On The Hill: Radar Hill Blog

Belongil Beach - Australia

Helena’s 2024 Trip to Australia and New Zealand

Est. reading time 5 minutes

Helena, our lovely Executive Administrator, recently returned from a 3.5 week adventure in Australia and New Zealand, and it sounded like such an amazing time we just had to share! From seeing wild animals, to ziplining, to a Taylor Swift concert, a lot of fun was had Down Under.

Helena in front of Sydney Opera HouseFor years, Helena daydreamed about travelling but hadn’t had the chance to travel far. Factors such as cost, travel buddies, and a pandemic held her back. Around the time borders started opening up, she discovered solo travel. She warmed up to the idea of travelling alone by doing a couple small trips to places such as Tofino and Seattle, places she'd never been but always wanted to visit. That's when she realized she's capable of doing it all on her own, and decided to go big and head all the way across the world to Australia!

Taylor Swift ConcertLanding in Sydney during Australian summer, the heat and humidity were intense, but bearable. Luckily inside buildings and public transport, there was good air conditioning, but when you’re out all day in the city or nature, you really look forward to a cool shower. Kicking off her trip, she spent a night with 83,500 other Taylor Swift fans at Accor Stadium with Taylor Swift herself, experiencing all of her Era's. Having listened to her music since she was 15 years old, this was something not to miss. And thanks to ticket reselling laws in Australia, she didn't need to pay an absurd amount for the experience.

Beach in AustraliaDespite the 18 hour time difference, adjusting time zones and jetlag wasn't too bad, which was fortunate as just 3 days after landing she joined a 7-day group tour which travelled around many beautiful places on the Australian east coast such as Arrawarra, Byron Bay and Brisbane. 

Many days, her and her new travel buddies got up early to see the stunning sun rise over the spectacular Tasman Sea. Wandering Sydney and seeing the famous Opera House and Harbour Bridge in person was very cool. Having previously watched Bondi Rescue on YouTube, it was cool getting to stroll around the famous beach. Later on, she took a ferry to Manly Beach (where she is 89% certain she saw a celebrity) and it was even more stunning!

Arriving in Byron Bay swiftly secured its place among her favorite destinations. It's a laid-back beach town akin to Tofino but exudes a distinctly tropical vibe, boasting the bluest water imaginable. Although, the only day Helena actually went into the sea was during her stay at a surf camp where she was given surf lessons. While she did not stand all the way up on the board, she still managed to ride a few waves. By the end of the day, everyone had very red faces from sunscreen washing off in the sea. The sun Down Under is no joke! 

The tour's most challenging yet rewarding day involved a 10km hike up to a lighthouse, and the easternmost point of Australia. Helena was among the first to reach the summit, a feat unimaginable just a couple of years ago. A proud moment for her.

Another trip highlight was visiting the Australia Zoo just outside of Brisbane which is run by Steve Irwin’s family. The conservation efforts at the facility are impressive, offering plenty of room and care for the animals. The zoo has animals from all over the world, including an African exhibit with elephants. For Helena, who adores elephants, seeing them in person for the first time was truly amazing. Plus, they had cute koalas and an entertaining crocodile show featuring local Australian animals.

Waterfalls in New ZealandNew Zealand hadn’t really been on her radar, but being close to Australia she was keen to include it on her trip. It was a very enjoyable flight over, flying business class for the first time ever from Brisbane to Queenstown, as she was able to bid for the upgrade and got it for only a couple hundred dollars - a great price for some luxury. New Zealand’s dramatic landscape reminded her of her home province of BC, just with lots of sheep! It was funny how Kiwis like to (jokingly) blame everything on Australians. Oh it's raining today? You can blame that on Australia. Random conversations with locals and other travellers were the best.

Volcano from the plane in New ZealandThe day of her journey to Milford Sound, it was a foggy and rainy day. But the rainfall made for lots of small, but impressive waterfalls flowing down the Fiords of the South Island. After her stay in Queenstown, the flight to Auckland had her glued to the window, and she was able to snap a picture of Taraniki Volcano. 

Her visit to Waitomo glowworm caves where she witnessed a fantastic display of bioluminescence was delightful. Thousands of glowworms turned the cave ceiling into a starry night sky. No flash photography was permitted for the worms protection, but her group was given a small window of opportunity to snap a photo without flash, however, Helena's phone decided to embarass her and the flash turned on. And it sadly didn’t even take a good picture! But the glowworms were fine, and it was a really unique experience, which she followed up with a visit to Rotorua to encounter the town's geothermal activity. 

QueenstownZiplining on Waiheke Island was a great way to spend her last day. It was her first time on a zipline, but won’t be her last. It was nice to catch up with an old friend living in Auckland, who used to live in Victoria as well. 

Some differences from home was in public, people there don’t seem to care if they're in your way. There was no orderly fashion in pedestrian traffic. As for vehicle traffic, driving on the other side of the road definitely took some getting used to, and it was really easy to get turned around when trying to navigate anywhere. One observation she made was vehicles behave like they have the right of way, not the pedestrians, so look out!

The whole trip really was worth it. For her it felt a bit strange coming back after being away for that long, and the jetlag was much more noticeable. After a trip involving 7 planes, 2 ferries, a train, and many buses, at Radar Hill we are glad to have her back, and we’re glad she had the opportunity to embark on this fantastic adventure and look forward to hearing about the next one!

Fun fact: After Helena arrived home from New Zealand, Dan and his family were off to New Zealand the very next day!

“There are lonely moments in solo travel, but I should have done it sooner. It’s good for me. It was great to do something completely different and step out of the routine. I feel like I can go anywhere I want now.”

- Helena Wiebe

Helena on her trip