South Island – Week Two

My friends and I finished up our New Zealand travels this past Friday. I’m currently 23 hours into my 27 hour flight/layovers home to Canada.  The first 20 hours were actually pretty great. I got an upgrade on my 15 hour flight from Sydney to Dallas, which made that flight much more enjoyable!  I’ll try to get a wi-fi connection and post this final blog asap.

Here’s a breakdown of the past week:

Day 8:

We started this day off on the west coast of the south island, in Franz Joseph.  Here we spent the afternoon completing a glacier walk.  It was really “cool” to spend an afternoon on snow and ice; much different than the typical climate I’ve gotten used to in OZ/NZ.  Fortunately for us, the weather was amazing and we ending up doing the walk in near summer weather!

Hanging in a Glacial Alley

The three of walked through tight ice alleys, climbed through tunnels and saw some pretty neat waterfalls.  We had a great time slipping and sliding all over the Glacier, especially Christina, who won for best wipe-out on the ice!

Kelly crawling through a tunnel

After our tough afternoon of ice-climbing, the girls and I sat mountain-side at local pub for dinner, and then headed to some of the hot-springs in the area to relax.

Dinner & Drinks in Franz Joseph

Later that evening we left Franz Joseph and drove to the tiny New Zealand town of Reefton.  There was actually nothing in this city, but our night stop.  Despite this, we made friends with a few locals and our Hostel owner, Trevor, and ended up having a pretty decent time!

Day 9:

We headed out of Reefton early Sunday morning and drove to the top of the South Island to Picton.  This area is known being close to the Malbourgh Sounds, which is a great bushing walking area.  Kelly and I did a short hike and wandered around the tiny town.  Afterwards we spent the evening relaxing at our Backpackers.

Pretty Picton

Day 10:

Next to Picton is the city of Blenheim, which is the winery hub of New Zealand.  The girls and I tried some of the best wine I’ve had down under to date!  My sister, who has zero interest in wine, actually enjoyed some of the samples as well! To help satisfy Kelly’s taste buds, we also sampled several beers at a local brewery.

Kelly at the Brewery

After this classy afternoon, the three of us headed to the town of Kaikoura for some seal and dolphin watching.

Seal Watching

Day 11:

We got up early on Wednesday and did a coastal walk in Kaikoura.  This hike took us past several seal colonies and along some scenic cliffs.  It was also the last fabulous day in NZ that we had weather-wise.  That afternoon we also said goodbye to Christina

Coastal View from our Hike

Day 12:

Kelly and I left Kaikoura in the morning and travelled south to Christchurch.  There really isn’t too much to see in Christchurch anymore, as a result of the massive earthquakes that have taken place over the last year.  We did a walk around the city centre, which was heavily damaged during the earthquakes.  It’s pretty unfortunate, but interesting to see.

Kelly in front of some of the earthquake reconstruction

Day 13:

Our final day in New Zealand was spent shopping in Christchurch.  The weather wasn’t great so we checked out a few malls and shopped near the replacement for the former City Centre mall.  Large shipping containers were brought in and placed near the city and the former downtown shops have set up in the containers.  It was pretty neat, and there we lots of deals!

City Centre Mall

We also checked out the Canterbury Museum near the Christchurch City Centre, which was actually really impressive.  As far as free museums go, it was probably the best I saw in OZ/NZ.  Afterwards we travelled through the botanical gardens, which again, we’re pretty sweet.  All in all, despite the damage in Christchurch, we had a more than enough to do to fill our day.

Christchurch Botanical Gardens

Day 14:

Day 14 was spent sleeping the Christchurch airport before heading out of NZ around 6am back to Brissie. Kelly and I did some last minute shopping in Oz, had dinner out with friends and left Saturday afternoon for Canada.

While I can’t believe my Aussie adventure is all over, I’m incredibly happy it happened.  I feel like I lived it up and am leaving with no regrets.  As sad as I am to see it go, I can’t wait to start planning my next one!  (And, I may graduate and work at my real job for a little while in between ;))

The End.

My Travelling Pig keeping watch on my four planes tickets

South Island Road Trip: Week One

I’ve been spending my two final weeks down under road tripping through the South Island of New Zealand.  It’s an absolutely beautiful place. Our two week schedule is pretty tight, but we’re doing our best to see the highlights. Here’s a day-to-day break down of our adventure:

Day 1:

We arrived late to Christchurch, New Zealand and had to “break into” our first night’s accommodations. We stayed at the old Christchurch penitentiary, which was definitely the most character-filled backpacker that I’ve stayed at to date.  As a future criminal lawyer, I feel it’s important to really get to know the accommodations of your clients, so I feel this vacation experience should also be classified as a work endeavour ;)

Kelly in the "Pen"

Clearly staying outta trouble

Day 2:

After taking a few pictures of our jail house accommodations, we picked up our rental car and began our six hour drive to Queenstown, NZ.  We made a few pit stops along the way. The most notable was at Lake Tekapo.  It’s a very scenic blue lake surrounded by mountains.  We had lunch here and snapped a few pictures.  After a solid eight hours of driving and stopping, we finally arrived in Queenstown and briefly checked out the sights before heading to bed.

