North Island Road Trip Day 1 – Wellington – Dannevirke

Friday morning I started with a farewell morning tea with the staff at Fulbright New Zealand, then went to pick up my rental car for my adventure. After navigating through some fun Wellington traffic (people were arriving in town for the Lions/All Blacks Rugby match tomorrow), I found a parking spot RELATIVELY close to my flat, and made several trips to get all my stuff loaded in the car, then I set off on my trip.

Leg one was a short journey – but I had planned a side trip to Castlepoint, which did add some time to the trip.

Here is the map of the journey:

Once out of Wellington, I wound my way through the Rimutakas, stopping for a few scenic points.


I had debated about whether or not I really had time to make it to Castlepoint before dark, but decided to go on, and I am SO very thankful I did – it was worth every minute.

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I left Castlepoint as the sun was setting, and made the rest of my journey in the dark to my stop for the night, Dannevirke. Today was a short post for a long day – but it is definitely the beginning of a fantastic adventure – my last hurrah in New Zealand before heading back to the US.



Matiu / Somes Island

Taking advantage of a sunny day, I finally made it out to Matui/Somes Island – which is the island that sits in the middle of Wellington Harbor. It was one of my Wellington must dos, and I had not made it out, and with my time winding down, knew this might be the last nice day for it, so I paused my writing flow, packed a picnic and set out to catch the ferry to the island.

You can learn more about the island here:

The island has a fascinating history, as it has served as a quarantine station, military outpost, interment camp and now wildlife refuge. The island gives the opportunity to discover nature by traveling along various tracks, and I ended up walking on each track on the island and extending my stay there because it was such a lovely day, and I was enjoying my tramp so much.

When you arrive on the island your first stop is the quarantine station, where you check your bag and shoes for bio-security risks. Once cleared, you are able to start exploring.

As I walked, I was immediatly greeting with stunning views of the harbor, Eastborne and Petone.

My first stop was the cemetery monument.

Between 1918 and 1920, Somes Island was used as a human quarantine station during the influenza pandemic, and many died on the island.

I trekked along from the Monument along Cable Bay to the lookout over Shag Rock. Birds, flowers, skinks and Tuataras were plentiful. I felt like I had the island to myself, as everyone else had headed to the visitors center first.

From the overlook I headed to the lighthouse, stopping to check out the Weta Hotel.

Those are some gargantuan insects!

Then I enjoyed the lighthouse, before beginning my trek to the Southern Lookout – I am pretty certain I took a million pictures – it was so pretty!

Here at the southern lookout, I realized that I was not going to have time to see everything I wanted unless I booked the later ferry back, so I called the company to secure my seat on the later boat, giving me more time to enjoy this peaceful oasis.

My next stop was the old WW2 gun emplacements, so I went up the “steep track”. Along the way I got the opportunity to observe the amazing fantail, which may be one of my favorite NZ birds.

Then, at the gate, I made an interesting observation about the weathering of the gate.

I wonder how many times those pieces of wood have been slammed together?

At the top, I explored the gun casings, and just genuinely enjoyed the views, pulling out my lunch for a stop at the picnic table.

I headed back down to the visitor area, where I explored the animal quarantine station, which felt an awful lot like animal prison – which, I guess, it was, in a way.

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After that it was down to the visitor center, where I learned about the other uses of the island, particularly its use as an internment camp during WW2 and the attempted escapes.

Next, I wandered back to the wharf, and with time to spare, checked out the old degaussing station, and listened to the stories of Meg Pilcher, (a fascinating lady!)then to the North Wharf before leaving the island and heading home.

I am so glad I had this beautiful weather to enjoy this amazing sanctuary!

My Last Few Weeks in Wellington

So, my last few weeks in Wellington were quite exciting, but I was also super busy wrapping up my official Fulbright work. I spent so much time writing I just couldn’t bring myself to blog – so I am behind – but I have lots of fun stuff to share with you all – so this post will be pretty long. (and has lots of “different” stuff in it!)

Matariki Celebrations: 

I know I mentioned Matariki in my last post, as I was making the stars as a part of that celebration, and the festivities continued.

I went to a lovely event hosted by Te Papa focused on Matariki. It was the first time they had done this event, but they were laying down the tradition for years to come. You can see more here:

I really encourage you to watch the video – such a cool celebration of a new year and renewal.

Another really interesting cultural event I attended was Te Oro o ngā Whetū: The Echo of the Stars – a performance sponsored by the Chamber Orchestra of New Zealand, and featuring New Zealand String Quartet, ngātaonga puoro artist Alistair Fraser, Te Reo Māori performer and composer Ariana Tikao, and students from Virtuoso Strings Orchestra.

The music was hauntingly beautiful, and thanks to the use of taonga puoro (Traditional Maori Musical practices) was just a fascinating experience.

