Skip to content

By Julia McNally

This past weekend I finally got to cross off one of the top items on my New Zealand to-do list: the Bay of Islands. Located about 3 hours north of Auckland, the Bay of Islands is a collection of 144 islands and features towns of Paihia, Russell and Waitangi, where the famous Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

Along our drive up we stopped at Abbey Caves, a set of three caves that are home to the glow worms found all over the North Island. Moss-covered geometric rocks framed and formed the caves, making the trip down into them a slippery one. The first two caves were difficult to get inside of but the third we decided to attempt. Forming a single-file line we descended, careful not to step into the water or cut up our legs. We moved on all fours into the depths of the cave, holding each other’s bags and hands when needed. Crawling into a small side section of the cave, we turned off our flashlights and waited for them to appear. Looking up, we saw the white-blue glow of the worms, like stars in the sky. Having only my phone with me and not my camera, I wasn’t able to get a picture of the worms we saw but I’ve pulled one from

After consuming the lunches we’d packed we got back in the car and headed for AH Reed Memorial Park. We arrived at the park and read the map, which showed a 45 minute each direction walk to our next destination, Whangarei Falls. At this point in the semester waterfalls were nothing new, but this one was three times the size of any we’d seen before. Perhaps not the tallest, but the widest and most vivacious. The path lead across the top of the fall, providing a steep but breathtaking view down towards the the lagoon where the waterfall gathered. Following the path down to the base, we took in the scenery from all angles and heights. At the base a family was having a picnic, the little girl exploring the edge of the water, watched closely by her father so that she wouldn’t fall in. I took a moment, thinking, “this is someone’s everyday life. My paradise, my other-worldly beauty, someone lives here always.” That thought permeated many of my experiences throughout the semester.


Our next stop was the Mermaid Pools near Matapouri. At this point we had lost the other car we were meeting at the Bay of Islands, and the urge to see and swim in these pools was far stronger than our desire to track them down. We pulled up to an absolutely surreal beach. The sand was pure, soft in texture and light in color. The waves weren’t crashing, but discreetly rolling in. The water and sky displaying idyllic shades of blue. Slowly, we walked across the beach, following a map we found online to the pools. The way to the pools was first up a steep hill - steep in the way that it was almost 90 degrees vertical. There was a rope secured into the ground to grab and use to pull ourselves up. Equipped with flip flops and massive cameras, we were ill prepared for this type of climb but persevered nonetheless. A short walk awaited us at the top, taking us down an equally steep rocky journey to the pools. They looked exactly like what I pictures something called the “Mermaid Pools” would look like. Rough edges framing emerald water that overlooked a view of the ocean and islands in the distance. Without hesitation we dove in. The water, as per usual, was freezing. That didn’t stop three of the four of us from spending over an hour splashing and swimming around, living out our childhood mermaid fantasies.


From Matapouri we finally made our way up to Piha, the town we were staying in. The next morning we took a ferry from Piha to Russell, a small town well-known in the Bay of Islands. We hiked up and over the town, reaching the summit and taking in the views before descending to a small, hidden beach to relax for a few hours. Just around the bend from where we sat we found a tire swing that stretched across the rocky shoreline just out over the edge of the water. We soaked up as much warmth from the sun as we could, as it was difficult to catch a warm day in the winter. Piling back on to the ferry to Piha and heading back to Auckland we were all satiated with the number of adventures we’d found on our way to and around the Bay of Islands, one of the must-do locations for New Zealand visitors.

By Julia McNally

The University of Auckland has a two-week mid-semester break, providing the perfect opportunity for its abundance of international students to get their travelling in. On Saturday night Paige and I began our break with the All Blacks vs Wallabies game. The All Blacks are New Zealand’s national rugby team, and renowned as the best in the world. The game begins with the Haka, the Maori war dance. This shows the strength, unity, and pride of the team and is a tradition at every All Blacks game. While I do not know much about rugby (my limited knowledge coming from an 11 minute “Rugby for Beginners” video I’d watched earlier that day), the game was entertaining, exciting, and resulted in a 40-12 victory for the All Blacks.

