My Big Fat Australian Backpack Trip

So now that my time in New Zealand is done, I headed across the ocean to the bigger of the Oceana continents for a big trip up the Easy Coast of Australia. One of my best friends, Heidi, flew into Sydney and we traveled together. It was so nice not to be a solo traveler anymore and I had a blast over the twenty days I was there.

Melbourne

My wonderful New Zealand host mum was actually not a kiwi at all, but Australian. She’s born and bred in Melbourne, and sold it to me as a place to visit, so I flew down a few days earlier than Heidi to check it out. Long story short, it did not disappoint. It did, however, get off to a rocky start. I arrived at 11:30pm Australian time, which is 1:30am New Zealand time. I had a grumpy (and expensive) taxi ride to my Airbnb near the airport and checked in there for the night. Then I woke up the next morning to find my purse gone. Now I wasn’t sure if I had left it in the taxi, near the door of the Airbnb, or if it had just plain been stolen. At first I stayed calm and just tried to make phone calls to the Airbnb site manager, taxi company, and Police but no one was answering. By this point I was a bit more distraught and right before I left to actually find the police station, the Airbnb people called back to say they had it and all was resolved. Well, resolved after a very expensive phone bill as I had to use my New Zealand account for all these calls.

I had an easy train ride into the CBD and could properly begin exploring Melbourne. I could tell I loved it right from the start. The architecture is fantastic, there’s a good amount of hustle and bustle, and it’s full of cool quirky places. I spent four nights total and saw heaps of amazing places. One day I’d like to live here, Toronto, Wellington, or Austin and work in a cool museum I think.

On day one I explored the city centre and got acquainted with the amazing tram system. Day two took me to the really cool city market, the Italian precinct, a nap in the park, the museum, and St Kilda Beach to watch Penguins return to their nests. Day three involved the bohemian suburb of Fitzroy and its quirky Brunswick Street, I went down to the up-and-coming dockyard neighbourhood, and to the cool Federation Square harbour front area. Then early to bed for a 6am flight the next day.


Sydney

After very little sleep, and a lot of flight delays, I finally made it to Sydney and was reunited with Heidi. There may have been tears as we were both a wee bit overtired and emotional. We essential had one day to see all of Sydney and headed straight to the hostel and then walked 10 miles around most of the city. We walked through the gardens to the opera house and Bridge, along the harbour, through the old colonial neighbourhood of “The Rocks,” through the CBD shopping area, across to Darling harbour, and home through Chinatown. Didn’t see everything we wanted to but definitely made the most of our one day!

 

Barrington Tops

The next morning Heidi and I hoped on with our Loka bus. If you remember the Stray Bus company I used in New Zealand, Loka is the same idea. A big backpacker party/adventure bus. On our first day we stopped off in the Hunter Valley to do a wine tour. I had some delicious wine, and a surprisingly tasty chocolate stout beer. Then we went up to Barrington Tops national park where we went tubing down river rapids and had a big old Australian house party. Not going to say too much about that night because my mother reads this!

 

 

Spot X

The next morning we headed further up the east coast with a stop at a koala sanctuary, which was adorable. Most of them were in there for bad cases of chlamydia (which they cannot pass on to humans thank goodness). Then we headed to Spot X surf camp for the night. Our bus driver Fraser cooked us an amazing meal of chicken fajitas and we sat around a campfire for a bit.

 

 

River Retreat

The morning at Spot X we got to do a surf lesson which was observed by wild dolphins! Then we headed to a river for our accommodations and a canoe trip. It was really nice and relaxing to be out on the river. We had a chance to maybe see wild platypus families and a massive python, but neither animals were out that day. Sad.  Had a big group barbecue and campfire. Not going to lie, my fear of seeing massive spiders at this location was very high and I refused to go to the toilet because I thought that was where they would be hiding. Fantastically chilled out vibe for the night. The group of us on the bus get along really well and it’s been good fun.

 

 

Byron Bay

The next stop was Bryon Bay for two nights. Byron is what I like to think of as the hippie capital of Australia. Everything is patterned and baggy and there’s a drum circle on the beach every sunset. My friends from the bus and I participated in it and it was fantastic. Nothing like dancing in the water slightly tipsy at sunset. I spent most of the two days chilling on the beach and Heidi and I went sea kayaking with humpback whales one day. They swam right up to the boats and it was absolutely magical. They’re so big and graceful and I’m totally in awe.

 

 

Noosa

The next place we went for the night was Noosa. We drove through the Gold Coast and Brisbane dropping some people off and picking up more. Heidi and I would have liked to hop off and see the sights but we just don’t have enough time. Noosa was fantastic and probably the Florida of Australia. A big retirement community and a popular holiday destination. The town had a very Mediterranean feel which was a bit odd. We had a great time exploring the shops and the beach costal sites for the evening and next morning.

 

 

Emu Park

Next place we went was called Emu Park. There were no emus. To get to there we had to go on a seven-hour train and it was beyond boring to put it nicely. From this part of the Loka trip onwards we went by trains and local buses. We arrived super late and basically went straight to bed. The next morning we had to get up bright and early to catch a ferry to Kepler Island. We spend the day snorkeling and lounging on the beach. I swam with a sea turtle for about ten minutes and got sunburnt. Then we went back to our accommodation for a BBQ and drinks before catching an overnight train very late in the evening.

 

 

Arlie Beach

We rolled into Arlie beach bright and early the next morning and just had a free day to explore. I went to a cool market, read on the beach, and spent a while sorting stuff out for university next year. Arlie is the gateway to the Witsundays, Australia’s most popular destination. We were suppose to go on a day tour there but misread our bus trip itinerary and didn’t have time. Gotta save something for my next trip to Oz!

 

 

Magnetic Island

After a very early train journey we made it to the next island where we would stay for two nights. We were able upgrade to a better room at our hostel and then went on the best tour of a wildlife park. Animals galore and Heidi and I were in heaven! Then the next day our bus group rented out open-top Jeeps and drove around the island beaching it up. It was really fun but the rentals were really crappy and we broke down halfway up a mountain in the dark. But I felt like Malibu Barbie so it was all good.

