The Catch Up Post

Okay, so I don’t completely bombard you all with posts I am going to squeeze the last week and a half in Melbourne into the following post. Then I will be completely caught up and you can no longer tell me you don’t know about my life. Creepers.

Alright, so where do I start? I got back to Melbourne the night of February 16th so I guess that means the 17th is the answer to that question. After a morning of sleeping in and unpacking, Natalia invited me to go into the city with her where we met up with Niklas and his brother Jasper. Niklas is a German exchange student studying at Swinburne and his brother Jasper was there to visit him before our classes started. We just kind of went where our feet took us and managed to find our way into the botanical gardens before heading back into the city. Natalia bought some chairs for her patio so I helped her carry those back to our train station and then headed back up to my room. I met Marco, one of my roommates, when I got back so we talked for a little while before I went into my cave to try and be productive. Emphasis on try. I’m not entirely positive what I did that night but it probably amounted to watching Lost while I uploaded pictures onto my computer (they will be up on here soon!).

Friday started much like Thursday had ended. I made the acquaintance of some more people but mainly stayed to myself to unpack (which I actually did) and run some errands. Natalia had invited us out to The Turf bar that night so Niklas and I met up to head into the city. We got lost a little bit but managed to find our way well enough only to discover (quite embarrassingly so) that a male does not wear flip flops to a bar. I was the guilty one and so Alejandro, a Columbian exchange student, who lived close by took me to his house where I put on a pair of his friend’s shoes and returned to the bar. In a really weird twist, I soon discovered that the friend whose shoes I was wearing was the boy who I shared the shuttle from Melbourne airport on the very first day that I got to Australia. I had given him my email address but apparently had written it down wrong and so had no idea where he was or what he was doing but there he was standing in front of me with his shoes on my feet. So incredibly strange but really cool. The night was a lot of fun and getting back to my apartment was much easier than finding the bar was.

Saturday. Shit, what did I do Saturday. To be honest I am not too sure as many of the days kind of blend together in a blur of new names, faces, places, and excitement. I am clear on Saturday night though. A group of us were going into the city so I went over to Niklas’ neighbor’s room where I met Olle and Glenn, two Swedes on exchange. We had a predrink and then went over to Taylor Epps’ place to help her celebrate her birthday. We met quite a few people there and we headed out to the city shortly after that. Having gotten a bit of a late start we bounced around from a bar to the Casino. Olle had the same wardrobe difficulties as I had the night before (guys don’t wear shorts into bars either apparently) so our group got split by those who went to the bar and those who went to the casino floor where the wardrobe was less strict. We played a few games and walked around before heading back to UniLodge.

Sunday was a relaxing day. I met up with Niklas, Jasper, Olle, and Ben to go to St. Kilda beach for the first time. The tram ride was unexpectedly long but completely worth it. The beach is so much fun and when we got there a volleyball tournament was in its final games so we watched that before heading further down the beach. In another freaky twist, Ben actually met two girls, Alex and Angela, who are exchange students at University of Melbourne while we were on the beach. They came to hang out with us and it didn’t take long for us to realize that both of them were at The Turf the same night we were, that Niklas and I had actually met them already, and that Niklas had even bought one of them a drink. Melbourne is a small, small place I guess. We played a few games of volleyball and then headed back to our apartments. Around 9 we met back up again to meet up with Alex and Angela to go for drinks. After an unsuccessful trip to Richmond we went into the city and sat outside on Federation Square and talked before calling it a night.

Our Orientation Week started on Monday and it was actually kind of exciting to be at. All the exchange and international students (yes, there is a big difference) were gathered into the largest lecture hall on campus and had a mutual orientation before the two groups split up. After the split things went a bit more smoothly and after a pizza lunch we were split once again into our various faculties. I was a bit confused here because I wasn’t sure where I belonged but soon discovered that since I am only taking one business class and two ‘social science’ classes that I am not in the Business Faculty but am in the Life and Social Science Faculty. We had a quick introduction to the program and were then set free to do whatever we pleased. I had met a lot of new people by this point (most of them over the weekend that I can’t remember) so a group of us went to a bar in Federation Square that had been designated as the post drink place for that night. Not in the mood to spend too much money or get too rowdy, Olle, Ben, Sascha, and I went back to my place and cooked dinner before heading over to a house where a group of Swedish students were staying.

Tuesday. What can be said about Tuesday? The SwinMates, a student group on campus, had arranged for a walking tour of Melbourne that started at noon. With nothing better to do and intrigued at seeing parts of the city I hadn’t yet, I joined for the tour but was kind of disappointed. While it was a lot of fun to hang out with everyone and That night I hosted the predrink/birthday party and it was a ton of fun. Needing a bit of home on the night I celebrated my birthday, I splurged on myself and bought some Bud Heavies and Maker’s Mark. The party was a great success (say it like Borat). Almost everyone I had met the past few days came out to celebrate plus people who I had never seen before in my life. I had even gone to the lengths of acquiring ping pong balls and cups so that I could play beer pong so that was a highlight of the night. It was weird not having my friends and family there to celebrate with me but it was a great birthday celebration none the less.

Wednesday was everything I could have expected out of my birthday. I went to St. Kilda’s with a big group of people in the afternoon. Unfortunately the volleyball nets had been taken down but it was still loads of fun. When we got back from the beach it was a quick turnaround before leaving for the Night Market at Queen Victoria. It was the second to last night it would be open and I hadn’t been yet so almost everyone who went to the beach came out to enjoy the music, shops, and food (so much glorious food). It was great fun and I will definitely be going back next Wednesday for the final night.

*I will take this moment to thank everyone who wished me a happy birthday over the past few days. The time difference made it a bit confusing and I am sorry if I didn’t get to responding to everyone but I am working on it. Thank you very much and I will allow you one week for your care packages to get here before I start asking questions :P*

Thursday started out as the most pointless day of my entire trip. I went to the faculty orientation only to discover that I was one of five international students there and that almost 90% of the students were freshman. Now I know what it is like for the international students to go to Crossroads (but this was much worse because it was simply sitting in a lecture hall and not having the time of your life out in Bagdad, Kentucky). I left after the first break and walked around the little festival that had been set up around campus. Commonwealth, Telstra, Vodafone, STA, Topdeck, and a bunch of Swinburne clubs were all giving out free stuff and information. I signed up for a few things and walked away with more bags than I could carry. Also signed up for the gym. One of the clubs that I signed up for is the Swinburne Razorbacks, which is Swinburne’s Australian Rules football team. They had told me that they would be practicing at 6 that night so Olle, Ben, Elliot, and I all went out to see what it was about. The guys at the booth had failed to tell me that Thursday was their fitness night so we soon found ourselves sprinting around the field doing dips, squats, burpees, crunches, and indian sprints. We survived though and were rewarded with a quick session of ‘footy’ in which all of us managed to get the ball and quickly kick it away in mild panic. Even though it kicked my ass, the practice was a lot of fun and all the guys were really friendly and helpful at explaining the game. So we will be going back every Tuesday and Thursday at 6pm. That night I went to Henrik, Simon, Lisa, and Ottilie’s house with a few people to just hang out that night. There house is absolutely huge and has been dubbed The Castle. When they all left for the city I walked home and fell asleep reading.

Friday was pretty eventful. We had a relatively early wakeup so we could meet the REAL tour outside of Swinburne. I found a few familiar faces and we piled onto the bus to go to Healesville. I wasn’t overly excited about going since I had already been to two such places but it was definitely fun to be there with everyone who was going for the first time. When we got to the sanctuary we went on a short guided walking tour of the main animal attractions that let us stare at koalas, kangaroos, platypus (really cool, hadn’t seen one of those yet), echida, and a pretty cool birds of prey show. Our lunch was delicious and towards the end I discovered that we all got a free beer (YAY beer!) but we finished quickly because there wasn’t much time left for us to see the rest of the place. We got to see a cool reptile show, the top 10 deadliest snakes in Australia, and a nighttime exhibit all before running back onto the bus. Our next stop was a wine tasting in the Yarra Valley. Wine isn’t really my thing but there were a few really good ones that we tried. The highlight of that was the boomerang throwing though. A man of Aborigine ancestry came and talked to us a little bit about his people and then showed us how to throw a boomerang. I bought one to try for myself and actually got the hang of it pretty quickly but still had to shout “Watch out!” more than I care to admit. Duck hunters in hand, we climbed back onto the bus and planned what we would do that night. It was a fairly uneventful night that saw us move from my apartment, to Olle’s so we could celebrate his roommate Jesse’s birthday, and then to the Swedish Castle.

Saturday was a pretty laid back day. I got to sleep in and emptied out my room of all the papers and knick knacks I had accumulated over the past two months so that I could organize them and start to feel at least somewhat productive. My piles consisted of receipts, travel guides, Melbourne guides, student bar guides, souvenirs, trash, Oh my iPod!, and more trash. I opted out of going to St. Kilda’s or into the city because I can’t afford to do it every night and just wasn’t really in the mood. So I jammed out to my music and spent the day chilling.

Sunday was a good day. I had gotten a ton of sleep and woke up to head straight to St. Kilda’s. The weather was perfect and a good group of people came out to soak up the sun, play volleyball, and drink slushies. The tram ride gets shorter every time you go on it, too so that is nice. With class the next morning I just relaxed for the rest of the day, put together a pretty comprehensive calendar of what all is going on in Melbourne while I am here, and went to bed.

