Last Post in Japan: 10 Lessons I’ve Learned

Well, here it is…my last post as a program host and DJ in Japan. Hopefully not my last post as a writer, but I’m still mulling over what direction I want my next blog to go in if I have one. I have some great ideas, but also some other goals that may temporarily interfere with writing on a regular basis. That being said, I’ve learned a few valuable lessons while being over here that I wanted to share. Some are heavy, and some are light-hearted. My typical dichotomy. Enjoy the random pictures from my time over here!

Lesson 1) I have been taking precious relationships for granted. Sometimes it takes being separated from the ones you love to realize how much God has gifted you in that area. I even consider myself a very social and loving person, but for one reason or another, I tend to hold people at a comfortable distance so as to not be crushed if the relationship ends or even greatly diminishes. That fallacy leads to only nearly great relationships, and I’ve realized that no matter how I’ve been hurt by friends or loved ones in the past, I shouldn’t let the past have any sort of control over what may or may not happen in my future, especially in something as important as relationships.

Lesson 2) Anyone can learn to use chopsticks. I mean this literally and figuratively. Figurative chopsticks being ‘things we are unfamiliar with’, obviously. When being thrown into a foreign culture, for any amount of time, it causes a shift in the way you view the world and yourself. This may sound elementary, but you all of a sudden realize that the place you’re currently in isn’t just a spot on a map, but a place with real people and real customs, in some cases COMPLETELY different from your own. You get an insider’s look at how a person growing up in a certain place, views the world entirely differently than someone on the other side of the world does. After some time, you find a way to blend the culture you’ve grown up in with the culture you now inhabit. Basically you learn to use the chopsticks, or starve. For some this may cause a shift in their core beliefs and/or values, for others they may be even more strengthened in what they already believe and be even closer to being able to relate to others on a deeper level.

Lesson 3) Japanese television is REALLY hard to get used to. I’m not joking when I say that I spent a grand total of maybe 4 hours where I was intentionally watching Japanese TV. (Not counting when it was on in the background while I was eating in the cafeteria at my dormitory) At first, it was funny because it was so obnoxious, then it quickly lost its luster. They eat food on almost every show. Like…you’ll be watching the news, and one moment they’re talking about N. Korean plans to launch a satellite and the implications that will have on their society, and the next second they are all taste testing some Japanese delicacy and talking about how delicious it is. It’s hilarious! Don’t even get me started on the shock value of Japanese game shows. All that being said…the Japanese are hilarious when they want to be 🙂

Lesson 4) God is always pursuing us. I’ve talked with a couple of close friends about my faith journey while living in Japan, and I’ll give you the abridged version. It has been a rollercoaster. I have had some of my highest and lowest moments in my walk with God while living over here. Going from a society where I heard Christ proclaimed multiple times a week, was involved in student ministry, and had friends keeping me accountable in my faith, to living in a society where Christ isn’t proclaimed at all was much harder than I thought it would be and came with consequences. We aren’t meant to walk alone in our faith. There’s a reason Paul had Timothy. There’s a reason the disciples were sent out in pairs. Now, I’m not saying I didn’t know some Christians over here, or even that my friends didn’t encourage me from time to time. I’m saying that I didn’t seek out a dynamic of group growth that is needed in a Christian’s walk with the Lord. Going long periods without those needed interactions left me feeling numb among other things, which was my own fault. But God in His greatness still found ways to use me, even during times I was straying away from Him. On multiple occasions someone would blatantly ask me about my faith, and even make plans to grab a drink or a bite to eat and talk about God, faith, and purpose. I was baffled at the lack of knowledge of who Jesus is over here. One girl had never heard the two words ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’ put together, and thought that Christians had to spend years going door to door and selling books and pamphlets. There were far more misconceptions than that. There were times when I would hear myself professing Christ and wonder to myself why I even deserve to carry such an amazing message in my current wayward state. I finally realized though, that I will NEVER deserve to know, or even speak about Christ’s love. It’s by the Grace of God I even know what I know, and it’s the Spirit of God working inside me that yearns to love and speak truth to others. Once I realized I wasn’t even in the equation, and that I am just a vessel being used, it took the guilt and pressure off of me and I just spoke into their lives and prayed that God would reap. I have been constantly reminded that God is pursuing me even if I feel like I’m not worthy to be pursued, and that His love and grace far outreach our human expectations for what they should look like.

Lesson 5) When someone in Japan asks if you want ‘tako’, it doesn’t mean a Hispanic ‘taco’. Tako is the Japanese word for octopus. Write that down.

Lesson 6) God provides. This isn’t a new one to me, but rather one that repeats itself over and over again in my life, especially in times of trial. He gives me what I need, when I need it. He provided people over here that became amazing friends, and really even family. He provided a place to stay, where food was taken care of and there were people to help me with paperwork that I wouldn’t have had a clue how to do by myself. He provided a fun workplace with opportunities to travel around and see different parts of Japan and some other surrounding countries. He provided me a job that allowed me to explore my creative side and some free time to pursue other interests that I had put off, like writing, reading, or film work. I could go into great detail about how God has provided for me over here, but really if we all take a step back and look at our life like a timeline, it’s so apparent that God takes care of us. If you are a child of God, even parts of your life that are hard and messy, turn into good things on the other side. The most important thing to remember is that if God is so richly blessing us, we are responsible to unclench our fists and give back to others in need. The parable of the talents comes to mind.

Lesson 7) Japanese people are the most polite people ever. You might be saying to yourself…”Wow, that’s a pretty big generalization”, but I honestly mean it. I know they have a past (like every nation), but their current cultural expectations of how to treat others, is spread across the country in a way I’ve never seen. I’ve had a man in Tokyo walk 5 blocks out of his way to show me where I needed to go. I’ve been given gifts by two different Starbucks crews when they found out I was leaving the country. I’ve had locals come up to me and offer to show me where the most spectacular spots are in the area when I was traveling. Even amongst themselves, they give gifts to their family and co-workers after they’ve been traveling to other prefectures. Politeness is in their language, their postures, and in their greetings. I have been blown away time and time again this year by how these people show respect to each other.

