Let Go, Let God <3

I can’t even begin to describe how amazing a month of traveling abroad was and I never would have been able to afford or survive any of it without the help of my family, both financially and emotionally, my two adopted mom’s for the month, the 10 amazing girls I got the privilege of getting to know over a course of just 33 days and most importantly, the good Lord above. That being said, my last big hoorah before I left the great country of Australia was a tattoo. No this isn’t my first one, and yes mom and dad are not fans of them, however just like my other two tattoos, there’s meaning behind this one and it wasn’t designed or thought of over night but rather over the past few months leading up to this trip. Too often do I find myself stressed out, scared, and/or confused with life and end up trying to solve everything myself. What I forget is just how powerful God’s unconditional love is and that He’s ALWAYS there to help with any problem, big or small, day or night, every second of every day. Yes I’m a Christian but I’m by no means perfect and need His guidance everyday and that’s what drew me to this phrase to begin with.

Let Go, Let God

Let Go, Let God

At first glance, it reads “Let Go” in black ink, but if you look closer it finishes with a “d” so that it reads “Let God”. I love the double message that it gives off – so simple, yet such a powerful reminder. Now my other two tattoos on either side of my ribs are only visible during bikini season but that’s how I wanted them. They deal with special family members and were something between me and that other person. The placement of this tattoo was a tough decision – my ankle was in the running however I felt like this was a message that I wanted to be reminded of daily and with my long legs, I don’t always pay attention to my ankles. My decision to put it on my right wrist came from the fact that I do everything right handed. From writing to doing my hair to eating to sports, my right hand is always in my vision. Another deciding factor was that I shake hands and greet people with my right hand – can you say conversation starter?! Just imagine how many conversations it could start up with all kinds of people, Christian or not. As Christians we’re suppose to spread the good news of God and His unending love, however it’s not always an easy topic. In this day and age, where tattoos are a new crave, maybe this will be an easy way to begin that conversation. Regardless, it gives me multiple opportunities to express my faith and spread His word. “Let Go, Let God”: This phrase was what helped me even decide to take this crazy, amazing adventure over a year ago. May 30th I let go of my family, friends, and everything I knew, and let God take me on this amazing adventure into the unknown. The day I stood at the top of that bridge to bungee jump, strapped in by my legs alone, I let go of any fears or worries and let God take over, protecting me the whole way down. The 33 days I spent with those 11 awesome ladies, I let down my guard and let God take over, helping me to be more open minded and considerate of others. Through journaling, I was able to let go of various things on my mind, things that I had brought from home, and in those 33 days, I let God help me figure my life out. I definitely don’t have it all figured out, nor will I ever, but I definitely felt God’s presence every step of this trip. In the last few days of our trip, the arch of my foot began to hurt (most likely from all of the walking we had been doing) and it got to be where I was limping, trying to tolerate the pain. I instantly said a prayer to God, asking him to take this pain away. Within the next 2 days, I was pain free and it wasn’t by my own doing. Another incident came the last day, as we boarded our shuttle for the airport. Elizabeth, a sweet girl whom I had never met before this trip, however helped to keep me sane those 33 days and has become a lifelong friend, misplaced her new opal ring she had just bought on the trip. She went to pick up coffee that morning and hadn’t realized it wasn’t on her finger until she came back to the bus. A little frantic, she asked around and was relieved to find that some good samaritan had turned it into the front desk. Relaxed again, she proceeded to tell me on our ride to the airport that when she first realized she had lost it, instead of freaking out completely, she “pulled a Kaitlyn” and said a little prayer. Just another example of how awesome prayer is! My favorite incidence of God really speaking to me however came one night in Port Douglas when a few of us girls went out with our tour guide Dan and the guys from his Australian football team (don’t worry, they were our age.) It was fun to meet other people our age and experience their kind of “Saturday night”. While some of the girls went out to the dance floor, I stayed back at the booth, chatting with Dan, one of his buddy’s from his team, and his buddy’s fiancé. Our chat started out pretty simple, his friend asking me to say various words and then laughing and saying I talked funny – apparently he didn’t realize how he sounded to me…. Somewhere down the line of our conversation, we got on the topic of religion and he proceeded to ask if I was religious. I responded with yes, what about you? He answered no and began to talk about how many Australians around that area were Atheist because religion just started war. Inside, I instantly felt sad. The only type of religion this guy probably saw was what T.V. let him see, especially right now with everything that ISIS is doing. Being a communication student, I could have easily came back at him with one of the many persuasive techniques I’ve learned over the past few years, however instead, I continued to listen to his reasoning, truly interested in his way of thinking. Dan’s friend began to ask me how I could believe in God if I’d never seen Him to which I replied sometimes you have to believe in things you do not see. Not satisfied by my answer, I continued by trying to relate it to sports, seeing as though they both were on the football team. I asked, “have you ever done something on the field or in training that you know you could never physically do by yourself, yet you did it? I’ve had that happen multiple times in my life, specifically in my running and I know that it wasn’t my doing, so I guess between those miracles and the little miracles I see everyday, that’s what keeps my faith strong.” He replied with a yes, he had, but his reasoning was that he believed in a human’s potential and that people just meet their full potential and then that’s it. Still intrigued, I asked him how he believed he was created, to which he responded with the scientific answer of first being organisms and then evolving. That’s when Dan jumped in and asked where I stood on the topic. I said that I believed God created me, however I did agree that we evolve over time as human beings – in the end, still being from God’s doing. I then came back with a simple, “what drives you to get up in the morning – what gets you through each day?” Stumped for a second, he responded, “I don’t know, work, my fiancé, I just take one day at a time.” I replied with, “well, I believe that God has a purpose for my life and each morning He wakes me up, is just another part of His plan to help me fulfill His purpose for me.” I got a laugh from that answer but that was okay, I respected each and every one of his answers and I guess that’s why I picked his brain so much. In the end, he asked if I thought I’d ever not believe in God, to which I responded with a polite grin, “probably not.” As I mentioned earlier, as Christians we’re suppose to spread God’s word, however it doesn’t have to be in a pushy, in your face way. Yeah it’s easier to speak of all of the amazing things He’s done in your life or quote bible verses, however when you’re speaking to someone who doesn’t even believe in God or the bible, sometimes just mentioning the idea of God is all you can do. I may not have turned him into a Christian over night, but that could have been the first time someone had ever had an opposing opinion about God compared to his and if that’s the case, I at least got him thinking. Moral of the story, God was definitely with me that night, helping me to let go of my own personal opinions and be open minded to this guy’s way of thinking. For those of you who have been keeping up with me last month, thank you so much! You don’t realize how much your comments, likes, and endless support helped me while being away. I had the time of my life in New Zealand and Australia and through your support, you helped me not to get homesick but rather want to share as much of my adventures with you all as I could. As my trip came to an end, I was sad for it all to end, yet so excited because that mean’t I could tell people first hand all the things that wouldn’t fit into my blog. This trip has been a true blessing in disguise and I can’t thank my parents enough for giving me this amazing opportunity. I know it was hard, letting their baby leave the country for a month, but I have to think that God had a little part in that as well, giving them the assurance that I would be okay. I’d have to write another blog to talk about everything that I’ve learned from this trip, however a pretty good summary is that if you Let Go and Let God take charge of your life, He’ll give you the strength to go to unimaginable places and do incredible things – He sure did for me.

