Last day in New Zealand :/

I had packed so much action into my first few days in Queenstown, so I wanted my last few days to be laid back. I went out one night with two of my roommates, John and David from the US. We went to the pizza joint called Winnie’s that apparently turns into a club at night. It did not disappoint! Music was great and everyone was dancing on the floor and tables. They had a contest for “couples” so John and I pretended we were together so we could enter. It was the most hilarious game ever! You had to either hold the guy on your back, he holds you like a baby or you had to sit on his back. We were beating everyone but in the last round John didn’t listen to the cue and suddenly we were out :/ He takes full blame. lol. There was a “pub crawl” at Winnie’s and they were about to leave so we just followed them, figured they knew the fun spots. We made it into the next bar with them before we got caught. They said we could still join them, but just couldn’t participate in the free drinks. Fair enough.

The next day I hung out by the beach and then walked around some of the art galleries. I also had a day where I hiked the Ben Lommand trail, eight hours round trip. I ended up turning around early because it was way too hot and my knees were killing me, so it only took me four. After that, I took a nap and had some fish & chips. I don’t usually order fish because sometimes I don’t like it, but I ate the whole thing! I was planning on doing another hike the next day but was way too sore. In order to avoid using my legs I rented a scooter and went to an old gold mining town called Arrowtown. They converted all of the old mining homes to little shops and hotels. I walked down the stream where they used to pan for gold but didn’t have any luck. There was one false alarm, but it was just the gold polish on my fingernails.

Highlight: Bungy Jump in Queenstown and Piha Beach in Auckland.

Lowlight: No actual lowlight.

Things I learned: Queenstown is very expensive, looking forward to exchange rates in Bali. I also think I may like mountains better than oceans. Or maybe I just like both equally. I learned that adrenaline is addicting. I learned that renting a car is a great way to get around but not knowing the rules makes you 16 again.

Things I wish I had: A couch. Sitting in my bed gets old! Another pair of shorts. And a second pillow. I could list a lot of things here, but none of them I actually am missing that bad. Its funny how you can get by with so much less.

Missed opportunity: Probably not seeing one more city, like Wellington or planning a overnight hike.

Would I come back: 100%. I’d love to come back here on a trip that was just to go hiking here and then end the trip with the Nevis bungy. I’d also love to come back with family and friends as I think they need to visit here.

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Up Next: Bali

Milford Sound (Fjord)

Milford Sound, really a fjord in geographical terms, but they have never renamed it. I had gone back and forth on whether or not I wanted to visit the Sound. It was supposedly a must see, but it also required a 5 hour bus ride there and back! Then, I met a gal who had flown there. A 40 minute flight AND scenic views? It sounded like a plan. I was picked up from my hostel and driven to the airport. There, our pilot Ben, me and five others walked over to a small single engine plane. Ben happens to be an Eagles fan despite being from New Zealand He enjoyed giving me some BS about the last game.

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Ben asked if anyone wanted to ride co-pilot. My hand shot up a little too quickly. In my defense, there were no kids and I was told he would ask this question. So, we boarded the plane, me in the co-pilot seat. He told us to get our cameras ready and take as many pictures as we want. Therefore making it sociably acceptable to ask the guy behind me to take my picture practicing as my new role, co-pilot.

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We set off, it was a very smooth ride, the weather was ideal. Well, for flying. I took clothing suggestions from some friends who had done the bus tour. The group who arrives 5 hours after me when the sun is hot. This is a time where I actually would have bought a sweatshirt from a gift shop that said Milford Sound on it. Oh well!

The views from above…amazing! You fly SO close to all of the mountain peaks and can observe all the different changes in landscape. Slowly creeping from dry, to cold to green. I looked all around and took in the views and occasionally snapped a photo.

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We arrived at a small airport and I successfully landed the plane. Kidding, just seeing if anyone read this far. Our group boarded a ferry and promptly ate a large breakfast before heading to the open top deck. It was an hour cruise down the sound and an hour back. On the way we saw large rock formations covered in greenery on either side of us. They were covered in small and sometimes large waterfalls with rainbows reflecting off the water. There were deep cracks in the mountains made from fault lines. Occasionally, we saw seals sun bathing on the rocks’ edge.  We reached the end of the sound, where the water path opens up to the sea. Normally its very uneven water but it was perfectly still. If you turn a back around you almost don’t notice that it opens up to a connecting path. It was actually missed twice by discoverers who thought it was just a bay that didn’t connect to anything.

