Mountain Mission

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Mid semester break was coming up, and I was ready for an entire week of adventure. During my pre semester trip to New Zealand with my parents, we only hit the north island, so when I heard Theresa, a girl living in UNSW hall with me, was looking for buddies to go hiking with in the south island, I signed up immediately. My good friend Rachel decided to join us too! Theresa had posted about her plans in a very large Facebook group full of international students, so it was funny that our group ended up consisting of three tallish, light-haired American girls who all study engineering and admire Emma Watson. But that is something I learned in statistics class- sometimes random doesn’t look so random. (See Dad, I did go to a few lectures between all my traveling!)

Our hiking packs packed lightly, it took a 3 hour plane ride to get us to the Wellington airport, which is exquisitely decorated to the theme of Lord of the Rings. Pulling out our sleeping bags (which make excellent carry-on items: instant pillow or blanket on the plane!) we entered caterpillar mode and slept between the seats in the airport waiting area. Although the airport technically closed from 2-4 am, they let us stay, where we experienced an inconsistent sleep, waking up to  vacuuming and a consistent barrage of music, which included the ever catchy Istanbul (not Constantinople) multiple times on the playlist. In the morning, at a reasonable hour of 6am, Theresa woke us up to excellent news: our flight was delayed an hour, and due to the inconvenience, the airline gave us food vouchers for breakfast, which we spent on cake!

 

One flight later, we went grocery shopping in Nelson. We became those people in math problems who buy 14 sleeves of crackers, 12 bags of mac n cheese, and too many granola bars to count. The shuttle picked us up in town and dropped us off at our starting point: the visitors centre. “Waterproofing” our map in a ziplock baggie, we set off onto the  Travers-Sabine Circuit.

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If you want breathtaking nature in the form of mountains, forrest, or lakes, I recommend New Zealand. Whenever we summited a mountain, we chowed on Summit Scroggin: a delicious mixture of nuts, dried fruits, and chocolate lollies, which we meticulously divided into portioned baggies before we set out. Each night, we slept in a different cabin, signing in with our cabin passes, which would allow us to sleep in any of the 900 mountain accomodations available for the next 6 months. Easter Sunday consisted of hiking along the trail, with the added treat of hiding Cadbury Eggs for each other to find during breaks and at the cabin we reached in the evening. On Easter night, we partook in the most glorious stargazing I have ever experienced.

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We took a detour  from our loop to go to see a lake full of the clearest water in the world. It was extremely cold in the cabin that night, but it was worth it. We saw some endangered ducks! After several days of canned salmon on crackers for lunch and 2 cut thumbs, we all became experts at opening a can with a knife. We met the coolest trampers in the cabins each evening. I once borrowed a spatula filled with holes- the owner was serious about minimising pack weight. Each of us allowed ourselves a frivolous item. Mine was the chocolate eggs. Rachel’s was marshmallows (the Aussie/New Zealand kind that are pink and sugary), which we roasted over a fire of slightly damp wood. By the way, Rachel is an excellent marshmallow roaster. Theresa brought avocados- when you add them to your mac n cheese, a feast is created.

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Plenty of bug bites were acquired, and I could not tell you if Theresa’s solution of slathering them with toothpaste helped or not.  After 6 days of no showering (jumping into a couple bodies of cold water does not get you clean), we returned to civilisation. The first thing we did: purchase and eat Magnum bars and Cadbury Creme Eggs at the general store. That night we slept under the stars, with a tarp below us and bugs above. We survived the cold by cuddling with hot water bottles. The next day, the shuttle retrieved us and we got to our hostel, where I met up with my UConn friend Eleanor. We shared stories over to-die-for hot pudding and ice cream, complimentary of the hostel. These people were serious about pudding: all the guests lined up outside the kitchen a bit before 8 (Pudding Time) and we were asked to socialise and not use our phones during Pudding Hour. It lived up to the hype.

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Boree Log

I spend a good portion of my time in train stations sprinting for trains. I can’t even imagine a leisurely stroll to a train that I know for sure is the one I want to board. Rachel and I leaped off the bus, sprinted towards the trains, and managed to arrive, panting, at the platform, only to sadly watch the train pull away. Luckily, some other people also going to the Outdoors Club Boree Log trip were also late, and we were able to ride together on the next hourly train. One of the greatest things about the Sydney transit system: it only cost us about $5 to travel 2 hours to the Blue Mountains.

In the Blue Mountains, it was chilly. We all pulled on pants and fleeces, and Rachel happily donned her green knitted hat. Another outing club member drove up in a car and we piled in. After a quick drive, all of us on the lookout for kangaroos, we arrived at the campsite. Rachel and I were directed through the city of small tents (and in Theresa’s case, a hammock) to the huge communal tent.  We located some sleeping bags, and attempted to sleep. If we snuggled close enough, shivering was reduced to a minimum and only our feet were frozen. It was quite the relief to wake up to the laugh of the kookaburra.

Carrots and peanut butter make an excellent breakfast food! (Even though Australian peanut butter will never live up to American peanut butter standards. I read the ingredients. It’s just ground up peanuts, and a little bit of salt. How it tastes so different remains a mystery.)