Lake Tekapo

Day 3:

Our second day in Queenstown was spent touring the city.  It’s got a great ski-town feel to it.  My B.C. travel buddie, Christina, claims it’s very akin to Whistler.  We did some souvenir shopping and indulged in some delicious Ferge Burgers, which are an extremely famous Queenstown dish!

Queenstown

Enjoying our Ferge Burgers

Day 4:

Queenstown is also famous for being the ex-treme capital of New Zealand.  On this date, my sister, Kelly, and I, decided take on Queenstown’s most famous attraction, the Nevis Bungy.  It’s a mere 440 foot bungy.  On the way up the extremely steep mountain to the bungy, Kelly and I both seriously questioned our sanity.  Fortunately, we able to put all rationale thought aside and both plunged to our near-deaths. The bungy was the most incredible rush I’ve experienced in my life.  It was my highlight of my NZ trip so far.

Nevis Bungy

Survivors

Day 5:

On this date, we decided to do something a touch more low-key.  We travelled four hours around one of the Queenstown Mountains and did a boat tour on the other side in Milford Sound.  This area is famous for its beautiful mountain peaks and marine life (seals and dolphins).  It was an extremely scenic tour and was pretty enjoyable, despite the looooong drive to and from.

Milford Sound from the boat cruise

That evening, we had a quick nap then headed out for pub crawl through Queenstown.  We were really excited for the pub crawl, because it included cheap entry into the local Ice Bar.  It was really “cool”, and fortunately, they provided us with winter clothes so we didn’t freeze to death during our stop there.  After that stop we were taken to a pub with a natural burning fireplace located in the middle.  I was pretty happy to thaw out there!

Pub Crawl Stop 2: The Ice Bar

Day 6:

I spent my final day in Queenstown atop a mountain with my mate Amy.  We took in the sights while also lugeing down the mountain.  Amy and I had a great time racing and smashing into each other as we travelled down the hill.

Amy's Ex-treme Luge Skillz

After our six luges, we headed to a winery for a quick tasting and tour.  After this stop we travelled out of Queenstown to the tiny town of Twizel, with really nothing more than our motel stop for the night.

Day 7:

This day included an extremely long road trip from Twizel to the town of Franz Joseph.  Here we toured the four streets found in Franz Joseph, then made a delicious dinner and planned our final days.

Up Next:

We conquer some ice & surf.

Aussie Finale

Hey all!

Last week was my final stop on my Australian travels. My girlfriends and I did our Aussie finale in Airlie Beach, Queensland, Australia.  We booked an overnight boat tour through the Whitsunday Islands, which are just off the coast of Airlie Beach.

The islands are famous for the beautiful beaches and amazing snorkelling.  We spent three days and two nights sailing around the islands. One of my favourite stops was at the world famous Whitehaven Beach.  It’s famous for its 98% silicon sandy beach, which makes it incredibly soft. It almost looks as pretty as the pictures below! While strolling along this beach I also had the opportunity to wade through the waters with string rays swimming within a few feet of me, it was spectacular!

Kelly, Amy and I in front of the Whitsundays

Kelly strolling through the stingray filled waters

One of the beautiful Stingrays

After that visit to Whitehaven Beach, our boat took us to our first snorkelling spot.  Here we had the opportunity to swim with hundreds of beautiful fish.  Afterwards, we took our turn jumping off the top of our sailboat and sliding down the waterslide.  We were on a bit of a party boat and it certainly lived up to its name!

Our boat - The Atlantic Clipper

After the boat tour we spent a night relaxing in Airlie Beach.  We had dinner with some of our friends that we met on the boat and relaxed by the lagoon in the town.

In front of the Airlie Beach Harbour

This last little stop was a great way to spend my final days in Australia. Now I’m off for two weeks in New Zealand before I head home to Canada for good.

Me Irish Mates & My Pen Pal

Hey All:

So now that I am out of my residence, I am officially travelling and doing a little couch surfing. My twin sister, Kelly, joined me last week and we spent our first few days together in Brissie at my Irish mates’ house (Ciaran & Darragh). Together we showed Kelly Brisbane’s highlights, including the Botanical gardens and Southbank Parklands, where we had a good old-fashion Aussie BBQ.

Darragh & Kelly on route to the BBQ station

The Canadians showing the Aussies our BBQing skillz

After Kelly’s first few days in Brisbane, we headed south to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. We planned to tour the Great Ocean Road on our first full day there. It ended up being a beautiful day and gorgeous tour. We traveled out to the famous 12 apostles and spent some time lounging in a pretty gorge.

