This is the official blog of my Study Abroad Trip to Australia and New Zealand. I'll be leaving December 26th and returning home February 2nd.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Day 34: Is the room spinning?

Hello all! I can't decide how this week will play out. Either this week will fly by like the whole trip thus far, or it could be the longest 4 days of my life. Let's hope it'll be a nice mash-up of both options. It seems like we were in Sydney like a year ago (technically it was 2011 but let's ignore my wordplay for a minute) and the rest of the trip has flown by. I've been so blessed to experience everything that I have in these past four and some-odd weeks and I'll have memories that I'll cherish for the rest of my life. I encourage anyone that needs a change of pace and scenery in their life, travel to Australia or New Zealand for a few weeks. It's the best medicine that someone could ever give you. Just make sure you bring sunscreen and have a few bucks saved up. That's enough of all that sentimental junk, let me give you an update about today.

Today we were fortunate enough to go on a guided tour of the Sydney Opera House which was fascinating. Construction began in 1959 and didn't finish until 1973. It was designed by a Danish architect named Jorn Utzon, who actually didn't see the finished structure due to continued arguments between the owners and himself. It was an impressive display of concrete and the curved shell pieces used for the roof were so interesting. We were shown a variety of auditoriums and stages where all kind of performances are held yearly. We felt very touristy because we had to walk around with headphones that it made it easier to hear the tour guide with. Functional but very goofy looking. Here's a few pictures:

These were referred to as ribs 
Observatory area

The shell segments are a self-cleaning material that changes color depending on the viewing angle and the sunlight exposure.

After our tour, the ENVD students bought a few souvenirs and headed back to the dorm to do a little laundry and start getting ready for our evening on the town with our group and Meghan's mom, who just flew into Sydney a couple days before we had gotten there. She took us to the Blu Bar, a ritzy bar on the 36th floor of the Shangri-La hotel. I wanted to try this drink but I don't think my dad would have liked to see this charge on the credit card:

Just a $10,000 AUD martini. Diamond included of course. We settled on the $420 "Classic Moment for Two." Not.
After our quick pre-dinner drink we hopped a cab over to the famous 360 Bar and Restaurant in the heart of Sydney, overlooking the sunset of all of Sydney. It was amazing. The neat thing about the restaurant was that the floor was constantly spinning in a circle to have a complete view of the city. It was spinning very slowly of course otherwise most people wouldn't be able to enjoy their dinner for very long after eating it. They told us it makes a full rotation every hour. So cool. The food was out of this world. I had one of the best steaks I've ever eaten in my life. I wish I had some better pictures but the majority of the ones the waiter took were blurry. You'll just have to take my word for it when I say the view was incredible.

Well after a fun night and a full stomach I'm going to call it a night. Thanks for reading! War Eagle!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Day 31-33: Queenstown. Kiwi Excellence.

Recap of my favorite free weekend of the trip and definitely the coolest place I've ever been in my life. I know I've worn out that phrase but this time I really mean it. Seriously. Queenstown is awesome. I am definitely coming back here next time I can afford it. With the kind of debt I'm in to bank of Schmidtke it could be awhile. So worth it though. By the way Kiwi is a term that New Zealander's use to refer to themselves. It's the national symbol of the country, along with the silver fern. It's a weird little bird that resembles a chicken, kind of. Not really though. I don't really know how to describe it. It's obviously cool enough for New Zealanders to associate themselves with it. Back the point though. Queenstown is absolutely gorgeous. As soon as we stepped off the plane we were surrounded by snow-capped mountains and this perfect summer temperature with a cool breeze and no humidity. It reminds me of a Colorado-esque town with that New Zealand flair. Downtown is a 3 block by 3 block square so it isn't difficult to navigate and you are surrounded by mountains on just about every side. So many adventure and adrenaline activities to do. Jet boating, sky diving, bungee jumping, mountain biking, luging, 4WD tours, ATV adventures, LOTR tours (Lord of the Rings for you non-nerds), and so many more that I forgot to name. I wish I had the time and money to do all of them.  It was great.

Our housing situation was the crazy hostel only known as Nomad. It was pretty nice but the best part about it was the people I met. Our booking somehow was messed up so our group of four got placed in different rooms with random people. I was nervous about it at first, but that all went away when I kept meeting people from all around the world that were so friendly! In my room I had a guy from Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and a girl from the UK who were all really nice. We had kind of a crazy group of people sharing a balcony with us hailing from Argentina, Sweden, Ireland, Germany, Canada, and even a taste of home with California and Iowa (about as random as Alabama I know). It seemed like a giant dorm full of people my age from all around the world. Good times.

