Wow. 2015 was a year full of incredible travel experiences. I gazed upon some of the most stunning natural scenery in locations well off the beaten path, connected with humanity in dozens of unexpected ways, and was pushed far beyond my comfort zone both voluntarily and involuntarily.
It's going to be quite difficult to look back and try to narrow things down to the top moments!
I've decided to limit myself to describing 15 for 2015. I will highlight 15 travel experiences from 11 months of travel in this post.
If you recall my New Years post last year, I wrote about my 10 favorite travel moments. I had only been traveling for less than 4 months and keeping my list of favorite experiences down to 10 was a struggle! So this is going to be tough. But I'm up to the challenge.
Read on for my top 15 awesome travel experiences from 2015.
Making it onto the list is my experience traveling around Northland New Zealand in February and March.
In particular, the time I spent on the 90 mile beach stands out to me the most. Jono and I felt completely cut off from the world up there, as it's one of the least populated parts of the North Island.
We camped on the beach with a few other local fisherman, caught tons of snapper with Jono's long-line, and soared down the nearby sand dunes which at times felt like we were in the Sahara desert. Not to mention, there were wild horses that we tracked down and later ran through our beach camp in the middle of the night!
I also witnessed, hands down, the best sunset I've ever seen in my life up there. An all around awesome time.
What else do you go to Australia to see? I went to Philip Island with my friend Cyndi to see the little penguins and visit the Koala sanctuary during my visit to Melbourne in July.
In the sanctuary and also on the road traveling North to Cairns, I spotted lots of wallabies hopping around. These were not to be confused with the many kangaroos I also saw on the road!
Road trips across Australia are simply not complete without spotting at least one kangaroo, dead or alive.
After the first of January, I was finally on my way to New Zealand's South Island. I hopped on the Interislander which would take me across the Cook Strait.
In my first 10 minutes on board, I told a man standing on the top deck that he looked like a pirate. This resulted in me meeting the foreman—the aforementioned "pirate"—who gave me a tour of the entire ship.
It was one of those awesome examples of how solo travel (and being a bit bold) can open up doors to some really cool travel experiences.
Between flights on my way to Bali in late October, I had enough time to explore Singapore and identify it as my new favorite world city.
I especially became obsessed with the entire Marina Bay area of Singapore and cannot wait to return one day to see it again. I really want to stay overnight the next time I visit so I can swim on top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and see the whole bay and the gardens by the bay all lit up!
I get giddy just thinking about how awesome it was!
Pushing the boundaries of deviation a bit further, I hopped off the Interislander ferry and into a car full of Maori guys to get a ride to my housesit in Christchurch.
These guys were generous enough to pick me up on their way home from vacation after I stuck my thumb out on the roadside near Picton.
What resulted was some real-talk about stereotypes toward Maori people. I had an awesome time getting to know these guys and gaining a little insight into their hopes and dreams for the future perception of their people in New Zealand.
I had an amazing experience at the Citizen's Advice Bureau in Napier as a volunteer interviewer for several months this year.
I got to empower people with resources and information to seek out solutions to their social justice concerns. In the process, I learned all about New Zealand's social justice issues and the local concerns of citizens in Napier.
I felt great finally being able to give back a little after months of travel and feeling like I was taking so much from the world and its people around me. The manager there put my skills to work on writing grants, fundraising, and digital marketing for the bureau which helped me reconnect with my career goals.
This experience is solely responsible for propelling me forward in my desire to return to the USA and to start working again. I cannot wait to get back to supporting people through my work.
I am still in the middle of writing about my adventures in Bali, but I had to mention this anyway! Yes, I had quite the experience in Ubud back in November and its all due to a few friendly and curious little monkeys.
That's all I'll give away for now! You have this to look forward to my posts in 2016!
Stay tuned. (Update - Read it here!)
Cave Stream is a long cave you walk upstream to get through. The walk is challenging but so much fun!
Nearby is Castle Hill. It has huge, rounded limestone monuments dispersed all over a huge expanse of land. The area ends up feeling like you're in some sort of natural adult playground.
And the views! These locations are off of the Great Alpine Drive which is stunning all on its own. I went to this area THREE TIMES. And I still want to go back.
New Zealand is such a disease.
I arrived in Candidasa to an incredibly relaxing resort at the end of my travels around Bali. Really, I could have never left the premises and had a wonderful time there.
Nevertheless, I am so glad I ventured out. If I hadn't, I never would have met Han. Han is an Indonesian man who makes a living by offering to take tourists around on his motorbike to see the sights in the Karangasem region.
