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!

Advertisements

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.

IMG_6455

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.

IMG_6463

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:

IMG_6519

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.

IMG_6522

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.

Final Day in Sydney

After the action packed day that was Monday, I was thankful not to have much planned for Tuesday, other than just enjoying this beautiful city.

I spent some time this morning updating my blog, then I set out to explore. I decided that I would head to the Sydney Fish Market, which is the 3rd largest fish market in the world, and the largest working fish market in the southern hemisphere. As one would expect, the market had a quite distinctive odor, but it was so neat to experience the sights, the people, and yes, the smells. . .

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After I explored, I settled on some sushi and an avocado stuffed lobster, and ate it outside on the harbor, a little bit away from the smells! Yum!

After I finished my yummy lunch, I headed to Circular Quay to take the ferry over to Manly – It came highly recommended, and I had Opal transport money to burn.

I arrived in Manly and enjoyed the seashore and boardwalk area, well until some creepy old guy said “you know I could hook you up with a visa – a pretty girl like you shouldn’t be traveling alone” UGH!  – you all will be glad to know I did not punch him, or call him names (even though I thought about both), but I did decline his advances and headed back to the ferry.

The ride was gorgeous there and back to Sydney, but I did add several pages to my tourists behaving badly book, in addition to creepy local guy.

I am really not kidding – I could write that book. On a more positive note, I also got one last look at the Sydney Opera House. 🙂

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I had to be back at the hostel before 7 to collect my key deposit, as I have to leave in the morning before the office opens to catch my plane, so I headed back to the hostel – collected my deposit, then packed a little before I decided I was hungry. I pulled up Yelp to see what was close, and settled on a little bitty Thai restaurant. The Pad Thai was fantastic, and was just perfect for dinner, then I went back to the hostel, finished packing for Cairns and headed to bed.

Auckland Adventures

So this week I am finishing my term 1 school visits in the Auckland area, so that means time for some travel adventures outside of Wellington, and this is my first venture back to Auckland since my brief stop here upon arriving in New Zealand to transfer planes. The Auckland Airport is not my favorite, after some bad experiences there, so I am hopeful that the city of Auckland redeems their airport for me. I won’t delve into my issues – but some better signage and some customer service might be helpful. . . I have been in a lot of airports in lots of countries, and for a major city, the Auckland Airport has just been disappointing.

Nevertheless, I arrived in Auckland, caught the Sky Bus to Britomart (the train station by the waterfront area), and as I had several hours until I could check into my AWESOME AirBnB, I stored my luggage at the ferry terminal and headed to take a bus tour with Auckland Explorer. The weather was dreary and rainy, so it was a good day to just take the bus tour and attempt to get a feel for the sprawling metropolis that is Auckland (Auckland is the “big city” in New Zealand, with a population of just under 1.5 million. About 33% of New Zealanders live in this city. Actually, Auckland, because it is spread out and very “suburban” reminds me a lot of metropolitan Atlanta (with much better public transit, BTW) While the tour was a hop-on-hop-off tour, I knew I only really had time to ride both loops straight through, so that was what I did. The pictures are not the best – taken from the bus through rainy windows, but I was able to see some cool buildings and landmarks and get an overview of some cool aspects of Auckland’s history.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After the bus tour, it was still pouring, so I decided that instead of trekking to the house via bus and walking in the rain I would just take an Uber from the ferry terminal  to the house – best $5.00 Uber decision ever – I would have been drenched, because the sky opened up and poured buckets as we were pulling away from the Ferry.

I checked in and met Coco, my lovely Air BnB host. Her house is in an excellent location, and my room is just perfect (and unlike much of Auckland – Coco has free, unlimited Wifi, which is why I am able to update my blog so easily here!). I got settled in, and sent some emails to verify my visits with schools this week, then decided to venture out for dinner. The Asian influence in New Zealand is rich, so I find myself always trying the different types of Asian food and varieties here, so I set out to a restaurant I found online that had “Shabu-Shabu” which is the Japanese equivalent of a Hot Pot. I had never had it before and it was yummy!! (In short, you have a grill at your table, and a pot of hot broth, and you put your meats, veggies, dumplings and more into the pot and cook it at the table. I enjoyed the food and the wait staff was a ton of fun – I think they liked my accent! LOL!

Thursday I had a  school visit, so I was out early that morning, then wandered back to the city after, and decided to check out the Sky Tower. Admission is 30.00, or you can have lunch and go up as a part of your dining experience, so I opted for the late lunch route and enjoyed dining in the revolving restaurant (just like the SunDial my ATL friends), and enjoyed the views while the restaurant rotated. I spent just a little over 30.00, so I felt it was a good deal to get a meal and get to go to the observation deck as well (I was lucky to get a reservation, I think because it was an overcast kinda day). (Check out the bungy-jumpers – from the tower).