My first day of classes was on Monday (which is today) and it was everything I expected it to be. I only had three hours of class so I spent most of the morning Skyping and getting things organized for class. My first class was an hour long lecture that was absolutely terrible. The lecturer wasn’t starting the topic until next week so he just rambled about whatever he fancied with no discernible pattern or thought process. I found myself checking my watch more often than not. The class is Australian Politics so I am hoping that it is somewhat interesting once we actually start the lessons, but today was just downright brutal with it being my first time in a classroom in 81 days. Right after the lecture finally ended I went upstairs for my tutorial, or as people say here my ‘tut’ (pronounced toot). The immature 5 year old in me had a good giggle every time the word tut was said and this actually made me miss the first few sentences of my instructor’s speech. Woops. The tut was definitely not as bad as the lecture. It is taught by a young guy and is treated as an open conversation about that week’s topic. Today it was very vague and focused mainly on what the group thought politics was which opened up some very interesting side topics about political economics, political power, and so on and so forth. When class was over I walked over to the gym where I had my first true workout in almost two months. Needless to say I will be incredibly sore tomorrow but it felt amazing to get back in a gym. I made dinner, watched an episode of Lost, and wouldn’t let myself out of my chair until I had caught up on this very blog. Thats what I did with my Monday night, what did you do?

So that’s it. I’m all caught up. Stay tuned for more posts and I will be posting pictures sometime in the next few days.

Thank you all for still reading this, it means more than you know. Love and miss you.

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Sydney.f80]uh3ybn

Our flight from Cairns to Sydney was the longest out of all of them but Qantas definitely made it an easy flight with a full meal and personal screens for all the seats. I am going to be miserable on my flight back with United without those screens. When we got to Sydney we once again took a shuttle to our hotel which was in a great location right behind The Rocks part of the city and within walking distance of just about everywhere. Our room was once again very very nice and it had an absolutely stunning view of the Bay Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House. This view was one of those where you just have to smile and think to yourself what an amazing opportunity traveling is. We got into Sydney a bit late and none of us were all that hungry but we did a little bit of night exploring around The Rocks area, which is where all the convicts who helped settle Sydney lived way back in the day. The buildings were all very old and housed restaurants, pubs, and hotels galore. Quite on accident we came across the harbor which we walked down for a bit across from the Sydney Opera House and (fairly close) to the base of the Bay Harbor Bridge. It was a great night to be out and for those two landmarks lit up at night to be the first things that we saw was a great way to start our stay in Sydney.

We woke up the next morning to… you guessed it!… another tour shuttle waiting for us outside the hotel. This would prove to be unlike any of the tours we had gone on previously though as we were the only ones who would be going. Our guide was extremely friendly and knowledgable about the city as she drove us around pointing out historical landmarks, her favorite bars, and other interesting places in and around Sydney. She took us all over the place and talked so quickly that it was sometimes easier to just look out the window aimlessly than to try and keep up with the conversation. Lunch was at a famous pie place along the harbor and she took us to great photo opportunities along the bay, beach, and coast. The only slight downside was that we were getting to see all these awesome places but had no time to stay and explore ourselves but I did what I could to take note of where we went so I could go back. After our guide dropped us off we did a quick dinner and beer stop before heading back to the hotel. Knowing that we would have an early morning the next day for our tour of the Blue Mountains we all just kind of lazied around the hotel room and relaxed before going to bed.

The start of my second to last day in Sydney and with my parents got off to bumpy start. The weather was shit, our shuttle arrived half an hour before it was supposed to, we ended up sitting in the shuttle for that half hour while we waited for other people to show up, and then got caught in Sydney traffic and construction while trying to make it to the Blue Mountains. Once we did get to our destination it was only long enough for people to grab their prepaid lunches from a restaurant and speed walk up the main street of the town. We moved on shortly after that and when we got to Echo Point where the Three Sisters view point was it was still so bleak and cloudy that you couldn’t see anything so we continued on to a Scenic World, where we would spend most of the day. Since the weather was still too bad to get any good pictures and we didn’t want to spend the extra money to go down into the valley on the train or skyrail we were the first ones to hit up the lunch buffet. It was great and we waited out the weather accompanied by steak, fish, rice, couscous, and all the KoolAid you could drink. Yes, KoolAid. Our scheme to finally get a good view of the valley mostly paid off and only a few short minutes after we left lunch the sky cleared up. The Three Sisters were a bit further away now but it was still a beautiful sight. After an attempt to go down to the valley was cut short by an extremely muddy trail it was getting close to the time we needed to get back onto the bus. The ride back to Sydney was just as awful as the ride up and what was supposed to be a leisurely tour of the Olympic grounds turned into a speedy trip past the main stadium so the tour could get to the ferry on time. Since it is a necessity to take a ferry across the harbor while you are in Sydney we bought a ticket and took our seats along the railing on the top deck. It would had been a lovely experience if not for everyone who DIDN’T get a seat along the railing on the top deck standing in front of us to try and get a picture. I’m sorry hun, but you are an overweight ginger and whether there is a lot of wind or not there is no amount of pictures in this would that could make you look attractive. Now get out of my way so I can find which harbor-side mansion I will have as my summer home. Thanks. The ferry dropped us off in Darling Harbor where we continued a time tested family tradition of going to any Hard Rock that is convenient for us to go to. The meal was great and we sat outside overlooking the harbor as it went from the bustle of late afternoon to the more relaxed night life. It was our last meal together so that definitely gave it a certain atmosphere and afterwards we all walked back across the city to our hotel. The packing extravaganza began when we got back and even I was a bit startled at how easier it had been to pack at the beginning of the trip than it was at the end. I took one last look out to the Sydney Opera House and Bay Harbor Bridge and called it a night.

Our check out being pushed very far back, our morning was extremely lazy. We bought internet, had breakfast, and finished packing before dropping our bags at the front desk and going to walk around the city. We actually did a pretty nice walk through the business district, into the botanical gardens, around the harbor, past the Sydney Opera House, and back up through The Rocks district. We stopped to have one final lunch together next to the harbor before going back to the hotel so I could catch my shuttle. My flight was a few hours before my parents’ so we had to say goodbye in the hotel lobby. It was a lot harder than saying goodbye in Cincinnati was. The shuttle to the airport, checking in, getting some food, and finding my terminal all went incredibly smoothly and everything was going perfectly (they had even announced the plane to prepare for boarding!) until we were informed inclement weather in Melbourne was preventing the flight from leaving. Cue the mad scramble to get your seat back. It was this mad scramble that had me sitting next to a very unfortunate soul who thought it was socially acceptable to sit there for twenty minutes filing her nails. Bitch, please. I can understand doing each nail once but when you start on your thumb for the third time I have had enough. The look on her face was priceless when I asked her to stop and when she got offended and asked me why she should stop I had to fight the urge to tell her that accidents happen and people get thrown into jet engines sometimes. When we did finallllllly get on the plane we were informed that it would be another twenty minute wait because they had lost necessary paperwork for takeoff and had to get it sent over. You’ve got to be kidding me. The Asian man in front of me was farting out whatever awful concoction of rice and raw fish he had had for lunch, the guy sitting next to me was a bit creepy and had no sense of personal space, and my patience was just about at its end when the plane at last started moving. But wait, there’s more! About twenty minutes into what is supposed to be an hour and a half flight the pilot bings on tells us that we are flying in a huge circle waiting for Melbourne air control to give us the okay to proceed. Cue Asian man farting. Twenty minutes later and one huge circle done, the captain bings on again to tell us we are going into another huge circle. aiubegpqr3yugn2asdanfientbu;enjrg;ieqjrng’eo;jnb;eoajnrget’o;bjn’g. After two hours and fifteen minutes I step off the plane into the Melbourne airport. Fresh air and room to raise my elbow never felt so good. I caught the bus and train back to my place and got the pleasure of meeting Natalia, who is another exchange student I had been in contact with for a few days, for a few hours over in my apartment building before going to bed.

 

To Mom and Dad, thank you so incredibly much for letting me join you on your travels across Australia. I know we got a bit annoyed with each other at some points, but it was a great experience that I would do again in a heartbeat. I am so happy to have gotten the opportunity to see you and travel with you. I hope you enjoyed the trip as much as I did! 🙂

Port Douglas

Our travel day to Port Douglas was a very leisurely one. We had gotten a semi-late check out and so were able to take our time waking up and getting ready. The front desk stored our bags for us while we went out to explore the resort area, eat, and get some last minute souvenirs. The day before Dad had fell in love with a vase by a local artist so went through the process of acquiring that before lunch. After lunch we went our separate ways to gather up various reminders of our time at Uluru before rejoining at the hotel for our shuttle. The airport was no bigger than a McDonald’s store and consisted of two terminals, one set of bathrooms, and a vending machine. Our plane to Cairns was surprisingly big (I was expecting a prop plane) and the flight went quickly. Thankfully our friends from the moonlight dinner the night before had warned us that the drive from Cairns to Port Douglas was a substantial one or else none of us would have been expecting the two hours that it took for the shuttle to take us from the airport to our hotel. When we clambered off the vehicle and got our bags we were all immediately taken with how beautiful our hotel was and how incredibly humid the air was. Going from the intense, dry heat of Uluru to the clingy, humid heat of Port Douglas was a complete 180. Excited to be in a new place (and starving) we decide to take the short walk from our hotel to the main street. The excitement wore off fairly quickly and most of the shops were closed so it was quite dull but we happened across a Mexican restaurant that turned out to be incredible. A margarita, three enchiladas, and part of a chimichanga later and I was beyond full. All three of us said we could go back the next day and none of us were kidding. We walked back to our hotel and enjoyed the room before falling asleep.