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The trip was beautiful, but I must admit I’m glad I took the flight option. It would have been a long day for a short cruise down the sound. However, if you’ve never seen a fjord before, than it absolutely would have been worth it.

When was the last time you did something for the first time? FIRST BUNGY!

Great question (and great song btw: Last Time by Darius Rucker).

Well, for me, it was today! I did my first ever bungy jump at the world’s first bungy jump experience, Kawarau Bridge in New Zealand.

Their motto is, you’re crazy if you do and you’re crazy if you don’t. It couldn’t be more spot on. It was one of the more scary things I’ve done, but I would recommend that everyone at least try it once.

When asking which is scarier, skydiving or bungy, so far has said bungy. I disagree, but only because I’ve done static line sky diving (where you jump alone). That was about equally the same level of fear (fear less, live more. is their other motto). Despite the fear, you just have to jump because the longer you wait the more you psych yourself out and the worse it will become. The classic close your eyes, stop thinking about it and just jump sort of mentality. Or, maybe the waterfall jumps yesterday truly did help prepare me.

If you watch the video below, albeit not flattering, you’ll hear me gut laugh and you can’t make that stuff up. I was genuinely high afterwards. I felt like I could take on the world. I  ran up the stairs to the top of the bridge and could have kept running. I had an amazing amount of energy, I imagine it’s like being a kid again.

I went and found two guys who I had made friends with before and we all high-fived and talked about how great it was! Of course we also shared a drink to celebrate the achievement. We then could relax and watch others make the leap as well.

While this certainly wasn’t my only “first” on this trip, and it won’t be the last, it was definitely a big one that I had been looking forward to and I do feel a sense of relief that  the day has come.

Will I do it again? To be determined but most likely yes if the time and place is right.

Canyoning, so what’s it like?

I don’t consider myself an adrenaline junkie, but maybe I’m becoming one? I went canyoning today and it gave me energy.  After gearing up and hiking 30 minutes (in full gear, woof.) to the entrance we gladly jumped in the ice cold water to cool off. The guides wasted no time and had the first person sit at the end of a cliff that leads into a waterfall pool. “Ok”, they tell her, “Cross your arms over you chest and keep your knees up and just slide down”. The next thing I know she was gone from sight and I hear a splash below. It was my turn next. I ask him if he’s sure I won’t hit the rocks on the way down. He said I wouldn’t and asked if I was ready. I guess so? The next thing you know it’s me thats gone and I end up in the pool below, perfectly safe and sound…and with a lot of water up my nose. Noted, for the next one.

It became a mix of hiking up rocks and waterfalls using ropes, repelling down other areas still using the ropes, sliding down the canyons where the water and slime rocks made a shoot, jumping off the top of the falls onto our feet or backs, and occasionally zip-lining if the water was too low. I could describe it in detail, but they let us bring a Go-Pro so I’ll let the videos do the talking 🙂

**Uploading from a Starbucks because of their high-speed wifi, something I appreciate more now (and their cold brew with sweet cream).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hobbiton & Waitomo Glow Worm Cave Tour

I’m not a Lord of the Rings super fan, but I did enjoy the movies and I can do a decent schmiegel impression. I like activities that cannot be replicated elsewhere. So, I decided to visit the Hobbiton Movie Set. The problem was it is a two hour drive away, and the tour itself only lasts two hours. That’s a long drive for a short visit. In order to make it more worthwhile, I paired the tour with a visit to the Glow Worm Caves in Waitomo.

Admittedly, I missed much of the landscape on the journey there because I slept most of the way, due to a 6am start time. I awoke near the final destination and the landscape was magical. Rolling hills, white specks of sheep every 100 meters or so, and cows just as often. The fog was slowly lifting between the valleys and allowing me to see even more.

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Can you imagine being the farmer who was sitting watching a Rugby match on a Sunday afternoon and answered the knock on the door which would change his life? He received millions to let them build the movie set on his land.  How genius was it to keep it and turn it into a tourist attraction..why don’t they do that more?! Fun fact: they almost ignored the knock on the door because they were super into the Rugby match.

