Day 8 and 9 – History, Culture and Giant Trees in the Northland

Day 8 was set to be a LONG day of driving, as I ventured from the beautiful Coromandel up through Auckland to the “Winterless North”.

I started by sharing breakfast with my lovely hosts, meeting a friend of theirs who stopped by to say hi (a common Kiwi occurrence), then I set out on my way.

I had a goal of making it through Auckland before 3 to hopefully avoid rush hour. The drive was pretty easy and thanks to some routing of Google Maps around a traffic incident, I made good time, and cleared through to Warkworth without much trouble, I stopped in Warkworth for a little stroll, snack, gas,  and bathroom break, and then I headed on my way. The only “scenic” stop I had planned for today was in Kawakawa – at some famous toilets, in fact.

The Hundertwasser Toilets are quite the famous road side attraction in the Bay of Islands – and the Hundertwasser inspired art style can be found throughout the region as a result.  The  Austrian-born artist found an anonymity and peace in New Zealand when he participated in an art show here in the 90s. He purchased a home outside of Kawakawa, and became involved in the local community. He offered a design to the local council, and the Hundertwasser public toilets were born.  Hundertwasser died unexpectedly in February 2000, and as a result the building is the only Hundertwasser structure in the Southern Hemisphere, and the last major project ever undertaken by the famous artist and designer. I have to say – they are the coolest public toilets I have ever been in! Interestingly, he engaged the local community in the construction, having students at the local secondary school create the clay tiles!

The influence can be seen as you stroll through Kawakawa as well.

I then drove on to my AirBnB – in a lovely peaceful location – and where I found I was renting from 2 lovely nuns. It was very interesting hearing their story and learning about their faith journey and how they ended up in the Northland.

Day 9 was a day for exploring – I started by heading to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where I learned and got to experience more about the history of New Zealand.

Touring the grounds was quite fascinating – as was looking at the differences in the carvings for each Maori tribe.

The weather was sunny and beautiful – I was indeed in the “winterless north”

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The cultural performance was great – and we were allowed to video the outside part.

The volunteer definitely had an experience!

After Waitangi, I ventured into Pahia, grabbed lunch, then set out to my next destination, the long drive to Tane Mahuta – the largest living Kauri Tree in New Zealand – but I made a stop on the long drive out to admire the views of the Tasman Sea at the Arai-te-Uru Recreation Reserve.

After my quick stop, I went to Tane Mahuta – located in the Waipoua Kauri Forest Reserve. I entered the path entrance, where you clean your shoes to prevent Kauri Dieback – as these trees are very sensitive.

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I walked down the path, and was in sheer awe of the size of this tree – which almost sneaks up on you!

I had to use the panoramic shot to get the whole tree in the picture!

After walking around a bit more, I headed back to Kohukohu, excited for some new adventures tomorrow.

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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: https://www.tepapa.govt.nz/learn/matariki-maori-new-year/matariki-ritual

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!

https://www.tepapa.govt.nz/learn/matariki-maori-new-year/matariki-festival-2017/matariki-festival-2017-highlights/watch

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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: https://www.facebook.com/pg/fulbrightnz/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10155657128310982 

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.

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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.

Stewart Island

 

 

In an trip filled with amazing experiences, this is one journey that Fulbright has given me that is just spectacular and will be a standout of my trip. Stewart Island is a location that many Native New Zealanders have never visited (and it has a population of less than 400 people).  As part of the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching, you have access to funds for professional development. Initially my PD grant was applied for to attend the Energise 2017 Conference in Queenstown – which was a wonderful conference and opportunity. After I applied for the grant, I received word that I was invited to visit the school on Stewart Island, which I thought was an incredibly cool school – and really would give me that last missing piece of understanding New Zealand school structure, diversity and remoteness. Because of it’s remoteness, accessing Stewart Island is difficult (and rather expensive), so I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make it happen. I had some funds granted to me by my lovely Gamma Eta DKG sisters, which I was thinking would use to make this visit possible, then I realized that if I maximized my budget by staying in more affordable lodging (hostels and cheap AirBnBs), I could use those funds and amend my PD grant proposal and make both work, and visit all the remaining schools on my South Island potential visit list – so  I amended my Fulbright grant, and set to work piecing together this 3 week journey, which led me to the lovely, remote, and wild Stewart Island, also known as Rakiura . (Rakiura means “glowing skies” – possibly a Maori reference to the Aurora Australis, which is visible sometimes at this southerly location, although others say it is a reference to the spectacular sunrises and sunsets). The history and establishment of Stewart Island is really cool, and if you are interested, you can read more here.

