Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sydney, Australia: New Years, Fireworks, and the Proposal of a lifetime :)!!!!

I aimed for getting these next two entries written before I went on my latest vacation to the east coast, but I clearly failed miserably. So here I am trying to recall all of the events from weeks ago. Here is my best attempt at doing so.

After an epic two weeks in New Zealand, we headed to Sydney, Australia, which oddly enough, felt something like heading back to my home country. I was pretty excited to be back on my home turf, even if we're being completely honest here, isn't reallyyyy my home at all. Except that.. it is.. for now anyway.

Never in my life, have I experienced so many amazing moments, in such a SHORT amount of time. We only had 3 days in Sydney, but the incredible memories will stay with me for a lifetime.

I remember looking at my best friend Amy as we headed for landing, with tears in my eyes and thinking... 'she has no idea what she's in for'. And for some of you reading, you may have no idea either. Hint: it's in the title.

Let me start with this. About 5 months ago, Amy's boyfriend Jeff emailed me with a proposition. I thought I maybe had an idea about what it entailed, but thought he simply wanted my opinion, or blessing, help with some details, or maybeeee he just needed help with a Christmas present. But boy was I wrong. He had a plan.. a very big plan, and wanted ME to be a part of it.

And I (very) happily agreed!

So, fast forward through the hundreds of emails and phone calls that led us here, and let us get to the good stuff-- New Years Eve.

Amy and I spent the day visiting the Sydney Harbour, The Opera house, and figuring out the public transportation, which for the record, is very easy to navigate. I loved the city itself, and the hot and sunny weather was definitely appreciated as well!

She was clearly annoyed that I was on my phone every 5 seconds, emailing every time I went to the bathroom, at 3 am, every time we left our hotel.. as he was LITERALLY across the street from us, and even at the airport when our planes landed within 10 minutes of each other. And aside from that, I was a nervous and sweaty wreck all day, and trying to keep my cool. It's really hard to get in touch with someone who doesn't have a working phone for the country you're in, and when the wifi royally SUCKS fyi. I wouldn't recommend it.

I think she forgave me once she found out why though :).




We hopped on this amazing and hella (do people still say that?) expensive dream cruise that Jeff set up for us, and I had no idea at this point what was going on, where he was, or how the proposal was going to work... and Amy sure didn't make it easy on me either! After FINALLY sneaking away from her, and finding him downstairs with the crew, I was informed of the plan, and had Amy exactly where he wanted her.


See that pretty girl in the purple?! Yep. She's about to be engaged. 

A racing heart, and multiple champagnes later, and he finally made his appearance. I was naturally an emotional wreck as 5 months of planning was finally falling into place, and I was about to witness the most amazing and surreal moment of my life. Can you imagine seeing your best friends face as she realizes her boyfriend just flew 11,000 miles to propose.. under the fireworks.. in Sydney.. on an all inclusive cruise.. on the harbour?!?!?

After crying for hours, breathing again, and taking in all of the sights in the darkness, I hunted down my Argentinian prince for a midnight kiss. He was working on the cruise, and was flawlessly filling my champagne glasses the whole night. Even when I was double fisting them. He commented on my drinking ability, and it was clearly love at first sight.

But really, I just needed someone to help me cope with the fact that I would soon be entering the 'closer to 30 than 20' age group, the fact that my planned midnight kiss (Amy) had been taken, and for the fact that I hadn't kissed anyone in... awhile. Call me ;).

The next day Jeff worked his magic again, and booked us a dinner at the fanciest restaurant with the best view in town. Fancy dinners are a bit out of my league, but it was beautiful, and we had SO many things to celebrate that day- vacations, love, proposals, and my birthday.

The restaurant we went to was called Park Hyatt and was RIGHT on the water, and in direct view of the Opera house, and we had the best seat in the house. It comes HIGHLY recommended as a high class and modern restaurant. Although incredibly expensive, it had some of the best food and wine I've had in awhile. And just as we sat down at 9 pm? More fireworks! I was in heaven. What a great way to end the first day of my 26th year.


