I call myself a writer but I haven’t written in about 9 weeks. I’ve taken notes of my thoughts and feelings towards things we’ve done but up until now I haven’t had the time to sit down and really put it all into logical sentences. When I left home I promised to write this blog. The most important piece of advice I took from uni was to write something every day. Even if it’s just a thought or idea or even a journal entry. I knew that if I didn’t keep that writing muscle working I’d soon lose the spark and need to write. In these last 7 weeks I’ve been feeling exactly that. Part of me has felt ashamed that I worked my ass off for 3 years at uni, to get the best grade in Creative Writing that I could, and yet I’ve written nada. Somehow I thought I’d be able to update this every week or, at a push, every couple of days. But I’ve just been having way too much fun. Any chill time I’ve had has been spent getting to know the amazing people I’ve met so far, exploring and venturing deeper into the places we’ve stayed, or just closing my eyes for a moment and letting myself take in the non stop, sometimes overwhelming, amazingness that is travelling. And what an incredible 7 weeks it has been.
I’m sitting on the flight from Christchurch to Melbourne writing this. It’s the first time that I’ve actually been able to sit down and put my thoughts down on paper, or iPad. Originally I’d planned to write a weekly update of my whereabouts, the exciting things we’ve done and my thoughts towards travelling as a whole. I still plan on doing that in the future, however, in order to look back on my weeks in New Zealand, I’m going to mesh them all into one and just share my highlights. Bus journeys from A to B took up a lot of time and most of them were spent sleeping, so not much to share there, unless you want to hear about the times I was woken up to a bump in the road and my head whacking off the glass window. I also discovered that I can sleep anywhere, a blessing, but also a curse as I missed out on some amazing landscapes along the way. I made up for it on the hikes to the top of mountains where no view could go un-missed.
As I’m writing this I’m so thankful that I took notes. When travelling, seeing so many places and constantly meeting new people, days seem to blend into one. And yes, I know that’s why I should have kept a blog from the start, but past me has been out gallivanting and taking advantage of being a 22 year old on her trip of a lifetime. Sorry mum and dad, but better late than never, right?
Travelling, for me, is about the people you meet along the way, and the experiences you share with them. A huge part of me came travelling to find my people, the people I could be completely myself around and never hold back. The people who made my soul sing by just being around them. Likeminded people who had the same mindset as me, and the same aspirations in life; to be happy and to have fun, with a fiery passion for life. I met the most amazing people during my time in New Zealand. Some of them I will hopefully have in my life for a long time. Others I met in passing, whether it be at the top of the Sky Tower in Auckland where I connected with a 50 something year old man who turned my whole attitude around, or even the American lady who made me cry telling us her life story, and who reminded me so much of my grandma Sky. I have found myself speaking without even thinking, and laughing, tears streaming down my face, because those are the people who have brought out the best in me, and shown me that when I find people like that, my inner core feels light and bright. A couple of nights ago in Lake Tekapo, we lay under the stars. Tekapo has a dark sky reserve above it which means that the stars are clear and twinkling. It was as if outer space was floating feet above us rather than an immeasurable distance away. Beside me were Celtia and Hannah, two girls we started our trip in Auckland with. We had crossed paths throughout the trip and we had all unintentionally drifted back together for our last couple of days in New Zealand. Katie and Naomi lay together further down the line with Dan and Celia, who we also met on the Kiwi Bus. I was lying in silence, after a long singalong of our favourite musicals, when a warm feeling washed over me. Even though it was freezing outside, something inside of me felt like it was glowing with heat. I felt totally at home with the people who surrounded me. I had a group of people who felt like family and who made me happy to be alive and sharing that moment with them. We all watched the shooting stars together and gasped at how beautiful they were. I went to bed with a huge smile on my face that night, because I realised that no matter where I am in the world, no matter how good or bad times will get, there will always be people who I can connect with, people I can laugh with and cry with, people who make me feel like I was meant to meet them and that I am on the right path. Every stranger is just a person waiting to become a friend, to teach us a lesson or just to make us smile.
