A Hop, Skip & a Jump Across the Pond: Europe, I’m Back!

Well, hello there fellow travelers! I know it’s been a while since I updated you on things and I apologize for that.. But I have good news! I’m currently in Wales.. That’s right, I’m back in Europe!

It all started six months ago, right after I got back from New Zealand – because obviously I already wanted to jet off somewhere again. I was in the shower and suddenly the idea to come back over for a surprise visit came to me. I immediately messaged Aimi & David and we started planning.

Originally the surprise was supposed to be for Gemma & Declan but Declan ended up finding out about it the week before I got here.. Oops. But it was still a surprise for Gem! And yep, she cried (love you, Gem!).

But anyway, I’ve been here a little over a week now. Why haven’t I blogged about it then, you ask? Well, to be honest I haven’t really had the desire.. After all the blogging I did in New Zealand about almost every thing Rowena and I did, I was discouraged because when you’re constantly planning what to write about the exciting things you’re doing, you lose sight of what’s actually happening in those exciting moments.

Buuuuuuut, I got over that, so here I am!
And I need to tell you all about my first week back! Because man have we been busy.

First off, we went on a three day camping trip throughout Wales. The first night we spent in Llyn Gwynant and I’ve gotta tell you, I’ve never seen such a beautiful campsite in my life. Surrounded by mountains and nestled next to a lake, I was in Heaven.


And you better believe I went off on some solo adventures and climbed those mountains next to us.


And early morning rock climbing.


And! Early morning kayaking.


Seriously, such a beautiful campsite.

We also spent time on the beach.. And oh my goodness, the Irish Sea is so so so so cold.

Overall, wonderful camping trip.

But then, guess what! I went zip lining on the longest zip line in the world & fastest in Europe, Zip World Velocity!


And hey look, a handy dandy video of me flying!

It was so amazing flying so high over bright blue water and zipping down that high cliff. So freeing.

Oh! And castles! We went to a castle.. Conwy Castle – a medieval fortress that was just as staggeringly beautiful as you could ever imagine.

And as if that all weren’t enough fun times, we also went to Alton Towers – a theme park that’s literally set inside and around a castle. I was quite impressed with how well they do theme parks here!

Three days of camping, a day of castles & ziplines & a day of roller coasters.. IT’S BEEN A GREAT FIRST WEEK BACK.

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26 Hours to Home

My time in New Zealand has officially concluded and as of last night, I’m safely back in the U.S. 

 I know I should have posted a few days ago about coming home but I was so busy and focused on enjoying my last days in NZ that I didn’t have time to post.

A couple days ago (or was it yesterday? – this jet lag is real this time), Rowena drove me to the airport and I began my 26 hour journey of flights and airports. I was devastated to leave but I know I’ll be back one day..

 Jet lag wasn’t that bad getting to New Zealand but coming back so far is odd. For me it’s tomorrow and I feel like I’ve been thrust into the past. I didn’t really sleep on the planes so I went about 33 hours with no sleeping and today I feel dead.

But I’m back! It was an incredible month with Rowena and I’m so sad that I had to leave but it’s okay, I’m happy to be back home with family. 

 Aaaaand I’m already planning my next trip.. So I’ll be off again soon!

 

Hanmer Springs; Bungee Jumps & Conquering Fears

Okay, this next post is one I’m so excited to write.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a pretty big fear of heights. Like it’s big. But I’m working on conquering it because I don’t like living my life being afraid of something so small.

Anyway, with this fear in mind, I went bungee jumping.

Bungee-ing(?) has been one of the top items on my bucket list for quite some time, right up there with skydiving and cage diving – yes, with great white sharks (maybe I’ll have a post about that one day). So I knew when I planned this trip to New Zealand that I needed to bungee, seeing as how NZ is the adventure capital of the world.

Knowing for months that I was going to jump was so exciting and honestly fear never came to mind until last night lying in bed and trying to fall asleep. My mind started to run and fears started growing and I honestly woke up at 5am unable to really fall back asleep.

To say I was a tad bit nervous would be putting it nicely.

But like I said, I don’t like being afraid of things so I didn’t let it phase me.

Until.