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This is not the end, this is not the beginning

Port Douglas: the city of falling apart condos, no free wifi for 2 miles, beautiful beaches, breathtaking rainforests, and amazing company.

Port Douglas Beach

Port Douglas Beach

That pretty much sums up what I’ve been up to for the past three and a half days. We arrived Thursday around noon and immediately took advantage of the warm sunshine by going to layout at Port Douglas’ 4 mile beach. That night, we all ventured in town for some supper and to check out the main street for shops we might want to check out while here.

We were up bright and early on Friday, meeting our Back Country Bliss tour guide Glenn at 7 a.m. We all instantly fell in love with Glenn. He was so sweet and his accent of course made us laugh, especially when he gave us slang lessons on how Australians say a phrase or word as compared to Americans. He was very good at his job, telling us the history of the land and the animals.

Our excursion for the day was to tour the famous Daintree Rainforest: the oldest rainforest in the world. We came to a wide river where we boarded a ferry, van and all, to carry us across to the rainforest. Once on the other side, Glenn gave us a bit of background about the people living there. Apparently the Daintree Rainforest was where people who didn’t want to be found would move, whether that be convicts, runaways, etc. Long story short, he said that these people were a little “weird”. Nevertheless, we made it to our first hiking spot and joined Dan, another Back Country Bliss tour guide, along with his group.

Daintree Rainforest

Daintree Rainforest

During our walk, both Glenn and Dan pointed out various plants that were only found in the Daintree Rainforest. According to Glenn, there are 20 primitive plants in the world and scientists have found 12 in this forest alone, along with 40% of earth’s mammals, 20% of earth’s reptiles, and 50% of earth’s birds. The forest will get an average of 6-9 meters every time it rains however within a couple of hours the forest will have soaked it all up again.

One of the plants that Dan pointed out was a basket fern up in a tall tree. He said that these ferns are technically parasitic plants but that they don’t hurt the tree and that tree kangaroos will actually nest in them.

IMG_4642Throughout the day, Glen let us stop at various beaches for pictures and fresh air, one of them being Cape Tribulation. A walk along this beach was actually built into our tour so we of course had to take leave behind more than just footprints.

On our way to lunch, Glenn let us stop by a tea farm and purchase some pure Daintree Forrest grown tea. Apparently Daintree tea is organic by fault, having no predators and no need for any watering or fertilizers.

Momma & baby

Momma & baby

For lunch, we ate at a Rainforest Cafe, contrary to the Rainforest Cafe’s in the U.S., this actually was a cafe in the rainforest and boy was it delicious. Glenn and Dan were very good hosts, putting in our orders ahead of time and serving us drinks once sat down. After lunch, we were able to go feed sweet potatoes to the wallabies out back. We were all excited when we saw our first baby wallaby popping out of its mom’s pouch.

Glenn then drove us down the road to visit Betty, the queen of ice cream. On her sign out front, it said there were 26 different flavors to choose from when really Glenn told us she had over a 100 variations. The amount of ice cream I’ve eaten on this trip alone most likely adds up to more than I’ve eaten in the last few years together however I can safely say Betty’s ice cream was the best. All organic, I had the “Triple Chocolate” and loved every bite of it.

The remainder of the day was spent exploring more of the rainforest and we were sad to leave Glenn when he dropped us back off at the hostel.

Aboriginal Dot Painting

Aboriginal Dot Painting

Saturday morning was another day, full of adventure. Elizabeth and I began our morning with a lovely run along the beach. We were then picked up by another Back Country’s Bliss, more commonly known as Leigh’s friend Macaela and began our day by heading to Benna’s art gallery where Benna, an aboriginal artist, showed us how to create aboriginal dot paintings. It was a very time consuming and required a lot of patience but it was a fun experience and added to our souvenir’s to bring home.

We had some delicious PBJ’s by the beach, and I really do mean delicious since we were all starving by that time, and then headed for our second excursion of the day: spear fishing. You can just imagine how pumped I was for this as it entailed weapons and killing things, not to mention I had some javelin practice behind me so of course I was a natural. Unfortunately, in the 2 hours we were out there, I only saw one crab and it wasn’t even big enough to spear. It was the experience that counts though right?

Spear fishing

Spear fishing

We headed back to our guide Linc’s house and were taught even more about the aboriginal people and their ways of living. My favorite part however had to have been when Linc took us outside to taste the medicine ants. In other words, he had a bush full of green ants that the aborigines would often use for medicine purposes and he offered us all to have a lick of their butts. Leigh had told us ahead of time that they tasted like sour airhead candy…they did. Just about everyone had a lick except A.J. Her reactions to us trying to feed them to her were definitely a good exchange for her not licking one.