Tully

Next morning we drove the jeeps and took the ferry off the island. It was actually a really nice morning being in the open car and then the top deck of the ferry. Super relaxing. Yet another train brought us to Tully. Not really sure why we came here. We could pay extra to go to a swimming hole or climb the big Mt. Tyson the next morning, but that’s about it. I got up very early the next morning with intent of climbing, but it’s straight uphill for three hours ,and I quickly realized I just didn’t have the energy and turned back. ​

Cairns

Final stop of the trip, and it was a great one! After a hiccup with our hostel, we finally settled in and got ready to go out for the night. We went to a club where there is always a a big party for the end of Loka trips and had a great night out. The next day was one of the highlights of my whole life, we snorkeled and sailed the Great Barrier Reef. It was outstanding and one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Finished the day with a great Korean BBQ for dinner.  Then things got a little out of hand. We were suppose to have half a day in Cairns before flying home, but Sydney airport had high winds and 80 flights, including ours, were canceled. After a very long and frustrating process it was determined that Heidi would fly home on the 19th, our original date, while I couldn’t get out until the 20th. We still got part of the day to shop and explore cairns though!

 

 

Heading Home

Heidi couldn’t get on her morning flight so we’re back to flying together again. We flew from Cairns to Sydney the day after we were supposed to. Easy flight down and we had a really nice last dinner in Oz on Sydney harbour front. Early cab to the airport the next morning then off to the states. Super easy, but long flights back home to Rochester. After 222 days I made it back alive!

The Final Three Weeks

Wow! Looking back, January Me never would have imagined titling a post that. Back then I had no idea I would be where I am today and I had no idea how sad I’d feel leaving. Frankly I couldn’t wait to go home as soon as I arrived. Now I can’t imagine leaving this home. Eventually I will make a big final end of gap year/New Zealand post but in the words of Aragon: “Today is not that day.” Today, I want to focus on all the fun things I did in my final three weeks here and the adventures I had before moving on to Australia.

Farm Life

I’m going to start off with maybe the cutest part of the last weeks: calving season getting properly underway! There are heaps of adorable little bundles of milk running around the paddocks and calf-sheds and I smile every time I see them. I try not to think about the ones I’ve seen and heard about dying. It means that my host dad and the other farm workers are busy and stressed all the time, but the boys and I have fun visiting the little babies. I got to go out on night checks with my host dad once where we visit all the paddocks and check for any calves born during the night. We record and tag them so that they can be picked up in the morning and their mothers can be pulled back into the milking routine. It was so cool to see all the cows up close and they’re basically like giant puppies that want to lick you and be pet. They’re much smellier than real dogs though. And their tongues feel weird.

The Boys

I had two weeks of school holidays where I had both boys all day. To be fair, I was kind of dreading this, but it ended up being wonderful. There was really only one day where there was difficult behavior and the rest of the time was having fun and being silly with the boys. It was absolutely exhausting but so much fun. These boys have become such a huge part of my life and I’ve learned so much by being with them. Trying not to get emotional here but it’s hard. I’m going to miss my disco-ball dance parties and long farm-walks to see tractors so much.

 

Travel and Friends

There hasn’t been too much travel lately as I’ve been spending time with my friends before I leave. There’s been lots of lunches and coffee dates and I’m trying to spend as much time with my lovely Danish au pair friends as I can. We were suppose to go on a big ski trip together but New Zealand got hit with a massive snow storm and almost all the roads to the only ski mountain near us were closed. Instead we did a great day trip to Rotorua and it was the last time all four of us au pairs would be together. On my second to last weekend I spent a day in Ragalan, my favourite place nearby, with Ulrikke and it was amazing. I’m going to miss these girls so much and can’t wait until I get to visit everyone in Denmark. We’re planning a reunion next June! I had a big going away dinner/pub party with my au pair and farm friends and another nice dinner rout with just my host family. Rural New Zealand, I’m going to miss you so much.


Now I’m sat on the bus to Auckland airport for a very late flight to Melbourne. I’ve had a fun, boozy weekend with very little sleep. It’s left me exhausted but happy. The tears have rolled and all in all I’m just feeling a little mixed up. I’m so sad to be leaving New Zealand but I’ve got to in order to go onto Australia and university. I’m excited for the next chapter of my life but leaving this part doesn’t feel real yet. I’m sure I’ll be back to New Zealand sometime soon!
Last family dinner

I taught D how to do shots. Ace au pair over here!

Life Updates of the More Boring Sorts

Hello all! As you can see from the title, this may not be the most exciting blog post. My time in New Zealand is drawing to a close and I’ve seen nearly everything this spectacular country has to offer. I’m into my final month here and don’t have too many more exciting things planned. Since the South Island, I’ve just been enjoying my life at home on the farm and will continue to do so for the next few weeks. That being said, I have done some interesting things and thought a blog post may be in order.

They say when it rains it pours, and the last few days have proved that true. In 24 hours: things ended with a guy I’d been seeing while here, I proceeded to back into a post with my car while leaving said guy’s house, and then the next morning fell face first down the stone steps to our house and banged myself up pretty badly. Oh, and last week while driving home from a frustrating passport renewal appointment at the US Embassy, my car headlights went out thus stranding me and Line until we had to drive the two hours home with the high beams on. And just before that I woke up to a bug bite outbreak all over my body. Plus I’m coming down hard with a head cold. You win some and you lose some they say, and I’m ready to start winning again! I could get all philosophical and tell you about how I’m growing and learning from these experiences and I have. But right now a lot of it just sucks- and that’s life. Onto happier tales!

Field Days

So the “Biggest Agricultural Show in the Southern Hemisphere” takes place just outside of where I live and it’s the main event for farmers each year. I’ve been told it’s better than Christmas for them. I went with my host family in the morning and they took me around all the booths and tractor demos and explained everything to me. It was overwhelmingly massive. So many machines and stalls and food and clothes wherever you turned. Later I met up will all my friends who work on our farm and watched the tractor pull competition (exactly what it sounds like: different tractors seeing how far they can pull different weights) from the bar which was much more up my alley. I find tractors infinitely more interesting with a beer in hand. Field Day was really enjoyable to see and experience but I probably don’t need to go again. I think I’m all tractored out.

