Posts Tagged With: Topdeck

10 Things I Learned While Travelling the World

I’ve been back in Canada for a little less than a month now and have had some time to decompress and to think about my trip.  At first, I thought I hadn’t really changed at all during my travels, but it actually has in a million tiny ways.  I’d like to share that with you now:

10. The Journey is the Thing

My trip had no specific goal, other than to relax, enjoy and experience the world that was far away from home.  This turned out to a great way to travel and, for me, to not focus on the result, but to really take the journey for what it was – an adventure into the unknown.

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9. We are all the Same

I included this in my last list, but I want to say it again.  I love people, and the truest realization I had again while I was overseas is that we are all, at our most basic level, very similar.  We just want to be happy; to have enough food to eat, a roof over our heads, some people who love us and a purpose in life that brings us joy.  I saw all kinds of people living in many different ways as I worked though six countries, but they all have this in common. We are all part of one big human family, and it doesn’t matter where you are from or what you are doing with your life, some things are the same within all of us.

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8. Travel is as Easy and as Hard as you Want it To Be

PATIENCE.  This one virtue has eluded me my whole life, and nothing cures the need for control than a less than smooth travel experience.  I learned about the essence of the journey in my search for patience as I met setbacks and mishaps along the road.   I learned how to be more adaptable, to let things slide, and to only care about the most important things along the way.

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7. Roll with the Waves

This one is a good follow-up to #8.  When I rolled with the upsets along the way, the journey got even more interesting: I saw some things I would otherwise have missed, or had a completely new experiences I wasn’t expecting to have.  By saying “Yes!” I got into more trouble, saw more unexpected things, and had more impromptu adventures than if I had stuck to a strict schedule and followed it the whole way along.

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6. Pay Attention

I learned that there is beauty in the details.  That every city is an intricate mess that somehow works in its own unique way.  That the road less traveled sometimes results in a washed out car or monkeys attacking your windshield.  To stop and save the kittens, get lost on a bike and get found again, and that fun can be found in every airport, bus station, or boat ride.  By paying true attention to my surroundings, I was also able to glimpse into the local life of the people, and have real experiences from the country I was visiting.  That, to me, is priceless.

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5. Embrace the Inner Hippie

I’m normally a goal-oriented, round the clock, by the book kind of person.  To escape that mentality for a while and embrace my inner beach bum was an enlightening experience.  I had whole days with no plans and nothing to do, vague ideas of where the day would take me, and days where I just went with the flow.  That rarely happens in my “real” life in Canada, and it was refreshing to break out of the bubble of who I think I am and step into the sandals of my inner Hippie Goddess.  She is someone I want to know better, and a side of me that I won’t soon forget now that we’ve been re-aquainted!

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4. Trust the Kindness of Strangers

In my travels I stayed with family friends, friends of friends, new friends and people I didn’t even know at all. I was welcomed into countless homes with open arms, to people eager to share in my travel journey and get to know me.  I feel SO blessed to now have friends from all over the world, and want to thank each and every one of you for your hospitality and help in exploring all these new places 🙂 If you ever travel, and someone recommends that you stay with a friend or you have family/friends to stay with overseas, DO IT! It will completely change your perspective on the country you are visiting, because you get to see it through the eyes of a local.  A thousand thank-you’s again to all those who put me up while I was abroad!  You are welcome to return the favour here in Canada anytime!

3. Comfort Zones are Boring

I did something new and crazy in every country I went to: Surfing in Indonesia, Parasailing in Philippines, and even Skydiving in New Zealand.  Get out of your comfort zone and try some new and crazy stuff.  It will enrich your travel experience and add a whole new level of fun.  Besides, that’s what travel is for: new experiences and adventures! It doesn’t matter how scared you are – do something wild and crazy!  eat that cricket off a Bangkok bug cart!  Take the jet boat ride through the canyon!  Throw yourself out of a plane! These things are the highlights of my travels as I look back on them now, the times I challenged myself and really went for it.

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2. Theres No Place like Home

Canada is an amazing country. I learned this while I was abroad through other travellers stories about my home country, that it is a well-loved place in the world and worth exploring in its own right.  Talking about it with others made me realize how much I love being a Canadian and how lucky I am to call this place my home.  I never really appreciated it until I left for a long time and realized what a phenomenal place it is.