Lesson 8) I can do WAY more than I thought I could. Those of you who know me, obviously know that’s only because of God working in me. God has gifted each of us in specific ways, and wants us to shine for Him in those specific ways. Moving to Japan, learning and performing a job that I had ZERO experience in, learning conversational Japanese, comprehending Japanese business practices, and being a world away from family and friends for a year were all things that I would usually shy away from in fear of failure and rejection.  For whatever reason, God granted me some gumption to say ‘yes’ with only a blurry view of what living in Japan might look like, and the results have been confidence, experience, and memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything. What journey might God want to take you on, to grow you in very specific ways? Do you want to grow?

Lesson 9) Here’s a no brainer: Regular exercise and healthy eating will put you in good shape. I’ve always had a long and slender build, but it’s been interesting to watch how my weight fluctuates while being over here in Japan. Before I started biking 20 min to work at HFM, I actually gained some weight because I was eating baseball player sized meals (living in the Carp dorm) and only biking 5 min to work and then sitting all day. When my schedule changed and I started biking all the way across town to work I dropped several pounds. Then, my legs started to get huge because of all the biking that I was doing and my weight shot back up. When I started working out in the mornings a few days a week, I noticed another increase in weight, and when I started swimming a few nights a week, I saw a loss. I guess I’ll say it was more of a “weight re-distribution”, than a weight gain/loss. The only reason I watched my weight that closely is because there was a nice scale right by the showers and it was easy to step on and see what had happened, and Japanese people would allllllways ask me my height and weight in kilos. Eating foods with basically zero preservatives, which are fresh and well-balanced, has made me more conscious of what I eat… in a good way and I’m definitely in the best shape of my life. I’m used to working out, but I’m hoping to bring this habit of healthy eating back to America with me. I’ll need some accountability partners.

Lesson 10) I can’t remember where I heard this, but the quote: “You usually don’t discover what you love to do, you re-discover it” has really been on my mind lately. One good thing about being separated from a comfortable place for an entire year is that you can really explore parts of yourself that didn’t get a lot of exercise in your bubble of comfort. I’ve rediscovered my love of capturing a moment and telling a story in speech and writing, of meeting new people and making new friends (not a shocker), of traveling and experiencing different cultures, and finally of telling stories through filming and video editing. Now this last one might be a surprise to some, since I don’t talk about it a lot. I started experimenting with editing film at the end of high school and then took 2 or 3 classes in editing, directing, and storyboarding in college. I remember the first time one of my videos was shown in front of an audience (approx. 1,000 people) there were moments of roaring laughter and then almost everyone applauded at the end. It was my first time being a part of something that I liked to do and other people enjoyed too. Then…(here come the excuses), life happened. A mixture of different circumstances led me away from having the hardware, software, or time and really even the heart to pursue any projects in this field. But now, I can’t make those excuses…and I don’t want to, even if I could. I’m ready to take chances and see what happens. It doesn’t always have to be a big change all at once. In my case, I plan to do side projects to gain experience before jumping further into it. God will either bless it or close doors appropriately, but it’s my job to take steps and I have more confidence to do that now than I ever have. Is there something that you love to do that may be risky, but you’re more interested in making excuses for why you’re not doing it? Is living a safe/sheltered life actually living?… or is it just surviving?

For those of you who have read my blog and encouraged me to keep going, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing a little about this journey I’ve been on for the past year. Like I previously mentioned, I may start another blog, so stay tuned to see what direction I go in. I also hope that you were somehow encouraged or inspired…or maybe just got a good chuckle from something you’ve read here. If you hear nothing else, hear this: Take chances and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. God can do more with our messes than we can do by playing it safe, and it glorifies Him more in the long run when others see how He’s worked in our lives. Thank you again, and God bless!


New Zealand Adventure: Day 6 & 7 (Milford Sound Cruise & Kayaking)

Day 6 & 7, Queenstown, New Zealand (Milford Sound Cruise & Kayaking)

Now, if someone would’ve told me before I went to New Zealand that they were going to Milford Sound, I would probably say: “Cool, where’s that?” When Jacob told me that it was a part of the itinerary, I performed an image search on Google and was completely blown away. If it was this beautiful and captivating in pictures, I couldn’t wait to see it with my own eyes.

Now, why should this day be any different from any other where we had an activity outside of Queenstown? Why wouldn’t we get stuck watching ‘Dear John’ on the movie channel in our hostel? Why shouldn’t we wait until the last possible minute to peel out of Queenstown? Those are all great questions, and they were all answered as we both realized that we had to shave at least an hour off of our drive to Milford Sound to make it on time for our cruise, and that we (get this) had been driving in the wrong direction for the past 10 minutes. Now, I was in ‘drive like we stole it’ mode and I was assuming that Jacob would tell me things like ‘right’ or ‘left’. Once he realized we were headed in the wrong direction, we U-turned and zoomed back to where we had come from. The talk about whether or not we should scrap this part of the trip came up as we zigzagged through narrow mountain passes, narrowly escaping death once; but we decided that even if the ship had sailed without us, we would find a way to hike around and get some good pictures of the area. It was decided…and I put the rental car to the test.

By the Grace of God or a time portal or just madman driving on my part…maybe a mixture of the three, we made it to the docks 35 minutes before our cruise was going to depart. We sat there, thankful to be alive, and took in the beauty that lay before us. Mountains that, out of nowhere, majestically jutted out of the water were sprawled out in front of us, and surrounded us with an intense sort of splendor.