It’s also the many things I have done that have made my time in New Zealand so special. I worry about a lot. Maybe it’s my wild imagination playing tricks on me, or my fear of hurting myself, but sometimes when I do something for the first time, get scared of the consequences. We went sand boarding in the Bay of Islands, our first stop. All I knew about it was that you grab a boogie board, lay on your tummy and fly down the steep sand dune face first. What could go wrong with that? In my mind I could go tumbling off the boogie board and break my neck. We were even told that it is dangerous and if done wrong could result in broken bones, as experienced by people before. Nevertheless, I grabbed a boogie board from the bus and followed the others up to the top of the dune, which was a massive workout. When I reached the top I was panting and I could feel my pulse in my temples. The only way down from there was face first. As the line got smaller and smaller and I got closer and closer to the front, my heart started to race. I couldn’t figure out why I was nervous. Everyone before me had made it to the bottom safely with huge smiles on their faces. The person before me went flying down and I was next. The bus driver asked me where I was from and with a shaky voice I replied “Scotland”. He helped me get on my board and before I knew it, I was flying down the dune, the wind sweeping my hair back, leaving me wondering what I was worrying about just seconds ago. And I didn’t break any bones. Success. It was from that day on that I promised myself that I wouldn’t let my fear hold me back like it had done many times before.
A couple of days later we did a skydive. If I thought sand boarding was scary, this was something else altogether. Although I was jumping out of a plane 16,000 feet in the air, I wasn’t scared. Maybe it’s because I had someone with me who would do all the work and all I had to do was relax. Or maybe I’d grown as a person in my first couple of weeks of travelling. We got picked up form our hostel in a wee mini van and taken to the sky diving base. We were split into 2 groups and then fitted with our jumpsuit, harness, a hat to keep our hair back and our goggles. We watched as the first group went up in the plane then one by one returned to the ground on their parachutes. Before we left we were shown a short video of what would happen. There was no safety video, something we were all surprised at, as back home it would be a huge palava with countless safety checks. We then met the men who would be our parachute pullers and calm keeping gurus for the jump. My guy (let’s call him Paul) was from America. He was very tall and had a lovely open face. I instantly felt calm when he shook my hand. He asked me some questions as I’d opted for the video package so my jump would all be filmed. We were first on the plane which meant I would be last out. Once everyone was in we took off. It was the slowest 20 minutes of my life as we ascended the 16,000 feet. The views were amazing. Everything looked so small as we made our way higher and further away from land. Paul showed me his altitude watch. 6,000 feet, 10,000 feet, 12,000 feet. We were given oxygen masks then and I knew we were close to our target altitude. The men all started to get themselves ready. Paul asked me to sit on his knee so he could fasten me to him. Then the door opened and I felt the rush of cold air. I put my goggles on and watched as the first person jumped out the plane. Then it was Katie’s turn. She was beaming the whole time, then she was gone. Paul told me to work my way down the plane towards the door as the people before us jumped, or fell, from the plane. Naomi was before me. I watched her go and my tummy turned knowing I was next. I took a deep breath as Paul positioned us at the edge of the plane. My legs dangled out. I started to look down but Paul tilted me hear back into his shoulder, pointed the camera at me, then launched us from the plane. I got that horrible feeling in my tummy so I scrunched my eyes shut, but a second later it was over and I opened my eyes to see the land coming towards us. Paul tapped me on the shoulder to give me the signal that I could open my arms out. We were falling but I felt like a bird soaring. The feeling is unexplainable. It was amazing. The air was cold against my skin and I could feel my lips flapping in the wind. I never once stopped smiling. We fell for 70 seconds. I could see everything whizzing past me, but I didn’t feel like I was falling. I felt totally weightless, almost like I was floating. There was suddenly a slight jerk as the parachute opened behind us. My ears popped and I swallowed to un-pop them. Paul told me to take my goggles off to make it more comfortable for myself. My eyes started watering from the wind but I’m also sure that a tear trickled from my eye in response to how beautiful it was and how incredible it felt. He told me to pull the the harness under my bum towards my thighs to give myself more of a seated position. Then he handed me the handles of the parachute. I guided us round for a bit as I gazed out at the sea and the surrounding islands. The sun was beaming down and I was in heaven. Paul took the handles of the parachute back and glided us closer and closer down to land. Everything became bigger and more life sized. We came in with a thud and I landed hard on my bum but I didn’t care. All I could think was “I just did a skydive!!!!” I felt so buzzed and pumped after. I thanked Paul and toddled off towards the building to meet the others. I took my harness and jumpsuit off then went to collect my video and pictures along with my free t-shirt. What an accomplishment. Doing the skydive brought me one step closer to kicking fear in the ass. I would do it again in a heartbeat. When the adrenaline wore off, I slept soundly knowing that I had fallen from a plane 16,000 feet in the sky. Not many people can say that.