Our night was probably my most favorite part of our time in Port Douglas. We had a barbecue by the pool where we were staying and invited all of our friends from Back Country Bliss including Glenn, Dan, Macaela, as well as her husband and her sister. Our night was full of skewers, beef and kangaroo, lots of laughter, and Glenn and his guitar. Begging him Friday to bring his guitar, he didn’t let us down and was definitely our entertainment for the night. We even had a time at the end where just him and I soloed a few songs together. For those of you that really know me, you can imagine how peaceful and enjoyable it was for me to just relax and sing all night long.

Sunday was a lazy day for us all, whether we wanted to shop, look around, or just bum it out at the beach – all of which we accomplished within the day. We visited the farmer’s market in the morning and then a handful of us headed to the beach to get one last tan in before we headed back to Cairns. Having been stuck in the cold winter of New Zealand for the past three weeks, we’ve been trying to catch up for lost time with our tan situation and the peacefulness of Port Douglas definitely helped us accomplish that.

Morning sunrise

Morning sunrise

Monday morning, Elizabeth and I went for one last run to watch the sunrise and wow was it more beautiful than ever. We then ran up town for the last time to snatch one last souvenir and by 10:30 a.m. we were boarded back on the bus, headed to Cairns. Once there, we wasted no time and headed straight for the Esplanade for our very last day of tanning. Elizabeth, Amy, Leigh, and I then went to the mall and got our nails done as a parting gift to ourselves.

Due to Leigh’s great budgeting this trip, we were able to not only go out last night to a great restaurant for supper, but we are also having a “last supper” celebration tonight where we’re supposed to “look pretty” one last time. We ended the night by going to watch the new Disney movie Inside Out. Being a movie about emotions, it definitely brought all the emotions out of us and there were definitely some tears shed there – I can only imagine how the airport’s going to go.

Last Supper

Last Supper

Today (Tuesday) honestly flew by between getting packed and grabbing some last minute souvenirs. As I mentioned, we got all dressed up for one last time and had an amazing dinner at a fancy establishment called Salt down by the water. We got one last dessert of ice cream because you can never have too much ice cream and were surprised as we returned to our hostel and Leigh and A.J. handed us each a black boomerang to practice our aboriginal dot painting on. It’s hard to believe that in less than 24 hours I will be headed back to the states! Technically we will be traveling two days, leaving on our Wednesday and landing on your (U.S.) Wednesday but tomato tomoto we’re leaving to come home! Definitely some mixed emotions but I’m ready at the same time.

One last day here and one last blog to come as I come to the end of my amazing trip!

Much Love, Kaitlyn

My City

Finally sun, bikinis, and warm weather! We arrived in the tropical city of Cairns Monday evening and were welcomed by beautiful breath of fresh, warm air as we stepped off the plane. New Zealand got pretty cold, and Sydney was a bit warmer but rainy, however we are finally thawing out in Cairns with its 80 degree + weather.

In our first meeting we had for this trip, we were each assigned either one of the 10 cities we would be visiting or one of the two tribes we would be studying while on our trip. Our assignment was to be the expert of whichever city or tribe we were assigned and to give a presentation on whichever we were assigned before we left, as well as design a handout with important information about the city and a map on the back. Cairns was my lucky pick and it really was a fun city to research.

Esplanade Lagoon

Esplanade Lagoon

It’s a favorite vacation spot for many, including our former President Clinton (our bus driver informed us) as Clinton has visited the city more than six different times. Can’t say as though I blame him though, the city itself is so easy to navigate around with everything being within walking distance. The Esplanade Lagoon has to be one of the biggest attractions they’re known for. Because their closest beach is very rocky, the city designed a clearwater lagoon, similar to our pools back home however shallow all over, and it’s free to the public.

Just missing Crocodile Dundee

Just missing Crocodile Dundee

Tuesday morning we started our first adventure bright and early as we took a bus up the winding mountain to the Kuranda Rainforest. One of the many hypes of the trip was getting the chance to hold a koala and this was where it was going to happen. We arrived around 9 a.m. and made our way down to the “Koala Gardens”. Once inside the designated area, it was like a mini, interactive zoo, as we were able to see Australian turtles, lizards, gators, and what we’ve been waiting for this whole trip: koalas and kangaroos!

IMG_4538IMG_4537We each took our turn holding the precious koala and then we were able to walk through the kangaroo area and get up close and personal with them, feeding them and taking fun pictures. Next came the snake room which I really wasn’t a fan of so there wasn’t much time spent in there. The Kuranda had a lot of small, fun shops filled with culture/tribal jewelry and clothing. I think we all bought some kind of bracelet or souvenir to take home.

Catchin some rays

Catchin some rays

Arriving back at the hostel around 1 p.m. gave us the rest of the day to do with what we pleased. Some of the girls checked out the mall…right across from our hostel, while others took a recovery nap. Liz, Lexie, and I headed to go explore the Esplanade – it was even more beautiful in person than pictures. Being a sunny afternoon, it was packed with people of all different ages…and shapes and sizes. We picked a nice sunny spot on a concrete piece that went out in the water a bit and got our tan on. After seeing everyone’s summer pictures on Facebook from back home, it finally felt good to be able to experience “summer”.

That night we were given strict orders from Leigh and A.J. to “look pretty” as we would be going out to eat supper. Similar to our Mi Tai experience with the Maori people of New Zealand, we went to see Tjapukai where the aboriginal people of Australia taught us a little bit about their culture. Contrary to the Maori and their focus on war, the Aborigines told stories through dancing and singing that focused on the land and the importance that fire had in their culture.

IMG_4540When we first arrived, the Aborigines entered with song. They “welcomed” us by painting each of our faces with either a combination of black paired with white paint or red with yellow, which we later learned signified the two seasons that the Aborigines paid attention to back in the day. The black paired with the white paint signified the wet season while the red and yellow combination signified the dry season. These days, we have Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer, however back in history they use to only focus on the two seasons : wet and dry.

