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By Julia McNally

Our final trip of the semester was up to Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of New Zealand. On Friday night we traveled about six hours north of Auckland by car, arriving at our charming Karikari Peninsula Airbnb to play games and get some rest before Saturday’s full schedule. The first stop on the day’s route was Ninety Mile Beach, an extensive strip of beach stretching the length of New Zealand’s northwest coast. We first explored the sandy shore by car, as it is one of the beaches in the country on which you can drive. After a brief cruise, we hopped out of the car to take on the beach by foot, taking in the view and getting as close to the water as we could, only to run away when the waves surged in.

Our next stop were the Te Paki sand dunes, where we braved the sharp winds to sandboard. Sharing three boards among the ten of us, we took turns braving the gusts to plunge down the steep dunes. Beginning on our stomach and graduating to standing up, sand boarding was much like snowboarding and came naturally to the more athletically inclined among us. The wind created a beautiful pattern in the sand but eventually wore on us, as our exposed faces, necks and ankles were pelted with grains of sand that felt like tiny shards of glass.

The day’s final destination was the northernmost point of New Zealand itself, the lighthouse at Cape Reinga. A long and winding path from the mainland out to the lighthouse is lined with greenery, evoking the feeling of an epic Disney-style journey. The trail’s end boast beautiful views of the meeting point of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, with nothing but ocean as far as you can see in any given direction. Cape Reinga is the most spiritually significant place for the Maori people of New Zealand. It is thought that after death, spirits travel up the coast and out over the northernmost land point of the island. We sat in silence for a while, respectfully enjoying the feeling and the view.

That evening we watched the sunset on the beach near our house and made a big taco dinner. The following day we split up into two cars: those who needed to get back to Auckland to do schoolwork, and those who could take a bit more time. Where our paths differed were the hikes we took. I opted for the longer hike, having nothing due for school on Monday I figured I would extend this final trip as long as I could. My car went to hike Whangarei Heads, the longest and most grueling hike I did during my time in New Zealand. Beginning with two hours of straight and steep uphill climb, we then entered another three hours of up, down, up, down until descending for the final hour. By the time we reached hour three my legs were in pain, and I was unable to control where my foot landed when I stepped. The slippery mud that welcomed us from Friday’s rain was no help. All five of us struggled, but were determined to reach the views we knew awaited us. Once again, the route was worth it.

Our final descent brought us to Urquharts Bay, where we ripped off our boots and layed in the sun for an hour before taking the road back to the carpark in favor of doing the six hour hike again in the opposite direction. Nothing was special about the road route, other than the man who gave us water. Having been hiking for over seven hours, we had all run out of water and were desperate for more. We came across a house that displayed a sign offering fresh eggs for sale. We sent our most charismatic friend, Edo, into the yard where he met a sweet older couple who gladly filled our water bottles and asked us about our studies and hometowns. Being two Italians, a Norwegian and an American we gave then quite a variety of answers. That request for water remains the most characteristically New Zealand thing I’ve done -- asking a perfect stranger for a favor, and for them to automatically say yes without asking a single question -- and then becoming friends after a brief chat.

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 second stop of mid-semester break was Christchurch, positioned on the east coast of the South Island. Recently struck by devastating earthquakes, Christchurch is a city in the midst of rebuilding all that it has lost. Even the church for which the city was named was destroyed by the earthquakes, leaving it open to the elements but still on display for passers by to see. As our first day in Christchurch was rainy, we hit the Museum of Canterbury, one of the many arts and culture museums in the city  and explored a bit of the well-known street art downtown.

As Christchurch city center is a mess of construction, we opted for busing to the neighboring towns of Lyttleton and Sumner for our couple of sunny days in the region. The first stop was Lyttleton, from which we took a small ferry to Diamond Harbour, a popular hiking spot in the area. To our dismay, the main hiking trail was closed due to lambing season, an effort New Zealand conservation makes to protect its wildlife during their mating season. We opted to string together a series of shorter routes around the island to satiate our hiking needs for the day. Along our route we found beautiful wildflowers and views, along with some new friends: the famed sheep of New Zealand. New Zealand is known for having a ratio of 7 sheep per person inhabiting the country. Although we had been in the country for two months at this point, it was the first time either I or my travel partner  had seen sheep this close up. We watched babies chase after their mothers and some young ones try to get underneath the fence to get closer to us. After our hike and a brief stay on the beach, absorbing the ever so rare sun, we headed back to Lyttleton and enjoyed a banoffee pie at Glamour Cakes, a New Zealand specialty and a famous little cake shop.

The following day we once again took the city bus to a neighboring town, this time it was Sumner. We hiked up quite a ways to get the full view of Sumner Beach and downtown. The hike was through a grassy pasture that stretched for miles, across steep hills and back down and around to the beginning. Stopping to rest along the way we enjoyed views of the east coastline one can only observe from such a height, ultimately ending up on the beach for a relaxing barefoot walk before heading back to Christchurch.

Christchurch is one of the major cities in the South Island, drawing lovers of art, nature, and students alike it left me wanting more. Whether this feeling is a product of the destruction from the earthquakes or the poor weather we encountered on two of our four days, I wish I had found something to love in Christchurch -- although the banoffee pie was lovely. Although disappointed with the city center in its current state,  it is still a major landmark for anyone who finds themselves traveling the south island of New Zealand and after a few more years of rebuilding I’m certain it will be just as vibrant and magnetic as before.