The next morning was exciting. Despite having caught up in Lost the night before I had no trouble waking up because today was the day we would be going out to the Great Barrier Reef. I wasn’t quite sure what the set up would be but after we had taken the shuttle to the office and boarded the catamaran I quickly gathered what the day would be like. The boat would take us to a platform out on the far edge of the Reef along the continental shelf. On the platform would be all the snorkel equipment you could possibly require, a buffet lunch, and extra activities that included scuba lessons, a glass bottomed boat, helmet diving, and an underwater reef view. That was the longest 1 and a half boat ride of my life I was so excited! The excitement was slightly tapered when we found out the ‘highly recommended’ lycra suit that would prevent any jellyfish stings were $5 to rent a piece… I’m sorry, but that seemed a bit greedy of the company in my opinion. Oh well. When we docked onto the platform there was quite a rush to the scuba gear and after I had slid into the ever-graceful lycra suit I grabbed a mask and flippers. Dad wasn’t going to join in on the snorkeling because he was going to do a helmet dive later on that day but Mom and I made our way to the snorkel platform where we took a few photos (that you couldn’t tell were of us because of the suits and masks) and dove in.                                          <— that is me not knowing how to describe the experience of snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. It was absolutely amazing. The water was actually very warm, like taking a warm bath, and it took me a few minutes to get the hang of swimming in the currents of the ocean. The snorkeling area was roped off by buoys but contained more than enough to keep someone occupied for hours. I got yelled at once for going too far out (surprise surprise) but was soon captivated by trying to dive down closer to the coral. Not being very experienced I was quite pleased with what I was able to do and I definitely want to go back once I can scuba or have more experience. The fish were tons of fun, too! Although the water filters out light very quickly the coral and fish still had great patterns and colors. At one point I even got to see Dad do his helmet diving, which is basically hanging out underwater with a giant dome over your head that ‘keeps you from getting your hair wet’ and allows you to hold some ocean life and witness a fish feeding up close and personal. I spent almost my entire day in the water and only came out to eat lunch and rest for a few minutes. We rode the boat back to Port Douglas and after a few minutes in some shops we decided we’d walk back to the hotel rather than take the shuttle. The Great Barrier Reef experience was my favorite experience of the entire trip and will be the one thing that I will absolutely repeat while I am here in Australia. Unfortunately we were once again too late to catch most of the stores on the main street so the walk wasn’t as interesting as I had hoped. We took a few minutes back in the room to change out of our swimsuits and then went back to a pub that had caught our eye on the walk home. After dinner we returned to the room where I had a tiny bought of food poisoning that caused me to take my leave early.

Our second full day in Port Douglas had an early start because we had backtrack most of that two hour shuttle to the airport so we could catch a historical train ride that would take us up to a mountain village called Kurunda. The train ride was interesting and we were served a morning tea while we climbed up through the hills around Cairns. The tracks were very old and had been built by hand so that the mountain communities could survive before the days of cars and planes. At the top we began exploring the small town. There were lots of tiny small businesses that had some very cool things in them and we all got an Aboriginal art piece but were soon disenchanted with the quality of the area. The two markets were not very well kept and kind of confusing to get around inside (plus many of the products were very tacky) but I still enjoyed walking through them as it was a very unique place and reminded me a little bit of Trader’s World back home. We had lunch in Kurunda at a place that looked out right over the rainforest and had a sign that said the establishment wasn’t responsible if a bird came and flew off with your lunch. That never happened, but the fact that there was a sign meant that it had at least once and that is awesome. We went through the streets of the town pretty quickly and not feeling the need to spend money on extracurriculars like Parrot World decided to head back down the mountain early. We may not have done this had we known we wouldn’t be able to catch an earlier shuttle and forced to wait in the cafe for an hour. Mom fell asleep at this point and I flipped through the pages of a few books while Dad browsed the store and got some food. Our shuttle finally came and we stepped off at our resort about an hour later only to head right back out to get some dinner. Before dinner we wandered down towards the public beach where I chased some crabs and inadvertently took a shower when I pressed the button that I thought would turn on the foot wash. After dinner we ambled back and started a load of laundry (always an adventure) but for some reason we were all incredibly tired when we got back to dinner so it was a relatively early night for all of us.

The next morning was the definition of a lazy day. It was the one day when we literally had nothing planned but our travel from Cairns to Sydney so we took advantage by sleeping in, packing slowly, going for a morning swim, and then wandering the streets (with all the shops open!) once we had checked out. We quickly got separated as we were all interested in some stores the others were not. But it was fun to walk the main street and just go into whatever caught your eye. I made my way back to the beach so that I could see it in the daylight but had to return to the hotel shortly after that to catch our shuttle to the airport.

Bye Port Douglas, Hello Sydney!

Just to Clarify.

I hope that every post before this one has given you, my reader, every reason to think that Australia and New Zealand have been amazing experiences for me. Because they have. I am having the time of my life here and am so incredibly happy with my choice to come here.

That being said, I want it to be well known that my friends and family mean absolutely everything to me. I may talk a lot about how I love traveling around the world and experiencing new things but I wouldn’t be able to do that without such an amazing support group. So, if you ever hurt or even think about hurting one of those people I will make sure that you live the rest of your life wishing that it was your last day. There is no force on this planet that will stop me from finding you and making your life miserable if I ever find out you have hurt someone that I love. You can question me, insult me, or attack me all you want but as soon as you involve my friends or family you have crossed a line and there is no forgiving that. I don’t care if I have to fly back around the world to prove this point, because I will. I would never be the person who I am today without my friends and family and when you attack or hurt them you are attacking me. The flight to Lousiville and Cincinnati may be a long one but you will need all the time you can get to run and hide if I realize you have hurt someone I love. My friends are everything to me and I will go around the world and back for them. From Coach to Ellie and Phil to Tom, if you fuck with my friends you are fucking with me.

To make sure that my point is made as clear as possible, this post is directed mainly towards two of the most important women in my life; my sisters. If I ever get the slightest hint that you will hurt Amy or Sara, I will become your worst nightmare. And if you think that being thousands of miles away from them will stop me, you are dead fucking wrong. I may give both of them more shit than either of them deserve, but I am the only one that gets to do that. If I discover that you have made a single tear fall from either of their eyes you will be dead to me and there is nothing you can do to change that. Athens, Ohio is a very short distance to make sure that my little sister is safe and happy and the same goes for Phnom Phen and Cincinnati with my big sister. If you lie to them, cheat on them, or in any way make them feel like they are not the amazing people that they are you will have a very pissed off Rubenstein to deal with. Fuck laws, money, or forgiveness; I will find you and make you wish you had never been a twinkle in your parents eyes. So do not try and befriend me after you have hurt one of my sisters, I will show up to your party with the sole purpose of teaching you to never hurt my family. Do not try and justify your actions or explain your behavior, your words will fall on deaf ears. Do not pretend to be innocent, your word means nothing compared to that of my sisters. I like to joke about being an overprotective brother, but do not think that that means I am not ready to back up every word I have said here with action. This is your warning, you won’t get another one.

I apologize for using this blog to elaborate on such a topic, but circumstances have led me to believe that it is necessary. Being thousands of miles away from my friends and family has caused me to become a bit paranoid about their well being and happiness. I hope this message offends no one but that it reaches the eyes that it needs to.

Uluru

What can be said about such an amazing place? There isn’t much simply because of the fact that words cannot possibly express the majesty and awe that surround being at Uluru. We got in fairly early and were barely settled before we set out to explore the complex and see the shops, restaurants, and other stores that were there. We were a bit put off by everything closing so early or only being open for certain hours but soon got over this. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and then waited for our shuttle to the moonlight dinner we would be having that night. I must say it was extremely impressive. Starting with champagne and hors d’oeuvres followed by a white cloth dining experience, the meal was absolutely fantastic. We got to try kangaroo, alligator, and lots of other Australian dishes. Once we were done, we did a star watch (which was ruined by the moon) and had dessert with the opportunity to look at Jupitor and the moon through telescopes. It was a late night but completely worth it.

