Time to go to sea…

Time to go to sea…

In less than 24h, I will be leaving land for about 3-4 weeks to sail to China.  I still can’t believe this is real life, or that I got myself into this!  This whole thing started almost two years ago, when I was hanging out with a new friend (who I got to catch up with in NZ, btw!) and decided to actually look into what all these ads around the London tube were all about.  And now here I am, sat at Abell Point Marina in Airlie Beach, about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime!

Thank you to everyone who has supported me this far, financially and emotionally, with friendship and advice.  Thanks to all the skippers who have trained me and all the crew who I’ve met in training along the way.  I’m so lucky to have met so many incredible people over the past few years of training and months of travelling and also to have seen so many great friends again in Singapore, New Zealand and Australia.  In a world getting smaller by the day, for those of us privileged enough to travel, there’s rarely a final “goodbye”, but rather many “see you later”s.  I’m so lucky to have finally gotten to visit this gorgeous corner of the world, so far from home yet so close culturally.  I’ve seen incredible landscapes, cool flora and fauna, and met so many great people!  I think I’m ready for this crazy sailing race now… I did say I think

As much as I’ve loved travelling, I’m also looking forward to going home, and being in my own country again.  I am super excited to say that I have been offered a position as leader on the CISV Canada’s Eastbound Peace Bus, spending five weeks driving across Canada with youth from across the country as we explore our Canada’s diversity, strengths and issues and give back to our communities on our path.  So, as soon as I get back home, there will be lots to do with thesis corrections, Peace Bus and working and I am very much looking forward to it!

But first, to China!  If you’d like to follow along, you can follow the race on the Race Viewer and read our team’s blogs, by both skipper and crew.  See you on the other side!

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Hervey Bay to Airlie Beach

Hervey Bay to Airlie Beach

It’s hard to believe I’m here in Airlie Beach and that in a few days’ time, I’ll be at sea, taking on the challenge of a lifetime.. I’ve seen the boats and they are impressive, all lined up in the marina side by side – it makes me really excited about getting started!  A lot of the anxiety I had about the race has diminished since arriving in Airlie, though there are of course still some nerves.  Today we have a boat induction, first of the whirlwind of events that will be the next few days.  The goal is to get all my essential shopping and research done this morning, so that I can focus on being a helpful team member for the rest of our time here.

We came to Airlie Beach from Mackay, which, on a side note, was much bigger than we thought, a place of rest for us as we’d both taken the overnight bus to get there, and needed a bit of time off after all the adventuring we’d just done and the adventuring to come in Airlie.  We were very lucky when we arrived around 8:30am to have a room already free for us, so we napped until the afternoon and walked around Mackay a little bit before watching a movie and having another early night.  Well, as early as was possible with a very loud live band playing very close by.. Still, a good sleep.  It was much needed, much appreciated rest.

We came to Mackay from Agnes Water, a small town by Seventeen Seventy, which we were highly encouraged to visit.  Though we only had one full day there, we took full advantage by going to a kangaroo sanctuary to feed and pet young kangaroos!!  Couldn’t believe it was real life.  Some interesting things about kangaroos: they have really long claws on their feet, the females can pause and restart pregnancies as it suits them, and they hardly ever get sick because of their grass-only diet, which is alkaline when most viruses live in acidic environments.  They’re also completely peaceful and like to play, which is the absolute cutest!  We also saw dolphins later in the evening with the sunset off a Seventeen Seventy beach.  Real life.  Unbelievable.

Finally, we had come to Agnes Water from Hervey Bay, which we visited as it was one of the places from which you could get to Fraser Island, another famous location highly recommended to us.  Seeing as tours were quite expensive, we decided to do it on our own, booking a camp site at Central Station, planning to walk the 5km from the ferry to the site on the first day and back on morning of our third and last day.  Well, things did not exactly go to plan.  First, it turns out there was no 4pm ferry to the location we wanted, as they hadn’t been running all day (because of tides they said?) and we were two minutes to departure for the ferry to Kingfisher Bay, the last of the day.  So, we were very lucky to get to the Island in the first place, but it meant a 16km walk instead of 5km, and we would only arrive around 5pm, meaning we were racing against the clock to reach our campsite before running out of daylight.  We did not.  We also found out on the ferry, that Fraser Island is the largest SAND island in the world.  We were NOT prepared for this, and is the main reason why getting around took us so long – it’s much harder to walk in sand than it is on dirt, even when it is reasonably compacted like it was on hiking trails.. we were also quite nervous about dingoes, and venomous snakes and spiders, though thank goodness we did not encounter any of those at all while we were on the island.

