Monday: Kathleen’s (Unfortunately Expected) Journey’s End

Greetings once again readers,

Kathleen here, usurping Julia’s blog for another guest entry.

On Sunday, Julia and I fulfilled one of our personal life ambitions — to visit Hobbiton.  It was, hands down, one of the most exciting and emotional things we have done on this incredible journey.  However, I am going to avoid talking about that particular adventure and leave it to Julia to share with you at a later date.  But have a few teaser pictures first!






This entry is a bittersweet farewell to a country that I have so quickly fallen in love with and a reflection on my two short months traveling with Julia.

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Friday: Falling 12,000 Feet and Living to Tell the Tale.

Yesterday I did something I swore I’d never do; something that was never in the stars for me.

I skydived.

I’m not a huge fan of heights. I mean, as long as I’m securely fastened into a high up object (airplane, roller coaster, etc.) I’m usually all right, but I can’t look over the edge of a building or climb really high up trees because I know there’s nothing tethering me to safety. Hence why I never thought I’d skydive. I mean, what’s scarier than falling several thousand feet in the air towards the ground? Absolutely nothing.

But Kathleen suggested it a couple months back, during the initial planning portion of our trip, and for some reason I had agreed to it. Yeah, I had thought, Why not? If I’m in New Zealand, a place known for it’s extreme sports, why shouldn’t I jump? So we did some research, decided skydiving in Taupo would be the best, and that was that. I then proceeded to bury the idea of jumping out of a plane in the back of my mind. My way of coping, y’know?

We got into Taupo last Monday and still I wasn’t nervous. I continued to not be nervous because, the following day, we learned skydiving was off. The weather was just not working with us. So we rescheduled for the next morning and, as already mentioned in my previous blog, we went to the circus instead – which was pretty damn rad.

The next morning the weather looked similar, ie. too shitty to skydive. Despite kind of being disappointed that the main reason we came to Taupo was all for naught, I was kind of okay with it at the time. Partially because jumping out of a plane is terrifying, but also because money is slowly becoming more and more tight. I was okay with not spending $400+ on the potential of dying.

Then we got a call saying that skydiving was a go.

Kathleen and I loaded into a shuttle with two Asian girls, an English girl, a Candian girl, a German guy, and one excited Kiwi skydiver driving the car. I was silent most of the way to the skydiving place, seeing as I had read over the contract we had to sign and the terms had included the words “possible injury or death.” Honestly, I spent most of the ride thinking to myself, This is it. This is how I am going to die.

And yet, I went through with it. There were several instances where I thought about chickening out, but for some reason I never did. Maybe it was because Tim, my awesome tandem partner, had been skydiving for fourteen years and he seemed very much alive. Or perhaps because everyone working there seemed so enthusiastic. Or because I didn’t want to embarrass myself by going “No, sorry, I can’t do this.” Pride isn’t much of a deal for me usually, but sometimes my stubbornness can get in the way.

Our “holy shit we’re about to skydive” faces.

Eventually I was loaded into the plane, donning a red jumpsuit, a cap, and goggles. As I watched as the plane rise off the ground, I knew the only way back to the ground was by jumping.

At one point I looked out the window and thought, Oh. We’re so high up. We must almost be there. Tim then told me we were only 3,000 feet in the air. 3,000 feet?? I was jumping at 12,000 feet. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” was my only response to him.

I watched Tim’s altitude watch as we climbed higher and higher in the air. I watched as we passed the halfway point, and eventually the 10,000 feet mark. I was oddly calm, I realized. It was just all so surreal, y’know? I kept looking out the window and thinking, Nah. There’s no way I’m gonna jump. That’s not possible. That isn’t a thing. It’s all good. I guess denial is one of my stronger defense mechanisms. It also helped that my camera guy and Kathleen’s camera guys were sitting right next to me, and both of them kept goofing around with each other and with me. I think they knew how nervous I was, and they did a marvelous job keeping me distracted.

Then suddenly my camera guy was opening the airplane door and I realized what was gonna happen next.

I was the first jumper. Kathleen and the other two girls in our plane were gonna go up to 15,000 feet, but I had opted for 12,000 because of money (I only saved $70, but that’s three nights in a hostel versus fifteen extra seconds of free fall, so I think I made a wise decision). On the one hand, going first was probably the better option. I didn’t have to sit at the back, watching everyone else go before me, worrying my pants off about my fate.

Even so, in that moment, I became fucking terrified.

I was tethered to Tim now, and he shifted me towards the door. He had instructed me to hold onto my harness, and to bend my head and legs back once were on the edge of the plane. I, of course, made the horrible life decision of looking down once my legs began to dangle. I’m pretty sure I’ve never said the word “fuck” as much as I did in that instant.

Oh my god. Oh my god. I am going to die.

Tim had be look back at the camera set up to take my exit photo, but it barely even registered with me. It felt like I was sitting there for an eternity, my heart pounding through my chest. Why weren’t we jumping? Why were we just sitting there? Fuck, fuck, fuck, what am I doing? I thought. Maybe it’s not too late. Maybe I can get out of this. Maybe I –

And then we were falling.

