Saturday, June 30, 2012

Flying like a kiwi

It would be a waste to fly 23 hours around the world to Australia, and not check out its neighbor New Zealand. Along with 3 friends, I traveled to NZ after finals finished. It was an interesting mix of nationalities with a girl from California, a girl from Mexico, and a guy from Australia. With only 6 days to see the country, our itinerary could only include the South Island, and not even the whole thing. Flew into Christchurch and rented a car before setting off on a journey to Queenstown.

The drive itself was gorgeous! We passed snow covered mountains and beautiful lakes and medows. And of course lots of sheep! We made many stops along to way for pictures (of the scenery, not the sheep). The whole thing looked like a scene out of a fantasy movie. I can definitely see why Lord of the Rings was filmed here.

We arrived in Queenstown just before sunset and booked accommodation at a hostel. Queenstown is a cute little town that is dominated by young people looking for adventures like skydiving or snowboarding or bungy jumping. Of course we had to take advantage of this. The four of us booked skydiving for the following morning before setting out to the bars.

The next day dawned sunny and clear- perfect skydiving weather. We listened to the briefing and got on a bus to go to our diving destination. At this point I was a little nervous, but mostly excited. The company had a 100% safety record in the 20 years they had been flying, and it was a tandem jump so all I had to do was smile at the camera and enjoy the fall.

Getting in the plane I was slightly more nervous. The all squished in got ready for the flight. My dive was from 9000 feet which was the lowest. Sadly it meant only 20 seconds of freefall. Sitting on the edge of the plane and looking over the edge my nerves got worse. I was really doing this. I was really jumping out of a perfectly good plane towards the ground 9000 feet below. The instructor pushed us off and I was freefalling.

The strange thing is that it doesn't feel like a drop on a rollar coaster where you leave your stomach above you. When you reach terminal velocity you are just falling. It was such an amazing feeling. I kept trying to smile at the camera, and before I knew it the instructor pulled the shoot and I was hanging there looking over the amazing view. This lasted about 7 minutes as we slowly descended towards the ground.

Arriving on the ground I had the biggest smile on my face- that was AMAZING!!! I can't believe I did it. I was all set to go again, but my wallet would not have been so keen on that. We headed back to town and got burgers from the famous local restaurant Fergburger. There is always a line for this place- thats how good it is. Throughout the trip I got Fergburger 3 times. Once a chicken burger, once a regualar beef cheese burger, and once a venison burger. All of them were delicous.

That night it began snowing. And the next morning, the town was covered in a thin white blanket- perfect day for skiing. One of my friends was skiing, one was snowboarding, and one wasn't going at all. I've never downhill skiied or snowboarded before, so I decided to try skiing because it was suposed to be easier. On the way to Cardona Mountain our bus hit the side of the road and ended up in a ditch. They soon got it out, but it was definitly an interesting thing to see.

Upon arriving at the slopes I put on the skis and tried to go down the hill towards where the lift was, and I fell. At that point I decided I needed some lessons. The morning was spent learning how to stop, slow down, turn, etc. And by the afternoon I decided it was time to try the real mountain. My first run down I wiped out several times, but on my second run I managed not to fall, albeit I was traveling very slowly. By then it was the end of the day, so we headed back- thankfully without ending up in snowcovered ditches.

We began our drive up to Fox Glacier the next afternoon. We'd been told it was a 4 hour drive, but that didn't take into account the bad conditions of the road as we later found out. During a stop in a small town along the way we were told not to continue for risk of our 2 wheel drive car not being able to make it up the snow covered hills. So we ended up staying the night and setting off early in the morning for the glacier.

The glacier was definitly worth the early morning drive. It was beautiful!! We took a guided all day tour that took us to the main part of the glacier. We had to wear special ice climbing crampons to prevent slipping. The glacier was cold, but we lucked out with having good weather. Apparently it snows or rains about 200 days of the year.

The ice formations were sooo cool (literally!). We got to climb through caves and crevices and around all sorts of ice formations. Our guide was really nice and very passionate about what she was doing. I was a bit cold by the end of the day, but had an amazing time and took so many pictures!

The rest of the journey mainly consisted of driving back. We spent the final day in Christchurch which was pretty uneventful. The town was badly harmed by the earthquakes it has had recently, and most of the touristy places have been closed. It was sad to see so much destruction. We flew out that night. It was a nice trip, but it is nice to be back in Australia.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Missing Apostles

With a week off between exams I thought I'd back track a bit and talk about some adventures I had before that I didn't have time to write about. One really fun weekend I had was going to the Great Ocean Road.

The Great Ocean Road is a famous trip in Australia with stunning beaches and sights like the 12 apostles. I went with 4 of my international friends on a tour with STA travel. There was a giant tour bus with a big group of other internationals (mostly American). Our first stop was Bells Beach- home to a famous surfing competition. The tour promised surfing lessons and all of us were very keen on try it ourselves after our touring the surf museum. Our lessons were on a beach a little ways from Bells with waves appropriate for beginners. After a short discussion about how to stand up we were sent off to the water. I got a few good rides in, but mostly just ended up falling.

After surfing we traveled along to see some gorgeous beaches. With a bright sunny, warm day, it was perfect beach weather. All the scenery up the coast was breathtaking.

