She swam in a swarm of 200 sharks, put an octopus on her face, ice-climbed out of a 30-foot hole and cuddled with a stingray.
But Sienna Streamfellow didn’t experience her first true moment of fear until she was sailing through the 25-foot waves with more than 30-knot winds that nearly crashed her father’s catamaran into New Zealand’s forbidding shore.
“We were coming into a shore where the winds were going into it, so we were drifting to the shore,” the agricultural and environmental plant sciences sophomore recalled. “We could have easily crashed into it because our steering wasn’t working and our motor wasn’t really working, either.”
“It was pouring buckets outside and my dad was making me steer with this stick, and the boat wasn’t steering very well,” Streamfellow said. “I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, we are going to crash.’”
The storm was pushing the boat toward land, but the two had to wait for numerous tankards to dock before they were able to come to shore.
“We had to wait for them while we sailed back out and waited, just trying not to kill ourselves,” Streamfellow said.
But then something seemingly insignificant changed her perspective.
“All of the sudden, I looked to my left and I see a penguin swimming in the water, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, New Zealand is so cool, we are totally fine,’” she said. “And from there, we were fine and we sailed safely into the harbor.”
As she reminisced, Sienna’s eyes shone as blue as the bright New Zealand waters; her animated voice reflected her passion for adventure. It’s hard to imagine that the angelic, diamond-blonde 19-year-old just spent the past seven months exploring the seas of the Pacific.
Sailing into New Zealand was the worst storm the father and daughter faced on their 13,000 mile trip from the Big Island of Hawaii, through the French Polynesian islands of the South Pacific and all around New Zealand. The original plan was to head to Samoa and Tonga after the French Polynesian islands, but news of a hurricane changed their route, and Sienna was able to sail to New Zealand — her dream.
Sailing across the South Pacific chasing waves undiscovered by most surfers had been Dwight Streamfellow’s dream since he was in his mid-twenties. He had been saving up ever since.
When he finally had the money, resources and knowledge to set out on the journey, Sienna, his youngest daughter, was stoked to be invited. She decided to take a year off school to live up to her last name and set voyage on the sea with her father.
The waves weren’t as epic as they expected, but the sights, animals and people they encountered were.
Still, the beginning of the journey was rough. It took them 30 days to sail from Hawaii to the French Polynesian island Nuku Hiva. Sienna was seasick for the first five days, and couldn’t keep any food down. It was terrible, she said, and she almost wished she hadn’t left.
“Like what my dad says, it’s really hard for people to do things like that because even going out hiking and backpacking, you have to be OK with yourself because you have so much alone time,” Sienna said. “You have to be accepting of yourself and the person you are.”
Thirty days alone with the sea and her dad wasn’t too difficult, because he’s a mellow person, she said.
“We had our moments where it got a little intense and we were just like, ‘We’re going to separate,’” Sienna said. “He would be on one part of the boat — even though it’s a small boat — and I’ll be on the opposite side, only 15 feet away.”
They have a close relationship, but Sienna’s sassy, impatient attitude with her dad causes them to argue about little things, said Alex Kohn, Sienna’s friend from home who visited in New Zealand.
“Their passion for traveling and adventures brings them together,” Kohn said. “They just want to see the world and meet new people, and they find happiness through that.”
Waiting 30 days for those new experiences was difficult, but the two are fond of living simply and minimally, Kohn said. Sienna passed the time by listening to music, reading books on her Kindle, drawing and making jewelry from shells she found on her travels.
At their first island, the rarely visited Nuku Hiva, the Streamfellows immediately made friends with the locals — “super big Polynesian people that seemed rugged, but they were so friendly and spoke in these little French voices,” Sienna said.
On the island, the two journeyed with four other travelers and the locals took them to a secret, local beach near Anaho Bay. There, the locals taught them to hunt octopus and cook it in an underground pit.
They then took four days to sail to Fakarava, also known as the “Island of Dreams.” Fakarava is an atoll — a coral island made up of a reef surrounding a lagoon. Its highest elevation is 13 feet, and its total population is fewer than 1,000 inhabitants. It was Sienna’s favorite.
The water was crystal clear, she said, making her experience of swimming in a swarm of approximately 200 sharks even more vivid.
It was hard to leave, but her mother was meeting them in Tahiti, so once again, they set sail.
Tahiti was the first place they found surf, in the famous surf spot of Teahupo’o.
The three traveled among the smaller islands and were able to stock up on supplies. In Tahiti, Dwight made it clear they would not be able to go to New Zealand, so Sienna regretfully sent her warm clothes home with her mother.
After stops at two other small French Polynesian islands, Mo’orea and Huahine, the two made it to what some call “the most beautiful place in the world” — Bora Bora.
“It was definitely beautiful, but it was so commercialized,” she said. “It’s better to go to places that aren’t as popular and haven’t been overturned into tourist spots.”
After three months of French-speaking countries, they finally were able to speak English in Aitutaki of the Cook Islands. The island is so small that most people travel via motorcycles, and Sienna had fun riding, taking in the beauty with “Wild Horses” by The Rolling Stones on repeat.
A change of tide
A local woman at the Cook Islands heard their plans to sail to Samoa, and shared her premonition of a bad storm heading that way. Luckily, Dwight listened to the woman’s advice — while they were at sea for 20 days en route to New Zealand, a disastrous hurricane swept the Samoan Islands.
Since Sienna had sent her warm clothes — her jacket and only pair of pants — back to the United States, she was ill-prepared for the cold. Once they got to New Zealand, she was able to purchase warm clothes. They rented a car and drove around the entire North and South Islands.
“When you go to New Zealand, you feel like you’re in five different countries at once,” Sienna said. “All of the sudden … it looked just like the Big Island of Hawaii, and then you look across the street and it’s like, ‘I’m in Switzerland right now,’ because it’s snowy and there’s mountains right next to you, but then you see a palm tree and it’s like, ‘What is this place?’”
Everyone’s outdoor spirit was also one of Sienna’s favorite aspects of New Zealand. Hiking is so integral to their culture that it’s simply called walking.
“You want to take a picture of everything, because everything is beautiful,” she said.
Another dream of Sienna’s was to go ice-climbing. Her dad decided the money wasn’t worth it, but she splurged and spent the money for a helicopter ride and an eight-hour ice-climbing adventure on Fox Glacier, one of New Zealand’s largest glaciers.
One of the most memorable climbs was when they rappelled 30 feet into a little hole made of smooth, blue ice. A waterfall trickled down the side.
“It’s this blue arctic color, but it makes it super hard for ice-climbing,” she said. “I definitely ate shit and hit my head with my icepick.”
Home at last
The trip reinstalled Sienna’s love for travel and new experiences. But still, she missed home.
“I thought about San Luis Obispo all the time. I have best friends in other places and stuff, but every day I thought, ‘I can’t wait to go back,’” she said. “I mean, it is school, but I love to learn, and Cal Poly is such a great school.”
When Sienna returned to the United States, she made a quick stop in Santa Barbara to visit friends from home and then headed to San Luis Obispo, the trip she had been waiting for. She kept her early arrival a secret from her friends, because she wanted to let them know in person that she was back. Once in San Luis Obispo, she walked from house to house, greeting her friends with her signature smile and warm embrace.
“I literally thought about it every day, and it would make me smile just picturing that moment when I get to see people,” Sienna said. “It just kept me going through it.”