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 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 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 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 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!

By Nora_Wolcott

Thanks to the University of Auckland's forgiving exam schedule, I had a full week free before the start of my exams this month. I used this time to go explore the Coromandel Peninsula, and embark on what was likely to be the last major tramping trip I'd be able to take in New Zealand. So, on a Wednesday morning I picked up my rental car and headed South, towards what would prove to be a thrilling week of adventure.

My first day kicked off with a trip to Hot Water Beach, a beach formed over a bed of hot lava. Because of this phenomenon, if you wait until low tide at the beach and dig a large hole, it will fill with hot water from the lava-heated springs below. I knew this in advance, but somehow didn't expect the water to be quite as hot as it was. The water, I later found out, was about 65 degrees Celsius, or around 150 Fahrenheit. In comparison, when I had visited Rotorua I had found any of the hot springs above 42C to be too warm for me, so this was definitely off the table. Still, the beach was beautiful, with turquoise waters and none of the sulfuric stench I had grown to associate with geothermal activity. Back at the hostel I was staying at, I was lucky enough to meet a wide array of other solo travellers, from countries ranging from Austria to fellow Americans, who were eager to join up for some adventuring. This became my group for the next day, when we headed off to visit Cathedral Cove.

After seeing almost the entirety of the North Island, I can conclusively say that Cathedral Cove is my newfound favorite spot. To get to the Cove requires a 90 minute hike, weeding out some of the prospective tourists, and includes detours to several other smaller beaches and lookout points. It was one of those first lookout points that we we hiked up to, atop one of the many cliffs overlooking the Cove, from which I saw a large ray swimming languidly through the waters below. The water in the Cove is so clear that, even from the top of this cliff, it was easy to make out the ray swimming amongst the waves, getting covered by sand then shaking it off again. After this sighting, we hiked down into the cove itself, which is full of waterfalls and caves and huge rocky formations, pieces of the cliffs now part of the ocean. We continued exploring the cove until sunset, which rewarded us with a startlingly pink sky over the Pacific. I headed back to the hostel more than satisfied, and went to bed early in anticipation of the next couple days.

...continue reading "One Last Tramp"

By Nora_Wolcott

As I enter into the last month of my time in New Zealand, unfortunately cut short by the summer classes I have to take back in DC, I'm doing my best to really get the fullest experience of this beautiful country. This was made a little easier with the arrival of the greatest travel buddy, my boyfriend Bryant, who flew the whole 30 hours from the District to NZ to spend the past 10 days travelling the country with me. The whole trip was jam packed, with way too much to write here, but we did hit three major spots which I'll go into: Rotorua, Wellington and the Marlborough Sounds.

Our first stop was Rotorua, where we spent a weekend taking in the alien geothermal landscape of this volcanic town. Rotorua is known by the locals as Rotten-rua, and for good reason; the geothermal activity that makes this town such a hotspot (literally) for tourists is derived from the sulfur vents that waft rotten-egg fumes throughout the area. The smell wasn't so bad in town, or in our nice secluded AirBnb, but when we got into the geothermal parks it was fairly sickening. The first day was spent bathing in Rotorua's geothermal pools, starting with Kerosene Creek, a naturally formed creek complete with picturesque waterfalls, about the temperature of a hot shower. The creek was enchanting, but after walking around wet in the winter weather we were more than ready for our second stop, the Polynesian Spa. The geothermal baths there drew from the creek water, but were filtered into large hot tub-esque pools overlooking the lake. The whole experience was as relaxing as promised, and well worth the three showers it took to wash the sulfur smell from my hair. We kicked off our second day in Rotorua with a walk around the Wai-o-tapu geothermal park, where the water bubbled at over 200 degrees and turned the landscape bright orange and sulfuric yellow. The alien landscape was a sharp contrast with the river we rafted down later that day, all silver fern and turquoise rapids. The rafting was a real high point of the trip, as we went down the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world standing at 5m, plunging under the rapids before righting ourselves at the surface.

After a day of class for me and a day hiking the volcanic islands around Auckland for Bryant, we hopped on a plane to Wellington, where we spent the night in an AirBnb perched on a hill, whose glass walls overlooked the Pacific harbor. But we'll get back to Wellington in a second, because the next morning we were off to Picton, the charming town center of the Malborough Sounds, at the Northern tip of the South Island. After a 3.5hr ferry ride spent playing Gin Rummy and admiring the cliffs passing by, we touched down in this quiet town. The uphill walk to our third AirBnb greeted us with views of the Sounds so stunning that, as we checked in, we decided to cancel the trip we had planned to Abel Tasman and stay in Picton an extra night. Picton was shockingly sunny for an NZ town, a living postcard lined with Palm Trees and mountains. Over our three days there, we hiked the "Snout" peninsula, spent a day sea kayaking through the mountains and tried our hand at mountain biking the many trails hidden among the Sounds. Our day kayaking was undeniably my favorite, the cherry on top being the four fur seals that swam alongside us as we made our way through the channels of the Pacific. Mountain biking was both thrilling and terrifying, leaving us muddy but exhilarated, just in time for our second ferry back into Wellington. ...continue reading "Travelling for Two"