We were then led down to a performance area where they reenacted stories for us through song and dance using the famous Digeridoo instrument. They told us stories of nature, hunting, and lastly, they shared with us their fire making songs and actually made a fire right in front of us. We were then led inside to enjoy a delicious, traditional supper. We headed back out to form a circle around a fire pit and they taught us their fire-making songs. They brought two members of the audience to the middle to make fire and once the fire was made, one of the men set a spear on fire and tossed it into a tree in the distance, lighting up a huge fire pit and almost singeing off our skin from afar! It was an awesome way to end the night.

Green Island/ The Great Barrier Reef

Green Island/ The Great Barrier Reef

Our Wednesday morning was one for the books as we got on a ferry at 9 a.m. and headed to Green Island to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. Though it rained for 90% of the day, the rain had no effect on us once in the water and we were able to swim the inner reef, scouting out all kinds of colorful wildlife. From coral to rainbow fish to swimming right above a sea turtle, the whole day was eventful. Leigh and A.J. rented an underwater camera from the hostel to capture some shots but honestly, no picture will ever come close to how awesome the actual experience was. Not only was the view amazing but between being thrown around by the white caps from the ocean, along with the constant kicking of you flippers, I think everyone got their workout in for the day and will be sleeping like babies tonight.

Mustache Party!

Mustache Party!

Getting back to Cairns around 5:15, we all came home, cleaned up and ended the eventful day by celebrating Marissa’s 20th birthday. A tradition Leigh started in her previous study abroad trips was that any birthday celebrated while studying abroad was automatically a mustache party, therefore we kept the tradition going by putting on our mustaches and celebrating Marissa. Needless to say it made for a fun night, and an even more fun way to mess with other people staying at the hostel.

Tomorrow we leave for our last city of our trip, Port Douglas. We will spend a few days going on various excursions there and will then return to Cairns for a few days before we make our way back home.

Can’t believe all of this fun is coming to an end. I can definitely say this last week will be enjoyed to the fullest.

Much Love,

Kaitlyn

In and out of Sydney in the blink of an eye…..but seriously.

WE FINALLY MADE IT TO AUSTRALIA! Contrary to what many of my friends thought, we haven’t actually been in Australia this whole time but rather have spent most of our time in New Zealand – three weeks to be exact. These last 10 days of our trip have been days I’ve been looking forward to ever since I signed up for the trip. As I mentioned in my first blog post, I’ve wanted to go to Australia since I was little girl and two days ago that dream came true.

We left New Zealand Saturday morning and flew from Dunedin to Auckland to Sydney. The first night in this beautiful city definitely did not disappoint. Liz, Kaylee, and I ate at the Palace Hotel where we had some sweet potato wedges that were to die for. We then collected as a group and headed to the World’s Largest IMAX theater in the world, in hopes of seeing Jurassic Park World. Unfortunately, being a Saturday night, the movie was long-past sold out therefore we ordered tickets for the next night.

Darling Harbor

Darling Harbor

Our night was not over, but rather had just began as we walked outside to a beautiful display of fireworks being shot out of the Darling Harbor. We watched in aww as the sky was lit up and I’m pretty sure all of Sydney had came out for the show! Once the show was through, we watched as a group of street performers put on a dance performance made up of flips, group dancing, and even some tap dancing. We circles the harbor, stopping for some delicious ice-cream and to admire the beautifully lit up ferris wheel.

Our new friends

Our new friends

We woke up Sunday morning, ready and raring to go, after all we only had one full day in this amazing city and we wanted to cover as much of it as possible. Our morning started with Britney and I running through the rain to the bus stop to catch the bus to Hillsong Church. After searching the list of churches the night before, I found the world famous Hillsong Church and it was a no-brainer we had to go! We were welcomed by very cheerful ladies on the bus who gave us a run down about what was going on in the church and even in their everyday lives as we drove to church. Once there, Britney and I walked in to what seemed like a Winter Jam performance. Their was a sound and camera crew in the back with television prompters, computers – the whole works. On stage stood not one or two but six worship leaders, three women, three men, with backup coming from a choir of high school girls and a full band.

Brittney and I snuck into a row in the middle, however Lynne, one of the girls from the bus, kindly invited us to come sit with her and her friend Trisha. We worshipped through singing and then Sydney Hillsong’s Senior Pastor Brian Houstan came across the big screen and told us a little bit about his travels and what he’s been up to.

Having churches in Australia, London, Kiev, South Africa, NYC, France, Stockholm, Germany, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Barcelona, LA, Moscow, Buenos Aires, and Sao Paulo, they literally have churches spread out all over the world. We watched a short film, or what they labeled their midterm progress report, to see what Hillsong was us to all around the world. From building centers for their congregation, both young and old, to starting a foundation for sex trafficking victims they’ve been busy doing God’s work. Probably one of their biggest works came just a few years ago, right after Saddam Hussein got captured. Hillsong church was able to raise a half a million dollars to send to a pastor in Baghdad to go towards purchasing a building to start a church. Not only did he buy one building, but he had enough to buy two church buildings! What was even cooler was at their 7 p.m. service that night, they were going to Skype this pastor, with his church finally finished!

One thing that people continued to repeat throughout the message was, “You can’t do everything, but you can do something” – something so simple, yet so true. Some of the greatest things in life come from a build up of people doing the little things.

At the end of the service we said farewell to our awesome friends Lynne and Trisha and headed to catch the bus back – not before we were given a free copy of the New Testament in magazine form – seriously SO cool!

Sydney Harbor Bridge

Sydney Harbor Bridge

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

Back at the hostel, we had some breakfast and picked up Kris to head to the famous Sydney Harbor Bridge – the rest of the group having left earlier. Unfortunately it was chilly and rainy for the majority of the day however we didn’t let that stop us. After 30 minutes of walking, we finally reached the bridge and got some awesome pictures of the Sydney Opera House along with the bridge itself. The view was nothing short of breathtaking, even on a cloudy, rainy day, and it made the long walk worth it. On our way back, I’m pretty sure I stopped at at least six Ugg Boot stores, if not more and finally picked Lil Sis up so adorable Tiffany Blue Uggs cough Best Aunt Award cough. Definitely my favorite purchase of the day.

