Semester at Sea, Port 6: Auckland, New Zealand
Well, this was a particularly fun port for me because Allison finally didn't have another pre-planned trip to go on, so all three of us (my roommates, Krystal, Allison, and I) were able to spend the whole port doing independent travel together. We docked in Auckland, but decided to get out of the city as quickly as possible and head to Rotorua. Rotorua is an extremely geothermically active area AND it is a huge center of Maori culture. Maoris are Polynesians that came to New Zealand about 800 years ago and have preserved their culture as much as possible in this area.
As you may or may not know, New Zealand is the world’s capitol for extreme sports! So naturally, our plan was to go sky diving on our first full day in the country. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy, so we went Zorbing!! Zorbs are these huge (10 feet tall) rubber balls with a smaller ball inside of them. You jump inside and then they roll you down the hill! So you’re basically inside a huge bouncy ball. It’s awesome!
Zorbing originated in Rotorua. Actually, the place where we went was the first place in the world to have Zorbing and it’s the only place in the world that they make the balls! They have three different kinds: In the first one, you are strapped into the ball spread eagle and they roll you down a strait hill, (pictured above) so your rolling head over feet the whole time. The second version is where you just jump into the ball and they throw water in there with you (warm water cuz it was cold out) and you just roll around inside it. I did that one twice down a zig-zag path! You just bounce all over the place and do flips and slip and slide while rolling down the hill, I could not stop laughing the whole time. And then there is the third version, where where you can go down the straight path with water with three people!! So me and my roommates did it together and it was awesome!! We had a crazy fun time.
After Zorbing we went to Te Whakarewarewa which is a thermal valley with geysers! It was like being on a different planet. You read about places like this in National Geographic or whatever, but it was never really a concrete thing that I acknowledged existed until now. The most awesome thing I saw was boiling mud! It was all over the place. I felt like a dinosaur was going to come out from behind the rocks and attack me. The ground was warm and there were hot springs everywhere and holes in the ground with steam coming out and tons of geysers! We were lucky and got to see the biggest geyser in New Zealand, Pohutu Geyser, erupt. The shaft is 20 meters high and it’s intense to watch. It was quite amazing to see 20 meters of boiling water just shoot out of the earth. The plants were also very weird because they all live in an extremely acidic atmosphere and the rocks are stained yellow and black with mineral deposits. It was really neat. And while we were there we saw a KIWI bird!! They are a lot bigger than I thought they would be.
Then after dinner (It was Krystal’s 20th Birthday!) we went to use our free voucher to the Polynesian Spa. We stayed for 2 1/2 hours sitting in a small hot pool with fine gravel lining the bottom. It was sooo relaxing! A great way to end a tough day of Zorbing and sight-seeing!
The next morning we woke up to a BEAUTIFUL day and so we decided to go SKY DIVING! The company came to pick us up and took us to the Rotorua Airport. It was the TINIEST airport I have ever seen. As we suited up I was getting really excited... it wasn't until we got in the plane that I became really terrified. I realized that I have never even been able to jump off the lowest platform in a diving pool and I was about to plummet towards the earth out of an air plane!! I kept asking my tandem partner, Vince, "are we hooked together, are you sure we're attached!"
As we climbed up I could look out the window and see the most gorgeous country side. The area had 7 lakes all near to each other and we could see all 7 plus the Pacific Ocean from where we jumped!
When we reached 12,000 feet we scooted up towards the door of the plane and I started freaking out asking Vince, "where are we going, where are we going!?" Then, they opened the door. If i wasn't strapped to someone who was determined to get me out of that plane, I don't think I would have been able to do it. The first time that you are 12,000 feet in the air and someone opens the door has got to be the scariest moment ever. Obviously, I had never been in a plane where someone opened the door while we were airborne! That is just CRAZY!
Well…. since I was so scared, Vince decided that I should go first, lucky me! He pushed us up to the edge of the plane and I started screaming "o my God, o my God" over and over again. I was basically hyperventilating. It was terrifying. I was completely horrified. He pushed us out and for only a SPLIT second I kept screaming, I thought I was going to die. But then 1/2 a second after we began our free fall the terror was completely gone and I realized how amazing the view was. Falling through the sky with NOTHING holding you up and nothing slowing you down is such a RUSH!! It was indescribable. The funny thing is that even though you are falling at an alarming rate toward the earth, you are still so far up that you really can’t tell how fast or far you are falling. The lack of perspective really makes the whole thing much less scary.
After about 45 seconds of free fall he pulled the shoot and then there was nothing. It was complete silence and peace. It was like there was nothing in the world that could disturb me. The view was absolutely spectacular, I saw all of the lakes and the ocean and Vince pointed out some volcanoes. We did some spins and just hung out for a while until it was time to land.
It was quite a drastic change. One minute I felt like I was way above everything and I would never land and then all of the sudden I realized that I was falling pretty quickly to the ground. Perspective is a funny thing. Next thing I knew, I was only 20 feet above the ground and lifting my feet for landing. And it was over! I landed on my bum and when I was unhooked from Vince I started jumping up and down and running around like a crazy person for a couple minutes before I came down off of my huge adrenalin rush. It was an amazing experience, I seriously think everyone should skydive at least once in their life!
On a cultural note: One thing I definitely noticed about New Zealand and Australia, especially after being in Russia and Japan, is that they are both a lot like the US. Australia is much more so because its also like a 'melting pot.' The Aussie culture is a culture of a bunch of different peoples coming together to be Australian, like the American culture is a bunch of different peoples who come together to make up America.
New Zealand has more of its own culture. They have two official languages, English and Maori, which I thought was pretty interesting. Both countries are very western and modern and I felt really at home and comfortable there. The thing that I found most cool (and that as an American, (or as a Pennsylvanian) I am most jealous of) is that they are so close to Asia that they have a much larger Asian influence than America. There are a lot of Asian characters all over the place and Asian food courts and Asian markets around. YUMMMY!!!
Anyway, New Zealand was just amazing. I definitely am not the same person I was when I left for Semester at Sea. Every morning I wake up and wonder how my life could ever get any better than this and then every night I go to bed and realize that today was better than the day before and I just can't believe how lucky I am.