My Travel pig in front of three of the 12 Apostles

In front of the Loch Ard Gorge

After our day touring the Great Ocean Road, we met up with my Australian pen pal, Rebecca, from my grade school days.  When I was in grades four through seven, I had a pen pal that I was assigned through my girl guide troop. While we stopped writing to each other after grade school, we kept in touch, in frequently, through email and facebook.  I always thought it would be great to meet her, and it was incredibly surreal finally meeting her this past week.

Rebecca and I on Brighton Beach in Melbourne

Rebecca picked us up on our third day in Melbourne and took us around the city. We saw the beaches, the markets and a skyview of the city.  Afterwards we went out for dinner with her friends and had a few drinks together.  It was crazy hanging around with someone whom I knew fairly well, but had never actually met.

Rebecca, Kelly & I on route to Phillip Island

On our final day in Melbourne, Rebecca took us out to Phillip Island, around 1.5 hours from Melbourne.  This island is famous for the penguin walk that occurs every night at dusk.  Despite the non-stop rain on the island, Kelly, Rebecca, her boyfriend and I suited up in rain gear and watched the cutest parade I’ve ever seen.  Hundreds of one-foot high penguins left the sea at dusk and walked towards the land and their evening homes.  They walked less than a few feet past us, so we had many incredibly close encounters with the penguins.

We couldn't take pictures of the Penguins, so hopefully this hilarious sign will do.

All in all, this past week down under has been tons of fun and incredibly surreal!

Up Next: The Hamp. joins the Krafchick twins!

International Education Week

This past week was International Education Week, which is essentially a week  to celebrate travel and the exchange of ideas all over the world. I’ve been asked to write a quick blog about what International Education Week means to me. It’s a pretty perfect time to reflect this week. As my the semester as officially ended at UQ and I am leaving my residential college this afternoon, I’m already in a reflective mood.

If I could sum up my international education in one word, it would be “opportunity”.  This exchange has brought me an overwhelming amount of opportunities. From travelling all over the Beautiful countries of Australia and New Zealand, to meeting lots of amazing people, to learning in a completely new environment, I am so grateful to have had this opportunity. The most important thing these experiences have brought me is the opportunity to learn about myself.

I’ve learned that I can leave my friends and family on the other side of the planet, yet never feel too far.  I’ve learned that there are wonderful people all over the world, who I might only get to know for a short time, but are more than worth getting to know even for that small time frame. I’ve learned that I probably will get lost many times along the way, but I will always manage to get to where I need to be.

My international education was more than just a classroom experience.  While I found it very interesting to discover how the legal systems functions in Australia, I really enjoyed meeting my classmates and participating in our social and club events most.

I feel so incredibly lucky to have had this international experience and will cherish the memories and life lessons forever!

As a final note, while the formal education part of my exchange has ended, I now have the opportunity to do a little more traveling before I head back to reality (and Christmas!). I’ve posted a view pictures below, from my most recent little trip to Cairns, North Queensland. I spent lots of time “under the sea” checking out the beautiful ocean life that Australia has to offer. I also did a little overnight trip to the Cape Tribulation Rain Forest. Both locations were amazing!

Enjoy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

School’s Out for the Summer!

Hey All!

Today I had my only exam in the official exam period. I think it went well. It was more challenging than usual because it was a closed-booked exam. Since all of my Western exams are open book, I definitely had to study quite differently for this exam than I am used to.  At any rate, the good news is, I am done my semester!

All in all I would say I really liked the University of Queensland. It’s a beautiful campus, the students and profs were all very friendly and the classes were interesting.  I really couldn’t have asked for more out of my uni experience.

One of the best things that I would say that UQ had to offer, was the social life.  In particular, the wide array of student clubs. I would definitely recommend getting involved with at least one club while on exchange. It’s a great way to meet other exchange students as well as local Aussies.  It’s also a good way to find affordable entertainment. Australia, while amazing, isn’t the most cost-efficient place to travel, and getting involved with the uni clubs is a great way to cut those costs.

Mount Barney National Park

I did an overnight trip a little while ago with the UQ Mountain Climbing Club, to Mountain Barney National Park (1.5 hours south-west of Brisbane).  I would have never checked out this location, but for the fact that the local climbing club members recommended and set up this trip. It was also super-cheap since we all car-pooled there and camped with borrowed equipment.

Beginning our Bush Walk

The main plan for this adventure was to bush-walk through the forest and climb the mountains up to the top of the Mount Barney summit.  This was the most insane trek I have ever done. I’m used to hiking back home, but this Aussie-style bush walk was much, much more intense.

For starters, we weren’t really on any trail at all.  We made our own paths between the bushes, trees and random spiders.  I now completely understand why the Australian’s use the term “bush walk” rather than “hike”.  My legs are still covered in the scratches and cuts I received from the many prickly trees and bushes.

