Lauren Gainer, August 4th, 2014
Now that I am back on Texas soil, I want to take a moment to reflect on my last month abroad. I celebrated July 4th this year with students from twenty different countries. I was at an International Student Ministries NZ conference and learned about the lives and cultures of these amazing students. This experience granted me a deep appreciation for the human condition and the unique challenges faced by individuals all over the world. I realize that no society or individual is perfect and we all share common struggles.
After this conference, I travelled on the north island of NZ before heading to Australia. On the first day of my trip I visited Huka falls which were absolutely stunning. Although they aren’t very tall, they are incredibly powerful and move more than 220,000 litres of water per second. That evening I checked into a hostel and then went to visit the hot springs in a nearby park. The water felt just like a hot tub and was quite relaxing. The next day I went on to Rotorua which is full of geothermal activity. The entire city smells faintly of sulphur, although it isn’t bothersome. There are dozens of steaming geothermal pools throughout the city and the skyline is scattered with columns of steam. There were mere wooden fences around most of the pools with warning signs about the lethal temperature of the water. Kiwis definitely tend to downplay things! We also passed a playground called “Volcanic playground.” They certainly seem to embrace the fact that they live on a volcanic island!
I finally got to go Zorbing! Rotorua boasts the original zorbing spot and this sport involves rolling downhill in a giant inflatable ball. It was much more fun than I expected! Rotorua is also home to Hobbiton (or the Shire) from Lord of the Rings. I had the chance to tour Hobbiton and was continually struck by the incredible detail and beauty of this place. Despite a forecast of rain, the weather was perfect and the bright green hillsides shimmered in the sun. I enjoyed being transported into another world and learning about the magic behind Peter Jackson’s films. I was shocked to learn that the tree on top of Bag End is completely fake! The ancient-looking tree is a fabrication of the Weta workshop! Weta even repainted the millions of leaves on the tree by hand when Peter Jackson did not like the original color. Interestingly, Weta also hired a women three weeks before they began filming at Hobbiton to put clothes on the clotheslines and take them off at the end of the day so the lines to look worn in and used. Their attention to detail is incredible.
I flew to Sydney the next day and enjoyed the four days I spent there. I had the chance to see The Rocks again and the harbour. The Rocks are a neat historical part of Sydney with some original buildings built by the convicts who were dumped there. I went on a night tour and was amazed by the dramatic stories surrounding the area. I also visited the Blue Mountains outside Sydney which were absolutely breath-taking! The day trip also included a visit to an aboriginal center, wildlife sanctuary, and ferry boat ride back to Sydney by way of the harbour near the opera house. I hiked a bit near the Blue Mountains and the vastness of the outback is stunning. There were flocks of cockatoo birds flying around which merely looked like dots in the trees below. The wildlife sanctuary was also fun and I got to pet koalas, baby kangaroos and various species of birds. I also saw dingoes, wombats and Tasmanian devils for the first time!
After leaving Sydney, I went to Cairns (pronounced “Kens”). Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef but ironically there are no beaches in the town itself! I did go diving and the fish and coral were incredibly beautiful up close. I even got to film a sea turtle from only a few feet away! After Cairns I went to Melbourne which is probably my favourite city in Australia. I stayed with friends who live there and it was nice seeing the city through the eyes of a local. Melbourne claims to have the best coffee in the world and it was indeed the best I’ve had! I visited the Eureka Sky tower which has gold plated windows at the top. The tower also offers a magnificent view of the city which stretches on for miles. The city was full of neat architecture and the buildings around the university were quite memorable. One of them appeared to be covered in green slime! I was also fortunate to see Les Miserables on stage in Melbourne. The lead characters were stunning and the newly re-staged version was brilliant. The backdrops for the show were subtly moving images from Victor Hugo’s sketchbook and paintings so the audience saw the play as the author originally envisioned it.
After leaving Australia, I returned to Wellington for a couple of days. I stayed with an awesome family from my church and on my last night in Wellington I had to bid farewell to my friends. It was heart wrenching saying goodbye to friends from Japan, China and Brazil. We made Okonomiyaki, a traditional dish from Osaka, and watched movies as we reminisced about our semester.
Overall, I have been blessed immeasurably by my time in New Zealand. Here are more things I will miss:
41. Hobbiton and the incredible ingenuity of the Weta workshop
42. Hot springs and the way kiwis downplay the danger of boiling sulfur pits
43. Zorbing and the amazing capacity of kiwis to devise methods of creating adrenaline rushes
44. The remoteness of this country and its capacity to think globally
45. The temperate climate and year-around coolness
46. The relaxed and less pressure driven culture
47. Night markets and live kiwi music
48. Glow worms
49. Open roads and mountains which capture the imagination
50. The ability of this country to capture more than a piece of my heart