I have been in New Zealand for almost 3 months now, and not a day goes by that I am not extremely thankful I made the decision to study abroad. I have learned more than I ever imagined I would be learning here, and the experiences of living across the world have shaped me in so many different ways. While it would be impossible to share everything I have done, I want to highlight 3 of my absolute favorite experiences since being here. 3 moments that will I will always cherish!
1. Lake Marian, Milford Sound: 7 of my friends and I packed up our things for a weekend quest to Milford Sound, on the West Coast of the South Island. Spellbound by the beauty of the sound, the mountains that climbed higher than the clouds, and the beautiful reflective pools of water around us made every day a new adventure. Lake Marian though… wow. Words cannot describe the magic of this place. Driving through the sound and searching for a short hike, we came across a DOC sign for Lake Marian. In the spontaneity that seems to be defining my life here, we decided to give it a go and began the track. First crossing a sparkling blue river on a swinging bridge, then climbing through the lush forest of the west coast, we tramped along. A couple hours of hiking up the intense slope was a recipe for exhaustion and dehydration. Would we ever reach this lake? Our breaks became more frequent and we were questioning if this hike would really be worth it. Yet, we carried on.. we were committed to seeing this place! Finally, at the peak of the mountain, the trees began to open up and I spotted water. We had reached it! And was it ever so worth it! We walked further to see this huge lake, surrounded by snow-capped mountains so tall we couldn’t see their peaks. The clouds and mountains reflected perfectly off the water creating a mirror image divided only by the water’s surface. It was an absolutely breathtaking place. There was nobody there–our private little getaway. Everything around us was so still and silent. None of us had words to speak. Just looked, just took in the surreal beauty of this place. Hands down, Lake Marian will forever be one of my favorite places on earth. Absolutely magical. A hidden gem in the peaks of the southern Alps, I would recommend anyone who visits New Zealand to check it out.
2. Okains Bay, Akaroa: Nestled near French Bay, Akaroa is the magic that is Okains Bay. After a day of hiking in Akaroa (reaching the summit of Stony Bay Peak which is also absolutely breathtaking), we scanned the map for a place to camp our van.. and the first and closest place we found was Okains Bay. We arrived at the campsite, a family friendly site in the woods with lots of space, and parked our van in an open spot. We could see the light of the sunset coming through the trees, and ventured out unaware of what was beyond the trees. Turned out to be this beautiful bay–a soft, sandy beach tucked between the lush green land of Akaroa. So quiet and still, the bright blue water crashed peacefully on the shore leaving ripples in the sand and reflecting the purple and pink hues of the sunset. Such an amazing surprise–what we thought was a random campground in the woods turned out to be such a beautiful place. What I can’t share in a photo, but I could never forget, is that night laying on the shore of Okains bay and staring at the constellations. The stars were SO bright and clear. I layed there, nestled between Carly and Peter (two great friends I have met down here) and just took in the expansive wonder of the sky. Some people tried to take pictures but no camera could ever capture how intensely beautiful that sky was. Laying there, warmed by my friends, with sounds of the ocean water crashing beneath us, and lit by the kaleidoscope of light above us, was one of the most peaceful and comfortable moments of my life. Just one of those moments when the reality of life–the reality that I am on the other side of the world, so far away from everything I know, completely detached from the familiar–the reality that here I am, just one person on this earth, and so incredibly small in relation to the universe. I left a piece of my heart in Okains Bay.
3. Glow Worm Caves, Waitomo: There is a reason these caves appear on most travel sites’ recommended places to see before you die. They are amazing. The photo is of me, abseiling 37 meters below ground into the cave, which stretches beneath Waitomo for almost 4 miles. Abseiling was an adventure in itself–propelling my body below ground secured only by a rope and harness–a moment of adrenaline and excitement. The real wonder of the caves, though, was not getting in it. It was what lined the cave itself. Our guide, Jay, led us through the cave, swamping through the stream of the cave floor. A few meters into the cave, he asked us to turn off our headlamps. Just as we did, the roof of the cave illuminated with thousands of lights which looked like stars. Glow worms! Simply magical. I cannot put into words how amazing these caves are. The worms (which are actually maggots) have a glowing tail end which attracts flies. They then create silky strings which hang from their bodies, trapping and paralyzing their prey. Definitely the most beautiful maggots I have ever encountered. It was such an incredible experience to walk through the caves, headlamp off, guided by the glow above us. For a part of our excursion, we got to lay on inner tubes and raft through the waters of the cave, again, only lit by the glowing light of the worms. My favorite part of seeing the caves was just the realization that these caves, these beautiful creatures, and the whole wonder that is Waitomo caves, is BELOW ground. Our earth is beautiful, inside and out :)
–Mallory Rotondo, Senior, Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences