By: Ashley Wilford, EC Scholar and Honors College Sophomore
New Zealand and Australia are two nations I never would have imagined having the chance to travel to, but this summer, I was fortunate enough to spend part of my summer in both of these wondrous countries. The two week tour organized through ECU’s Summer Study Abroad Program stopped off in Rotorua and Auckland in New Zealand then Cairns and Sydney in Australia before rounding off in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Our first day in Rotorua, New Zealand included traveling on a gondola, luging down a mountain, exploring a village built around thermal energy, riding ogos (those big plastic hamster balls!) down hills, and attending a Maori cultural performance and “hangi” feast – Needless to say, I was exhausted by the end of the day!
After a relaxing mud bath hot springs spa, we later ventured to Auckland where we toured the set of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, Hobbiton! Sadly, I had only watched the first Hobbit movie and bits and pieces of the other Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies before the trip. However, Hobbiton was just as scenic and breathtaking as the movie portrayed! I doubt very much digital enhancing had to be done for the set!
The landscape consisted of lush green hills, pine trees, deciduous trees, ponds, and sheep. Apparently, the directors paid so much attention to detail that the sheep on the farm were hidden behind the hilltops and replaced with black “stunt” sheep when filming because they looked more appropriate!
While snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns, Australia was an entirely nonpareil experience on its own, one of my most memorable experiences on my study abroad trip was a free day spent in Sydney. During this free day, I chose to tour the Sydney Opera House, climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and attend a Waratahs versus Crusaders rugby game.
While I had a wonderful time learning about the architecture and engineering behind designing the Opera House, I enjoyed the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb tour even more. On our way climbing up the bridge, our tour guide shared stories about the building of the bridge and its history. When making the ascent, I had not even realized how high up we had already climbed, and it was not nearly as frightening as I had imagined!
One of the reasons I am fascinated with Sydney is because of its landscape of both beaches and mountains surrounding the cityscape. Once we reached the top of the Harbour Bridge, we were able to see this entire view, which was spectacular! I could see Sydney’s entire skyline, past the outskirts of the city, from the mountain range to the sea, and the various neighborhoods in between.
Also, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of only a handful of bridges around the world that allow people to climb it. This made the climb even more meaningful to me since I knew that it was really a once in a lifetime experience! Climbing the bridge was well worth it, because the climb was fun with friends and the top view was amazing.
The conclusion of my adventure-filled day was spent attending my first rugby game and exploring downtown light show Vivid!. Rugby reminded me of football combined with soccer (but don’t tell Rugby fans that!). It took a while for me to be able to follow what was happening in the game, but it was a fun experience that was a must do in Australia.
Each year, Sydney puts on a two-week long display throughout downtown of projected lights, color, and music each night called Vivid!. Apparently the locals enjoy this exhibit just as much, if not more, than their New Years celebration. Judging by the crowds of people flooding the streets for a chance to explore the different light spectacles, I have no trouble believing this. The light shows were so perfectly synced in time to the music and were constantly changing up their images to make it so you didn’t want to miss anything!
I’m appreciative of the opportunity I was given through the EC Scholars Award Program to travel to these two countries and only hope that I will one day be able to return to see more of what these cities have to offer!