Hoppin’ Around the Gold Coast

 

I’ve gone a little bit too long without writing, but it has been a busy couple of weeks! It is coming close to the end of the year, so all of us have had assignments out the wazoo. I took a vacation this weekend and went to the Gold Coast with my cousin Kelsey and my flat mate Mara. We had an absolute blast! I have loved everywhere in Australia that I have gone.

We left Friday early in the morning, so we didn’t get much, if any, sleep. We landed and took several buses to get to the university and leave our bags with my friend, Brittany.  We had some lunch, went to the pool for an hour, and then hopped back on a bus to go to the races. We happened to pick a crazy weekend to go, as the Gold Coast 600 was going on. We went to the car races on Friday afternoon and the 600 sounds concert afterward.

After each day of races was a concert down the road. The races were fun and were a neat experience, but the concert was the highlight of the day. We heard five or six big Australian bands/DJs and danced all night. They were mostly techno, but it was so much fun watching them get so into their own music, dancing and laughing on stage. We got back that night and passed out!

Saturday was an early rise. Mara and I went grocery shopping for our lunch and were sent the complete opposite direction by someone we stopped to ask for help. Our ten minute walk turned into an hour, so we were late leaving for Dream World, one of the popular amusement parks in the Gold Coast. We bought a day pass to both Dream World and White Water World, which are connected. It opened at 10 and closed at 5, and we were there all day! They had so many fun rides in Dream World, where we were most of the day. We started with the biggest roller coaster so nothing else would be as bad. I was proud of myself; I didn’t chicken out of anything! I did skip one ride I figured would make me feel sick, but I think it was a wise decision. We also saw the tiger show. They are magnificent creatures; so beautiful and strong. We watched one leap from the ground to about 10-15 feet up a tree! Two of the coolest rides were the Buzzsaw and the Motocoaster. On the Motocoaster, you sat on a motorcycle and the harness held you onto it from your back. You took off and it felt like you were riding a motorcycle on the rollercoaster tracks! It was fast and super fun. The Buzzsaw is their newest ride and I almost chickened out, but made myself go. The roller coaster went straight up in the air, hung there for a while, rolled sideways and backward, and came straight down the other side. Then it went straight up and back down again. It was so much fun; I would have done it over and over!!! Yesterday when I turned on the news, however, they were showing a clip of the Buzzsaw. The coaster had gotten stuck half upside down with people in it and emergency workers were called to get them out!!! I was on it two days before that happened!!! Scary, but I lucked out.

White Water World was the most fun water park I have ever been to! All of us were in agreement on that. The rides were unique and so much fun, but we only had about an hour in that park because we spent so long in Dream World. We made it count, though! Our first ride was a slide into a toilet bowl looking thing. We sat on a four person raft and the slide was pitch black. We suddenly had a ten foot drop that we weren’t expecting, so we all thought we were going to fall off! We spun around and around in the bowl and got dumped out the middle. We also went in the Green Room, which was another four person raft and a drop where you slid up one wall and back across to go up another until you lost momentum. It seemed impossible that none of us flew off on that one. The water coaster was so much fun too! I have never seen a ride like it. We went on two-person rafts and down a slide and part-way up another, where a belt would pull us the rest of the way. Water was spraying on us the whole time and the drops were fast. It was a blast. The one ride Brittany and I skipped was the Wedgie. You stood in a capsule where the floor dropped from under you and you fell straight down and then slid the rest of the way. I feel fine about skipping it.

Right after the parks, we went to a place called Infinity. It was one of my absolute favorite parts of the trip, and we definitely got our money’s worth. It cost $20 to get in and it was the trippiest, coolest, most fun place ever! It was a building full of rooms with lights and mirrors and bouncy floors and lasers and everything you can think of. The first room was all mirrors, even the ceilings and floors. We wore gloves and slippers over our shoes to protect the mirrors and guide us when it went dark. There were a couple mirror rooms and then one that was pitch black except for “stars” everywhere. There was a room where the floors were squishy and the walls were inflated, so you had to push through them. There was a room where the floors and walls were bouncy and you just knocked off all of them. There was a room with a bridge that looked like it hung over nothing. We tried crossing it bouncing without touching the rails. It felt like you were going to shoot into the abyss! Our favorite room had giant bouncy balls. There were mirrors everywhere and exercise balls anywhere from three feet in diameter to five. We stayed in there the longest, throwing them at each other, jumping from one to the other, rolling around the room, bouncing. It was the coolest thing ever! There were also rooms with laser lights and smoke and streamers and strobe lights. We spent about 45 minutes in there and could have spent so much longer. I definitely want to go back!