Me and Amy celebrating in style


I mean seriously. That view though.

A BIG thank you to Jeff for including me on the proposal of a lifetime and for treating me to SO many amazing things in Sydney. You really made the trip extra special for all of us.

It was an unforgettable birthday... aside from the post 3 shots of whiskey that I unknowingly took because of you. But thank you for those as well.

A big congratulations to the happy couple, and for allowing me to be a part of one of the most special moments I have ever witnessed in my life. I can't wait to be a part of your big day :).

Sydney is a beautiful city that I am now convinced dreams really do come true in. From stunning views to epic love stories, this is a place I would highly recommend to anyone.





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Thursday, January 9, 2014

North Island, New Zealand: Auckland, Waitomo, Tauranga, Coromandel!

We headed to the North Island and flew into Auckland on December 26th. We had pretty limited time here, so we rented a car and made the absolute most out of the little time we did have: approximately 4 days. And surprisingly (not to toot my own horn), we did pretty well.

We got lots of expert advice from other travelers and residents of the country and made a tentative plan before we arrived. There was only one problem though. We had no idea where the eff we were going.

After discovering we were gps-less, and somehow had to make our way into the city and around the country by ourselves, we used one stop at the petrol (gas) station, a little common sense, and a good ol map for the rest of the trip. And guess what? WE DID IT! And if you know anything about our trip to Europe in 2011, you know what a major accomplishment this is. It's amazing how far your sense of direction can come in 2 years. Also, it's amazing how well following signs works :).

Auckland itself was just another city in my opinion. There wasn't a whole lot to see or do, and frankly I just wanted to get moving and see some nature. Don't get me wrong. Auckland has lots to offer as far as things to see and do nearby goes, but as for the city itself, as far as I can see, it's a pretty standard city.

BUT, with that being said, the Skytower was kind of cool. Plus we felt like bad asses watching the people jumping off of the building, only to know we just threw ourselves out of a plane, 15 times higher than the height of the building. SUCKAS.


Here's an up close and personal pic... incase you're into that kind of thing.



And here she is, our beautiful Toyota something or another. I'm convinced you're not a real adult until you rent your own car and navigate a country successfully with nothing but a map and your own worn out brain. And thus, I finally reached adulthood on this trip, at the ripe age of 25. GO ME.

ANYWAY, What a joy she was to ride on the windiest mountain roads of death. Note: A little practice on the left side of the road is encouraged before braving NZ! P.S. gas is $ 2.16 a liter.. or nearly $ 9 a gallon, for any of you who are interested. So, let me just say, I will never EVER complain about gas prices in America again. 

And so, with our pockets open and ready to spend, we headed down to Waitomo, home of the infamous glowworm caves. When I signed up for a caving tour, I had no idea I'd reallllllly be caving. I sort of imagined walking into a big cave opening and walking through a dark, closed, yet somewhat open space. But boy, was I in for a surprise. See.. look at how excited I was beforehand. dun dun dun.


We get to the cave and I see a rickety ladder leading into from what I can tell is, a pretty fricken small space, not quite big enough for my huge ass to fit through. And I am SCARED. 1. I hate ladders. 2. I HATE small enclosed spaces. and 3. I'm not too keen on pitch black scary places either.

I know what you're thinking.. "so why would you go caving?"

Because clearly, I am a freaking genius, that's why

But really, it was a good test for me, and what better place to do it than in New Zealand, one of the only caves in the world with GLOWWORMS.

And truly, what a once in a lifetime experience. We got to swim, tube, climb, and drag ourselves through some pretty rough terrain down in that cave. We turned our lights off, trusted each other, and trekked through pitch blackness for 15 minutes, admiring the glowworms. And the other 3 hours and 45 minutes, I was focused on not bashing my head on stalactites.