I’ve never screamed the way I did in those first ten seconds. I felt like one of the passengers falling out of the plane in Iron Man 3. We fell head first, and I watched (briefly, though it didn’t feel that way) as the plane grew further and further away. I screamed and screamed and screamed. In the words of the Bluth family, I made a huge mistake.

Then suddenly Tim turned me over, and all I saw was the ground. The rapidly approaching ground. If you watch the video below, you’ll notice for the first four or five seconds I am just staring at the ground, screaming. Mainly profanity, really, but also just screaming. But then there’s a shift. Here, watch the video and you’ll see what I mean:

Skydiving like nothing I have ever experienced and I don’t know how to even put it in words – which I realize is a cliche to say, but I mean, it’s really true. Nothing can match those first couple seconds; it’s like you left your stomach up on the plane and your heart is trying to escape from your chest. But then you feel like… like you’re flying. It’s just the most surreal thing I’ve ever gone through. It was just impossible to believe it’s actually happening. The change from terrified to amazingly enthusiastic happened so fast for me. That huge grin you see on my face in the video is legit. It occurred to me quickly that I was gonna be okay. Tim knew what he was doing and my camera guy was also there and – dear god – I was twelve thousand feet in the air and it was goddamn amazing. You can barely catch your breath while it’s happening, and it goes by so fast but at the same time everything feels like it’s happening in slow motion. It was fucking incredible.

Once the parachute was pulled, it took about six or seven minutes to get back to the ground. Tim flew us in rapid circles at one point, which was great, and the views were breathtakingly spectacular.

Skydiving was something I never anticipated enjoying, but holy Henson did I ever. I’d love the opprotunity to do it again, if I’m ever at the point where I can afford it again. It’s a feeling I think everyone should experience.

That feeling where you feel so very mortal but so very invincible all at once.

A feeling that cannot be beat.

Wednesday: Our Stay in Stratford.

Kathleen and I celebrated our two month travel anniversary just a couple days back – hard to believe so much time has gone by already, right?

It’s been one hell of a trip so far. I’m starting to get a bit nervous because – heh – money’s slowly becoming more and more tight. I’m heading up to Paihia with Cheryl, I’m fairly certain, after Kathleen takes off, but I’m pretty sure once I’m up there I’m gonna need to find either a WWOOF or Workaway gig – possibly a short term, part time job that actually pays me money. Then I’ve gotta make my way south back to Wellington to hopefully find myself a full time job and someplace to live for a while.

Anyway, enough of that. Remember Alison, that lovely woman I sat next to on the flight to New Zealand who offered to let us come stay with her during our travels?

Well it looks like we might have taken her up on her offer.


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Friday: Eight Roommates You’ll Encounter in Hostels.

Bad moods while traveling are the pits. You realize that the bad mood you’re in isn’t worth it and you tell yourself you should be enjoying your travels, which just leads to you becoming more grumpy about being in a bad mood in the first place. That’s currently what I’m up to right now, just sitting on my bed and brooding. Kathleen and I decided to have a lazy day, ie. we’ve pretty much been sitting on our bunk bed all day unmoving (except to get breakfast with Meg this morning).

Granted, we have had a fairly busy couple of days in Wellington. We visited Lyall Bay one morning and caught up with some friends. Not much to write about, but still a lovely time nonetheless. I’m keen on returning to Wellington and attempting to find a place to live. More on that in the future. Anyway, onto today’s blog…

Today we’re talking roommates, and by roommates I mean the people you end up bunking with in hostels. Some are great, some not so great. So enjoy my list of eight hostel roommates, plus this picture of the giant Gollum statue in the hostel airport:


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Monday: Cheers to Queenstown!

I’ve been diligently trying to keep a catalog of all my favorite and least favorite places in New Zealand stored in the back of my mind. I’m well aware Wellington, Paihia, and Nelson rank near the top and that Dunedin’s dwindling at the very bottom, and then everywhere else is sort of floating around in the middle. I’m hoping to compile an actual list at some point, probably after Kathleen takes off.

Anyway, these last several days have been spent in Queenstown and it has been, hands down, one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been. It may very well be tied with Wellington for my favorite New Zealand city thus far.


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Friday: What You Should and Shouldn’t Bring When Traveling.

Packing for travel can be difficult; you never can really plan for what you might need on your journeys. Of course there’s always the essential necessities that you can’t avoid: underwear, toothpaste, first aid kit,  shampoo, and the like. But a lot of packing is really up in the air. Will a pack of cards really be worth it? Am I ever going to make time to go on a jog? How many times do I actually plan on running around dressed as Spider-man and causing mayhem? You know, things like that.

Basically, it all comes down to guestimation. It’s inevitable that you’re going to bring along a few things that you wont actually need during your travels, and you’re also going to realize you left one or two things behind that would have come in handy.

With that in mind, Kathleen and I put our heads together and came up with five recommendations for things you should definitely bring and definitely not bring, inspired by our own travel experiences. Enjoy!


We are the best at jumping pictures. < / not >

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Wednesday: Te Anau, Rain, and One Goddamn Beautiful Hike.

