Tag Archives: Adventure

Finding Your “Element” (Laura – Chemical Engineer)

It is my distinct pleasure to introduce today’s engineer, Laura! She is the Engineering Manager for the project we are working on and one of my role models! She is smart, level headed, and always full of smiles and good advice. I couldn’t ask for a better person to look up to! She is one of Ryan and I’s favorite people and I really think you will enjoy hearing her story! 
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My dear friend, Erin, asked me to write something for her blog to inspire girls to become engineers… And I thought, hmm, what would be the best way to do that, other than just telling others what made me one? And also, giving a little flavor of all my adventures during my professional career? However, before I start telling you more about myself, I wanted to mention something I consider critical: choosing your career is one of the most important decisions you will make so you will want to make a good choice. The only trouble is that you may not fully understand what it means when you decide what direction you want to go. You will probably wonder – What is a Process Engineer (my actual degree)?; what is a mathematician? What do lawyers really do? What does a person actually do when they graduate with their specific degree? The bad news is, you probably won’t understand it until a few years into your professional career or luckily, during your final college years. However, the most important thing is to follow your instincts to find “your element”: that thing that you love doing; that thing you can get so immersed in it, that time at work just flies by; that thing that you can never get enough of. Remember that even if you love it, it will still likely take a lot of time and effort, but that is also true of any good thing in life that you want to be successful at, right?!
Laura Noria Field Intro Pic
Now onto my story….this is how it goes: I really liked the sciences during high school and I was really good with math, chemistry, etc. Also, my home country of Venezuela, the Oil & Gas Industry is a big part of the economy (and also where the best salaries were). So, the combination of my math/science skills and the prospects within the oil & gas industry made it a no brainer for me to become a Chemical Engineer. However, it wasn’t until the middle of my internship at the Complejo de Refinación Paraguana (Venezuela’s biggest Refinery Complex) when I really understood what my career was about and some aspects of what I would be doing in the future. I was fascinated by such a huge facility able to produce oil and multiple other products by physical, chemical, and mechanical separation processes. The final years of my career took a whole other meaning after that experience because I saw the practical applications of everything I had been learning in school. One of my favorite parts about being a Chemical Engineer is that we are really versatile and, by knowing the actual “process” (translation: that mysterious word that just means what happens with the stuff coming from the ground when it gets inside the refinery), we become very handy in multiple other fields which means we can have a really broad range of experiences.
Laura Venezuela Refinery Collage
Then, about a year after I graduated from college, I started working for ExxonMobil in Venezuela at the Operadora Cerro Negro, Heavy Crude Oil Upgrader (very similar to a refinery). That was quite something: countless hours of hard work learning the units I was in charge of by heart… Learning from the Operations crew, the older engineers…Everyday there were new things to learn! This steep learning curve actually happens with anything you do, I think…the beginnings are always hard but, at the same time fascinating. One thing about being a female engineer in the oil industry is that, although nowadays there are a lot more women dedicated to this field, I can say that is still a male dominated one. But that does not have to be a bad thing! It depends always on how you approach it. Female engineers can add a lot of value with a different perspective than men and so the collaboration between men and women usually brings about better outcomes. I can say as a female engineer, I am taken seriously by my male colleagues and we always work together to find the right answer! And, I have made some truly wonderful friends that are also female engineers!
Process Engineers
The last part of my career, I have spent it working on a fantastic project for ExxonMobil Development Company (Arkutun-Dagi Platform). It is the heaviest Topsides ever built going to an arctic-type environment. Everything was different for me: country, language, specialty (offshore vs onshore), operating conditions (remember I was coming from the Tropics and now I was designing an Arctic style platform!!). During 7 years, I have seen it all…all types of challenges and a tremendous team effort to bring something from design on paper into a reality. I also had the opportunity to work in a Korean Fabrication yard which, engineer or not, is a mind blowing experience! All that besides meeting awesome people to work with like the Kendrick’s.
AD Topsides Collage - Laura
One of the cool parts about traveling to Korea (besides the amazing experience of working in a shipyard on a huge project) is that I was able to see some of the sights around Asia…I went hiking with my team and experienced the beauty that Korea had to offer and also got to hike the Great Wall in China with my husband’s MBA class on my way for one of my trips to Korea. Having the opportunity to see more of the world is something I really enjoy!
Laura Noria Asia Travel Collage
In summary I can tell you, if you want a profession where you are ALWAYS learning (I can still say that after almost 15 years), and if you are driven by challenge….if you like to build, create, innovate, then go for it and become an engineer! Remember that an engineer can work in nearly any industry, not just oil and gas; food processing, construction, cosmetics, plastics, commodities…the opportunities are endless! My biggest advice is to never forget to follow your instincts and don’t settle for just “a” career – challenge yourself and find your “element”!