The next morning we rose early to catch a flight to our first destination: Queenstown. Famed for its proximity to skiing and Fiordland National park, Queenstown is must in the South Island. We disembarked the plane on the tarmac, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. “Holy shit. This is a real place in the world. This is just the frickin airport!” I said to myself as we walked the short distance into the airport to grab our bags. We arrived mid-day and decided to spend the afternoon wandering around downtown, which is nestled between Lake Wakatipu and the mountains. The hostel we are staying at is right along the lake, and provides unbelievable views of the mountains and beaches. While relaxing on the beach we ran into a friend from school and decided to grab a pint and a bite together. As we ate, we planned our next day and decided it was Lake Wanaka for us. As our friend had rented a car and wanted to go skiing around Mt. Aspiring, he offered to give us a ride up.

We met up the next morning, and after picking up another friend who was going to ski, we head out for the day. Lake Wanaka was highly recommended to me and had many walks and hikes around it’s borders. We were dropped of at what is known as “That Wanaka Tree”, a solitary tree that has grown up just off the shore of the lake.

After a quick viewing of the tree, we proceeded along the coast of the lake. We tramped for a couple of hours, stopping periodically to observe our surroundings. The lakeshore was rocky, framed by snowy mountains and a glimpse of the small town of Wanaka in the distance. After a couple of hours we turned back and explored Wanaka while we waited for our ride. The town was bursting with small local shops, both for souvenirs and food. I picked up a small, teal pin the shape of the country of New Zealand, perfect for my new backpack. The boys finished their day on the slopes and picked us up, heading back to Queenstown where we visited the iconic Fergburger for dinner.

The following day we embarked upon a hike that would take us to the overlook of Queenstown skyline, a height most people take a gondola up to. However, being students traveling on a budget we opted to climb the distance instead of riding up. The trail was steep all the way up, forcing up to stop and breathe every ten minutes or so. As I’ve said many times before, the climb was tough, and at times almost impossible, but the view was, once again, worth it.

I could have stared down at the town for hours, but meat pies were calling and the wind was sharp and cut straight through all three of my layers. By the time we reached the base of the mountain we were ready for a quick rest before meeting up with our friend to walk around the base of the lake. The views were nothing new but the path was pleasant and calm. A few people were out walking their dogs, but we mainly had it to ourselves. Afterwards we wandered into an Irish pub for dinner a drink.

The next morning we were headed out of Queenstown, so after a cup of tea I walked down to the water and sat at the doc for 45 minutes while waiting for our ride to the airport. The deep breaths of sharply cold air were awakening, refreshing, and made leaving all that much more difficult.


By Zachary Brumback

On Tuesday I traveled to the Bankstown Art Centre and attended the Bankstown Poetry Slam (BPS). When I arrived at the art center, I was amazed by the number of attendees who were already waiting outside the auditorium. I quickly made my way to the end of the queue and waited patiently for the doors to open. Upon entering the auditorium, I presented my ticket and made my way to one of the remaining seats. As I was waiting for the event to begin, I could feel the excitement resonating throughout the room.

With the dimming of the auditorium’s lights, the co-founder and host, Sara Mansour, took to the stage and welcomed everyone to the poetry slam. However, she was also the bearer of bad news. Due to the performances by two “world-class poets” (Joelle Taylor and Bill Moran), there was only room for fifteen other attendees to perform. As a result, five individuals were unable to perform their pieces. Following this announcement, Mansour reminded the audience that there was a three-minute time limit for each performance and that the selected performers would be judged on a scale ranging from “1-10” by five random members of the audience. As a result, five judges were randomly selected and given whiteboards and expo markers. With that said, Mansour introduced the first performer and exited the stage.

With the auditorium filled with over three hundred attendees, I was immediately impressed by each performer’s ability to recite their poetry with such poise. Their topics ranged from love to anger, happiness to sadness, and freedom to oppression. Many performers used their poetry to convey their personal political beliefs towards a number of ongoing issues. As a spectator, I was mesmerized by how the performers seemed to take on a new identity to complement their words and express their emotions.
Following their performance, the poets received a round of applause and were later scored by the five selected judges. According to Mansour, both the highest and lowest scores were omitted to prevent any bias. As a result, a facilitator from BPS averaged the three middle scores of each performer. After the poetry slam concluded, Mansour announced the first, second, and third place winners of the night’s slam. However, due to a tie, two individuals received second place. Also, the winner of the slam was granted the opportunity to perform in BPS’s Grand Slam later in the year and compete against other slam winners.

Whether one was a performer or just a member of the audience, each member in attendance was engaged in the experience and ultimately received support from each other that they can share with others. Although one may have only been a spectator, they were still able to learn from the event’s performers, reflect on their own experiences, and thus apply their newly acquired understanding and perspective to their poetry and life.

During the second half of the event, BPS hosted two “world-class poets” that presented a wide selection of their work. Through their performances, attendees were able to watch experienced performers and learn from them. In addition to hosting a variety of “world-class poets,” BPS hosts “Flip the Script” on the night before each monthly poetry slam, which serves as a form of mentorship to individuals under the age of twenty-six. Therefore, individuals have the opportunity to receive feedback from a mentor and can improve their piece before performing it the next night.
By attending the poetry slam, I was able to experience a real-life example of a participatory culture in the local community. By performing and expressing their emotions through poetry, individuals are under the impression that their message can resonate with their audience and may potentially help others going through difficult times. Following their performances, these individuals received instant gratification and felt a sense of belonging. Due to its welcoming environment, I was fortunate to engage in this unique event.

By Julia McNally

We arrived in Rotorua at almost 11pm on Friday night, heading directly to our hostel. Upon finding ourselves in a 10-bedroom we chose our bunkmates and got a good night’s rest so we would have maximum energy for Saturday’s adventures.

The day began with chocolate chip pancakes, the perfect fuel for six young adults spending the day hiking. After picking up the car we chose to stop by a nearby park where we could get a sneak peak of the thermal pools. When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find a pop-up market selling various foods and goods. After walking around for about an hour we decided to see the real sight of Rotorua -- the thermal pools at Wai-O-Tapu.

Wai-O-Tapu is the most prominent geothermal tourist spot in New Zealand, covering 18 square km (6.95 square miles). It rests on the volcanic dome of Maungakaramea (Rainbow Mountain) which has activity dating back 160,000 years. It features 25 pools along a 75 minute walk. The pools start out small, some even underground, framed by concave rocks stained with the minerals released by the pools. Others are vast, releasing steam that is a result of the combination of heat and chemicals. Each mineral leaves a different color in the water, some dull and other brighter that we knew colors could be.

Although beautiful, the park smelled horrendous. The primary mineral giving the pools their heat and color is sulfur. If you’ve ever smelled sulfur, you’re very familiar with the rotten egg smell that never seems to leave your nose and pores. There were points at which, no matter how aggressively I plugged my nose, the scent was so strong I could taste it.

Once we’d finished marveling at the colors and could tolerate the smell no longer, we took a break for lunch and aimed to arrive at Whakarewarewa Forest at sunset. Covering 5,600 hectares (13,838 acres) of land, the redwood forest is home to trails for horses, mountain biking and walking. This includes a walk along bridges between trees, about halfway up their trunks. However, we opted out as payment is required to access the raised path. Coming from Northern California, Paige and I have high standards for redwood trees. We giggled as our friend marveled at the size of the redwoods, telling them at home they were at least three times wider. Nonetheless, we felt right at home, deeply inhaling the scent of damp redwoods -- I scent I would bottle and carry around with me if I could.

That evening we relaxed at the hostel. With a bar on the first floor and a hot tub in the backyard, we each grabbed a beer and jumped in.

Sunday morning we began with tea and donuts at a local bakery before deciding to go to Kerosene Creek, a nearby river heated by a natural hot spring that lays beneath it, making it a popular place to go for a swim. At first I walked down to the creek fully dressed, not intending to go in. I didn’t feel like swimming or having to put leggings and sneakers on over wet skin for the rest of the day. We tramped through the mud along the creek to arrive at the short waterfall beneath which a few others were swimming. After snapping a few photos and watching my friends jump in, I returned to the car to change, deciding I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

The creek was lukewarm and its smell truly lived up to its name. We were accompanied by a group of young men climbing up the waterfall only to jump back down it and a large group of students visiting from another university.