So, we didn’t reach our campsite the first evening and so instead wild camped on the side of the sand roads for vehicles.  We set up in the last bits of daylight, had dinner and went almost straight to bed, only to wake up with the sun the next morning around 5am.  It was easier to just get going, especially as we were not at a proper campsite, and we were packed up and walking before 7am.  We arrived at Central Station a couple of hours later, only to be very confused by its layout, not being able to find the showers, or bins that were marked on the map.  In the early afternoon, we were finally told that this was in fact not the campsite, and that we had to walk 400m down the road to find the campground!  So we got up and moved down the road, to find a properly fenced in area, with toilets and showers, and nice flat sites, each with a picnic table and space to park a car if you had one.  Much nicer, and it all made so much more sense.

I did say that we didn’t see any venomous snakes, but in the evening, the family on the site next to us started getting very excited about a 2m python that was between our two sites.. they started picking it up by its tail, and trying to move it and just generally playing around with it.. we thought we’d stay firmly in our tent, as we did not know at this point that it was not venomous (it can still bite, but it won’t kill you..), and thought they were completely bonkers.  Who pulls on the tail of a 2m python?!  Australians…  They made fun of us but we were very okay with that, we stayed safely out of reach.

On our last morning, our 8km walk that I had originally expected to take about 1h30 to 2h took us nearly 4h, which made me very glad that we had departed in the morning instead of 2h before our afternoon ferry departure time!  A combination of walking in sand, being tired from not excellent sleeping, and a navigation mistake contributed.  Although, if it weren’t for that navigation mistake, we might not have run into the couple who let us ride on their trailer for the remaining 3km we had left to the ferry terminal, so it’s all good.  Once back at the hostel, we repacked our things and went off for the bus to Agnes Water.  Needless to say, the shower that evening was one of the most appreciated so far!

Gold Coast to Noosa Heads

On the road again!  I honestly don’t know where to start right now cause I can’t remember what I last wrote.  Right.  Mullumbimby.  Since then, I’ve been to Surfer’s Paradise in Gold Coast, Brisbane and Noosa Heads.  It feels like Mullum was so long ago but I guess it’s only been six days.  Okay so almost a week, that’s pretty long in travel time.  Surfer’s Paradise was okay until my last day there which was AWESOME!  It’s just another beach town, but with high rises and lots of shopping and bars and clubs.  It would have been a great place to recharge if it weren’t so hot and the fan so creaky that I didn’t sleep the first night, and little the second.  But, Julia joined me on Friday evening and on Saturday afternoon we went to AquaSplash and it was THE MOST FUN (as you can see in the photo).  To explain, it’s basically an obstacle course, but inflatable and on water.  It is very ridiculous and you just can’t help but laugh pretty much non-stop as you uncontrollably flail and fall over everywhere.  So, SO MUCH FUN.  Also, such a good way to work out without noticing it because we are STILL slightly sore three days later.  Oh, and also I’m pretty sure I saw Liverpool 2018 and Sanya Serenity Coast off the coast of Main Beach, Southport as they passed by.  They were just smudges on the horizon, but they were around there according to the Race Viewer so I decided it was more fun to say it was them.  Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten to see HotP anywhere along the coast on their journey, they’re already nearly arrived and I’m still only coming up to Fraser Island.

Anyway, made it to Brisbane that night and stayed with a friend of Julia’s.  It was so lovely to be in a home instead of a hostel for a change.  We crashed early and have now every night since.  And, personally, I’m still tired!  It’s getting better though, one more night of good sleep and we’ll be ready to camp on Fraser Island.  Got sidetracked.  Brisbane.  We only spent a few hours in Brisbane in the end, but we needed most of our full day there to plan out our time between then and Airlie, so it’s okay.  From those couple of hours, we loved it, albeit unprepared for the windiness and associated chilliness.  It was 37oC earlier, we did not think to bring pants or a sweater.. I was particularly surprised by how much Brisbane reminded me of London.  Their wheel, by a building that looks like South Bank Centre, with a lit up bridge, and further down a bridge that is reminiscent of the Millenium Bridge… the tall glass buildings looked like Canary Wharf, though the placement relative to the South Bank was different from London.. there was also a large road along the water, similar to along Embankment.  Amazing.  Threw me off a little, but I didn’t mind really.