Our ship’s name was the Milford Mariner and she sat in the harbor with a magnificence that seemed to make the other ships look like posers…o.k. maybe that was written from a bias standpoint, but she was a spectacle in my eyes. We dropped off our luggage  in our room, which was surprisingly big for a cruise ship from what Jacob said. We made our way to the mess-deck and sat down with a pilot and his wife and another girl who were all from Great Britain, but who didn’t know each other. I’m so glad that we got placed at that table because none of the other tables were having a fraction of the fun that it seemed we were partaking in. A little later after lunch we went out to the bow to sightsee while the captain called out over the loud-speaker about what we were seeing, adding in clever and hilarious banter when appropriate (which is always). Apparently, the area was going on 7 days without rain, which they actually label as a drought, so the mountainsides which are usually replete with cascading waterfalls, now only had a few. We could see what looked like avalanche scars on the sides of the mountains, which were actually dried up waterfalls, now only trickling instead of roaring. That being said, there were still a handful that flowed faithfully as they have for thousands of years; and the captain even took us in for a really close look on the second day of the cruise.

The Milford Mariner

FYI, our cook looked like Santa

Large waterfall in the distance. Almost 2 times taller than Niagara Falls

A little later the first day, after the sightseeing of Milford Sound, we headed out to where the Tasman Sea began, and hopped in some kayaks to explore the caves and outcroppings along the coastline. For the most part this was an enjoyable activity, but for the second part of this little kayak journey, I had a fiesta of sand-flies pestering me and biting my sunburned neck. I honestly think I put off a pheromone or have sweet blood because they seemed to really like some people and leave others alone. A friend that Jacob and I had made on the cruise, Hazel, was nice enough to snap some pictures on her camera of us as we kayaked around. Both Jacob and I were scared to take anything out into the kayaks with us, since our perfect broneymoon trip had been slightly tarnished with my dropping of my iPhone into the Dart River on day 4. We got back on the boat as the captain circled the boat around Milford Sound again, trying to give us different views at different times of the day. It was at this point that we learned that the depth of most of what we were floating over was over 300 meters deep, because of glacial carving (around 1,100 ft if I remember correctly). That evening we watched a comical and informational video/slide show made by the crew about Milford Sound, which also showed just how incredible the area was while it’s rainy. After that we had a fantastic dinner and enjoyed the company of our new UK friends.

Tasman Sea behind me

Kayaking in Milford Sound

Entering the Tasman Sea

That night, Jacob got to see the Southern night sky (including the Southern Cross) for the first time, and I got to be reminded of just how beautiful it truly is. We chatted with some other passengers into the night, and then headed in to get some sleep for the next day, which was to be full of sightseeing on our drive back to Queenstown, since we didn’t do that AT ALL on the way in. 🙂

The next morning, Jacob got to witness this amazing dolphin pod miracle shown in the video below, while I was in the shower listening helplessly as the captain talked about how beautiful they were and listed off facts about the specific Dusky Dolphin species. By the time I got dried off and threw on some clothes, they had submerged or swam off to be awesome somewhere other than right by the boat. We also found out that all of the penguins that frequent the Tasman Sea edge of Milford Sound had literally all taken off 4 days before our cruise. We did however get to see some pretty sweet seal action on the way back to the docks. We watched as a couple of them waddled towards each other, mouth wide open (making, you know…that noise they do), and wrestled for best position on the rock they both inhabited. We got another great view of a beautiful waterfall and of Milford Sound in general, as the boat docked just moments later. We said goodbye to our new friends and set out on the road to try to get some nice scenery shots on our way back.

Open mouth fighting...

We stopped several times on the way back and got a chance to see some absolutely incredible scenery that we missed on the way in. I forgot to mention earlier, but to get in and out of the Milford Sound area, there is a mountain tunnel that you have to drive through, and there is a stoplight on either end to let you know if you’re able to drive through at the time or not. You can only go through every 15 minutes. On the entrance to Milford Sound side, there is a group (gang) of vehicle terrorizing parrots, which mostly prey on the rubber lining around the doors on the vehicle. From what Jacob and I heard from the ship’s crew, this behavior is taught by older generations of parrots, which goes to show that hate and terrorism are passed down from generation to generation.

We had to wait our turn and fight off the fierce parrorists (parrot+terrorist) I try.

Vehicle terrorizing parrot

"The Chasm" was tunnels of rocks that looked like honeycombs (formed by water flow)

Jacob being all GQ

Now little did we know, but after a few stops of breathtaking scenery, it was time to cross another to-do off our list. We picked up our first hitchhiker, an Aussie. Now, this was a first for both of us, so we were a little on edge. Whenever he said he just needed a ride a little ways up the road to where his car was broken down, both Jacob and I were thinking: “Suuuurrrrre ya do… that where you’re going to kill us both?” But when we arrived to his broke down van and saw his family waiting for him, we were elated to be alive. Well…we obviously had to do it again. Not an hour later and we see another guy who needed a ride, a Kiwi. This time it was for a lot longer than a few miles and we got to know the guy and to hear his life story AND about his artwork. After a while I looked over at Jacob who hadn’t said anything for a while. I thought he was mad at me for picking up another hitchhiker or for something else I didn’t know about. But it turned out he had a killer migraine and didn’t feel like talking to a body odor emitting hitchhiker or even me for that matter. We dropped our new buddy off at the crossroads to where he was going and made our way back into Queenstown where we rested and then went out for another night of exploring and nightlife, since it was indeed our last night in town.

I think Jacob and I both would agree that we couldn’t have hoped for a better trip. Just the sheer variety of what we did while in New Zealand was incredible. I mean…who skydives, rides in a helicopter, hikes on a glacier, tours glow-worm caves, kayaks down the river in the area where Lord of the Rings was filmed, takes a cruise of Milford Sound- all while meeting tons of people from countless countries around the world…all in a week? It’s fair to say that we were very blessed to be able to go on such a trip, and we thank you all for checking out some of our stories and pictures from our time there!

