and missed a train).

Monday morning I was awake early to the sound of birds outside my window. At first I thought the fire alarm was going off, but I quickly realised I was listening to a bird call, one of the most annoying bird calls in the entire world. But at any rate, I knew I had to get up. My first classes in a new country, I had to be ready, because I was terribly unprepared.

After breakfast, I made my way to my first class with only a notebook and a pen. Normally, I would have had a binder full of paper and six different types of pens for taking notes. However, the laid back Australian life style had grown on me all too quickly, and I was headed to class with the most minimalistic set up you could possibly imagine. I had no expectations of what class should be like either, and I just hoped for the best.

The rest of the day continued that way, as I made my way to all four classes. At the end of the day, I decided that using my laptop would be the most efficient way to take notes. I also realised how hard it is to pay attention for 2 hours at a time. Tuesday was much of the same stuff, basic outline of the class, and then diving straight into material. I guess when you only have class once a week, 2 hours a class isn’t a bad deal.

The end of my class on Tuesday marked the beginning of a 5 day weekend. 

Wednesday, I redefined the term beach bum. 

Thursday, I climbed to one of the most gorgeous outlooks I’d ever seen. Beautiful forest, thick with dew and rain drops, and mist, too thick to even see 3 feet in front of you. The look out itself was covered in thick clouds. My friend and I stood there looking out into the gray matter and talked about all the scenery we would be seeing. But just as we were going to give up and turn back, the clouds broke and it took my breathe away to stare out into the distance. To see the little yellow house on the mountain side. To see the range itself: valleys and summits. To see the green and the yellow contrasting each other so vividly. To look down on a big city, only for it to look so small. 

Saturday, I did the most touristy thing possible: Australia Zoo. It was hot and humid. It was quite possibly the worst day for a 4-hour trip to the zoo, but I didn’t care. I saw all different types of species there, some I’d seen before, most I hadn’t. I learned that there are 10 different types of snake in Australia that can kill you (update: we saw one on the loose in the zoo)(PS: it wasn’t poisonious but still a snake so 👎🏻). I watched Steve Irwin’s legacy personified and living on. I even got to hang out with some kangaroos and some koalas 🤙🏼 

Sunday, I realised how badly I need Chipotle.

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