24 February 2012

New Delhi, India...Wait, How Did I Get Here?

So, I really can't believe I'm in India right now. It's everything I imagined, but somehow different at the same time. My first impression of India was that it had all the good things I had heard and imagined about India and less of the bad. While the streets are insane, they're not quite as bad as I had thought. That's not to say they aren't bad at all (I'll have to make a post specifically about India's insane traffic!), but crossing the street is...manageable and you really don't see cows hanging out in the middle of the street (in New Delhi anyway). While this is an insanely chaotic, crowded and kind of...dirty littered country (there is a serious lack of rubbish bins here), this is an incredibly beautiful, colorful and moving country as well. ( Perhaps you'll see more evidence of this in upcoming posts!) India is not a place that is easily described or summed up, I still don't know how to accurately portray this country, or even New Delhi. This is definitely a country that needs to be experienced to appreciate.

15 February 2012

Travel Update: February

The time has come (the walrus said...) - pretty much all the planning is done. Shots have been taken, clothes have been bought, insurance has been obtained.....this trip is finally upon Christy and I. I'm not sure if I'm quite ready...I wish that I had taken better advantage of the time I had before leaving (although I did accomplish a lot..), but fear of the unknown is so prevalent right now. But this will be an awesome experience, once Christy and I just get going (oh, there will be tears at the airport!),  we'll get into the swing of things again. I've just gotten so comfortable again, and I don't want things to change - but this is an extraordinary opportunity that I am excited for. This is something we can conquer and make something amazing out of. The next time I write will be from India! (Still doesn't seem real...). See you from the other side of the world!

Auckland: Farewell, Down Under

So, Auckland was a bit different than Christy and I had anticipated. We didn't dislike it, but maybe the fact that we went from the refreshingly green Rotorua, to the big-city of Auckland contributed to our less-than-enthused mood. Tie that with the emotion of having to leave an amazing country and our moods just weren't up to par. However, we did push ourselves to walk around the city a bit (in search of food, if nothing else...).

Rotorua to Waitomo Glow Worm Caves

Sadly, Christy and I had to eventually leave Rotorua and make our way towards Auckland in preparation for flying back to California. But we still had a day of adventur-ing left. On our last day in New Zealand, we took a beautiful (albeit rainy) drive through New Zealand's North Island - full of rolling, bright green hills. Once again, I felt like I was in Ireland (always a nice mindset to be in...). On our way to Auckland, we got to stop by the Waitomo Glow Worm caves, something I had been very much looking forward to! We took a tour down into the depths of these caves full of stalagmites and stalactites (yes, I do know the difference!), often in complete darkness. It almost feels claustrophobic to be underground like that, but peaceful at the same time. Towards the end of our tour, we got in a boat that the guide steered by pulling on a rope - leading us, gradually, out of the cave. As we were instructed to keep quiet, this was an awesome experience, dripping of water the only sound we could hear. We saw many glow worms scattered along the ceiling of the cave, like blue, starry night sky. It was quite breath-taking and an excursion I'm glad we took part in!

Leaving Rotorua

Mitai Cultural Show

After the Te Puia Thermal Reserve, the Agrodome and Rainbow Springs, visiting the Mitai Cultural Centre was a perfect end to one of my favorite days of our Australian/New Zealand (Koala/Kiwi) adventure. Christy and I had to opportunity to meet people from all over the world, learn about Maori/Mitai traditions and see some of the dances and songs that were used centuries ago. As I've mentioned before, I found the Mitai people so friendly and welcoming, it really felt like we were a part of the fun and celebration. We met a lot of Maori's who were Christians, but who still held on to their culture and the beautiful aspects of where they've come from. I found this touching, and I just wish we could have spent longer here, learning more about them.

Rainbow Springs Nature Park

Just outside the city centre of Rotorua, you can find Rainbow Springs Nature Park which has an excellent display of flora and fauna found throughout the North Island of New Zealand. Here, Christy and I saw some of the most interesting kinds of birds, rainbow trout (who come and go into the nature park from the nearby river), and silver ferns. Being an animal lover, this was a fun excursion - especially with the opportunity to see some kiwi birds inside the nocturnal house. Kiwi birds are so odd-looking, but fascinating!  As you are unlikely to see a kiwi bird in the wild, seeing them in a place such as Rainbow Springs is a great alternative!

Rotorua's Agrodome

Christy and I joked long before we arrived in New Zealand, about the Agrodome and how touristy it seemed. We also suspected, knowing us, that we would love such a nutty experience - full of sheep, tourists and a few Kiwi farmers.  And...yes! The Agrodome was definitely a fun experience that I'm glad we didn't miss! For sheep lovers such as Christy and I, this was like a dream come true! We got to pet the sheepie, learn about them from our hilarious New Zealand host and got to see other such squishable creatures - lambies, ducks, cows and dogs. Sure, it was still a bit touristy, but good fun nonetheless!