We went home after that and passed out again. Sunday was another early rise. We took the bus to town and walked to a car rental place, where I drove out nervously with a car under my name! I drove all day, giving Mara and Kelsey both a turn, and did incredible! We didn’t get lost once, didn’t get in any close calls, didn’t drive on the wrong side of the road, and got the car safely back. I was so proud of myself! Our first stop was Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.

It was half-price this weekend, so we got in for $20 and skipped the animals, going straight to the ropes course. We spent almost three hours on the course, and did all three of the different courses, choosing the most challenging side each time. It definitely challenged us and was a work-out. It was a lot of fun and much harder than I expected it to be.

We were proud of ourselves when we finished. We hopped in the car and started the hour drive to Byron Bay. We lost an hour since we crossed back into New South Wales, which we hadn’t taken into account, so we didn’t get much time to see the town. It was a hippy town for sure, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. There were so many really cool shops (a bunch of which were closed). I got some cool rings and feathers in my hair. We walked to the beach and ran into a jam sesh. There were about twenty very different people playing different types of drums and dancing on the beach. We watched for about half an hour, then found a pub to watch the World Cup game. New Zealand won! (Yay), but France made it a close game. It wasn’t a very exciting game to watch, but I’m glad it was at least close. We drove back that night, got ready at Brittany’s, and went to town to meet my friends Melissa and Cristy at the pub.

We danced all night with them and then Mara and I went swimming in the ocean at 3:30 in the morning! Some cops came to talk to us to make sure we were safe and sober because a lot of people get carried out in rips. They talked to us for a long time; apparently their job is boring but for people like us! We made friends that night with some guys that had too much to drink, so we drove them home so they wouldn’t drive and hung out until I had to take the girls to the airport at 5 in the morning. I dropped them and then napped for part of the day until I went to meet Melissa at the beach. We went to Hard Rock Café with her flat mate and watched a movie. Tuesday, I met two friends at the beach for a few hours. We built a sand castle and buried one of my friends. It was fun pretending to be 8 years old again! I showered at Melissa’s and did homework for a couple hours, and at night we went out. We went to a Brazilian party after Ladies’ Night at another club.

Wednesday I met up with my great uncle and his wife for lunch. We had a great time talking and learning about each other. I would love to go back and stay with them for a few days if I get the chance! I get home late tonight and go straight back to school tomorrow! Crazy weekend, fun filled and expensive, but so worth it.

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The Best Week Ever

 

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I just had one of the best weeks of my life, so this will be a long post! We had a holiday last Monday and most of my classes were cancelled, so I decided to skip one class on Thursday and go scuba diving in Cairns. I figured I needed a full week to really enjoy diving. I flew up on Monday by myself and got to my hostel. It was pretty quiet and I was lonely from traveling with 30 other students for 2 weeks, so I walked around the shopping centre until dinner. I went to bed early that night since there was nothing to do and I would be getting up at 6:30 the next morning.

I woke up in a panic that I had overslept and missed the shuttle, but I was actually early. I didn’t trust myself to go back to sleep, so I packed my bags and headed down to the front to wait for my ride. The driver was really friendly and talkative. We picked up three other boys from California and went to the shop for paperwork.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had a two and a half hour ride on the water to our boat, the Kangaroo Explorer. I stayed on the top deck with the California guys and talked to them and enjoyed the ride. Well, I did. One or two of them was fighting some bad seasickness.

