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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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.

Abseiling & Black Water Rafting in Waitomo Caves; A True Adventure

Ever wanted to rope down a 50 foot drop into a cave and then go black river rafting and rock climbing? Then Kiwi Cave Rafting in Waitomo Caves has got you covered because this is exactly what I did today and it was phenomenal.

 Rowena and I had discussed wanting to go caving in some aspect when she came across the Kiwi Cave Rafting company. They take you abseiling (the roping down into the cave that I just mentioned), exploring through the cave, black river rafting and rock climbing. 

 All day we got to feel like true cave explorers as our guide, Harriet, took us through the darkness.

It all began when we hopped into an old van, all our clothes and belongings in hand. Harriet told us the drive would be 15 minutes as we all piled in. Sat in the middle, Rowena and I prepared for our adventure into the cave.. A few minutes later we pulled up to a series of old sheds and were told to get out so that we could get our wetsuits and gear on.
Oh my goodness.

Those wetsuits are incredibly tight. Tight. So tight.

After wrestling those bad boys on, we put on our “sexy pants” – some old mismatching sweats that went over the wetsuit. Finally, the harnesses and helmets.

We were all ready to go. 

 We piled back into the van for another 5 minutes of driving to the mouth of the cave. Harriet told us we didn’t need our seat belts because we were wearing helmets so we’d be fine.

Apparently that was a joke.

Because sat in the very back and 30 seconds into the drive it started getting bumpy. And by bumpy, I mean that I think we were driving over the equivalent of walking on a Lego. We’d hit one bump and Rowena and I would go flying. Then, before we’d fully come back down into our seats, we’d hit another bump and go flying again. Good thing we were wearing those helmets because I bumped my head on the ceiling a good 12 times in those 5 minutes.

But anyway.

87 headaches and 5 minutes later, we got to the cave. Harriet went through the safety rules and taught us how to connect the rope to our harness to abseil. Earlier in the van, I’d made a joke about hoping I wasn’t going to die. Shouldn’t have said that because for the rest of the day, Harriet didn’t let me forget it. We get up to the bridge and I just so happen to be the first in line. Did I do that by accident? Nope. Although I was nervous and she thought I was terrified, I couldn’t wait to get to the crazy adventure part. 

 I step up to the ledge..

I bend my knees..

And fall.. 

 ..in a good way.

From the second my feet left the ground, I was dangling over 50 feet of jagged rocks.

It was exhilarating.

I begin to let myself down the rocks via the rope and couldn’t have felt more free.

That being said, Harriet was actually more in charge of the rope than I originally thought, so I guess I wasn’t as free as I felt BUT STILL.

Once at the bottom, I waded through the icy cold water to a ledge of rocks to sit on and wait. After everyone arrived, we got going. Harriet grabbed a bunch of tubes for us to float on and we waded further into the cave, tubes in hand. 

 A ways inside, we dropped the tubes and started walking uninhibited in the cave and were told to turn our lights off.

What we saw was mesmerizing. 

 Thousands of glow worms sparkled against the roof of the cave and glittered in the blackness.

It was beautiful.

Harriet let us sit in the darkness and stare while she told us about how glow worms are actually maggots in their first stage of life. Not as pretty as glow worms, but we’d all probably rather call them “glow worms” as opposed to “glow maggots.”

Seriously, it was such a spectacular view to behold. 

 After a few moments in the black, we got up and walked back to our tubes. Harriet had us all get ready and on the count of three, we were all going to fall into the tubes and float down the river.

1..

2..

3!

Splash! 

   
We were off.
The water was still incredibly icy but at this point it was a frosty refreshment.

We kept our lights off and floated under the glowing worm sky.

Then, once the water became shallow, we got out of our tubes and started exploring the cave. Harriet told us where to walk and then had us “squeeze” through tight spaces in the cave. By “tight,” I mean minuscule. 

   

 

 
 But it was so fun.. I just channeled all of the horror films I’ve seen set in caves and did what they did to escape whatever creepy creature was chasing them.

So basically I’m saying that I pretended I was being chased by mutant creeps in order to get through the tight spaces quickly. And I think I did quite well in regards to speed and technique. Because Harriet told me she liked my technique.

*cue the proud, blushing I-learned-this-from-horror-films smile*

After about 30 minutes of squeezing and exploring, we headed back to the mouth of the cave to get out. Only problem is, there aren’t steps. 

 So yeah, we climbed our way out of the cave.

Rock climbing.. My first time.. In a cave.. In the middle of New Zealand.

AWESOME.

Seeing as how I was first into the cave, naturally I wanted to be the last out.

I sat and watched everyone swiftly climb their way out, not being chased by mutants like I imagined I would be.

Finally, it was my turn.