We’ve now just left Noosa Heads, where we spent one night.  Yesterday, we kept things low key, just walking around town a little bit and playing cards with a free glass of wine (for those having checked in that day!) in the evening.  It’s a really cute town and today we got to see the main beach and along the coastal walk, which was lovely.  This is going to sound horrible, but I’m getting used to these beach landscapes and I just don’t find them as impressive anymore..  it’s nice, but they all look the same to me.  Beach, with rocks usually at some point, and greenery not too far off.  All these towns up the coast will just be other beaches, so I’m looking forward to spending more than one night in Seventeen Seventy, and about a week in Airlie before heading out to sea.

Speaking of which, two weeks from today, I will already be at sea and it has definitely not sunk in.  I can’t even imagine what that will be like or feel like, despite trying.  It feels so soon yet so far away.  Perhaps it will sink in more when I reach Airlie?  Only time will tell…

Mullumbimby

I have fallen in love with another part of Australia.  My time in Byron Bay itself was short – one night – and that’s all I needed, really.  The folks in Yamba were right, I preferred Yamba – although, the Byron area has lots to offer.  I made my way to Mullumbimby to check out the Crystal Castle, recommended to me by my friend Julia, and only intended to stay there overnight to visit that and then move on up the coast.  But, due to buses not running very often, I didn’t make it to the Crystal Castle that first afternoon and instead spent time hanging out on the Byron beach with a couple of French Canadians I’d met at the hostel I stayed at in Byron (which turns out.. was a bunch of tents by the highway.. anyway, moving on) and only made it to the campground in Mullumbimby towards the end of the afternoon.  There I met a lovely couple who immediately welcomed me!  Meeting people like them is one of the biggest reasons I love travelling like this!

Anyway once I’d set up my tent, I went into town to explore a little as I originally intended to leave the next day after visiting the Crystal Castle.  And it was basically love at first sight.  I would live there.  It’s known as Australia’s Biggest Small Town and I think that’s quite right.  In the small, two-block ‘CBD’ (central business district – Aussie for downtown), there was more than one bulk store (!!), most shops carried locally grown/made goods (food, clothes, shoes, jewellery, cosmetics, furniture, you name it) and it just had such a nice character to it.  With Keith and Annie, I got to explore around the area.  Over the three days I was there, we went to the beach at Brunswick Heads, got a drink at a traditional Aussie pub and they generously drove me to Crystal Castle, which I had found out in Byron Bay, isn’t actually in Mullumbimby despite the address saying so.  And no public transport either.  I hitch hiked back.  It was an interesting place, a little pricier than I felt it was worth, but I’m glad I went.  It boasts the biggest amethyst cave in the world, as well as 5.5m tall amethyst guardians!  It also has tons of rose quartz, a world peace stupa, has welcomed the Dalai Lama and is generally a place of meditation and peace.  It did strike me as odd that all these enormous crystals had been moved from their home in South America all the way to Australia to be gathered in a place that collected large crystals… why could such a place not have been created near where the crystals all came from?  It’s a relatively concentrated area compared to how long they’ve travelled to be displayed in Oz, and the area around it is apparently very poor so could probably use the economic boost.  I don’t know, perhaps I’m missing something, but that was one thing that bothered me a bit about the place.  I did a little workshop, included a part of the entry price, on crystals where we did an exercise to find a good crystal for us at that point in time, and we also did a chakra cleansing with crystals.  I must say, I don’t believe in any of it, they are inanimate objects to me and carry no special significance, but I do appreciate meditation and simply treated these exercises as a form of meditation.

Another highlight of my time in Mullumbimby was seeing the bats out to feed at dusk.  Hundreds of them fly around!  During the day, it’s amazing to see hundreds of (actually pretty large) black shapes hanging from the trees, though I’d never noticed them until they were pointed out to me!  Earlier today, as I was waiting for the bus to Surfer’s Paradise, I thought again how glad I am to have begun 2018 positively, leaving Sydney and stress behind – overwhelmingly all my time since then has been so positive!  I’m looking forward to spending a little time on the Gold Coast and to meeting up with Julia to do the second half of my coast trip, from Surfer’s Paradise to Airlie Beach!