Have you ever been anywhere and thought, this is so cute it looks fake! Well, that is exactly the feeling I had there. It was all real, but so perfect it looked fake (actually there were a few fake things such as trees). They take you on a bus with the LOTR music playing and it sets the scene perfectly. You step out of the bus and make your way to a winding footpath that eventually opens up to a garden. The most charming and perfect garden you’ve ever seen. Everything is well maintained, and the flowers and vegetables are blooming. An extra large pumpkin sits on the ground surrounded by cucumbers. Monarchs land softly on the flowers. The first Hobbit hole is to your left.

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The hobbit holes are different heights which is a television trick called forced perspective. The bigger doors will actually make the actors look smaller and more hobbit-like. Every bit of detail was considered, and no two were the same. Trinkets sit in the windows, letters pop out of the mailbox, chickens lay eggs in the front yard, shirts are being hung to dry and many more touches were added to reflect everyday living.

As I mentioned, most things are real, but if Sir Peter Jackson (the director) didn’t fancy something, he would go as far as building a fake tree and hand painting thousands of leaves on it. Of course, he wasn’t he one doing the painting 😉

You guys… I want to move here! I feel like this would be the most peaceful place to live! Birds are chirping, sheep graze in the distance, all life is thriving, and nothing lacks color or charm. Sure, the houses may be a bit small, but I’ve become accustomed to less this trip, that’s for sure! They even have an inn where you can get a pint to drink, the Green Dragon Inn. I feel like I would wake up, feed the chickens, skip and whistle down the path while greeting my neighbors, sit by the lake and paint it, then go fishing in it, followed by a drink and dinner at the inn during sunset and finally sing and dance in courtyard until it’s time for bed. Then repeat. Unfortunately they keeps a hawks eye on you, and they’d notice if I’d snuck off. I’m wondering now though…why hasn’t anyone built a similar place as a bed and breakfast. Shotgun rights to that.

Following the Hobbiton tour, we went to the Glow Worm Caves. We couldn’t take any pictures there which was too bad. They do a quick tour of the caves- educating us on stalagmites, stalagtites, cathedrals, columns, etc. Then we hop into a boat where we float into a dark abyss. I felt like I was entering the river boat scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That, or escaping from jail in an Indiana Jones movie on a far away island. You see, you have to be completely silent in the pitch black, otherwise you risk the worms getting nervous and turning off their glow for protection. We stealthily made our way down some stairs and loaded into a boat… drifting off into what we only hoped wasn’t a waterfall.

Then, I looked up. It was as if I had drifted outside at nighttime! The glow worms were by the thousands and looked like little constellations in the sky. We drifted through and I just looked up in awe. It was a serene moment that made me appreciate all of the life that lives on the planet, some that we often never see!

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Photo Credit: Didactic Encyclopedia – Blogspot glowworm-caves-waitom-1
 We headed back (oh by the way, my group consisted of Canadians, Texans, Australians originally from Thailand, and our British guide) and stopped at this placed call Giapo for crazy style ice cream. There as this one “selfie cone” that had a gold frame stuck to the cone via chocolate. I really wanted to get it but couldn’t justify spending $35 on an ice cream cone. Instead, I went for the $15 cone :p

Tonight I had to sleep in an 11 person dorm room because I forgot to book an additional day. It was surprisingly quiet, and the only downside was the limited space for you stuff. I found a corner for my bag and tried to keep everything consolidated in it.

Oz-ta La Vista!

So long Australia! (Oops I’ve been gone for 6 days but this never posted). It has been wonderful but I can’t say I’m not looking forward to getting my adventure on in New Zealand!

What a great day to end on yesterday… I ventured over to Burleigh Beach yesterday with a new friend, Michael. We were going surfing together and I borrowed one of his boards. I tried to hide my fear when I saw he didn’t have a soft foam board. I’ve never used one of the harder surfboards before, and I know they are more difficult. The benefit of this board is that it weighs way less, which especially paid off while push-biking to the beach with a surfboard under one arm. I laughed the whole way as it was one of the more challenging things I’ve done and I struggled.