I got up to harness myself to the rope and began to climb. Immediately I was off to a great start – none of those mutant creatures would be able to catch me. But then I got too cocky and going too fast because I missed a rock..

My foot slipped..

I fell.

Not in a good way.

Thank goodness there was (obviously) a safety harness that caught me, otherwise those evil imaginary cave monsters that were chasing me would have gotten me. So I would have died in that scary movie scenario. Such a disappointment.

Also, I was literally the only one who slipped and fell out of our entire group of 7 people.

So disappointed.

But! I immediately got myself straightened back up and finished up the climb without another mishap. I made it out of the cave alive!  

  It was such a marvelous experience. Seriously, I loved every second.

I’d definitely recommend this experience to anyone and everyone.

But the trip wasn’t over.

Kiwi Cave Rafting provided nice, hot showers for all of us after we got out and changed and then once we got back to the office, they even had piping hot cups of tomato soup and bread for us to chow down on while watching all of our photos on a slideshow together.

Obviously, I bought all of the photos and they’re the photos you see here now.

This adventure was so incredible and I hope to get to do it again one day.

And Kiwi Cave Rafting was an excellent company that provided all we needed and more. They were so kind and helpful and I’ll recommend them to anyone who ever needs an awesome cave exploration adventure in New Zealand.

Harriet was wonderful and so knowledgeable and I can’t say enough good things about her. 

 So, there you have it. An ultimate cave adventure.

And I didn’t even die. 

 

Hobbiton – The Shire

TODAY WAS THE BEST DAY EVER.

I WENT TO HOBBITON. 

 I SAW THE BEAUTIFUL SHIRE.

I WALKED THE PATHS OF BAG END. 

 I can’t believe that I was finally able to go.

I remember falling in love with Tolkien when I was just in middle school.

Now, here I am, years later and I saw where so many of the hobbit shenanigans were filmed.

I STILL CAN’T BELIEVE IT.

It was everything I dreamt it’d be..

We started out our day with arriving on the grounds for our tour. Upon arrival, we were whisked onto a big, green bus plastered with The Hobbit logo across the back.

Slowly, the driver pulled out onto the road that led us down to the completed set and we were immediately stopped by about a billion sheep that were crossing the road. Literally. It was pretty cool, actually. 

 After patiently waiting for the sheep to cross, we were finally off. The drive down to the set was only about 15 minutes and our driver was hilarious and full of film trivia. Great start to the tour.

Once we arrived to the set, we exited the bus and began the walking tour. Our tour guide had introduced herself on the bus as Rosie and immediately my first thought was, “Oh, that’s gotta be some sort of a fake name joke thing.. No way is that really her name.. ” But it turns out that it was aaaaaaand get this, another tour guide’s name there is Sam and he just so happens to be her roommate. WHAT. Already this tour was off to a magnificent start. 

 Anyway, we start walking through The Shire and instantly, I’m mesmerized. Okay, actually I’d been mesmerized since I’d gotten out of the car.. But anyway..

The entire area was gloriously beautiful. Each hobbit hole was so intricately decorated and built.. All of the trees were vibrant and green.. Even the paths to walk on were bright yellow and colorful. 

  I was completely taken aback by the intricacy of the entire place and by all of the strenuous work that each member of the crew put into making Hobbiton vibrantly come to life. For example, the tree that sits behind Bilbo’s house was originally found elsewhere and then cut into 25 different pieces and then put back together on set. And then, later on when they wanted to start filming The Hobbit, they wanted to use the same tree but it had previously died and they still wanted to use it, so they sewed 200,000 fake leaves onto it. The whole process took two years to complete.

WOW.

Dedication.

The whole of the set was just as detailed and meticulously perfected as that one tree. Such an astonishing thing to behold. Especially for a Tolkien lover such as myself.

 
Rosie let us meander as we pleased throughout the whole of the grounds (for the most part – some parts were roped off). Every so often, she’d pull us all back together to tell us more about filming and I learned so much that I hadn’t previously known but I’m still just so excited and over the moon right now that I can’t think of anything because my mind is a blur of colorful hobbit holes and bright pastures. 

  

At the end of the tour, we all met up at The Green Dragon, just like in the films and were given a complimentary ale/cider to gulp down like Pip and Merry (okay, maybe I was the only one gulping it down but that’s because I’m so dedicated that I actually forgot that I, in fact, am not Pippin or Merry.. ). 

 

     

 
At the end of the tour, there’s a cafe called The Shire’s Rest that has a gaggle of hobbit foods and snacks to gobble down if you so please. And of course I did. So get this, I actually ordered “second breakfast.” YES. It was literally an item on the menu.

SECOND BREAKFAST. 

 And I happily finished it all. Pip and Merry would be proud.

So, there you have it, today I became a hobbit. 
 My life is complete.

“Little by little, one travels far.” 

 

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.