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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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!

Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef

So today was absolutely amazing – and a total bucket list item – many of you know that when I was young we lived in a trailer on the lake on Corps of Engineer property at Little River Landing off of Bells Ferry – so I could swim about the same time I could walk. Water – particularly coral reefs have always fascinated me. I have snorkeled and scubaed throughout the Caribbean, Florida and recently New Zealand – and I have always dreamed of snorkeling or diving in Australia at the Great Barrier reef – and I am so blessed that I have now had this opportunity. Today I snorkeled in 3 sites within the Great Barrier Reef, all on a Reef called Flynn Reef. (Unfortunately due to having had Sinus Surgery and being cautioned by my ENT that diving would likely be uncomfortable, I was not sold on the idea of scubadiving, and I was told by many that snorkeling was just as good, if not better, and I was not at all disappointed.)

But, back to Flynn Reef.

Here is a diagram from Pro Dive Cairns Queensland that shows where Flynn is located:

Great Barrier Reef Dive Site Maps – 

Great Barrier Reef Map

Unfortunately the wind was high (30 Knots) and the sea was quite rough – so there was a lot of sea sickness on the way out – including yours truly. (even after meds, as they were highly recommended by the crew given the sea conditions) Seasickness was another first for me, in fact – but not one I really would like to repeat. I will spare you the details, but I assure you that everyone on the boat (including the crew) was glad when we docked at our first spot of the 3 locations we were visiting.

We stopped at 3 great sights on Flynn Reef: Tracy’s, Gordon’s and Coral Gardens.

Here is a close up of the reef with these sites marked, again from Pro Dive:

Flynn Reef Map

I saw all sorts of fish, a turtle, a small shark, rays and so much beautiful colorful coral that I just can’t even explain the beauty. It’s amazing that such a small organism can join together to make such a large living thing. I am going to let pictures and videos do the talking now.

First, Tracy’s site (with 2 videos):

 

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Next stop – Gordon’s Site:

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and the final site was Coral Gardens:

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So yeah – it was an amazing day. . . I hope you enjoyed the pictures and videos! 🙂

Rainy Rotorua

When I got back from Hobbiton, I grabbed lunch – being adventurous, I went into a Korean restaurant – and the menu was mostly in Korean, with some minimal translation – so I ordered a pork dish – which ended up being a “cook at your own table” pork dish, which was really cool – it came with 6 different sides (kimchi, cucumbers, eggplant, etc) – It was quite delightful, and I was glad to have taken the chance.

After lunch, I decided I would take a wander through the Government Gardens and Heritage Trail in Rotorua, then make the trek around the Sulfur Lake Path to check out some thermal activity.

The walk started out cloudy, but quite nice.

I stumbled upon the Sculpture Trail – neat art – cool descriptions. I tried to find the program online, and failed, but there is a pdf of the descriptions below the collage for those of you that like to look at art work and their descriptions.

Sculpture Trail Descriptions

After finishing the trail I checked out flowers, buildings and thermal pools:

As I continued around I found a lovely trail beside the lake, and found more beautiful scenery on the lake, until, those clouds broke open, and I mean, wide open. I was already wet by the time i could get my rain jacket on, and I was a good 20 minute walk from the gardens at that point. I was DRENCHED. I was afraid that my poor shoes might never recover – but after some baking soda and sunshine, they do seem fine, which is good when you are living on 4 pair of shoes for 6 months, by the way!

I made the most of the wet walk, enjoying the secluded path and thermal activity – I was already soaked, so why rush back now?

When I got back to the hostel, I decided that I would soak in the hot tub at the hostel – after all – I was already drenched, right?

So I changed into my swimsuit and enjoyed the spa for a bit before showering and heading to bed.

The next morning I had a pretty flexible schedule, so I looked on this Book Me site for something to do, as it was dreadfully dreary and rainy, so outside activities had very little appeal.

There was a Gondola Ride, Lunch and wine tasting that had a bit of appeal, so I decided to take advantage of it.

I looked up the Rotorua bus system, and figured out when and where I needed to catch a bus to across town, then checked out of the Hostel, and they graciously agreed to let me store my bag for the day, since I was taking the overnight bus at 11:00 PM back to Wellington. I just had to come back by 7 to get my bag.

I arrived at the Skyview Gondola, and pretty much had the run of the place – the Luge and BMX track and other outdoor activities were closed, so there were not many people hanging out up top – but the views were gorgeous, even in the rain.

I had lunch, explored the stores (mostly tourist-y – but check out the crazy cool Jelly Belly “artwork”), then had a tasting of wine from the different regions of New Zealand.

After that, I went back to the Hostel and hung out in the lounge for a bit. I got my bag at about 6:00, and because I had to have internet for a conference call at 7:00, and no longer had Wi-fi at the Hostel, went to the McDonald’s (or Macca’s) to connect and work while I waited for the late bus, because there was not a place to hang out at the bus stop.

While at McDonald’s I connected with the NZ Microsoft Innovative Educator Network’s monthly conference call – and had a chance to introduce myself and tell them about my inquiry project. It was a great call – and it was so nice to connect with them all – and they have given me some great places to visit and schools to see.

