December has been filled with joy and memory-making. From the Luna Park rollercoasters, to a Friendsgiving potluck, and even a music festival, it’s been great to enjoy the sunshine during this holiday season. I joined a pilates gym a few weeks ago and have been taking barre, pilates, yoga classes, and enjoying city views while stretching and foam rolling sore muscles. I enjoyed exercising my brain and making new friends at Kin North’s second Puzzles + Pinot event. I’ve Facetimed into family holidays and had chats with NICU nurse researchers in the city about opportunities to get back into the clinical setting while I’m here. I received some amazing birthday gifts including $521 donated to the FA Research Fund through my FB birthday fundraiser— wow! Thanks, friends. Though it was my first birthday away from my twin sister, this time I finally got to be the eldest twin (for 16 hours). More birthday celebrations took place at bounce (Oz version of sky zone— indoor trampoline park), and with orange almond cake at work for morning coffee. Dinner and drinks on the river with friends closed out my day!
I heard a live saxophone play in the club, and enjoyed our lab’s Christmas party in Warragul. I went skydiving over the city and St. Kilda beach wearing my Aria’s Army shirt because she overcame nearly every expectation medical professionals had for her little life, but nobody said she couldn’t fly.I enjoyed the Institute’s rooftop Christmas party, did my first protein purification, and initiated Melb’s first Taco Bell. I attended my first summer night market and some fabulous halloumi fries, and enjoyed my last tap and jazz classes of the year. During my last work day of 2019, my cousins club gift exchange present was delivered in the Aus post from one of my little mini-mes! I can’t wait to put my “somebody in Muncie loves me” mug to good use.
The last few weeks of trip planning for upcoming travels kicked off with a solid week in New Zealand on its South Island with another American Fulbrighter with whom I’ve been sharing the joys of Melbourne. We flew into Queenstown on the 17th, hiked to Bob’s Cove and to the Routeburn Flats huts in Glenorchy, and stopped at Bennett’s Bluff Point at the head of Lake Wakatipu and the Isengaarg Lookout (to capture a scene from Lord of the Rings) on the way. Lots of suspension bridges, waterfalls, and steps on that second day in NZ… 33,000 to be exact. The natural beauty there is simply breathtaking!
We were watching a live counter of the impeachment vote and acknowledging the third impeachment of a U.S. president as we witnessed the newest chapter in history books unfold before our eyes, while over 10k miles away. Remind me to write a post about navigating polarizing conversations as a representative of the States in another country, especially during this political climate…
On day three, we drove from Queenstown to Te Anau, stopped at the Devil’s Staircase, ate some killer nachos, drove up toward Milford Sound and hiked to The Chasm and some of Lake Marian track. It was pouring rain but the dozens of waterfalls on the mountains were gorgeous with the extra volume. Back to the Airbnb we went with our car karaoke & lots of rain, and we slept to the sweet sound of thunderstorms with the added bonus of a heated mattress, which seems to be the norm in NZ.
The next morning we woke up bright’n’early to begin day four at 0700 for attempt #1 at the half-hour Te Anau Lake cruise to the glow worms in Aurora Cave. Unfortunately, the caves were flooded from a few days of rain (it rains 200+ days per year there), so we went back to town, bought some postcards, and got comfy at a café to write some it’s-almost-Christmas-and-we’re-10k-mikes-from-home notes to loved ones. We then hit the road and headed toward Milford Sound— it was such a joy to get to sit behind a steering wheel again and blast my favorite music! It has made me grateful that I have experience driving in the left hand side of the road in the U.S. Virgin Islands while visiting my grandma on St. John.
Two hours and an awesome tunnel drive through the mountains later, we arrived at the end of the road [literally] with the intention of hiking the Milford Foreshore and finding WiFi at the ONLY café in a two hour radius of the “eighth wonder of the world.” No WiFi was to be found, which was a blessing and a curse— we couldn’t execute our plan of judging the last dem debate of the year in between sightseeing, but we did manage to stay disconnected for nearly 12 hours. Sometimes that’s more than necessary, and we’ll catch up on the highlights tomorrow.
So, off we went to get our steps in (just 20,000 this time) on another short hike to the Milford Lookout followed by enjoying a delicious berry smoothie. It was almost time for our beloved and much anticipated cruise, and the dreaded rain began. Just when I had lost all hope for experiencing the true beauty of the famous Sound, the storm passed; and as we pulled away from the boat dock, the clouds quickly cleared and we were beyond pleasantly surprised at the views. We saw dolphins flipping for joy, rode some ocean waves in our boat, watched friendly seals climb a slippery rock to sunbathe on, squinted our eyes as far as we could upon hearing we were looking straight into the Tasman Sea toward Melbourne, and captured a double rainbow after getting soaked by a waterfall. Take a look for yourself at our wander of the wonder of Milford Sound… there are no words, except that we were truly somewhere over the rainbow (see featured image).
