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Study Abroad with Allie Niekamp - Postcard No. 1

Feb. 2, 2009

Allie Niekamp, a four-year letterwinner for the Georgia Tech volleyball team from 2005-08, is participating in the Study Abroad program to Australia and New Zealand this semester. She will periodically be checking in with Yellow Jacket fans about her trip via blogs on Ramblinwreck.com. Check back frequently to see the latest from Allie!

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Hi I’m Allie Niekamp and I am a former Georgia Tech volleyball player. After I finished up my senior season this fall I headed to New Zealand to study abroad for the spring semester. I will actually be in New Zealand for six weeks and then Australia for six weeks. I take classes Monday through Thursday and then we have Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays to explore the country. Matt Braman, a former Georgia Tech football player is here also. Matt and I were lucky enough to be able to take this once in a lifetime trip and I will be sending weekly updates about our travels.

On the first week of our trip, we arrived in Wellington on a Saturday afternoon. While in New Zealand we are studying at Victoria University in downtown Wellington. It is a big city in the mountains of the north island with a laid-back country feel. No one seems to be in much of a hurry, and there always seems to be some kind of holiday giving everyone a day off from work. It sits in between the harbor and the rain forest. It was a bit surprising walking through the crowded city and being struck by the strong smell the trees and other vegetation. It is amazing green here and there are actually botanical gardens right up the mountain from our dorm (Weir house).

There is a 16-hour time change over here so we are almost a full day ahead. It took a few days, and several mid-day naps that some people might consider a full night’s sleep, to get adjusted to the time. The first week of class flew by and there are concerts here in the botanical gardens every night to look forward too. There are 45 students here with the Pacific Program and small groups planned trips to different parts of the island for the first weekend. Matt and I had planned to go to Abel Tasman with eleven other people from the group. On Thursday night we took a short flight to Nelson, which is one the tip of the south island. We stayed the night in a hostel, which is a strange sort of hotel but very inexpensive. The room I was in was a female only six-person room. So I slept in a bunk bed surrounded by five strangers. The next morning all 13 of us took a shuttle to Abel Tasman and our adventure began.

We spent three days at Abel – two days kayaking and one hiking. It was unlike anything I had ever done. The first day we learned how to kayak and went out in two person kayaks. Matt was in the back of my kayak and, with the exception of his frequent snack breaks when we were on the water, was a great partner. We kayaked for a few hours with a guide and then made it to the beach where we were going to camp for the night. Our tour guides left us at that point and gave us the map and instructions for where we had to go over the course of the next two days. So we pulled all of our camping gear out of the boats and set up our tents. Everyone was extremely tired from kayaking all day but we explored a little bit and when night came we went in a cave and saw glowworms. However, we didn’t stay too long since there was something growling in the cave!

The next morning we woke up early, packed everything up and put them back in our kayaks. We were on our own and this point and had a far distance to reach by 3:00pm when our kayaks were going to get picked up. So we battled through the water again. It was so pretty there. We saw dolphins and a seal island with several seal pups. There was a little confusion between which beaches we were actually supposed to camp at, and Matt and I ended up literally getting stuck in the sand on the wrong beach in our kayak for several minutes. The second night’s campsite was really cool. A large group of us spent over an hour climbing these rocks trying to get to another beach. Once we made it there we ran into some campers from Boston College of all places!

Finally the last day we did a several-hour hike to our final destination. I had to keep reminding myself that it was real. I was walking through rain forests – luckily there are no poisonous snakes or spiders in New Zealand – with barely any animals in the forests at all, and really seeing these beautiful beaches and brilliant blue sky. After climbing up and down mountains, wading through water, and making our way through some sandy beaches we made it to our final destination. It was an absolutely incredible weekend. A boat picked us up once we got there and took us back to where we started. It was truly an adventure and the thirteen of us were overjoyed to get back to showers and real beds. This is only my first weekend in this foreign country but it was probably one of the best weekends of my life. So different from anything I have ever done before and probably will ever do again.

Check back in the next week or so to see how my next two weeks go!

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