Once the call was complete I still had a few hours, so I continued to work on stuff until I thought it was time to head to the bus.

The bus stop was well lit, but I was glad there was another lady waiting there with me that time of night, a women who had been visiting her children in Auckland and was headed home to Wellington. Pretty soon we were joined by another girl, a sweet younger girl from Switzerland. The three of us sat on the bench and talked about mostly New Zealand and our respective journeys, and it was nice to have company – as we talked we came to realize that the older woman was not on our bus, but a later bus to Wellington – due to an issue with her bus company, they dropped her off of one bus, but her second bus was significantly delayed, and she was going to be waiting until at least 1:00. . .by herself. . . in the dark, and she was already pretty cold and bundled in her blankets. The Swiss girl immediately  said no, no no – we are putting you on the bus with us. It took some convincing, but we were able to get her to give us her whole name, and we booked the ticket for her to be on the bus with us. It was such a small gesture, but it warmed my heart that 3 women, traveling alone, from 3 different continents shared that brief bond, and I felt so much better knowing she was safely at her destination – not sitting at the bus station.

After that the night bus was uneventful – I slept on and off, and we arrived in Wellington at 6:30, at which point I was not feeling motivated to walk home, or even do the bus thing to Aro Valley, so i got an Uber, went home, and crashed for a few hours before I went to a special event at Te Papa – which I will tell you about later!

 

A weekend of short road trips – The Wairarapa and Paekākāriki

This weekend was one of unexpected excitement. The Ludbrooks, as I have mentioned before have a farm in the Wairarapa, a scenic area about an hour outside of Central Wellington. They spend many weekends on the farm, as they have tasks to care for their vineyard and olive grove, but they were not planning to go this weekend. A friend was to go, and they had something come up, so their were a few tasks that someone now had to go and take care of that the friend was going to do. It was decided that we would take a picnic, (with a friend of theirs) and make a day trip of it on Saturday. Adding to the fun, a quaint neighboring town, Martinborough, was hosting their Country Fair . Martinborough is a lovely colonial town famous for their vineyards and wineries. Pinot Noir is the regional specialty. I was excited to journey to the Wairarapa, and it did not disappoint. The drive itself was just gorgeous, with stunning landscapes all around. We started in Martinborough, and had a coffee at the OMG Cafe (on Ohio Street), before all going our own way to wander the massive fair for a bit. There were foods, crafts, clothes, games and everything you would expect at a fair, as well as about a bajillion people.

I wandered through the fair – reminding myself that shipping cool items home would be crazy expensive, and the stumbled upon the Martinborough Brewery – where I treated myself to a flight of Stouts and Porters for not buying any of the cool things I wanted in the craft fair – makes sense, right?

At the appointed meeting time I ventured back to meet the Ludbrooks, and we continued to the Farm. Y’all – what a gorgeous retreat. Minimal solar power, no cell phone service, rain water collection. We had a yummy picnic, then I got to explore the vineyards with Julian, and even got the chance to help him repair some of the bird netting to protect the grapes.

There wasn’t much to do with the olive grove at this point, but I have a confession. . . for over 30 years I have adamantly said that I dislike olives – like will pick them off of stuff – and I am a pretty adventurous eater, so that is not something I do often. I don’t know if it is New Zealand, or the Ludbrook’s farm, or just some interesting change in my taste buds – but I have ate olives in things and even found myself snacking on them at a gathering recently. . . so yeah – confession over.

But guys – seriously – just look at these pictures. . .

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After picnicking, working and relaxing a bit, we headed back to Wellington.

On Sunday we had planned to go to Paekākāriki for lunch with the Clark’s (my other landlords, the owners of the beautiful earthquake damaged flat) at their bach . They had also invited Sherry (another Fulbrighter) and her landlord as well, so I was excited to venture to the Kāpiti Coast, enjoy a good meal and good company. We arrived and were welcomed so warmly by Ian and Jenny, and they gave us a tour of their lovely beachfront home. It started as a proper, small bach, and they have added a dining room, done amazing landscaping in the back, and even added a detached master suite to create such a nice home.

Just look at this garden and the views! They even painted a Hobbit Hole on the shed door! After lunch we took a walk along the shore, then it was time to head back to Wellington, so I could pack for my next adventure, a trip to Rotorua (including Matamata and Hobbiton).

However, there was a bit of bad news to come out of this journey – we had hoped that by Mid-March I would be in the flat, but it seems that is not to be. Construction is delayed and there is no clear timeline in sight. However, I am so so so so (and that may not be enough repetition) very lucky and blessed by the Ludbrooks – they are more than happy to make this work and let me continue to stay here – which is such a godsend for many reasons. There is quite the housing crisis in Wellington right now (this article shares a bit, mostly from the student perspective, but it is the same situation for short term rentals as well) following the earthquake and the number of residences that are not available – this is especially true for the short term and furnished markets, so to say that I am thankful for their kindness and generosity is an understatement. What could be inconvenient, troublesome and a negative blotch on this experience has been just a bump in the road with a positive outcome – they are like my NZ family – and I am so blessed.