The next stop was supposed to be a koala sanctuary, but we ended up taking a prolonged rest stop at a small town along the road. The bus was parked on a hill while everyone used the toilets- or we assumed it was parked. The emergency break failed and the bus rolled down the hill hitting 2 cars. Luckily nobody was hurt, but one of the cars was close to wrecked and bus was pretty badly damaged. We had to wait for another bus to show up to take us to Apollo Bay for our night’s accommodation.

Apollo Bay is a cute small town where we could see billions of stars. I don't think I've ever seen more in my life. It was a perfectly clear night away from the bright lights of the city. For dinner we all worked together to make sausages, burgers, and salad before staying overnight at hostels.

The next morning we drove to the famous sights of the Great Ocean Road, but first we stopped to see wild koalas! They just sat lazily in the trees- most of the sleeping, but all looking insanely adorable and cuddly!

First was the ever famous 12 Apostles, but there weren't 12. Apparently the site used to be called the sow and piglets, but that name was deemed not to be interesting enough. Some have fallen from erosion, so now there are only 8. Still it was a spectacular sight.

The next stop was Loch Ard Gorge which was my favorite. The gorge was home to a lovely beach and some caves as well as several short walks to see more the rock formations.
And the final destination was London Bridge. You know the song 'London Bridge is falling down'? Well this one actually did- There used to be a land formation connecting the rock pillar to the mainland, but it is long gone now although the beauty of the sight remains

Friday, June 8, 2012

Rain in the Sunshine State

Classes are done and finals are still a ways away, so what better way to celebrate than a trip to Queensland! Queensland is in the Northeast of Australia and it is supposedly far warmer than Victoria. It’s even called 'the sunshine state'. My friend Zhi and I had a whole itinerary planned out of sightseeing and adventures.

I stepped off the plane into sunshine and warm weather- the perfect escape from the cold rain that had plagued Melbourne this past week. We got a rental car and headed off to Byron Bay about an hour south of the Gold Coast airport. Todays itinerary featured sea-kayaking and seeing the famous lighthouse on the farthest east point of Australia. The weather had different ideas as it started pouring soon after reaching Byron. Kayaking got cancelled and the lighthouse was near impossible to see through the rain and fog. In an attempt to find the hostel we got lost and ended up in another town. The town of Mulumbimby ended up being really cute and was a good place to get a nice warm cup of chai tea before heading back to Byron.

The next day's weather ended up being a bit nicer and to make up for the lack of kayaking we went snorkeling. There were a bunch of fish and rocks and Zhi even saw a turtle. I didn't see any turtles, but I saw a giant seabird- or rather it saw me- and bit me! I was lying in the water and felt something grab my hand only to look up and see a giant gray bird glaring (yes glaring) at me. Needless to say I swam away quickly before he could get another bite in.

After snorkeling we drove to Springbrook and spent the afternoon hiking. Unfortunately it got dark earlier than expected, so we ended up not making it to our camping sight in Mount Tamborine. Instead we camped at a site in Springbrook. Dinner consisted of bread with nutella, oranges, and fudge for dessert. Sadly there were no campfires allowed at this site. Bright and early the next morning we were off to Mount Tamborine for more hiking. There were some beautiful hikes in the park including some waterfalls.

Surfers Paradise followed. Its a very built up town but has a nice beach. On Wednesday nights they have a night market by the beach. There were a bunch of nice little stalls selling crafts, souvieners, art, and my favorite- logic puzzles- the kind where its metal loops intertwined and you have to separate them. There was also street performer who juggled knives and squeezed his body through a tennis racket.

Because it would be wrong to go to Surfer Paradise and not surf, we took lessons. For two hours I attempted to stand. I got a few good rides and many wipeouts, and had a blast. That evening was a pub for dinner and some of the local XXXX (pronounced four-x) beer while watching NBA then soccer.

The following day dawned rainy and gross, but my excitement could not be dampened because we were going to Dreamworld- one of the best amusement parks in Australia. Throughout the day we went on all but one of the wild thrill rides (one was closed due to rain). They were very fun, but the best part of the day came when I got to hold a baby koala and feed kangaroos! Yes I know those are super touristy things to do, but they were so fun! The koala's name is Button and she was the cutest little thing!! The kangaroos were so fun- they ate right out of my hand.

The final days were spent in Brisbane. Our time there started with a delicious Greek dinner on Boundary Street in West End and the good food continued with amazing pancakes at Brunswick Street Mall at Fat Boys the next day for brunch and a delectable chocolate pizza that night.

 Before returning the car we looked over the city from Mt. Coot Tha. It was foggy at first, but then cleared up and was an amazing view. The rest of the day was spent wandering the Botanical Gardens and museums. The following day was spent looking at the market in South Bank before going to a winter carnival. It was in the upper teens Celsius (around 60 F) but they had made snow and had a snowman competition.

In the afternoon was a rugby match. Brisbane Broncos vs Newcastle Knights. The stadium was packed with the maroon and yellow of the Broncos and every time they scored the stadium errupted in cheers. The game ended with a win for the home team, and we headed off for a comedy show. To get back to the hostel after the show we took the City-Cat boat. It was an amazing view of the city from the water taxi.

The following day was a tour of the city by a Brisbane Greeter. It was cool learning all the history and culure of the place. The day ended with a return flight to Melbourne. Despite some bad weather, this was a pretty awesome break from studying.