And for some reason, whatever fear I had going into the thing, left me as I realized how empowered I felt. I was doing it. I was really doing it. The level of physicality required, and mental toughness from me, was something I didn't really realize I had in me. And I proved myself to myself yet again. See my post on skydiving for my 1st proud moment of the trip. What a feeling it is when you kick life's ass, and prove yourself wrong.

After 4 hours of awesomeness and exhaustion, we ended the night in Waitomo, eating pizza and drinking beer, and headed off to Tauranga the next day.


I'll be honest when I say, I had no idea what to expect of this place. It was suggested that I go here, from a guy living in Wellington, so I thought, "what the hell, might as well".. and we went. It was a cute little shopping city, with nice beaches, and a creepy hostel that I will never think about or mention again after this post. 

ANYWAY, we headed toward Mt Maunganui nearby, did some hiking, sightseeing and beach gazing. Thankfully, this made the trip there kind of worth it. But we were really, reallllly excited for what tomorrow had to bring. 

Except that what tomorrow would bring was a HUGE rainstorm and some cranky ass travelers, as this would undoubtedly ruin our entire plans. And because we felt SUPER uncomfortable at our hostel, we got out of there as soon as we woke up, and then had nowhere to go and nothing to do. We decided to head back to Auckland early, because we intended to sleep there that night anyway. We were barely speaking and pissed off at the world for being so cruel to us. That is, until we reached the turn off, looked at each other, and decided completely out of the blue to just go for it.

I was worried about driving on slippery mountains roads while barely being able to see out of the windshield, in a baby Toyota. But we knew we wanted to see what all of the fuss was about, and trying our luck sure as hell beat moping around our hotel room being moody bitches. AND SO, we drove to Coromandel. 

And guess what? It was worth it. Because this is what we saw!



Okay, first it was this. Just a random beach in the rain. Not that cool. But we just knew that up the coast, there was something really worth driving for. And we were right!


Because as we were driving, the clouds opened up and we saw SUN! Something that from looking at the forecast, wasn't supposed to remotely exist the entire day. In fact, it said 100% chance rain until we left the country.

But, for whatever reason, the universe decided to work in our favor. And it was a pretty magical moment, because this is what we saw: A clear sky, and pure crisp and clean natural beauty. 


We heard about this place called Cathedral Cove, that was a "must do" according to fellow travelers. And so we made our way. On our hike, we made many stops. Some due to wanting to pass out, and some due to places like this: Stingray Bay. 


And yes. We had the whole island to ourselves! The water was SO beautiful. And if this was anything like the place we were headed, we were in for a big surprise!


Not a bad place for a little rest


And then we were back at it.

By the way, has anyone hiked in muddy terrain in old navy flip flops before? I wouldn't recommend it. Slipping, sliding, and falling everywhere, but DAMN those suckers held up nice.

Truthfully though, I had no idea this place was 5 miles away, or that it would be a completely muddy massacre. Otherwise some hiking shoes would have been a good idea.

But somehow, in our 2 dollar shoes, WE MADE IT! To the beautiful, Cathedral Cove.

Where I decided to take these beautiful pictures, and send this heart to all of my boyfriends all around the world! Sorry, but I couldn't choose just one of you. Too much Jerrica love to throw around :).
























And then.. to the right of us was this beautifully, hidden away waterfall. Remember how annoyingly I've been talking about them throughout the last few posts? Well good news everyone, here's another.

But seriously. How beautiful is it?!?!



And after the long day and emotional rollercoaster of combating the rain, hiking, and seeing this beautiful little beach, we made our way back to Auckland, for one semi decent night of sleep before the big trip to Australia. Gas topped out at only $ 60 dollars each (which is a steal when gas is triple the prices of America), and we got to see a decent bit of the upper North Island.

And that my friends, essentially concludes my posts about my time in New Zealand!! Overall, I loved the remoteness, the adventure, the friendly people, and the sheer natural beauty of the place. I loved the mountains, the beaches, and of course the waterfalls. Until next time New Zealand.

Next posts: Back to Australia!!! Off to some other beautiful capital cities, Sydney and Melbourne!