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Soooo I may have oversold my skills… as the first beach we went to had very big waves and a strong swell. After a few failed attempts we moved to a beach where the waves are easier. Much better. I was able to paddle out, catch my own waves, and stand for a bit. It was harder to stay up on this new smaller board, but it’s about time I took my training wheels off. Afterwards, we had a much deserved lunch. With newfound energy, we took our bikes over to a creek where I could practice for my upcoming bungee jump. Standing up on the bridge looking down at the water made me question what I was getting myself into next week. You think it’s all good until it actually comes time to jump. I’ve learned it’s just a matter of just turning off my brain (which is always over thinking) and going for it. Which I did, and was worth it, of course! We swam around a bit in the creek which had really cool sand banks.

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After catching the rainbow sunset with some Sauv Blanc, exchanging good stories, making up new slang and listening to tunes via the classic phone in cup speaker, we met up with Becky (my German roomie) and hit up a local bar to play some pool. I’m glad I had a few drinks in me because my hostel doubles as a hotel and night club and they sure turn up on weekends. I  remember dozing off to the latest Cardi B song and had dreams I was in an Australian rap video.

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The next morning I had a panic moment while mid sip of my coffee down the street. I looked at my calendar to see that my flight was in 40 minutes. I started running back to grab my luggage whilst calling an uber. How did I miss this?! There is NO way I’m going to make it. About 10 f-bombs muttered to myself later, I realized that the calendar flight notification said Cairns to Gold Coast. Thank goodness. That was my flight that I originally had for today but moved a few days earlier and just never deleted. Approximately 4 hours later I actually headed to the airport…with plenty of time to spare.

Australian Summary:

Highlight: Figure 8 pools.

Lowlight: Surfer’s Paraside.

Things I learned: Don’t be so quick to book a flight without looking at weather, give yourself a private room every few weeks, and ask what’s in coffee before ordering.

Things I wish I had: Heels. Just a small wedge. This probably won’t be relevant in my next few countries but would have been nice in Bondi.

Missed opportunity: Everyone said Byron was their favorite, I wish I would have made time for that. Melbourne probably would have been next. All in all, I liked my itinerary!

Would I come back: This may seem a bit backwards, but I wouldn’t come back to just holiday. I would come back to live here though. It is a great vacation spot– lovely beaches, good weather etc., BUT I can get that in other places for much less and closer to home. That said, it was such an easy transition because everyone speaks English here. So, I think I would live in a big city or in a nice surf town.

“Backpacking” in your late 20’s

I really think “gap year” travelers need to rethink the timing. They typically do it right before college so around 18 and 19. This means they are on a tight budget and in return try to save money (hostels, homemade meals, shared transportation). While it can be fun to cook in the communal kitchen, it’s a lot more fun to indulge your tastebuds in the local cuisine. Sure, it can add up (in Australia especially) but when I’m paying $30 a night for lodging, a few nice meals out isn’t so bad. Shoutout to my work fam and my real fam who both gave me cash in order to treat myself to a nice meal. Well, I’m happy to inform you (in hopes that you are reading) that I have! I’ve had a lot of  mexican, Avo toast, noodles, ice cream and Acai Bowls. I’ve also had a lot of coffee and a moderate amount of cocktails or wine.

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Extreme Burrito + Margarita

 

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Avocado Ice Cream in a Gold Dipped Cone (with sesame and walnuts on top)

The other benefit is the ability to just see and do more. Fortunately, I’ve been able to do some pretty great tours. They are reasonably priced, but again, can add up quickly! However, to travel all the way around the world and not tour anything is a waste of time and money IMO. I have met a few people where I’ve asked what they have been up to an they said hanging out on the beach and hitting the bars at night. I think looking back they’ll regret that. Or maybe not? I’m also not keen on doing something every day. While the rain in Cairns was disappointing, it did allow for some much needed R&R. I hit up a gym, read my book and chilled watching some Netflix. Hey Netflix- if you could play Criminal Minds on your Australian server that would be much appreciated. Thank goodness you can still get Riverdale here 😉

The one thing I haven’t really spent money on is shopping. I cut back on the shopping habit about a year ago as I began to save up for this trip. It also helps that I don’t have room in my backpack, nor do I want any more weight. I did buy a swimsuit that I have been searching for forever and a pair of Quay sunglasses because they are made in Australia (seen in Açai Bowl photo above).

