University of Waikato, New Zealand
New Zealand. When you hear those two words, what comes to mind? For me, I think of natural beauty, friendly people, and a fascinating indigenous culture. I got to experience all of these during my time studying abroad at the University of Waikato.
I was able to see so many beautiful places. I stood in front of a roaring waterfall, felt the steam coming off a geothermal pool, and climbed up a mountain to witness a spectacular view of the ocean below. I got to see beautiful cities, too. One of my favorite memories was doing the SkyWalk in Auckland. The SkyWalk is a platform at the top of the Sky Tower and is raised 328 meters above the city streets. You get attached to a harness and safety cables, you step out onto the platform, and then it's just you and the city. You get incredible 360 degree views, you get to feel the sun and fresh air on your face, and the optional “challenges” give you a rush.
I also got a rush when I visited the town of Rotorua. I rode in a gondola (no, not like in Venice; it's like an enclosed ski lift) to a place called Skyline. At the top of a large hill, I was able to ride the luge (no, not like the Winter Olympics; it's like alpine sledding). You sit on this little sled, and there are handlebars so you can steer and control your speed. You have three different tracks to choose from, and it was a blast racing down each one with my friends. The first time I went down, I literally couldn't stop giggling, I was having so much fun. The second time, I unexpectedly caught huge air on a jump, and it made my heart skip a beat in the best way.
Another memorable event during my time here in New Zealand was the Turangawaewae Annual Regatta. This is a yearly Maori cultural festival that includes live music, singing, dancing, and canoe paddling. I had the opportunity to watch a haka performance, which is a traditional Maori war chant that has evolved into a performing art. You might have seen one before a rugby game; it's quite a sight to behold in person. There were also Native Hawaiian performers from Kona, believe it or not! Maori and Native Hawaiians see each other as family, like cousins, and it was really cool to feel that connection and be reminded of where I had left.