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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Milford Sound, New Zealand

Okay, It's been a few days since my first blog about the trip, and I promised I would work my hardest to get these written quickly. But jeez, I have a life as well. What life you ask? Doing my laundry, posting hundreds of pictures to facebook, and spending one day back at work (which consisted of laying by the pool, lots of "I love you's", and nap time, by the way).

It's a rough life, but somebody's gotta do it.

Reflection. Okay. Here we go.

The day trip to Milford Sound was pretty incredible, despite the shitty weather, and it being a 13 hour day. After our awful bus encounter in Ireland with no pee stops accompanied by motion sickness, we were a bit worried about braving another day long tour again.

But truthfully, it was pretty great! The guide was good, the stops were frequent, and the scenery was incredible.


And look. I got PHOTOBOMBED. props girl, props.


We drove the 4 hours south with commentary, music and stops to various mountains, streams, and to do a little hiking along the way. It was pretty magical.


I mean look at these mountains surrounding me. Am I in heaven?


Just one little girl, with a great big world to explore.



And then we stopped here at this beautiful stream and our tour guide said, "throw whatever crap you brought to drink away, and go fill your water bottles up here". He promised I wouldn't regret it, and I didn't. Dasani aint got nothing on this!

PLUS, it was free. And if you know how much a bottle of water costs on this side of the world, believe me, you'd be happy about that.

Afterwards, we continued on down the windy ass roads, had some lunch in the city, and congratulated ourselves on not succumbing to our otherwise severe motion sickness. Okay, dramamine helped considerably.

Seriously though. If you're traveling around New Zealand, take it as a precaution, you're going to need it. Windy roads and speed demon drivers = vomit.

And then... we arrived for a 2 hour cruise around Milford Sound! YESSS. and here's what it looked like!


Clouds and waterfalls


Breathtakingly beautiful


Despite the rainy weather


Look at the seals :):)


And yes, I got pelted by rain, for this picture. What can I say though, I'm a sucker for waterfalls.

Overall, it was a great experience and a highly recommended tour. We went through Jucy Cruize and thought the trip, the cruise, and the overall experience was well worth the money.

Stay tuned for my North Island, New Zealand post next. Which I'll probably start right now. Told you I was productive!


Monday, January 6, 2014

Queenstown, New Zealand AND Skydiving

I am finally back from my 3 week Australia/New Zealand extravaganza! and yes, I can call it that, because that's exactly what it was. Though it flew by, it also felt like I was gone for two months. Maybe it was all of the crazy things we packed into one trip, or maybe it was the shitty hostel beds I was forced to sleep on throughout the trip :). Just kidding, they weren't that bad. Well, except for the one that smelled like feet... but that's another story...

anywho..

It was a whirlwind of sights and emotions and a huge revelation to myself about my life:

this is what I want to do. this is what I want to do, forever

So, because I did SO much, I am going to break up these blog posts by cities and/or major events of the trip, and try to hash them out in a timely manner. Hopefully, before I leave for trip number two of 2014, which starts in... oh, approximately 6 days. Oofda. Yeah.. that would be a miracle, but I'll see what I can do!

Let's just start with this for now.

My first stop in the South Island was Queenstown, also known as, the 'adventure capital of the world'. This is where I was FINALLY able to reunite with my best friend from the good ol USA. I love her so much, and I couldn't wait to see her!! After all, she flew around the world, and gave up holidays at home, just to travel with me. What a trooper!

But of course, as usual, I didn't get there without a little trouble first.

I suffered through some 20 minutes of a denied passport in line for check-in, before finally being handed my boarding pass and cleared to leave the country. I went from being incredibly excited, to incredibly worried, and hoping that I didn't somehow screw up my visa in Australia. Um. Stressful much?!

Whatever the problem was, they figured it out, and luckily I had no further complications aftewards.. phew! And then, of course, I was the lucky one chosen to be searched for bombs for the first of many times on this trip. But hey, gotta keep life interesting!