My last thought about age is to address the stigma that all backpackers are young. Sure, there are definitely a lot of younger ones. However, there are also a lot of older ones, even some that are in their late 30’s.  I would say it’s just like any workplace. Naturally, you are drawn to people your own age, but if no one is, you find common ground with those whether older or younger. If you’re having trouble meeting mates along the way, I’m sorry to say you might find it challenging wherever you are in life, as these hostels are the most social thing I’ve been a part of. Think of it like this, you always have an opener. Where are you from?  If that opener doesn’t work, you can always pretend that all the other chairs are wet and the only dry one is next to the people you want to talk to. That worked for this guy Tristan LOL. PS there have been very few Americans traveling.

All this said, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter when, where or how you travel…just as long as you do 🙂

Road to Piha: Solo road trip turns into party of three.

I reserved a car for Tuesday because I planned on driving to Piha, about 1 hour from Auckland. The plan was to go solo, it would be a nice quiet road trip. That all changed Monday night when I received a message from Olga, my old roommate from Bondi Beach. She saw that I was in Auckland via Instagram. I invited her to come along figuring  it would actually be nice to have some company, and I enjoyed hers. I was headed to pick her up Tuesday morning when I received another message from Alejandro, a friend I met in Cairns on my diving trip. He was also in Auckland and very quickly my solo trip turned into a party of three!

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We headed out around 10am and thank goodness it was raining or it would have been pretty awkward when my windshield wipers came on every time I tried to change lanes. You see, old habits die hard, especially with driving. As a right-handed driver of 13 years, it took some getting used to having the gears in my left hand and the blinker in my right. I decided to cut bad drivers some slack once I get back home…maybe they are just visiting from a left sided country!

50 minutes later we made it to Piha beach where we walked down the black sand beach. The sand was SO soft! Alejandro is going to sell it as a foot scrub along with the biscuits he brought from home (LOL sorry there will be more inside jokes coming, just ignore). We climbed Lion Rock and made it all the way to the top since we were on our own tour (I read a lot of trip advisor reviews where you make it to the rock, take a picture and then they tell you it’s time to go).

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We hopped back into my car, this time I’m feeling a lot more confident driving, and made our way to Kitekite waterfall. We parked at the base and upon getting out we were approached by a German guy who told us that he was having car troubles. He wanted us to jump his car but I was nervous because it was a rental and what if something went wrong?! Well, my karma jar needed filling so we agreed. We quickly realized that it wasn’t the battery that was dead, so we encouraged him to call his friend he bought it from for help. He did so and we left, hoping it all worked out for him. I think we still get half karma for trying, but I need to read up on the karma jar rules.

It said it was a 20 minute walk to the falls. It was more like 45 minutes between flip flops and photo op breaks. It was a beautiful walk, it was so lush and there was almost no one on the path. Along the walk we discussed our survival capabilities. On the television show Naked and Afraid, you are only allowed to take one thing. What would it be? Well, I would take my camera and Olga would take a reversible bikini. Why? Well, we probably wouldn’t make it the whole 15 days, so we may as well get the free trip and some cute photos for the blog 😉 I would wear one side of the reversible and she would wear the other. While not wearing the bikini we would be behind the camera so it didn’t matter. Alejandro didn’t seem to agree, he said he would take the drinking straw that makes all water clean and able to drink (I actually brought one on this trip but haven’t needed to use it yet). I guess I see his point…

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The waterfall was spectacular. It was so high up with such pretty colors. We wanted to go for a swim in it, but there wasn’t anyone else there. Usually I take a cue from others to determine if it’s safe to swim. Well, I decided to just give it a shot. What’s the worst that could happen? Snakes, that’s probably the worst. Turns out it was fine, so we had a fun time swimming around, and of course, taking pictures. I get the question A LOT on who takes my photos..and there you have it!  Although I’m traveling alone, I DO make friends. I also happen to be really really good at ten-second-timer… We hiked from the bottom them up to the top before we made our way back to the car park.

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You are what you eat; today I had Kiwi.

 

My initial reaction to Auckland is that it has a cool vibe. It kind of reminds me of Sydney but with a smaller town feel. I really love my hostel! It smells like a log cabin and my bunk bed for once has a reading light, outlet and a privacy curtain. I landed at 9pm so I was ready for bed, but everyone else on the block was apparently ready to rage, it’s Saturday night after all. I almost lost my love of karaoke last night while listening to the patrons singing get worse and worse until they finally closed at 3am. The singing was occasionally covered by the noise of cars drag racing. Crossing my fingers Sunday Fundays aren’t a thing here.