View from the front door of our hostel. Impressive, I know.

After getting settled in, we hoofed it over to the Queenstown Adventure Station and took a shuttle out to our jet boat ride! It was the Shotover River Jet Boat Experience and it was so much fun. It was a 15 passenger, twin V-8 engine, jet propulsion boat that could fly at 70-80 km/h and could float on 6 inches of water. We flew through the canyons of Shotover River and narrowly avoided rocks and did 360 degree turns. Crazy. Check out the pictures and the video:

After our the world's best Jet Boating Experience, we decided to try another world's best in the category of hamburgers, also known as Fergburger. The burgers were enormous, but delicious. And they even used American bacon! Huge plus. None of that Canadian bacon nastiness that I've been eating since December 26th. After loosening up my belt, our group caught wind of one of the fun things to do on a Friday night, a pub crawl called the Kiwi Crawl. Six bars, free drinks, free entry to Minus 5 which was a bar made entirely of ice kept at a cool 23 degrees Fahrenheit, and all for 25 NZ dollars. They had us at free drinks. It was a fun night with great live music, lots of good stories, and of course the ice bar. Here's a few pictures:

The Crawlers

They gave us parkas as we walked in. Functional and Fashionable. Great combo. 
Eating my glass after I finished my drink. Sustainability is just who I am.
After a fun night, I woke up early, fought for the toaster with 20 other hungry hostel-mates and ate a light breakfast. I decided to wander around the city alone and enjoyed like a local. I stumbled upon the Saturday street market down by the harbor and picked up a few souvenirs for the family and Caroline (get excited everyone). Everything was hand-made and really neat so I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to get everyone.

The Harbor

 I met up with Patrick, grabbed some cheap but good Subway and we decided to rent some mountain bikes and head up the gondola and try the downhill mountain bike trails they had at the top. So let's clear this up now. I'm not claiming to be an expert biker or trail rider or anything, but I believe I'm confident enough to handle a bike pretty well. But I started to get a little nervous when I was standing in line to catch the lift and all the other bikers around me were wearing motorcycle helmets, goggles, gloves, and what appeared to be biker's body armor. And I was in khaki shorts, a t-shirt, and what appeared to be a Wal-mart helmet. And I soon found out why these guys were so decked out.  These trails were ridiculous. It was almost straight down the majority of the time on dirt and gravel with switchback bank turns that if you screwed up you would literally fly off the side off a mountain. I abused my brakes so much the first time I went down I could smell them burning every time we stopped.

 I know I am sounding dramatic but I believe I am describing everything accurately. Patrick as my witness. After I built my confidence up on the first run I started getting more comfortable and I started having so much fun! We could dart around the trails and even attempt at a few of the little jumps. But everyone knows pride comes before the fall. Literally. While taking a turn, a pebble decides that it hates me and clips my tire funny and sends me toppling over the side of my bike. I checked my injuries which thankfully were just a scraped left hand and a bruised ego and set off back down the trail. 

The coolest part of the trails was the scenery. After rolling down the trail for a little while you would come an open area where you could stop and enjoy scenery like this. It was breath-taking.

We got back to the hostel, cleaned up for dinner, ate some really great Japanese and decided to explore the town and try to go to bed fairly early because we had to catch our plane back to Auckland in the morning. I was so sad that we were leaving but felt extremely blessed that I had the opportunity to go there in the first place. We're back in Sydney for the last leg of our trip after a fairly painless day of international traveling. Thanks for taking the time to read this long one. I had a lot of things I wanted to tell y'all. War Eagle!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Day 30: R&R Baby.

“The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea.”
--Isak Dinesen

I don't know much about the literature Mr. Dinesen has written, but this quote has enveloped me today. A relaxed day on the beach, the smell of salt water, and simply the bliss of not having anything to do has recharged my physical and spiritual batteries. The tranquility of this place is unparalleled. It's just so quiet and peaceful. Living in major cities for four weeks with every random human and mechanical background sound doesn't seem that bad until you have something to compare it to. Omaha Beach is wonderful.