But, that’s not all! After the two hour drive back to Te Anau, we were on for take two of GLOW WORMS: a claustrophobia-inducing challenge for the history books. It was well worth the moments of impending panic as we ducked under cave boulders and around waterfalls to see the little 3-5cm wrigglers above our heads as they glow from their tail’s bioluminescent light, equivalent to one nanowatt of brightness. The light is used to attract an insect snack which is then drawn into their sticky mucus sack or “wee hammock” in which they’ve suspended themselves from the inside of Aurora Cave. Here are some glowing fun facts:
- There is only one species of glow worm in New Zealand, called Arachnocampa Luminosa, and it can only be found in New Zealand.
- Aurora Cave is only 12,000 years old and its biggest stalactite [slow calcium drips from the top of caves often seen as large appendages hanging down], dubbed “Percy,” is 400 years old and literally only an inch long. #BabyCave
- The glow worms are so territorial that the old ones eat the “wee” ones if they get into their space. Ha!
- They spend 6-9 months in the larva stage as a glow worm. The females lay up to 150 eggs and the first one to hatch will eat the rest in the cluster to try to get the energy it needs to start its life cycle. After a few days, the adult Fungus Gnats die of starvation because they have no digestive tract. Lights out. #ImPunny
The next morning, we hit the road for our second to last drive on the Te Anau-Milford Sound road, this time to stop at a few lookout points including Hollyford Valley, Mirror Lakes, and Cascade Creek and then to hike three hours and 919 meters in elevation to the Key Summit. This is just the other side of the Routeburn Track hike we did a few days prior from Glenorchy, which is a several day hike to do from start to finish. #WalksForWimps 2/2 recommends doing it our way. These views and the on-top-of-the-world feeling and view of Lake Marian were nearly as great as skydiving.
Listen— I’m not an outdoorsy person in any way, shape, or form. (Shocker, I know). In fact, I’m a self-declared city girl through and through. To top it off, thanks to psoriatic arthritis, I was designed for anything but what I love most: moving this body. Yet at this point, I had spent more than eight of the last 72 hours hiking and taking in gorgeous views of NZ, thankfully pain-free. And I wouldn’t change a second of it, let alone the 919 meters to the top of the Key Summit.
After a total of five hours of driving to land in Albert Town, my glass of strawberry-passionfruit hinted rosé was well-deserved. Hiking onward in Wanaka was on the agenda for day six! #HannahHikes
We completed our hardest and longest hike to Roy’s Peak lookout, 1,578 meters in elevation, which was not a #WalkForWimps. My payoff included finding #ThatWanakaTree (even though it was nearly underwater), curly fries, 2 liters of water, a two hour scenic drive through Lindis Pass from Wanaka to Lake Tekapo, and a celebratory glass of riesling while soaking in the hot springs. I spent the scenic drive trying to stay connected on my first conference call as a board member of Fanconi Anemia Support Australasia, and was rewarded with a gorgeous sunset upon arriving at the night’s Airbnb in Ashwick Flat.
Our last full day in NZ consisted of nearly seven hours of driving to squeeze in a three hour hike through Hooker Valley and racing back to Queenstown to finally go white water rafting and have my first ice bar experience! Our color-coordinated schedule had to be altered a bit upon arrival as the rainy days forecasted didn’t line up with our original plan. Though this resulted in some driving-heavy days, it all worked out fabulously and I got in plenty of car singing time.
White water rafting in class 3-5 rapids on the Shotover River was exhilarating. The drive down the canyon to the starting point was on a historic highway, and the most dangerous road in NZ. I volunteered to sit up front and then to lead the team through a dark tunnel to drop off of a waterfall. I would highly recommend rafting!
Our final day in NZ also happened to be Christmas Eve, so we returned our rental car and headed to brunch at Yonder in Queenstown. We chillaxed by the waterfront and enjoyed some rooftop weather before returning to the airport for our flight back “home” to Melbourne. We landed with just two hours left to Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere, and I achieved my goal of being in my warm, cosy bed before midnight.
Homesickness is not something I’ve experienced in waves during my stay in Melbourne, but it’s hit twice, hard. Once, the day after thanksgiving here, when all of the family celebrations were taking place at home; and second, upon celebrating my birthday without my twin for the first time in 22 years. It’s not so much that I’m homesick to be back in the States— it’s that I wish more than anything my people were here in Melbourne. I’m beyond thankful to have dear new friends here in this big city who have become my home away from home, and who have made the bad days easier, and the good days just that much more fantastic. This Christmas, I hope wherever you are, you have people like that near and far. I couldn’t imagine this experience without them!
If you are looking for an incredible cause to support this season of giving, look no further. Aria’s Army has a new initiative called the 2020 Birthday Campaign Leadership Circle. The Leadership Circle helps create a matching fund to maximize the impact of campaign participation, celebrates Aria’s would-be ninth birthday, and will ultimately help to fund research on Fanconi Anemia and support families facing FA. With the goal of raising $20,000, we hope to celebrate the completion of the campaign on January 11th, 2020, Aria’s birthday. If you feel moved to be a part of the Leadership Circle, you can learn more here and donate today. Merry Christas in the stars, Sweet Aria. 💞