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1. I am SO lucky

The fact that I was able to pull off this trip still boggles my mind.  There was so much planning involved – a years worth of time and effort went into it, and now that I’m back I can see what a privileged position I hold as a citizen of Canada.  I have enough food to eat, a roof over my head, and friends and family who love and care about me.  The rest is just gravy!  Upon returning I went to my bathroom and turned on the tap, thinking back to all the times I didn’t have access to fresh water on my travels. Something as simple as turning on the tap can take on new meaning after travelling: it represents all that we take for granted, being from a first world country were every comfort is provided for.  I feel that, now, I am able to name how lucky I truly am.

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Well. That’s it!  I’m sure I will update this blog again in the future as life takes me on more travels, but for now I am happy to have landed back in Canada, ready to take on the world 🙂

xo

D

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The Longest Ride of my Life

Our last day on the Topdeck Trip was long and trying, if I can put it lightly.  First of all, we had a lot of ground to cover – the tour usually takes two shorter days to break up the distance between Milford Sound and Christhurch, but since we missed a day when the Haast Pass was closed, we had to hightail it back to the city in one loooong day.  Total hours on the bus? 12.  Total actual hours on the bus by the end of the day? 17.

Let me explain.  We made pretty good time after breakfast and hopping on at 7:30, and were passed Queenstown by lunch.  Our bus broke down on the side of the road at, oh, around 2:30pm.  We head a long “hissssssss”, and pulled over quickly to check out what it was.  Luckily one of our travellers was a trusty mechanic, and could tell what we needed and how to repair the damage. We waited for a mechanic, and it was fun to hang out by the bus for a while, but taking picture and taking in the scenery got boring after a while, and I actually went back on the bus and used some time to type up some blogs I needed to catch up on. Score!  

So we thought the mechanic had fixed the problem, and were back on our merry way when “HISSSSSSS” went the bus, and we had to stop a second time, call the mechanic, etc, and wait again for the bus to be fixed.  After about a four-hour delay, we were told that we would only be using this bus to get to the nearest town and would be picked up in a new bus!  Well.  The new bus was actually a school bus, with barely enough room for all of us to crowd into it with our luggage. The situation went from bad to worse after that with all of us cramped together, we still had about five hours to go on this tiny crappy bus, we were all tired and cranky, and hadn’t eaten for a long time.  We finally stopped at McDonald’s around 9pm and had to deal with greasy-fry smelling bus all the way back to Christchurch, finally arriving around midnight. 

It was very anti-climactic after that to say goodbye to our friends and chat with each other, we were pretty sick of each other by that point!  But we did manage to get some hugs in as we dropped our friends off at various hotels and hostels, I stayed at this cool hostel called the Jailhouse, and was met with a key and warm soft bed that night.  Ugh!  What a ride!  It’s too bad we had to deal with it, but nobody missed their flight, and it was handled well by Topdeck, so I couldn’t ask for much more.

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Misty Milford Sound

The drive to Milford Sound started too early, but I’m glad we didn’t have to skip this incredible place!  It’s probably one of the most remote places on the South Island, or the world for that matter, but it is a huge tourist attraction.  We were about to see why.  We drove along lake Wakatipu for most of the morning, before turning off and heading to Te Anau where we got to grab some stuff for lunch from the supermarket, along with some snacks and treats ad the last WiFi (gasp) before heading over the mountain pass to Milford Sound.

The drive through Fiordland National Park would take us through some serious Sound of Music territory, with snowy-capped mountains, misty waterfalls and lush greenery at every turn. We worked our way through the valley to the Homer Tunnel, stopping for spoke very aptly named Mirror Lakes, two small lakes that reflected the mountains above perfectly in their waters.  Then we started to see some real snow outside, and prepared to go through the Homer Tunnel, a 1.2 km long tunnel that connects Milford Sound to the outside world.  We made it through the darkness of the tunnel without mishap and were greeted with more snowy mountain views and waterfalls as we drove in the rain to our next destination: the Milford Sound Nature Cruise!  We got to actually go out on the water in this gorgeous tour boat and see the natural wonders of the area that make it so famous!  Unfortunately Mitre’s Peak was obscured by clouds, but we did get to see tons of waterfalls that only form when it rains, so I GUESS there was a plus to all the rain we had 😦

