Oceania

AustraliaOceania

The Great Barrier Reef

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We had almost a week in Cairns and at the top of our to-do list was one thing: Snorkeling/Diving the Great Barrier Reef. We booked a snorkeling excursion and I added an intro dive as part of the experience – which you don’t have to be certified for (Cory chose to just snorkel). We had the perfect day for it – about 90 degrees and hardly any clouds, and we were one of the first groups to explore the reef at the spot we went to. I did my dive first and it was amazing! The first thing I saw under the water was a huge barracuda under the boat. It was probably as long as me – slim and grey with sharp teeth. The crew had already warned us that we would probably see him because he likes to hang around the boat and eat the fish they throw to him. He was harmless to us though and really cool to see. Since it was just an intro dive I had to hold onto the instructor the whole time and we were about 20 ft below the surface. I saw a ton of colorful coral and so many fish – lots of striped ones, tons of different sizes, and a bunch that looked like Nemo. The dive only lasted about 30 minutes and then I snorkeled with Cory the rest of the day. We ended up seeing a stingray, green turtle, and a black-tip reef shark! An amazing experience we will definitely never forget.

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The Great Ocean Road

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After Sydney, we took a quick flight to Melbourne. One of the main things we wanted to do there was tour the Great Ocean Road, an Australian National Heritage listed 151 mile stretch of road along the southern coast. The road was built by returned sailors and soldiers of World War I, and is dedicated to their service. We took a daytrip along that road that included many small stops along the way at various beach lookout spots – they were all pretty but the best part of the tour was seeing the Twelve Apostles at sunset. These are actually 8 huge limestone stack formations just off the coast. They were pretty incredible and seeing them against the sunset was definitely an added bonus.

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Sydney

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After a quick flight from Queenstown, we arrived in Australia. Right away, we took advantage of our hostels free walking tours and started off by going on the famous Coogee to Bondi Beach Coastal Walk. On the walk, we passed through several Sydney beaches including Coogee, Clovelly, Bronte, Tamarama, and Bondi. All the beaches were really pretty but unfortunately it was too cold to go in the water. We had a full week in Sydney so we filled our days with going to the zoo, the aquarium, and mostly just walking around. It was very cool seeing the Sydney Opera House in person and we walked down to and hung around that area a lot. We explored a couple other of Sydney’s neighborhoods as well; just wandering around seeing what cool places we could find. We also took the ferry to Manly; a cute little beach town. On our last day it was the Superbowl (Monday) and it was pretty easy to find a bar that was playing it. Kickoff was at 1030am and the bar was already pretty full (of Eagles fans) but it was still fun watching the game here.

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Queenstown Ledge Swing

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On our last day in New Zealand we finally put our lives on the line by hooking up to a harness with just two bungee cords attached. Queenstown is known as the adrenaline capital of the world so we couldn’t leave without trying something. We settled on the Ledge Swing (~131 ft) overlooking Queenstown. On the ride up on the Gondola we weren’t too nervous but as we got closer and closer, watching a couple others go before us, it was much more nerve-racking. Finally we were all hooked up and hanging over the forest below us. We even had to pull the cord ourselves – probably the coolest and scariest part of this swing. Even after watching the people go before us we still weren’t ready for the drop – but it was awesome! After multiple stomach drops we swung there for a little bit and had the best view over Queenstown. 10/10 would swing again. (Scroll to the end for video!)

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Wanaka

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After exploring Queenstown for a few days, we took off on a side trip to Wanaka. Only a short bus ride from Queenstown, Wanaka is a popular holiday spot for New Zealander’s, and also is the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park. We woke up early on our first full day there and took a shuttle to go explore the park. We chose to go on the Rob Roy Track; a route that leads through beech tree forests, alpine lakes, waterfalls, and glaciers.

We spent the rest of our time in Wanaka relaxing and enjoying the beach there, taking a break from our hikes. Next, heading back to Queenstown for a couple days before we fly over to Australia.

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Milford Sound

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We arrived into Queenstown after our flight from Auckland, and we are already loving the South Island. On our first full day here, we took a daytrip to Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park. The park is known for it’s towering mountains, waterfalls, and variety of wildlife. After the 5 hour bus ride from Queenstown, we took a cruise through the Sound itself, where we could take in all of the stunning scenery. Along the way we even saw some bottlenose dolphins and fur seals. Overall, a great day.