Waitomo Glow Worm Caves

One of the top things to do in New Zealand is  to visit the glow worm caves about twenty minutes from where I live. I had been saving this experience for a rainy day and put it off for far too long. Finally my friend Jenna suggested we do it, and it was quite the experience. We booked in to do the black water cave rafting trip in which you also see the glow worms. Adrenalin mixed with beauty was exactly what we were going for. It has been pretty rainy here the past week and the cave that the company we went with usually uses to raft was flooded. So they offered to upgrade us to the “cave adventure package” and we said yes. We didn’t really know what we were getting into and it turns out we were about to abseil and rock climb up and down cave waterfalls. That part of the trip was amazing. What was maybe not so amazing is that it turns out I am really clusterphobic. We had to squeeze and army crawl our way through very tight rock passages and my heart rate stayed elevated the whole time so I was fairly miserable during those parts. Seeing the glow worms and doing the climbing was so awesome though and now I know I probably should go in a cave with tight passages again.

Les Mis

It was my wonderful friend Line’s 20th birthday so while we went out for dinner on the date, the following Saturday we went to see the Hamilton Operatic Society present Les Miserables. I won’t lie, I had low expectations going into this. I mean it was a local production in rural New Zealand. I was pleasantly surprised though as the cast was stunning with beautiful voices and the small theatre venue made it all the more enjoyable. It was a nice night out with my au pair friends and good music to boot!

The Boys

C and D are just as cute (and noisy) as ever. It’s getting to be winter here, which in the Waikato means rain and wind. It’s tricky to find things for little boys to do in this weather. We have popped on our rain gear a few times and had some epic muddle farm-walks that resulted in very necessary baths when we got home. Yesterday was a rare nice sunny day and we spent all afternoon at the playground and later the library.  It’s going to be so difficult to leave these two at the end of July and I’m avoiding thinking about it.

 
The Future

As I said, there’s not too much planned in terms of big epic trips coming up. Winter is here so most of my days are spent trying to keep our house fire going and staying warm inside. I try to see my au pair friends as much as possible because I’m going to miss them a lot. This has resulted in lots of shopping trips and lunches out, and money spent. Oops. I finish work on July 28 and I’m going to fly to Australia after that. My best friend Heidi is meeting me in Sydney and we’re doing a two week road trip up the east coast. Then on August 19th, after 30 hours of traveling, I finally arrive home in Rochester! But before that all happens I’ve got a couple things planned in the country that I’ve come to call home. Another trip to my favourite city Wellington, an au pair ski weekend, and of course the dreaded two weeks of school holidays happen before I leave . Until next time xoxo Travel Girl (I started binge watching Gossip Girl again if you couldn’t tell).

The South Pt.1

So my wonderful host family has gone on holiday this week, which meant I got one too! I took advantage of this chunk of time off to go spend nine days traveling the South Island. Now while it sounds like a long time, it really isn’t. The South is so vast and there’s so much to see you need at least two and a half weeks to see it all. I decided to do the Deep South now and then the northwestern part before I leave in August. So I packed up my bags and drove the two hours to Auckland Airport very early on Saturday morning to arrive in Queenstown by lunch.

Queenstown

I spent Saturday night in Queenstown before heading south on a Stray Backpackers Bus. Then on Tuesday night through Friday morning I was back in Queenstown. For simplicity sake, I’ll just put my whole report of Queenstown here. Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand. It’s where the bunny jump was invented and most people come here to do that or the plethora of other activities. It’s got the best ski mountains in the country as well as skydiving, drinking scene, speed boating, and more. I opted to do an epic zip line trip that involved the “World’s Steepest Zipline.” It was pretty awesome and the best part was hanging by my feet like a monkey while hurting down a mountain at 50mph. Queenstown is pretty expensive though so I spent a lot of time wandering around exploring, and trying to conserve money. That did not go so well and most of my money went to delicious food and drinks. It’s proper winter weather down here in the south and Queenstown is a lot like Lake Placid. Quite a ski town vibe. Because I missed winter in NY it was really nice to get a taste of it down here.


Milford Sound/The Fiordlands

On Sunday morning at 6am I hopped on a Stray bus down south. We drove down through some stunning scenery to the Fiordlands national park, the biggest park in New Zealand. Now, Milford Sound is actually not a Sound but a fjord. To compensate for mistaking it, New Zealand named the national park around the “Sound” the Fiordlands. Except they spelled fjord wrong. That’s New Zealand for you in a nutshell. Naming and spelling things wrong though not really caring. Milford Sound is absolutely beautiful though and we got to do a boat trip through it. It was bloody freezing but the views of the Sound and the park around it were worth it. We stayed the night at a place called Gunn’s Camp in the national park. This camp was originally built to hold the families of the workers building the road through the park and has been preserved historically since then. That means no wifi, mobile phone signal, or power except from 5-10pm. Instead there’s a roaring fire, free hot water bottles, and plenty of board games. It was fun to hang out with the other Backpackers on the bus and refreshing to be unplugged for a while.

 

Stewart Island

The next place we went to was Stewart Island, sometimes known as New Zealand’s Third Island. It’s an expensive hour boat ride away from the mainland. Stewart Island is suppose to be the best place to see wild kiwis and blue penguins in all of New Zealand. It’s also southern lights season and Stewart Island is about as close to them as you can get. Unfortunately after running around the island until 1am in sub-freezing temperatures and waking up at dawn to go down to the beach, we saw no lights, kiwis, or penguins. It was frustrating, but it was still fun to be on the island with the other Backpackers. I made friends with a young Swedish couple, some British girls, a guy from Romania, someone from the Netherlands, and a Norwegian girl just to name a few! We stayed on the island Monday night and did a coastal hike on Tuesday before catching the ferry back home. Then up to Queenstown again for a bit.

 

Mt. Cook

After the second stop in Queenstown we all nursed some fairly major hangovers and caught the bus up to Mt. Cook in the Southern Alps. It’s apparently the tallest peak in Australasia though it didn’t look that large. Our hostel was near the foot of the mountain and had *gasp* en suite bathrooms. Unheard of luxury. My friend Isuzu and I set out to do the famous three hour walk right to the base of the mountain but had to turn back before we could finish. She was coming down with the flu and the intense cold and wind was doing nothing good for my hangover. Though we didn’t do the whole walk we got great views and we’re back in time to watch some rugby and other tv in bed. A glamorous backpacker life!

