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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Day 7 – Exploring the Coromandel

Today I had an exciting day planned – bit I was a bit concerned that the weather would not be on my side. I started my morning by going just down the road to Captain Cook’s Landing site.

Then I headed to Hot Water Beach – this fascinating area where you dig a hot pool – on the beach – but only within about an hour of low tide. I got to the area early – went to the cafe to rent my shovel, then I headed out to the beach.

It was some seriously fantastic (airport and people of  Walmart caliber) people watching, as well as just a cool experience – although – I could have done without the folks who just decided they should strip down on the beach – I don’t get it!

It was a great way to start my day – but it looked as though the weather was not going to be on my side to get to Cathedral Cove – I was worried about walking down and getting caught in the storm, and most of the boat tours were cancelling left and right, and seeing as it was the off season – options were limited.

Realizing that Cathedral Cove might not happen, I moved on and went to check out Shakespeare’s Cliff (because Captain Cook did name everything he saw after something in England you know). This gave me great views of Cooke’s Beach and the scenery around me.

I still had tons of day to kill, so I decided to take the (very short) ferry across to Whitianga.

I walked around a bit, and decided I should probably grab a late lunch, as it was past 2:00. I settled into a little cafe, and ordered a grilled chicken pasta dish – then as I was at the table waiting, my phone rang – it was a tour guide operator, that heard I wanted to get on a tour (this is such a kiwi thing) – and he had a boat that had just left, but if I was interested would come back and get me to join the tour, if I could get there fast – I mean – guys – who does that?

So, I quickly found the server, and was just going to tell her I was leaving because something came up – and y’all – she tried to give me a refund – also – who does that? I refused to let her pay me – but she wasn’t going to let me leave without my order, so they packaged it really quick, and I ran across to the wharf to catch the boat – with my to go pasta in hand. It stayed sealed and amazingly enough dry on the seat during the amazing boat tour, and I enjoyed it even more after – as a lunch/dinner.

The boat tour was windy, cold and wet – but spectacular!

We toured the coastal features of Cook’s Bay, Mercury Bay and the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve – which is chock full of amazing coastal formations thanks to the constant movement of the Mighty South Pacific Ocean. We even had a pod of dolphins swim right beside our boat – truly an amazing experience. The captain was entertaining and shared history, amazing stories and humor with us, and I thoroughly enjoyed the trip – frequently forgetting about the cold rain and wind. We even got to go inside a blowhole cavern and a cave!

I took a ton of pictures, and even some video. I compiled the videos into a YouTube video, which you can see here – it includes the blowhole, the dolphins and the cave.

The cave was slightly terrifying getting out, because the sea swell came in pretty rapidly – a good reminder that the ocean, while beautiful, is not to be taken for granted.

The pictures from the boat tour show Cathedral Cove, Champagne Rock, the fish, and the rugged beautiful coastline – and as has been a regular occurrence for me here – a rainbow or two.

I went back home to my Air BnB, where I warmed up by the fire, and enjoyed a movie, laughs and great conversations with my Air BnB hosts!

It was not the day I had planned initially, but it was spectacular!

Day 6 – Eastland to the Cormandel

I woke up this morning, and enjoyed the sights from my lodging – I mean, it might be basic, and have the “slippery stairs of death” but – check out these views:

It was a great way to start my morning.

I began my journey to the Cormandel with a little backtracking, because it was dark last night, I missed this church, which is apparently the most photographed church in New Zealand, and I think you can see why – such a gorgeous ocean front location. Also, Penguins nest under the church for protection – there is a pretty fantastic sermon illustration there for someone – Lisa? Elizabeth?

After touring the church, I hit the road – and stopped because these signs caught my eyes.

As you can see – the drive is scenic at every turn – just a beautiful landscape.

I stumbled upon an unexpected stop in the Nukuhou Salt Marsh. Prior to New Zealand I never would have considered myself a birder – but the bird life here is just amazing – and they fascinate me – It was a lovely walk – and peaceful respite from driving.

My next stop was a little bush tramp – and apparently I did not take many pictures – but I took a few at the gate.

It was a peaceful little spot – and you could just wander in the bush and get lose track of time.

After this, I drove through Mount Monganui –  and did get a glimpse of the mountain before carrying on.