I stood on the edge of that bridge, looking down to the rushing water, with my arms stretched out wide to the world. 

 I froze.

I couldn’t move.

Even though everything was ready and everyone was waiting, I couldn’t bring myself to fall.

I just shook and stared down.

..that was probably my biggest mistake.

I feel so bad for the guys at Thrillseekers Adventures because they had to wait literally almost five minutes for me to let it all go and fall.

They were so supportive and nice trying to cheer me on but it didn’t work.

I kept still.

Until..

I literally let everything in the world go.

Took a deep breath.

Looked up at the mountains.

And jumped. 

 Water rushing at me, wind flying by, all fears gone.

I did it.

I willingly threw myself off a bridge.

Me – someone with a severe height fear.

I went for it.

Nothing can amount to how it feels to let go of all of your inhibitions and free fall to the rushing waters of New Zealand beneath your body.

Dangling at the end of the bungee, almost able to dip my hands into the water, I’d never felt more free. 

 I’d like to say my irrational fear is no longer in existence but I think I need to still keep working toward that.

I guess skydiving is up next.

Whale Watching & Sailing in Kaikoura & Christchurch

Okay, okay, so I know I’ve left you all hanging for quite some time while I’ve been on my trip but it’s not my fault, I promise! Turns out New Zealand has extremely limited wifi. Whoda thunk. It’s not like they’re like the furthest place in the world from anywhere else or anything..

But it’s okay because now I’m finally back in a wifi zone and can update you all on some of my travels over the past week. Last I left you I think was right after I’d completed the Tongariro Crossing. Phew, still tired a week later. Just kidding, it was easy peasy. I’m such a pro.

*cough* cough*

Anyway..

I’ve now landed in Christchurch for the remainder of my time in New Zealand and it’s been pretty chill and relaxed. Compared to the Crossing, that is.

But before I get to Christchurch, let me tell you about my time in Kaikoura – between the Crossing and Christchurch – because it was amazing.

So, I like the outdoors. I hope you’ve gathered that by now considering that the majority of my time here in NZ has been spent camping and hiking and exploring. Well..

It all got even better in Kaikoura when Rowena and I decided to camp out on a beachfront. We literally fell asleep to the sound of the waves crashing and woke up to the bright stars above and the sound of soft waves falling upon the shore. Oh my goodness, take me back right now. It’s only been a few days and I already miss that view. We were camped out on the sand of the beach with the mountains rising behind us and the infinite ocean before us. 

   
I say we woke up to the stars because we literally did. Our only morning in Kaikoura we went whale watching at 7am, which means we had to wake up at 5am in order to get ready, pack the tent and get to the boat on time. So pitch black night and bright white stars were the first sight I saw that morning. It was so beautiful that I just laid there for 20 minutes staring up. And after about 15 minutes a falling star shot across the night and began my day in the best way.

I was so sad to have to get up and pack that morning because honestly one night in Kaikoura was not enough. Seals and penguins and waterfalls and ocean were in abundance in Kaikoura.. I loved everything about that place. But I also knew waking up that morning that I was about to see my very first whale in the entirety of my life, so I was full of energy and happy as soon as my eyes opened.

Once we got to the boat and took off, I don’t think I stopped smiling for the rest of the day. They’d warned us that we might not see any whales but we were lucky and not only saw one whale but two whales and a pod of about 200 dolphins. 

    
    
 I literally can’t think of any better way to start a day than the way this one began for me.

Whales and dolphins and falling stars?

Why doesn’t this happen every day?

Even though it was just for one day, it was amazing.

I had the best morning ever that day and it only got better.

After the whales, we headed to Christchurch to have lunch with Rowena’s parents at the pub. While we were there eating, I experienced my first ever earthquake. I think her dad said it was a 5.7 so it was pretty big, especially for someone who’s never been in one before. It literally shook our entire table and the patio we were on at the time.

I didn’t even know what was happening when it happened, I just grabbed the edge of the table and looked around terrified. After it was over, everyone was fine so that’s good it wasn’t enough to hurt anyone but it was so crazy to me! Small town American girl from the Midwest? Yeah, earthquakes aren’t a thing to me..

But anyway..