BUT then, I was finally on my way! As we headed towards Queenstown, I was blown away by the scenery from the plane. While everyone else was engrossed in whatever the hottest novel is, or deafening their ears via Ipod, I could not keep my eyes away from the window, because this is just a glimpse of what I was seeing. How was everyone else not ogling over this?!?!

Wow. I was SO ready for this adventure. I landed and spent the night catching up with the friend I hadn't seen for 4 months, which if you know us, feels like a lifetime. We planned our "must-do's" and did weather checks and realized that we would have to go skydiving the next day in order to fit it in the schedule. All I was thinking was... I'm not ready for this. I need more time to worry. But, I put my big girl pants on and decide to be brave and go for it. And we booked it up for the following afternoon.


We started the day with some light and peaceful hiking to get our body and minds ready to jump out of a plane from above the clouds. And here's what we saw! All around me were mountains and gorgeous blue water. I was officially in Jerrica heaven. A perfectly sunny day, with nature as beautiful as this? My absolute dream come true. I fell in love. And if you know me at all, you know I don't say that a lot.




And.. more MOUNTAINS. and WATER. ahhh.


And then we put our bravest, scaredy cat girl, game faces on. We were ready to jump through the clouds for a similar view of this from above the ground. We headed to this destination, which was about a 45 minute drive, but not without almost falling into the motion sickness trap. Yeah, you know the windy roads of New Zealand? They weren't lying! Especially when you add crazy kiwi drivers into the mix. But somehow, we made it. Alive, and relatively intact. Just the state you want to be in before you go plummeting to the ground from 15,000 feet above. 

Prepping for the big jump!

And we did it!!! And let me just say that this was hands down one of the best experiences of my life. Aside from being a big test to just how adventurous I really am, I have never seen a better view of the world than from perfectly set above it. And seriously, do you know what 65 seconds of free falling feels like? An eternity. Yet, awesome at the same time. And the 5 minutes AFTER the parachute opened? pure and peaceful bliss :). such a breathtaking view.


To watch the video of my experience click here. The views are even better when you get to watch 6 minutes of me falling towards it. Plus, in all honesty, once I got suited up, I was way less scared than I thought I would be. Until I saw Amy jump, that is. 

A big THANK YOU to Skydive Paradise for giving me such a wonderful once in a lifetime opportunity in such a stunning place! The staff, the jump, and the overall experience gets a big two thumbs up from this girl. I would HIGHLY recommend them, if you're ever in the area and looking for a thrill :).

And aside from that, Queenstown was very touristy. "Touristy" often gets a bad rap, but I really think it's quite endearing. What does it say about a place, when so many people want to go there? It means, it's pretty darn spectacular. And it was, in my opinion. We did a little shopping, drank a little drank, and ate the biggest and best burger of my life at Fergburger's. How could life get any better? Oh wait.

Then I got a weird and random surprise of a lifetime. By sheer coincidence, my blogging idol was doing a tour herself around the South Island. When I found out she was in Queenstown, I contacted her and asked if she'd like to drink some beers with us by the lake. And quite to my surprise, she agreed. The weird thing is, HER blog is the one I came across before I made the move to Australia. SHE was the one who without doing anything other than writing and inspiring, convinced me to start blogging and turn travel into a lifestyle. It was great to get her advice, and to meet her so randomly! 


Her name is Liz and she is the author of Young Adventuress, if you'd like to get to know her more. She has a travel history, I can only hope to replicate someday, and her wit, humor, and photos get a BIG A + in my book. Plus she gets to live and work in New Zealand! How great is that?

And then Amy and I ended our trip on Christmas Day. It was quite different this year with no snow and no family, but I felt so lucky to be given the opportunity to travel and to have someone so special from home there with me. 


I hope you all had a great holiday season, and believe it or not, we were thinking of all of you from all those thousands of miles away.

Stay tuned for my next post on the beautiful Milford Sound! More stunning views and road trips :). XO


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