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The rest of the drive was quite a bit more eventful than I would like, with an incident involving a semi, which caused a bit of a delay while things got situated – but I am quite thankful – no one was hurt, and the other driver was very apologetic – and everything was handled quickly and efficiently so that I could be on my way. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit shaken, but I took a few minutes to regroup and then headed on my way to Cooke’s Beach – where I was greeted by some spectacular Air BnB hosts – and their dogs – who thought I was pretty cool, I must say. The highlight was the lovely clawfoot soaker tub – which was a stunning way to unwind after my tense drive and experience.

 

 

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: 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.

 

Journey from East Coast to West Coast – The TranzAlpine!

Monday morning I woke up early and walked to the bus stop to catch my bus to Christchurch – the bus ride was fairly uneventful (really, really long), but there were these precious girls (about 10 students rode this bus to their school – almost an hour from Te Anau).

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They took turns reading to one another for the journey – it did make my heart smile.

The journey did, as all journeys in New Zealand do, have some lovely scenery – including a nice wintry wonderland.

Once I arrived in Christchurch, it was after dark, so I caught a cab to my hostel – one that I have been very excited to stay in – you see – I was staying in Jailhouse Accommodation – which is a hostel that is actually in the old Addington Prison, which has a fascinating history as a jail, women’s prison and a military camp. You can learn more about the prison here, as well as the artwork and artifacts that are all around the prison. 

The next day, I went to the train station, and lucked out, because another girl was also headed to the train station, so we shared an Uber, and chatted throughout the day. She was an American,  who is currently living in Hawaii (for work), but previously lived in the Atlanta area (where she still owns a home), and with close family ties to India. She is amazingly well traveled, and it was nice to chat with her – we shared travel trips, ideas and just genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. I thought I had a picture of the two of us, but apparently we were having too much fun when I took the picture – and I didn’t check it.

The weather for the journey was fairly awful, and viability was low, however, it was still pretty amazing to make this journey, and like so many historic railway journeys to think about the trials of the railway workers that forged the way through this unbelievable, beautiful, rugged and unforgiving landscape. Passing through the Southern Alps is an Experience I am not going to forget!

The TranzAlpine goes from Christchurch (eastern coast of South Island) to Greymouth (western coast of South Island) and back each day. This is at the narrowest part of the South Island. I was doing the return trip in one day, because of how my school visits panned out for the week (Which meant a very full day of enjoying the beautiful scenery – and being quite disconnected – not much cell phone service between villages). The journey started going between Christchurch and Arthur’s Pass. Passing mostly through the Canturbury flats.

The interesting thing about this crossing was definitly the changing, diverse landscape from one side to the other.

At Arthur’s Pass we were able to get off the train and stretch our legs and take a few quick pictures.

 

When we arrived in Greymouth Shreya and I stopped in the Speights Ale House to share a drink before we parted (me back on the train, her off to explore the West Coast). The west coast is aptly named the Wild West Coast, because it has some of the most unpredictable and wet weather in New Zealand, and for a nation where 4 seasons in a day is not uncommon, and mostly expected, this is saying something!

On the ride back, because I wasn’t talking so much, I was able to capture a video of a portion of the journey – but I really did just savor the experience.

The skies are always just so stunning! (and I know the pictures from the train do not do the colors justice!)

 

Before I knew it the train journey was over, and I was back in Christchurch. After a snag with locating my bag (just a miscommunication between the train staff), I was headed to the Airport to pick up my rental car so that I could head to Methven for the night for my school visit tomorrow. (again some backtracking, but I was maximizing my school visits as I could this trip). The drive to Methven was uneventful (thankfully), but it was a pretty journey even once the sun set.

As I said, this was a quick trip, so I went back to Christchurch and checked back into Jailhouse for another night. As I was back quite earlier than I expected – before heading to my next location – Lake Tekapo – where I have some pretty awesome adventures planned, as well as a school visit (work and pleasure – always a good mix!), I decided to check out the International Antarctic Center.

Christchurch is the Gateway to Antarctica, so almost all flights to many of the bases on Antarctica originate here.

It was informative and really “cool” quite literally, as they had a simulated summer snowstorm that I got to experience. Talk about being thankful for layers (and walking out the door into the warmth)!

I dropped off my car, shuttled back to the hotel, and had a relaxing evening, including delivery of some fantastic Pad Thai. I also scored the luck of a bunk room to myself for the night, always a great bonus when staying in dorms.

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!)