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.

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Wednesday Travels ~ Sydney to Cairns

Wednesday was a less exciting day, as it was mostly a travel day – I was up at 5:30 to head to the Sydney Airport to catch my flight to Cairns. Getting to the airport, checking in a getting through security were easy and painless, and I was happy with the simplicity. I hung out at the gate, reading papers, playing games and just chilling – oh and fantastic people watching, as usual – airports are the best!

The flight was minimally turbulent, but all was well, and we landed in Cairns early. I got off the plane, grabbed by bags and caught the shuttle to my hotel, where I found I couldn’t check in for a little under 2 hours, so I secured my bags, and decided to grab a quick lunch and come back to check in. As soon as I stepped off the plane I knew I had arrived in the tropics – it was hot and muggy and felt like a nice Atlanta summer.

Once I was able to check in, I got to my room, and was pleasantly surprised. I booked a cheap room online, and did not have high expectations, but this room is great! I even have my own little porch area. #winning

Once settled in, I took a stroll through Cairns – to the waterfront area (mostly so I know where to go in the morning for my snorkeling tour).

Check out the loud birds in the trees walking home:

The waterfront was fun and lively – and since the beach is closed because of crocodiles and jellies, people were enjoying the free waterfront pool. It was a fun stroll, complete with birds, rainbows and sculptures. Moving along the Wharf, I stumbled upon The Prawn Star Restaurant – serving sea food on a boat – and thought “why not” so I had oysters for dinner on the boat before heading back to rest up for my exciting day in the Great Barrier Reef tomorrow!

 

 

Saturday in Sydney

I started my Australian Adventure early, leaving the house at 5:45 for my flight to Sydney – because it was International, I felt that I needed to plan on the 3 hour travel time as stated on the website. I also was unable to check into my flight online, so I wanted to do what I could to secure I decent seat, if possible. I didn’t need to worry – my flight was obviously booked at a higher tier than I thought, so I had a seat with “the works”, my bag was free, as was a meal on board, and I had a lovely window seat, 2A. A pleasant surprise! I checked in my bag, then decided I would enjoy a nice flat white and breakfast before heading to the international security check point. I am glad I didn’t rush, as the security check point didn’t open until 7:30! Thankfully the Wellington Airport is lovely – and has free wifi – and comfy chairs (by airport standards) and I settled in with Netflix and watched the fine, high-quality entertainment that can only be given in the form of a Mel Brooks movie – “Robin Hood – Men in Tights”.  I breezed through security and awaited boarding. The flight was an easy 3 hour crossing of the Tasman – Air NZ has great entertainment options, and the flight wasn’t full, so I had my row to myself – I love when that happens!

Check out these views coming into Sydney!

 

Arrval in Sydney was smooth, I collected my luggage, then cleared customs. While in the airport I got a Optus sim card (for Data) and an Opal card for the Sydney Transit system, then caught the train to Central Station, a short walk from my Hostel.

The hostel is nothing special, but I am in a solo room, so I will survive. (Although the stinky wifi makes me really happy I got the cellphone data card!)

After settling in and shifting my day bag around, I was ready to explore, and decided that the Big Bus Tour was the way to go – so I walked back to Central and “hopped” on the bus.

Sydney is a big city, and is very Victorian, as you can see from the pictures!

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Check out the Aboriginal Artists –

And this crazy wall at the convention center:

I hopped off a few stops, including at the Opera House at the end of the day – it was gorgeous!

After catching the last Big Bus back to Central, I wandered back to the Hostel, stopping and picking up Sushi on my way. To my New Zealand time zone adjusted self, it felt like almost midnight, and I had been up since 4:45 AM,so I was in bed by 8:30 – especially since I couldn’t update my blog – the hostel wifi is the WORST! (This blog update is brought to you by “Macca’s” (Also known as McDonalds!), and the data plan on my cellphone! 🙂

Tomorrow’s adventures are a trip out to Bondi Beach, and probably exploring the Botanical Gardens!