It’s odd to think I’ve been in New Zealand for over seven weeks now.

The first two weeks went by so slowly. Every waking moment was filled with a new “gosh I can’t believe I made it here!” emotion; constantly trying to take in every conversation, every fern, every smiling eye, every hill’s slope, every strand of a detail. Then suddenly the time began to whiz right by, especially since coming to the south island, and I stopped paying such close attention to everything around me.

I’ve been worried as of late that I’m… well, it’s not that I feel disenchanted with New Zealand at this point. It’s just that I’m used to it now. The first couple bus rides we took going from city to city consisted of my nose being pressed up against the glass, gawping at every beautifully green hill we drove by. Now I tend to spend bus rides either sleeping or playing Plants vs. Zombies. I suppose it was bound to happen. I just don’t want to fall into the habit; taking this gorgeous place for granted. Being here is a gift – not everyone gets an opportunity such as this – so to squander it away by playing iPhone games and being caught up in my own world is practically a crime.

But I digress. Let’s talk Te Anau.

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Monday: Keeping it Simple.

Well tonight’s entry is going to be rather straight and to the point, partially because it’s 12:30am and I don’t have the energy to write something descriptive, but also because our last couple days have been sort of uneventful…?

I mean, not really uneventful. A lot has happened, just not a lot of major interest. So I’ll keep it simple and try to do a quick sum up.

  • We WWOOFed in Invercargill for four nights, mainly doing inside cleaning work – which was a really nice change from all the weeding/moving heavy objects that we’ve been doing.
  • Our host family was a family of four (mother, father, daughter, and son), who were all wonderfully nice to us and very much into rugby, rowing, basketball, running, and just about every other kind of sport. The two kids of the family are hoping to make it to the Olympics someday, which the parents were incredibly supportive of. I’m not exactly the most sports enthused person on the planet, but it was interesting to kind of get a view of the lifestyle.
  • The family had a cat, two dogs, three horses, some chickens, and a ton of sheep and lambs. My favorite was the cat (whose name I never learned), Zach the dog, and Molly the (absolutely gorgeous) horse.
  • We cooked for the first time for a WWOOFing family. We stuck with something easy, ie. a build your own taco/burrito bar. The two teenagers had never had a taco before, which we found sort of amusing because they kept asking us if they were preparing their meal correctly. I also made a mediocre cheesecake.
  • I rediscovered the joys of electric blankets. Fantastic.
  • Didn’t take many pictures during our stay. In fact, I took zero with my camera. All the pictures I took were on my phone.
  • I finally got a of Snapchat, and have primarily used it to send Kathleen pictures of me making ugly faces and of her own butt.
  • Speaking of Kathleen, we both got sick. Nothing major, I don’t think. I have the better of it, wherein I just have an annoying sore throat and that’s it. Kathleen’s a little worse for wear. We’re hoping her bug will give way soon. If it’s still around by the time we get to Queenstown in three days we’ll probably have to find her a doctor.
  • We didn’t see much of the city. We were driven around one afternoon and saw a lot of the bush, neighborhoods, and one awesome beach, but that was really it.
  • Green Lantern is a shitty movie.
  • I’m kind of in love with Chris Parnell and Benedict Cumberbatch all over again…?

We’re in Te Anau right now, which is absolutely gorgeous. Can’t wait to snap some pictures to share in my next blog. We’re gonna explore the town and try to find a hike or two to go on tomorrow, then the next day we’re going on a tour of Milford Sound. Fun times all around!

JGask out.

Friday: Ten Ways to Keep Contact During Travel

Hi-ho, Julia the frog human here.

Considering I just attempted to spell “hi-ho” as “hiyho”, I think it’s justified that I skimp on the intro and delve straight into this entry. I’m kind of falling asleep on top of my laptop as I type. It makes things difficult.

Tonight I’ve got another list for you, this time focusing on the best way to stay in contact with friends, families, employers, enemies, what have you, back home during your travels. While getting away and meeting new people is a blast, homesickness is bound to strike at any given time. Considering this, I came up with ten ways that myself and Kathleen have primarily been staying in touch with people back in the States. So, without further ado, enjoy today’s list – as well as a picture of the delicious cupcake I had for dessert tonight.

Red velvet heaven.

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Wednesday: Overzelous in Oamaru. Disappointed in Dunedin.

Yesterday marked Kathleen and my six week anniversary in New Zealand. It seems like only yesterday I was sitting in my TV room back in Portland, trying to figure out what the hell I wanted to do with myself after graduation, only to have it dawn on me that there was a place I always wanted to travel. Kathleen has just under a month left, but I’ve still got about ten a half months to go. I’ve started to formulate a plan of attack for when I’m on my own here, but it’s still very early in the planning process. I’m thinking about trying to find a more long term WWOOFing stint up in either Paihia or the Bay of Islands, then hopefully finding work and a shared flat somewhere in Wellington. Again, it’s still early on and plans could always change, so fingers crossed that it’ll work out.

But enough about that! Time to talk about the awesome time we had in Oamaru and why Dunedin is (thus far) my least favorite place we’ve visited.


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