The next morning was early. Really early. We got picked up by the shuttle a few hours before sunlight and taken to a large viewing area complete with tea, biscuits, and a system of trails/ramps so we could see the sunrise at Uluru. It was truly an amazing experience. Once you got over the army of Asians that were reinforcing every single negative stereotype that there is about Asian tourists it was spectacular. At some moments it was hard to see the changes in the landscape but with them help of a ton of photos I managed to capture a lot of the sunrise. After that we went on a walking tour around Uluru. Our tour guide was anything but helpful and spent most of the time flirting with a few German boys and was pretty much useless as far as information goes. I learned more from the three signs I read than I did from her the entire time. But even with how horrific our guide was, she couldn’t take away from the majesty of Uluru. The landscape was just so unique and unlike anything I had ever seen before. Once we had walked around the base of Uluru we went back to our hotel for a short break before exploring Kata Jutu. And by exploring I mean walking through one of the canyons formed by the four massive stones. It was a great experience though and the views were nothing short of spectacular.We were one of the few that got all the way to the end of the canyon. After that our bus took us to the sunset viewing area where we had front row seats to watch Uluru be consumed by darkness before heading off to our second moonlight dinner. This one was a lot more fun in my opinion because it was much less fancy and we had better company at our table. A couple from Cleveland, Norway, and a British girl were in close proximity to us while we enjoyed the buffet of every meat you can imagine and a few vegetables to make us feel healthy. Dingos howled around us most of the night while we drank and ate and at the end we had another star gazing experience. I managed to sneak a bottle of white wine away from the table that is actually still in my refrigerator waiting to be drank. I’m kind of scared to try it because it has been chilled and thawed so many times.

The next morning was a bit rough. With our two late nights and extremely early morning the day before, we took our time getting up and checking out of our room. After that we explored the hotel area a little bit more and did some souvenir shopping before and after our lunch. Dad and I had a bit of a toss over a Coke but looking back it is more funny than anything else. We managed to spend quite a lot of time in the resort which made the wait for the shuttle to the airport much more bearbale. Even though the airport was relatively close and practically empty we were there a good hour and a half early so that wait was a bit long. Our plane was surprisingly big for the flight to Adelaide and the airtime was relatively short so our travel to the coast was very enjoyable.

The Adelaide update will be coming soon, I am determined to get caught up with this blog by the end of the weekend so be sure to check frequently for  more updates.

Adelaide.

After a few days of being back in Melbourne, I found myself back on the bus to the airport to catch my flight to Adelaide where I would be reunited with my parents for our two week vacation around Australia. I had just enough time to unpack, do laundry, sleep, shower, and pack my bag again in the 54 hours I was back in the city. The flight out to Adelaide was uneventful and I arrived a few minutes ahead of schedule although it didn’t matter because my parents weren’t scheduled to fly in for four hours. But the Adelaide airport had free internet so the time went by quickly and my parents arrived about an hour earlier because they were able to catch an earlier flight out of Sydney. It was really great to see them walk up the ramp into the terminal and I could tell that the only thing keeping them standing was how excited they were about being in Australia. After we got their checked bags we found the shuttle that would take us to our hotel in the city. We would be staying at the Oaks Horizon hotel and my mouth dropped when I walked through the door. For the past 4 weeks I had been staying in a dorm, camping in a tent, or rolling around on a bunk bed so the luxury of the hotel was definitely a bit shocking at first. But I’m not one to complain so I threw my bags down and we set off in search of some food. That first night we walked down a great pedestrian mall that had tons of nice shops, coffee cafes, and restaurants. The meal was good and it was great to talk to them about New Zealand and what we all had been doing the past month but it didn’t take long for both of them to start to doze off from a full belly and sitting down. We walked back to the hotel via the main road alongside the corner of the botanical gardens and some museums. Both of them dropped off pretty quickly after we got back, which is completely understandable. Mom said she felt bad for leaving me up alone which made me laugh a little because that is so typical of her but told her it was okay and that I had some work to do anyways.

The next day started out pretty bleak. There had been a few issues with the tours we wanted to do but we were picked up by a shuttle that would take us around downtown and into the hills around Adelaide which turned out to be really nice. The group was small and the guide was very good with lots of information and humor. The city of Adelaide is actually quite small so it didn’t take long for us to be on our way up into the hills surrounding the city for some good views and then find ourselves in a small German village known for its beer, sausage, and culture. We got a free beer tasting and walked around there for awhile (it was a very cool place) but it was soon time for us to get back on the bus. It was weird having someone other than Steely and Holly telling me to get back onto a bus. The shuttle dropped us off at the middle of the city next to a great street to eat on and we arrived just a few minutes before what was supposed to be one of the best seafood places in the city opened up. It was really good but I wouldn’t say that it lived up to the hype the driver had given it and unfortunately it is quite easy to become disillusioned with the prices in Australia. We walked back to the hotel so we could pack for Kangaroo Island and I attempted to show Mom and Dad my pictures from New Zealand but they were both too tired to enjoy them.

We had an early morning to catch the shuttle that would take us to the ferry that would take us to Kangaroo Island where our bus was waiting for us. The trip was good and aside from the small army of elementary school kids that were on the ferry with us it was actually quite relaxing. Even saw a dolphin playing alongside the ferry for a few seconds. When we got to Kangaroo Island we met our bus driver who seemed like a very laid back and funny guy. But he put all of us straight to sleep once he got onto that microphone. I don’t know whether he was trained to talk like that or just did it out of habit but he would spend so much time repeating himself and enunciated words for what seemed like forever that he would put all of us to sleep. The jolt of the bus would wake us up whenever we got to a destination and on the first day we were jolted at a eucalyptus oil factory, our lunch stop, an Australian birds of prey show, the sea lion beach park, a wildlife reserve, and then a sheep dairy. It was a jam packed day but was a ton of fun. Holding a kookaburra, feeding a kangaroo, and discovering that eucalyptus is one of the most pungent smells on earth were just a few things I did that day. Our driver dropped us off at the hotel and told us to wait up to try and see the little penguins as they came inland for the night but none of us were awake very long. After getting some fish and chips, food for breakfast, and reading a few chapters of The Lacuna I was out like a rock.

Our second day on Kangaroo Island was better because the stops were a bit more interesting and we were a bit more fresh than the day before. We started the day at a Honey Farm then worked our way to a cave system where our guide was a bit too enthusiastic about being down in the dark by herself before having lunch in the national park. After we ate we went further into the national park to the Remarkable Rocks formation followed closely by the first lighthouse and the fur seal rocks. The last thing on the agenda was a pelican feeding (actually really entertaining) before we were taken to the airport to catch our flight back to Adelaide. When we were back none of us were too keen on walking around more so we grabbed a pizza, some cider, and ate dinner in our hotel room before going to bed early once again (this was a recurring pattern the entire trip almost). Before we went to bed we did epic battle with the Australian washer/dryer combo that was in our room and were unfortunately defeated by the dryer that doesn’t dry clothes. The next morning we would be flying to Uluruu via Alice Springs.

New Zealand South Island: Part Two

I ended my last post after my 10th full day in New Zealand with the Flying Kiwi tour. By the end of those ten days I had developed a close group of friends and done some amazing things, but I still had five more days on the South Island and these would prove to be the best of the entire tour.