The KE only comes into port once a month to refuel and restock the major things. Otherwise, the day boat we left on meets it every day to deliver passengers and random goods. The boat we stayed on was pretty small and is supposed to hold 40 people, although I don’t know how! (746) Upon boarding, I found out that there was only one other certified diver on the boat besides myself. I roomed with her and we had some great dives and talks together. My first dive was at one with her and an instructor named Ben. Unfortunately, I got a cold on Monday and the dive was so painful on my ears! I couldn’t equalize or go past 25 feet. I was so scared that the whole trip was going to be like that, but the instructors told me to keep trying and just go slowly. The second dive was much better but still a little uncomfortable. We had a night dive the first day as well and didn’t go very deep on that one.

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That night we went into port to refuel. Everyone else on the boat went to bed around 8:30 so I stayed up and played cards with the crew. When we got to Cairns, I helped them restock the boat. We were up until almost 2 am moving boxes, breaking them down, and storing supplies. We had fun while we did it though! They kept trying to get me to go to bed, but I was determined to help. The next day they adopted me as part of the crew 🙂

We had to wake up at 5:30 am for our first 6:00 dive!! I finally rolled out of bed around 5:50 and pulled my wetsuit and gear on. We went to about 100 feet on the first dive and my guide, Marc was showing my some cool stuff. I signed up to do an “Advanced Adventurer” course, so he was my guide for four dives. He peeled an egg apart and showed me how the yolk was so compressed it stayed in a little ball. We passed it back and forth until I hit it too hard and it exploded on him! He showed me how an apple lost all its color and a water bottle he brought down had been smooshed flat.

I had four dives on Wednesday and every one of them was wonderful. We went to some incredible dive sites where the fish was cool to look at and the coral was stunning. I loved all the colors and different types of everything! We had more people get on the boat the second day, so less room for the crew to hang out.  I went to bed early and was rocked to sleep.

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At six the next morning, it was a bit chillier than usual, but amazingly beautiful. I dove at six, eight, and I almost cried when I put on my wetsuit for the last time at 11:00. Every single dive was different with different areas to explore, gorgeous coral, beautiful and interesting fish. I was so sad that my trip was coming to an end.

 

 

 

I am putting only selected pictures on so you don’t have to look at 300 pictures of fish I thought were cool, but there are some I just had to share! The colors of some fish were so incredibly vivid. I saw a barracuda every day and a school of them the last day. I saw two sea turtles, several sharks, and several rays. One of the guides got 2 meters away from a shark with my camera, so there’s a good picture in there somewhere. On my last dive, a fish swam past me that could have easily eaten me. It was a Maori Wrasse, about 6 feet long and 2-3 feet tall. It was enormous! I couldn’t believe it was just a fish!!! That was one of the coolest things I saw besides a lion fish! I put a picture of the lion fish in too, which was the number one thing I wanted to see. The instructor told me he’d never seen one in the Great Barrier Reef, but the next dive we found it!

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One of my favorite parts of the whole week was the people I got to meet. I became good friends with my roommate, Susan, and with the crew. I loved talking to everyone, finding out what they are doing with their lives and where they see themselves going. Everyone had so many interesting, and different, stories. I had such an incredible time in such an incredible place and I think everyone needs to go to the Great Barrier Reef. Pictures don’t do it justice.

On the boat, I was purely happy for the whole week. My good mood has carried over to this week as well and I’m planning to do a volunteer week on the boat after my finals. If I work on the boat for one week for no pay, I get free food, board, and diving. It sounds like a dream come true to me, so I think I’ll jump at the chance.

Some Queenstown Escapades

It had been a crazy week and I’m in love with Queenstown! It’s our last night here and I already can’t wait to come back. We got here Sunday afternoon and celebrated with a pizza dinner and a night out with the group. My friends and I met some cool Aussies and Irish guys to hang out with. Monday, we had a little bit of a sleep-in and headed to the Shotover River. We went on a jetboat, which was really neat. I didn’t exactly understand the concept until we were on it. It was a bit like doing donuts and fishtailing in a car, but we were in a boat centimeters from rocks! It was exciting, but freezing! We had about half an hour to warm up and headed to the white water rafting office. We were fitted into wet suits, jackets, booties, and life jackets and transported by bus to a helicopter pad. Two helicopters rotated picking up groups of six and taking us to the start of our rafting adventure. They weren’t any normal helicopter rides, either! The pilot flew in Vietnam and decided to entertain us with some tricks and drops in the sky. It was awesome! I was in the first group to fly to the river, so we had time to kill. We walked around, skipped rocks, and talked. I found a flat rock that produced shiny silver powder when I ground it, so we played around putting it on as eye-shadow. I had a “brilliant” idea and put war paint on everyone’s cheeks and we became the warrior team. It actually stayed on our faces almost the whole ride down the river! Our team was awesome and the guide was really cool. We did a great job staying on through all the rapids. The only time anyone went overboard is when we pushed each other in or when we purposely slammed into a giant rock J It was freezing water, but we had a blast! I don’t have any pictures but the ones I bought because my camera isn’t waterproof.

