Tales from Abroad – Liz Geerdes

This past J-term, I joined 39 Gustavus students and three professors from the Physics department on the trip of a lifetime to New Zealand and Australia for five weeks.

I learned so much about myself, traveling, and the way of life for people in these countries.

We started our trip in Christchurch, New Zealand and studied astronomy there for one week.

The next week was spent basically living on a coach bus and driving in a large loop around the southern island.

While on the loop, we saw the beautiful scenery of Lake Tekapo, Lindis Pass, Lake Pukaki, Fox Glacier, and a few places where Lord of The Rings was filmed.

Then we flew to Australia and were greeted by a heat wave. Our home base was the University of Wollongong and from there we went on day trips and excursions.

We had a few more days of classes, but spent the majority of our time exploring Sydney, surfing, spotting kangaroos in the outback, and relaxing on the beach.

The entire trip was incredible, and I made memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

While doing a large loop around the South Island of New Zealand, we had the opportunity to observe stars at Mt. John Observatory and put our astronomy knowledge to the test.

This observatory is one of the best in the world and is in an area of New Zealand with minimal light pollution, also known as a ‘dark zone’.

We headed up the mountain at 11:30 p.m. equipped with large winter coats and red flashlights that did not emit light that disturbed the astronomers hard at work.

As we got closer, our bus driver turned off the headlights to let our eyes adjust to the eerie darkness.

On top of the mountain, we got to see a whole new hemisphere of stars that we couldn’t see in the North. Our guides told us endless facts about the great distances that the stars are from us, which put in perspective how small we really are.

“We were greeted by large schools of fish and bright coral. We dove deeper and deeper and the scenery seemed to get brighter and even more amazing. ”

We spent a couple hours gazing and listening, then drove back down the mountain to our hotel. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Next we visited Milford Sound which is considered the eighth wonder of the world, and it did not disappoint.

We started our day at the crack of dawn and drove a few hours on our dearest coach bus to get to the port of Milford Sound in Fjordland National Park.

We boarded a boat and spent two hours gasping at the beautiful waterfalls, seals, and fog covered mountains.

Our beloved coach bus driver, Nettie, told us we were lucky that it rained during the whole day because there are always more waterfalls and overall better scenery.

At the time, with soaked clothes we didn’t appreciate it, but looking back on pictures, Nettie was absolutely right.

Also, I had one of the best days of my life on our trip. On our second to last day in Australia, it was time to check off one more thing from my bucket list.

We boarded a coach bus that took us to a port with huge and extravagant boats built to take hundreds of people to see the reef. We were greeted by plenty of smiling faces when we boarded our catamaran boat. As soon as we boarded, there was a brief announcement.

The loudspeaker said, “If you are interested in scuba diving today, please speak with someone as soon as possible. There is no training required, but there are limited spots. Thank you.”

My mouth dropped, and I instantly started talking to people and tried convincing them to join me on the adventure.

After finding a few friends that wanted to join, we went through a 30-minute crash course about communicating and surviving underwater.

Our scuba instructor stressed that it was very important to breathe underwater as we were ascending, otherwise we would explode. I would not describe him as a comforting man.

Once we got to the island and learned a few skills to help us have an enjoyable dive, we started descending.

“The entire trip was incredible with memories I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

The J-term group of students was offered the opportunity to scuba dive in the Australian reef.

We were greeted by large schools of fish and bright coral. We dove deeper and deeper and the scenery seemed to get brighter and even more amazing.

We ended our 30-minute dive under the catamaran which reminded us of an aquarium, filled with rainbow fish of all different colors.

After a filling lunch, we went back to our island and went snorkeling for a few hours. There were even more fish and creatures that we couldn’t see while scuba diving, like stingrays, reef sharks, and turtles.

The turtles didn’t mind us swimming next to them for 30 minutes and glided along effortlessly until we decided to stop annoying them.

On the boat ride back, we had a conversation with a woman who lives in Australia and just now got the opportunity to be able to see the Great Barrier Reef that day.

This helped put the whole day into perspective and we realized how lucky we were to experience it.

I would highly recommend going abroad if you have the opportunity to. We are so comfortable in our part of the world, and I think that it is vital to put yourself out of your comfort zone and open your eyes to different parts of the world.