New Zealand Adventure: Day 5 (Jet Boats, Funyaks, & Isengard)

New Zealand Day 5 – Jet Boats, Funyaks, Isengard…and tragedy. (A guest post by: Jacob Matthews)

WARNING: This episode contains stories of love and loss, adventure, beauty and heartbreak. Grab your Kleenex.

The morning of December 18th started like many other mornings on this trip… EARLY. The combination of no air conditioning, the morning sunshine penetrating through the thin curtains in our room, being sunburned beyond belief, and the 7:30 am meeting time for the shuttle to the river meant once again little sleep. Barley functioning, we got dressed, packed our bag for the day trip, and made our way down the street to catch the bus to Glenorchy – (a 45 min drive from Queenstown North along Lake Wakatipu). Fun Fact here: Up until the 1990s the road from Queenstown to Glenorchy was a dirt road and took over 2 hours to make the one way trip. Praise God they paved that road.

After a chilly, scenic drive along the lake to Glenorchy we made it and checked in at Dart River Jet Safaris. ( Today the forecast was scheduled to be a little overcast in the morning, and then sunny towards the afternoon. Looking back I was glad we opted to reschedule and take this journey on a better and much more dry day. After checking in we were directed to the courtyard for a briefing on the gear we would be given for the day. Thomas and I got our wet suits, fleece, life jackets and booties and headed to the locker room to get suited up. After getting our gear on we headed to the bus to head down to the boat located at the mouth of the Dart River.

Once we got situated in our jet boat we started making our way across the corner of Lake Wakatipu into and up the Dart River. One of the coolest things about these Jet Boats is they were invented in New Zealand and designed to travel in very shallow water (probably only a few inches deep at times). The other amazing thing about the jet boat is that it is able to do some pretty sweet 360 degree spins. Several times in the lake and the river we were given a hand signal to hold on tight and then the driver would spin the boat sending a spray of FREEZING glacier melt water over us. It was extreme. We made our way up the Dart, weaving and maneuvering through a labyrinth of forks in the river and finally pulled ashore into another smaller river that converged about a kilometer downstream into the Dart. Now this smaller river was unbelievable. The water was crystal clear and an emerald blue color. This would be only a taste of what we’d see and experience later on in the day.

Cruising in our Jet Boat

Here we got out of our Jet Boat and were given a vessel to command of our own. Now just when we thought you couldn’t possibly top a Jet Boat we soon realized we were mistaken… it can get better. We were given an orange inflatable kayak (Funyak). Ecstatic and proud to test our piloting skills, we set out to tackle the river. As we headed down stream we ended up striking up conversation with one of the river guides. He was a pretty cool guy, named Tom, from Ireland who had moved down to New Zealand for a year to work and play on the amazing rivers in the area.

Our trip down the river so far was so beautiful. We were surrounded by towering mountains as we paddled through minor rapids. We ended up pulling into another small stream that was flowing into the river. This area opened up in to a picturesque valley guarded by mountains. As we made our way upstream the water deepened and became calm. We found ourselves in the most amazingly clear, emerald blue water. We paddled our way upstream into a small canyon to investigate the source of this beauty and as we turned the last corner in the canyon the rocks opened up to reveal a small waterfall – the source of the stream that originated as glacial runoff from further up the mountains. Again, the water here was so pure and clean you could drink straight from the river. We filled up our water bottles and made our way back to the downstream to the valley. We made it into this valley called “Paradise Valley” to stop and have lunch. There couldn’t have been a more picturesque, beautiful place to stop, rest, eat and take it all in. We conversed with many others in our group and took more pictures before getting back into our funyaks.

Time for another Fun Fact: The Dart River Valley and surrounding mountains including the Mount Aspiring National Park are considered a “World Heritage Site.” World Heritage Sites are reserved for places around the world with “special cultural or physical significance” like the Pyramids in Egypt, The Great Wall of China, and Stonehenge…no big deal. (Below was our view from where we stopped to eat lunch. The sun had burnt through the clouds at this point.)

Heading back down the river, through Paradise Valley, we made our way through several rapids then ended up in the flat river basin.. the place to take out our kayaks and the end of our day’s adventure. It was at the point that our Ireland friend and guide informed us that we were literally standing in the heart of “Isengard” from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. ( He then pointed out some small rolling hills on the other side of the river basin and said “Those hills over there… that’s the Shire.” (Only in an awesome Irish accent) ( Well.. nerd alert here.. Thomas and I were beyond excited to see and be standing in these epic locations from the films. It immediately made us want to go watch the films again.


As we pulled up onto the bank of the river to disembark our kayak Thomas noticed he was missing something and had a white panicked  look on his face. He very worriedly asked me: “have you seen my iPhone?” Thomas tucked his iPhone inside his tight life-vest during a rapid and soon realized it wasn’t there anymore. Now you’re probably asking yourself… why would you bring your phone out to the middle of nowhere in New Zealand when there’s no phone service anyway? We both brought our phones because we used them as our cameras for this trip. After looking in the boat and realizing it wasn’t in there, another guy in another kayak mentioned that he thought he saw something bounce out into the river just a few minutes before we had pulled in, but wasn’t sure what it was, so he didn’t say anything. Sad, distraught, defeated, sunburnt, and tired Thomas gazed out at the river banks praying that he’d get a glimpse of his phone. There was a small sliver of a chance that we’d find it, because it was wrapped up in a waterproof casing. But to no avail… the phone was gone. The really, really sad thing was Thomas had a TON of pictures and videos that we hadn’t backed up yet from our previous 4 days in New Zealand. Luckily, we had taken mostly the same pictures at the same time when we came across scenery that was too beautiful to pass up, so the damage wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. The hardest hit, was the realization that we had lost our pre-skydiving video interviews (which were absolutely amazing).

Tom stood like this for almost 5 minutes straight...