Another highlight from New Zealand, apart from the whole 6 weeks, was the caving in Waitomo. We’d been told that we’d see glow worms and boy did we. After we made our way down into the confided and dark spaces of the caves, we lay back in our rubber rings and drifted down stream with the flow of the water. We turned our head torches off and looked up. Above us were hundreds, maybe thousands of glow worms. It was like looking up at the nights sky. The water was freezing against our hands but no one seemed to care because it was so beautiful. It was definitely a challenge to many people who were scared of the dark or claustrophobic. I’ve never struggled with claustrophobia and the dark has become a friend of mine, but even I felt a little constricted being underground in black water and confined spaces. Seeing the light at the end of the caves was both an excitement and disappointment as 3 hours in the water was enough, but it was a great overall experience.
Next came a big achievement for all of us- the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. A 19 km hike complete with treacherous uphill climbs, loose and steep rocky down hills and the famous Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings. There’s even a steep section of steps called the Devil’s Staircase, if the name isn’t enough to put you off then I don’t know what is. Yet somehow we pushed on. We stopped often, drank a lot of water and had an obscene amount of carb based food. I’ve never been very stable on my feet going down hill. I get scared that I’ll fall and hurt myself. But the only way of getting down from a long hike up was a long hike down. We had been told by someone who had done the crossing before that the down hill was not pleasant; the loose rocks made it hard to manoeuvre without slipping. So I was pretty scared before we even got there. And then we saw the steepness of the hill. I wanted to get down on the ground and cry. I took a deep breath and pushed on. Taking one step at a time, Celtia, Kelsey and I made our way down. Groups of people overtook us on either sides, some running, some a little more weary, like us. On either side of us was a huge drop. I knew that if I fell and didn’t get back up, I’d most likely go flying off the edge and it would be bye bye Sarah. After my legs stopped shaking, I managed to work out a system for myself. The ground was made of sand and rocks. I would slide one foot forward, placing it firmly in the ground and then bring my other foot to meet it, steadying myself. This seemed to work for a long time until my feet started to ache. I was doing well, telling myself that I could do it, and that I was so proud of what I was doing, and then I turned around and saw that Kelsey had stopped. She was crying and freaking out. I knew that I could either go back up to her and risk falling, or I could stay where I was and spur her on verbally. I went for the latter, telling her what I had been telling myself; that we didn’t have much further to go and that she was doing great. When we got to the bottom, Celtia was waiting for us, having gone ahead earlier. We practically kissed the flat ground. I looked back up and gave myself a pat on the back and a fist pump for getting down and pushing my fears away. I definitely conquered a fear that day. 8 hours, 3 litres of water and a huge pasta salad later we were back on the bus after a long treacherous day.
We’ve walked on Franz Josef Glacier. I feel so grateful to be able to say that. There’s not many places in the world where you can walk on glaciers, let alone see them. I was pretty nervous doing this. Anyone who knows me well knows that I hate ice. I hate slippy surfaces because my balance isn’t great at the best of times. I couldn’t understand how I’d be able to walk on the glacier’s pure, beautiful, reflective ice without falling and breaking my neck. My question was soon answered when we got kitted up. We were given waterproof trousers and a jacket, gloves, a hat and big snow boots equipped with snow spikes that would stick in the ice and create a good grip for us. After my first ever helicopter ride, which was amazing, up to the glacier we got our spikes on and then we were off. I felt like bambi for the first 20 minutes or so. My legs were shaky and I couldn’t get it through my head that I wasn’t going to fall. And even if I did fall, I’d pick myself back up. There were stairs made for us to make it easier to manoeuvre ourself up and down the glacier ice. Our guide had an axe to hack away at any loose ice. We were totally safe. After I realised this is was bouncing about the place taking full advantage of both the spikes and this amazing opportunity. It felt like a huge achievement when we finished our hike 3 hours later. I had looked fear (the ice) in the eye and said “you’re not going to control me”. I pushed through and had an amazing time. And the sights were magnificent. That’s one of the things that travelling has taught me so far. Take advantage of opportunities and life. There are so many amazing things to see and do all over the world. Even if you’re scared to do something, say yes and deal with the fear later.
I had always said that I would never, ever do a bungy jump. I’d jump out of a plane, I’d get a tattoo, I’d even go on the worlds highest rollercoaster. But I’d never bungy. Then we hit Queenstown. The adrenaline capital of the world. Bungy Central, the birthplace of the world’s first ever commercial bungy jump by AJ Hackett in1988. Fast forward 29 years, and we were standing looking out at the Kawarau bridge, a 43 meter bungy jump. “Hell no”, I said. “Absolutely not!” Then we watched a video about bungy jumping and I could feel myself getting excited. The logical part of me was telling myself to suppress the idea. The daredevil within me was telling me to do it. We had decided to do a the Nevis Swing; a 70 meter free fall followed by 300 meters of swinging back and forward, making it the biggest swing in the world. As the queue got shorter and we got closer to the desk, I turned to Katie and said “you know, I’m tempted to do the bungy”. She said she was too. We swithered between leaving it till we were 100% sure of our decision, or saying fuck it and doing it anyway. Before we knew what we were doing, we had put our names down for the highest bungy in New Zealand, the Nevis Bungy. 134 meters of pure terror. The man behind the desk told us that once we paid there was no going back. I looked at him for a second, took a deep breath, then pushed my card into the machine while I said “fuck it”, two words which have become the most used phrase of our trip so far. We could have gone for the baby one, but why start small? If you’re going to do it, you might as well do it big, right? In a matter of minutes I had gone from “never in a million years will I do a bungy” to “I’ve just signed up to a bungy!” Looking back over this paragraph I realise how many times I’ve used the world ‘bungy’. But I feel like I can go against all the rules of writing, because I did a freaking bungy jump. 3 days, and countless hours of sleep lost to falling nightmares, later, Katie and I were on a bus up to the Nevis bungy and swing site. I was more excited than scared at that point. I chatted to people on the bus about the upcoming events, trying to take my mind off it all. When we arrived we were helped into our harness and given a brief explanation and safety talk. Then we were ushered into the cable car that would take us to the platform which hung 135 meters above ground level. I have no trouble with heights but boy was that high. That’s when the sensible side kicked in. I started to question what the hell I was doing. I’d proved to myself that I could sign up for a bungy and maybe that was enough. Maybe I didn’t have to go ahead with it. There was a girl in our group who had gone up the day before to do her jump but had chickened out last minute. I was determined not to do that. Taking deep, deep breaths I powered through. Once we were on the jumping deck we were placed in weight order. Heaviest at the front, lightest at the back. I have never been so thankful to be the weight I am. I was middle in the line. Katie was last. As each person before me jumped, I could feel myself panicking and shaking. Then my name was called. “That’s me”, I said with a shaky voice as I raised my hand and gave an awkward half wave. I was guided to a seat where I sat as my legs were tied together and my hardness was attached to the bungy rope. The man did the best he could to distract me from the fall. He helped me to my feet and led me to the edge. I made the mistake of looking down. “Nope” I said and walked away, covering my mouth. You know the feeling you get when you look down and realise you’re about to throw yourself off a platform and trust that a rope is going to catch you after falling for 134 meters. No? Well neither did I before that point and I did not like it. The man took my arm and told me to jump before I thought about it too much. So I was once again taken to the edge. I was told to smile for the camera and then I somehow jumped. There’s no words to describe the feeling of falling through the air head first. There wasn’t really any feeling. Adrenaline took over and it wasn’t until the rope caught and I felt myself being pulled back up that it hit me. I had just done my first bungy jump. My body was flung about the place as the rope adjusted and I bounced up and down 2 more times. There was a rope by our feet that we were told to pull after our third bounce that would release our feet and bring us up right. My rope wouldn’t budge and so I had no other choice but to let myself hang like a helpless fish that had been dragged out the water. I was pulled back up to the platform where the bungy team laughed at me and asked why I didn’t pull the rope. “Well I did try”, I told them. “I didn’t want to come up upside down.” I was back in my feet on the swaying platform. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. What a buzz. Katie looked terrified and I reassured her that it was amazing. She too leaped from the platform and the look on her face when she returned was what I imagined mine to be like, pure and utter proudness and joy. Fear was no longer part of our vocabulary. The swing was nothing compared to the bungy. My adrenaline was pumped back up by the height and the feeling of being totally free, flying through the sky. To say we were tired at the end of the day was an understatement. The rise and fall of adrenaline in my body made me exhausted but I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Time and time again, I have proved to myself that I can tackle any obstacle I’ve been faced with by pushing fear aside and letting myself be fully immersed in whatever it was I was feeling. It was perfectly fine to feel nervous and scared. Any normal person would when jumping out a plane or throwing themselves off a bridge with just a rope to catch them. The important part has been not letting that fear take hold of me. I acknowledged it was there, then let it drift away. And that goes for everything in life. The apprehension of meeting new people, long bus journeys, days where all I want is to be at home in my comfort zone. I’ve learnt to let myself feel whatever is arising, thank the emotions for being there, then give them a light shove in the right direction in order to carry on with this amazing adventure I’m on.
I’m now trying to catch up with my writing on the bus journey from Melbourne to Canberra. It’s an 8 hour journey which gives me time to reflect on our 6 days in Melbourne. I’m holding my nose to fight off the smell of the onboard toilet, trying to distract myself with the views of the passing country. Melbourne was a lovely place. Very artistic in places with beautiful green areas dotted about and a lovely botanical gardens. However it reinforced the fact that I’m not a city person. I love the odd visit to the city to take in the vibrancy and the hussle and bustle of it all. But it drains me. The countless amount of people wondering around and the constant noise takes all my energy and I find it hard to shut off. When I’m in a place with nature I feel myself relax into it all. I love the peaceful sound of birds and the leaves rustling in the wind. I’d take that any day over the angry sound of horns and the dodging people just to cross the street. Being in a big city again has made me realise how much setting can influence my state of mind. I want to be able to get to the point where I can still my mind in the middle of a city instead of getting swept away by it all.
We have done some exciting things during our time in Melbourne. We did a trip of the Great Ocean Road. We had planned on hiring a car, and driving but we were told that it was cheaper and more relaxing to book a tour. We saw the 12 apostles, which are limescale rocks in the sea, 4 of them have naturally eroded and there are now only 8. The scenic beach drive was beautiful. We went to an outdoor ‘moonlight cinema’ to see Kong: Skull Island. It was in the middle of the botanic gardens and by the time we’d found it, we’d missed the first half an hour of the film, which none of us were particularly bothered about as it was a terrible film. The experience was lovely though. We sat on a blanket, underneath a tree whose branches hung over the massive projector screen. As the air became chilly, the three of us shared a blanket and ate our dinner and pop corn. The wind seemed to time it’s flows perfectly. When there was a gust of wind in the film, the branches above us would sway creating a beautiful atmosphere. I didn’t pay much attention to the film as my eyes and mind were wondering around the setting and the romantic ambiance of it all. We went to a comedy act to see Jenny Eclair’s show on ‘how to be a middle aged woman without going insane. She was hilarious. She cracked jokes left, right and centre about what it was like to be a woman. Although I couldn’t empathise with some things as I haven’t hit menopause yet, I laughed and laughed. It made me wonder how the men in the room must have felt. We went for a lovely meal in Chinatown after, then back to the hostel to pack up all our things and get ready to leave Melbourne and continue on with our journey up the East Coast of Australia. Hopefully the weather will pick up and we’ll have some nice beach days along the way.