From Kerosene Creek we drove down the road to the Rainbow Mountain viewpoint. Along the way we saw Green Lake, which we had been trying to find all weekend. Everywhere we’d tried to access it had been blocked by gates that required permits. But like many areas in New Zealand, often the best views are simply on the side of the street. We pulled over in the middle of the road and ran across the street to have our look and snap some pictures.

Rainbow Mountain was equally as beautiful, with an ice blue pool settled at its base. Minerals in the rocks created a marble of different colors in the side of the mountain, which looked as if someone had slowly chipped away at it. After a brief look we continued our journey.

Our final destination before heading to the bus that would take us back to Auckland was Okere Falls. These falls are the most common location for white water rafting in Rotorua, and by extension, the north island. We accessed the rushing river from several points, marveling at its speed and the lush greenery that framed it. Although there were no rafters due to the day’s predictions of rain, it was easy to picture lifejacket-clad tourists frantically fighting the rapids with their plastic paddles.

As we piled back into the car to return it and head to the bus we fell silent. Content with our choices of what to see and exhausted from the ventures we took to get there. For a small tourist town, we found plenty to do inside and around Rotorua and returned to Auckland satisfied with our weekend getaway.

By Zachary Brumback

Day 7: After waking up at 5 a.m., our tour group took the ferry back to the mainland and boarded our tour bus. Following our two-hour drive, our group arrived at the Tully River. There, went white water rafting in groups of six and enjoyed a wonderful day in a tropical rainforest. Although forty-eight hours had passed since my injury, I was still super cautious and tried to keep my stitches dry. Luckily, I was only one of two individuals who did not fall out of the raft. After we reached the bottom of the river, our group boarded the tour bus for the last time. After another two-hour drive, we arrived in Cairns (our final destination), unloaded the bus, arrived at our rooms, and headed to dinner. Following dinner, we had an early night.

Day 8: Today, I made multiple leaps of faith. At 7 a.m., I boarded a bus with a number of individuals to go skydiving. Following an hour drive, we arrived at the airport and met our tandem instructors. The instructors suited each individual with a harness and together we later made our way to the plane. When boarding, I was the last individual on the plane. Therefore, I unknowingly volunteered to be the first group to jump. While we were ascending, a clock was counting down till it was “showtime.” Although I fully understood that I was about to jump out of a plane at 15,000 feet, I was surprised at how calm I was. When the clock hit zero, I quickly made my way to the door of the plane and before I knew it, I was freefalling towards the earth.

For most individuals, they probably would not push their luck a second time, especially in less than four hours. Following my skydive and trip back to the resort, our tour group headed to go bungee jumping in a tropical rainforest. Since I had just gone skydiving, I thought bungee jumping would be a breeze. However, I was greatly mistaken. After making my way up to the platform and looking down, I began to grow nervous. My anxiety kicked in when I waddled to the edge of the platform and received a countdown. Although I was nervous, I made another leap of faith and did not regret it.

Day 9: After jumping out of a plane and off of an elevated platform, it was time to jump into the Coral Sea and go scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef. Before it was my group’s turn to go scuba diving, we spent an hour snorkeling. Once we returned to the boat, my group and I received our gear and suited up. Before jumping in, I had always wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef up close. However, after I jumped in and began seeing the bubbles exiting my respirator, I panicked and returned to the surface. My instructor immediately came to the surface, and I told him that I did not think I could do it. He reassured me that I would be alright and informed me that one or more people in each group tend to panic, initially. Once I had calmed down, my instructor and I re-joined the group and began our descent to the seafloor. While I was at the bottom of the ocean, I saw a number of clownfish (Nemo), a turtle, a blue starfish, a shark, and various other breathtaking species. Once again, I stepped out of my comfort zone and I did not regret it.

Day 10: Following multiple action-packed days, it was time to catch up on our sleep and then explore Cairns on our own. At 1 p.m., our tour group boarded a double-decker party bus and headed to the Crystal Cascades. Once we had arrived at the rainforest, our group walked along a number of waterfalls in search of a location to go swimming in the fresh water. Once we had found our spot, we spent the afternoon swimming, sunbathing, and jumping off waterfalls. Following our time there, we boarded the party bus and headed to a group dinner followed by a farewell party.