 

Christchurch

We drove from The mountain to Christchurch via Lake Tekapo. At the lake most people on the bus elected to go snow tubing or ice skating but because I can do that in Rochester, and this trip has really done a number on my bank account, I just hung out in a cafe. We arrived late in Christchurch and because everyone was leaving the next day spent the night hanging out together and watching the Lions tackle the Crusaders (Christchurch’s team) in rugby. We even got treated to a Christchurch specialty when a 4.2 earthquake hit for about three seconds. Guess I could cross that off my bucket list. The next day I spent the morning exploring Christchurch before flying out that evening. Christchurch is a sad city to walk through because you can tell how amazing it used to be and the earthquake devastation is right in front of you.

Life Updates

Not too much to tell you on this front because everything is going great. I’m still so happy in New Zealand, get on great with my host family, have lots of adventures and friends, and the boys are great. So here are some cute photos to tide you over until the next post!

 

 

A Week in Japan

Hello all! I’ve just gotten back to New Zealand after an amazing holiday in Japan. If you had asked me a year ago if I thought I’d be living on a dairy farm, visiting places like Tokyo, I’d have laughed in your face, but agreed it sounded pretty cool. Well now that’s my life and I love it! My cousin Colin lives in Tokyo with his wife and two girls and I took advantage of New Zealand being close (relative to New York) and visited them. I stayed in an Airbnb near their flat in Shibuya which is sort of the young, hip area of Tokyo at the moment. It was absolutely amazing.

Wednesday/Thursday

  • Hoped on a bus from my town in New Zealand and went up to Auckland to stay the night in an Airbnb
  • Woke up at 4:00am to catch my 6:20am flight to Brisbane. Today I officially stepped foot on three continents! Apparently New Zealand has recently been declared an eighth continent…
  • I flew with Quantas and the flights were easy, empty, and had remarkably good food for an airplane!
  • The international airport is an hour and a half from central Tokyo so after a long commute with Colin to my flat, I promptly fell asleep after traveling all day.

Friday

  • Woke up rather early thanks to jet lag and went to walk with Colin and the oldest daughter to school. I’ve always loved being in primary schools, not because I’m a child stalker, but because I love seeing all the art and school work on the walls.
  • Then Colin and I went up Mori Tower to see a great view of all of Tokyo. It’s amazing just how massive and sprawling the city is with lots of chunks of green spaces from various palaces and shrines.
  • We walked around for a bit then headed to Ueno which is kind of like the National Mall in DC. Big park with a shrine and lots of museums. Both of which we visited and after lunch Colin went back to collect from school and I stayed on to walk around more.
  • Felt pretty accomplished as I navigated the subway and got back to Colin’s flat for dinner and then sleep

Saturday

  • The day started with all of us bringing the oldest and her mum to a music lesson in Central Shibuya. Then Colin, the youngest, and I walked around and explored. It was a very wet day though.
  • We went to a big popular music store which had a really cool vibe inside, and we visited several famous department stores. They’re absolutely massive here in Tokyo and I could easily spend hours on one floor alone. Usually there are about 9 floors!
  • Met up with the others for a big Japanese lunch, which was delicious. It was Tonkatsu (fried pork) with rice and cabbage and miso soup as sides.
  • Then I split with the rest of the group and wandered around shopping in Shibuya for a while before heading back for dinner with everyone.
  • After dinner I went out into Shinjuku which is a big night life capital of Tokyo. Bright lights and people everywhere it was outstanding for people watching. Everything was mostly restaurants and bars so I didn’t go inside, just observed.

Sunday 

  • Sunday had a lazy start as everyone was fairly tired. After breakfast Colin and the two girls hoped on one bike (the bikes here are really cool with two child seats attached) and I went on another one. After a short ride we were at the Meiji Shrine which was somewhere I really wanted to visit.
  • The shrine was lovely and peaceful even though it was teaming with tourists from Japan and the rest of the world alike. The girls enjoyed running around too.
  • Then we biked on to Yoyogi Park which was really good and the oldest got to show me her bike skills on a child bike track which she had been waiting to do all weekend.
  • We biked home via Harajuku and I split to grab lunch and head into central Tokyo to catch a tourist bus tour
  • The tour was cool and we went up an observation tower,  visited the imperial park grounds, went to Asakusa and explored the market, and did a river cruise.

Monday

  • Today was the day I was most excited for, visiting Mt. Fuji! A little known fact about me is that I love the Charlie and Lola books. Ever since I read a line about mashed potatoes being cloud fluff from Mt. Fuji I’ve wanted to visit. That was twelve years ago, so it’s been a long time coming!
  • I left right when I woke up for the bus terminal and hoped on my Fuji tour. The guide spoke English and I learned a lot about not only the mountain but Japan and its culture as a whole.
  • It took two hours to get to the base of Fuji, which is only visible 30% of the time because of cloud cover. We got lucky and could see it from the bottom! We then drove up as high as vehicles can go to the fifth station. This is where climbers start their trip from but unfortunately it wasn’t climbing season.
  • We headed back down the mountain and stopped for lunch which was more Japanese style food. It was also nice except a bit too much seafood for my liking.
  • Then we crossed to the other side of the mountain and of course, the weather turned for the worse. This meant that our lake boat tour and cable car ride were shrouded in fog the whole time.
  • On the way home we got to watch sumo wrestling. There’s a big competition going on in Tokyo right now and our guide is an avid fan and explained it all to us.
  • The bus left us in Ginza which I explored for a while before heading home. Ginza is Tokyo’s version of fifth ave so it was full of stores I couldn’t even afford to go into.

Tuesday

  • Today was Disney day! I’d never been to any Disney Park before and if a girl can’t take herself when she’s on a gap year, when can she?
  • Now I’ve got nothing to compare it to, but I thought Disney Tokyo was pretty cool. I went on pretty much every ride and surprisingly my favourites were a Star Wars one and the Monsters Inc one.
  • I’m a pretty big Disney fan but my favourites tend to be the lesser known films so some parts of the park was wasted on me. It was a good day but I definitely think Disney is meant to be enjoyed with other people so I was left feeling a little lonely
  • I didn’t really take too many pictures because I was too busy watching everything. That’s how most of this Japan trip has gone actually
  • It was also tough because all the dialogue on rides or video clips was in Japanese, but it was really cool to hear popular songs like Part of Your World or I Just Cant Wait to be King in Japanese. It’s also cool that it’s a tradition to come in matching themed outfits with your friends so the people watching was excellent.
  • It was a very long and emotional,y draining day but I’m really glad I went!Wednesday
  • Today was my last day and it wasn’t even a full one! I did the school run again before heading out to explore Shibuya and Harajuku more. I absolutely loved this area of Tokyo and would recommend it to anyone.
  • I walked and wandered around for ages just taking in the whole scene.
  • Then back to my flat to pack up and visit the girls and say goodbye to everyone before catching the train to the airport.
  • Easy flights back to Auckland, except in Japan they tried to tell me my visa wasn’t valid to enter New Zealand. It was a terrifying few minutes, but got sorted in the end.