I wasn’t too happy on the boat after an hour, we reached the ocean and weren’t sheltered by the sound anymore, but quickly turned around again and had some penguin sightings, no dolphin sightings, though!  Lunch was on the boat, and we were ready after a long day of travelling and sightseeing to go back to our accommodations and settle in for our last night.  We had a few free hours to hang out and explore in the rain if we wanted to (not), and then got dinner at the ONLY restaurant in Milford Sound, which is not really a town so nobody actually is a permanent resident in it, besides the people who work and make a living there. Talk about remote!  That didn’t stop dinner from being excellent, however, and we were all very satisfied but found ourselves with nothing to do when we got back to our accommodations! There was a big cosy common room, so we did eventually find some games to play and enough to do until bedtime.  It kind of sucked that we couldn’t go out and celebrate on our last night or even have a glass of wine, but I wasn’t exactly in party mode at this point, I was so close to being back in Canada it was hard to stay in the moment and keep enjoying my last few days abroad! And besides. I won at Scattergories. Who needs booze? 😛

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Horseback in Queenstown

Luckily I was on the afternoon shift for the horse ride, which meant I had all morning to explore Queenstown!  I walked around the downtown, got myself a yummy Fergburger for lunch, and shopped for trinkets. I boarded the shuttle bus to Dart Stables with my friends Paula and Caroline, we were ready for an adventure.  The drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy (about 45 min away) was one of the most breathtaking drives I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing in my life.  Even though I was bumping along in a bus, I still managed to get some great pictures!  We arrived in Glenorchy, and got suited up to go horseback riding in sweet oilskin coats.  The town is tiny, we rode through it after getting on our gorgeous horses.  Mine was named Ginger, he was a bit feisty and kept nipping the butt of the horse in front of me!  He also wanted to stop and eat everything on the path. But most horses to do that.  Lol.

We embarked on our epic riverside ride, and spent the next two hours learning about the different movies that had been filmed using these very same horses.  We took in the amazing scenery and even got to trot along the path!  The horseback crew at Dart Stables also stopped at a particularly scenic spot and took pics of all of us, which was nice!  I loved the ride, the view of the mountains and surrounding area was unbeatable, It will be burned into my memory forever.  I especially liked when we got to wade through the river on horseback, although the horses hated it!

When I got back there was barely time to freshen up and get the horse smell from me and get to dinner, which was at a steakhouse nearby.  We had a fun dinner, comparing stories about all of our activities that had happened during the day (there were over 15 activities to choose from!) and eating our delicious food.  There wasn’t much time for anything else that night, we had to get up at some ridiculous hour to get on our way to Milford Sound, there were only two days left of the tour!

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What does the Fox (Glacier) say???

My morning began late – I got to sleep in cause my Glacier walk didn’t start until ten am.  A van took us up to the terminal face of the Fox Glacier and we hiked up to check out the views. Others on the trip opted for a much tougher half-day hike but I didn’t take part.  I’m from Canada, people.  It’s snow and ice. Big whoop. Actually it was pretty majestic to see the glacier cascading from the cliffs, we got to see lots from our viewpoint, so I was happy with that.  Lunch at the glacier chalet was delicious, but after that our trip got thrown off the rails and kept going that way for the rest of our time together. It wasnt necessarily a bad thing – we still got to see and do everything we were promised, but there was no sticking to the itinerary, that’s for sure!

Let me explain first.  The roads through the mountains are subject to inclement weather and the only road through the mountains to Queenstown was closed half an hour after we left the town of Fox Glacier. Unfortunately there was no cell service to let us know that, so when we got to Haast Pass, we had to turn around and go back the way we came!  It was unfortunate but out trusty guides let us know we would still (eventually) get to our destination, but it would be the long way round.  We backtracked all day on the bus, stopping quickly for dinner in Hokitika (now a ghost town after 5pm) and watched movies on the bus until late in the evening when we finally arrived BACK in Christchurch for the evening.  There was nothing to do/nothing open so it was an early night, in preparation for the long drive ahead of us the next day.

Luckily our drive was broken up by some pleasant stops as we took an alternate route to Queenstown.  First up was morning tea and a tour at Morelea Farm, a sheep farm run by a lovely couple who explained to us the finer points of sheep farming and how their thousand hectare farm operates  I got to feed a little lamby!! It ALMOST made me feel bad about how much I love lamb.  Lol.  We also got to see how the sheepdogs round-up the sheep for the farmers, and how a sheep is sheared.  it was a really informative visit, and I’m glad it was included in our trip because we pass so many farms along the way on our travels and gave me insight into a subject I don’t know too much about.  I am now a sheep farming expert!