Tuesday was just as wild! We slept in a bit after a night on the town and then headed up the gondola to the top of the mountain. We did luge racing down the different tracks and checked in to bungy jump. I wasn’t nervous until we passed The Ledge on the way up. 113 Oh my GOODNESS it was so far down!!! I was terrified, but knew I had to do it! I did one luge race on the easy track with my friends and then went to take pictures of people jumping. When it was our turn, my stomach was flipping all crazy. 109 My legs started shaking and I didn’t know how I was going to do it. The guide counted to three but I wasn’t ready! All my friends started cheering and I closed my eyes and pretended I was Pocahontas running to jump off the cliff into the river where her friend was waiting at the beginning of the movie. I got my mindset established and took off in a perfect Pocahontas dive! Except…I screamed really loud when I went over the edge! The first second that your feet are in the air and you are facing down is terrifying, but the feeling after that second was amazing! It was so incredible, so much fun! I would have done it again if I could!

…and so it begins

Saturday we hiked Fox Glacier. We stayed in a very nice hostel in a tiny town. It was like a big house. Everyone had use of the kitchen and gathered at separate times to cook or eat. There were movies to borrow and a bookshelf to exchange books (which I took advantage of!) The lady that ran it was very friendly and accommodating, and I shared a room with four other nice girls. We woke up and had to be at the glacier guide building by 8 am. It was cold and rained all day long! Thankfully, they lent us waterproof pants and jackets as well as heavy-duty hiking boots, mittens, backpacks, and hats. We started the tour with a half hour walk over rocks leading up to the glacier.  The tour guide passed time by telling us stories of tourists that had died in recent years by not following directions and wandering off the trail. She got her point across and most of us followed closely behind. When we reached the ice, we had to put crampons on (metal teeth under our boots) to give us grip on the slippery parts. We spent about an hour or less on the ice, crossing little and large streams. Our guide showed us a mulan, one by one. It’s a deep hole in the ice where water flows down and through the glacier. She warned us that if someone fell in, they most likely would not come out. She said there is no way of knowing where it ends up, deep in the glacier. It was a little scary peering over the edge, but she was there to hold on to us.  I have a miner picture on the glacier right here: We didn’t actually use the pick; the guides did to carve out steps for us. However, I am not the only Texan on this trip! As a matter of fact, I am not the only El Pasoan on this trip. Of 30 students on my New Zealand spring break tour, there are FIVE UTEP miners!!! How crazy is that? The world can be so small sometimes! I had never met any of them, but we can’t believe running into each other like this. One girl practically lives across the street from me at home, but I never knew her! That’s been really cool, so we’ve been getting to know each other. I am so excited for this trip! We have a lot of exciting things in store 🙂

The end of one story…

Our last day in Wellington, Hannah and I walked around and explored. We went to the botanical gardens and saw some monuments. The observatory was too expensive, so we just looked at the outside. The skyline of Wellington is so beautiful! I felt right at home when we wandered into a part of the garden that was dedicated to cacti. Since there are so many tourists coming to New Zealand because of the World Cup, the gardens did special exhibitions and planted the flags of the countries with flowers. Many had not yet bloomed, so we were only able to see a few and I couldn’t get a good picture! It’s a neat idea, though, and a way to welcome each country.  We saw some cool bumpy leaves that Hannah just HAD to touch. I told her they were probably poisonous and she would break out in a rash. Of course, she didn’t! They had so many different types of flowers, and I wish I could bring them home for my grandma! It was relaxing to take our time walking around the different paths. We were sad to leave our friends but excited for our upcoming tour! We met our classmate at the airport and shared a shuttle to the hostel. The driver showed us damage that has not yet been repaired from the major earthquakes last year. He said much of Queenstown is now a ghost town and the central business district is still deserted. Our guide told us that in the past six months, there have been over 1,000 earthquakes! He said that it is likely we experience one while we are here, although it shouldn’t be big. Yikes! This tour is going to be action packed and exciting!