The day is January 27, 2012. We had an earlier morning than expected because the impromptu campsite we spent the night at was further away than our original destination and we were going to try to see some penguins. Had the weather stayed nice the night before we would have gone to the Te Anau beach to watch all the Little Penguins come in from the sea for the night. The gale prevented us from doing this and so Holly and Steely had made a master plan to not only let us see the penguins but to also get us completely and totally caught up with the original itinerary. The bus was pretty quiet on the ride to the penguins because everyone fell back asleep. The little excursion was nice; we got to see the sunrise over the beach and the weather was great but we only saw a few penguins. We actually saw just as many seals as we did penguins and this caused quite a bit of emotional trauma when people were told that seals and penguins don’t exactly get along. It didn’t help that Holly came down with us and started naming the very few penguins that we had seen. I wonder if Brian made it. The highlight of the stop was when we saw one lone penguin waddle out of the bushes, down the beach, and dive awkwardly into the ocean. People eventually got bored with watching one penguin standing in a bush so we piled back onto the bus and quickly fell back asleep while Steely drove us to some monster testicles in the sand. Bet that got you to look twice, eh? Yes, we were on our way to the Maoraki Boulders. The boulders are quite large, circular rocks along the beach that the Maori (the indigenous people of New Zealand) believe were the testicles of a huge sea serpent that their ancestors cut off so that the monster would leave their people alone. The boulders were actually really fun and this stop was what definitely woke everyone up. I immediately started jumping from rock to rock and with each view down the beach there were larger and larger ones to try and climb. Andy found a massive tree trunk that entertained us for a while as well. Unfortunately for me I was the one that discovered the huge trenches that surrounded each individual stone. Hid under the water, these trenches were a good foot deep and were formed from where the sand had been washed away from around the boulders. One of my running starts to climb on top of a boulder ended pretty awfully in such a trench. The people who were watching said it looked like I didn’t even try to jump; that I just ran into the damn thing for shits and giggles. When it happened I was soaked, slightly embarrassed, and a little peeved but soon realized I would be laughing my ass off it had happened to someone else and just embraced it. The beach was serene and we were the only ones on it the entire time we were out there. Lingering on the beach as long as possible, I finally gave in and ran up the wooden stairs to the café located inside the gift shop. Most of the bus was there huddled around the tables and counter waiting impatiently for their morning drug so I slid into a chair and waited. I had barely sat down from paying when Holly came in and told everyone that the bus was loading up. You could have cut the tension in the room with a knife as each passenger looked at one another wondering who would be the person to listen immediately and board the bus or pipe up about having already paid and refusing to move unless their coffee was in hand. Although no one said it loudly, not a person walked out of the café but rather started to inch slowly but steadily towards the counter as if proximity to that flat surface would make their coffee appear there quicker. The two ladies preparing the drinks were frantic enough with the rush of people our bus had sprung on them that the new time constraint had them so desperate they began letting people walk out with juices and sodas instead of the coffees that were half made. I was one who decided that the monetary value of the coffee wasn’t enough to risk getting on the bad side of Holly and Steely so I returned to the bus and right when I had come to terms with not having my lovely mocha Rachel came running onto the bus with both of our drinks in hand. What a sweetie. Now that everyone was caffeine and sugar induced we could start our long bus ride happily. We were off to Dunedin, home of the steepest street in the world and our last place to stock up on supplies and snacks for the Routeburn hike. Steely took us to the steepest street first and I admit I was a bit confused because from the bottom it doesn’t look too bad. An offhand remark by Holly about the fastest time running up and down the street was all the motivation I needed to give it a go. Mistake. Huge mistake. I made it about halfway up the hill before my quads literally said, “Fuck you Ben, this is stupid,” and stopped working on me. That was a good enough sign for me to start walking. Rachel was timing me ascent but I never did find out what it was. The walk back down was much easier and I spent the entire time thinking how the hell anyone could survive running down that paved slope of death. One bad step and you would be plummeting to an untimely death or extended tour of Dunedin hospital. The world’s steepest street conquered, the bus rolled into downtown Dunedin so that its inhabitants could venture out into the streets to find food, clothes, and anything else they might desire. Only catch was that you had to be back at the bus in two hours. Ready, set, go! Holly had given us some vague directions as to where the best shops and restaurants were so we followed those the best we could. Alex wanted to get a camelback for the Routeburn and the rest of us were keen on picking a few hiking things up as well so we wandered into a store for a few minutes. Successful as always with our shopping we then put immediate sustenance in our sights. We crossed the street to a bar called Metro (you will learn why I remember the name in a few sentences) and stuffed down some pizza before realizing we only had 15 minutes left to get back to the bus and we hadn’t gotten snacks yet! Snacks took priority in this situation so we ran into the supermarket to stock up on Oreos, chocolate peanuts, gummy worms, muesli bars, and a few bottles of wine. I know you’re thinking that all sounds like awful hiking food but go walk 20 kilometers, eat an Oreo, and tell me that it wasn’t the best thing you’ve ever done. Also, the wine was for that night and not the hike (that’s a lie, we actually did debate on taking a few beers or something up the mountain with us but decided it wasn’t worth the weight). A mad dash to the bus ensued with a small pit stop for Andy and I at the most high-tech toilets I have ever used. The door locked automatically and opened only after the sink had been turned on for a few seconds. Looking back, this is actually a really freaky mechanism but in the moment it seemed okay. When we got to the bus Holly asked us what all we had done and I repeated everything I just wrote to her. Upon hearing that we went to Metro she laughed and asked me if I enjoyed it. I told her yes only to hear her tell me that Metro had been closed less than a year ago for failing the sanitary assessment. Whether it was bad food or not, I felt slightly queezy for a few hours after hearing that. A short bus ride has us in Te Anau, where we would spend the night. I chose to upgrade this night because it was relatively cheap and it would allow me to get everything packed the way I wanted it for the Routeburn the next day. We did a barbeque for dinner and afterwards those who were doing the hike got sorted into ‘food buddies’ and handed our rations of food for the journey. Rachel and I were food buddies so when we had received all of our food we split it up amongst the two of us along with dishes, utensils, a metal pot, and cups. Now about this food. For breakfast each day we got muesli and milk powder, lunch on the second day would be salami and cheese, and dinner for the two nights would be from freeze dried bags. Think astronaut ice cream but for your spaghetti. At that point Andy and Claire joined in and we downloaded all the pictures from our white water rafting adventure to all of our memory cards. This inevitably led to us looking at them over and over again. The pictures are embarrassing enough as is but when Rachel would zoom in on her iPad to show individual faces and expressions they are just downright brutal. In my defense, I don’t know many people who can jump off a 10-meter cliff gracefully. Metal pot filled with cheese, salami, muesli, and chocolate in tow I returned to my room to pack and call it a night.

The day is January 28, 2012. After a great night’s sleep I wake up to throw my backpack in the bus and everything else that I wouldn’t be taking on the Routeburn into the trailer. A quick breakfast and hurried sandwich making session later I found myself back in the backseat of the bus. Our destination was Milford Sound. To get there the bus had to go through a huge man-made tunnel known as ­­­­­­_________. I tried to hold my breath the whole way through but never came close. At the docks we were all handed our boarding and free muffin tickets by Holly and then joined the other tourists on the boat. The weather was shit that day; dark, cloudy, and rainy. Holly insisted that this was the best way to see the Sound though but most of our thoughts were focused on the multi-kilometer hike we would be doing that afternoon. To be fair, I think Holly was right about the best weather to view the Sound. Since it had been raining for a few hours by the time we started our cruise the waterfalls in and around the Sound were very prominent. The only downside was that the fog was so low between the mountains that it actually cut the tops of them off so it was hard to perceive just how huge the mountains really were. Outside of that minor detail it was a truly beautiful place. Even though waterfalls start to all look the same after awhile, I still found myself taking pictures and gazing in a sense of wonder at each new fall we passed. There is also a seal colony inside the Sound and the boat got surprisingly close to the rocks where they were sleeping and playing so that was very cool. The cruise also took us right underneath one of the larger waterfalls but I had run inside by this point. At the conclusion of the cruise we all got back onto the bus and it wasn’t until later that I realized that would be the last time I would walk onto the bus. Even typing that sounds weird and it’s been almost two weeks since I left the tour. Steely pulled his sexy blue ride up to the start of the Routeburn and after a quick photo session we all set off. Now, the Routeburn track is a three-day, 32-kilometer hike that has about a 1,100-foot climb and 1,000 foot decline. It is not considered to be an advanced hike and the terrain isn’t necessarily all that challenging but it is still a definite achievement to accomplish. Although we would all be hiking the exact same trail the Flying Kiwi group was split into three sections, all of which would be stopping at different points along the trail for the two nights. The first group was a group of 4 who would be doing the traditional version of the hike that split the walk up into equal sections for the first two days with an easy day at the end and would be staying at McKenzie and Flat huts. The second group, which I was in, would have their easy day on the first day followed by a long second day and a medium length third day. We would stay at Howden and Fall huts for our overnights. The third and final group would be doing a mix of the first two. They would have an easy day on both the first and third days but have an extremely long day in between the two huts. In addition, this third group would be camping due to all the beds in the huts along the trail being booked. The third group stayed at Howden and Flatt campsites for their overnights. When we started out, I think everyone expected that our paths would cross a lot more than they actually did. To be honest, I never saw anyone from the first group until we had finished the hike and the campers were with us the up until the afternoon of the second day when we lost them due to our different lodgings. I’m rambling. The first bit of the hike was nice even in the rain and cold. The cold didn’t last long because we were hiking but it was raining just hard enough that it would be uncomfortable to take the waterproof gear off. The scenery was beautiful, though. Winding its way through rainforest-esque terrain, the trail wasn’t too challenging and allowed us to get some really great photos. The rain definitely gave the forest a certain look and smell about it which was cool to see and experience. Like I said before, this first day was extremely easy for us and we were only walking for about two hours before we reached Howden Hut, a picturesque little building alongside Lake Howden. New Zealand is very clever with their names. Had the weather been better we might have done an optional hike up to the peak of a nearby mountain that was about a two hour round trip but we decided it wasn’t worth it and began the process of settling in for the night. Howden Hut was a nice little place. There was a porch you had to leave all your wet and muddy gear on and the first floor had a few gas burners, a wood fireplace, and five tables with benches. The ceiling was high with rafters coming across from all directions. From these people had hung everything from sleeping bags to socks and the immediate area around the fireplace had become the home to many damp shoes. There was a corner staircase up to the second floor where the bunks were. This floor was split into three alcoves each filled with bunks for a total of 26 beds. I grabbed a top bunk along the back wall of the second alcove and after I unrolled my sleeping bag and hung my various articles of clothing in the rafters went back downstairs. Much to our surprise (and theirs) we were not alone in the hut. A few pairs of internationals would be staying with us along with a family and their friends. The family and their friends were very friendly and they clicked pretty well with our group. At one point or another there was always food going around as well. Whether it was a bag of chocolate peanuts or someone making dinner we absolutely took the approach of eating whenever we got bored. Rachel and I lucked out when Andy and Claire offered to trade us our cabbage soup for their spaghetti Bolognese. I got my handy dandy metal pot to boil water and after an experimental stage of how exactly to get the boiling water into the plastic bag we were soon waiting patiently for our food to cook. See, we all thought that we would be pouring the food into the water but the instructions actually had us put the water in the bag the food was in and then reseal the bag for 15 minutes. Since neither of us had ever had food like this before, Rachel and I decide to film each other’s reactions on the first few bites. To my surprise it wasn’t all that bad. The taste was dead on but what I got hung up on was the fact that the texture was that of Styrofoam. It felt like I was chewing packing peanuts drenched in tomato sauce. As we cleaned up from dinner we all slowly came to the realization we had no idea what we were going to do for the rest of the night. There wasn’t much else to do besides sit around one of the tables talking or going to bed. We played a few games of hangman, discussed which movies we considered to be ‘must sees’, tried to figure out when the song “Hallelujah” is played in Shrek, and tons of other completely random stuff. It didn’t take long for people to start taking that corner staircase up to the bunks but I was one of the last ones up talking with Alex and Martin. I knew that the next day was going to be a long one, but I could sleep when I was home.