{{Hey guys, it’s Thomas. Just wanted to take this time to apologize to Jacob, because there were a ton of pictures on my phone of him standing in the most beautiful places on Earth. Sorry Jacob! I owe you big time, man}}

We were sad, but not defeated. We were still on vacation in the most beautiful place either of us had been, and honestly, what cooler place to lose your cell phone! Better than a McDonald’s bathroom, right?! We boarded a four-wheel drive van and drove back through the Shire to Glenorchy. Interestingly enough, we saw a bunch of production trucks and trailers in the Shire as they had just finished filming “The Hobbit” the new Lord of the Rings film a week or so before we arrived.

Part of the Shire

Some production trailers still parked in the Shire

Back at the Dart River Safari lodge we got changed, hopped on the bus and made our way back to Queenstown. Exhausted, overwhelmed by the beauty of New Zealand, and defeated by our loss we returned back to Queenstown in time to take a nap, grab a late dinner, and hit the club below our hostel. We met up with our Brazilian friends again for a while and then hit the hay as we had a 4 1/2 hour drive to Milford Sound the next morning.

Another brilliant Queenstown sunset

To be continued….

New Zealand Adventure: Day 4 (Hiking Fox Glacier)

Queenstown, NZ Day 4 (Hiking Fox Glacier)

Now, if you’ve been reading the past few posts, you’ve most likely seen a common theme of procrastination in getting to our adventures, which yields us putting our lives on the line during hours of driving at maddening speeds on winding two-lane mountainous roads. Today was no different. This time it was a little more miscalculating on our part than blatant disregard to the clock. We thought we had more time. When we finally hit the road and started doing math in our head, we knew we were going to be cutting it close. The thing you need to know about New Zealand, at least in our experience, is that no matter where you’re driving, every new turn brings with it magnificent scenery. Even though we knew we were cutting it close, we still peeled off the road at times, left the car running (doors flung open) and ran to overlook spots to snap pictures of landscapes that no iPhone will ever be able to fully capture. We tried anyway. After about 4 ½ hours of wild driving through some of the most beautiful scenery we’d ever seen, we arrived at the Fox Glacier tour center with 8 minutes to spare. Well done Jacob…and honestly if anyone is ever in need of a get away driver, he’s your man.

The girl working at the counter said something about there may or may not be a helicopter tour of the glacier today because of a cloud system moving in on the area. Not what Jacob and I wanted to hear, but moments later we were relieved when we heard that we would indeed be going up. We loaded up with a group of 4 other people and headed to the helipad. After hearing some history of the glacier and receiving some hiking boots, we headed to the chopper and took off on an 8-10 minute tour of the glacier. This was my first time in a helicopter and it was an absolute blast. We travelled through the air as the pilot told us a little about what we were seeing below us. Meanwhile the lush rainforest sprawled out and opened up to show us the beginning of the Fox Glacier. At the bottom of Fox, there is a cave-like opening where the glacial melt runs through. Had Jacob and I not sprung for the helicopter tour, we might’ve hiked the lower portions of the glacier and seen where the glacier meets the rainforest more closely, but both of us wanted to do it right and hopefully see some caves and arches closer to the middle/top of the glacier. The pilot brought us around and started his decent towards a group of people who were waiting for a ride down. We hopped out and hunkered down as the chopper took off with the people who were waiting just moments before. Bits and pieces of ice flew at us at alarming speeds and I was immediately grateful that I had sunglasses on.

Jacob and Me just being awesome in a helicopter

View of the Fox Glacier from a distance in the chopper

It's hard to tell how big the glacier is from this point, but it's way bigger than it looks

We strapped on our crampons and followed the guide single file up the ice and therein started our 3-hour tour of Fox Glacier. Within the first 15 minutes we saw our first ‘arch’, which would later be completely outshined by many other several times its size. We stopped at a few small waterfalls and streams to bend down and drink in the pure, crystal-clear, unadulterated glacier water. I’ve never tasted better water. Jacob was a little hesitant at first to taste of the streams of goodness as I remember, but group peer pressure gave way to heavenly water tasting victory for him. Not too much time passed and we started to see some legitimate arches and caves, and snapped some pictures in front of them. Arches form, our tour guide told us, because of tension between faster moving ice at the top and more sluggish ice towards the middle and bottom, much like the bump that happens when you put your hands on either side of a piece of paper and push one hand towards the other. The Fox Glacier can be equated to a slow-moving waterfall, because most of the glacier moves between 1 and 3 meters per day, causing new formations on a regular basis and making the tour guides change their paths often. We crawled through a few arch caves and found some pretty cool pools and even got to hear the glacier crack a few times, letting us know that it indeed was moving daily. It was a partly cloudy day, but the sun was out for a good amount of time. At one point, we were told to look behind us, as it was clear enough to see the Tasman Sea. This is probably the only time in our lives where we would be standing on a glacier, looking through a rain forest into a sea. Probably, but not definitely.

Me after climbing down into an arch that led down into a cave...

Our guide told us that the Fox Glacier is at a low point right now, but that the height of the glacier varied every decade or so. He said that there was a low point back in the 70’s I believe, and then a high point in the 90’s. It was somewhere close to the end of our hike that I realized how sunburnt I was. Neither Jacob nor I had bothered to apply one drop of sunblock. I know, I know…what’s the first thing you put on when you’re getting ready to hike on a glacier for 3 hours? Sunscreen! I knew that tomorrow was going to be rough, and instantly started beating myself up for not being smarter. Jacob didn’t look as bad as I did initially, but later in the day his shade of red darkened like mine had.

The clouds rolled in towards the end of our tour and the guides joked around that they had always wished that one time they would be stranded with a bunch of hikers so that they could finally use the emergency camp set that hadn’t ever been used. I didn’t know that the helicopter wasn’t able to retrieve hikers if there was a substantial cloud cover. The guide said there were crates full of awesome food and drink and even a box of chocolate to hold us over how ever long we needed to be up there. Unfortunately, the clouds didn’t roll in like that, and we sped away safely in the helicopter.