Yamba!

Yamba!

[Only a few days’ delay! I wrote this on Sunday]

So it turns out the bus is the best place to write, given it’s a fixed period of time where there isn’t much else to do.  Sure I could be working, or watching Netflix, or whatever else but I like to write.  And when that’s done, I can move on to other things.  Today, I’ve got watching a series of YouTube videos called Big Bangs by Howard Goodall, recommended to me by the lady who drove me to lunch on Christmas Day. Or continuing to read Fifty Shades Darker in Dutch.  It was the only Dutch book I saw at the hostel and my time with a Flemish travel companion has restoked my interest in improving my comprehension of the language.  It’s slow, but noticeably picking up with each page I read, which is great fun and encouraging!

This past week in Yamba has been fantastic and I’m so glad that I listened to the advice that brought me here.  I spent three nights in a hostel and three nights camping in total and am now on my way to Byron Bay, with only tonight planned for now.  I’m hoping to camp again, either for free or inexpensively.  It’s still the holidays here so prices are inflated accordingly, unfortunately.  So, my first two days in town were busy with surfing, watching lighting storms, seeing Pitch Perfect 3 and hanging out with cool people. J  I was meant to do Shane’s tour, and though we started, we were forced to return back to the hostel as the lighting storm made cliff jumping a little too dangerous… if you do ever end up in Yamba, sign up for Shane’s tour!  The guy’s awesome and his tour gets raving reviews!  Shane the surfing instructor is also a cool dude who clearly loves to surf and teach, a great combination!  Though I have no photographic evidence, I promise that I did manage to stand on the board, a few times, though always with help from one of the Shanes… I still don’t have the timing down for when to get up, but if pushed along, I can do it.  It’s great fun, but also more exhausting than I expected, given you’re constantly fighting waves to get out far enough to ride them back in to the beach.  My arms were sorer than expected, as well as my belly and upper ribs from being on the board.  And, unsurprisingly, my legs collected bruises… still, so much fun and absolutely no regrets!

I also went camping in Yurangir National Park, on Shelley’s Beach (pictured, on the right in the distance), which took me much longer than anticipated to find the first time, which not gonna lie caused a few tears of frustration at one point.  But, eventually, I did find it and it was beautiful – one of the most remote parts of the national park.  Of course I would find just that..  It was only about a 6km walk from the entrance to the park, so compared to the Six Foot Track, nothing at all, especially once I knew where I was going.  I only saw a handful of people throughout my stay at the campsite.  The only downside to the site was that there was no water or toilets, so the first day I walked to Lake Arragan, just about 6km further away to refill my bottles.  It wasn’t a particularly difficult walk, but it was made annoying by having to constantly dodge rather large spider webs.. even when I ended up hiking with a stick held out in front of me to help detect them earlier.  The stress came from not knowing which spiders were harmless and which were deadly.  Turns out, not many of those are dangerous at all, except one called the funnel spider that can kill you in 15s apparently.. never saw any funnelled webs so all good.  That tidbit I learned from three other travellers that joined me on my last night at the site, who also told me about a waterfall nearby.  That changed everything!  I no longer had to walk several km to find water, and a fresh water shower felt amazing!  I’d forgotten my wet wipes so was feeling pretty grimy at that stage, with layers of sunscreen, salt from the ocean and sweat, coconut oil to repel insects, etc.. It was also really nice to be in such a remote area because who needs clothes when there’s no one around!  Granted, I got a little burnt in new places, but that only hurt for a day. Turns out, my new companions felt similarly and therefore two days ago was the first time I told people about Clipper (I tell everyone), with everyone involved in the conversation completely naked!  It’s amazing what a non-issue it was.  We hung out in the evening as well (clothed at this point, no sun = chilly) and explored the tide pools looking for bioluminescent creatures.  We found them, though turns out they maybe weren’t bioluminescent in the end.  We also found sea anemones, lots of crabs, fish, an octopus, a huge sea urchin and many other little forms of life.  Very cool, something I wouldn’t have thought to do on my own.  The sky was also absolutely gorgeous, with the Milky Way visible and more stars than I think I’ve ever seen.