Saturday was my first experience with canyoning. What a glorious sport! We hiked down into a canyon, blew up some li-los (floaty air mattress) and floated on them down the river, occasionally climbing over boulders and through crevasses, tossing the li-los ahead of us. Since this was a typical outdoors club, we used li-los that did not want to hold up to our abuse, and they popped, one by one, until we were all sharing, 2-3 people per discouraged, deflating li-lo. Around midday we did some cliff jumping. I was warm and comfortable, since I was wearing not one, but two wetsuits. The warmth was totally worth the reduction in mobility.

Upon our return to camp, scents of stew and couscous wafted up our noses. The most difficult part of eating this supper was finding and sharing items that could function as plates and utensils. I grudgingly admit, sporkifes occasionally come in handy. We began to worry when the last group of canyoners had still not come back by nightfall. A search group assembled and set out with head torches. Thankfully, everyone made it back by 9. We celebrated with an elderly-themed party around the campfire. Rachel and I got our hair talced, so our heads were white and powdery for the remainder of the night. Ryan made us chocolate mousse with his trusty powdered milk, which accompanied the pink and white roasted marshmallows nicely.

Sunday was a climbing day! We piled into cars, eager for some glory. But first, to town. Charlie and I walked into a café with a lovely atmosphere and sitting area, yet we could tell that the morsels of food were above our price range. Instead, we went to a cheaper bakery, bought some pastries, and casually walked back into the first café, sitting down by the window. We nonchalantly opened our bags, but as we opened our mouths for the first bite, we were ushered out of the premises. Apparently, they did not sport a bring-your-own-pastry policy.

Climbing occurred, and glory was achieved. The views earned by climbing were beautiful. Nice vertical. The sandstone was a bit crumbly, and it would have been nice to have a few more veins of iron, but I would not ask for much more. On the higher routes, the wind had carved incredible flutes in the sandstone. On this trip, I was introduced to the tradition of buying your friends ice cream when you achieve glory.

Wishing for Wind

I am addicted to signing up for things. When I go to a club fair, I will, without a doubt, sign up for at least 8 more activities than can feasibly fit in my schedule. But this form-signing enthusiasm paid off when I got on the list for the Surfing Sailing and Windsurfing Club trip to Jervis Bay! We carpooled, which meant I got a chance to befriend more international students. The group was mostly comprised of Norwegians, with a few French, English, and American.IMG_2277

After breaking the trailer filled with water sports gear on a speed bump, and subsequently fixing it with string, the 25 of of us arrived at the rental house. Yes, we fit 25 in a house that claimed to sleep 10. The next morning, I carefully stepped through the tetris of inflated mattresses carpeting the floor, and emerged onto the deck. One of the guys walked past me with 2 fistfuls of bacon, which he threw onto the grill. Everything can and will be grilled here, from eggs to toast. Red solo cups make acceptable cereal holding vessels.

After lathering up in sun cream, we walked to the white sand beach. I attempted to windsurf, but there was simply not enough wind. Paddle boarding was a much more fruitful activity. My new friend Malvika volunteered to be my passenger/goPro holder. The water was so clear, and it was easy to watch the fish. I also did some skim boarding. After several failed attempts, I got the hang of it again. In the afternoon, I got to skipper a catamaran! I loved sitting on the trampoline. WE SAW BABY DOLPHINS!! I tried my best to follow them, but there was not enough wind to keep up.

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The club leaders pumped us up for a sunset walk. We traversed across beaches and rocky planes. When we arrived at our destination, we were greeted with pizza, which we ate while gazing at the sunset. We then walked blindly through the woods to get back to the house. The night ended with a bonfire on the beach, late into the night.

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Sunday was surfing day. Splitting into cars, we drove to Cave Beach. After acquiring some surfboards, we carried them on our heads down a long path to the beach. After an extremely brief lesson, I entered the water. The waves could not have been more perfect. I stayed in the water the entire time, catching as many waves as possible. I was exhausted by the time I was called out of the water.

Right at the campground near the showers where we were rinsing the boards, there were wild kangaroos! They were über friendly and let me pet them. They are so soft!!

It’s Better at the Beach

IMG_2222Sydney is a glorious city. I went with a bunch of international friends to do the Coogee-to-Bondi beach walk. We started at Coogee beach, and walked along a path that took us to beach after beach, interspersed with sneaky lagoons. It took us about two hours because we kept jumping into the water at each different location. There were lap pools filled with sea water, but I would not want to swim in those, since they looked slimy and the inviting ocean was right there next to them. When we finally arrived at the famous Bondi Beach, my Canadian friend Elyssa and I swam, diving off the drop-off and letting the waves wash us up into the shallows.

I was lucky enough to go to Manly Beach to watch the final day of the Australian Open of Surfing! My American buddy Pringle (yes that is what we call her) and I hoped on the ferry, taking advantage of the $2.50 all day public transportation in Sydney, and enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the touristy Manly area. It was hot sitting on the sand, watching talented surfers do amazing things, so we got up several times to jump into the refreshing water. For lunch I experienced Cheeky Nandos for the first time. I like spicy, so I enjoyed trying all the sauce options.

