By Megan Hitchcock (University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia).
Well, Sydney for new year was definitely something I’ll remember forever. Dad and I joined some of my friends and found a spot on the beach appropriate for a good view of the fireworks. The new year was seen in sitting with a drink in knee high water watching the spectacular fireworks from the Harbour Bridge – wow. I’d definitely recommend adding that to the bucket list if you haven’t already been there for yew year. Also Field Day on New Year’s Day – festival next to the harbour, another fun addition to my new Year.
The rest of our few days was spent being ‘proper tourists’ and taking the classic photos – Opera House etc, and a day on a boat on the harbour, taking in all the views from the water – something else I’d definitely recommend doing! This felt like a good beginning to the father-daughter bonding holiday – five incredible days down, ten more to go.
Next stop – Hawkes Bay, NZ. The next leg of my incredible summer holiday was to do the important family rounds. One of the reasons I wanted to study over this side of the world was to get a chance to see my family more often, and being with Dad seemed like the perfect opportunity. Flying into Napier I spotted my Uncle waiting to pick us up, and I knew I had arrived at my southern hemisphere home. Dad and I spent ten days making sure we saw every single member of my Mum’s (very large) family all at least once, without missing anyone out. It has been lovely to catch up with everyone again, and we even managed to get there in time to help my oldest Aunt see in her 70th birthday! We broke the time driving between Napier and Hastings by taking a trip down to Wellington to see some more of the family that live down there in NZ’s capital, the ‘windy city’. The ten days in NZ with Dad went by so quickly, and it was so sad to say bye to him – knowing this is the long stretch of not seeing anyone at home. However for me, this was only the beginning of my NZ adventure, as while Dad hopped on his flight to America, I flew down to Christchurch to stay with my friend – also called Megan – and then to do the ‘Kiwi Experience’, the bus around the South Island.
Having had so many trips over the years to see Mum’s family in NZ, you’d think I’d know the country pretty well, however because of the extent of the family we have to see we haven’t had a chance to see much of the South Island as well. Along with catching up with family I really wanted to use my amazing opportunity of being ‘down under’ for an extended period of time to see some of what the South Island has to offer. The South Island adventure began by staying with another Megan, an old friend who I last saw aged 16. It was great to catch up with her, and also a great base for a good night’s sleep before ten days of hostels on the road! The beginning to my Kiwi Experience was definitely not the same as the ones others have recounted to me: I arrived at an empty bus stop, to get on a bus with one other girl, who I then found out was leaving the next day. We picked up some more people, and they were all leaving the next day too. It was quite a testing start to my solo travelling as I had to realise there was a chance I wouldn’t have a solid travelling group for my time in the South Island.
If my spirits were dampened, however, then what better way to pick them up than by the opportunity to swim with dolphins when reaching Kaikoura – one of my definite items on my bucket list! With my minor fear of open water, and no one I knew at all doing it, it was definitely very testing for me. However, I got my wetsuit and snorkel on and was in for every drop in the sea for the same length of time as everyone else! – Needless to say I’m very proud of myself (normally I’m an in-out snorkeler). Swimming with the dolphins was incredible – at each stop there was literally hundreds of dolphins swimming around, all so inquisitive and within touching distance! Definitely an experience I will never forget. If that wasn’t an incredible start to my trip it was only about to get better – a 16,500 ft skydive (the second highest skydive in NZ) over the Abel Tasman National Park.
After ticking off the water fear, the next one to test was my heights fear, however I coped pretty well. After harnessing and everything, the whole plane ride up I was so excited and it was only when the plane doors opened that the nerves started to kick in. It was probably the most incredible but surreal experience I have ever had and the views were out of this world. From this location you could see both the North and South island, the mountain range, a lake and the Tasman sea – just wow. I still found it pretty scary at points but the views and the adrenaline rush definitely took over! Just beginning to meet people that were doing the rest of the trip with me, it all stayed on a high. The jam-packed Kiwi experience meant that after a night in Kaiteriteri at the national park, the next stop was rainy Westport with a spot of jetboating on the way. Here we experienced just how lovely NZers are, when walking through the rain to find the local supermarket and a random woman offering to give us a lift to it. Next stop Franz Josef and the Franz Josef glacier – we had a helicopter ride onto the glacier and then spent the main section of the day having a guided walk on it, which was amazing. It’s incredible that within just a few hours you can surf on a beach, sit by a lake in the sun and then be on a snow covered glacier all wrapped up! From Franz we went to Wanaka and checked out the lake, and then onto the adrenaline capital of the world, Queenstown – I absolutely fell in love with Queenstown. After deciding not to do a bungey, way too scary and to save some of my money after a very packed few days, Queenstown was surprisingly quiet on the activity front for me, but I loved it. Set next to the water, within the mountains, I felt like I was in paradise. The views from the top of the gondala were out of this world and it doesn’t do too badly on a night out either! Cocktails out of teapots made me think of home, haha! Probably the most important thing I did in Queenstown was eating a world-renowned Fergbuger. The hugest burger you’ll ever eat – a challenge for sure, especially if like me you picked a ½ lb burger by accident! The end of my time in Queenstown also meant leaving behind the three girls who I had spent the majority of my trip with as they were staying there to work, although the goodbyes were sad, hopefully they will come and visit me in Perth before they head home. Next it was just a quick stop off at Lake Tekapo for a night before heading back into Christchurch again for a couple of days with Megan to conclude my time in NZ. Having said goodbye to Megan I’m now on the way back to Australia, to the east coast to begin my road trip from Byron Bay up to Cairns – next stop Byron Bay for Australia Day!