Napier – Art Deco Capital of New Zealand

The last stop on our New Zealand trip was Napier, which is a town on the eastern coast of the North Island. After an earthquake in 1931 wiped out most of the city, they decided to rebuild it in the Art Deco style so it’s a unique and interesting town to walk around. The buildings have so much character and we really enjoyed checking them all out – many of them are in the art deco style, some were extra colorful, and all were lively and fun to admire.

Napier Collage

After walking around town a bit, we went out to see the nearby coast while the weather was nice. We quickly noticed a sign for roller blade rentals – we had recently been joking about how we wished we could try roller blading again because we both had loved it as kids. And there, right in front of us, was our chance so we went for it – it’s not every day you get the opportunity to relive your youth, right?! I have to admit, it was not as easy as I remember it being when I was little but we had a blast nonetheless and spent the afternoon roller blading along the trail by the beach!

Rollerblading in Napier

Our hotel, the Art Deco Masonic Hotel, was one of my favorite buildings – it certainly had the charm from the 1920′s on the exterior as well as the interior…I loved that they had taken efforts to preserve such a fun era! Our first night there, we ended up playing trivia in the bar below the hotel  - we formed a team with another one of the locals and had a great time! Travel Tip – We always try to find local activities to do to learn a bit more about what life is really like in those locations beyond the big touristy sights. We find it often leads to some of the more unforgettable memories from our trips. If you ask around, you can usually find some fun things to do that way, and maybe even some locals to join in!

Art Deco Masonic Hotel Collage

The next day, we rented bikes and visited many Gimblett Gravels wineries in Hawke’s Bay. The best part about this was that a lot of the wineries were small, family owned businesses, so we had a chance to talk to the owners while they explained more about their wines – it’s fun to get to know the face behind the wine so we usually ended up buying a bottle after the tasting, put it in the baskets on our bikes and continued on our journey. Some of them had great food platters, too, so we enjoyed olives, fresh breads/oils, and salami & cheeses. It was such a wonderful day! (Unfortunately we didn’t have our camera that day so we didn’t get too many pictures…we’ll just have to take more next time we go!).

Napier Wine Tasting Collage

Sadly, this brought our vacation to an end…it was such an incredible adventure! We loved every minute that we got to spend in New Zealand hope to return one day!

Air New Zealand

More Stories from Offshore Russia

A couple of weeks ago, I shared some of our initial thoughts about living and working offshore and I am going to share some more fun stories that have happened since then. For starters, while we are out here, we work every single day (no weekends off!); our days start early – we’re usually in the office before 6 AM which means we usually catch the sunrise and we’ve had a few really great Sakhalin sunrises!

Sakhalin Sunrise

Most recently, one of the coolest things about being out in the middle of the ocean is that there are other animals that you wouldn’t normally see that come to check you out – this is our friendly neighborhood sea lion who has been stopping by often since we’ve been here. I didn’t believe he existed for a little while because I hadn’t seen him and then I was able to see him up close when he decided to hang out on the back of the boat for the morning last week. I was unbelievably excited to see him…he even looked up to say hello!