I Vegemite Not Come Back

After saying goodbye to my parents, I was finally on my own at my new home, UNSW Hall. Everyone is über friendly, and I felt instantly comfortable. O-week is definitely a concept that should happen back in the states. For an entire week, before classes started, our days were filled to the brim with activities with the college. (Different from in the states, “college” is used here as “dorm” is used back home). We did everything from beach trips to a  city wide scavenger hunt to a pub crawl. I had a blast at the indoor trampoline gym. We even had a bouncy castle out on the lawn one day! We learned a dance to a remix of Light It Up by Major Lazer, and anytime it came on, wherever we were, we burst into dance, to prepare for the inter college dance off. By the end-of-O-week party, I felt like I had already made many new friends.

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On Saturday night, we got to sleep at 2 am. But on Sunday, Rachel and I were crazy enough to wake up at the lovely hour of 5:30 and walk to Coogee beach to see the sunrise. Our toes met the sand as the first rays of light shown through the clouds over the horizon. We trekked up to the rocks, and found some of our friends who stayed up all night for this. It was so worth the lack of sleep, and we have high hopes to make it a regular thing. I am definitely going to like it here.

Blackwater Rafting

What do you get when you add an element of darkness to whitewater rafting?

The final iSite I visited with my parents was located within a museum. Why my dad did his usual research and booking stuff, I was entertained by a hands-on science exhibit. By the time I had explored the polarized light and concave/convex lenses station, we were ready to go.

Upon arrival to the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company, our guides greeted us cheerfully. We got suited up in swimsuits, wetsuit overalls and jackets,neoprene booties, and clownlike white boots. We hopped in a van and got our tubes, then proceeded to practice jumping backwards off a dock into a river. The rest of our team were members of a yoga retreat from L.A.

The entrance to the cave was a narrow crevice. The wet rocks inside were not slippery because since they never saw sunlight, no slippery algae or moss could grow. We walked, waded, and floated our way along. Jumping backwards off the waterfall was one of the best parts.

We were not allowed to touch the stalagmites because our finger oils could harm them. After the waterfall jumping, we linked up into eel formation, turned off our headlamps, and saw hundreds of thousands of glowworms on the ceiling and walls. They looked like little blue candles.

About 3 hours later, we resurfaced to see daylight again. After hot showers, we were served hot tomato soup and bagels. I would really love to do more caving.

I’m Totally an Experienced Hiker

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Mt. Taranaki

This  Devin hotel was luxurious. I had the most glorious shower- the pressure was intense yet not painful, and the temperature could be fine tuned. The towels are so fluffy I’m gonna die. Imagine if bunnies were super absorbent. Since there was a violent storm outside, after swimming in the pool in the rain, we decided to dine downstairs at the bar. I ordered a Fruitum Drinkum, which was bright pink and tasted like a berry creamsicle.

We leapt out of bed and make a beeline to Pack & Save to collect supplies for our hike. After running back to the hotel for pants, we were ready to go. At the bottom of Mt. Taranaki, I decided we did not have enough water. My dad agreed, so we purchased some more bottles. I packed as light as possible, with only an over the shoulder little backpack stuffed with my windbreaker, a long sleeve cotton (sorry UCOCers) shirt, and some light gloves. Also water, of course.

I pranced towards the trail, leading my parents and skipping cheerfully by the sign that said “Experienced Hikers Only.” The first part was easy; basically a steep road. It got more tedious when the path got narrower and the wind picked up. It was necessary to use my hands quite often. I liked climbing over the bigger rocks. Then came the staircase. First we strolled up some stairs under a dripping rock face. The next part was 430 steps out in the open, give or take.

As we ascended, the wind continued to strengthen. It got steeper too. We scurried from big rock to big rock because it would not take much to be knocked over when not holding onto anything. Eventually the terrain was all gravel, with few stable boulders. I would describe it as rather lunar. The wind became so loud that we could not hear each other yell. I was pushed down several times, and my mode of transportation was eventually reduced to a determined bear crawl. About 500 meters from the summit, we took cover at a huge, Dad-sized boulder, within view of the ridge.We watched as a strong, experienced-seeming hiker struggled his way to the ridge, then turn around and slide back down towards us on his butt.

Daddy decided that if he could not make it, we couldn’t. Several other hikers join us at our rock for a powwow. We finally began our descent. It involved much sliding, surf-style. I also ended up sitting on the ground unexpectedly, several times. I would lean into the aggressive wind to resist its power, and then it would suddenly die down momentarily, just long enough for me to lose my balance, before it started up again, effortlessly pushing over. My mom was speedy at descending- maybe because she could not wait to get out of there.

We ate a picnic at a bench mid mountain, proudly eating the baguette we carried up and back. When we arrived back at the hotel, we instantly got in the hot tub. I did laps in the pool after I tired of pressing the bubble button for the hot tub every 5 minutes. When we walked in search of food, we accidentally happened upon an antique car show. When we found a Thai restaurant, I enjoyed torturing my mouth with the spiciness of red and green curries.