I grew up in Melbourne, was born and bred in Australia and I moved to New Zealand for work when I was 21. I was meant to be here for three weeks, which turned into six months, which turned into a year and a half. I've been here for 16 years now.
Mum and Dad are Croatian, and Mum's policy was to ensure we knew our heritage and family so throughout my childhood we went there every year or two. One of my favourite places is my uncle and aunty's farm. Skating on the frozen yard in winter, eating beautiful cakes, feeding the farm animals and taking forest walks. Traditional small village life. Visiting Croatia during the war was a whole other experience. Dad made us. There were snipers in the forest, army roadblocks and barricades and bullet holes in historic buildings and palaces. It was very daunting, a stunning country ruined.
My first solo holiday, I went to Europe. I had my 21st in Melbourne, a quiet family barbecue, then caught a flight to Croatia to celebrate with my twin cousins who are five days younger than me. After that I travelled around for about a month, staying with family and friends and travelling across Croatia by train. When I was young we always used to drive around Europe, so seeing the countryside from a train was a completely different experience. On the trains, I was often surrounded by the army, a single girl and whole carriages of soldiers. But that's the beauty of knowing a language but not letting on. I could eavesdrop on their conversations. Listen to them debate about where I was from, what I was doing and whether I could understand them. When I laid some Croatian on them, one was so embarrassed he left the carriage.
I've been with World Expeditions for nearly five years and have done four of their trips in that time. My first one was to Everest Base Camp. Anyone who knows me knows I wear high heels, I don't own trekking boots. I've never trekked, never camped and the next thing, I'm off to Base Camp. Our company started as Australian Himalayan Expeditions, which is why they sent me to the Himalaya, to see how our products evolved. I had brand-new boots and gear and everyone telling me you have to prepare, put the boots on, go for walks. I wore them once into the office, from the carpark. That was me breaking them in. But I survived. No blisters, no injuries. My secret tools were talcum powder, merino socks and gel toecaps. The trip was 18 days and I'd love to do it again.
Kilimanjaro was hard but amazing and the walk itself, the lead up, is stunning. Quite easy and gentle inclines. With Kilimanjaro, it's really the last night that's incredibly difficult and a mind game as you're trekking the whole day, get a small amount of sleep before being woken at 10pm to trek your way up the summit through the pitch black of night to see sunrise. Only to spend the whole next day descending. Two whole days with no breaks. But sunrise on the roof of Africa is hard to beat.
People don't always cope, there were five in our group, and two were my good friends, a high school friend and her partner, Stewart. Stewart convinced us to do Kilimanjaro, it was his dream not ours. Out of the three of us, Stewart was an outdoor enthusiast and rock climber, I'd done Base Camp and Sarah had done nothing. She made it, slow and steady she plodded up. Then there was a father and daughter from The States. They weren't prepared in the slightest so didn't make it up to the summit. They got turned around on summit night and told to go back. I had my compulsory mountain cry. It doesn't matter how big the mountain is I always have a little cry, eat some lollies and off I go again. I even cried on Tongariro.
My best advice is, always try something different and new, get out of your comfort zone. It changes your whole perspective on people, places and life. Life is short, so get out there and live your dreams - and the best part is I get to help people do that.
Further information: see worldexpeditions.co.nz