Lil Sis be stylin'

Lil Sis be stylin’

IMG_4283We got back to the hostel in time to help make supper – a simple but delicious supper of grilled cheese and vegetable soup with mini cupcakes for dessert. We then headed out for the second time to see Jurassic Park. All I can say is WOW. The movie would have been good regular, but in 3D AND in the biggest IMAX theater in the world, it was 10x cooler.

After the movie, half of the girls headed back to the hostile while Amy, Liz, Erika, and I stayed behind to hang out with Leigh, A.J., and Leigh’s Australian friend Dan, or as we named him on this trip “Dan Under”. Though our time was short and sweet in Sydney, we definitely made the best of it. Now we’re headed to much warmer weather in Cairns!

Much Love,

Kaitlyn

Dunun Dunun Dunedin

The past 3 days have gone by in a flash! I don’t know how I’m going to top my adrenaline day post but give me time…we haven’t made it to Australia yet!

Wednesday, June 17 was a traveling day for us, getting on the bus around 7:45 a.m. and heading for Dunedin. I honestly was sad to leave Queenstown and the excitement that came with that city – it was definitely my favorite city of New Zealand. Nevertheless we boarded our bus, only to find out that this would be out second bus ride without heat. Why do we get so lucky?? Fortunately, this bus ride wasn’t an all-dayer like what we’re use to and by 12:30 p.m. we were rolling into Dunedin: our last stop in New Zealand.

Dunedin is actually one of the bigger cities on the southern island, as it is home to the University of Otago. The city has what they call the “Octagon” which is just as it sounds, a street in the shape of an octagon, lined with stores and restaurants. It is also home to the famous Cadbury factory – that’s right, home of the famous Cadbury eggs you get for Easter each year. Something that I found extremely interesting and vowed to walk up was that Dunedin is home to the steepest street in the world!

Thursday morning was a day of recovery. Recovery from our adventures in Queenstown, recovery from the bus ride, and recovery from going, going, going 24/7. A lot of us slept in and about mid-morning Amy, Emily, Liz, and I ventured out in search of a bakery our hostel host had told us all about. Man was it delicious! The thickest donut I’ve ever ate with melted chocolate chips on top and then a blueberry muffin with blueberry filling in the bottom. Best $5.50 I’ve spent here.

Around 1 p.m. we all boarded a bus to our first and only required excursion in Dunedin: the Elm Wildlife Tours. With the rain just beginning and the wind from the sea blowing at full force, it made for a very cold afternoon. We first visited the Royal Albatross Center where we were able to see not 1 but 3 Albatross flying. Looking like an oversized Seagull with a wingspan of, on average, 3 meters, what’s so unique about this bird is that it uses the wind to fly. With no flapping motion, it will glide across strong winds to go find food for it’s babies. Taking a full year to have a baby (including finding it’s mate, nesting, laying the egg, hatching, and taking care of the baby) this bird has an average of 1 egg every 3 years. Apparently we were extremely lucky with our viewing, seeing as though our guide said that often times the group will stand there for 45 minutes and be lucky if they see 1 bird fly for 10 seconds.

IMG_4266Our next stop was to see the New Zealand Fur Seal. Huddled up against the side of the cliff due to the crashing waves of the sea, these little bundles of fur were adorable. We learned that when each mother seal is pregnant, she will have her baby and just 8 days later will mate and become pregnant again. She will nurse her first baby for about 8 months, take a month off, and then have her next baby and begin the cycle over again. Moral of the story, it’s rough being a mother fur seal.

IMG_4216IMG_4217Our last stop was the beach area where we found Hooker Sealions and Yellow-Eyed Penguins. What was so awesome, despite the cold and not being able to feel our toes or fingers, was that we were able to get up close and personal with these animals in their natural habitat. We were literally meters away from the sea lions as they frolicked and played with one another on the beach. We had a penguin walk right in front of us while making our way down the beach. We had sheep still up on the hill side, right next to the penguins and sea lions. It was crazy to think we were in the middle of all of this nature and the animals didn’t pay us a bit of attention.

As the sun began to go down, we started our journey back up the massive hill. What I forgot to mention was that this excursion was not only one filled of nature, but one filled of exercise! To see the seals we ventured down a very steep hill, only to climb back up it to the bus. Being at the top of the hill gave us a beautiful view of the water and the beach, however to get to beach, penguins, and sea lions, we had to ventured down an even bigger, steeper hill and, you guessed it, climb it once we were ready to leave. On the way back up the last hill, I was not only ready to get to warmth, but I was tired of going slow, therefore I ran/jogged up the remainder of it. Definitely my workout for the day as my lungs were burning with fresh, cold air, and my legs were burning from the incline. Totally worth it though seeing as though it probably burned off that delicious donut and muffin I ate that morning!

To end our night, we had pies for dinner. Contrary to what you’re probably thinking, these were no fruit pies but rather mini pies filled with meat, cheese, and veggies; a popular food choice in New Zealand. We did end with our choice of chocolate cake or apple pie. We all ventured back to our 2 rooms we were separated in between and A.J. and Leigh came into each room to talk about the trip thus far. We had a heart to heart, talking about anything and everything and a lot of things were put into perspective that night.

IMG_4264At one of our first meetings for this trip, A.J. and Leigh talked of the most rewarding things one could obtain from this trip. They said some people will go through each excursion and be in the moment the whole trip, however when it comes to an end, they’ll remember how fun everything is but then go back to their normal lives, unchanged. On the opposite end of the spectrum, they mentioned how some will have that “Ah” moment where everything clicks and they finally get out of their own box/head and step into someone else’s world – see someone else’s perspective of life. Being in this beautiful country and around things that are different from what I’m use to has definitely been an eye opener, however what’s really hit home is being around these 9 girls and getting to know each of them in their unique, own way.