The beginning of a long break

After an incredibly stressful week in school, it is finally spring break. I picked the best semester to come to Australia! I get a 2-week spring break this month and another one in March when I’m back home. 🙂
I signed up for a 10 day tour of New Zealand’s south island, but have a friend studying abroad on the north island, so Hannah and I flew up a few days early to spend some time with him.

First on our list was a Rugby World Cup game, South Africa against Fiji. We landed in the airport at 5:00 and caught a taxi to my friend Jacob’s flat. He wasn’t there, but his flat mates gave us a warm arrival! We spent enough time to dump our bags, gather some warm clothes, and get directions and had to leave right away. The game started at 6:00!

It was about a 20-30 minute walk to the stadium down incredibly steep hills, but in a beautiful city. I remember regretting the capability of film as I took pictures. I wish a picture could capture the briskness of the air, the smells and sounds. Nothing is quite the same as first hand experience.

This place is absolutely beautiful. The game was so much fun! The crowd was cheering and clapping loudly the whole game and everyone was so excited. I felt so bad for Fiji. South Africa killed them 3 to 49! It was sad to watch for that reason, but it was exciting and I had fun. The fans were crazy and dedicated, and we had fun picking out the wildest outfits. It was over too quickly, but definitely a good experience. We walked back and had an awesome night out dancing on the town! We explore Wellington the rest of this week and fly to Christchurch on Thursday.

Summer in the sun… or winter watching waves?

As I recently posted, my friends and I went to Newcastle on Saturday. I don’t want to spend a single free day sitting at home in my room, unless I’m bogged down with homework! Even then, I’d rather do it on the beach 🙂 Saturday was a free day, so we made the 2 1/2 hour trek to Newcastle, up the coast. I’m rather glad that the art exhibition was going on because I feel like I’m chasing beaches. The ones in Sydney are beautiful, so if I can spend time on those, why travel 5 hours for a beach? it turned out to be worth it, as there was so much more to take in.

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Newcastle isn’t a busy town, especially on nice days when everyone is at the beach. We walked around and looked at some shops, but there weren’t many people shopping for a Saturday afternoon! We had delicious steak sandwiches for lunch that had beet root on them. It was an interesting taste on meat, but not bad at all! I ate very carefully, as I have a habit of making a mess and didn’t want the pomegranate colored vegetable falling on me! I would like to mention that it was a success.

Although it wasn’t busy, it was beautiful and had much to offer a day- tourist. We climbed the 180 stairs to the top of an enclosed lookout tower and were able to see for miles. (Or kilos….) There was a guitarist singing at the cafe below us, so we climbed down to enjoy the music for a bit. We continued along the coast walk, stopping to look at all the art I posted about on Wednesday. Our last stop was the beach.

This is the hard part for me. I am from the desert, but am I true water girl. I have never visited a beach without touching the water and would love more than anything to live on or near the water.

 Any water will do as long as I’m allowed in! I left summer at home, with daily temperatures over 100 to come here to the 40s and 50s. It’s been pure torture visiting beaches and being too cold to swim! I felt the water in Newcastle, which was actually much warmer than in Sydney. I was at least able to walk barefoot along the tide line until I got surprised and hit with a wave that wet my pants and left me slightly uncomfortable.

It was a beautiful day, though, and a beautiful beach. Instead of spending a hot summer day in the sun at the beach, we spent the winter’s day watching the waves and taking pictures. We left far too soon, as I could have spent hours and hours sitting in the sand and listening to the water.

Everything is so beautiful here and I can’t wait for summer to come and for the weather to warm up. Until then, I’ll be staying out of the water and staying on sand!