When Grace Community School senior David Carrazco traveled down under this summer, the big cities of Sydney and Auckland were his favorite stops by far.
However, apart from those populous places, he came away with a new knowledge about the indigenous culture of the Maori in New Zealand and traveled to many other natural and historic sites.
“It was just a fun trip to be on just to learn about the culture of the other side of the world, (and) about the world in general,” he said.
Carrazco, 17, was among 16 people primarily from Grace Community School who traveled to Australia and New Zealand this summer.
The 12-day trip included visits to the Sydney Opera House, a geothermal village, a wildlife park, a sheep shearing show, the Great Barrier Reef and a ride through the rainforest among other things.
“I personally love to travel and the reason that I like to do these trips honestly is to hopefully give kids a different perspective,” Lonna Stewart, Grace foreign language department chairwoman and Spanish teacher, said.
Ms. Stewart said this is the fourth trip she has coordinated with the school. Although it is not a school-sponsored trip, all but one of the students on it were current Grace students or alumni. Grace English teacher Rhonda Hamm and some Grace parents also took the journey.
After a 12-hour flight from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand, the adventures began.
In New Zealand, the group split their time between Auckland and Rotorua, cities on the North Island.
Through a traditional dinner and show, they learned about the Maori people, who are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand.
They visited a geothermal village where they saw geysers and other phenomena, saw a sheep shearing show, and rode street luges.
One day, the group split up with some visiting the mud baths, others taking in a wildlife park and others visiting the Hobbiton Movie Set from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Hobbit.”
In Australia, the group visited the cities of Cairns and Sydney, which are on opposite ends of the east coast.
Ms. Stewart said they snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef with a marine biologist and saw a live sea turtle and giant clams.
“It was unlike anything I had ever seen before,” she said.
They also visited an aboriginal village where they learned about the culture and traditions of the indigenous Australians.
A gondola ride through the rainforest ended with a visit to a village called Kuranda before the group took a scenic train ride back to Cairns.
After returning to Sydney, the group took an excursion to the nearby Blue Mountains, visited the Sydney Opera House with some attending performances inside and toured The Rocks, a historic part of the city.
Grace alumna Katy Miller, 20, said her favorite activity was jet boating in Auckland. Her sister, Grace senior Kelli Miller, 17, enjoyed snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef.
Grace parent Stacy Hamilton went with her daughter, Rachel, 18, a 2014 Grace graduate who will attend Abilene Christian University this fall.
Ms. Hamilton said her daughter’s favorite experience was holding a koala and her favorite part was visiting the beach town of Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef.
She said going on the tour with the school and a guide really exposed them to a lot of information.
Grace senior Reed Hillis, 17, said he was struck by the similarities between the United States and the countries they visited.
“You know it just didn’t feel like I was on any other vacation, not out of the country per say,” he said. “And the people were very nice. I just thought it was easy to build community and fit in.”
Ms. Stewart said her desire for students to see the beauty in the world around them is one of the reasons she plans these trips to different countries.
“I’m a Christian and a believer in God, and I firmly believe that all cultures kind of show God’s beauty and creativity in a unique way,” she said. “I really want them to experience God’s creation … in different ways.”