Sea Lion

We end up working a lot of hours (starting before 6 AM and usually finishing around 8 PM). Part of this is due to the fact that there is not much else to do out here, so working seems to be a natural way to kill time. Even still, we’ve been doing our best to make time to stay fit while we’re out here. We usually workout in the morning but joined the group workout on the helideck on one of the really nice nights out here. It was a great place to work out – certainly a unique experience, particularly running around the helideck and lifting weights while the sun was setting…pretty darn cool!

Helideck Workout - Kendricks

Helideck Evening WorkoutOne of the more frustraing aspects out here has been the internet – I never knew this message existed….

No Internet

…until we started seeing it quite often because our internet kept going down. The picture of the T-Rex translates to: ”Welcome back to the Cretaceous Period where the internet did not exist.” It’s funny because we all get really frustrated when our internet doesn’t work (you hear groans around the office and you immediatley know what has happened) – we can’t get to the files we need to work off of, our email doesn’t work, and we can’t Skype or communicate back and forth with family/friends. It feels like it has almost become a basic necessity – all you need is food, water, shelter, and….an internet connection. I am happy to report that we have had a more reliable connection the past couple of days (which is why I’m able to post this today!).

Last story – a couple of days ago, my roommate, Tamara, came running into my office and said, “it’s official – we are on a cruise ship!” I looked at her puzzedly and she pulled out her phone and showed me pictures of our beds where the cleaning staff had folded our towels to look like flowers.

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Tamara’s Flower Towel

In case you’re wondering – yes, we brought our own towels with us – the ship doesn’t stock pink colored towels. My back to back (person who is here working while I am on days off), Amy, had advised I bring my own towel and a fleece blanket with me….I’m really glad that I did – it definitley makes things more comfortable and feel a bit more like home which is nice. And…it seems it also gives our cleaning staff artistic inspiration.

My bed with the towel flower

My bed with the towel flower

To say thank you, we left a candy bar for the cleaning people and the next day, we came back to other towel critters. At the end of it all, sometimes it’s the little things that make you smile more than you would ever expect.

Towel Animal

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing a little more about our 3.5 weeks offshore – yes, you read that correctly…3.5 weeks…which means only a few more days until we make the long trek home! And then our time off begins…we are really looking forward to it as I’m sure you can imagine.

Tongariro Trek Triumph!

We were still enjoying the beautiful Lake Taupo area and decided to do one of the Great New Zealand Walks while we were here. These are treks that give you the chance to be among some of the country’s most impressive scenery and usually take several days to complete – while we didn’t have time to do a full one of these walks this trip, we decided to walk most of one of the trails in a one day hike – the Tongariro Crossing.

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People had described this hike as, the closest you can get to hiking on Mars, and I didn’t know what to make of that statement until I was there. The landscape is unlike anything I had ever seen before with all of the lava flow – it was just awesome!

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The main peak (seen in the 2 pictures above) we hiked past is called Mt Ngauruhoe and it was used as Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings. Interesting story – the Maori Chiefs did not allow Peter Jackson to film the peak/interior of the volcano for the movies because they believe it to be sacred so they had to CG the top part. This part of the trail was nice and warm with the sun beaming down on us and lots of volcanic rocks around us – it was a great start to our full day trek!

Tongariro Start Collage

The landscapes really did seem to be out of this world – some places were so barren. Ryan couldn’t help but take a picture so it looks like he’s in the middle of nowhere.

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Along the trail, there was another Lord of the Rings filming spot (last one, I promise!) – the valley below was where they filmed Mordor. Can you tell by my expression I thought this was pretty cool?!

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At the top were some great views into one of the volcano craters – you’ll notice we’ve put our jackets on at this point – as you got closer to the top, it got chillier and much, much windier.

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After all the hard work of climbing to get up to the top, we started to head downhill and as soon as we did that, we had a great view of some turquoise colored pools. We ended up having lunch right next to them – a well deserved break after our few hours of hiking.