There are 2 ways to access Stewart Island commercially. You must cross the often treacherous Foveaux Strait to get to the island. The two options are the Ferry from Bluff and Flight from Invercargill. I hoped to do the ferry one way and the flight the other, but wasn’t sure how cooperative the weather might be. I decided to take my chances, and book the Ferry over, and the Flight back, and just hoped for the best.

Monday morning I got up and walked over to the meeting point to catch my shuttle to the ferry.

I thought this was a pretty gorgeous view on my way through Invercargill.

The hotel where I met the driver had this cool picture, which I thought appropriate as I embarked on my journey to this beautiful place.

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The ferry ride was gorgeous and sunny and the seas were calm – I am so glad I took the ferry today!

Once we arrived in Oban, I met my lovely AirBnB host Raylene, and I cannot express how much I lucked up with her! We drove up to the house, dropped off my bags and then Raylene drove me back to the center of town so I could make my appointment with Dave at Raikura Jade. I had struggled with what my “souvenir” from my Fulbright experience would be – I am not one for cheesy touristy things, but I felt like I needed something to have as a memento from this experience – and had thought that a Pounamu, or Greenstone pendant might be a cool thing to get, however, I discovered that according to Maori tradition, you should not buy one for yourself – in fact, many backpackers and solo travelers will buy them for each other to get around this. By carving my own Pounamu gifted to me by Dave (he gives the stone for free for those that pay for the workshop), I was able to get this “taonga” or treasure as my memento of this amazing Fulbright experience.

The shape I carved was a toki, which is said to represent strength. You can learn more about the toki by listening here.

I started by picking my stone from the bowl of stone.

Once I picked my stone, Dave started teaching me how to begin to carve the Toki shape. I used lots of tools, and he was so patient with me – Dave was a wonderful teacher. (additional note, Dave worked on the Lord of the Rings, as a part of the team that created Faragorn Forest, and he later worked at Weta for other Jackson films).

After the basic bones of the toki shape were done it was time to smooth out the stone – I used 4 different grits of sandpaper, and then I had a lovely pendant shape. Dave instructed me to rub it in my skin, so that my own oil polished the stone, and the shine was amazing – it really brought out the colors in the stone. Next Dave helped me braid my lanyard for the necklace – we used a 4 strand braid – I was not very coordinated with it, but Dave was crazy patient with me, and he even let me film him doing the 4 handed braid on his own as he finished the strand – just look at how cool!

Then we took the pendant back, made the notch and the hole for the lanyard, tied the knots to make it adjustable, and voila – my beautiful, finished toki.

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What a great thing to do!

My pendant complete, I headed across the town of Oban to Golden Bay where I enjoyed the view, the sunset and the peacefulness. I even had a lovely chat with a lady from the Department of Conservation who was waiting on some researchers to arrive on the ferry.

Tuesday was my first day in the school, and I had a lovely time getting to know the students and the school. After school, I walked back up to Raylene’s home, named Glendaruel and spent some time exploring her gardens. They are just lovely, and he backyard is full of the amazing bird life in New Zealand.

Tonight was the night of my Kiwi spotting tour, and the weather seemed to be cooperative. The kiwis however, were quite stubborn. But finally, after several walks around the area of Big Glory Bay- we spotted a lovely kiwi enjoying his dinner of grubs on the beach. I know the pictures are pretty horrible, but, hey – it is what it is. (and an added note – these are some big birds!)

 

Here is a video of the kiwi, and a video of the grubs that he was munching on.

Wednesday was another school day. Check out my commute for this week:

 

After school, I was still feeling a bit under the weather, I decided to stay in, and Raylene so graciously made some soup for me – have I mentioned how above and beyond she went (she also cooked us a lovely dinner of fish one night and we had a lovely chat about schools around the world)?

Check out the morning breakfast spread:

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The rest of the week was filled with school visits and enjoying Oban – I even got to teach the students programming – so it was a great school visit.

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One of the students even said I was their favorite visitor since Prince Harry stopped by the school – so I will take that as a complement!

Saturday morning I flew out on the very small plane – and now I am off to my next weekend adventure – Te Anau – to the Glowworm Caves and the one and only Milford Sound.

The Catlins – Sunday

Sunday morning I started by backtracking about 35 KM (about 22 miles) on twisty roads to a special location, Cathedral Caves. Cathedral Caves can only be accessed within an hour on both sides of low tide and even then only during daylight hours – so you have to consult the schedule and plan accordingly – and I was lucky – there are entire spans of days that you cannot access them at all. There is a slight hike down to get to the beach, and an access fee (make sure you have cash – there were some young girls that had to go try and find an ATM) for the trail – but at 5.00 NZD it is worth it for the trail to be maintained by the local land owners.

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After the 1.5 km walk downhill through some beautiful bush,

You emerge onto the beach – a peaceful, untouched beach oasis.