The view from our back porch

I slept til eleven, make a quick lunch, and Patrick, Meghan, Ben and I spent most of the afternoon on the beach. We fortunately have free internet, so I got to Skype Caroline for awhile, which was great. Chris, our gracious host, took us to an organic berry farm for some of the best organic yogurt I have ever had at a place called OOB Farms. We enjoyed a cone next to a field of blueberries. So cool. We came back and hung out until dinner time where I was designated as head chef for the evening, which turned out to be a lot of fun! I pan-fried some Tarakihi, grilled an assortment of peppers, portobello mushrooms, tomatoes, boiled some rice, and had a nice glass of white wine. It was a good dinner with an amazing view. We're finishing the evening watching the Australian Open with the neighbors from around the area. Congrats Raffa! Talk to you tomorrow from Queenstown. War Eagle! 

Day 29: The Black Sand Beaches

Last day in Auckland for the group! We were fortunate enough to rent another "deluxe" manual transmission van with an older gentleman driver who had a tough time finding his bearings as we drove out to the world-famous Piha Beach, home of the stunning black volcanic sand. Our first stop was a state park welcome center, which the name escapes me, but the view from the back steps I'll never forget. Take a look:

 I feel like I am making all my readers roll their eyes simultaneously by saying I found another new favorite place to spend the night day in. At the same time it is probably the most dangerous beach I have ever been to. According to statistics and locals, they have had an average from 80 to 120 deaths from drowning from the past 10 years. And yet there were still surfers everywhere trudging away Baywatch style into the waves. I skipped out on swimming today needless to say. Regardless, it was probably the most beautiful beach I have ever seen in my entire life.

The sand was so interesting. It is a mixture of volcanic rock fragments and normal sand. When mixed with the ocean water, it creates a gorgeous dark, almost black wave cresting towards the shore. The sand actually has chemical properties that allow it to be magnetized. Take that Panama City Beach sand.

At least my feet don't stand out much against the sand.
If you can manage to ignore the two white boats down on the bottom screen that doctors call my feet, you'll see the rock formation known as Lion Rock, named because it bears likeness to a male lion laying down when seen from the side I'm standing on, and a female lion from the opposing side. I don't know they can differentiate the two. That's what Wikipedia is for I guess. We were actually fortunate enough, or crazy enough, to climb up it. Barefooted I might add. It was tough but the view and pictures from the top was definitely worth the sweat and sore feet.

After a couple of hours on the beach, it was time to grab some lunch and head home. We stopped at the local cafe across the street, had some great food, and piled in the van and rode back to Auckland. I took a quick shower, packed up, and waited for my ride in anticipation because our much needed free time was about to begin. Meghan's family friend who lives in Omaha Beach right outside of Auckland, was gracious enough to pick us up and let us stay at his family beach house for the night and the following day before we fly out to Queenstown. I can't wait. Thanks for reading! War Eagle!

Day 28: I guess that's why they call it Asylum

G'day all! Today was a little less exciting than a typical day down under here with the Auburn crowd. We visited UniTec Polytechnical College right outside of Auckland. We met with several architects and the dean of the college, who specialized in construction management. They were very interesting but I felt like I was getting sleepy towards the end of our two and a half hour meeting. Must be the 4 and a half week slump. The highlight of the university visit would have to be the sustainability professor that came and spoke to us for the last few minutes. He teaches in New Zealand but mainly designs and builds in the US and what he said was a breath of fresh air for the Environmental Design folks. He encouraged us and let the students know that green building doesn't necessarily have to do with following a checklist like LEED certification does, but it comes with a mindset of choosing to make a building effective with its minimalist-style performance standards. After the meeting, we grabbed a quick sushi lunch and had a meeting with our professor concerning our research project for the trip. We have free time for the rest of the day, so I am going to enjoy it with a nap, a good meal, blogging (obviously), and an early bedtime hopefully. I need my rest because we're going to the Black Sand beaches of the West Coast tomorrow! War Eagle!

A preview of what's to come!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Day 27: There's Sheep Doo Everywhere

Today was such a busy day! We started off the morning with our great continental breakfast buffet and headed over to Auckland University. I knew it was going to be good because we have the same initials (AU and AU just in case you were wondering We had a meeting with the dean of the civil engineering program and several of her Ph.D students that had focuses in several other fields of construction and engineering. They gave a presentation about construction in New Zealand and hosting a Q&A session about the discrepancies between American and New Zealand construction. Then the Ph.D students showed us around campus which was beautiful. 