IMG_4229Our last day in Dunedin was spent exploring the city. We began our morning by taking Leigh, A.J., and the rest of the remainder of the girls back to the amazing bakery we had found the morning before. We came back to the hostel and had our traditional family breakfast together and then around noon, Liz and I went out, in search of the “World Steepest Street”. After trying to read the map and walking for about 2 1/2 miles, we finally found Baldwin Street and man were they not kidding. We began our hike up, laughing and carrying on. As we continued, the sweat began to come and the glutes began to feel the burn. As we neared the finish line, just meters from the top, I fell to my knees and began to crawl, telling myself I was NOT giving up! Finally, victory was ours and we reached the top of the mountain!!IMG_4230

IMG_4246Okay so a little to a lot of that might have been exaggerated just a bit. In fact, once we reached the top, I couldn’t stop and kept going.

We caught our breathes while sitting on a bench with a, as the kiwis say, “Sweet as” mural on it. The view from the top was nothing short of amazing and made the hike that much more worth it.

We made our way back down the street, literally having to lean back to keep our balance, and we picked up our certificates to prove our accomplishment. We headed back to the hostel and picked up Erika to go have a late lunch. Having various restaurants to choose from on the Octagon, we decided on Mac’s Brewbar and I had some delicious beer-battered onion rings.

Our last stop was the famous Cadbury factory. Due to cleaning this time of year we were unable to tour the factory, but don’t worry, I got plenty of goodies to bring back.

For supper, we had Pita Pit, a pita chain thats very popular in NZ and for dessert we had Tip Tip ice-cream – another fan favorite amongst the kiwis. We ended our night by doing laundry, packing, and weighing our suitcases to make sure we could board the plane tomorrow. It’s hard to believe that next time I post, it’ll be from Australia!

Much Love,

Kaitlyn

Sorry Mom & Dad…

In my last 2 blogs I gave hints as to why this city was going to be my favorite but I couldn’t give the big surprise away until I accomplished what I came to do.  In the words of Tom Petty, today I went “Freeeeeeeee, Free Fallin”!

Swing 02 - Photo 14Despite my mother’s many suggestions that her “and dad” would prefer me not to, my first adrenaline rush came at 10 a.m. as I decided to canyon swing. Held on by nothing but a harness, I was dropped from a platform 109 meters above the river not once, but twice! As the saying goes, “Go Big or Go Home”, I picked what they deemed to be the 2 scariest jumps. My first jump was called Gimp boy goes to Hollywood style. In other words I flipped my body upside down, wrapping my legs around the top of the rope and dangled my arms above my head. After a  lot of joking and never dropping you when you’re actually ready, they finally cut the rope and I swung to my death.

Swing 09 - Photo 05My second jump was simply dropping off backwards, not knowing what to expect.Various songs ran through my head during these experiences including Tom Petty’s Free Falling, Tim McGraw’s Live Like You Were Dying, and even Nelly Furtado’s I’m Like A Bird. Once the initial jumps had happen, I dangled within the canyon for about a minute, soaking in the beauty. The sun was peaking over the tops of the mountains and the river was rushing by below. It was amazing.

As we headed back to town, the motion sickness kicked in again and I had to laugh at myself seeing as though I had just swung back and forth between a canyon yet the van was what was making me sick!

Still on an adrenaline high from swinging, a group of us headed straight to our next adventure: Bungee Jumping. Now I honestly don’t think mom knew how crazy canyon swinging was, however she had definitely heard of bungee jumping before.

History lesson for the day: The legend goes that bungee jumping started hundreds, possibly thousands of years ago by a woman who constantly got beat by her husband. Apparently one day she climbed up in a tree to escape her husband and as he began to climb up after her, she jumped out of the tree and off the cliff. Planning ahead, she had secretly tied her ankles to vines. Unfortunately her husband was unaware of this trick and jumped after her, only to fall to his death. This jumping became a fad for the woman to show their courage, however later men joined in to prove they weren’t wimps either.

As the years went on, Oxford University’s “Dangerous Sports Club” picked the activity up as an extreme sport. It wasn’t until the 80s however that A.J. Hackett, a native of New Zealand, not only helped to redesign the sport but was the first to experiment with the new latex rubber cords…off the Eiffel Tower! He succeeded and brought the sport back to New Zealand, taking his first commercial jump off the Kawarau Bridge on November 12, 1988.

Media_1966462Today, June 16, 2015 at 2 p.m. I was able to take that same jump off that same exact bridge where it all began. Like I said, I was still on that adrenaline high from canyon swing so by this time songs like Eye of a Tiger and Kryptonite were running through my mind because of course I was invincible. The team of experts first wrapped a towel around both my feet and then strapped a handful of different ropes to me. I was then pulled to my feet and waddled like a penguin out to the platform. I’m not going lie, the view over the water was a beautiful one at that, however for some reason the view towards the water looked a little longer down than I had expected. Nevertheless, I waved to the cameras and plunged to my death, getting about a foot from the water. I had hoped to touch the water with my hands but I think I would have needed to put on a few more pounds.

IMG_4149I of course have to first say sorry to Mom and Dad, for not only did I go against your wishes by doing both activities…but remember when you said to at least let someone else go first so I can see how it’s done Mom? Yeah well I may or may not have been the first volunteer for both things AND picked the most dangerous jumps sooo sorry again!

IMG_4200Now, since I’m alive and well, I want to give a big thanks to Mom and Dad. If you couldn’t tell by the pictures, I had the time of my life! The trip just keeps getting better and better and I couldn’t have even dreamed of experiencing this chance of a lifetime without your guys help!

“Be Brave. Take Risks. Nothing Can Substitute Experience.” – Paulo Coelho

Much Love,

Kaitlyn

Queenstown takes the Win

Breathtaking

Breathtaking

As our bus began to enter the country of Queenstown, I could already tell I was going to love this place. The countryside was lined with more sheep farms, as well as tree farms, cattle farms, and just farms in general. In the distance, we slowly began to make out the majestic mountain range, including the famous Remarkables, Cecil Peak, and Walter Peak, all of which surround Lake Wakatipu – in other words you can only imagine the view we were driving towards.