Up close with a sheepie at the Agrodome

14 February 2012

Te Puia Termal Reserve

The Te Puia Thermal Reserve was a perfect start to an amazing day. It was a rainy day, but a great one to explore the bubbling mud pools and geysers situated on this land owned by the Maoris. We had an awesome Maori guide who taught us about various Maori stories and carvings depicting these stories. As opposed to the Aborginals in Australia, I felt that the Maoris were very accessible, welcoming and willing to share their traditions and culture.

Te Puia Maori cultural centre

Rotorua: Feel the Spirit

Before arriving in Rotorua, New Zealand, I had heard that it has a very distinct smell. I was told that because of all the sulfur, an overwhelming smell of rotten eggs would hit me as soon as I got off the airplane. I'm pleased to say that this was not the case. I don't recall having a cold at the time, but for whatever reason, I could not smell the sulfur in the air (that is, until I visited the Te Puia Thermal Reserve the next day...). I really enjoyed the city of Rotorua as it was small, cute and rich in Maori culture and tradition. I guess I never realized how relevant Maori culture still is; Christy and I frequently saw news channels with sections broadcasted in the Maori language. This was quite fascinating and just an introduction to this beautiful culture we would soon learn more about. Our first day in Rotorua was spent  walk along the water, eating ice cream and swimming in the hotel's thermal pools (which, also smelled a bit like rotten eggs..).

13 February 2012

Milford Sound

Milford Sound - what a gorgeous place to visit in New Zealand! Christy and I visited on a cloudy, rain-threatening day, which wasn't so great for visibility. However, it was still amazing and almost mysterious with all the fog as I couldn't quite see the cliffs that were ahead, instead they would appear as we approached them closer. We saw many waterfalls (even getting close enough to one to feel the mist!), seals and dolphins as well. Milford Sound was a beautiful end to our amazing time in New Zealand, a country I have no added to the places I would love to live, if given the chance - along with Israel and Ireland.

Milford Sound

Journey to Milford Sound

Just like the drive to Mt Cook, the journey to Milford Sound full of differing landscapes (most of which you can imagine being in Lord of the Rings.) For anyone that is moved or amazed by nature, you (like me) could probably stay in New Zealand forever, happily. The landscape is so refreshing and breath-taking and it feels like you could spend years just exploring a section of this country. On mine and Christy's last day in Queenstown, we journeyed out to Milford Sound, stopping by some beautiful area along the way. The first of which were the Mirror Lakes. You can see why it is called that in the photo below - certainly a gorgeous view!

Mirror Lakes

Mt. Cook

Mt Cook is a few hours' drive outside of Queenstown and well worth the journey. New Zealand has such varying landscapes and throughout this drive, you can see rocky mountains, mountains with brown shrubbery, forest-like area and then there's Mt Cook - covered in beautiful, white snow. Christy and I had the opportunity to walk one of the trails leading up to the base of Mt. Cook, which was really neat as it was so peaceful - it was like we had the whole area to ourselves! There is also a lodge here where you can eat lunch or learn about Sir Edmund Hilary, one of New Zealand's most famous mountaineers.

Mt Cook

Queenstown, NZ!

After a bump in the road (in the form of a no-show airport transfer at 5am), Christy and I finally arrived in Queenstown, New Zealand! Oh, my goodness! I completely fell in love with this country before our plane even landed! Outside the plane window, all I could see were mountains for miles. I thought there was no way an airport could be nearby - let alone civilization...but sure enough, the one-terminal airport was nestled between the mountains. Not to make New Zealand sound stereo-typical, but it really felt like we were plopped in the middle of a Lord of the Rings movie. Honestly, I've never seen more gorgeous scenery in my life! The air/atmosphere feels fresh and healthy...it's crisp, captivating and enchanting!

Fiery sunrise over Queenstown

Melbourne's Remembrance Shrine

Our last day in Melbourne was spent south of the Yarra River, exploring the Botanic Gardens. Here, you can find the Remembrance Shrine. Christy and I stumbled upon this unknowingly, and it ended up being a beautiful tribute to the Australian men and women who have served their country. The strikingly red flowers contrasted against the grey building is what first caught my interest and persuaded me to explore further and what with the rows and rows of medals, artifacts from the wars and beautiful memorials - this was a highlight from my stay in Melbourne.