Beautiful Clock tower at A.U. (Samford Hall?)

After a quick lunch, we hopped a bus over to the edge of town and started our scenic hike to the One Tree Hill Memorial. It was an easy hike except for climbing up the grassy hills and trekking through the valleys following herds of sheep. Which means there was "doo" everywhere, hint the title. We found out once we got to the top there was a paved trail that would have made the hike much easier, but where would be the fun in that. The views were breathtaking and the weather felt phenomenal. People were snapping pictures right and left and everyone was just soaking in the landscape. I was so glad I got a chance to see this. I'll never forget it.

At the bottom of the valley
Almost to the top!

Finally made it
After we hiked back down the mountain we took a bus home for a quick shower and headed down to Viaduct Harbor for dinner. It was beautiful and I enjoyed some New Zealand kingfish at Foxes (it was on special Mom and Dad) and we walked over to the world famous Sky Tower. It reminds me of the space needle in the United States but it looks a little more like something out of Star Wars. Once we rode the lift 60 floors to the top, we were standing at the highest point in the Southern Hemisphere. It was crazy. We walked over several areas of glass floor that was fairly nerve-racking, which isn't a good sign if I want to go sky diving in Queenstown. We took lots of pictures and had a drink at the Sky Bar (not as good as the one in Auburn) and enjoyed the breath-taking 360 degree view. I just got home and am immediately about to pass out from the long, but enjoyable day. We are going to the Unitec Polytechnical University tomorrow! War Eagle!

Viaduct Harbour

The Sky Tower

Day 26: The Haka

Hello readers! Today was a good day! This morning we walked back to the War Memorial Museum and watched the Maori Cultural Experience. This performance consisted of three Maori men called warriors and three Maori women called maidens who showed us traditional songs, dances, and weapons demonstrations of their culture. It looked a little funny but I gained some insight into the Maori culture.

After we went to a New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Team exhibit which was awesome. They were the 2011 World Cup champions and probably some of the toughest guys I have ever seen. Their pre-game game routine is one of the coolest things ever. It gets me so pumped up. It's called the Haka. It's a traditional war dance that was used to intimidate and scare their foes away. It consists of shouting chants, slapping their body to show that they couldn't feel pain, and sticking their tongue out and bulging their eyes in defiance to the opponents. The legend has it that several times the Maori's foes would run away in fear just because of the Haka.

We took a few pictures with the warriors and explored the museum and headed off to one of the major streets in Auckland, Queen Street. We picked out a new cell phone plan, which was not as convenient as Australia's plan, it costs us about 89 cents a minute to call home. After we got our SIM cards we hopped a cab and went to a little side street restaurant/pub and I had a delicious creole chicken pie, cheddar mash, a salad and a pint of an IPA called Epic Armageddon. We explored Queen Street and enjoyed the sites before we grabbed some food and had a fun evening back at the apartment. We're headed to Auckland University tomorrow! War Eagle!

Day 25: Welcome to N-Zed.

Finally made it to New Zealand! I called it “Zed” because New Zealander’s pronunciation of the letter Z is pronounced “Zed” rather than “Zee.” Anyway, this country is beautiful. We flew into cloudy, slightly rainy weather but the scenery was still beautiful. We’re staying in the Waldorf at St. Martin in the Auckland CBD and it’s awesome. I’m in an awesome three-bedroom apartment with Andrew and Matthew. After settling in, our group headed out to a park nearby and got to see the beautiful Maori War Memorial fountain. We grabbed a kebab and watched a movie and called it a night. War Eagle!

War Memorial

View from our apartment on the porch

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Day 24: Goodbye Melbourne!

Last day in Melbourne! We had a pretty busy day and an enjoyable evening. We went to the Southern Crossing rail station and observed the interesting curved structural steel design. Here's a couple pictures:

After the train station, we headed over to the Melbourne Cricket Grounds and got a private tour, which was really cool. The tour was lead by an old man named Robert who was the typical awesome crazy, funny senior citizen that knew so much about Melbourne Cricket and has been coming to that stadium since the 1940's. I was I could've seen a match in that stadium but we have to leave tomorrow!

Robert, our tour guide, with his amazing jacket
We were fortunate enough to be able to go see a play that evening, The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll at the Victoria State Theatre. It was better than I expected it to be even though it turned out to be a tragedy. Everyone loves a good tragedy a guess.

Talk to y'all tomorrow in New Zealand! War Eagle!