Overall it was such an amazing trip and I really want to thank Colin and his family for making it so! I loved being in such a different environment to anywhere I’ve been before and I found the new culture fascinating. Until the next adventure!

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Bonus picture of D “helping me unpack” but really just sitting in bed

Hobbits and Happiness

I’ve been spoiling you guys with a new post almost every week. You’re welcome! Today’s post comes in two parts beginning with Hobbits.

The day finally came when I go to go and visit Hobbiton. Not many people know this but I am a massive Lord of the Rings fan. I’ve read the books and everything. I’m lame, I know. Honestly the main reason I even looked at coming to New Zealand in the first place was to go and visit Hobbiton. The have this big flash “Evening Diner Party” tour package that I really wanted to do. Unfortunately you had to book about four months ahead of time to do it, which is was it took me until the end of April to get to go. I went with my friend Anna who was in my au pair orientation group back in January. We were the only LotR fans in the group and made a pact to visit the set together. I hadn’t seen her since February because she lives far away so it was lovely to catch up.

The trip began at about 4:30 with a normal day time tour of the set. Oh my goodness it’s amazing. The attention to detail was incredible and everywhere I looked there was something new and interesting. The tour guides were awesome and even someone like me who has watched all the behind the scenes footage learned new things about the movies. There are 44 Hobbit doors in total and they are all at varying size scales. Some made me look like a giant and some were normal size for adults. I can’t waffle on forever about the place, but it was not a disappointment!


Then the normal tour ends in The Green Dragon Inn where you get a free pint brewed exclusively for Hobbiton. I had a cider that was actually really good. You get to hang out around the pub and fire while the evening banquet meal is set up and that did not disappoint either! There was so much food and it was all amazing. I ate way too much, and then they brought out the deserts.

After we ate we all got lanterns to hold and went out into the set again. Everything was light up and the outstanding stars that are typical to New Zealand were on display. You can see the Milky Way every time there’s a cloudless night the sky is so clear. I’ve got no photos of the night tour but it was truly magical. I’m surprised I didn’t cry frankly because I did when i saw Hogwarts at the Warner Brother’s tour in London. We wandered around and night and it was perfect. Everything I hoped Hobbiton would be.


Sadly, it was a fairly rainy day for our tour so the photos aren’t great, but the experience still was. I only live about an hour from the set so I think I’m going to go back another day when I know it’s sunny and take better photos. Plus it was so overwhelmingly cool the first time I’d like to go again for another closer look.

Part two of this post is about happiness. I’m just over half way through my au pair posting and almost halfway through my time away from home. If you’re wondering I fly to Australia on August 3rd and home on the 19th. When I think back to how miserable and depressed I was in January it’s hard to believe I’m the same person. It may have taken four months but I’m totally settled. I have two great groups of friends (au pairs and farm guys) and I’m having heaps of fun. I’ve done tons of hiking, coffee meetups, learned to play darts, drink bourbon now, and have greatly improved my cooking skills. I’m really happy most of the time socially and at work. Don’t get me wrong I have bad days, but far less than when I came.

The boys are awesome and I thought we had settled in together fine a month ago but it’s only gotten better since then. We had a great school holidays together full of fun activities and crafts. I get cuddles from them all the time and they’re always excited to see me when I get home. It hit me last night as C, his mum, and I were having a disco ball dance party after dinner that I’m having such a great year. When I think back to my eighteenth birthday and everything that has happened and still is to happen I can just tell this will be one of my best years. I’ve grown and learned so much about myself and I’m happy with the person I’ve become. And I’m going to stop all of this sappy blabbering now.


I head off to Japan in two days and I can’t wait for my next adventure.

The Tongariro Crossing

So, as of this weekend I have officially done the Tongiraro Crossing. It’s supposedly one of the best day hikes in the world, and a definite item on the New Zealand bucket list. The hike is 19.4km long and takes most people 6-8 hours to do.

I did the hike with my friends Line and Carl and we drove up to the National Park on Friday night. At 6:45am the shuttle bus took us from our hostel to the beginning of the walk and, let me tell you, it was freezing. I was so cold not even my bobble hat provided warmth. We started the hike at 7:32 according to the photo I took at the first sign post.

Part of the beginning track sucked because lots of different shuttle buses let off at the same time and it was super crowded. There was no room to pass anyone and it was a wee bit cluster-phobic. The first chunk of the hike is pretty flat and desolate. They use it was the Dead Marshes in front of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings movie, and it did seem pretty dead. It was mostly flat though with small inclines but not too bad at all. I was feeling pretty confident about how the hike would go.

 

I was too confident too soon though because next up was the ‘Devil’s Staircase’ and it truly was from hell. I absolutely hate stairs and always would rather just walk up a slope. This staircase, and the subsequent steep walk up after it, were the closest I have ever felt to dying. And I was a swimmer, so often felt like dying. My lungs and legs were so tired and in so much pain. Unfortunately I was the slowest in our group at stairs. I can finish any size set of stairs, it may just take me a while because I like to take lots of pauses. I didn’t get to stop as much as I may have liked to, which is maybe why I felt so much like death.


You get to see a lot of really cool bits of scenery on the hike. One of which is Mt. Doom, which is pretty cool. There’s actually a track up Mt. Doom (it’s actually a real volcano) but it’s essentially vertical climbing on very loose stones so we took a pass on that. You also get to see the Emerald Lakes which are stunning and very sulfuric. Plus there’s a big beautiful crater lake that was really quite pleasant to sit and look at!