Day 11: With our trip concluding, I packed my bags and checked out of my accommodation. Before heading to the airport, a few of my new friends and I enjoyed a lovely breakfast, together. After breakfast, we parted ways. Once I had arrived at the airport, with my two friends from USYD, we learned that our flight back to Sydney was delayed. Luckily, Qantas only delayed the flight by an hour.

Now that Mid-semester Break has concluded, I have less than two months left of my study abroad. As I begin to enter the second stretch of the semester, my remaining assessments range from 30-50% of my final grade. Spring Break is over, and it is time to hit the books.

By Julia McNally

July 22nd, 2018

This weekend we finally got some sun, so naturally we took to the beach. The west coast of the north island is home to two of the world’s most beautiful black sand beaches, Karekare and Piha. Just a 45 minute drive away, eight of us set out to make the journey. In New Zealand, you only need to be twenty years old to drive a rental car, leaving all but one of us eligible. Being a rather fast and confident driver in the US, I thought it best for someone else to take the wheel along the narrow and unknown streets. Thankfully, those who took the wheel did a decent job of driving not only on the opposite side of the road, but the opposite side of the car than we’re used to.

We arrived at Karekare just after 11am. We came upon a sign that pointed down to the beach or up to the waterfalls. We couldn’t pass up waterfalls, and decided to being our day there. Tucked away on the side of the mountain we had just driven down we found two falls. The first was a short cascade that collected into a small but very deep pool before continuing to drip down into a creek. It was a matter of seconds before we all tore off our shoes and began climbing up to the pool. The water was icy and the rocks were sharp and slippery, but we made it to the ledge where we dipped our toes in and posed for pictures.

The second waterfall was taller than any of us could estimate, and pooled into a medium-sized lagoon. This was where the true fun began. Once again unable to resist the temptation, we quickly changed into our swimsuits and half of us waded in. Two brave souls did a full polar plunge, letting their entire bodies be swallowed by the fridged water. As for me, I went about stomach-deep -- enough to be content with saying I had gone in, but not far enough to be submerged. The water was a clear, aqua color -- the kind of color you’d imagine water to be if you were painting or coloring it.

Wet, cold, and lacking towels, we threw on what we could, put the rest in our packs, and continued on to the beach. Down a sandy path lined with tall grasses was the shore. We must have arrived at low tide, as the beach stretched for what seemed like miles before the waves break. Setting our stuff down, we sat for a moment and enjoyed a quick picnic. Music, snacks, the sound of waves crashing, and the giddiness of diving into waterfalls fueled our smiles and our energy. A few at a time we began wandering around. Down to the shore, over to the large rock that sat just a few feet into the ocean, to each side of where we’d sat.

After a bit we all decided to pick up and see more of the beach. Walking first to a massive rock, three people began to climb up. It was a vertical climb, much like a rock wall you’d find in a gym. Closer to the shore were rocks that stretched out into the ocean. Climbing barefoot along these formations we found a cove where the water came in, splashing up on the rocks and glistening as the sun was setting over the horizon.

After a long time exploring and climbing the various rocks we decided to hop over to Piha beach. Slightly more developed, there was a small surf school lining the path to the beach and a handful of people out on the waves. A massive rock stood firmly on the shore and we noticed there were stairs etched into the side, allowing us to walk up and get a full view of the beach. After completing yet another steep climb, we were gifted with a view of the sun going down over the expansive Piha beach. We didn’t stay up there for long as it was crowded and getting late, but, once again, the view was worth the climb. I’m starting to sense that as a theme of this country: you’ll have to climb a long way, lose your breath and strain your legs, but what you see from the top will make you forget how difficult it was to reach the sights.

By Zachary Brumback

It seems like yesterday I was arriving in Sydney, Australia; however, I have already completed half of my time abroad. With the temperature warming up, two of my friends and I decided to embark on an adventure of a lifetime. Since we wanted to explore Australia further, we decided to tour the East Coast for “Mid-semester Break.”

Day 1: Following our last class before break, my friends and I flew to Brisbane where we would meet our tour group the next day. Upon arrival, my friends and I explored Brisbane and stayed in an exquisite Airbnb with an infinity pool on the 92nd floor. Both the apartment and pool had fantastic views of the city.

