Road Trip Day 17 – One Last Stop and some reflection

My first flight on my journey home should leave in exactly 34 hours. 34 hours. . .  – it is so hard to believe that this life changing, perspective changing, educational philosophy shifting experience is really at a close. I know that I have grown in ways that I never imagined through this experience – and I am so grateful to the Fulbright Program, IIE and Fulbright New Zealand for making this opportunity possible.

I am also beyond thankful for my people – those of you that encouraged me, nudged me, prayed for me, loved me and supported me when I wasn’t sure I could make this happen (and kicked me in the tail when I needed it). You helped me work through the “muck” of being gone for 6 months, the random little things that popped up along the way, and the financial quirks of being on an unpaid extended leave of absence from work and managing obligations back home and abroad. There were times when I questioned if it was really worth it – and you all were there – to give me an encouraging word, a kick in the side, or just to listen to me vent when I was frustrated that things had changed again – or there were things that were just plain annoying – or problems that I thought were resolved that changed again. I know I don’t say it enough – but even from almost 9,000 (or more) miles away – my village rocks!

After being in New Zealand (and a week in Australia) for 170 amazing days – this experience is over – and with that comes lots of changes – I know that I have grown and changed in the time I have been gone – and so have my people. I have missed funerals, events, weddings, birthdays, celebrations, loss and disappointments and all of those things that make up everyday life – for 6 whole months. At our orientation, one of the topics we talked about was the culture shock that you will experience – both going and coming – and many of the Fulbrighters remarked that going home was often harder than setting out – be it the thrill of a new adventure, or the adjustment to finding how people and systems have changed in your absence – reverse culture shock is a real thing. But, while there are things I will miss, there are lots of things to be excited to come home to, and if the past 5 or so years have taught me anything it is that change can be icky, hard and can really stretch you as a person – but it can also be wonderful, liberating and exciting – sometimes all at the same time – and honestly – not to sound too cliche –  everything does really work out in the end – somehow – so sometimes you just have to bite the bullet, embrace the change and hold on for the ride.

When I think back to the fact that prior to this experience I had never lived outside of a small bubble in the corners of 3 neighboring counties in Northwest Georgia (and that my current house is actually less than 9 miles from the trailer that I was brought home from the hospital to when I was a baby), it is kind of amazing. Those of you who know my story understand even more why this is really such a big thing for me – and the fact is that I could go on about that – but I think it is enough to say that I know the odds, and I  know how incredibly blessed I am.

But enough about that. 🙂

This morning I began my adventure with breakfast and a lovely chat with Kay, my AirBnB host – I truly have  met the most amazing blend of people during this journey. The benefit of travel on the cheap is the amazing people and experiences you can have if you just let yourself enjoy the ride. I mean really – in the past 6 months I have shared meals, coffee, tea, dorm rooms, game nights and movies with people of all ages – all professions (from nuns to adult entertainers) –  folks at all stages of their lives – (gap years to retirement and everything in between) – and all nationalities imaginable – Kiwis, and Americans, Europeans, Canadians, Argentinians, Aussies, Indians, Asians, Islanders, and people from countries I had to look up on a map. A global network of travelers sharing experiences, sharing their life journey – and bonding over small similarities in culture, custom, beliefs and place. It is a beautiful thing – one I would have missed out on if I had traveled in a different way. I have stayed in converted jails, garages, barns and guest rooms, hotels, dorms, rvs and even a Marae. All experiences that have built this journey into the beautiful adventure it is.

After breakfast with Kay I set out – I had a short drive – only about 2 hours – but I wanted to get settled in before the rain came – so I had one planned stop early – then it was off.

My stop was at the Bason Botanic Gardens outside of Whanganui – in a rural area called Westmere. What a GORGEOUS place. I counted at least 5 gazebos – and could have been lost for the entire day in the paths, greenhouses and other spaces. (and like most botanic gardens I have visited in NZ – it was totally free!)

I spent a few hours just wandering around – and saw some amazing flowers I am going to need Mike Green and Google to help me identify! 🙂

It was a tranquil way to spend the morning!

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After that, I headed to Levin, where I got settled in while the rain began to fall.

I was able to get set up, and watch Game of Thrones (we won’t talk about how) (which was important – because people were spoiling it in Facebook from the word go!).

After that, I got to know my hosts for the evening, they shared a lovely meal with me and now I am just getting ready to head back to Welly early in the morning, return my Rental Car – adjust my suitcases, close out my bank account and savor my last evening in this beautiful country before flying back to the USA.

On the docket for tomorrow? A flat white (or 2), a stroll along the Waterfront – probably a stop at House of Dumplings, tasting the offerings on Tap at Garage Project and really just saying goodbye to the Coolest Little Capital in the World. After all – new adventures await, right?

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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.

 

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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!