Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Bitter Sweet Vacation

For the past two weeks I have enjoyed not only some holiday time from work but the privilege of traveling with one of my best friends around both Sydney and Northern New Zealand.  Unfortunately, like many good things, it came to an end today.  This evening as we said goodbye at the airport (and I struggled and failed to keep my composure in public), I realized that this was just the beginning of all the goodbyes I will be saying in the next few months.  Here are some of the highlights of our travels:

Sydney, Blue Mountains:
We rented a car and drove west of the city just shortly after arriving in Sydney.  We stopped by a farm on the way out for the required photos with koala and kangaroo before enjoying the beauty and expanse of the Blue Mountains.  Don't be fooled by the image, it was a bright sunny day and the mountains really are that picturesque.

Inside Sydney Opera House
Opera at the Sydney Opera House:
On one of our last nights in the city we went to an opera at the Opera House.  The most famous opera house in the entire world didn't disappoint.  The atmosphere and experience was well worth it.  It was a nice night out on the town.  Although the sets weren't what we were expecting, we assumed that the number of shows at the Opera House prevent the size and cost of the permanent ones we are used to in Chicago.

Running the Auckland Marathon/Half Marathon:
An early morning start
So I didn't run the marathon as I had planned.  In fact, I didn't even train for the half marathon as I intended, but I ran it anyway.  We woke up at 4:30am on a Sunday and walked to the ferry where we met up with all the other crazy runners to start a marathon.  We crossed the start line together but I ended up falling to the back of the pack quite quickly.  In fact, I made friends with a 60+ year old man who was speed walking his fifth marathon in five months - I found this out just before he sped away.  So it wasn't the performance I would have liked but in the end I completed a half marathon in Auckland and am one of the few that got the opportunity to walk/run across the Auckland Harbour Bridge into the city.  Author's Note: For those wondering my time was 2 hours and 59 minutes, I finished in just enough time to take pictures of Dave as he crossed the finish line of the full marathon.  My flatmate Janine crossed just shortly after that (she started 50 minutes later with the rest of the half marathoners). 

Dave trying a small dune
Cape Reinga, New Zealand:
On Tuesday morning after spending Monday letting our muscles recover we drove north to Cape Reinga.  We lucked out with amazing weather which just made the experience so much more enjoyable.  Cape Reinga is the northern most point in New Zealand and is also where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean and on a clear day, like the one we had, you can actually see where the waters collide.  It was amazing!  And on our way we stopped by 90-mile beach (which isn't actually 90 miles, but that's just details) and went to the dunes to try sand boarding (basically sledding down massive sand dunes).

Waitomo Caves, New Zealand:
Blackwater rafting at Waitomo
On the last Saturday of our holiday we drove south of Auckland to see Waitomo Caves.  The caves are famous for the glow worms that line the ceilings.  We opted for a blackwater rafting tour to really experience the caves.  Blackwater rafting is hiking and tubing through the cave on a guided tour.  The water was freezing but the glow worms and the experience made it very impressive.  And along the route we found out that the "glow worms" are actually fly larvae (a.k.a. maggots) that glow to attract their food source.  Rightly so, they have been calling them glow worms since the 1800s when they first started bringing tourists to the caves.

Things to be thankful for:
- Best friends
- New Zealand - an amazing country
- Crossing more off my to do list (see the bay of islands, Waitomo Caves, half marathon and sand boarding!! It was a busy vacation!)

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