After walking down the beach – you arrive at the caves, and WOW!

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They were massive – and it was so incredible to see the changes to the caves by the sea water continually beating against the rocks. It was amazing.

After I had thoroughly explored the caves, I trekked back across the beach, and up the trail to my car.

My next stop highlights the Kiwi sense of humor. You will recall that yesterday I visited Purakanui Falls and McLean Falls, both beautiful examples of waterfalls, right?

Well, behold the New Zealand “Niagra Falls”

Next I ventured south – to Slope Point – the furthest south point of the South Island – which is located on a sheep farm (no joke, you cross through the pasture to get to the marker). The access is closed during Lambing season (September – November)

My next stop was the cliffs at Fortrose. It was windy – so I didn’t stay long, or get too close to the edge, but it was cool.

A bit chilly at this point, I was thankful to find a cafe and grab some Seafood Chowder and a hot coffee before continuing my adventure.

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Next up, I made my way to Bluff, and Stirling Point, which is often confused with Slope Point – Stirling Point is the end of the Motorway which stretches from the tip of the north island (at Cape Reinga) to here in Bluff.

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With some extra time before I needed to be in Invercargill and return my rental car, I decided to explore more of Bluff. This led me to follow signs to the Te Rau Aroha Marae. Such a unique Marae from the outside – beautiful!

Then I headed to the Bluff Lookout, thinking it might be a cool spot to enjoy the sunset.

 

As I headed up the path to the lookout, there were some informative signs about Moas, birds and other native wildlife, predators, pests and history.

It was a good call to head up here!

Check out the views!

Check out this panorama of the views:

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Finally, I headed to Invercargill, hit the grocery store, returned the rental car, did laundry and prepared for my next journey – I am off to Raikura – Stewart Island in the morning.

Last Day Exploring in Australia

So today (Saturday) was my last full day in Australia – and it was a full day, as I ventured outside of Cairns to Kuranda.

I had a fun day, and it was action packed!

But first, I will share with you my adventure on Friday – Friday I had no plans, the weather was gross – so I took the opportunity to do laundry (as dull as that is) and some paperwork I needed to knock out, as I have about a 24 hour turn around when I arrive back to Wellington before I leave for Dunedin and my road trip with the awesome Rachel to the Energise Conference in Queenstown. However, in teh late afternoon the showers had cleared a little bit, so I spent some time at the pool, then decided that I wanted to try something new for dinner, so I headed to the Bayleaf Balinese Restaurant to give it a try. I settled on the be sampi mebase bali (braised beef in coconut milk) – and it came with rice, pickled veggies and some sort of sprouts side dish that was spicy and good. It was delicious – and the portion was huge – I only finished about half before I was stuffed.

But anyway – back to today. I caught my shuttle at 7:30 and headed to the Railway Station to take the Scenic Railway to Kuranda.

We arrived with plenty of time to spare, so I spent some time exploring the railway station, museum and old cottage before boarding the train.

The construction of the railway was treacherous, and was completed with hand tools. . . Crazy!

The ride up was gorgeous.

The train stopped briefly at Barron Falls Station – with great overlooks:

Then we finished the journey and arrived in Kuranda.

Kuranda is small and super touristy – but I decided to hit up the 3 wildlife parks – starting with the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary.

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Then, my next stop was the Bird Sanctuary – these birds were amazing – and very mischievous – you can see my friend (A Macaw) who decided to hang out and try and open the zippers on my backpack!

At this point it was pouring, so I stopped for lunch, where I had a reptile join me beside my table and I had a sampler platter of Emu, Kangaroo and Crocodile – and made the mistake of posting the picture with #minifigmerry on Twitter – and got some interesting tweets – about the inhumanity of consuming meat – whoops. . .

After lunch, I headed to the last of the Wildlife parks – the Koala Sanctuary – I had not planned to do a wildlife experience here, as I had done one in the blue mountains – but the girl convinced me – they had an extra spot – and I could actually hold the koala – so I did it – the cost was less than $15 USD, by the way.

Meet my friend Yoshi:

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It was like holding a sleepy toddler – Yoshi kept leaning his head in.

I explored the rest of the park.

Then I headed back to the Cable Way. There were 2 stations on the way down – and I was able to stop at each, walk around and enjoy the rain forest before ending my journey and catching the bus back to the hotel.

It was a great day – and a neat way to end my Australian Adventure – now I guess I should pack – I have an airplane shuttle to catch tomorrow!