Day 2: After a lovely stay in Brisbane, my friends and I traveled to the Roma Street Bus Station and met the other exchange students who were on our trip. With our bags stowed beneath the bus, our tour group headed to Noosa Beach where we received surf lessons from the locals. Let’s just say surfing is much more difficult than it looks. After several attempts, I was able to ride a wave and made my way to the shore. The thrill of finally succeeding at surfing is something that I will never be able to forget. Following our surf lessons, we headed to lunch and later traveled to our accommodation for the night.

Day 3: The next day, our tour group boarded modified 4wd buses and headed to Fraser Island. To get to the island, we had to take a thirty-minute ferry ride. When we arrived at Fraser Island, the buses drove along the beaches and dunes where we spotted two Dingos in their natural habitat. After an hour drive on the beach, we headed further off-road to Lake Makenzie. There, my newly acquired friends and I enjoyed swimming in the pristine crystal-clear water. Later, we boarded our tour bus and traveled twelve hours overnight to Airlie Beach.

Day 4: After our twelve-hour bus ride, the group boarded two speedboats that traveled at 60 km/h towards White Haven Beach. While on the boat, we observed the spectacular scenery of the Whitsunday Islands. Once we arrived at Whitsunday Island, we took pictures with the “Most Instagrammed Tree” in the world. And yes, I have already posted a photo of me with the tree on Instagram. We then hiked to various lookouts along the island, sailed to White Haven Beach, and went snorkeling. During our last stop, I had a little accident. I lost my footing and hit my chin on the metal railing of the boat. I busted my chin open and ended up in an immediate care center. The wound required two stitches. Although I may have ended up injuring myself, I had a blast with my new friends and exploring the Whitsunday Islands.

Day 5: A day after my injury, we headed back to the Wharf and boarded a private yacht. Due to my injury, I was instructed not to get my stitches wet for the next forty-eight hours. As a result, I remained on the ship while others jumped off and went swimming. Although I was unable to participate, I had a fantastic time sunbathing on the yacht. Also, I could not pass up the opportunity to represent my fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon, on Spring Break. Following our stay in Airlie Beach, we boarded our tour bus and headed north to Townsville. After our four-hour bus ride, we grabbed our luggage, headed to a ferry, and traveled to Magnetic Island where we would be spending the next two nights.

Day 6: Throughout our trip, every hour was planned for us. However, this was the day where we could do whatever we pleased. As a result, a group of my friends and I rented a 4wd jeep and explored the island. Our first stop was the Fort Walk. On our walk, we saw Koalas sleeping in their natural habitat, World War II Bunkers, and the rest of the island from its tallest peak. Following our descent, my friends and I made our way to a local beachfront restaurant famous for their fish and chips. The food was impeccable. Once we had finished our lunch, we headed to the historic shipwreck that is just off the coast of Magnetic Island. During low tide, one is able to walk through shallow water to the shipwreck. During our walk, my friends and I discovered two starfish and a sand dollar. After exploring the wreck, we got back in our rental jeep and explored secluded beaches. Most notably, my friends and I ended our day by watching the sunset from West Point Beach.

Since my Mid-semester Break is only halfway over, I will summarize the second portion of my trip in my next blog post. Fingers crossed that I do not end up further injuring myself. Till next time.

By Julia McNally

16 July, 2018

Yesterday marked my first true adventure in Auckland. Five friends and I woke up before the sunrise, stuffed our backpacks and walked to the port to hop on the 7:30 am ferry to Rangitoto Island. Rangitoto is a dormant volcanic island that rests 20 minutes off the coast of Auckland Central. “Rangitoto” translates to “Bloody Sky” and legend has it that the island used to be home to a couple who were children of the Fire Gods. The flame they built went out as they argued. Enraged, they cursed Mahuika, the Goddess of Fire who felt as though she had been cursed unfairly and conspired with Mataoho, the God of Earthquakes and Volcanic Eruptions to cause an eruption that destroyed the couple’s home and left them stranded on a mountain peak at sea, unable to return to the mainland. This peak in Rangitoto, and the fog that often rolls in above the island is said to be the tears of the couple.