There were a few more stops that afternoon, lunch was at Lake Tikapo where I caught my whole family on the phone while they were having Thanksgiving dinner.  It was so nice to talk to everyone!  I loved reconnecting with them, and it made me a wee bit homesick.  I was determined to enjoy the rest of my time in NZ, though, and chatted with my lovely bus buddy Andrew (from Ireland) alllll the long way to Queenstown.  We rolled in a few hours before dinner, and had some time to settle into our apartment style suites before eating at at the world-famous Winnie’s bar.  They stuffed us with pizza and garlic bread and salad until we were groaning, and then we got to have a special treat – a trip to an Ice Bar, where everything is made of ice, including the drink glasses!

It was fun to suit up in the excellent winter coats and gloves provided for us, and look at all the cool sculptures and features carved into this bar made entirely of ice.  They even had an ice air hockey table and an ice photo booth!  We all took WAY too many photos and had a great time sampling ice shots and yum drinks as well. We only left when our hands were frozen to our glasses and our shoes were wet. haha!  it was a great way to end a long day of driving, I’ve always wanted to visit an ice bar, now I can cross that off my list as well!

 

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Jade Factory and a Real, Live Kiwi!

The next morning we met eight new people who were joining our tour, and I bonded with a sweet American girl who sat next to me.  We marveled at the amazing views that were passing our window and had lots of stops to take pics of the mountains that surrounded us as we crossed into the NZ alps. This huge mountain range divides the island in two and made for some interesting crossings over the next few days.  We stopped for a break in Arthur’s Pass, and sat back sipping our coffees as we drove over bridges, under waterfalls (!) and up the sides of the valley to the other side of the coast.

 

The west coast has rapidly changing weather due to the influence of the mountains, and we got a taste of that when rolling into Hokitika for our lunch break.  The sky opened up on us as we were wandering over to the Kiwi Experience museum, and we got inside just in time.  It was time to see a real live Kiwi!  Kiwis are New Zealand’s wingless endangered bird, a very cute and very strange little guy who motors along the ground at night searching for little bugs with his long beak for dinner.  The museum cleverly has the Kiwi on European time, so that means it was night when we showed up to watch the Kiwi go about his business.  We entered the darkened room in a hushed silence – we had to be quite if we wanted to see the little guy!  After a few minutes he came out of his hidey-hole and started running around his large enclosure, digging in the dirt for his dinner and generally being super cute.  We must have watched him for over half an hour, laughing when he banged into things (he can’t see very well) and “squee-ing” when he came up close to the glass.

 

The sky had co-operated while we were inside the habitat, and it was almost sunny again as we went in search of some lunch.  We also visited a Jade factory in Hokitika, watching how the artisans craft the beautiful jewelry and weaponry in traditional Maori designs.  Lunch was whitebait fritters (a local NZ fish, yum), and it was only a short drive after that to our destination for the night in Fox Glacier.  We went on a gorgeous walk that afternoon around Lake Matheson, and had a chance to exercise our legs and see some gorgeous views up close.  The dinner at the Fox Glacier Inn that night was delicious, and I daresay I got into the wine a wee bit and had some laughs with the group by the cosy fire that evening.  I was loving my group!  So many interesting people from around the world, plus there were eight new people to get to know who had only joined the day before.  Tomorrow: it was time to see the great white glacier.

 

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Long Drives and Great New Zealand Views

We’ve had a long couple of travel days that were broken up by some sweet sites as we make our way down the coast on the South Island, our first short stop was at Oahu Point to see some smelly seals!  There were over a hundred seals just hanging out below us, frolicking in the waves and mini pools, fighting, playing and generally just looking like a big ol family.  They kind of smelled, but hey what do you expect from some animals that hang out eating fish all day? After we had our fill of snapping pics of the seals, our next stop was Kaikoura, a small town overshadowed by huge rocky snowy mountains and a pebble beach.  We had a couple of hours to kill in this lil place, so we shopped and looked around and ate a delicious lunch of Thai food (very authentic NZ, I know).  There were opportunities for some people to go whale watching and dolphin watching, but most of us opted to take a hike along the peninsular walk to spot some more seals and wildlife along the way.  it was a great way to stretch our legs, and there were definitely some hilarious moments as it had rained and the slippery paths made for some spectacular falls as well!  After lunch we entertained each other with funny videos on the bus (cat massage, anyone?  a little prancercise, perhaps?), getting into Christchurch early that evening.  it’s kind of frustrating that I would be there three times over the next week and a half, without really getting to see any of the city. Boo 😦  We stayed in a hotel in the suburbs, the city was shook by a devastating earthquake in 2011 and the downtown has yet to be fully rebuilt.  Our place was very cosy, and the beds were luxurious, perfect for a long lovely sleep!