As we entered the busy city, it reminded me of a typical skiing city that you would see in movies. 50% of the shops that lined the streets were snow shops that held any and all supplies, gear, and clothing you would ever need to go skiing, snowboarding and/or do any other winter activity. People walking the streets looked like they were ready for the winter games, decked out in North Face, Columbia, DC, and every other major sporty brand you could think of. As we drove through town, I made eye contact with many stores I knew I would be shopping at later.

The famous Fergburger

The famous Fergburger

We got dropped off in the middle of the city and got to play Frogger once again as all 10 of us ducklings lugged our suitcases in a single-file line behind Leigh and AJ, crossing the streets two at a time. We finally made it to our hostel and got settled in before making our way down the street to the famous Fergburger that Leigh has been preparing us for this whole trip. Bigger than most burgers out there, we ordered in pairs, splitting the burger with fries and drinks. It was definitely worth the line and 30 minute wait – deliciouso!

Just for Kristen

Just for Kristen

As Leigh warned us at the beginning of the trip, we really have been through almost every season from Spring to Fall and now Winter, therefore it came as no surprise when we woke up to 34 degree weather Monday morning. Nevertheless, we bundled up and headed out to explore the city; no rain, snow, sleet, or hail could have kept us from shopping.

Postcard worthy

Postcard worthy

Traveling in groups according to our sleeping patterns AKA early risers versus mid-morning risers, Elizabeth and I were up and at ’em, ready to roll as soon as the first of the stores opened at 9 a.m. Being a tourist town, Queenstown was full of souvenir shops, making our shopping for our family and friends pretty easy. It also had high-end clothing stores, countless jewelry stores, and various restaurants to choose from. As we toured the city, we fell in love with the scenery that surrounded it. Our pictures made it look as if we were photoshopped onto a postcard!

Purchases of the day

Purchases of the day (pictures don’t do them justice)

We found a cute pub called…The Pub, and had our traditional Isaac’s Cider that we’ve grown to love here. Elizabeth had potato wedges – a must have while in NZ – while I tried some BBQ wings; SO messy but SO good. Our splurge for the day came as we entered the Pandora shop. Both Elizabeth and I spoiled ourselves with stackable rings that seemed to shimmer every which way. We still can’t stop staring at them – definitely a good buy, especially since we can say they’re from NZ.

By 2 p.m. we had our gifts bought, had made it up and down the 3 main shopping streets, and were ready for some delicious gelato (Italian ice-cream).

We made our way back to the hostel, only to be told that our group dinner would consist of Fergburgers, and gelato for dessert. Needless to say, we weren’t mad about our supper selection, however our bodies may be later!

Great first day in this beautiful city.

Much Love

Kaitlyn

Glaciers, hiking, and a cute driver

As I mentioned in my last post, our time in Franz Josef consisted of hiking, hiking, and more hiking. Contrary to some of the group, I enjoyed every minute of it…even in the rain. After our hike to Peter’s Pond Friday, we made plans to hike to the famous Franz Josef glacier Saturday afternoon. We had the choice of riding in a helicopter over the glacier where you would touch down on the glacier and head back up (lasting about 20 minutes) or making the close to 6 mile hike across thousands of big rocks and up the mountain (lasting 3 hours+) – I of course chose the second, as it would serve as my workout for the day.

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Our famous bus driver

Our famous bus driver

At the start of the hike we were given boots along with trousers and rain jackets to put over our cloths and keep us dry. Our guide Shauna went over some safety tips and then we boarded the bus that would take us to the beginning of the forrest. Our bus driver, a very “strapping man” as they say here, looked oddly familiar to which Shauna later confirmed that he was the face all over the brochures and banners for the Franz Josef Glacier Guides company. A handful of girls from our group, including AJ, snuck pictures of him as he worked.

War Paint

War Paint with Kris, AJ, and our guide Shauna

Our hike through the forrest was a brief one before we reached the rocky terrain. From there, we did not follow any path but rather made our way across rocks, small streams, and sandy mud to the bottom of the glacier. Along the way, Shauna found crystals for us and showed us how to distinguished them from regular rocks. She would also stop at various boulders or streams and tell us the history of them. At one particular stream, she picked up two rocks and began to rub them together to create a muddy, sandy, watery liquid. She laughed as she told us that many stores in NZ will use this mixture as their “mud masks” and sell it for $30-$40 which in return made us laugh seeing as though a lot of our girls had actually bought some form of it in earlier towns. Nevertheless a few of us used it as “war paint” for the rest of our hike.

Splinter Fault line

Splinter Fault line

Another place she stopped to tell us about was in the middle of the valley where there were two waterfalls, one to our left and the other to our right that lined up almost perfectly. She called these waterfalls “splinter fault lines” in which they are a splinter off of a much larger fault line.

High 5 for surviving!

High 5 for surviving!

We learned that the southern alps mountain range in which we walked through is the smallest and fastest growing mountain ranger in the world. Contrary to one’s belief however, the mountains were still some of the biggest I’ve ever seen…or climbed. Once at the top, we were able to take pictures of the beautiful glacier and sip on some hot chocolate our guide had so kindly brought along for us. While up there, both Shauna and Brittany – seeing as though this was her town she studied – began to tell us the love story of how this glacier was created.

I had to pave the way for most of the trek

I had to pave the way for most of the trek

Legend has it that there once was a glacier maiden and her sweetheart who both loved to hike and would do it often. One day however there was a tragic accident resulting in the death of the maiden’s sweetheart. The maiden was so sad that she cried and cried and her tears began to run down the mountain. Her tears are said to have formed the glacier.

By the time we made it back to our bus, we were frozen to the bone. Thankfully, the crew that had gone on the helicopter ride with Leigh had a delicious chili pasta and hot rolls ready for us as soon as we walked into the hostel.