As we approached Rangitoto the sun was beginning to rise and a light grey mist was enveloping the island. Bundled in layers of sweatshirt and rain jackets, we set out to reach the summit by way Summit Track and the lava caves. The trailhead approximated the road up to the summit to be an hour long trek, with a twenty minute detour to explore the lava caves. We began the long trek up, amazed by the lava rock that surrounded us and exposed itself beneath our feet. A light drizzle began to fall and the way up got steep but none of us minded -- we were in it for the long haul.

Almost to the top of mountain we took the detour -- who could pass up crawling through caves of lava rock?! Upon discovering the first cave we shed our backpacks, got down on our hands and knees and crawled into the narrow space of the cave, slowly climbing upwards. Built of the same lava rocks we’d seen on our way, the caves were slick with rainwater, letting the rocks glisten against the light of our flashlights. The second cave we came upon was more of a tunnel, allowing us to walk all the way through with hunched backs to the other end, where a path lead us back to the summit trail.


A continuous steep incline and a height difference of a over a foot among our pack had some of us gasping for breath as we made the final push to the summit. Accompanied by the boys singing traditional Maori songs, we made it to the top. The view was worth the sweat.


The sun was just beginning to peak out from behind the clouds when we reached the summit. It felt as though the sun knew we were there, and wanted us to see Rangitoto’s views in all their glory. After taking in as much of the view as we could and munching on a quick snack, we proceeded down the side of the peak via Summit Road, headed for a trail that would take us around the side of the island for another three hours. The sun still shining we were cheerful as could be, singing and laughing, trying to gently trip each other. A rainbow peaked out just above us as the road took us to McKenzie Bay, perhaps the most picturesque part of the hike.

Nestled along a side path, McKenzie Bay was framed on either side by lava rock formations and various kinds of foliage, with a lighthouse and Auckland Central in the distance. We once again stopped to enjoy the view and take a breath.


As I sipped water from my hydropack and listened to the waves softly break on the rocks, I turned to my friend Paige and said “I can’t remember the last time I was this happy.” Looking around at the group of people we had assembled, feeling the boots on my feet and breathing in clean, post-rain air, I truly couldn’t have been happier.

We continued along McKenzie Bay road, letting it lead us through the trees and along the coastline. The final stretch of the road lead us past the Historic Bachs -- small, one or two room houses that had been occupied by previous caretakers. Each had a small sign with a story of the houses’ origin and owners. Of all the eccentric colors and funky names, one that sat of a short uphill path caught my attention most. “Why Worry”, it was called. The name felt appropriate for the setting.


The end of the Bachs lead us straight back to the port by which we arrived. With a bit of time to kill we sat down to rest our legs and look out at the water. The bluer-than-blue water, smell and feel of fog, and company of my new friends made this challenging day more rewarding that I could have guessed. By far the best part was the time and care we took to see everything. We veered off on every detour, read every informational sign, explored when we found a new place. There was no rush, there was no agenda. Just friends and trails.

By Zachary Brumback

After a few days of adapting to the new time zone, my newly acquired friends and I decided to begin exploring Australia. Before we could begin to travel long distances, we had to learn how to use Sydney’s public transportation system. As a student familiar with DC’s Metro, this was not a difficult task. Although the system resembled DC’s Metro, the fares are significantly cheaper and include bus, train, and ferry rides. If you are an exchange student in Australia, you are eligible to receive a concession Opal card that reduces the cost of travel in half. Also, the max anyone pays to travel on Sundays is $2 AUD. Therefore, it is economical to travel long distances and explore all that Australia has to offer every Sunday.

First on our Sunday travel list was the Blue Mountains National Park: home to scenic walking trails, waterfalls, exotic wildlife, and the “Three Sisters.” When Sunday arrived, the other exchange students and I made our way to the nearest train station. After arriving at our designated platform, we boarded the train towards the Blue Mountains and embarked on a two-hour scenic train ride. Once we arrived at Katoomba Station, we enjoyed a nice lunch at Subway and then strolled through the small town of Katoomba. Upon our arrival to the Blue Mountains, we were exposed to the breathtaking views of the blue-hazed valleys. Our trip consisted of hiking 16 kilometers (10 miles), taking hundreds of photos, and climbing approximately 20,000 steps. As the sun began to set, we quickly made our way back to Katoomba Station and embarked on our two-hour journey home. I could not believe that the trip there and back only cost $1.50 USD.