Here is a small snippet of what I was able to experience:

They also had some really neat Maori culture as TePapa played host to the Kaumātua Kapa Haka – an event featuring over 500 Maori Elders. It was beautiful – and if you want to really be moved, check it out – the diversity of the performers and the passion they have for this beautiful art is a experience to be had!


Fulbright Work and Celebrations

As I mentioned, I have done lots of writing the past few weeks, and my Fulbright work is complete, with just a few logistics before I can share it on a broader scale, which is super exciting.

I did my final presentation on June 16th at Victoria University, and we had a Fulbright NZ Awards ceremony at Parliament on June 19th. It was a great celebration!

You can see more pictures here: 

General Wellington Fun

I did lots of exploring Wellington as well – nice breaks to clear my head and walk around were much needed! Some of these are quite random pictures, but they all tell the story of my Wellington experience, so check out the captions for more info!

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Gallipoli Exhibit

I have made several trips to TePapa, and love the museum, but had not been in the right place to do the Gallipoli exhibit justice on previous visits, so on a rainy afternoon I went across the street to experience this powerful exhibition, which was done by the team at Weta, and is called the “Scale of our War”. The exhibit features larger than life images of the war – made with stunning accuracy and detail. My pictures do not do the exhibit justice, fortunately they do have great images on their website. You can also learn more about the creation of the exhibit and the stories behind those rendered.

Images are below, but please be warned they are a bit graphic.

I also visited the “Quake Breaker” exhibit – which was fascinating to see how they stabilize a huge building like TePapa in an earthquake prone area.

There will be another blog post dedicated to Matui/Somes Island – I just couldn’t bring myself to crowd this one anymore.


Stars and a Stone

Sometimes you just end up where you need to be, which is what happened to me tonight.

It is the time of Matariki here in New Zealand, and as a result there are special events happening all over. (Matariki is the Maori name for the Pleiades. Marariki means “eyes of God” and when the cluster of stars twinkle low in the sky before dawn it is the time of Matariki, or the Maori New Year. If you want to know more about this fascinating celebration, I encourage you to check out more here) Ambitiously, I had placed a ton of events on my calendar of things I wanted to see, do and experience during this special time, but I did not factor in the fact that I was going to be firmly in final project compilation and writing mode during this time. Today was one of those days. I have my final project presentation for Fulbright New Zealand tomorrow afternoon, and was in quite the writing flow when my alarm went off reminding me that I wanted to go to the Star Weave Jam organized by the Maori Women’s Refuge. This event is a part of the One Million Stars to End Violence Project, which aims to weave one million stars by July 2017 to be used in an installation at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.

I thought it sounded like a cool event, and weaving the stars would be a nice creative outlet.

However, when my alarm went off, I questioned it. I was in a writing flow, and was warm and cozy inside – and the Wellington wind was whipping away – not exactly an invitation to venture outside.

But there was something – a nudge, if you will – to go – so I laced up my shoes, grabbed my jacket and gloves, and set out on the nice quick stroll from my apartment to the Wellington Museum where the event was going to be held.

I settled in, watch the “how to make a star” video, and got some help from the volunteers, then made stars and chatted with the ladies that happened to be at my table – we had a positively delightful time – and even were treated to some fantastic storytelling by Tīramarama, a Maori storytelling duo. It was just a lovely way to spend the evening.

One of my table mates, Sonia,  and I particularly hit it off – we talked as we worked: about our travels, my Fulbright project and experience, my adjustment to New Zealand, her family and children, her new job and relocation to Wellington – really just a little bit of everything. She shared with me some stories from her Iwi (Maori Tribe) and Matariki. Before we knew it, it was time for the Museum to close, and we walked out together. As we were about to depart, she said “wait – I have something I want to give you”, and she placed a hard round stone in my hand. As she gave it to me she explained that it was an Aroha stone (Aroha means unconditional love in Maori). She shared with me that the Aroha stone is sacred to the Maori people (as are many stones) and that it is a special stone because it turns the energy around it into love, which is transmitted through the person it is gifted to. It is one of the few sacred stones that does not require special cleansing, because it is a cleansing stone on its own. She shared that she had been carrying it around for a few days – trying to figure out who to give it to, and that she was certain that the stone was seeking its home with me.   It was a special and very touching moment. We hugged one another goodbye, with plans to hopefully see each other at events this week, and I strolled home, the stone in my pocket.

When I got home I got the opportunity to look at the stone – what a gorgeous, colorful piece it is (and this picture doesn’t really do it justice). The pink and white colors are just striking.

What a nice reminder to stop, be present, and savor the opportunity I have been given to be here in this amazing country, surrounded by lovely people and a beautiful culture, even as my time here is rapidly coming to a close.