 

 

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Climbing Mount Doom in Tongariro

Our mountain lodge in Tongariro National Park reminded me of a sweet old school Canadian Ski lodge – lots of fake wood and fireplaces, a great base point for all of our adventures that day.  I opted out of the longest (8 hour!) hike and instead decided to do the six-hour Tama lakes hike with a handful of friends from the tour.  It felt like we were setting off on an epic adventure together – LOTR style, baby!  The hike started out easy at first, we were walking across plains and some foresty areas, and even saw a sweet waterfall.

We walked and walked and WALKED, to the lower lake and sat for a while enjoying the view.  Since we were already near the top, we decided it was worth the extra 45 minutes to the top lake, which didn’t look that far away. It ended up being pretty tough going near the top, the gravel pathway was rocky and for every two steps we went forward we took one back.  I actually felt like I was climbing up mount doom, hobbit style.  Luckily we were better equipped than Sam and Frodo and had packed lunches to eat at the top, enjoying the spectacular view of the countryside around us, mount doom and the two Tama lakes.
The climb down was a lot easier, albeit still super long.  We walked through the forested area under the mountain on the way back, along the river, chatting and laughing and wondering if we would ever get back to the chalet.  Finally it came into sight, still an hour away but we made it back in the end.  I found the sauna that afternoon, and sat with my friend Anna for a looong time soothing our sore muscles.  I was super tired and after my long shower and a delicious BBQ dinner I needed my bed in a serious way.  We were off to Wellington the next morning bright and early!
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Topdeck Trip and a stay at the Maori Marae

I was up bright and early the next day to prepare myself for the last leg of my epic trip – a bus tour around both the north and south islands of New Zealand with Topdeck – a tour company for 18 to thirtysomethings all around the world.  I joined up in Auckland, some of the trip members had been to the Bay of Islands already, but I felt like part of the group right away as I got on the bus – everyone seemed like fun, they were all my age and from a whole bunch of different countries.  Our bus left Auckland immediately for Rotorua, a spa town with lots of adventure activities and attractions in store for us.  We introduced ourselves to the group and met our hilarious guides, Craig and Scotty, who would entertain us for the next two weeks with their jokes, knowledge and general mayhem.
Before we got to our final destination for the night, we stopped to watch some group members Zorb down a hill, which basically means you get put in this giant plastic bubble and rolled down a hill. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but it was actually hilarious to watch!!
After a quick stop in Matamata, a “Hobbit” town close to the film set of the Shire that I would be visiting, we drove on to Rotorua. We would stay in the town the next evening, but the first night we all stayed TOGETHER in a longhouse type of Maori lodge, bunked down on the floor like a giant sleepover camp!  But before we could enter into the Maori Marae, we had to honor their customs and learn about the welcoming ceremony that was going to take place.  First, we had to remove our hats and sunglasses and wait for the Maori woman to call out a welcome song to us and we, along with our ancestors were permitted to walk slowly into the home and community center of the New Zealand Natives.  When inside, we were welcomed by our host Shawn in a speech given in his native language and treated to a song, which we had to return to them with our own song. We practiced our Maori song “Oma Rapati” on the bus beforehand, so we sounded pretty good!  Then it was time for the traditional Maori handshake, which includes touching noses like Eskimos!
We had a nature walk after that, where we saw gorgeous waterfalls and learned a bit about the traditional Maori way of life.  Our dinner, however, was chicken, potatoes and gravy – very North American but very tasty!  After dinner we were treated to a performance by the men on our tour – the “Haka” – a war dance and song performed only by the males of the tribe meant to pump them up for battle and intimidate the other side.  It was so cool!  We were treated to stories and legends after that in our lodge, where we bunked down for the night, feeling like we knew each other a lot better after sharing something so special.  Being the culture vulture that I am, I LOVED this part of the tour and felt like I learned a lot about New Zealand and the people who inhabit this fantastic country.  I had more new adventures on my mind for the next day though – it was time to visit a movie set from one of the most epic movies ever made. Lord of the RINGS, BRO.
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