On the following Sunday, a few of the other exchange students and I took the bus to Coogee Beach. Since it is winter here, it is way too cold to wear a “Budgy Smuggler” (bathing suit) or swim in the ocean. As a result, my friends and I decided to walk to Bondi Beach via “Sydney’s Best Coastal Walk.” Along the walking path, are breathtaking views of Sydney’s beaches, bays, and cliffs. The walk takes approximately an hour and a half. Make sure to bring some friends, your camera, and sunscreen.

This past Sunday, my friends and I traveled to the Taronga Zoo. Our journey began as we caught a bus and headed to the end of the M30 transit line. While riding the bus, my friends asked if I had already purchased a ticket for the zoo. Prior to this moment, I was under the impression that our admission was free. I somehow managed to forget that unlike the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, most zoo’s charge for admittance. Once we arrived at our stop, we quickly made it to the zoo’s entrance and presented our tickets. As a student attending a local university, I was able to purchase a “Concession Ticket” and saved $10 AUD. At the zoo, I was able to see a multitude of species up close, while also being granted the opportunity to pet an anaconda and attend a choreographed bird show. In addition to the remarkable species, the Taronga Zoo offers a beautiful view of the Sydney Harbor. After a fun and eventful day, my friends and I took the “Sky Safari” (cable car) to reach the zoo’s exit and followed the signs to the ferry station. As you can see from the picture, the ferry ride provides a fantastic scenic view of the city.

By Julia McNally

14 July, 2018

Kia Ora! Welcome to the written record of my semester abroad at the University of Auckland in Auckland, New Zealand. Although I arrived only a week ago, it feels like it could have been months.

As classes don’t start until tomorrow, this week has been full of exploration and bonding. I am here as an international exchange student directly between GW and the University of Auckland, rather than through a study abroad provider program. There are benefits and drawbacks to not being in a program. Benefits such as the independence to arrive when I wanted to, the responsibility of dealing directly with the university as I would at GW, and being free to take the trips I want to take when I want to take them. However, as the American friends I've made are primarily students through the IFSA program, it is clear that they are much more guided, with an advisor to ask questions to and pre-arrival activities that educated and bonded them. Fortunately for me, I get their information second-hand so I’m covered on things I would otherwise have a difficult time figuring out.

My first couple of days were spent figuring out how this city runs. First difference: mostly everything is closed on Sundays. Grocery stores are open, as well as some other large shops, but restaurants, campus buildings, and smaller shops take Sunday, or both Saturday and Sunday off. This posed some challenges, as my first day here was a Sunday. I wandered around the city for about an hour as it drizzled in search of food with no luck, and ultimately ended up buying pb&j ingredients as the gas station near my apartment complex. Lessons learned: take care of shopping during the week and mind the rain. Waking around for that time did, however, give me a good lay of the land of downtown Auckland.

Queens street is the main street of downtown, just up and over the hill upon which the university sits. Queens is lined with restaurants, shops, and large corporate buildings alike, all surrounding the iconic Sky Tower. We ventured there to find places for a delicious bite, see movies, and pick up necessities at the shops. The waterfront sits on the edge of downtown and features the large port that cruise ships and ferry boats arrive to and depart from as well as a collection of pubs and eateries with views of the crystal clear water.

As the weekend approached, we moved from exploring campus and downtown to exploring outside of Auckland Central. After acquiring AT Hop cards, a few of us took the bus to Karangahape road in the Newtown neighborhood where some of Auckland’s best thrift stores are located. We walked back from K street, as it’s referred to, by way of downtown, passing scenic views and beautiful pink bike path. At sunset, we took a bus to Mount Eden, a neighborhood in Auckland that features a dormant volcano who's summit is a popular lookout from which you can see the entire city.

So far, Auckland has done nothing but amaze me. The people I’ve met share more in common with me than I could have imagined and I’m excited to see where the rest of these 5 months take me!