Friends born in New Zealand recommended I visit Waiheke island while in Auckland. So that is what I did today and I am sure glad I did! You take a ferry to the island, and then most people do a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket. I’m not a big fan of those as you always feel a bit rushed, despite them coming every 30 minutes. So instead, I rented a scooter. I ride one back home and I missed the joy of riding one! I didn’t go as fast as I typically do and I didn’t have my headphones in so it wasn’t quite the same experience. But, when driving on a windy island on the “wrong” side of the road, I wasn’t going to risk it.

I took myself on a self guided tour around the island. I first stopped in a little town to get a bottled water. Then, my tour consisted of me driving wherever I felt like it and stopping wherever I wanted to.

First stop, a cute little fisherman area.

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Second stop, Stonyridge Vineyard (They had the best seating areas on the hill).

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Third stop, a sandy beach (Ate some ice cream that was hokey pokey flavor, a kiwi favorite I guess. It was great).

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Third stop, a lookout point.

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Fourth stop, Oyster Inn where I had locally farmed Te Matuku oysters (I only started eating oysters a few years ago but these are the BEST I’ve ever had), whole grain sour dough bread paired with olive oil from olives grown on the island (super strong and spicy flavor), a delicious green salad with lemon and olive oil (I’ve been slacking on my greens), and paired of course with a Sauv Blanc from the island as well.

 

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Considering my lack of sleep last night, I’m going to have a pretty uneventful night, probably do some laundry, put on face mask I just bought from a corner store and continue watching Sinner on Netflix. I’M ADDICTED.

Great Barrier Reef, Cairns

The weather forecast appeared to be rain, but waking up on dive day it was sunny. I walked down the street to the marina to meet the boat. I stopped for a coffee along the way, this time finally ordering an iced coffee correctly (they tend to put sweetener and whipped cream in it if you don’t say otherwise). After a brief welcome and safety overview, we headed out to sea.

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The trip out was pretty smooth and not too long, and if I sat up top I didn’t feel seasick. We arrived at the first dive spot after about an hour. They had us wear a stinger suit due to jelly fish high season. They handed you a size just by eyeballing you and I have to say, I’m flattered. After squeezing myself in and managing to zip it up I waddled over to the back of the boat where we first did a snorkel. There were more fish than I’m used to seeing and the coral was pretty colorful, but not nearly what I imagine it was 20 years ago….On that note, did you know that 500,000,000 straws are thrown away each day? That’s a lot of plastic. A straw isn’t always necessary if you really think about it. My new drink of choice is now a vodka soda lime with no straw.

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Then it was our time to dive. I went with Megan (Canada) and Alejandro (Argentina-who happened to do hilarious impressions of our guide, WELL DONE friends!). Going below the surface was exactly how I remembered it from 15 years ago. There is excitement, yet it’s very calm. Snorkeling can only get you so close to the reefs, but diving puts you face to face with these colorful and lively creatures that you don’t normally get to see. We made our way around the reef and eventually spotted a giant clam. I’m not joking, this clam was the size of small couch. It almost seemed fake, until the guide put his hand near it and it all of a sudden snapped shut!

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The second dive site was a bit more shallow, but had larger creatures such as sharks, turtles and stingrays. I was allowed to take my GoPro this time but it turns out that water pressure pushes on the GoPro button and if you don’t turn it on before you go down it won’t work :/// It could be worse, one girl put her SIM card into a hired camera and then dropped it into the ocean only to lose all of her photos and had to pay for the camera.

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After diving we could snorkel out to a small sand island. It wasn’t an easy swim, the current was strong. I finally made it and pulled up on shore to betold that we had to stay there for awhile due to a big swell coming. I looked over and saw what he was talking about. A few people were worried, but I was just looking forward to my own Castaway movie.

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After getting back to the hostel it was time decide what other adventure I can have while here. Lucia (London) and I went to the travel desk and after about an hour of hemming and hawing, we decided to jump out of a plane. I said I would never go again, unless someone else really wanted to go. She had never gone sky diving before so I guess this is it. I write this now from my bed as it pours rain outside so unfortunately I think the sky dive is cancelled 😦

Change of Plans

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”
― Allen Saunders

I arrived in the Gold Coast yesterday or maybe it was Miami…I really can’t tell the difference! Don’t get me wrong, Miami is great, just not what I’m looking for on this trip. A few people in Bondi warned me of this, but the flight was booked and I am the type of person to come to a conclusion on my own. I also didn’t really love my hostel..it was very different from my last one. Skewed younger, not as nice, and I didn’t get a super friendly vibe. To top it off, I chose Surfers Paradise to surf, but the winds were too strong and coast guard wasn’t allowing it. For those keeping track, that is still 0 waves I’ve caught.