Overlooking central Melbourne from the Remembrance Shrine

12 February 2012

Great Ocean Road

Before Christy and I left for Australia, one of our great dilemmas was: do we spend our free day in Melbourne venturing out to Phillip Island to see the ferry penguins, or taking a day-long drive alond Melbourne's coastline - The Great Ocean Road. As the title might have suggested, we ultimately decided on the Great Ocean Road, and it was an unbelievably beautiful experience - blessed with gorgeous weather. You could definitely spend longer than a day exploring this famous stretch of coastline, perhaps camping along the way. We, however, experienced it in a day and had a blast. We visited such locations as Bell's Beach, Patton's Lookout, Loch Ard Gorge etc. There is an abundance of absolutely breath-taking views to behold, and if given the chance - I would definitely recommend this adventure!

Port Campbell Lookout

11 February 2012

I Heart Melbourne

At this point in our Australian adventure, Christy and I really started to get into the swing of things. There seems to be a certain point in every trip where you become more confident and relaxed about the uncertainties that come with travel. Melbourne was an awesome city that both Christy and I fell in love with. It's a hip, artsy city - and one that I felt like I could really spend a good chunk of time in. Melbourne felt like someplace where you could find your own place and fit in to the lifestyle. It was that big city feel, without being too big, but it also has a beautiful area (south of the main city) with the Yarra River and refreshing greenery. Our first day in Melbourne was spent walking along the Yarra River, strolling past various shops and restaurants. We eventually made our way to Flinders Street Station and Federation Square in the early evening (a perfect time to be there, what with all the lights!). It was fun just people watching out on the square, with the huge tv playing Mythbusters in the background. I couldn't have asked for a better first night in Melbourne.

Flinders Street Station at night

09 February 2012

Kangaroo Island: The Scenery

Australians have a funny way of naming their landmarks: Great Barrier Reef, Great Dividing Range, Great Ocean Road, Remarkable Rocks...Not very creative, but very true. The Remarkable Rocks on Kangaroo Island were indeed very remarkable and the setting couldn't have been more perfect on a tiny peninsula of the island, overlooking the storm-threatening blue-grey sea. One thing I loved about the Remarkable Rocks was the fact that the rocks were such abstract shapes. Having a love for photography, this is a great opportunity to set up all kinds of interesting shots, finding different shapes in the rocks depending on where you stand. It's a lot like cloud watching, and discovering shapes in the clouds (a favorite childhood activity of mine.) I loved the peaceful atmosphere here as well, and how it felt like my own little world. Just sitting on a remarkable rock, pondering life and looking out to sea. Does it get any better?

Edge of the Remarkable Rocks. I loved the layer of red dust that covered this area

08 February 2012

Kangaroo Island: The Animals

Kangaroo Island is a few hours and a ferry ride away from Adelaide, and the trek is definitely worth it! I absolutely loved Kangaroo Island - a tiny little island off the coast, with a small population and quaint atmosphere. The whole island practically feels like a National Park, and our first stop of the day was at the beach - to get up close and (not too) personal with the seals! Oh my goodness, I so wanted to squish the baby seals - so cute! Obviously, we had to keep a certain distance because the seals can get quite aggressive towards intruders. But Christy and I had a grande time observing the seals in their natural habitat.

Adelaide

It was quite a weird experience to head back to "civilization" after spending time in the Daintree Rainforest and the Outback, but Adelaide was a nice change of pace. While our time was short in Adelaide, it was a lot of fun! We were staying outside the city centre, but the local transportation was free and easy to use (yay!). Unfortunately, pretty much all the shops were closed (this was, like a Friday evening as well!), but we had fun anyway, searching for any open restaurant we could find (we did find one, by the way), playing random street pianos and acting like a bunch of goofballs (that's what we do best after all!)

Journey to Adelaide

07 February 2012

Alice Springs.....

Now, I'm sure Alice Springs is a great place...but the timing of Alice Springs perhaps came at a bad time.  We, perhaps had a mini-meltdown that left us a bit frustrated - especially since this trip was pretty much on our own and things have a way of not working out the way you imagine. But, our next day in Alice Springs proved to be a lot better. Instead of our original plans, and after many phone calls, we had an opportunity to visit the Desert Park (right when it opened, so we were the only ones there.) This was actually an awesome, rejuvenating and beautiful experience.

06 February 2012

5 Hours Through the Outback

To get from the center of the Outback (where you will find Kata Tjuta and Uluru ) to Alice Springs, the best mode of transportation is by bus (or car). You really can't imagine just how void of civilization this 5 hour (or so) ride is. As far as you can see, there is only red dirt and green grass. It's a beautiful journey, but not one I would make by myself or without reliable transportation. It's incredible to just walk around in this vast desert, sinking your fingers into the red sand. 