To end our day, we headed back to the Glacier Guides company for they not only led hikes to the glacier, but they also had hot pools similar to the ones we swam in at the Polynesian spa back in Rotorua. The hot pools definitely hit the spot after a long day of being in the cold rain and I think it’s safe to say we all slept well that night.

IMG_4071While on our hike I picked up a rock to bring back to the hostel and add to the collection on the mantle of the fireplace. There was a large collection of various rocks decorated and signed by various travelers who had stayed at the hostel, therefore I of course had to make sure we Americans were remembered as well.

Sunday has been a full day of traveling. We boarded our bus for Queenstown about 7:30 a.m. and have been traveling ever since. The ride has a been a mixture of napping along withe beautiful scenery like always and as I type, we are about 15 minutes away from our destination. Queenstown holds a lot of fun shops and excursions I’m told so stay tuned!

Much Love,

Kaitlyn

“The hills are alive, with the sound of music!”

Southern Alps

Southern Alps

Thursday was a full day of traveling, leaving Christchurch’s hostel around 7:15 a.m. to head to the train station. We began to figure up and we’ve actually taken close to every means of transportation while on this trip including planes, trains, boats, buses, vans, a cablecar, and we even have the option of riding horses along the beach in Cairns. The TranzAlpine – KiwiRail was much more spacious than our usual tightly-packed buses and the scenery was to die for. To get from Christchurch to Franz Josef, we had to travel through the beautiful Southern Alps mountain range. The scenery from Kaikoura to Christchurch was pretty mesmerizing, but the train ride from Christchurch to Franz Josef definitely gave it a run for it’s money. Snow had just fallen on the mountains the night before, leaving them more beautiful than words can even describe and the streams that ran through the valleys were so refreshing. It really made me want to start singing, “The hills are aliveeee, with the sound of music!”

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Tasman Sea

After 5 hours of alluring scenery on the train, we squeezed onto a bus much smaller than usual and set off for Franz Josef. After a few hours of whipping back and forth and praying my food stayed down, we made a stop in Kokitika, the Jade capital of New Zealand. After getting some fresh air and taking pictures along the shores of the Tasman Sea (the body of water that separates New Zealand and Australia), we unwillingly boarded back onto the bus and finally reached the small town of Franz Josef. When I say small, I mean smaller than Assumption. The town itself is made up of two roads and a handful of small restaurants and hostels/motels.

Josh Plunk

Josh Plunk

Once settled into our hostel, we took a short walk to The Landing for some supper. I had extremely unhealthy, greasy potato skins and they were delicious. To end the day, I found out that Josh Plunk, an old friend from home, was not only studying abroad in NZ but was in Franz Josef AND staying in the motel right next door to ours – WHAT ARE THE ODDS?? Liz and I of course had to go say hi and catch up. Definitely made me think of/miss my friends and family from home.

Today (Friday) consisted of a lazy morning. We were woke up by what sounded to be a tornado siren that lasted at least 3 full minutes if not longer, along with the downpour of rain. Leigh later informed us that this siren signaled either a car crash or a fire had happen in the town. We decided to eat breakfast, however the weather made us all tired again so we lounged around most of the morning. I did get a 30 minute workout in – better than nothing right? The rain calmed to a drizzle and groups of us traveled to the 4 aisle grocery store to find some lunch. IMG_3967

Erika needed a ride and I needed an umbrella: win/win

Erika needed a ride and I needed an umbrella: win/win

"Koalaing" at it's finest

“Koalaing” at it’s finest

Around 3:30 p.m. the rain subsided and the sun began to come out so we layered up for our original excursion for the day: a hike to Peter’s Pond. Having just rained, the clouds rolling over the peaks of the mountains were breathtaking and the sunset was just the cherry on top. After about a 3+ mile hike through the jungle we finally reached Peter’s Pond. Apparently when it’s sunny out it’s a reflecting pond, however by the time we made it to the pond, it had began to sprinkle again. Fortunately, the hike in itself was a fun one and we got great pictures along the way.

We ended out night with delicious stir-fry made by our two Mama’s for the month – they definitely know how to cook – and a few of us ended the night watching Bridesmaids together.

It keeps getting colder the further south we go and I keep wishing I would have packed warmer clothes and been less optimistic. Nevertheless, we’re having fun, making memories, and having the chance of a lifetime.

Short & Sweet

Morning run view

Morning run view

Our first and only day in Christchurch was spent exploring as always. Elizabeth and I started our morning with a run through the 12 acre botanical gardens of Christchurch and as always, they didn’t disappoint. I tell the girls here that it feels like I’m a smoker having withdrawals when it comes to exercise. With all the traveling we’ve been doing, I haven’t been able to run or workout except twice! We walk everywhere when we’re in a city so that helps a little, but running is my stress reliever and on a trip with 11 other females, sometimes a run does me good 😉

IMG_3758Nevertheless, after our run/workout, we headed back to shower and around 10:30 all 10 of us girls headed out to explore the city, in search of the biggest mall on the south island – Winfield. After talking a stroll through the botanical gardens again (I may or may not have taken them on the scenic route) we walked another 10 blocks and found our destination. We of course hit up Cotton On, a store similar to Forever 21 that has pretty much been a tradition to stop at on this trip, having visited 3 thus far. We also found a store called Jay Jay’s that was having a summer sale – seeing as though it’s winter here. Almost everyone in the group purchased something from there, more specifically from the $10 dress/romper rack.

IMG_3755After exploring the two story mall, half of us went to a sit down restaurant called the Running Bull, while the other half went to a fast Sushi place. My chicken club at the Running Bull was so good I had to take a picture.

Making it back to the hostel in the mid afternoon, most of us took naps or just relaxed, while AJ and Leigh graciously made us home made chicken pot pie for supper. For not being a big fan of chicken pot pie, it wasn’t too bad. The chocolate ice-cream for dessert of course put the cherry on top.

Over all, our time in Christchurch was short and sweet, and as I write, we are currently getting ready to catch a train to Franz Josef.

Much Love,

Kaitlyn