After the hellish climbing part of the hike it’s pretty flat for a while and then you begin the decent. The last 9km are all mostly downhill and very frustrating. For a big part of it you can see the car park right below you but the path just winds around and it takes forever to get down. The last 3km are through a forest which is lovely, but by that point your feet hurt and you’re ready to be done!

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We ended up doing the hike in 5:45 even with my very slow stair climbing. We didn’t take super long breaks anywhere just little rests here and there, but we felt we had a good pace. I’m not going to lie, it really wasn’t as hard as I was expecting/told and I would totally do it again. The steep inclines were pretty awful but other than that it was pleasant.

If you’re wondering I hiked in leggings, sneakers, a tee shirt, baseball cap, and a hoodie (the Live the Adventure one I wear all the time) I took off about halfway through. I had a backpack with water, bandaids, some apples, some granola bars, a few bread rolls, and my phone. I didn’t get as many pictures as I would have liked because usually my phone was stored in my bag. Overall I’m really glad I did it and can check it off my bucket list! Plus the day I did the hike was officially my 100th day in New Zealand and it was also Earth Day and I can’t think of a better thing to do for it!

East(er) Cape

Hello all, I am back with another exciting tale of travels and adventures. I had a bunch of days off around Easter and went on a bus trip to New Zealand’s East Cape, one of the most remote parts of the country. This trip involved hungry fish, lots of superlatives, and 800 stairs. So buckle up and get ready for my recap!

Friday

Good Friday started the weekend off better than good, it was great! There’s another new au pair in my town who just arrived and went with me on this trip. Her name is Ulrikke and, like the other two au pairs in the area, is Danish! I’ve learned a lot about Denmark and can safely say it sounds like the coolest country ever. Ulrikke and I drove down to Rotorua, where the bus would depart on Saturday morning. Rotorua is the “Geothermal Capital of New Zealand” and the entire town smells like rotten eggs. Not my favourite thing in the world. Rotorua is also the adventure hotspot of the North Island with tons of adrenaline seeking activities. Unfortunately these were all booked up by the time we arrived, but we had a better plan. An afternoon, sans children, at the Polynesian Spa. It was absolutely lovely. A natural mineral spa overlooking the lake with a yummy smoothie bar. I can’t remember the last time I felt so zen. After the spa we went into the city for dinner with one of Ulrikke’s friends from au pair orientation who lives in the area. Then off to bed before our trip departed.

Saturday

We did our East Cape bus tour through Stray, one of the big backpacker bus tours in the country. Stray is a hop on, hop off backpacker bus that runs through all of New Zealand. I’ll actually be using them to see the South Island in a few months. Most people use Stray to see the whole country in one go, but we booked just the three day East Cape Trip. We had an enthusiastic driver/guide and lots of cool travelers to chat to on board.

First stop out of Rotorua was a town called Whakatane (pronounced fuk-a-tani. Yes I giggled every time. Yes I am immature). We mostly stopped here to do a grocery run for the next few days. Pasta and rice are the staples in a poor traveler’s diet. This area of New Zealand is very remote and has a high Maori population. It was one of the first places people arrived in New Zealand. We got to see a statue of a Maori lady on a rock who rescued a bunch of canoes full of the tribes women and children. Pretty badass. We also had a great picnic lunch with stunning views. Then we were off to Te Kaha, where we were staying for the night. Stayed in backpacker accommodations right on the beach and got to watch a beautiful sunset.


Sunday

Easter Sunday started early because we had a lot to do. Our bus driver gave us all plenty of Easter chocolates though! We drove along the stunning rugged coastline and drove on what I believe to be the narrowest, most dangerous road on the North Island to get to New Zealand’s most Easternly lighthouse. We climbed 800 grueling steps to get to it, and the views at the top were pretty special. Then we went to one of the coolest churches I’ve ever seen. It was a Maori church full of ornate carvings and weaving. Next we went to the “Worlds Longest Concrete Wharf” which is 660m in length. Not to be confused with the world’s largest wharf, largest pier, or longest dock. Those are all in other places. After that we headed to Tatapouri where we would stay for the next night. In Tatapouri I got to take part in the wild stingray feeding they have there. I was all for petting the stingrays until I encountered the king fish. These fish come and eat during the stingray feeding too and will bite your fingers if you stick them in. The guides showed us the correct way to put your fist in the water, then flatten it so that you could pet the rays without getting bitten. Well the guy next to me went to do that and the king fish took his entire fist in his mouth and drew blood. Even the guides were shocked and had never seen that before. I decided not to put my hands near the water anymore. We spent Sunday night chilled by the beach again, chatting with everyone on the bus.


Monday

Monday began very, very early to see the sunrise. The East Cape of New Zealand is the first place to see the sunrise in the entire world, so obviously you have to get up and see that! Especially when we got to go back to bed for a while after. When we left Tatapouri we went onto Gisborne, probably the biggest town on the East Cape. Mostly people stay here when they visit the east, but Stray buses have an emphasis on “getting off the beaten track” so we only came here for the morning. It was pretty rainy, and it was a normal town. Not much to report. After that we began the drive back home through a spectacular national park. The scenery out in the east is essentially untouched since before the Jurassic Period. New Zealand broke away from Pangaea before any complex life forms evolved, which is why you won’t find any dinosaur bones, and why NZ’s only native mammal is a bat. The East Cape is so remote that the plant life has been perfectly preserved. I didn’t get too many photos because we were on a bus, but the park was stunning. I keep using that word, but there’s no other way to describe it! We made our way back to Rotorua where I had an excellent burger for dinner and Ulrikke and I fell right asleep, exhausted.

Tuesday

Bonus day off! It’s school holidays here and my host mum took Tuesday off work to do stuff with the kids, so I got an extra day in Rotorua. Today was the adventure day and Ulrikke and I went to Skyline Rotorua. It’s a big adventure park at the top of a mountain with beautiful views of Rotorua and the lake. We go to go luging (go-karting down a mountain) and zip lining, with many scenic chairlifts back up the mountain. After that we drove back home and I slept for the rest of Tuesday. Except for when I had to wake up at midnight to make a call to the US because of tax day. Adulting isn’t always fun.


