Smithsburg teen's Down Under adventure

August 04, 2009|By KRISTYN PANKIW / Pulse correspondent

· Watch a slideshow of Nathan's Down Under Adventure.

SMITHSBURG -- It's not every day that you meet a boy who's traveled halfway across the world even before reaching high school. But that's the life of Nathan Laye, a 13-year-old who attends Smithsburg Middle School.

Nathan recently returned from a 22-day vacation to Australia and New Zealand with his grandparents, Jonathan and Linda Laye.

The three of them spent two weeks in Australia and one week in New Zealand in hopes to tour the two countries and experience their cultures.

'Ello, mates!

After 14 flights and more than 40,000 air miles, Nathan and his grandparents arrived in Cairns, Australia, where they began their tour.


The first thing Nathan did upon arrival was head to the Great Barrier Reef, where he went snorkeling and even had the opportunity to sea walk on a platform 15 feet below the water on the bottom of the reef. Nathan said he had to wear a special diver's helmet.

"Tons of fish ran into me (while I sea walked)," Nathan said. "They were everywhere."

Nathan also visited a tropical rainforest and saw koala bears and kangaroos.

His next stop was the Outback at Alice Springs -- the same place where "Kangaroo Jack" was set. There, he visited an aborigine village, where he got to try camel, kangaroo and crocodile meat. Nathan said the kangaroo and crocodile meat tasted the best, but that all of them were "rubbery."

"They tasted like calamari without the breading," he said.

After taking a hot air balloon ride over the Outback during sunrise, Nathan also got to ride a camel. Then it was off to the next destination.

Nathan traveled to Ayers Rock, Melbourne, Phillips Island (where he saw hundreds of fairy penguins), and Luna Amusement Park, which is home to the oldest operating wooden rollercoaster in the world. From there, he traveled to his last stop in Australia: Sydney.

In Sydney, Nathan toured the Opera House and the Olympics Center and walked the Sydney Bridge before taking a dinner cruise around the harbor.

But Nathan said if he had to choose, his favorite place in Australia was the Great Barrier Reef.

"I caught fish with my bare hands!" he said.

On the road again

After spending 14 days in Australia, Nathan and his grandparents flew to Christchurch, New Zealand. There, they traveled by coach and boat to the snow-covered mountains, which the people of New Zealand call the Southern Alps, and visited a sheep ranch.

In Queenstown, Nathan rode an aerial gondola up a 1,500-foot peak overlooking the city and watched fireworks over the harbor.

His final destination of the trip was the Waitomo Glowworm Cave. Nathan rode a boat through the caves where he saw thousands of glowworms on the ceiling, lighting up the darkness. Nathan said this was his favorite place in New Zealand.

"It's the only glowworm cave in the world," he said.

Nathan also attended a Maori show and Hangi feast. The Maori people are the indigenous people of New Zealand. Nathan said the Hangi feast made the biggest impression on him, though.

"I saw it on Deadliest Warrior, and I really wanted to go where they're from," Nathan said.

Nathan said, "How the Maori people fought their wars -- they had wooden and stone paddles that they'd stick in your head and basically split you in half with."

A picture's worth a thousand words

While touring the two countries, Nathan took about 400 photos. Nathan said he takes pictures just for fun; it's a hobby of his.

He likes to take pictures of "everything" with his new Olympus digital camera, especially when he travels.

"It's the only subject of art that I'm good at," he said with a laugh.

Nathan said his favorite photo from the trip is a picture of the sunset at Ayers Rock in Australia.

When asked if he'd like a job that enables him to combine travel with photography, his answer was no. Nathan said instead, he hopes to work in motorcycle mechanics, and jokingly added, "NFL would be nice."

Overall, Nathan said he enjoyed his trip and the experiences he had.

"It was fun, except for the long flights," he said. "And the food was kind of expensive. A small salad was $25!"

Nathan hopes to someday visit other countries, including Aruba, Jamaica and most importantly, Egypt.

And he said he would definitely travel to Australia and New Zealand again.

He saw much of both countries, and estimated that he probably walked at least 30 miles to see everything -- but it was well worth it.

"As soon as I laid down (at night), I fell asleep," he said.

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