I bailed. For as much planning as I did for this trip, I knew there would be moments like these. The best thing you can do is not get upset about it and make your next move. So, where to? Cairns. Why? I love diving, I feel at peace under water and the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living thing on earth… for now… it’s slowly dying and who knows what there will be to see in a few years from now. Global warming is real people! So do your part to leave a smaller footprint: consume less, recycle, walk more, etc.. PSA over. I also love rainforests. Reasons enough that Cairns was the place. I booked a new hostel and a flight for the next day.

In the meantime since I didn’t feel like shopping, gambling or getting exfoliated by a wind storm on the beach, I did some swiping (you know, getting to know the local culture). I met up with a guy for a beer near the beach. He was from Burleigh which I’ve heard from others is a cool spot. He explained Surfer’s Paradise perfectly: you never hear of locals in Las Vegas going to the strip. The same with Surfers Paradise, it’s a great tourist spot and maybe good for an occasional night out, but you don’t hang out there often if you’re from the Gold Coast. We had good conversation, but eventually, I had to dip out to catch my flight.

Landed! Took a short 10 minute ride to hostel and immediately I like the vibe better. It’s funny how quickly you can get a feeling about a place. I’m staying at Mad Monkey.. don’t judge a name… says the girl who’s name is spelled like a beer. The check-in staff were extremely friendly, the facilities are great (super nice and great social areas), unheard of amenities (such as free breakfast, a gym, a real A/C unit and a free towel!!! Good because I needed to wash mine), and the best part…..I have my own room. Sure, I’ll sacrifice meeting instant new friends, but I’m not worried about it at this place. What I get in return is: all 4 outlets to myself, freedom to leave things out, a place to write without people wondering why you came to Australia to sit on your laptop, and no one dropping a cellphone from the top bunk onto your bottom bunk in the middle of the night (yes this happened). Oh and this room happens to have a queen bed. I’m currently making myself into a large X and taking up as much space as possible.

In summary, I’m happy with the change of plans, and I think I’ll be even more happy when I’m bumping elbows with the fish on the GBR tomorrow 😉

Royal National Park (New South Wales)

I had seen pictures on Instagram of the figure 8 pools in Royal National Park (the 2nd oldest National Park to Yellow Stone). I decided to book a visit on Friday with a tour my Hostel recommended. I was very much looking forward to it and was telling those I was out with on Thursday. One of the gals said she had never heard of it and so she googled it to see a picture. Of course, one of the first few things to pop up is an incident that occurred there where several folks had to be helicopter lifted to a hospital. Great.

On Friday I woke up very early and met the van at 6:45am. Of course, I asked about the incident and the guide/driver assured us this would be safe as they don’t allow people down there during high tide anymore. Great–let’s do this. A van of 15 of us headed out. It wasn’t too long of a drive, about an hour and we stopped once along the way to fill up our water bottles. We arrived and stepped out and it was the most beautiful sight! The rule was that upon each “lookout point” you couldn’t pull out your phone or camera for 30 seconds, you had to look with your eyes, not your lens. I think I’m going to use that rule moving forward (with the exception of animals because they will be gone before you know it).

We hiked a moderate but steep trail through a jungle and down to a beach. From there, we carefully stepped our way over rock piles and around a cliff to reach the pools. The waves crashing against the rocks was incredibly humbling because of their power and freedom. Looking into the pools you saw all sorts of creatures. Oysters, seaweed, crabs, fish, anemones and some unfamiliar. Fortunately, we didn’t see any of the ones we were warned about, the ones that can cause immense pain and possible death. Yes, we were told of 5 different species where this would be the theme. I picked a pool that looked reasonably deep and not filled with too many creatures to dive into. There was something amazing about floating in this miniature little eco-system. I was careful to not bump up too hard on anything, because as sharp as some of them could be, they are still fragile.

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