Tongariro Collage 2

We had decided to do this trek through a guided tour because you start and end in two different spots and we weren’t sure how to handle those logistics and we wanted to make sure we stayed safe as this was an active volcanic area (there was an eruption a couple of years ago – in fact, our guide, Tom,  is the one you hear calming everyone down in the video of the eruption) so we thought it would be good to have an expert close by. Being the science enthusiasts that we were, we loved walking through the volcanic area. 

Active Volcano Collage

Here is one of the craters left when the rocks went flying out during the eruption – that would have certainly been an exciting day to be hiking the trail!

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The last bit of the trail is certainly the easiest and the scenery changes again to be more green and there is a great view of Lake Taupo in the distance. It’s a somewhat relaxing way to end a long but wonderful day hiking.

Tongariro Crossing Lake Taupo

We had an absolute blast on our trek along the Tongariro Crossing and highly recommend it if you’re in that area in New Zealand – the scenery is unlike anything you will have likely seen and you feel accomplished after you finish! We finished our tour with some celebratory locally brewed beers!

Beers after Tongariro

 

Marathons, Manufacturing, and Many Adventures!

Today, we have one of my favorite fellow Mechanical Engineers from college – she’s smart, motivated, and super sweet! She’s a great example of how you can still change what area of engineering you pursue regardless of the degree you graduated with. Read on to learn more about my good friend, Megan….

Hi! My name is Megan Prokop. I am a manufacturing engineer working at Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When I am not working or traveling, you can usually find me running. I recently ran my first Marathon in October 2013.

My husband and I after finishing the Chicago Marathon

My husband and I after finishing the Chicago Marathon

I love being a manufacturing engineer; it is challenging, exciting and requires decisions to be made quickly – but manufacturing is not the career I had planned when I was at Worcester Polytechnic Institute getting my degree in Mechanical Engineering.

I decided to go into engineering because I enjoyed and excelled in math and science and loved problem solving. I attended WPI and became interested in mechanical design through one of my professors. I was interested in how parts moved and interacted in order to create motion and how products could be designed in order to help peoples’ lives.

During the summers after my sophomore and junior years I interned at General Electric in Connecticut where I performed product testing. One of my favorite tests was using a fire hose to blast an electrical panel with water to ensure it would not leak. When the unit failed, I had to figure out why and suggest improvements to eliminate the leakage.

Product Testing at GE

Product Testing at GE

I graduated in 2007 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in Design. I went to work for Raytheon where I planned to put my new design skills to use. It didn’t take me long to figure out design was not where I’d spend my career.

I craved work that was more hands-on, where I could see the immediate impact of my work. I was fortunate to have a great manager who encouraged me to rotate into a manufacturing role where I would be responsible for developing a process for assembling circuit cards. He stressed the fact that a stint in manufacturing would make me a better designer engineer. Manufacturing would teach me how to design items for easy assembly and give me a better appreciation of the work required to build my designs. I was nervous to make this jump to the manufacturing floor since I had no experience with manufacturing or circuit cards, but was excited to give it a try.

Graduation from WPI!

Graduation from WPI!

Working on a manufacturing floor is fast paced and stressful, but it’s also extremely rewarding. You’re able to make changes to a process and immediately see how they affect the cost, quality and schedule of the finished product. I worked closely with people in many different positions who were all needed in order to make sure the process went smoothly – including people from supply chain, operations, test engineering, materials engineering, and my previous role – design engineering.

As suggested by my manager, I found that some of the plans from the design engineers proved very difficult to build. I also worked closely with the technicians who completed the manual part of the assembly. They taught me the differences between a good and a bad process and showed me and how to write a process that was easy to follow. I recently transitioned from circuit card manufacturing to system repair which has given me new a perspective on how the all the pieces of a system interact and the challenges of making all the parts come together to create a single product.

I’ve always loved to travel and continue to do so whenever I have the opportunity. In high school I traveled to my home town’s sister city in Japan: Nobeoka. I lived with a Japanese host family and attended Japanese school for two weeks. The trip was complicated by the fact that I knew almost no Japanese and my host family spoke minimal English, but the experience taught me to embrace other cultures and to learn as much as I can about the places I travel.

Meeting our Classmates and Participating in a Japanese Tea Ceremony (Nobeoka, Japan)

Meeting our Classmates and Participating in a Japanese Tea Ceremony (Nobeoka, Japan)

One reason I chose to go to WPI was the fact that they encouraged the students to go abroad at least once during their education. While at WPI I traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark to complete an interdisciplinary project. I worked with two other students at an Open Air Museum, where we developed a GPS guided tour that was aimed at getting middle and high school students more interested in the museum.

Exploring Copenhagen, Denmark

Exploring Copenhagen, Denmark

Since then, I have traveled as much as possible. My favorite trips have been to Costa Rica, Italy, Hawaii and Victoria, British Columbia. Some of the best experiences of my life have required stepping outside my comfort zone, including zip lining in Costa Rica and flying in a helicopter in Hawaii.

Getting ready to take flight (Kauai, Hawaii)

Getting ready to take flight (Kauai, Hawaii)

In front of the colessum in Rome, Italy and a view of the Cinque Terre

In front of the coliseum in Rome, Italy and a view of the Cinque Terre

Orca whale watching in Victoria, BC

Orca whale watching in Victoria, BC

For work and for travel, my advice is to be open to change, push yourself and always go on adventures. You never know where you may end up and what amazing experiences await you.

Megan Costa Rica Collage

Zip-lining in Costa Rica – awesome adventure!

Keeping Drinking Water Clean! (Lily – Environmental and Water Resource Engineer)

Today, it’s Lily’s turn to tell you all about her path to engineering and what she’s up to now! She is another great example of the dual passions between the performing arts and math/science and how you can do both. You’ll be able to tell right away that she’s super sweet and certainly cares a lot about learning more and more to impact the world around her…

Have you ever wondered where your drinking water comes from?  How does it get all the way from a reservoir or a well to your faucet? Is the water quality good enough to drink? How does it need to be treated to make sure its safe for you to drink? These are the sorts of questions Environmental and Water Resources Engineers answer every day!

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 If you had asked me in high school what kind of career I wanted to pursue I probably would have given you a whole range of interesting options:

  • a musician
  • a dancer
  • a chemist
  • a biologist

I had always enjoyed math and science, but I also loved music and dance, and spent the majority of my childhood through high school playing in various ensembles, attending daily dance classes, and performing in weekend competitions. My parents are both professional musicians so it’s probably no surprise that a career in performing arts was something I enjoyed and was interested in pursuing!

Lily Career Interest Collage

I applied to music and science college programs as a high school senior and ended up choosing WPI, because I knew the school had excellent science and engineering programs and also a great music program…so I could do both. Let’s face it, I’m also a pretty practical person and I thought I would definitely be able to get a job after school with a science or engineering degree. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be an engineer though because I thought it would mean sitting at a desk all day doing calculations and not interacting with anyone.  

During my first year of classes at WPI, I took an Intro to Environmental Engineering class by recommendation of an upperclassman friend…and I loved it! I became particularly interested in drinking water.  Providing safe drinking water to communities presents many interesting engineering and societal challenges on local and global scales. Water is used for so many things such as drinking, agriculture, and hydropower generation, to name a few. Every living thing on the planet needs water…so how do we balance everyone’s needs in a safe and sustainable way?

At WPI, I was able to study Environmental Engineering and also continue pursuing my love for music by playing my trumpet in many different musical groups. People are always surprised by WPI’s great music program. But music and math actually have a lot in common, so it’s not all that surprising to me to find a bunch of engineers jamming in Alden Hall!

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Me standing with a brass quintet my senior year.