Back to Yamba afterwards for a night in an actual bed, a shower and laundry before taking off for Byron Bay.  I’m hoping to see the amethyst caves nearby and then perhaps find some sailing to do along the Gold Coast but otherwise I’m pretty open right now.

Melbourne & Sydney

[Once again, this was written a week ago and I’m just getting around to posting it now!  It’s a bit hectic and I will admit that it has been edited.  I did think about sharing more, but I think I’d like to keep some things to myself; the internet doesn’t need to know.  I’ve got another bus later today, in which I will write about the past week.  Maybe I’ll post on arrival in Byron Bay, if the WiFi is good…]

[The photo was taken in Katoomba, with a view of part of the Blue Mountains]

Well, on the bus again.  Thank goodness I found it.  I was worried about that for awhile, but of course it was going to work itself out.  The worrying thing was that there was no indication as to where the bus would be and no one at the station seemed to know.. went up and down the levels of the station a couple of times before finding a Canadian/Aussie couple also waiting for the same bus!  Only 8 of us on the bus makes for tons of room so sitting at the back and looking forward to laying down to rest.  I’m starting to feel tired now, probably in good part because I took out my contacts – that’s actually about exactly when I started feeling drowsy.

It’s been an emotional roller coaster of a day.  It’s been an emotional roller coaster of a past few days, starting from when I first arrived in Sydney a week ago.  That’s a long time to be on a roller coaster, much longer than I’m used to.  I’m used to being a very emotionally stable person and it’s quite confusing to feel so unstable.

I’ll start with Melbourne first.  Melbourne was great.  I didn’t do an insane amount and did actually spend quite a bit of time resting, but that was absolutely necessary – I don’t know how I would have handled this week if I was even more tired than I already was.  The temperature fluctuations surprised me.  I couldn’t believe I was using two hot water bottles, in the summer, in Australia.  It was so good to see my CISV friend Julia again, she was on the first CISV camp I ever did!  Highlights of Melbourne include seeing Aladdin, catching up with a research colleague, and meeting more great CISVers, old and new!  I also saw some penguins, though only a few as people were crowding their home and blocking their passage.. I bought a tent for only $12, which ended up being well used already, and will be again if all goes to plan!

From Melbourne, I took an overnight bus to Sydney, saving myself another night’s accommodation.  I arrived less tired than I expected, and was at least pleasantly surprised by being upgraded to a 4-person room for free at the hostel because I was so early and that was available.  That was the best thing about that hostel.  I dropped my stuff and got to exploring with the few hours I had before napping and the team Christmas party later that evening.  I visited the Botanic Gardens, of which I’d see almost an entirely different part every time I crossed through.. as well as of course the Opera House and a view of the Sydney Bridge – I walked across that on Christmas Day evening.  And finally the New South Wales Library, which was probably my favourite thing about Sydney.  A shower and a quick shop later, I was at my Clipper team Christmas party, which was a great evening of drinks, food, conversation, laughs and Secret Santa!

*Happy New Year 2018!*

A long series of decisions have led me here, to being on a bus, alone (sort of, there are 9 of us on the bus!) and tired from all the emotional stress of the past week and especially the day.  A couple of hours ago, I would have said wrong decisions.  But perhaps I shouldn’t think about it that way.  I’m here, I’m on my way to the next thing, I have a plan for the next few days and I’m feeling better about all of the past week.  Thing is, the highs were amazing.  The lows maybe weren’t that low, but they were almost all unexpected, and I think that’s why I’m so rattled.

A list of positive things that happened:

  • Room got upgraded
  • Phone got fixed on Boxing Day (after waking up Christmas morning to find it was non responsive.. and since the hostel WiFi was terrible, I was completely cut off and couldn’t connect with family or friends for Christmas)
  • Saw my Clipper team
  • Christmas lunch with a CISV family
  • Drive to Christmas lunch from a lovely stranger who I’ve subsequently been in touch with
  • Watched Doctor Who Christmas evening
  • Caught my team leaving Sydney on the Sydney-Hobart race
  • We won the race! Not by line honours, but by redress awarded for picking up a MOB
  • Met my travel companion for the next couple of days in the train station in Sydney
  • We could leave our extra stuff at the hostel for free
  • We got picked up hitchhiking to get to Explorer’s Tree, the beginning of the Six Foot Track
  • The Eco Lodge was a great find, near the first campsite
  • Four French also came on the hike once they heard about it!
  • I caught a ride back to Lithgow, from the Jenolan Caves, from which I could take a train to Katoomba
  • I found a bed to sleep that night; I’d forgotten how nice YHAs are
  • Talked to my family and my best friend
  • Sorted myself out for after Sydney