After my late lunch/dinner, I did take a quick little detour into the Sky City casino – played just enough to earn back the money I spent (plus some – I think it is the Dave Stenner influence- I tend to break even or better in casinos) and went back to the house by way of the grocery store where I picked up some food for breakfast and lunches.

Friday was another fun school visit, and I even got to help students with programming, which was SO MUCH FUN!

After my school visit, I came home a bit (It was just a few blocks from where I am staying) then I decided to just wander to Britomart and decide what to do from there. As I wandered to the city I thought – hey! Why not take a ferry somewhere and grab dinner, then head back – I googled the many ferry options and decided that I would catch the Ferry to Half Moon Bay, because on Friday nights it had 2 later ferries, so I would have time to eat with out rushing. The ferry ride was great, and it was cool to see Auckland all lit up from the water. My dining options were limited in Half Moon Bay, but I went to a Thai restaurant and had a dish of Sizzling Garlic Lamb before catching the Ferry back to he CBD and the bus home.

Saturday was my day for adventure, but I did sleep in a bit and got a lazy start to the day. I decided to check out some remnants of volcanic activity in the Auckland area so I ventured to Takapuna Beach on Auckland’s North Shore, where I started with the Takapuna Heritage Walk. This walk did not disappoint, however it was not an easy stroll (as I was doing it at High Tide) and involved balancing on a sea wall as waves crashed against you, and climbing over, around and navigating through Lava rocks. It was gorgeous though, and totally worth it. I packed a picnic “LunchDinner” and enjoyed it on lava rocks about 1/2 way through the beach walk.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I walked and enjoyed sunset on the beach before heading home. I received word that my snorkeling tour for Sunday was cancelled due to rough seas to the north, so I checked out BookMe (A NZ site sort of like Groupon) and booked a sailing tour of Auckland Harbor.

Sunday I strolled around Auckland checking out some parks and other fun locations before I headed to the Viaduct Harbor for my Sailing experience. Sailing is definitely a thing in Auckland, which is know as the “City of Sails”. Sailing in Auckland Harbor was a great experience, and I am so glad I did it, even if it was completely unnerving when they laid the boat down almost completely on it’s side, but it was a thrilling kind of fun. (In customary NZ fashion, you can also see Bungy Jumpers (not me!) getting ready to “dip” in the harbor from the bridge).

More school visits for me Monday and Tuesday (plus a fun dinner with Nikkie and Crew), then home to Wellington on Wednesday. Term Break (2 weeks off) starts on Good Friday for schools, and I head to Australia on Saturday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going to the South Island – but not really South!

My first trip to the South Island began this morning with a crossing on the Bluebridge Ferry. The ferry left at 8:00 AM with check-in at 7:15. Julian was kind enough to drop me off, so that I didn’t have to walk, uber or do the bus with my luggage, which was so helpful. Ferry check-in was very straight forward and easy, and before I knew it we were boarding the boat.

The ferry crossing between the North and South Island can be quite “spewy” in the words of my Kiwi friend Rachel, and I was concerned that would be the case this morning, however, I wanted to cross the strait by ferry at least once, so here I went.

Fortunately for me, it was a GORGEOUS day for a boat ride, and I didn’t even need to worry about any motion sickness.

This was indeed the gorgeous crossing it had been hyped up to be. You start the crossing by viewing the beauty that is Wellington as you exit the harbor, then you head to the South Island to the little port town of Picton (which isn’t really south of Wellington, btw), deep within the coves and islands of Queen Charlotte Sound.

 

Once you cross the open water, you are rewarded with views of cliffs, rocks, mussel and salmon farms, and just stunning unaltered water views. It was fantastic.

 

Once I arrived in Picton, I caught the shuttle to the ferry terminal, then retrieved my bags and checked into the hostel. It was in a good location, was clean, and would definitely work for a few nights – sadly – the “spa” was out of order, but I think I will survive.

IMG_2912
The Hostel

I had pre-booked a wine tasting in Blenheim for the afternoon with NaClachen wine tours, http://www.naclachan.co.nz/ and it was indeed lovely. We visited several wineries, and I appreciated the regional variety in the Marlborough region wines. I am finding that each wine region in NZ has a distinctive style – and I am relishing trying them all.

 

After the wine tour, they dropped me back at the hostel, and I wandered around the very small town of Picton, enjoyed a waterfront dinner and sunset, and headed back to the hostel to chill and plan my day for tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I am taking a Mail Cruise (where they literally deliver the mail to the residents in the coves) but have some time before that, so I believe I will take a little journey to Bob’s Bay (about a 30 minute tramp along the Picton harbor entrance.