The ride back to Queenstown wasn’t nearly as rushed, but we had actually told our Brazilian friends that we’d meet them at a local pub for a few dart games, so we only stopped a few times for pictures. (one shown below) When we arrived back to Queenstown they were actually an hour late in meeting us, but when they got there, they were stunned to see how red we got and we got to hear a good Brazilian chuckle out of it. We talked about traveling for a few hours, and they completely talked me into going to Rio at some point in my life. Before sleep that night, we picked up some aloe lotion and applied it thoroughly before finally calling it a night. Tomorrow was yet another early morning as we had rescheduled our Dart River wilderness safari ‘Jet Boat’ tour and ‘Funyak’ adventure for that day. Many parts of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ were filmed in the area we would be going, and a large portion of the area itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

To be continued…

New Zealand Adventure: Day 3 (Glow worms)

Queenstown, NZ Day 3

This is another guest post by my good friend Jacob Matthews. Please enjoy and watch for more posts of this 8 day NZ adventure!!

After another night of being lulled to sleep by the sweet sounds of techno beats we woke up bright and early for a 7:30 am bus-ride to the small town of Glenorchy on the north side of Lake Wakatipu for a full day of Jet Boating and Kayaking on the Dart River. A little sleep deprived and still jet lagged we make our way down the street to the shuttle. Upon walking to the bus stop we discover that it’s cloudy, slightly chilly and rainy out. A little saddened that the rain would possibly hamper our day 3 adventures we made the ride along side the beautiful Lake Wakatipu towards the Dart River. Once we arrived there we were given the option to reschedule due to the weather. So we opted to do that and hope for nicer weather later in the week. After rescheduling we took the bus back down to Queenstown and regrouped to make other plans for the misty day.

Not a good day for jet boating and canoeing

We caught a quick breakfast, some much-needed caffeine, and then headed back to hostel to rest a little bit. On the way back to the room we stopped by the travel desk in the lobby of the hostel to see what we could do on a rainy day…. and then it hit us: GLOW WORM CAVE! Yep! You read it right! New Zealand and Australia are some of the only places on the planet where you can explore underground caves that house thousands of glow worms that sparkle along the roof of the caves. So we booked a 2pm tour at some caves near Te Anau, another small town about 2 hours south of Queenstown. Once confirmed on the trip we went back up to the room. Our room was small, but had all the necessities like a mini fridge, bathroom and a small TV with about 4 channels. One of those channels was a movie channel. This was our first downfall. When we sat down we got sucked into watching… you guessed it…the new Karate Kid.

After watching the entire movie and loosing track of time, we realized we had exactly 2 hours to make a 2 1/2 hour drive to TeAnau. Running to the car, with the Justin Beiber song “Never Say Never” in our heads from the Karate Kid credits we pulled out the old school paper map and very quickly headed down to Te Anau. The clouds and rain had moved out, and it was turning out to be a pretty nice day. (Dear Parents – IGNORE THIS PART) Hurling & Winding through a two-lane mountain pass, down the length of 2 lakes, and across many sheep pastures we finally make it to Te Anau. By a minor miracle and by the grace of God we made it to the boat for the glow worm tour with 4 minutes to spare, even after a couple of picture stops along the way!

Now, just so you know Thomas and I sat several goals for the trip of things we both wanted to check off “the list.” Here are just a few:

*Skydiving – Check!

*Be the life of the party somewhere – not yet.

*Pick up a hitchhiker – nope.

*Practice our New Zealand or Australian accents – Constantly checking this off the list!

Smooth operator

With that said we hopped on the boat, which was to ferry us across Lake Te Anau and to the caves. We quickly grabbed a seat and started conversation with a few people seated around us from Australia. They asked where we were from. Thomas replied “The States… Tennessee to be exact.” And all of a sudden the Aussies gasped, said “No Way!” and started laughing. They yelled at this group of high school Aussie Girl Scouts (to one girl Haylee in particular), and told them we were from Tennessee. Immediately, this huge group of Australian Girl Scouts swarmed us and started chattering away. Apparently, this girl, Haylee, in their group has been infatuated with Tennessee, the southern accent and country music. She went on and on about how her biggest dream is to move to Nashville and live. She tried to speak in a Southern accent for us, which was really funny. It sounded like southern meets Australian with Aussie slang. Our loud and comical conversation was captivating all the attention from everyone on the boat, and we soon realized that we could check another goal off the list. We became the life of the party, there was no doubt about it. (pictures of this whole event were on Thomas’s iPhone which, as most of you know…was lost tragically while canoeing down the Dart River on Day 4…a moment of silence…..)

Tom taking pics from the ferry

NOT the boat we took 🙂

Cave exploring is no laughing matter

We arrived at the docks for the cave, disembarked the boat and made our way into the cave. First let me say our tour guide was the “tour guide nazi” type – super strict, extremely knowledgeable, and loved her job/caves. I could tell Thomas and I were gonna get into some sort of trouble. The cave was really dark and we followed the procession of our group into the dark depths. She pointed out several waterfalls and formations as we made our way to the glow worms. There was a river running through the entire cave system and the sound of moving water echoed off all the walls. Finally, we made it to this little boat near the rear of the cave. She told us to step in and have a seat. She also told us to be very, very quiet and just “take in and absorb the beauty, awe and splendor of the worms.” Thomas and I looked at each other and kind of chuckled. All the lights went out in the cave and our guide pushed us along the underground river to the worms. All of a sudden we looked up and it was like tens of thousands of little stars glowing and shimmering on the roof of the cave. It is probably one of the coolest things I’ve seen in my life, but we weren’t able to take pictures which was a bummer. Here are some from the internet to show a portion of what it was like.