It’s a new year now, this is a new leg of the journey.  I’m only stopping in Yamba because someone I met at the Eco Lodge on the Six Foot Track recommended it, which was another really positive chance encounter!  So I intend to go surfing there, and camping nearby for a couple of free/cheap nights of accommodation.  It’ll be nice to have the tent to myself.  I think.  Assuming I do.. I have been pretty good at picking people up when I don’t mean to.

So, we do the Six Foot Track, I can’t finish going back because the heat rash is so bad so I end up having to spend a bunch of extra money on hostels, which are particularly expensive because of the time of year.. so that was stressful.  Still, having hiked the Six Foot Track is an accomplishment I think and I’m glad I did it.  45km over 3 days, of difficult terrain (lots of elevation changes), in the Australian summer heat.  It was a good challenge and certainly helped me in my goal of staying fit for the race!  So earlier today I made my way to Sydney with another new friend from my hostel and we ran into my hiking companion on the train!  It was a stressful day though, reminded of all sorts of ways I could have done things differently.. I finally got to cry when I sat in the park across from Central Station early evening and it felt really good.  Anyway I’m super sleepy now, it’s almost 1am and the first stop is in just over an hour.

North Island

[The post below was written about a week ago, but with lack of good internet connection, time in the Australian bush and a hectic past few days, I’m only posting now!]

I’m writing to you now on a bus, having left Melbourne at 10pm to arrive in Sydney around 10am tomorrow.  Things are far in Australia.  Not that far though, we’re stopping a few times for breaks and there’s a transfer in Canberra.  The express bus is 8h30 I think, but those weren’t running until Boxing Day.  I almost booked that, but realized just on time that that was completely wrong!

Anyway, this isn’t about my time in Melbourne but rather about my time on New Zealand’s North Island.  I started in Wellington, capital city and WINDY city!  I felt like I was in St. John’s all over again, had to brace against the wind and I had to pull out my jacket!  Hadn’t used any of those yet apart from up in the air or on the boat in Milford Sound!  Arriving by ferry, I was greeted by a CISV friend from Canada.  It was the first time we met, despite knowing dozens of people in common, and as it goes in CISV, of course we meet in New Zealand!  It was so great to be taken around for a change, not having to worry about orienting myself or how to get places, simply letting myself be shown around a new city.  It was wonderful, and so nice to finally meet Amy!  Over the weekend I got to catch up with Tracey, a really good CISV friend of mine from London (well, she’s from New Zealand, we met in London).  I also took the time to sort out the next couple of days, adding Rotorua to the itinerary and resting a bit when not visiting Zealandia and Te Papa, the national museum.  Zealandia is a wildlife reserve, essentially an island on the mainland by virtue of it being surrounded by a wall to keep out the pests (rats, stotes, cats, etc).  The goal is to restore the area to its previous untouched state – a goal that is estimated to take 500 years to achieve.  I got to see so many fun birds and some reptiles.  The kaka, a type of parrot, are particularly entertaining to watch because they’re so incredibly clever.  Just watching them eat and drink is so interesting.  Their food is kept in boxes and they have to stand on a weight-activated ledge to open them.  Other birds try, but as they’re calibrated for a kaka’s weight, can’t get in.  My guide (I got a one-on-one tour as I was the only one interested at the time!  Also, she was Canadian!) mentioned some research done with the kaka where they blocked the boxes from opening by putting a rock under the ledges.  They still got to the food in the end, though the younger birds got to the food faster than the older ones.  I spent some time (though not enough!) in the Gallipoli exhibition at Te Papa, which was incredibly done!  I never enjoy reading about war, but I think it was important to learn about this battle that I knew nothing about, as Canada wasn’t involved in it.  Giant life-like statues of soldiers, and one a nurse, introduced each section, with the narrative focusing on those particular individuals as we moved through history.