After lunch, her dad took us out on his sailboat and I got to go sailing for the very first time in my life! It was amazing and so pretty out on the water. I obviously sat up front, happy to have the salt water spray me with every wave we hit. Again, I was still wearing a permanent smile. I even got to drive the boat! 

   
And I’m happy to report that I did not tip it over or crash it at all. There was just one point when the boat tipped all the way on its left side but hey, no one fell out so I think I can call myself a professional. Right.. ?

Yeah.. I think so.

After sailing, my nose is still sunburnt two days later but I don’t care whatsoever. I saw two whales, hundreds of dolphins and sailed a boat that day. 

  

Time of my life.

Tongariro Crossing, AKA Mordor; Not for the Faint of Heart

You’ve heard of those worldwide treks where they’re so dangerous and long but you’re so intrigued that you want to do them yourself, right? Those difficult things you put yourself through so that you can be able to say you did it?

The Tongariro Crossing was that for me, although I didn’t know it at the time.

 I’d heard of the Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand while I was researching things to do for my trip here. I saw that it was also the spot where Peter Jackson filmed the Mountains of Mordor, so naturally I dove in head first with anticipation of completing it. The nerd within me needed to see those astounding mountains floating inside the clouds.

Little did I know, that it’d be one of the most difficult and rewarding things I’ve ever accomplished.

 Now, this hike is pretty dangerous and not for the faint of heart by any means. You have to be physically fit enough to endure the conditions and need to have the proper attire and gear needed to be able to even begin the trek.

   That being said though, there were some kids on it who did stupendously and finished it without any problems. And an elderly couple that slowly made their way through the climbs. So, I guess it depends on how you see this hike. If you have the right attitude and a cautious demeanor, you’ll do just fine. And there was really only one point where I thought to myself that I could probably die right here and now. But we’ll get to that bit later.

Rowena and I started out our hike all dressed and ready. I in my new North Face hiking boots, mountain range leggings and both of us in a go get ’em attitude. We only had one pack between us with our 4.5 liters of water, nuts, fruits and protein bars for lunch. And warmer clothing for the higher points. Altogether I’d say the pack weighed about 17ish lbs – not smart on our part. It just added to the madness of completing the crossing.

 We start out on the trail and immediately within minutes end up passing a couple of people – so we were feeling pretty great at this point. Keeping in mind, this was just the flat bit to begin to actually hike. We shouldn’t have had such pride at that point. Within the next few minutes, two guys ahead of us turned around to ask over their shoulders where we were from. They were two guys who’d met at their hostel right before doing the crossing and had decided to do it together for the most part. We tell them all about how I’m American visiting her in Kiwi Land and how we’ve never done this hike before.

  By this point, the ground has started to slowly rise. Already, the sun is beating down on us and we’re sweating through our clothing as the first few steps of the trail begin to climb the first set of hills. At this point we stop for a bit of water.

We set our packs down at the edge of the cliff.

And Andrea, one of the two guys, accidentally knocks his and it starts to rapidly tumble down the hill we’d just climbed.

As he yells at it to stop, we all watch while all of his belongings race down to the bottom.

Sheer panic.

But immediately, Andrea races down the hill himself to rescue his precious pack. We all stand watching as passersby gaze at him with sympathetic looks and faces that seem to say, “Thank God that wasn’t us,” and I don’t blame them. But Andrea rescued his pack with ease and within minutes we were back on track.

Thank goodness it happened while at the beginning and not on one of the mountains we were to climb later.

After getting back to trekking the crossing, we begin to climb again. So many stairs. It was a struggle just to put one foot in front of the other. So obviously, Rowena and I were stopping every couple minutes. Did I mention you need to be in shape? Yeah, no I’m definitely not apparently. After about the 5th stop, we tell the guys to go on ahead because we’re just slowing them down. They refused. They kept motivating us to go on with positive spirits and repeating to us that we could do it. They were definitely inspiring.

At this point, I thought to myself that it’d be so easy to just turn back.. All I have to do is go back down.. And it’d be okay.. But that’s not who I am and I knew I had to finish this. It was something that began as a mega nerdy thing I just wanted to do but it had already turned into something much more.