Wanderings in Wellington

I know, I know, I know – I am not so great at keeping this updated daily like I was doing before. . . but, in all honesty – so much of my time now is school visits – which are fantastic – but for confidentiality sake, I have to blog about them more in a batch than individually, so I am waiting until I have a few more to share some of my reflections and thoughts – look for a big blog post on that in the next few weeks for sure. That being said – next week I will have some exciting posts for you from Australia, so I don’t want to stay behind. This post will cover my fun exploring Wellington from when I left Nelson on March 23rd, to when I come up north to Auckland on April 5th. Wellington is a city full of fun and surprises.  (I swear, even though it is my current home, I am always finding new stuff to do here – it really is the “coolest little capital” in the world.

Weather in Wellington is truly unpredictable, and I have found that my Wellington survival kit always contains sunscreen – (this girl burns!), a rain coat (My Columbia Jacket may be the best thing I brought with me), a sweat shirt, a hairband (the wind!) and a hat. It has become second nature to have that all on me (where in the past, it would have just lived in my car) – No car here though!

This time period is no different – we have had rain, sunshine and my first real feel of an earthquake.

So I flew home from Nelson on the 23rd – a short – less than an hour flight across the Cook Strait,  and then I ubered back to the house (buses, luggage, hills and stairs just had no appeal), and started on the fun that was unpacking and laundry after being gone. I also did some administrative work, planning my upcoming travels and blogs, and worked through some lessons for the class I am sitting in (Science for NZ teachers). The Ludbrooks were out for the evening enjoying the ballet, so I wandered down to the House of Dumplings for dinner (YUM!) and then came back to the house, where I was working on planning my South Island trip details – when I heard a sound like a train whooshing through Aro Valley – I thought it was a truck, until, about 5 (or so) minutes later the house began to shake -it shook for a few minutes and stopped – my reaction was -oh that is an earthquake! No damage was done that I have heard of and while unnerving, it wasn’t horrible.

Friday was a big back to Uni day for me. I had several meetings lined up with professors and we had a Cohort Catch-up with the other Fulbright Teachers, so my Friday was quite productive.

SPACE PLACE

Friday night I decided to finally go up to Space Place, even though I knew the sky was going to be too cloudy to look through the telescope, I felt like some Space geekery was in order. I loved it! The guide to the Southern Skies, the Maori legends surrounding the Pleiades, or Matariki, as they call them, the planetarium show focused on the Southern Hemisphere – (That uses the same software I use in the Star Lab with kids, by the way), and even the telescope that wasn’t open for viewing were all fascinating and did my heart good.

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I stayed there pretty late (hoping the clouds would clear, but they didn’t (so I will be back on a clear night).

Cuba Dupa

Saturday was Cuba Dupa – one of the many festivals in Wellington – seriously – there is always something going on! Cuba Dupa is this cool festival with all sorts of performers, and an added bonus was that Lavie, one of our Fulbright teachers was performing as well so some of us went out to support him – and he did a great job!

After Lavie’s performance, I wandered around the festival taking in the music, the fun, and a lovely peanut butter gelato (Yum!)!

Wellington Museum

Midweek – between school visits, Reinhardt work and mundane things like cleaning, paying bills and the like, I took a wander to the Waterfront and the Wellington Museum – It was really quite cool to learn more of Wellington’s history. The museum focused a lot on the Maritime history of Wellington, which of course makes sense, but also had the Bond Store – a replica of the buildings original purpose, to collect taxes on shipped items for the crown.

What you will not see in the pictures is the portion that was the most impactful for me, the section dealing with the Wahine disaster, a great tragedy that occurred in 1967 when a passenger ferry sank in Wellington Harbor.

Days Bay Kayaking – and a bonus Festival to boot!

Saturday I headed out to Days Bay to enjoy the sunshine, and use my Groupon Voucher for my Kayak rental. I was excited to finally use the rental, and to get in a kayak! The sea wasn’t exactly calm, but it wasn’t terribly turbulent either, so I spent a nice hour in the bay enjoying the views.

After Kayaking I wandered across to the pavilion where there was a festival going on – the Local Wild Food Challenge – a cooking competition, tasting and festival – it was very interesting, and I enjoyed the  Maori chef who talked about how he prepared a Hangi (a traditional meal cooked over hot rocks underground), then let us taste the food!

Southeast Asian Night Market

Keeping with the tradition that there is always something going on in Wellington, I ventured out to the Southeast Asian Night Market.

Here I watched some cool cultural shows and tasted different foods from across Southeast Asia – I tolerated the cold rain as long as I could, then I headed home and worked on the final touches of my Mid-Point presentation for the following day, April 3rd.

Midpoint Presentations

We (the Fulbright Teachers) gathered on April 3rd at Victoria to give our midpoint presentations. It was great to hear what everyone was up to, what their reflections were, and how their projects were progressing.

Thanks to Sue – who came to NZ for spring break from ATL – I have some pictures from my presentation, and some other pictures too:

Next I am off to Auckland!