As we cruised through the dark admiring the glowing specs in silence I was immediately reminded of a scene from the movie “Euro Trip” where these kids go through a pitch-black train tunnel in Europe. A strange Italian man puts his hand on another guy’s leg, they emerge from the tunnel, where the kid has a perplexed look on his face and the Italian says “mi scusi”. (To watch the scene go here: ) I for some reason felt the need to reenact the scene in the cave. So I did what any movie buff would do and quickly put my hand on Thomas’ leg and said “mi scusi!” We both died laughing. It must have been like a quarter of a second after I said “mi scusi” and our nazi tour guide immediately blinds us with this massive spot light and proceeds to “SHHH” us. Well, that only made us laugh more. Needless to say we “ruined” the ambiance and were on her bad list, but the cave was amazing and we had a good laugh out of it.

We took the ferry back to Te Anau, said good-bye to our new Aussie Girl Scout friends, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and headed back to Queenstown making sure to stop plenty for random pictures. That night we met up with our Brazilian friends from Skydiving at the club at our hostel. We partook in a few Euro dance beats of our own with our new friends and retired for the night as we rested up for our big day on the glacier the next day. With it being another 4-hour drive we needed some rest, as we knew tomorrow would be another early morning and long day of adventure.

To be continued…

New Zealand Adventure: Day 2 (Skydiving)

Queenstown, NZ -Day 2: Now, I’d be lying if I said that we were well rested and ready to go after the first night in our hostel. There was a club on the first level and our room was positioned on the corner right above the street. The night was filled with Euro-dance beats and inebriated youth shouting in all languages right outside our window. We awoke early and grabbed a coffee and a small bite across the street before heading to the Skydiving office for our pickup. Jacob and I arrived, signed our life away and picked out the skydiving package that we thought was the best bang for our buck. We went with a 12,000 ft dive (45 second free fall) with the picture package as an add-on. We loaded onto an NZone bus with maybe 10 other people and headed out of town towards the drop zone. The 15-minute ride was filled with silent anticipation for the most part, and then a few jokes were told to ease the tension, which helped.

This is one you don't read....just sign.

When we arrived at the NZone (Skydiving) complex, as you can probably guess by the pictures above, we were awestruck with the view that surrounded us. Jacob said that he was glad he waited to skydive, so that he was jumping in the most beautiful place on earth instead of a random flat field somewhere in America, and I agree with him completely. Before our jump we did some interviews on my phone (in case we died), and I played a game of ‘giant chess’ with our new Columbian friend Hector as we watched the group that went before us fall from the sky. I also got a chance to meet with a couple of Brazilians who had just jumped almost an hour ago and were waiting for a ride back to town. Our time was up, and our names were called. We went to the hanger and put on our jumpsuits and were given a very brief demonstration of how to contort our bodies like a banana during our free fall. Moments later our plane arrived and our tandem buddies grabbed us and we walked the long walk towards the deafening sound of our tiny fixed-wing airplane.

Let's do this!!

I can’t speak for Jacob (I think he was as nervous as I was), but I was attempting to put my mind somewhere else during the take off and ascension part of this journey. There were maybe 12 of us crammed into this little plane. While we were going up my dive buddy (Ed) was sitting with his legs spread open with me between them, basically sitting on his lap, as he strapped me to him. I was going to ask him if he was sure I was strapped in right, but I figured he’d done this a few thousand times and probably knew what he was doing. It took us a few minutes to reach 12,000 feet, but once we did, I realized that I would be the first to jump (after my photographer). Things got very real once the light turned on and the sliding door was thrust open. My adrenaline skyrocketed as Ed and I scooted towards the door. I put my feet out and strained to keep them together. I tucked them under the plane, put my head back, and leaned forward. Ed gave a few rocks back and forth, and we jumped right after my photographer.

Getting ready to bust through the clouds!

There’s definitely a strange vertigo feeling for the first few moments, and then falling through the clouds is a bizarre experience and kind of tastes like the smell after a heavy rain. Meanwhile, several other people have jumped above me, but Jacob and another person in our group had to go on another pass because the wind speed was picking up, and they needed to drop them back closer to the field where we would be landing. Jacob told me that he thought they were cancelling their jump because it was too windy, but then they opened the door again and got to jump. The whole time we were falling, we were captivated by the amazing sight below and all around us. Both Jacob and I were surprised at how it was somewhat difficult to breathe at times, and if you opened your mouth wrong, wind would gust in and steal your breath.


After the 45 seconds of free fall and absolutely breath-taking scenery, Ed pulled the parachute (without telling me) and everything went silent. For the past several minutes I’d heard a noisy plane and then gusty wind blowing past my ears at a high velocity…but now, nothing. To be honest, I thought I was dying for a second because everything went silent and my photographer kept falling for a few moments. I understood later that he had to get down to the ground before us so he could take a picture of our landing. When we got closer to the ground, Ed told me to pull my knees to my chest and then stick them out straight for the landing. Ed steered the parachute like a champ and we even did a few corkscrew maneuvers before finally landing softly, precisely where we were supposed to. I was alive, and I was smiling. Adrenaline was still coursing through my veins as I gave random people high fives and strutted back to the hanger like Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible.

Legs up!!

Love ya, Ed!

Several minutes later I watched as Jacob went careening through the air with his tandem buddy and landed safely in the same field I had. He was smiling ear to ear and was just as happy to be alive as I was. Take a look at Jacob’s free fall experience below…

I love this picture, because it looks like he's in outer space!

Jacob's goggles flying off!

Goggles back, thumbs up!

Parachute pull

The group after us wasn’t able to jump because the wind speed was too high, so we were also grateful to be able to jump that day.

When we got back to town we grabbed lunch with Hector and reminisced about the time we all went skydiving and lived to tell the tale. We sat out at a restaurant that overlooked the harbor of lake Wakatipu, which was carved by a glacier. It is the 2nd largest lake in the Southern Lakes district, and is 400 m (1,225 feet) at its deepest point.

