I have had the amazing opportunity to spend my sixth semester of college as an exchange student at the University of Technology Sydney, located in the heart of Sydney, Australia. I arrived in the beginning of February and will be here until July 17. I still haven’t gotten used to the fact that it’s autumn here and am very jealous of all of you back in the states who are enjoying the warmth of springtime in the South. The weather actually isn’t all that bad here in Sydney, though it has been a struggle training my brain to think in degrees Celsius.
The main reason I was attracted to Australia as a study abroad location was because I have an ancestral line from this side of the world. My paternal grandmother was born in Sydney and lived in Auckland, NZ during the majority of her childhood. When I was accepted into my exchange program in Sydney, I knew I would have to visit New Zealand while I was abroad to see where my grandmother grew up. So for my mid-semester break at the end of April, three friends of mine and I toured the country for a week, spending two full days in Auckland on the north island and the rest of the trip on the south island in Queenstown and Christchurch.
On my first day in Auckland, I took a morning bus tour of the city to get acclimated to the area. An experienced tour guide told us a lot of facts and information about the largest city in New Zealand, and drove us around to see many parks, museums, and beautiful views Auckland had to offer. Later that afternoon, I took a ferry from the city to the northern suburbs of Devonport and Takapuna where I would find the houses in which my grandmother was raised. I am sure the area looks a lot different than it did seventy years ago, but I still was able to find the locations at the three addresses my grandmother provided before my trip. It felt a bit odd to walk around residential areas taking photos of random people’s houses, albeit the area was beautiful, built upon rolling hills surrounded by blue harbor waters. I now know where I have inherited my love for the coast!
The next day, I got to see a bit more of the north island outside of the city. I took a tour of the Waitomo glowworm caves located about a two hours’ drive south of the city. Inside these natural limestone caves lives a species of the misleadingly named glowworms, which are actually fungus gnat larvae that live on the ceilings and walls of the caves. These insects are luminescent, meaning their bodies give off light that is easily visible inside the pitch black areas of the caves in which they live. The tour included a boat ride through the darkest areas of the caves that were covered in worms. Unfortunately, no one is allowed to photograph the worms because the light from the camera flash as well as the infrared focusing technology of most modern cameras can harm the insects. I luckily will always have the images in my head of the glowworms overhead, which looked a lot like a very bright and beautiful star-filled sky over the black caves.
Later that day, I visited a large farm nearby in which Peter Jackson chose to film most of the green, hilly, outdoor scenes of his Lord of the Rings films. The original set pieces were torn down after the filming of the first three films, but the set was rebuilt permanently when production began on the Hobbit trilogy. Now that the three Hobbit movies have been filmed, the area is now known colloquially known as Hobbiton, and tours of the set are offered to the public. I will admit that I am not a die-hard LOTR fan, but my roommate and a lot of my friends would have killed me if I didn’t take this opportunity to see the beautiful area where the films were shot. Hobbiton consists of numerous little hobbit holes, gardens, and trees. One of the large oaks on set was completely artificial but definitely could have fooled me! My favorite part of the tour was our visit at the end to the Green Dragon, a pub featured in the films. The outside of the inn on the set was used for actual filming, while the interior scenes were filmed in a studio. However, the inside of the building was rebuilt in the likeness of the films for tour guests. I even got to taste a pint of ale that is part of a line brewed specifically for the set tours!
After a long day of tours, my friends and I awoke early the next morning for our flight down to Queenstown. I had heard amazing things about the area from people I know who have visited New Zealand, but they didn’t set in until our plane neared landing. I have never had better views out of a plane window than what I saw landing into Queenstown. We flew over miles and miles of rocky mountain peaks capped with snow, and rolling green valleys beneath them. I was able to take a few photos, but none of them could truly capture the beauty of the mountains that surround this amazing area.
On our first day, we took a gondola ride up Bob’s Peak, one of the “smaller” mountains that loom over the town. At the top were the most amazing views of the city and the other mountains and waters around it. We spent a couple hours simply gazing on the viewing platform. They also had this luge track that you could ride down in a little luge cart. It was a lot like go-karting, but these carts didn’t have a motor – you just rolled down the hill. It was a bit scary but lot of fun!
While in Queenstown, I went with a friend on an hour jet boat ride through Lake Wakatipu and two rivers that flow out of the lake. It was one of those speed boats that bounces and spins and tips and other crazy antics. I was afraid to take my camera, but I wish I had, because the views from the boat were spectacular! Most of the rest of our visit included exploring the town, eating at a lot of great “kiwi” restaurants, and shopping in many souvenir shops and markets. I even went to an ice bar, where the inside walls and tables were completely made of ice. I got to drink out of an ice glass!
We also got to enjoy some lovely scenery on our bus ride from Queenstown to Christchurch, where we only spent one night in an attempt to find our cheapest way back to Australia. There are some extremely beautiful reflective waters in New Zealand! On the way, our bus driver stopped specifically for us to grab some photos of the beautiful Mount Cook, the tallest peak in New Zealand.
Before my week across the ditch (a native phrase for the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand), I spent five days in the beautiful island state of Tasmania off of Australia’s southeast corner. In March, I took a weekend to visit a friend of mine studying in the second largest Australian city of Melbourne. I will be traveling to the outback during the first weekend in June, Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef at the end of June, and the beautiful Whitsunday Islands for spend my five final days in Australia.
The exchange program I was accepted into works in a way in which I was still able to use the funds provided to me through the Simple Gifts Scholarship that I received in 2011. Without my scholarship, I probably wouldn’t have been able to have such an enriching opportunity while in college as my study abroad experience has been, and I am very thankful for that!
Also, Happy Mother’s Day to all, particularly my mother, the lovely and talented Kathy Day, who has to deal with her daughter living halfway across the world for another two months. I love and miss you Mom, and promise to bring you back a nice Mother’s Day gift from Sydney!