Early morning on the following Tuesday I was on my way to Rotorua, a journey that would take most of the day, again with stops (cause buses in NZ don’t have toilets in them.. so you have to rely on a stop every couple of hours for a toilet).  Rotorua was bigger than I expected, having it in my mind that aside from Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington, everything else in NZ was pretty tiny, particularly from my experience so far on the South Island.  I spent my first afternoon/evening just walking around, through the lovely sulphurous smell to the public park where you could put your feet in a hot pool and see lots of geothermal activity.  It’s totally mesmerizing to watch water bubble or just smoke off the surface of a pool of absolutely clear water or just hear bubbling coming from holes in the ground.  I ran into a French Canadian couple and we walked together for a couple of hours, following the coast until we were back in town.  I then went to get a tattoo!  I had popped into a shop earlier out of curiosity and got a great quote and the artist had time later in the evening.  I wasn’t quite prepared mentally to do it then, but at least I had a couple of hours.  I was nervous right up until I saw the finished product.  I’m very happy with my cute ‘lil Hufflepuff badger J

For my only full day in Rotorua, I went to Whakarewarewa, the living Maori Village nearby, the only place in the world where humans live on geothermal land.  They use it to cook and to bathe daily.  We got a tour, a piece of corn cooked in one of the pools and saw a cultural performance, which of course included a haka but also songs with poi, little white balls at the ends of strings used percussively and a love song among other pieces.  I learned more about these performances later, as I was sitting beside a performer for the first little bit of my flight to Melbourne.  Each performance starts with an introduction and can be in the form of the group’s choosing i.e. haka or chant.  Then there’s a chant, a haka, poi, and a closing song and the whole thing takes about half an hour.  The competitions are a big deal and each region has their own styles.  Groups are judged on content/message and dance as well as the music.  Anyway after the village I went to the Redwood forest, which brought me right back to San Francisco!  I was really tired by mid-afternoon and realized I was fighting a cold, so I went back to the hostel and rested for the rest of the evening.

The next day, I headed to Hamilton to meet up with a friend from 33Sixty!  We went to Hamilton Gardens, which are so much more impressive than I expected, with probably about a dozen (fairly large) gardens, each with a different theme.  There are new gardens being developed now too!  Plus, it’s free right now, though they are introducing a charge for non-residents soon.  We got Vietnamese for dinner and went to see the new Star Wars, which, without spoilers, I will say I really enjoyed, despite it feeling kind of never-ending.  Really nice character development for Kylo Ren going on.  Got to help out a little at a Red Cross event, a market where all stalls are run by refugees, before heading to Auckland, my final stop for New Zealand!

Auckland was a place to rest.  I spent a day sailing, which was great fun and made me realize that I know more than I thought I did, which is always nice.  Being a much smaller sailboat that the Clipper ones I’d only ever sailed on previously, it was a bit of adjustment, but I think much easier to go smaller than to go bigger!  The main sail could be moved along its track by hand!!  No winches needed.  Amazing.  I also realized that I’ve not only been trained to sail, but I’ve been trained to race.  I was a little surprised when no one seemed bothered that the sails weren’t trimmed for maximum performance, because there’s nothing less on a Clipper boat!  But we were out for a leisurely sail, as long as we were moving it was all good.  Still, with one of the other crew, we took turns on the helm and at one point with myself helming and him trimming, we got the boat to 6.3kn, apparently among the fastest speeds it can do!  It was great fun and very satisfying!  I drove the boat out of our parking spot in the bay we visited and drove it back into its berth, skip seemed quite happy to let me do that and I was surprised how comfortable I was doing it too!  Not that I’d want to do the same with a Clipper boat just yet, those things are much too big!  Aside from a day of sailing, I spent a lot of time indoors just watching Netflix.  After a month of travelling, I didn’t feel up to being a tourist and needed a break, especially in a city.  I’m sure there was lots to do, but I don’t regret it or feel like I missed out on anything.  I climbed Mt Eden (picture), visited another friend from 33Sixty, and went to my CISV friend and host’s birthday party on my last day and that was enough for me.  It was great to catch up with friends and to have the time to cook in a kitchen with all the basics, and to just relax for a bit.  For that, I really enjoyed Auckland.

My favourite thing about the North Island was the change of pace from the South.  I got the chance to let myself be taken around a lot more, saw a bunch of friends that are so far away otherwise, got a little sail in, learned more about Maori culture (though primarily at the airport just before leaving from a new friend I met at check in and the lady in the plane!), and got the chance to relax before heading to Oz!