 Finally, we convinced the guys that they really should go on without us because we knew that Rotem, the other guy, wanted to climb Mount Ngauruhoe – otherwise known as Mount Doom to me. And that climb itself is an extra 3 hours added to the hike that already by itself is 6-8 hours long. Reluctantly, they agreed and left us well wishes and smiles as they hiked their way away.

We were left to finish this thing on our own. This thing that we’d just begun. This thing that was already testing me to my limits.

At this point we were a little over an hour in and only halfway up the side of the mountains. It all seemed so impossible to accomplish. But we powered through. With taking turns with the pack and going on at our own slow pace and many encouragements to each other, we made it to the top.

The top of the first bit.

There was still another mountainside to trek up.

But we’d made it this far.

We weren’t turning back.

At this point was the opportunity to climb Mount Doom. It was something I’d been prepping for and planning for for months and it was finally here.

 And I didn’t do it.

The steep trek up the mountain itself is highly dangerous but on this day the visibility was so low and minimal that it would have meant almost certain death for me. We went up the side a little bit so that I could say I climbed part of it and also so I could take photos with the ring on the mountain. We even filmed me throwing the ring off onto the side of the mountain and saving all of Middle Earth.

  
That part was great. But the fact that I wasn’t able to go all the way to the summit was actually devastating for me. We met a girl on her way down on the part we’d climbed who told us she’d only made it halfway before having to turn back. She said that there were rocks falling all around her and that she literally feared for her life trying to get down.

So I unfortunately wasn’t able to climb Mount Doom and my heart is a tad bit broken but I can still say that I hiked the Mountains of Mordor.

Anyway.. After climbing back down the part we’d climbed, we were at the part of the hike with the Red Crater. A massive stretch of flat crater land in the exact middle of the three volcanoes. Oh yeah, did I mention that these were actually highly active volcanoes we were climbing? Yeah, volcanoes.

  
 The Red Crater bit was beautiful and the perfect opportunity to take some deep breaths before having a bit more to climb. We took in the view from within the volcanic mountains and I couldn’t help but be thankful for such an opportunity.

But soon that easy part was over and it was time to start climbing again. Granted, this part was a much shorter climb than before but I think it was much more dangerous. It was so cloudy and misty up that high that the ground was wet and it was hard not to slip. This was the part where I actually thought to myself that I might die. The ground itself was slippery and to the right was rising red rock and to the left was a sheer steep drop off onto jagged red rocks below. I actually feared for my life in this bit. It was both exhilarating and terrifying at once.

However, here I am writing this for you, so I’m still alive and didn’t fall down to a painful death below.

We successfully made it through the slippery rocks without falling (although I did slip a bit far down at one point).

We’d reached the summit of what we would climb.

We were on top of the world!

 Our pack had slowly begun to lighten up because we’d been drinking lots of water and had just stopped for lunch so the trek itself was only going to get better. We’d made it through the hard part. Now all there was to do was to go back down.

Sounds easy right?

Nope.

The first part of the down bit was a steep walk down through ash on a narrow trail that had steep drop offs onto rocky edges on either side. So again, we had to go slow.

But then I started treating it like skiing and I got the hang of how to walk in the thick ash and I basically started skiing down the mountain. Pretty cool.

And at the bottom was the best part. Three massive blue and green pools resting all nestled in the heart of the volcanoes.

  
  
Pure beauty.

And guess what! As we were stood gazing at the pools I happened to look back over my shoulder and saw none other than Andrea coming up behind us! He’d apparently climbed a part of the smaller mountain, Mount Tongariro, and was now on his way down as well, while Rotem was still climbing Mount Doom. So Andrea had gone up an extra mountain and then come back down in the time it took us to do the normal trek. Awesome.

But it’s okay, because at least we were still going!

Andrea actually told us that he thought we would have turned back because it was so overwhelming. He was pretty impressed that we were still going. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing but.. I’m optimistic so I’ll take it as a compliment.

 We ended up finishing the hike with him by our side. We hiked those many miles back down through a winding wooden road that led to a hut to rest near. The up bit was hard yes, but going down wasn’t easy either. It was a steep way down and I could feel my knees getting shaky with how unstable the way down was becoming.

But again, we kept going.