Mt. Connor, on the way to Alice Springs

Uluru: Around the Base

For Christy and I, our last day in the Outback was spent wandering Uluru's base. We had an awesome guide we took us around to various locations around Uluru, explaining some of the Aboriginal stories and beliefs (the little she knew, as they most of their beliefs private.) It was incredibly peaceful and you could somehow feel that this area held a religious significance, even if it differed from your own. It was interesting to learn of certain areas that held specific importance and which even Aboriginal women weren't supposed to even look at. I wish I could've had a more personal experience with the Aborigines, learning about them and their cultures, but our guide did an awesome job filling us in on what she could.

05 February 2012

Uluru: Sunrise, Sunset

One of the more beautiful and inspiring moments spent in Australia was experiencing the sunset in the Outback. It was so peaceful out here, in the middle of nowhere - and the display of oranges, reds and purples as the sun set over Uluru was artistically inspiring and deeply moving. One of the simplest things in life - a sunset; I feel like we don't take enough time out to just sit and be still, appreciating God's handiwork and how beautiful simple things like this really are. I'll never forget walking around after dark and being blown away by just how many stars you can see in the sky when there's hardly a man-made light around. It's gorgeous - something I can't get enough of!

Sunset over Uluru

04 February 2012

Kata Tjuta

The day after our exploration of the Daintree Rainforest, we headed to the dead center of Australia - the "red center" - the Outback! It was really neat arriving here by plane because all you can see is the red dirt...and then, out of nowhere, you can see the enormous Kata Tjuta and Uluru rock formations. Whereas the rainforest was completely green - everywhere you looked, the outback on the other hand was completely red! Surprisingly, there was a lot more green in the outback than I originally anticipated as well. It was incredibly refreshing to be out in the middle of the desert, surrounded only by nature. While there was a tiny community of hotels and restaurants, that was about all there was for as far as the eye could see.

Kata Tjuta's Walpa Gorge

Daintree Rainforest

Another of my favorite days spent in Australia - the Daintree Rainforest! If ever you make it out to Cairns, you have to take a day exploring the Daintree Rainforest, Port Douglas, etc - we went with Down Under Tours and had the most amazing time! We had the most hilarious guide, Shane, who picked us up from our hotel is the most amazing track truck/transformers/80's style vehicle! (pictures below when you keep reading.) We spent the first part of our day driving into the Daintree Rainforest to the "Discovery Centre" (sounds like a kids' play area, right?), where we had a cuppa scalding hot Daintree Tea (delicious!) and got to walk around - high above - the rainforest floor. It was so vast, green and beautiful - and here, you will see all kinds of bug life, plants and, maybe, animals.

The Great Barrier Reef

Oh my goodness, the Great Barrier Reef! One of my very favorite days spent in Australia! Mid-March was a perfect time to visit the Reef as it was very clear and the weather wasn't too hot. Christy and I ventured outside of Cairns with Reef Magic Tours - they were a bunch of fun, nice people who really cared about us having a fun experience. Once out on the Reef, we were able to take a semi-submersible boat around the coral,which was really amazing as we were surrounding by all different kinds of coral and sea life. Soon afterwards, we spent the better part of an afternoon snorkeling around. I'm not sure how it's possible to spend 4-5 hours just snorkeling, but this is the Great Barrier Reef!  I knew I was experiencing something that people spend their whole lives wanting to do and I wanted to soak in every last moment.

02 February 2012

Cairns

The weather in Cairns (located in the top right of Australia) was a lot more pleasant than in Sydney. While it was quite a bit hotter and we did experience a teeny bit of rain, Cairns really felt like Hawaii!  Maybe Maui, if I had to specify an island. The weather was warm and beautiful, it was incredibly green, and just the layout of the land very much reminded me of Hawaii. Our first day in Cairns was spent relaxing, walking in the city center and making "friends" at the Promenade (gotta love conversations with 6 year olds about animals, etc).

Blue Mountains...Or, The Day of Mist

Ah, yes....our afternoon spent driving three hours outside of Sydney to see the beautiful Blue Mountains and the famous Three Sisters formation... Of all days, this had to be the rainiest and foggiest. Our time spent at the Featherdale Wildlife Park was great, but needless to say, it was a little pointless continuing our journey to the Mountains. But, since we were there, we at least walked around a little bit (as we could see what was directly in front of our faces as opposed to the beautiful valley we knew must be before our eyes.

01 February 2012

Featherdale Park and the Plethora of Adorable Animals!

A few days into our stay in Sydney, we took off for a pre-booked day tour of Sydney's surrounding area.  We had the opportunity to visit the Featherdale Wildlife Park and the Blue Mountains. The weather was just awful this particular day, but thankfully the rain held off while Christy and I visited all the squishable animals. Featherdale Wildlife Park was a really, really cool experience; we got to see all kinds of animals native to Australia, and had the opportunity to get up close to many of them!

Cockatoo at the Featherdale Wildlife Park
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