On top of the second peak we climbed, looking at the first peak we climbed.

When we weren’t bush walking, we were scrambling up the various mountains in the Mount Blarney National Park. The climbs got pretty challenging, and more frightening the higher we climbed.  The views, however, were amazing! We happened upon a rare Rock Wallabie, who just stood by a rock posing for us as we snapped it’s picture.

The Rock Wallabie

The wildlife on this adventure were my favourite. We drove past a half-dozen kangaroos and wallabies on our way to and from Mount Barney.  And, also came across an extremely poisonous Brown snake. I quickly ran in the opposite direction of the snake! It was a really, authentic Australian experience. I’m glad I joined the UQ Mountain Climbing Club and had the opportunity to experience the craziness at Mount Barney.

A creek near the end of the hike.

After the Climbing trip, I was more than ready for a little beach vacation. So, two days after the trip, I headed two hours south of Brisbane to Byron Bay. It’s a quiet, little hippie town with beautiful beaches and plenty of pretty hikes, which were nothing like the Mount Barney bush walk!

Byron Bay Lighthouse

I also had the opportunity to take an actual surf lesson. It was so much nicer having something telling me what to do, rather than guessing how to manage this sport on my own.  Bryon Bay is also great place to learn to surf. This beach trip was so appreciated after the exhausting mountain climb!

After Hanging Ten in the Bryon Surf

All in all, it’s been a great week. I can’t believe my semester at UQ is already over, but I’m looking forward to a few final weeks of travel in Oz.

Cheers!

Island Travels

Hey all!

I finished up my final week of classes on Friday and now I’m on my week-long study break (aka SWOTVAC) before exams start this Saturday. Throughout the last couple weeks, I was pretty busy with schoolwork since I don’t have exams for most of my classes. In lieu of these exams I had a few large papers and one take-home exam, which were all handed in last Friday.  So essentially, since Friday, I’ve been pretty relaxed and can’t complain about school at all!

Since I now only have one exam to worry about before the end of the semester, I decided to have a little fun during my study week.  A few friends and I headed out to Fraser Island, four hours north of Brissie, to go camping and four wheel driving along the 75km beach.

Touring the Fraser Shoreline

Fraser Island is a world heritage listed island because it’s the only place in the world where you’ll find a gigantic rain forest growing from the sand. It’s a pretty incredible place.  You can only get to the island by ferry.  And you must have a 4WD vehicle to access the island since there aren’t really any roads.

Clear Blue Lake McKenzie Water

In addition to the rain forest, the island has a number of fresh water lakes and creeks. We visited several of these areas. The tour started with a trip into the middle of the island to Lake McKenzie.  Here we lazed around the lake and swam in the beautiful, blue water.

Lake McKenzie

Afterwards, we spent some time touring part of the rain forest.  It was pretty nice. Unfortunately (and fortunately), we didn’t see any of the dingoes that live throughout this area.

After the rain forest trek and some more 4 wheel driving through the rain forest and along the beach, we headed to our camp for the night.  I was incredibly excited to finally have a campfire in Oz.  Given the tough fire restrictions in Australia, they are not permitted in a lot of locations throughout the country.  We sat around the fire and under the stars for a few hours while my friend entertained us with his musical abilities. It was a nice, relaxing evening.

Me & my mates sitting fireside

On day two we set out for another lake, Lake Wabby, which was a quick hike inland from the coastline of the island.  We had to hike about 30 minutes to get to the lake.  At the end of this hike we happened upon a large sand dune surrounded by the rain forest and ocean.  It was absolutely beautiful.

Clearing at the end of the hike.

We had to scale this large dune to get to Lake Wabby.  As soon as we saw the lake, we pretty much ran as fast as we could down the dune and into the catfish-filled Lake! It was such a nice, hot day that the lake was incredibly refreshing.  It was also really nice to be swimming in freshwater again.  I love the ocean, but seeing as I normally live in central Canada, I feel much more at home in a lake!

Me & Lake Wabby

After our hike into and around Lake Wabby, we headed to a fresh water creek.  It was probably the most beautiful creek I’ve ever run through.  The water was about knee-deep so we did about a half hour stroll through the clear waters.  We also filled our water bottles at the top of the stream, since the water in this area is as clear and clean as a Swiss Iceberg, (or so we were told!).

Strolling through the creek

Our final stop after the lakes and creek, was at the Maheno Shipwreck. It’s a former luxury cruise boat (from before 1912) that was being toed for scrap metal by a Japanese liner.  The Japanese boat got caught in a hurricane and lost the Maheno Ship. It washed up on Fraser Island and was impossible to move.  It was very cool to check out.  Despite the fact that it wasn’t one of the natural wonders on the island.

Maheno Shipwreck

All in all, the camping trip was an excellent study break!