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Hobbits and Glow Worms

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“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.” –J.R.R. Tolkien

We went to pick up our rental car to begin our road trip around NZ on Tuesday, and I was nervous about driving on the left side of the road for the first time. After sitting in the rental lot for a couple of minutes figuring out where everything is (windshield wiper on the left and blinker on the right!) I felt we were ready to go.

We drove through the countryside to Matamata; a pretty small town that didn’t have as much to do as we thought, but it was our base to visit Hobbiton. Since we weren’t doing that until the next day, we found out that 15 min away was a waterfall hike. Wairere Falls drops down 500 feet through the Kaimai mountain range. Being the tallest waterfall in New Zealand’s North Island, the view from the top was definitely worth it!






The next day we went on a trip I had long been waiting for! Visiting Hobbiton was a fantastic experience and one not to be missed. We were picked up at the center of town in Matamata, where even the information center was Hobbit-themed. After a ~30 min bus ride through some gorgeous rolling hills, we arrived at Hobbiton. Construction originally began in 1999, after Peter Jackson first saw the farmland owned by the Alexander family during an aerial search for filming locations for his Lord of the Rings trilogy. After filming, the majority of the set was torn down and remained that way until 2010, when The Hobbit was beginning production. This time the set was built in a more permanent fashion to preserve the area for fans to visit.


It was exciting to be walking down the pathways through all of the different Hobbit-holes. The attention to detail that was put into each and every unique residence was impressive. So many things were added in that may have only gotten a few seconds of screen time, but that fact that the set still stands and receives hundreds of thousands of visitors annually makes it worth it. We saw all of the famous set pieces such as Bilbo’s home, Sam’s Home, and the Party Tree. Our tour ended with a pint of specially brewed beer (and cider) at the Green Dragon Inn; a great way to end a great tour.




The next day we made our way to Waitomo Village for the next leg of our roadtrip. Sadly, it rained while we were there, but we were still able to go on a couple hikes when the rain slowed down.




Friday, we finally got to the NZ activity Elly had been waiting for – GLOW WORM CAVES. We went cave tubing with Black Water Rafting Co., and it was even better than I expected. After we got changed into wetsuits & helmets and practiced jumping in our tubes into the river we could finally enter the cave. Once inside, we made our way down small passageways, jumped down waterfalls, and floated through the underground river. When we were deep inside the cave (65m down) the magic happened. Everyone turned off their lights and we floated down in total darkness with nothing but the Glow Worms above us. It was beautiful – small dots of blue light (bioluminescence) everywhere. We learned that Glow Worms are really Glow Maggots (worms sound better to tourists). Either way, they are still really pretty. Eventually we made it to the end of the cave and emerged in the forest. Still early in the trip but this was definitely a highlight. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the caves, but we have one from TripAdvisor to show:

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Auckland

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After 25 hours of flying, 8 hours of layovers, 3 airplane meals, and several time changes, we have finally made it to Auckland; the City of Sails. After checking into our hotel, we pretty much showered and went straight to bed. Exhausted! After sleeping off the jet lag and feeling a bit more like ourselves, we wandered into downtown Auckland to see what it had to offer. Forgot to bring the camera out today, but at least we got some phone pics.

Not really having a set plan, we happened upon several parks within the city, spending the most time within Auckland Domain. Taking up 185 acres, Auckland Domain is one of Auckland’s largest parks.

Located in the central suburb of Grafton, the park contains all of the explosion crater and most of the surrounding tuff ring of the Pukekawa volcano. Wikipedia

Within the Domain there are many tourist attractions, such as the Auckland War Memorial Museum, Duck Ponds, Wintergardens, sports fields, and more. We didn’t care to visit the museum (set atop the ring of the crater), but we did wander through the Wintergardens; a protected heritage site that consists of two large greenhouses, as well as a courtyard with a small pond.



We also visited the harbor and later, the Sky Tower. Auckland is your typical big city, and not quite what we came to New Zealand to see, so tomorrow we are off to explore more of the countryside and visit Hobbiton and later in the week go to the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves.