By Todd Richardson
Student Success Coach
Director, Student Success Center
Mountains greeted us as we stepped off the plane in Queenstown, New Zealand. A draft of chill air rushed over me, a kind of chorus that whispered, “Go wander.” I forgot myself for a moment, jaw dropping wide in what (as I later saw on a student’s social media post) was the physical embodiment of wanderlust: I am living in a dream.
The Remarkables, as the mountain range is called in English, were the first of many awe-inspiring experiences of the Brescia-Wesleyan Travel Abroad Program. Their snow-capped peaks, granite stubble and cold winds accompanied our every adventure in New Zealand. They watched as we raced through a canyon on a shot-over jet boat, spinning 540s in a glacial stream, dousing us in frigid waters, a kind of baptism we entered dry and returned soaking wet, lips blue and grinning despite the cold. The mountains escorted us along sites made famous by Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Ring”s trilogy (and conjured many a LOTR quote from our fellowship as we oooed and awwed along our tour of living Middle Earth). They nestled around us as we four-wheeled down canyons and panned for gold on the last continent settled by the human race.
Then I blinked, and we were off to Australia, the oldest existing land on earth. We arrived in Sydney, an urban whirlwind compared to the hamlets and steepled ranges of New Zealand. We visited the Opera House, its white roof reminiscent of ship sails promising adventure to settlers long ago. To my relief and dismay, there were no crocodiles. et, we did hold koalas and venture to the Three Sisters, a geologic formation in the Katoomba Rainforest where eucalyptus trees stretched across the horizon in rolling waves across the landscape. Some of the group surfed at Bondi Beach. Not me: I kept my toes out of the Pacific but was glad to watch students dig their feet into the sand, crash through towering waves and spot sea birds from nearby rocks.
Another blink, and we were in Cairns, a tropical paradise of northern Australia. With the white sand beaches and sea air filling our nostrils, our pace slowed, but not before endeavoring on my favorite excursion, the Great Barrier Reef. A not so peaceful boat ride took us out to dock in the open ocean that changed from green to turquoise to Aegean blue as the sun ducked behind the clouds overhead. The water was warm as I dove in, as if used to guests from afar. Beneath the waves, we spotted blue tang, clownfish, puffers, stone fish, eels and hermit crabs. Some even saw sharks at the edges of our section of the reef, but luckily none swam near. The coral glowed a mesmerizing fluorescent ebb as we watched for as long as we could hold our breath before reluctantly resurfacing for air. We returned to Cairns from the reef exhausted, skidding along the waves like a stone, longing once more to dive below and glance at the gleaming coral.
We all lived a dream this summer, weathering the hustle and bustle of international travel across the globe for a breath of fresh adventure. Even as I write this, I can still hear The Remarkables call, “Go wander,” and I can’t keep the smile from my face knowing that our students heard it, too.