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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the most diverse things in hotel rooms is the shower. Sometimes the hot water tap is on the left, sometimes on the right. The water could be a powerful massage source or a meager trickle. I can easily spend a good two minutes figuring out how to get the water to come out of the shower head. In one hotel, it took me a moment to realise there was no shower door. In this motel, the dial was super sensitive, so Canadian icicle was a mere half centimeter from boiling lava.
Pro tip: if you ever go to New Zealand, it is unnecessary to pack chapstick or lotion. They have these brilliant creations called iSites, which I found in every town we visited. Among helping you book hotel rooms and plan hikes and activities and having several hundred pamphlets to add to your ever growing pamphlet collection, there are testers of all sorts of lotions and lip balms. You can completely moisturize with the samples of lanolin body lotion and honey eye serum. If you are willing to go find a bathroom to rinse off, you can even test the mud masks.
We drove to the Wai-O-Tapu hot spring park. We viewed pools of all different colors, thanks to the various minerals and oxides present. My parents and I made a game of guessing what compound was in each pool, based on the color. The weather switched from cold and rainy to hot and dry, causing my mom and me to take our rain jackets off and on at a comically frequent pace. My dad played tour guide, reading knowledgeably from the pamphlet at each geyser. Getting engulfed in sulfurous steam smelled gross but apparently it is good for your skin. My favorite sight was Devil’s pool, because of its bright, acidic green color. The mud pools were entertaining to watch. It looked like boiling clay, with bubbles of various thickness and size. I couldn’t help but think of Shrek’s hot tub.
Next stop was a hot spring designated for swimming. It was on the edge of a river. I waded into the cool river water, and as I got closer to the springs, the water gradually got hot, especially near the surface. I braved the heat and climbed up to the source pool. I felt like I was standing in a hot tub turned up to the highest setting. Other people in the pool encouraged me to stand under the hot waterfall. It was worth it. It was basically like having a hot shower.
I woke up to rain. When we arrived at Whakarewarewa, the precipitation had transformed into a light drizzle. During the journey, as we followed a large white van, the door to its luggage trailer swung wide open, and as it entered a roundabout, a suitcase escaped. We pulled over and rescued it, leaving it at the nearest iSite.
To enter Whakarewarewa, we sauntered across a bridge and set foot upon the geothermally active land. I loved the Maori cultural show. They make great use of their tongues and even make their eyes look as if they are popping out, all to confuse and scare the enemy during war preparation dances. I put this knowledge away for use in future Snapchat face offs. The villagers knew how to put the free geothermal power to good use. They built wooden boxes over steam vents for steaming meats. They had a designated hot pool for cooking leafy greens, corn, and seafood. The locals took baths in the hot water twice a day, curing arthritis and bug bites among many other ailments. It felt oily due to its richness in minerals.
I clung to the rental car as my dad figured out how to drive on the wrong side of the road. The rumors are true- there are a significant amount of sheep here. Also, cows. The term Kiwi is extremely ambiguous here. You could be talking about a person, a bird, or a fruit. Important snippet of information: it seems like nearly every establishment closes down at 5 in New Zealand. It makes it tough to find food after that point, and even checking into hotels is difficult.We managed somehow.
Every hotel we went to, milk was provided in a little carton, and hot water heaters were always available in the room. They are really into tea and coffee here. Except not drip coffee. My dad prefers that American standard, but he drank a lot of flat whites here as a replacement. We went to bakeries almost everyday. I am not a fan of meat pies, but I tried a Ginger Slice and it was fantastic!
In Coromandel, we went body surfing. To get to the beautiful beach of Cathedral Cove, we trekked through a section of jungle that was reminiscent of Jurassic Park. After my parents convinced me to get out of the waves, we got ice cream. I got the two local favorite flavors: Boysenberry and Hokey Pokey, which is a popular candy here. Later that day, we drove to Hot Water Beach. We encountered tons of people with shovels, digging holes in the sand. As I walked around, I felt heat under my feet, radiating from the sand. I began to dig with my hands, and as I dug deeper, hot water seeped up and pooled in my hole. Soon I had created my very own hot tub! I wondered why there were so many lifeguards around- the ocean at that portion of the beach was too rough that day and no swimming was allowed. Then I realized- they were there to help with burns. In some parts of the beach, the sand was literally steaming. If I stood too long on the sand near the steamy area, my feet started to burn.
We hiked the Pinnacles. Before stepping onto the path, I disinfected my boots to help save the Kauri trees from dieback. The terrain varied from giant fern jungle to cable bridges to rock steps that were carved in the 1920s. It kept randomly raining, but due to the heat of the day, I welcomed it. I munched on an apple cucumber. It was the shape of a kiwi, and tasted like a sweeter, more flavorful cucumber. We finally reached a lodge that was completely self service and anyone could sleep in it. I am willing to bet that we could fit the entire UConn Outing Club in just one of the bunk rooms. For lunch, I put Manuka honey on a roll from the bakery. As we left the lodge, two friendly little birds greeted us and proceeded to escort us down the path. As we hiked along down the mountain, I suddenly realized that I did not recognize the trail we were on. It turns out that we accidentally ended up taking the flood route detour. Oops!
Hello there! It has been a crazy couple of weeks, and I have barely had time to sleep let alone write! This week is O-Week here at UNSW. Each day has been filled to the brim with activities. Mucho mingling. More about that later, let me first catch you up on my New Zealand adventures!
First, my airplane experience: I am not good at sitting still. 14 hours did not seem doable. But I survived! I watched the sunset out the window, made some progress on my movies-to-watch list, paced up and down the isles, and went through about a pack of gum. Then I spent hours editing GoPro videos. I’m super grateful to be blessed with the gift of being able to sleep in moving vehicles.
We spent a few days in Sydney. The highlight was definitely the walking tour, where I learned hundreds of fun facts that I sincerely hope no one expects me to remember. But our Sydney stay was not long-before I knew it we were waking up at 4:10 in the morning and catching another plane. This was only a 3 hour jump to New Zealand, but we flew in an impressive Airbus A380. It could hold 615 passengers!
After all this frequent customs security experience, I must tell you about my recently improved skill: I can get my shoes off real fast. Not just any old shoes you can slip on and off, but lace-up hiking boots. (contemplating putting this on my resumé)
I brought some homemade trail mix from home, so I had to declare it. I recommend bringing food to declare because you get to be sniffed by an adorable beagle.
After almost forgetting all of my shoes, my parents and I packed into our trusty blue Subaru to drive the first leg of our journey up to Bradley Airport. We thought we were being clever, using our UConn parking discount and avoiding the craziness that is JFK. But the snowstorm Mars did not let us get off too easy. The supposedly 1.5 hour drive took us 3 hours. Luckily Bradley was empty and there were no lines to speak of. We sat down at a restaurant with a TV right there at the table, because no matter where we are, when there is a UConn women’s basketball game being played, my dad and I are watching.
Our plane got slimed! Because of the storm, we had to be de-iced. A man in a cherrypicker sprayed our plane down with steaming hot water, and then doused our wings with a thick green goo. I wash my parents’ cars myself, so I’m not used to the drive-through car wash experience. I gotta say, it was a fun time.
An hour later, after some enjoyable turbulence thanks to those clouds, we zoomed over the national mall and touched down in D.C. Our family friends Jim and Nancy picked us up and chauffeured us to their house in Virginia. This morning, I woke up to an Airedale licking my face. My friend Charlie came over, and his dad Jim treated us to a brunch of Eggs Benedict with special Jim Sauce.
I gotta go now- must burn energy before I have to sit on the next plane!