The day is January 29, 2012. Before we had gone to bed the night before one of the topics of discussion had been what time all of us felt was appropriate for us to start on our 7-hour hike. After going back and forth between a few times we arrived at 7:30am and one simply had to get up with enough time to be ready to leave at that point. I woke up and it felt like I had been sleeping in a sauna that poured the coals into old hiking boots. None of us had noticed the lack of ventilation in the room when we went to bed but the odor and mugginess was so heavy you could practically see it hanging in the room. The main room was much easier to breath in and it held the means to make breakfast so it quickly became the popular place to be. It was a bustling mess of boiling water, unpacked bags, powder milk and coffee, and a shoulder-to-shoulder queue for the muesli. As I am sure you all expected, we didn’t get off right at 7:30 but came pretty damn close. Close enough for us all to say that we left on time. Our walk started off along Lake Howden Lake just about an hour after sunrise and would take us winding up the mountainside through the forest until dumping us above the tree line to climb the summit. We couldn’t have asked for a better day, either. There were only a few clouds in the sky but it wasn’t too hot or too cold. A breeze balanced out the sun quite well but even this wouldn’t be a factor until we had trekked our way up out of the forest. It took us about four hours to walk up through that last section of forest during which we had some great views of the sun breaking through the canopy, were joined by a few friendly and curious birds, and I found a pickax that I carried around for awhile. At one point along the trail we were paused momentarily by a sign that pointed right to go past a waterfall (clearly visible from the sign) and left to go along the flood path for when the waterfall was impassable. This moment would become a defining one for ‘The Group,’ for better or for worse. When I saw that we were caught up on whether to walk through an awesome waterfall or be a bunch of pansies and take a bridge across I ran off into the falls. It was brilliant. The dirt trail ended right when the mist started to hit you and you were left to jump, run, skip, or slowly climb over the rocks that made up the edges of the pool. I stuck mainly with the jump technique and for some reason unknown to me yelled out “KaKaw!” multiple times while I galumphed across the rocks. This call would soon become a common way for us to get each other’s attention, display excitement, or just be stupid. That was a great moment. We also had a stop at McKenzie Lake, where the first group had spent the night before, where we had a snack and explored before starting our last big climb. Finding my way down to the lakeshore was all I needed to be entertained as there were huge rocks lining the shore that might as well have had “Come Climb Me” writing on the side of them. Not being one to break the rules I did what the sign said and spent the next 10 minutes jumping around from rock to rock trying to get as far out and high as I could. We still had a long ways to go though so we threw all our wrappers in the trash bag, buckled the packs up tight, and set off again. Coming up out of the forest was a bit more challenging than any of us had expected. We knew that it was going to be the steepest part of the entire climb but weren’t prepared to be scrambling up rocks and making almost 360o turns up the mountain. Although I thought that it was incredibly fun there was a little voice in the back of my head that questioned just how optimistic Holly was being when she told us the track wasn’t challenging at all. Since nobody was satisfied with the breakfast we had had that morning and with the hardest part of the hike behind us we soon began looking for a place to stop and enjoy our salami and cheese. When we did stop it was at a huge outcropping along the trail that looked out across two valleys, one of which we had just walked through and the other which was home to a river, highway, and multiple campsites. At first I was oblivious to us stopping for lunch because I had dropped my pack and galloped off to the edge of the outcropping. No idea where the energy came from but the sight of those two valleys and the easy, grass covered terrain of the outcropping was all I needed to run off in search of a better view. I got it, too. On my way there, I just kind of set my sights on the part of the edge where I wanted to be at and went. Upon arrival, I realized that the outcropping was less like an outcropping but more like a small field on the side of the mountain and that I had actually come quite a ways to get to the edge. The view in front of me was worth every bit of energy and time spent getting there, though. I had a bird’s eye view of the valley we had just walked through and could clearly see McKenzie Hut and the lake at the bottom of the mountain. The trail we had come up zigzagged up to my left and in front the entire range opened up in front of me. I could see waterfalls cascading down to the river below and every few minutes caught the sun shining off the windshield of a car as it drove along the highway on the other side of the valley. To my right was the outcropping I had just ran down and when I saw Alex starting to come my way I ran back up the hill to catch up. She told me that they had all stopped and started getting lunch ready and was even kind enough to invite me to join them. I would have been flattered had I not known they only wanted me for the cheese that was in my pack. A few awkward moments trying to figure out the best way to cut and distribute lunch later and we were all munching away contently. I would take that meal over a 5 star restaurant any day especially when you count the Coke I stowed away in my pack and the fact that we had enough chocolate to feed an army. The Coke made its rounds through the group and when we made sure we had cleaned up everything properly we strapped the packs back up. It was only then that Alex explained to me that she had actually been coming to join me out at the edge but had stopped because I had come back. Upon hearing this I insisted that she go back to the edge with me and told the others to go on ahead and that we would catch up. I am so glad that I wouldn’t take no for an answer because I got an even better view than the first time. This time we opted to go for the closer, higher part of the outcropping opposed to the part I had gone down to by myself. Words cannot describe the difference that this made. Although the bottom of the valley to our left was cut out we could still see most of it but now on our right there wasn’t the outcropping but rather the entirety of the mountain range folding out onto the horizon. It was the most spectacular thing I have ever seen. When you are in a situation like that you get completely lost in it. I lost all sense of time, depth perception, and thoughts of anything but the present. What I knew was easily 10 miles away looked like I could reach out and touch and mountains that were thousands of feet high were the size of my fingernail. I have no idea how long I spent standing out there with Alex but I do know that it wasn’t long enough. So captivating was the view that I actually don’t have a single picture of it and while I am slightly sad that I can’t go back and look at it I know that a picture could never do it justice. Besides, the thought that I was so struck with being there in that moment that it never even occurred to me to take a picture still puts a smile on my face. When we finally pulled ourselves away we knew we were pretty far behind so we set off quickly to try and catch up. Of course we still had to pause to take pictures, play in waterfalls, and talk to strangers along the way but eventually we joined back up with our fellow hikers. People had begun to get a bit anxious at this point because the trail had begun to feel like a perpetual incline around the mountain that never seemed to go anywhere. Each time we would round a corner we were granted with another spectacular view but soon the anticipation of reaching the top overwhelmed everything else. When we did get to the ‘summit’ it was a simple one-room shelter with two long drops out the back. The shelter was situated in between two peaks and that is why I put the apostrophes around the word summit, because to be honest none of us were entirely sure where the highest point of the hike was. We had a vague idea from the cross section map but we never actually climbed to a peak of a particular mountain but rather just walked in and around the range. Our immediate goal reached, we now had one final climb before descending all the way to Falls Hut where we would stay that night. One of the best views we had all day greeted us shortly after we began our last section of the trail. As we rounded a corner a huge lake and a massive valley ran out in front of us. The lake was a dark blue and incredibly deep. From where we were there was no discernable bottom to it and the shallows dropped off into darkness only a few feet away from the shore. Claire also discovered that this was a prime spot for echoes so all of us took turns KaKaw-ing and yodeling. The descent was rough. Much like the final part of our climb out of the forest, going back down into the tree line was rocky and slow going. Even if it hadn’t moved when the person in front of you stepped on it, you were never sure if the rocks were going to wiggle or wobble, roll or slide. From up high we could see where we had to go and from down low we could see where we had come from. This was cool but definitely made it seem like we were making slower progress than we actually were. When we came around that corner and saw the waterfall with our fellow Flying Kiwi-ers swimming it was such a feeling of relief. The pack was definitely lighter for those last hundred meters or so. The Falls Hut worked much like Howden Hut the night before but was definitely a nicer set up. There were two bunkrooms each with six alcoves holding four beds apiece for a total of 48 beds. Laying a mattress flat and throwing your pack up was all that was required to lay claim to a bed and it only took a few seconds after that for me to start making my way to that waterfall. It was a tricky thing to get to though and I wasn’t too thrilled at having to walk up a hill just to climb back down in order to get to the water. As Andy, Claire, and I walked up the same friends we had seen from the top of the falls greeted us. I still can’t figure out why none of us hesitated in the slightest when they were in their underwear. Probably because that was exactly what we would be doing. When you haven’t showered for two days and have just got done with an 8 hour hike, there is very little that will stop you from getting into the water. The temperature of the water came closer to keeping us out than anything else though. None of us cared that we didn’t have towels, had to swim in our underwear, or that it was a pain in the ass to get to the waterfall but all it took was putting one toe into the water to make you question why you were there. It was freezing. The coldest water we came across the entire trip and of course it would be at the place where it would have felt the most refreshing. It didn’t stop us though. Admittedly, I only put my head in once and it was because I fell off of a rock into a pool but I am still going to say that I swam. I imagine we were quite a sight to see wading around in the water. Before we had set out on the hike Holly had told Andy and I about how cold the waterfall was and that if we got in we “had the biggest balls ever.” I won’t lie and say this wasn’t part of my motivation for getting in but her true bet was definitely a challenge to fulfill. See, on one of the brochures and maps for the Routeburn there is a picture of two guys standing naked with their packs on at the top of a mountain. Holly told Andy and I that she wanted a picture like that and we couldn’t disappoint.  Since we wanted to be original and also prove to her that we had gone into the falls we decided to take said picture standing underneath the fall itself. It was quite a hard process climbing our way over to where the waterfall was. When we got there it was an even harder process to pull our pants down without falling over while the water slammed down on top of us. Claire was the lucky one who got to take the picture of us but who knows how many people saw it from the shore or the trail up above. Our challenge complete we all went back to the hut to warm up and eat. Alex and Kathy had a full ration of salami and cheese so we cut that up to eat while waiting for our freeze dried meals to cook. That night all of us had Thai chicken curry, which turned out to be really good. It didn’t even have the Styrofoam texture like the night before. Dinner finished right about when the park ranger came to talk to us about safety and responsibility but he added a fun little twist at the end. A few years ago on Christmas all the hikers at the Falls hut had made two signs covered in the phrase “Welcome to Routeburn Falls Hut, Happy Holidays” or something along those lines. Each phrase was in a different language and the ranger’s challenge was to see who could name 25 of the languages on one of the signs. The winner would get a bar of chocolate. Individually no one stood a chance but with a group the size of ours we managed to scrounge up 23 of the languages but unfortunately the ranger was a hard-ass on the number 25 and didn’t give us the chocolate. The ranger also warned us about the keas, an extremely smart bird, and opossums, which are easily the most hated animal by New Zealanders, that came out at night around the hut and told us that anything we left outside hanging over the railings or on the benches would most likely be taken or torn to shreds overnight by one of those two animals. Other than that, this night was much like our first night. People just sat around a few tables talking and what started as a crowd would slowly decrease to a table and then to a last few as people went to bed. By this point I had realized this was probably going to be my last chance to see the New Zealand stars so I stayed up to try and see as much as I could. Alex stayed up with me but since it was a cloudy night our interest turned to trying to find keas and opossums. None came but we did get a laugh when Janis came running out of a bunk room looking for his shoes that we has just moved inside. The day had been pretty draining though so no one was up for too long after that.