Han was a wonderful guide who showed me some of my favorite locations—such as Taman Ujung, a water palace.
As I am still in the middle of writing about my experiences in Bali, that's all I'm going to say about Han for now. You'll have to wait until I post about Candidasa in early 2016 to read more! :)
Diving the Great Barrier Reef was a long time coming for me. As a bucket list item, I began putting plans to dive the GBR into place from the time I got my SCUBA certification in Thailand last year.
I finally went in July, justifying the splurge on a 3-day liveaboard experience as a birthday present to myself!
I dove the GBR 11 times including 2 night dives and got to experience the most pristine and diverse coral reef I've seen yet. I also had my fill of interactions with tons of fish, sea turtles, sharks, and more.
The entire South Island was the cream of the crop as far as stunning scenery goes—but the heart of the Mackenzie Basin from Lake Pukaki to Lake Tekapo took the cake.
Swimming in the cloudy blue glacial waters of Lake Pukaki with Mt. Cook as a backdrop was absolutely breathtaking.
And I got to stargaze here—one of my favorite past times. The area happens to be one of the 3 best places in the world in which stargaze. The Aoraki-Mackenzie region is a gold-tier International Dark Sky Reserve which means there was almost zero light pollution to hinder my view of the universe above.
In March, Jono and I were finishing up our travels around Northland New Zealand when he asked me if I wanted to come back to stay in Napier with him. I accepted, intending to quickly move out of his home after finding work while still on my working holiday visa.
I never imagined that I would end up volunteering in his town, affording me the opportunity to pursue my relationship with him further. Even lesser so, I never imagined I would end up living with him for nearly 8 months.
The best kind of deviations are the kind you allow to happen on their own terms and at their own pace without questioning them or worrying where the next day will take you. When life is given room to unfold before you, there are wonderful discoveries to find. And Jono is whom I found there.
In February, I returned to the Tongariro region for the third time to conquer Mt. Doom.
I had already completed the Tongariro Northern Circuit and the Tongariro Crossing 2 months before. I am so glad I finally climbed Mt. Ngauruhoe, known as Mt. Doom to Lord of the Rings fans, on this occasion. It turned out to be insanely challenging but had one of the best pay-offs ever.
The 360-degree views of the Tongariro region on this clear, sunny day in New Zealand's summer was better than anything I could have imagined. The red rocks and steaming earth at the crater and the views of Ruapehu, the Blue Lake, the Red Crater, and even Taranaki in the distance continue to set the bar high for any hikes I take on in the future.
Yes, the Tongariro circuit was on my new year's top 10 list last year—but the Mt. Ngauruhoe climb easily earned its own separate place on this year's list.
Considering this is a post about "awesome" travel experiences, I decided to double check the definition of "awesome" on Google. I got back this: "Extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear." Well, that definition certainly applies to this experience.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I had to hold onto a chunk of coral for dear life as a sudden and violent current swept through the bay while diving in Bali, Indonesia. That's right—I held on for dear life. It was probably the first and only time I ever actually considered I might not get out of something alive.
Alas, my guide, dive buddy, and I managed to battle our way through it and safely resurface with just enough air left in our tanks.
Although incredibly scary at the time, this experience gave me a greater appreciation for the ocean than I had before. Life is full of lessons and this is one I will carry with me on every SCUBA diving adventure I ever go on again. Hence, it's placement at #2 on this list.
I began writing the list for this post by breaking my experiences in Niue into pieces and including each of them in the top 15. I had written: snorkeling in Niue, planting potatoes with the locals in Niue, diving and exploring the caves in Niue, observing whales and dolphins from feet away in Niue.
Finally, I realized there is simply no way to break down my Niuean experience into pieces. Not only would I have ran out of space to write about all my other awesome experiences from this year, I realized that Niue was spectacular when considering it as a whole rather than its parts.
Since I've returned to the USA, many friends and family have asked me to name my favorite place. I can now easily answer that it was Niue. This little island had such an effect on me. And that is why it's at the top of my list.
I can't wait to return one day very soon! My only hope is it remains somewhat of a secret—a non-touristic deviation meant only for discovery by the few.
Happy New Year!
Clearly I spent the most time in New Zealand in 2015. My experiences there make up 8 out of the 15 in the list.
Nevertheless, the world continues to make an impression on me the more I experience each additional part. I can't wait to see what travels await me in 2016 as I begin a new chapter of my life in a new location and with a new job.
Happy New Year to you all and thank you for reading! I look forward to sharing more adventures with you in 2016!