Overall it was a brilliant trip, and a great way to spend some time off. I’m really glad I did the bus tour because I really don’t like driving here in New Zealand. Well I don’t like driving narrow, steep, twisty roads, which is all the East Cape consists of. It was great to be able to look out the window and take it all in. I don’t have too many photos of the coastline or forrests because it was hard to get good shots out of a moving bus, but trust me, it was stunning! Next up is two weeks of school holdidays, which means long days with both boys. Wish me luck! 

I Cannot Think of a Good Title

I’m going to start this post out the way I always do, by mentioning and apologizing for my lack of posting. Why break from tradition after three months? Side note: can’t believe I’ve been in New Zealand for three months! Anyways, let’s get cracking with what I’ve been up to.

Blue Springs

Line and I took a day trip to the Blue Springs. It’s a beautiful part of a river about an hour from us, where lots of New Zealand’s bottled water is sourced from. It was such a lovely day with lots of pretty views, and I felt pretty smug the whole time because it was bucketing down with snow in Rochester that day!

Raglan

The next weekend Line and I took a trip to Raglan where I fell in love with surfing. I’d had a lesson back in January at Piha Beach where the waves were massive and I wasn’t very good. At Raglan I had a lesson on Saturday, stood up on the board heaps, and loved it so much I went and rented a board again on Sunday! I think I’m going back this weekend with another au pair to surf again. Raglan itself is a really cool hipster town. Lots of quirky shops and cafes and I loved the laid back vibe.

Balloons Over Waikato

The next week was the famed balloon festival. My county, Waikato, puts on this big hot air balloon festival every year and balloons and pilots come from all over the world to take part. My host family and I got up at 5:30am to go watch the balloons inflate and lift off and it was pretty magical. There lots of events all week and it ends in a big night glow festival, which Line and I went to. We were suppose to go on an au pair Outing to swim with dolphins that weekend as well, but it got canceled due to rain. I think we’re trying to reschedule it though.

The Great New Zealand Muster

This weekend’s activities were pretty smelly. The national sheep shearing finals take place thirty minutes from where I live every year and it turns into a big whole day festival. There’s the actually sheep shearing competition (very cool, but confusing), lots of music and market stalls, and then +1000 sheep run down the Main Street. Myself, Line, our friend Hannah from Auckland, and Singe (new au pair in our area) all went and had a blast.

 

Social Outings

I’ve done a lot of different social things in the last week or two as well. Au Pair Link organised a “cultural evening” for the au pairs in the area where we all went after work to learn about New Zealand culture and we had to bring a dish from our home country as well. There was also a big au pair movie night later that week which had lots of junk food and great company. I’ve also gone out a few times with non au pairs I’ve met through the farm and that’s been tons of fun too. I’m still trying to find my niche but I’m getting closer to feeling more settled with friends and finding more people to do things with. Plus I learned how to milk a cow!

The Boys

I won’t lie to you, it’s been a very hard two weeks with the children. I think it’s mostly the age they are but everyone, including their parents, is feeling very worn out and tired. Patience is thin and everyone is exhausted. This is life though and you have to push on. I’m not ready to go home yet, so there’s nothing I can do except hope it passes.


Today is daylight savings here in NZ so we’re officially going into autum. I’m told that it’s beautiful here. Sunny but not hot. Then onto winter, which of you know anything about me, you know I hate. I go through happy times, I go through sad times, I keep on keeping on. I guess that’s adulting. Until next time.

A Week in the Life

Hello all. I haven’t really been up to many exciting adventures the past two weeks, mainly just staying at home and not spending money! I thought it would be interesting to start this post on a Monday and add to it all week long so you can see what I get up to. I’ll put it all in great detail for today, Monday, and less after that. This morning was weird because I woke up and really just wanted to be at home. I wasn’t sad or anything, I just wanted my mum and Wegmans I guess. The feeling passed through the morning but I’m sure I’ll feel that way again. I know my point of view and tense changes and a lot in this, it’s hard to keep it constant for a whole week!

Monday

  • 7:30am- alarm goes off and I’m up to start the day. The children and their mum have already been up for a while but my workday starts at 8 so I use the time before to get dressed and have breakfast and do all that before beginning work.
  • 8:00- workday technically begins. What I do is different each morning. This morning C and D were already dressed and fed so I just played with them until my host mum took D off to daycare when she leaves for work at 8:15.
  • 9:00- C has to be at school. Usually we play until then and this morning we did lots of colouring. Often playing with tractors is the predominate activity.9:30- now begins my “me time” without the boys. Most mornings I do a workout right after I get home from dropping C off and today was leg day. I was a sweaty mess as seen below.

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    The joys of sweat. 
  • 10:00- now I usually just potter around and do anything that I need to. So far I’ve made a questionable tasting smoothie and had a much needed (see photo above) shower.
  • 1:00- off into town now to run some errands (boring things like the post office and groceries) before picking up D from daycare. I’ve had a nice relaxed morning reading and eating lunch.

    This book is a murder mystery intertwined with Macbeth. It was $1 at a book sale and I probably won’t finish it.
  • 2:30- now I pick D up from daycare and then go straight to C’s school to get him. Usually C wants to play on the playground after school for a bit. After school it’s snack time and then usually rest time as both boys are pooped. I try to find things other than the tv for them to relax in front of and today it was more colouring. After rest we do lots of playing.

    D has told me that he likes my car the best. I think it’s because he has a front facing seat in it, while a rear seat in his mum’s, Or he loves my wonderful radio singalongs. 
  • 5:00- this is about when I get dinner for the boys after a full day of playing. If it’s something adults can eat too, great! Tonight it was cucumber, potato, and sausage for the boys. Yum. C has to go off to his BMX biking practice on Monday evenings so I get a little bit more time with Darcy alone.
  • 7:00- now is when I am officially off work. I live with my family so obviously I still interact and play with the boys after this time but I means I am not the primary caregiver. It’s also usually when grown ups eat! Ravioli for us tonight. After eating the parents put the boys to bed and I relax. Then sometimes my host mum and I watch trashy reality to together (our current obsession is some show called Married at First Sight).
  • 11:00- often when I go to sleep. Then onto the next day!