The day is January 30, 2012. Since we had to meet our ride to Queenstown at 10am we had to get a very early start to the day despite the fact that today was going to be a relatively short walk. The one positive of getting up so early was the sunrise over the valley. One second the entire hut was running around eating breakfast, pulling on fleeces, or brushing their teeth and the next we were all lined up along the deck taking pictures of the purples, blues, and pinks that were coming up over the mountains. We were a lot quicker this morning than we were yesterday and managed to go two for two in timely departures. #winning. To our dismay the first part of the hike was much like the challenging descent from the day before and we were slow going for the first hour. Slate is hard to climb down wide-awake and even more so when you’re still half asleep. We were deep in the forest once again but it was a much different landscape than the one we had climbed up through. It was much less a rainforest and actually kind of reminded me of home a little bit with all the pines we saw. There were also several suspension bridges which some people thoroughly enjoyed running, jumping, and bouncing on while others weren’t huge fans. Andy and I tried to circumnavigate one of the bridges though when we thought it was possible to cross the river via the rocks and boulders. We were wrong but didn’t realize it until 15 minutes had gone by, both of us had managed to get stuck, and I ripped open the bag holding the last of my chocolate covered peanuts. It was a bad 15 minutes for Ben. Once we hit the bridges the trail evened out quite nicely and we were easily cutting the posted times on the trail in half. You could say we were at the point where we just wanted to be done. The trail ended with one final bridge over the river and those who finished ahead of us welcomed us with cheers and applause. This is the moment that everyone realizes we still have an hour before our ride gets here and that there is even less to do here than there was in the huts at night. Fuck. Soon the entire group was back together just like we were at the start and we made a few attempts at getting group photos using the time delays on all of our cameras. Oh, tourists. When our ride did show up some of us were a bit surprised to see that it wasn’t Steely and his bus. This was the moment when I knew I wouldn’t be getting back on that bus again and that had me a bit unsettled. Packs were thrown in the trailer and we all piled into the shuttle for the ride into Queenstown. But no ride on this trip could go without something exciting happening and only a few minutes in we came across a man who had drove his car into a massive ditch along side the road. The elderly driver was obviously shaken up from the event and had to be helped from his seat so that our bus driver could manhandle the vehicle from the ditch. His prowess was actually quite impressive as he launched the vehicle (at one point its entire backend was a good 5 feet off the ground) out of the ditch in reverse. Kinda makes you wonder how he got so good at getting vehicles out of ditches. The ride went quickly but that may have just been because it felt so good to sit down. As we arrived in Queenstown the shuttle dropped us off at the booking office so that all of us could confirm and pay for the activities we wanted to do while in the Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world. Holly had reserved our spots for us while we were on the Routeburn but Queenstown is no different from the rest of the world and needed to make sure our money was where our mouths were. A big group of us were doing jetboating later that afternoon together and then the next day Rachel and I were going to do the Nevis bungy jump. Adrenaline rush, here I come. I got my first rush when I paid for the activities, thrills definitely don’t come cheap. While we were waiting to pay a few people had gone to our campsite only to find that the bus wasn’t there yet. Since we didn’t have a camp to go to we all decided to grab some food and explore the city for a little while. It’s fun to be completely lost in a city and just walk into one of the first restaurants you stumble upon. Sure it can be hit or miss but I think that it would have been hard to miss after wandering around in the wilderness for three days. Steak sandwiches, seafood pasta, and chicken soon flooded our table and disappeared as quickly as it got there. Hunger satisfied our concern then shifted to the fact we all smelt like complete ass and although the fact that we still had our hiking boots and packs on somewhat justified our stench we were pushing the border on what was socially acceptable. But we decided that we would continue pushing the border because we would soon be zipping through a canyon on a jetboat and no one would be able to smell us then anyways. A few minutes reprise at the campsite to unload our packs was all we got by the time we had to go meet our shuttle. The canyon was a quick ride away and we were actually out of the shuttle and onto the boat alarmingly quickly. A few cheesy photos here, a few cheesy photos there, and we were off racing through the canyon. Now you may be thinking, “The fuck is a jetboat?” When you think of a jetboat think of a huge jetski on steroids; what would be the offspring of a jetski and a supercharged racing boat if they knocked hulls. They are FUN. The boat itself holds about 15 people and has two massive engines that can propel it to 80km/hr and let it do 360o turns. The entire time our driver played a game of inches with us; coming a finger’s width away from the wall of the canyon or speeding over water you couldn’t drown in if you tried it was so shallow. He was a fun guy and took us up and down the course a few times before letting us off to be bombarded by gaudy tourist souvenirs. Our ticket came with a free photo so after we had collected out bounty we wandered over to the bar on site to enjoy a drink before heading back to the campsite. Here was where Alex and I started a friendly game of tetherball to teach Janis how to play that quickly became an intense battle that she only won because she cheats and the shuttle came to take us back. Since I now had no excuse to not shower and I highly doubted that anyone would want to be around me at dinner if I remained the way I was I grabbed my stuff and wandered over to the bathroom. Clean and in fresh clothes I began the process of packing everything up so it would be ready for my flights. Eventually I gave up and made the great choice to spend the rest of the time I had with the tour actually enjoying everyone’s company. Packing could wait for after they left. Since a lot of people would be saying their goodbyes in Queenstown, Holly arranged for all of us to go to dinner together. We were all expecting a bar setting with plenty of space for our large group but instead she led us to a takeaway pizza place located in the same room as an Internet café and travel organizer. We took the place over and were soon stuffed on the all you can eat pizza and breadsticks. We even got a free beer coupon with our buffet! J Halfway through dinner Martin got up to give Holly and Steely their card and presents that those who were leaving had pitched in for. The weed smoking bus from Cars was a gift for Steely since all of his buses had the bad habit of breaking and a traveler’s wallet for Holly since she had lost the company credit card in Dunedin. We so clever. Martin also collected a small sum of money to go towards the repair of the bus that had been the unfortunate acquaintance of that huge rock near Mt. Cook. While up there, Martin got incredibly nervous and shy so that made the whole thing all the more fun. When everyone was done the group migrated to the bar upstairs. It was pretty deserted when we got there but we would soon find out it was quite a popular place. The place was a bit odd and had some mildly disturbing artwork inside but also had a nice outside patio where you could smoke hookah, a pool table where you could embarrass yourself, and a stage for the band that would grace us with their presence later on in the night. It was a really great night. Almost everyone had come out and since we were the only ones in the place at the beginning we spread out, played some pool, and just chatted it up. I did become a bit self-conscious because I had quite a few drinks without spending a dollar since everyone was buying me drinks on my last night. Those beers were bittersweet to say the least. Right when other people started to fill the bar our crowd started to loosen up and soon after that the DJ started playing. A few chorus harmonies here and there was all the DJ got out of us but when the band showed up and started playing things got really fun. At least one person in our group would get excited at every single song they played. The DJ took notes while the band was playing and was much better after they had signed off. “All Star” by Smashmouth was a favorite because we had been talking about the Shrek soundtrack a few days before and also because it’s just a good fucking song. By that point we were all exhausted and, as always, people began to slowly leave the bar in search of their sleeping bag. ‘The Group’ outlasted most of them but even we were no match for Merin, Christy, and the new Australian boys who had joined the tour that day. But as we went home there was no doubt in our minds that that was definitely a great night.