View from the restaurant

Jacob and I explored the town for a while that afternoon and then picked up the pictures of our skydiving exploits and headed to a famous burger joint in town named Fergburger, where the line from the restaurant to the sidewalk outside spoke for itself. The burgers where enormous and loaded with extras, and I honestly took maybe three bites before I got to the actual burger. Since it doesn’t get dark until almost 10:00pm we were having a rough time getting completely synced, but we both caught a quick nap and then checked out the club below our hostel, which was a fun place to people watch and to just meet people from all over the world. Jacob started keeping track of every country of the people we had met and spoke with, and by the end of the trip…it was impressive.

The one..the only.

Fergburger was PACKED!

We had an early morning ahead of us where we were supposed to go on a jet boat tour of Paradise Valley (where a lot of LOTR and The Hobbit was taped) and then take canoes back down the Dart River towards Lake Wakatipu, so we called it a night. We were lulled to sleep once again by Euro beats and overly loud laughter and chanting.

To be continued…

New Zealand Adventure: Day 1

Hey everyone! Because Jacob and I have so many pictures between the two of us (more so Jacob since I dropped my phone in the Dart River in the middle of the week), and there were 8 days of adventures and funny stories in New Zealand, we thought it would be fun to split the days between the two of us. This first day will be a guest post by one of my best friends, Sir Jacob Matthews. This is based on a true story. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Take it away Jacob… -Tom

Sir Jacob of the Matthews clan

So after watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy several years ago and seeing the epic scenery of New Zealand in the film, I vowed to one day have an epic quest of my own. It didn’t necessarily need to involve a ring, or me barely escaping dark forces, but it definitely needed to be filled with adventure. One thing I can say, is that New Zealand is known for adventure. In fact, Queenstown, NZ is called the “adventure capital of the world.”  My quest and dream to explore New Zealand came to fruition a week or so ago now as I met my buddy Thomas, who’s living in Japan for the year, “down under” for 8 days of awesomeness. The following blog posts are an account of our perilous journey across the South island of New Zealand.

Day 1: Getting there

First, to set the stage, let’s get acclimated to the Kiwi culture with some vocab words. We would hear the following words on a daily basis:

1. Kiwi – what New Zealanders call themselves, also the name of their national bird
2. Good on ya – good job/right on
3. Too right – sweet/cool
4. Sweet As – oh that’s cool
5. Mum – mom
6. Heaps – tons/ loads

Good… Now that we’ve all had our vocab lesson our journey was to take place on Dec 12, 2011. I was flying from Los Angeles. Thomas was leaving from Japan and we were to meet in Queenstown on the afternoon of Dec 14. First thing that blew my mind was the time difference. I left at 10:00 pm on the 12th from L.A. and landed 12 hrs later in Auckland the morning of the 14th. The fact that I completely lost a day was insane to me. Ironically the day I happened to miss was the 13th which, shout out to my mum, was her birthday. Oops sorry mum.

My flight was late arriving into Auckland and I knew it was going to be really close trying to catch my connecting flight to Queenstown. So I ran through customs in NZ, grabbed my bags, and started running the 10 min walk between the international and domestic terminals in Auckland. About halfway along my run I thought to myself that something was wrong. Upon looking around I realized that I had left my backpack at customs in the international terminal. Now, this backpack had my life in it…my wallet, my cash, my passport and my phone. Yep. Pretty much my entire identity. I freaked out and ran back to the customs office and knocked on their exit only door to beg for them to let me in and look for my bag. After knocking the officer came to the door and went and looked for my bag for me. About 5 long minutes later he opened the door and handed my bag to me. The only word to describe that moment was elation! Upon getting my bag back I began the 10 min run to the next terminal again…knowing at this point it was hopeless and I’d already missed my Queenstown flight. So I made it to the gate agent and they rebooked me for a later flight into Queenstown. I finally arrived into this small airport nestled in between lake Wakatipu and a mountain range called ‘The Remarkables”. I got my bags and walked around the corner and see Thomas sitting next to the rental car counters, looking as handsome as ever (edited by Thomas). We caught eyes, ran to each other, and had a nice little man hug. Very reminiscent of a scene from a movie…only there was no romantic Harry Connick Jr soundtrack. After our little moment, we got our rental car and proceeded out of the terminal to head to our hostel. The rental car was far more expensive than we had imagined, and we were feeling a little defeated and tired, but were determined to not let it ruin our day.

Driving on the left hand side of the Road:
Once we loaded all of our stuff into the bright red hatchback Toyota corolla we headed to check into our hostel in downtown Queenstown. Stepping into the car I knew this would be a very different experience. The steering wheel was on the left hand side of the vehicle. I drove out of the parking lot to hop on the road to downtown. I have to say I was doing quite well until we came to our first intersection. Which, by the way, isn’t 4-way stop intersections… it’s all roundabouts. Not quite sure who had the right of way I proceeded to go when all of a sudden I hear Thomas start screaming and bracing “shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot.” I look over at him and then back and quickly realize there is a massive truck headed at us. I sped up and we escaped death.

Checking in to our hostel:
Breathing a sigh of relief we parked the car and got checked into the hostel. Stepping on the elevator at the hostel the first people we met were these two Korean ladies. They looked at me and Thomas and thinking they are Japanese, Thomas tries out some Japanese on them only to realize they are Korean. She looks at us and says in English “are you togethaaa?” (in Asian accent) Trying not to laugh Thomas and I just look at each other, and Thomas looks back at the ladies and responds “yes, yes we are.” they got off the elevator and we died laughing. After dropping everything off, we headed to a local pub and played some darts for a couple of hours and Thomas slaughtered me. (edited by Thomas)

Finally, we made it back to our room… The adventure had definitely begun and it was beginning to sink in. We were jet-lagged and un-rested, so we rested up for what the next day had in store.

To be continued…

Special thanks to Mr. Summers for letting me be a guest columnist on his blog. Much obliged sir.