You know those rare moments when you’re just overcome with pure joy? Those thumping heart, goose bump, “I am really living” moments. They only come around every once in a while.
I’ve built my life around chasing these moments. I look for them wherever I go. For me, they happen when I’m in a country I’ve never been, doing something I’ve never done, feeling something I’ve never felt. New experiences are the key to unlocking these “wow” moments so I thought I’d share a few of my most memorable ones.
Skydiving in the Southern Alps, New Zealand
Before I arrived in the adrenaline capital of New Zealand (and potentially the world), I hadn’t planned on throwing myself out of a plane 15,000 ft in the air, but Queenstown has a strange way of making you do stupid things. A good example of this is club-hopping in a ripped denim skirt with a pretty poor excuse for a jacket during a cyclone. Granted, it was February and nobody was prepared for the dramatic change in weather. Another was hurling myself of a platform at the top of the Skyline Gondola. Plummeting face first towards the rapidly approaching forest floor was equally terrifying and exhilarating.
Despite my mum’s voice in the back of my head begging me not to do it, I booked in for a 15ft freefall over the Southern Alps. And it was f*cking awesome.
After the initial feeling of “holy sh*t what am I doing!?”, my dive buddy and I stopped somersaulting and I managed to open my eyes, a strange sense of calm came over m. As the snow-capped mountains and patchwork of paddocks stretched out below me, everything looked totally surreal, as if it’d been painted or computer-generated.
It was the longest and shortest 5 minutes of my life. As soon as my feet hit the ground, I wanted to get back in that plane and do it all over again.
Stand up paddle boarding at Praia Dona Ana, Lagos, Portugal
After spending a semester at Manchester Met, I had a few months to kill before I was due to meet up with my friends in Spain. Not a bad problem to have, right? Of all the European gems at my fingertips, Portugal to be my new temporary home. I found an awesome website called workaway.com that links up travellers with families and NGO’s looking for a little help. Basically, volunteers spend a few hours a day working for their host in exchange for accommodation, a few meals and, if you’re lucky, a small supplement. I was lucky enough to score a gig at a kite surfing/SUP school in Burgau on Portugal’s beautiful South coast.
We used to take groups of travellers out on the water for sunrise paddles, SUP yoga and cave exploration. We had a few spots to paddle, dependent on the weather, but the most picturesque by far were the limestone caves at Praia Dona Ana in Lagos.
If you’ve ever come across a guidebook or blog post about the Algarve, chances are, you’ve seen a photo of these impressive rock formations. The entire way around the headland, towering limestone monoliths jut out of the water and a network of caves weave through the cliff face. Years of erosion and wild weather have carved out the landscape, but what you see today is the tranquil union of golden earth and turquoise sea.
Skiing in Chamonix, France
There’s a reason Australians are known as surfers and not skiers. The few mountains that we do have only get a few good weeks of snow every year. So we venture beyond our own borders for our powder fix. In 2016, I set my sights on France and decided to squeeze in a couple of days at one of the most renowned ski resorts in the world.
My timing wasn’t great. I arrived pretty late in the season. In fact, the very last day of the season. But even though a lot of the low-lying snow had turned to sludge, La Flegere still delivered better runs than anything I’ve ever come across at Thredbo. At an altitude of 2,595m, the views down the valley were breathtaking. It was easy to get caught up in the scenery and forget to look where you’re going. And in true European style, there are no safety fences or barricades so if you come off the run, who knows what shape you’ll be in when you reach the bottom of the mountain.
As much as I love being out on the slopes, it’s the Apres Ski that I’m there for. Each pit stop gave me a little extra courage to work my up to the more challenging runs. A free Green runs; beer. A couple of Blue; beer. One terrifying Red run; coffee with a double shot of Frangelico. I was going to need a bit of liquid courage to take on the Black run. The ride to the top of the mountain seemed to take forever, my heart thumping in my chest as I tried to figure out if I could just ride the chair lift back down again. My dangling feet hit the ramp at the summit and there was no going back. I hedged my way down a sheer slope, and found some relief in a section the weaved through a group of pines. Dodging branches, I was soon back on the main strip, barreling down at a million miles an hour. Several swear words and heart palpitations later, I was it to the bottom in one piece. Straight to the bar. And there I remained until my heart rate dropped below 150 bpm.
Seeing David Guetta at Ushuaia, Ibiza
This one may not appeal to the masses but being jammed shoulder to shoulder, jumping around in a wading pools alongside thousands of sweaty, drunk party-goers is actually a lot more fun that it sounds. Especially when David Guetta is spinning tracks just 100m in front of you.
When I got to Ibiza, my friends and I hadn’t planned much. All we knew was that the three days on the island were guaranteed to be expensive, sleepless and pretty wild. I can confirm that all of the above were true. Growing up in a laid back coastal town, I’d never had to buy a ticket for a club in my life but apparently that was the done thing here. We stopped in at one of the club promo store fronts and perused the posters to see what tickled our fancy. 10 minutes and 300 euros later, we walked out with tickets to an 80’s theme party at Pasha, a UV paint party at Es Paradis and tickets to David Guetta at Ibiza’s most famous club, Ushuaia.
The first two nights were some of the best of my life. We spent the morning after lazing on the beach, trying to regenerate some of the brains cells we’d lost the night before. Plus, we needed to rally for our last (and biggest) night on the island. Knowing we’d have to take out a mortgage to get a drink inside the club, we made good use of the happy hour specials at surrounding bars. When the sun dropped below the horizon and the doors opened, we streamed into the club, which was more of a resort. A huge stage looked out over the masses with people watching the action from their hotel rooms on either side of the crowd. We found a spot just in front of a shallow pool but soon ditched our shoes and jumped in. The lights dimmed, music stopped and the crowd fell silent. Out of a cloud of smoke, David Guetta appeared in front of the decks and played down some of the biggest tracks on summer 2017. Covered in sweat, dying of thirst and desperate for a good night’s sleep, we ended the night with greasy kebab and the longest Uber ride home ever.
Sailing the Dalmatian Coast, Croatia
Heading to Europe over uni break is something of a trend among Aussie millennials. Winter sets in and we get out. I didn’t realise just how common this notion was until I got to Split in Croatia. Walking along the harbour, I bumped into one of my oldest childhood friends. After a quick chat, I kept walking and found an outdoor juice bar to grab a drink from. Who did I find sitting underneath an umbrella, tucking into a acai bowl? One of my best friends from school. Turns out this ‘Croatia Sail’ thing wasn’t such an original idea after all.
I’d ballpark around 30 people I knew from home were all hanging out somewhere along the Dalmatian coast, island hopping on various Contiki, Bus-a-bout and Top Deck tours. Travel snobs back home would call it cliche, but there’s a reason so many people do it. Waking up on a yacht, jumping off into azure waters, sunbathing on the deck, drinking all day, dancing all night. The only rule? Be back on the boat before sunrise or get stuck on the island. It was epic.
This trip marked the end of my eight-month jaunt abroad so my bank account, liver and waistline were in pretty bad shape. Aside from the burst eardrum I sustain backflipping off the boat, my Croatian sailing trip was the perfect send off. Weeks after returning home, I was still dreaming of floating around on a donut with a corona and a tan like you wouldn’t believe.
Hold tight, part two coming soon…