While at WPI, I was able to travel to Windhoek, Namibia in Africa to complete a project junior year. It was one of the best experiences of my life! I chose Namibia because it seemed like a place I wouldn’t normally visit on a vacation…why not try something a little different? Before starting my project in Windhoek, I travelled with some other students to Cape Town for a week. Here is a picture of me paragliding from the top of Lion’s Head Mountain! Birds eye view of the city!

In the air with my guide. He let me steer a little

In the air with my guide. He let me steer a little

Looking down at the beach

Looking down at the beach

We climbed higher for a better view

We climbed higher for a better view

The project I was working on in Namibia was not related to Environmental Engineering. Instead, my group worked in the National Museum of Namibia where we researched and designed touch screen displays for the historical and cultural exhibits in the museum. Designing the displays was challenging because visitors of all different backgrounds and languages came to the museum, so it was important that the displays be easily understood and enjoyed by people with different languages, ages, and educational backgrounds. One of the exhibits we worked on was about traditional Namibian musical instruments…so cool! Working and living in another country was eye opening and a wonderful experience.

The Namibian musical instrument display

The Namibian musical instrument display

One weekend we travelled to the coast and got to try out sandboarding…like snow boarding but on the dunes!

Sandboarding in Namibia…like snow boarding but on the dunes!

Travelling is a great opportunity to take advantage of if you can, either in school or just for fun. It allows you see the world from different perspectives and experience different cultures. My husband Chris, a Mechanical Engineer and graduate of WPI, enjoy travelling together (just for fun) and hope to do lots more in the future (when we’re both not in school)!

Chris and I in Dubrovnik, Croatia walking along the city wall

Chris and I in Dubrovnik, Croatia walking along the city wall

Kayaking in Acadia National Park in Maine

Kayaking in Acadia National Park in Maine

My senior year at WPI, I worked on a senior design project with my friends Rick (a Fire Protection Engineer) and Joe (a Structural Engineer). Our project assessed building and wastewater treatment needs for the extreme weather conditions on the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Wastewater treatment on the top of the mountain is especially difficult in the freezing weather!

This is my senior project team on the top of Mount Washington

This is my senior project team on the top of Mount Washington

After graduating from WPI, I have received my Master of Science in Environmental Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (UMass) and I’m currently still in school working towards my PhD.  I just can’t get enough school or homework! But in all seriousness, I really enjoy learning new things and hearing about all the new research happening in the field and that’s what keeps me excited about engineering. Embrace the inner nerd!

Me being a mad scientist

Me being a mad scientist

Since I’ve been at UMass, I’ve been doing research on the Wachusett Reservoir in central Massachusetts. I use a model to simulate how water moves in the reservoir and I can use the model to research how potential contaminants (such as an oil spill) from different sources could travel to the drinking water intake. Last spring I traveled to Denver CO to present my research at a conference.

Exploring Denver, CO

Exploring Denver, CO

Sometimes my work allows me to go out into the field and get data or samples from the reservoir.  This is a picture looking out onto the reservoir on a calm summer morning. Beautiful!

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This is the Cosgrove drinking water intake on the Wachusett Reservoir. This is where the water is withdrawn to be treated and then sent to Boston.

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The thing I’ve enjoyed most about being an engineer is applying the concepts I’ve learned from class to solve problems that are really important to society, like providing safe drinking water. Engineers do so much more than calculations sitting behind a desk!!! We create solutions to challenging problems…and that makes for a really rewarding career in my opinion.  : )

My advice to aspiring women engineers is to talk to other female (and male!) engineers about their experiences! It’s a great way to hear stories, learn about the different types of engineering careers, and figure out which field of engineering is best for you. There are so many!

Thank you to Lily for sharing her story! I have been featuring many wonderful females within the STEM fields to show the wide range of interesting opportunities you can have. If you’re in one of these fields and want to share your story, too, I’d love to feature you – just drop me a line and we can get started! 

We jumped out of a plane in New Zealand!

There is only one word to describe this experience: Awesome, absolutely awesome. It was quite possibly the most amazing adventure we have had yet – skydiving from 15,000 feet in Taupo, New Zealand! We jumped over Lake Taupo where the scenery was spectacular –  from the plane right before we jumped, we could see the eastern and western points of the North Island of New Zealand – fantastic view! It is truly hard to put into words just how great it was so I’ll let the pictures do it for me…

We headed up in the plane on our way to 15,000 feet on an absolutely beautiful day! Part of the way up, they had us put on oxygen masks (that’s how high up we were going) but it was all smiles from both of us…

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 When it’s your turn, they have you sit down at the very edge of the door of the plane with your feet dangling outside…there’s no way to go but down from here…

Ready to JumpAnd down you go…Ryan jumped first and his guy did a barrel roll right out of the plane…

Ryan Skydive Collage Roll 1

There was a lot more screaming when I exited the plane…the free fall feeling was crazy!

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Don’t worry, we got to smiles eventually during the free fall…

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This was my favorite picture – it was such a rush! Check out the plane from over my shoulder! I was having a blast! I promise those are screams of pure joy! IMG_0030Ryan was equally having a great time during his fall…

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The views the whole time were absolutely stunning – what a remarkable place to do our first sky dive!

Erin Skydive Collage 1

Erin’s Skydive

Ryan Skydive Collage

Ryan’s Skydive

And after about 60 full seconds of free fall, they pull the parachute…

Parachute Pull CollageAnd then it’s a smooth ride down where you are happy to have your feet back on firm ground after an unforgettable experience!

Ryan Landing Collage

Ryan is clearly the more bad ass of the two of us….he landed on his feet and they made me slide back to land on my bum.

Erin Landing Collage

We absolutely loved this adventure and will keep it as one of our favorite memories! Not sure if or when we’ll go again but we’re certainly glad we’ve been once! We HIGHLY recommend this adventure so I hope you will be able to experience the rush of skydiving at some point in your life! I’m sure you will love every minute of it just like we did! If you find yourself in Taupo and want to Skydive, Skydive Taupo is a great place to go! 

Living Large in Rotorua!

Our next stop on our New Zealand vacation was the town of Rotorua. We had heard from several of our friends that this was quite the hot spot for adventure. We got there a bit late in the evening, so we checked into our wonderful little hotel and then went for a quick look at the nearby Redwood Forest. The trees were giant!

Redwood Forest NZ CollageWith a full day of fun ahead of us, we woke up early the next day to check out one of the thermal parks. Rotorua is known for being one of the few places in the world with a high concentration of thermal activity. We knew we had made it when the smell of sulfur overcame us – we walked around and saw the colorful thermal pools, including quite a few of the bubbling mud pools.

Rotorua Thermal CollageEvery day in the morning, the geyser in the park erupts so we went that direction to get a good spot to watch. At first I was skeptical that the geyser erupts on such a strict schedule – nothing in nature operates that way. The park ranger walked up and put in some soap to stimulate the eruption, mimicking the way it was found many years ago when people accidentally put some soap in there when going to wash their clothes. So we were right – it’s not naturally that predictable but it was still impressive!

Rotorua Geyser Collage

After a wonderful morning exploring the thermal parks that we couldn’t jump in, we went off for an adventure where we could, called the Squeeze. It combined a Riverjet ride with a walk to some natural hot springs – I know, sounds like the most perfect trip ever…and it was!! We had an absolute blast! The jetboat is a NZ invention – it is basically a water ski in boat form. It is incredibly fast and can do also turn on a dime, so they do plenty of 360 spins during your trip. The icing on the cake is that the scenery around you is to die for!

NZ Riverjet View

After a beautiful ride along the river, our driver told us to get out. So we jumped out of the boat and started following him up onto the banks where we followed the shallow river inland – the longer we walked, the warmer the water became. We also came upon some skinny, mossy passageways that we had to maneuver through – SO COOL! At the very end was a natural hot springs waterfall. Our pictures didn’t come out all that great, but you’ll get the idea even with the blurry photos – it was incredible!

Squeeze Collage

We spent a little while soaking in the pools before heading back for another wild ride on the river. It was an amazing day!

NZ Riverjet Ride 2On our last day in Rotorua, we did separate activities in the morning – Ryan went running/hiking and I went to Hobbiton (which was so awesome I think it deserves its own post so stay tuned!) and then in the afternoon we went mountain biking at this really great park in the Redwood Forest. Ryan has gotten really into mountain biking while living here in Korea and I’m always up for trying new things so we rented bikes and helmets and headed out onto the trails. It was raining, but that didn’t stop us from having a great time! I had a couple of falls but Ryan was always there right away to help get me back on my bike. With this, we fulfilled our mission to go hard in Rotorua!

NZ Mountain BikingThat evening, we got ready for our last activity in Rotorua – this time one where we could learn more about the fascinating Maori culture. The Maoris are the native people that originally settled New Zealand. You may have seen the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby team perform the Haka before – this is a Maori tradition. We got to see it performed by some of the Maoris still living in New Zealand – it contained all of the intimidating tongue showing which we did with the chief before heading to dinner. Dinner was a feast cooked in an underground oven and was delicious!

Maori Feast Collage

Just before we left, they took us to one of their sacred springs which has glow worms in it….these little critters were really bright and a really neat sight to see! The Maori feast and performance was the perfect ending of our time in Rotorua – a few days full of adventure and culture…just the way we like to vacation!

Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty

After our awesome NYE in Sydney, we headed straight to New Zealand on the first day of 2014 – all set for 10 days of adventure! We landed in Auckland, spent the night, picked up our rental car and then drove to Tauranga which is on the Bay of Plenty on the North Island. The weather was great and we headed to Mount Maunganui to hike…it was right on the water with a beach just in front of it, so we knew the view was going to be a great one!

Mt Maunganui

It was a really nice hike and the views were wonderful!

Tauranga Collage

Mt Maunganui Hike 1

Mt Maunganui Hike 2

Afterwards, we enjoyed some really delicious beer at a local brewery. Being in Korea, one of the things that we miss most is local, awesome beer on tap so we were in heaven.

NZ Beer

The next day, we went out on a dolphin watching trip – we had wet suits so that if we found a pod of dolphins, we could jump in and swim with them. I was super excited about it and so we headed out early in the morning on a beautiful day. Unfortunately, we didn’t find enough dolphins to get in the water with them, but we did get the chance to have some swim with the boat we were on for a little while which was great. One of the dolphins even had a baby with her!

Dolphin Watching TaurangaTravel Tip: If you’re heading there and looking for a nice little place to stay, we really enjoyed our stay at City Suites.

NYE in Sydney!

As I said before in my last post about Sydney, spending New Years Eve in this amazing city was very high on my bucket list! We booked a cruise ahead of time so we could enjoy the fireworks in one of the best seats in the city. With tickets in hand, we didn’t have to board until 7 PM meaning we had all day to explore a bit more. So, to make our NYE even more amazing, we headed to Bondi Beach to spend the day.

Bondhi Beach 2

The weather was perfect so we enjoyed the day at the beach before heading back into town to get ready for the main event!

Bondhi Beach Collage

We went to Darling Harbor to get on the boat and then took a cruise around Sydney harbor – we got a great view of the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House.

Sydney NYE Harbor Cruise

Harbor Bridge on NYE

Our cruise boat was in the Harbor of Lights parade so all of the ships had lights all over them and we made a big loop around the water before parking right in the front row.

Harbor of Lights Parade

We were one of a few ships allowed to be as close to the bridge & Opera House…we were literally right in the front row.

Front Row Seat - NYE Fireworks

The fireworks were amazing – it’s hard to put into words just how awesome it was. It was absolutely the best firework show we’ve ever seen!

Sydney NYE Fireworks 1

Sydney Fireworks 2

It was the best way to ring in the New Year – 2014 is going to be one to remember! I’m so glad we went and highly recommend everyone putting this on their bucket list!

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