But then..

..it started to rain.

 Good thing it was at the end because I was the only one who didn’t bring a rain coat. But I’m the type who likes to dance in the rain so I didn’t mind.. I just held my face up high and smiled as the rain drops fell upon me. It was quite beautiful. But it also could have been pretty dangerous if it had started raining while we were still at the top and I hadn’t had a rain coat. So note to other travelers: make sure you have a rain coat!

Luckily for everyone else though, the rain only lasted a little bit before we then entered the forest at the bottom of the mountain that led to the exit. Shielded under the trees, the rain didn’t really come into the forest, so all was dry for the most part.

The forest was so green and vibrant and beautiful that it was the perfect way to end such a magnificent accomplishment.

  
All three of us reached the end together and did it in less time than we’d previously believed. Under 8 hours! Woo! And Rotem made it safely to the top of Mount Doom and back again, according to a message from Andrea later the same night.

We did it.

 I could now say that I hiked the Mountains of Mordor.

But more importantly, I could now say that I’d persevered through the hardest thing I’d ever begun and I finished with a smile on my face.

I’d completed the Tongariro Crossing.

 And I’ll never look back.

Two Days in Auckland

So, I’ve safely landed in New Zealand! I landed yesterday at 7am, ready to go. I even slept a whole five hours on the 13 hour flight! Wow (insert small levels of sarcasm here because I’m actually impressed I slept that much.. but also.. that’s not very much)!

As per my previous post on jet lag, I didn’t sleep after landing, we just went out and did things and it worked out great!

We saw the Sky Tower.. 

 
We explored the city center..

We went and got fish & chips takeout and ate it on the beach, Point Chev – apparently, “so kiwi.. ” 

 
We took a stroll on the beach and took crazy adorable photos..

  
And I’m sure we did much more but I’m just so exhausted after 24 hours of flying followed by two days in the sun & heat that I can’t function properly right now.

But that’s okay because it’s all been so incredible so far!

Moving on to today, we first climbed Mount Eden, the tallest natural point in Auckland, that also has a great view of the whole city.. 

   
And then.. THE BEST PART.. we walked the trail at Kitekite Falls to the biggest and most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever seen in my life. It was magnificent! 

 
   
Next, was Piha Beach.. Sprinkled with glittery black sand and filled with the sound of crashing waves, it’s one of New Zealand’s best & also most dangerous spots to surf.. Also it’s just plain gorgeous.. 

   
Finally, we went to Hallertau Brewey and tried some of their beers – which were super delicious. My favorite was #4, black beer.. 

    
  
And now, I need to go to bed because like I said, these past two days have been exhausting, especially with the heat and humidity.

My first two days in New Zealand are over, now bring on the rest!

One Flight Down, Two More to go: The New Zealand Adventure Has Begun

Well, it’s happening folks! Six months of planning, saving, working and waiting has finally come to a close and I’ve begun my trip to New Zealand! 

 It’s going to be a long next 24 hours but that’s okay, I have my LOTR books ready to go so I will not get bored!! I will not get bored.. I.. Will.. Not.. Get.. Bored..

Okay, so I’m already bored. First layover and it’s already too many. The next 24 hours of my life will be spent on planes and I could not be more thrilled.

*Exhausted.

As tradition goes, my entire family – parents, brother, future sis in law, grandparents and baby cousins/sisters/nieces/daughters (I’m only speaking of two individuals here, in case you didn’t know) – met up at Ihop for breakfast and then drove over to the airport together and they all watched me take off. 

   
We ate lots of food.

We ran around the airport.

I was tired from barely sleeping last night in anticipation for today.

Mom was sad.

That’s how the morning went and it was wonderful – aside from the immediate exhaustion and Mom being sad, of course.

 Now, I’m chillin’ alone in the airport, reading The Fellowship of the Ring and already wanting these next 24 hours to be over but it’s okay.. I’ll just kill the time on MY THIRTEEN HOURS STRAIGHT ACROSS THE OCEAN FLIGHT by watching as many scary movies as I can fit into one nonstop sitting.

Yeah, so the journey has begun.

Now, excuse me while I go eat all the McDonald’s that my wallet can handle.