Now that I’ve completed 10 grueling, sleep-botching flights to the opposite sides of Earth within 13 months, I’m finally done with my Asia/Australia tour.
Even so, the length of these mind-numbing flights seem only appropriate. Since my home and the worlds I was about to explore contrasted so much, the transitioning flights needed to be noticeably long. If the experiences I had in the past year were only a brief flight away, I’d hardly believe that I hadn’t dreamed them.
In Asia, each country enchanted me with cultural surprises. For every moment I realized how similar I felt to people across the world, there was another provocative element that suggested how different our interpretations of life could be — be they the postmodern innovation of Japan, the kind politeness of Taiwan, the honest humility of Cambodia, or fun-loving atmosphere of Thailand. (You can read more about the highlights from my Asian adventures on my the “Highlights” series on my blog.)
For the last leg of my trip, there wasn’t anything surprising about the cultures in Australia and New Zealand. What did shock me was the natural beauty.
Some of these views were downright phantasmagoric.
After an opening week of rehearsals, my friends and I kicked off our six weeks of tour in Australia. A leisurely wine tour in Adelaide was a
relaxing way to ease into our sightseeing stint on this continent. Our tour of the Marlborough region gave us views of beautiful, cozy acres of sunny wineries hosted by the friendliest owners. The friendliest — and cutest! — of our hosts were coaxed over by our outstretched hands full of Weet-Bix.
That’s right. Near the end of our tour, we stepped into a pen of kangaroos. I could have left Australia the next day and been content.
Good thing I didn’t. (You know, besides another month left of my contracted work there.) During another few days off, my friends and I visited the Gold Coast to see “Surfer’s Paradise.” I take it the waves are impressive, but since I’m not a surfer myself, I can only testify to how lovely the beach was.
Our Gold Coast road trip then passed through Miami — that is to say, the Australian city that is a near recreation of the Magic City in Florida. Pastel-painted high-rise buildings nearly sang the “Miami Vice” theme song as we drove by.
Once we passed through the Floridian throwback, my friends and I drove to the Springbrook National Park and hiked under a natural bridge. We set up tripods for 45 minutes in a cave under a glittering waterfall in an attempt to capture glowworms during the daytime. To be specific, the three photographers I was with set up tripods and I took the best photos I could on my camera phone. While they experimented with settings, I enjoyed a solo hike to admire the unusual gnarled, twisting formations of the towering trees and draping vines.
The drive back to our hotel was an adventure ride that amusement parks wish they could imitate. Our small car fought against the odds to climb steep hills on narrow roads. As the Nervous Nancy of the group, I held my breath hoping that a tire wouldn’t slip off the cliff and appreciated that I was not the designated driver.
And yes, we passed wild koala crossing signs.
But that unintentional thrill ride was nothing compared to the risky roads we lumbered our camper van across in New Zealand. These mountainous treks were not for the faint of heart.
I can’t say I envied Frodo’s journey on these terrains because the heights made almost too scared to look outside. Still, I can’t overstate how magical the views were.
Our first stop was, of course, an homage to the hero of the Lord of the Rings fabled journeys: Hobbiton. Even the most casual fan of the cinematic franchise can’t help but feel at home in the humble, quaint film set. Doors painted in faded primary colors are tucked into rolling hills, creating a fictional community of happy, modest homes. At the Green Dragon pub at the bottom of the hills, visitors can enjoy a complimentary ale in pottery cups modeled after the props in the films. Our tour had a 30-minute limit to enjoy our drinks, but as I was sipping my cider among friends, I couldn’t help but wish I could lead an escapist hobbit life of worry-free days in a pub.
When we did leave the pub, we weren’t in a rush to our next location. To use the Lord of the Rings‘ author J.R.R. Tolkien’s most famous quote, “not all those who wander are lost,” and we usually couldn’t resist stopping our van for photos between each destination.
I must press here the importance of driving a camper van to see the country. To wimp out of the aforementioned risky roads is to do a disservice to the jaw-dropping natural scenery. For 10 minutes, the roads were hugged by steep, grassy green hills where sheep defied gravity and climbed nearly vertically to munch on the vegetation. For 30 minutes after that, we balanced our van on winding mountain paths. The driver concentrating on the road had to battle the urge to admire lilac-colored snow on the mountains around us, which blended from silver to green mountainsides, until finally resting into icy blue lakes nestled at the mountains’ base.
I jokingly shot a video where I climbed into the frame with mountains behind me, shrilly singing “The Hills Are Alive” in my best Sound of Music impression. The impressive visual is not a far cry from the iconic movie scene, but only Julie Andrews’ clear, bell-like voice fits the placid beauty behind me. I regret to say that my amateur voice is not a spot-on impression and therefore seems out of place in the video.
While my favorite part of our week-long trip was in the passenger seat of our van, our stops were no shabby second-place. The highlight for me was the “thermal wonderland” in Wai-O-Tapu in Rotorua. Here was another example of how fantastical New Zealand is. These all-natural pools were bizarre colors of blood orange, canary yellow, and splotches of royal blue. The most surprising was the neon green Devil’s Bath, which matched the sweater I was wearing that I usually wear for running at night thanks to the sulphur content.
Between these pools that looked like they were created with Magic Markers and highlighter pens, the majestic mountains, and the sheep’s paradise of bountiful green hills, New Zealand was a dream of surreal beauty. As happy as I am to be back in North America for the next year, finding scenery in the cities on tour that is as gorgeous as what I saw this summer will be a hard task.
For now, there’s not much I can do about it except share stories over a pint in the local pubs. You know, hobbit-style. At least I’ve got that part down.