The day is January 31, 2012. I woke up and could already felt how different things were since it was my last day. Thankfully, I didn’t have much time to think about it because I overslept a bit and had a date with the Nevis bungy. Rachel would be joining me on this date so we met up and walked down to the office where we would catch our shuttle. We ended up being a bit early (or the shuttle was late) so I was able to use the free internet to book my plane ticket from Queenstown to Auckland while I waited. That was definitely a load off of the shoulders. There was definitely a foreboding feeling when we got onto the shuttle but I was so excited that my adrenaline was already pumping it was all I could do to control it. Rachel was very nervous though and resorted to her iPod to get her psyched up. That shuttle ride seemed like the longest time I have ever been a car. The anticipation of the jump was bad enough as it was so it didn’t help that the canyon was quite a far distance away and we had to drop other people off during the ride. For the last part of the ride we had to transfer over to a smaller shuttle because the large bus we had been in couldn’t get up the steep road. The entire time I was thinking that Steely could have done it. Now the Nevis bungy is New Zealand’s tallest bungy jump. It is 134 meters high and hangs in the middle of a canyon. The platform you jump out of is a large box suspended in the air by cables across the canyon. The jump box only has three sides to it (the fourth side is the side you jump out of) and is split in half by metal gates to separate the spectators/future jumpers from the workers and the current jumper. To get to that box one must ride a trolley from the canyon edge out to what will hereby be referred to as the jump box. The trolley was probably the least safe thing about the entire experience as the workers have to carefully make sure that they don’t send too much weight out on it at the same time. All of this is hidden from the parking lot by the main building that house the bathrooms, shop, and photo/DVD purchasing centers. Now the time it took between us stepping out of the bus and being taken out to the jump box was incredibly short. Quickly stepping into the harness (after a highly recommended bathroom stop) we signed our lives away on a contract, were walked out to the edge of the canyon where the cart would take us to the jump box, and were standing waiting for our name to be called in a matter of ten minutes. Everything happened so fast you could hardly register it happen which was probably a good thing because every extra moment you had to hesitate made you less and less likely to go. Rachel was so funny during that entire time because she refused to look down. When the lady was talking to us about safety, while we were on the trolley to the jump box, and even while she was walking to the edge she didn’t look down the entire time. I was a bit too curious for that though and preferred to watch everyone in front of me jump, bounce, and get pulled to safety. I had promised Rachel that I would make her go in front of me so that I could force her to jump and in return I would have to jump because I couldn’t let her outdo me but my name was called first. After a brief moment of “Oh, shit this isn’t what we planned,” I told her that I would still make her jump and walked to the prep station. To get ready for your jump you are guided through a gate to a sort of dentist chair so that they can attach the bungy cord around your ankles. Once that is done they take off your safety clip (that has been attached to the ceiling up until this point) and clip it onto your waist. This was the moment where it hit me that I was about to jump 450ft with nothing but a glorified rubber band to keep me from being an unidentifiable pile of mush at the bottom of a canyon. The workers helped me to my feet and guided me out to this slight protrusion on the edge of the jump box where you have to line your toes up with a black band about three inches thick. They tell you to smile for the camera and begin a countdown. 3. Why am I doing this again? 2. Well, we are WAY past the point of no return. 1. Fuck me that is far. Go! Having no other choice really I launch myself into a graceful, perfect swan dive off of the cliff with arms spread wide and confidence soaring. Sike. What I imagined to be an incredibly display of athletic and mental prowess was in reality a pathetic shifting of my center of gravity and a slight bend at the knees. You can bet your ass that my arms were spread though and I even did a little push off at the very last second to try and save some dignity. I will let you all be the judge of that. The jump itself was an insane head rush. Having conquered all natural human and animal instinct, you find yourself plummeting headfirst towards the ground but then magically spring back up only to plummet down again. It is great fun. The actual bounce and pull of the rope isn’t that bad at all. You are actually slowing down gradually for about the final third of your initial fall so it was in no means a jerky experience. You don’t go straight down and straight up but that would be practically impossible to do and would require a perfect jump (which I didn’t have). Since the Nevis is so high there was no way for them to get the distance right to dip jumpers in the water but they told me I got about 12 meters from the ground. The coolest part is when you are completely weightless at the top of the bounces. That moment where you stop going up but haven’t started to go down yet is such an odd and irreplaceable feeling. I had been instructed to do two bounces and at the top of my second bounce I was to pull a ripcord at my ankles that would release them from the bungy and flip me right-side up (I would still be attached at the waist and so I would simply be sitting in my harness like a swing of sorts) so that I could be pulled back up to the jump box. When I was all unclipped and back in the spectator side of the jump box I was still on a pretty big high. Not only was I alive but I had just bungy jumped for the first time on what used to be the world’s tallest jump. I took on the role of encourager for Rachel as she continued to not look down and attempt to psych herself up. When her name was called she went through all the same motions as me all the while pulling off these ridiculous dance moves and doing anything to avoid what she was about to do. When she jumped, it was such a relief. I was scared that she wasn’t going to go the first time they counted by she did and actually got a better jump than I did. Guess that’s what I get for looking down. Rachel was ecstatic when she got back into the box and was still celebrating when we were back in the main building looking at the pictures. As she should have. By then my adrenaline rush was over (it would return in bits and spurts for a few days though) and I had come slightly preoccupied with the thought of leaving the tour and everyone on it. I guess this showed as Rachel immediately went into “Cheer Ben Up” mode. She informed me that the ‘water’ she had been drinking on the shuttle up here was in reality a powerful gin and tonic and then busted out celebration cookies for us to eat. The wait for our return shuttle was long and I began to get frustrated because I wanted to get back and spend as much time with people as possible. Finally, the pictures we ordered were done and we were back on the shuttle into Queenstown. A few minutes before we got off Rachel turned around and had me listen to two artists I had never heard of before, Two Door Cinema Club and Zero 7. They were great and were the first things I put onto my computer when I got back to Melbourne. Once the shuttle dropped us off we both returned to camp. My tent was the only tent left up because I was still not packed so that was a weird thing to see. I now officially had no choice but to get everything ready for my flight. Once I was done Alex came over to help me take down my tent one final time and also gave me a copy of The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, her current favorite book. When I was done making sure I had everything a group of us walked down to Fergburger, a New Zealand restaurant famous for their huge burgers. A double bacon cheeseburger was my comfort food for that afternoon and the burger definitely lived up to its reputation. We ate it back at the campsite with some glasses of wine and beer (had to get one last drink in together) but no sooner were we done than Holly and Steely gave the call to load up the bus. It was very strange to walk around saying goodbye to everyone, especially ‘The Group.’ I was disappointed that I hadn’t gotten to spend more time with them that day and admittedly gave some pretty withdrawn farewells that in now way gave justice to the relationship I had developed with them. I guess I was scared of the reality it was probably going to be the last time I saw any of them. As the doors of the bus closed I picked my pack up and set off towards the city. Every step was a struggle and new thought; I was truly overwhelmed and it was everything I could do keep walking forward and not turn back. I got to the top of the stairs down into the city and where I hoped the bus would drive by so I stopped to take some pictures and wave goodbye. I was waiting there trying to act like I was busy for an awkwardly long time until finally the bus pulled around the corner. I wasn’t quite sure where people were sitting and all I could make out were waving hands as the bus turned in front of me. I waved back and with a honk of the horn Steely drove off onto the tour’s next stop. Without me. I did my best to occupy my thoughts with finding a place to stay that night and I soon found myself throwing my pack onto a bunk at the Aspen Lodge a few minutes walk from the city center. Although all I wanted to do was go to sleep I forced myself to wander back out to get some last minute souvenirs and find something to eat. Cash was pretty tight at this point and I still had to pay for a bus to the airport so I was definitely counting every last cent that I had. I actually went without dinner that night because I couldn’t afford it. I returned to the hostel and bought a few minutes of internet (yes, this was more important than food) to let everyone know I was still alive and to write an incredibly depressing blog post about leaving the tour. When my connection ran out I foraged around in my pack for the book I hadn’t read a page of since being in New Zealand. I figured I might as well read a little since I had been carrying it around with me for the past two weeks. I took a spot in the corner of the main tv/kitchen area and spent the next few hours reading while occasionally looking up to people watch (subconsciously playing Your Team, My Team the entire time) and catch a few scenes of the movie some girls were watching. When I started to forget what had happened on the previous page I decided to call it quits and went to bed. It had been a very weird afternoon.

The day is February 1, 2012. Gah! Where did January go?! Not having anything to do or any money or people to do it with I got up early to make sure I could get to my plane on time. I would fly out of Queenstown at noon and my flight back to Melbourne would leave Auckland around five. For being last minute bookings, it worked out pretty nicely. I spent the last of my money on a bus ticket to the airport and then spent the next 10 hours sitting in terminals, airplanes, buses, and trains until I was finally back in Melbourne. My actual travel was incredibly uneventful and Air New Zealand proved once again to be a great airline to fly on with touch screens, food, and free beer on both my flights. Walking into my room was like hitting a brick wall, though. Not needing to find a place to stay, food to eat, rides to airports, or what terminal I needed to be in next meant that I had nothing to distract me from the thought I had spent the last 36 hours running from; my New Zealand experience was over.