Rachel Down Under!

Visa Run, Christmas, and a new year!

Posted in Australia, New Zealand, Sydney by rssmith218 on January 11, 2012

Happy holidays from the land down under! Do I look festive enough for you? Yes, that is a kilt!

Several people (ie: my mother) have brought to my attention the fact that I haven’t updated this blog for quite a while, so I think it is high time to catch up on the past couple of months! My time in Australia has been extended yet again, and over the past few months I have traveled to New Zealand and back, started a new job as a research assistant, celebrated another Christmas “down under,” and, finally, welcomed in the new year, Sydney-style.

If you can’t tell from the above photo, it has been a busy couple of months, so I will break it down into points to make it easier to take in.

1. New Zealand, AGAIN!

I never thought that I would be lucky enough to return to New Zealand, the great land of sheep, glaciers, mazes, mountains, and ghost chips. However, when I was offered work as an RA, I had to leave Australia to apply for a new visa, so I jumped on the opportunity to dash over to New Zealand for a few days. And of course, while I was waiting for my visa to come through, I was glad to have a bit of time to explore some more of the New Zealand countryside. On my last trip to New Zealand, I enjoyed the sights of the South Island, so this time I chose the North Island for my latest traveling escapades.

As I embarked on my solo North Island adventure, I found myself missing my previous Kiwi traveling companions….

….and so, I vowed to have a week full of adventures in their honor!

I flew into Auckland, and, after hurriedly applying for my visa, I spent the day wandering the city and enjoying the skyline, sailboats, parks, and museums.


Ever the eternal tourist, the next day, I embarked on a tour of the North Island’s Northlands, which, as you can probably guess from the name, is the northern-most part of New Zealand. Here’s a map to help orient you.

New Zealand –> North Island –> Northlands!

On the way to the top of New Zealand, I stopped for all sorts of touristy-goodness. I even hugged a GIANT kauri tree,

and braved the ICE COLD New Zealand waters for a snorkel at Goat Island.

At least the beauty of the scenery actually did distract me from my shaking arms and legs!

Also, is that a sting ray? Yikes!

Finally, we reached our destination for the first night- Paihia in the Bay of Islands! Upon arrival, I took a quick hike to a local look-out to take in my surroundings…pretty beautiful, eh?

The next morning, I awoke early for a day trip up to the very tip-top of New Zealand to Cape Reinga, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean! It was a rainy, cloudy drive, but we eventually made it up the coast. Even in the fog, you can see that this is a pretty amazing place….

Can you see the waters converging?

The waves were apparently pretty weak on this day, but you can see the convergence, right?

Post-convergence, what else would you want to do but go SAND-BOARDING? Yep, that tiny black dot, is actually my friend Janis!

Fun, huh?

The next stop on our journey was 90-mile beach, a beach that, despite its name, is actually only 55 miles long. It’s not every day that you get to drive a bus full speed down a beach…

It looks 90 miles long to me!

Hey Rach, can you spot Sydney from across the Tasman Sea? Normally I’m trying to spot New Zealand!

And of course every good day ends with fresh fish and chips….

…and sunset beers with new friends on the beach!

I spent my last day in the Northlands kayaking around the Bay of Islands. Again, it is so beautiful here!

Haha, and here’s some proof to show that I actually took the kayak out onto the water….

My time in the Northlands had come to an end, but I still had one more full day in Auckland. I spent the day at the nearby Rangitoto Island, a volcanic island that is only a short ferry-ride away from Auckland.

Rangitoto was formed by a series of volcanic eruptions which occurred about 600 years ago, and its volcanic past is evident from the remnant lava fields,

the shield cone,

lava tubes,

(…yes, these were a little spooky…)

and, of course, the crater!

The view from the top of the crater was incredible, as you can see here.

Hello Auckland!

I spent the rest of the day exploring Rangitoto, which basically meant stumbling upon views like this every few minutes.

Overall, I had a great time on the North Island, and after a week, I returned back to Sydney, visa in hand!

2. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…

….which means its time for the annual Johnston Lab Christmas Party! This year’s party was significantly less messy than last year’s (at least for me…) and we all took part in some friendly competition at the Clovelly lawn bowls!

And what would a Christmas party be without a Santa?

A Sleazy Santa, at that?

We all took turns sitting on Santa’s knee to receive gifts from a secret-Santa gift exchange…

…although in the end, most of us received nerf guns, which have ultimately turned into a post-grad room productivity killer.

Meanwhile, as more drinks were downed and the hats became progressively sillier,

we ended up moving the party to the beach,

and ultimately to the pub!


For Christmas itself, my newly PhD-ed friend, labmate, and radio co-host, Luke, invited me to spend the holidays with his family up on the Central “Cenny” Coast of New South Wales.

Ready for some family time, Luke?

It was a wild four days, and during my time on the Cenny Coast,  I was exposed to all aspects of the “Australian experience,” or maybe, more accurately, to all aspects of the “Hedge family experience.” I took part in all family traditions, including the New Years Eve Beachcomber “Beachy” Hotel gawk-fest, Santa’s Runway, the 7am Christmas beer,

and even some Christmas Call Of Duty. Very serious stuff, here.

I watched Jordan down about a hundred Budweisers,

played some intense bat-and-ball (a true Australian sport!)

and I even finally glimpsed the infamous “Cave of Death 1” at Soldiers Beach.

On Christmas, we spent the day at Nanny Peg’s house, where we relaxed

and played a bit of footy,

that is, until Luke’s work caught up with him….

Boxing Day was spent in celebration as well, and Luke’s mom put together an amazing spread…

Merry Christmas! Have we had enough Jacob yet?

Maybe its time to put him back in his bath….

Overall, I definitely had one of the “best Christmases ever”! Thank you so much to Luke and his family!

4. Happy New Year!

I welcomed in the New Year with a lovely crowd-free swim at Bondi, dinner with friends, and watching the Sydney fireworks from atop Dover Heights. 2011 has been so good to me…I can only hope for the same in 2012! Happy New Year!