Tuesday

  • Woke up this morning feeling very tired and not in the mood for loud children. I know, crazy, but it happens. This whole experience has been a lot of learning for me and today I had to learn how to be happy and peppy even when I was asleep inside. I think I managed it pretty well.
  • Usually on a Tuesday I’d bring C to school and D to daycare but today I had D with me all day because we went on an Au Pair Link Outing to the kiwi sanctuary! D was very tired and stroppy today so it could have gone better but it was cool to see a kiwi! No photos were allowed inside the kiwi habitat because they’re nocturnal but I did get some other cute photos!
  • Then D went home for a nap until we picked C up from school. I won’t lie to you, today was a difficult day. I’m not going to go into what we did after school because of that, it was a struggle for everyone. I woke up upset and didn’t really feel better through the day. The kids were difficult and I just felt a little lost inside.
  • Tonight I went out and met some other au pairs from the area for the first time. They were really nice but definitely have an established group that do things together. I didn’t realise that I missed being able to call up a friend and have them come over and bake something together. I miss having someone I can cry to that lives nearby. I guess I’m feeling a little lonely but I didn’t recognise that those were my feelings until now. New Zealand is all about learning new things and pushing myself out of my comfort zone I guess.
  • Side note: we have super heavy rain from tonight until Thursday and I love it! It makes the cosiest atmosphere for going to sleep and I love waking up to rain. Weird, I know.

Wednesday

  • Today is kind of a day off. My host mum takes the day off work on Wednesdays to spend time with the kids so I’m not usually working and I like to give her space with them. That being said, if she needs me to watch them while she runs errands, I’m usually around for that.
  • I woke up to rain and feeling better and recharged. I think it was identifying my feelings as loneliness that helped. Now I have to figure out how to combat it.
  • Did a morning workout and showered before checking if my host mum needed me for anything.
  • Spent the day in Hamilton with my friend Line visiting the Waikato (our county) museum and trying to buy a pair of hiking boots. I couldn’t find any that fit and the museum was mediocre so not the day we expected. On the bright side, the cafe we sheltered from the cold and rain from was delicious!

    Cutest cafe! I had a cappuccino and boysenberry cake.

Thursday

  • Today began with the harsh realities of living where you work. When the boys loudly wake up at 6am, you do too. Even though I didn’t have to get up yet, I was still awake. But that’s life.
  • Today has mostly been a day of domestic tasks. My hosts dad’s entire family is visiting  (4 brothers, wives, and kids!) and tonight there’s a big dinner party with family and friends. Thursday is the day of the week that I always set aside for the household tasks that I’m responsible for (the adults share all the chores between ourselves) and I spent the day vacuuming, tidying, and lots of laundry (mine and the boys).

    Perks of living in the windy countryside.
  • Today was also the big grocery day. My host mum does a big online grocery shop every two weeks and I went into town and picked it up today. It’s a massive order that requires about seven trips from the car to the house!
  • I also went for a run today because the rain has stopped. I didn’t use to workout this much since I stopped swimming but I’ve gotten much squishier than I was before and New Zealand chocolate is too good (which is why I’ve given it up for lent).
  • Today I got a package of some goodies, including Girl Scout cookies (!!) from home, which was lovely.
  • Plus I went into town and got some pictures printed at put them up. The heart shaped ones I put up a while ago but the doors, my travel doors as I like to call them, are new!
  • Mostly the boys and I did resting activities after school like colouring, reading, and helping to take in the washing!

    D loves being read to, but I think he mostly likes the pictures.
  • Dinner party went well and I ate way too much!

Friday

  • Yay it’s almost the weekend! Update on the boys this morning, very tired and cranky from last night. We’ll see how this afternoon goes.
  • My host dad was able to take the boys to school and daycare his morning and I did some tidying up from last night and another workout. Then I had a long chat with my mum and later a chat with my family in Japan about my visit to them in May. I’m going to Japan!!
  • C went to a friends house after school so I spent the afternoon playing with D. Once my host parent got home we all had leftover from the dinner party and pretty much passed out on the couch from a long week. We know how to party on a Friday!

Saturday

  • The intense rain is back and it’s kind of ruined the weekend. There’s so much to do nearby where I live but it’s pretty much all outdoors. I usually do a lot on the weekend, but not this one. Line and I were thinking about going to see the rodeo but that’s canceled. Who knows who the weekend will entail?
  • Side note, D just learned the word “die” and is running around the house joyfully shouting and giggling about death.
  • Super relaxed day. Watched some tv and baked some scones. It’s was such an exhausting week so I was happy for the break. Ended the day with yoga, a phone call with Grace (<3), and ice cream.

Sunday

  • Today began with no rain! I woke up and it was cloudy but no ominous clouds so I jumped out of bed and hurried to get ready for the day. I was going a little stir crazy after being inside for so long. Of course as I got ready and left, the heavens opened up and it ended up being some of the worst rain I’ve ever driven or walked through.
  • About 45min from me there’s a road that contains a natural bridge, caves, and a waterfall and that’s where I went. The road was narrow and bendy, my least favourite, and there was so much rain. I did have to break for cows crossing though

    Literally. Like 100 cows were being paraded down the road.
  • The Mangapohue Natural bridge was very cool and the wet weather enhanced the location. Made me feel like I was adventuring through a rain forest.
  • Then onto the Piripiri Caves. Not so impressive. Really wet hike to get there and then because it was so overcast I couldn’t actually see the cave. I got these crappy pictures and then it occurred to me that this cave looked like a great place for a TV (or real-life) murder and I quickly left.
    Too dark to see anything

    Tried to take a flash photo to see the inside, the rain had other ideas.
  • Last was Marokopa Falls. Pretty good, even in the rain
    You can tell how wet I was, and how wet my camera was from this blurry shot!

    It’s no Niagara, but pretty cool
  • Then I went home and had a hot bath and lunch! Later Line said she had a coupon for a pub and asked if I wanted to go out to dinner and of course I said yes!
    We went for a nice walk around a pond before dinner.

    The pub had cool barrel tables and i had a really tasty burger.
  • The week ended with a Lush face mask and some tv in bed. It wasn’t the most exciting week but I think it was an accurate representation of the life I have here in New Zealand. I left out some of the more raw emotions I feel because I don’t want that part of my life and story on the internet. But I’m mentioning it now because I don’t want this just to be a blithe retelling of the week. The reality of living abroad is fun, but can be so hard. It’s my own personal things do feel and deal with, but trust me the emotions are there. Until my next post, peace out!

    This face mask looks, and smells, like having mint chocolate chip ice cream on your face.