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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W.O.W. – A museum with something for all tastes (fashion, art and cars!) – and an exciting journey for me!

I know that many of you are eagerly anticipating information about my school visits, however, I am working within the bounds of some ethics and privacy considerations and other logistics – I will share more general reflections soon when I have visited more schools, I promise – but my time in Nelson was fantastic. Gaye Bloomfield (@gayeblooms) Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, Coffee lover and teacher extraordinaire (can you see where we would totally get along?) went out of her way to make me feel welcome, and planned a spectacular week for me visiting schools of all levels and with all unique feels. I really feel like I have “experienced” all levels of Kiwi education now, and that sets me up quite nicely for the framework of my project.

I did get a few opportunities to play as well – starting with a lovely dinner and conversation on Monday night with Gaye. We had a delicious meal and talked for hours about all sorts of things – I think given a combination of enough coffee and wine, we could solve some serious world problems!

Check out the awesome dessert we had:

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Tuesday afternoon I had some free time, and explored the National WOW Museum – a unique museum that combines the Gallery of fashion from the World of Wearable Art shows, along with this massive collection of rare and classic cars both from all over the world.

The outfits were amazing works of art, and in each and every case, someone did wear them for the show. Many are thematic, and some were quite, well, off kilter might be one way to describe it, but I was in awe of the precision and the artistry of the pieces. In some cases I have included the description next to the photo, while in others you can just use your imagination. I did have a few favorites.

At the end was a viewing room where you could watch a video of the highlights of the World of Wearable Art Show, a huge international design competition where these amazing pieces are unveiled.

After the fashion art, I wandered to the next gallery – full of classic cars, super fancy cars, engines and other mechanical type stuff. Y’all – I am way out of my wheel house here – mostly I’m like – look a shiny car – but there were some seriously cool vehicles here to see.

Look through the album for yourself – there were cars that make today’s mini cars look gargantuan, cars that were the size of tanks, and my personal favorite item of luxury – the car with recliners in the back seat (If you can afford that car, my guess is you have a chauffeur, and you are enjoying the recliner).

It was also interesting to see the cars that obviously were collected and imported (remember, they drive on the left here).  It was a cool variety – and I know some of you (I’m looking at you Tom Green) will be quite in heaven looking at these cars.

While I was at the Museum I got a rather exciting email response to something I have been working on since before I left the US – because my project is focused on the use of digital technologies in a variety of situations, I have really strived to find schools of all types, all over New Zealand to visit and connect with.  The carrot that was dangling out in front of me was the ability to visit a school with significant geographical isolation (which is hard, because these schools are very small – we are talking 20 or so students from grades 1 – 8 typically, and only one to two teachers, one of whom is a teaching principal). We had communicated a bit before I left the US, but I had been unable to schedule with school just starting here (Feb is their first month of school here), but I got a response, so in May I will be given the great opportunity to visit this school on Stewart Island (and do some programming with those students). Stewart Island, also called Rakiura is the island south of the south Island of New Zealand, an island that is home to less than 400 permanent residents. The only way to travel commercially to Stewart Island is by a small ferry across the  Foveaux Strait, or a fixed wing flight from Invercargill. At 47° South, it is likely the furthest south this girl will ever travel! If I am lucky – I might even get a chance to view the Aurora Australis – talk about a bucket list item! I am going to make an adventure of this trip, knocking out my South Island school visits during the week, and my bucket list items on the weekend. I will start by flying to Dunedin and visiting schools (and MIEE Rachel @ibpossum), then a weekend road trip through the Caitlins to Invercargill to head to Stewart Island, followed by a weekend in Te Anau and Milford Sound, then a trip to Christchurch to see some schools (and stay in a hostel that was once a jail), before checking out the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve and Lake Tekapo and the Mount John Observatory before heading back to Windy Welly. (I have not forgotten about Queenstown, by the way – I am attending a conference there in April). All in all – can you tell I am excited for this? It looks like I am going to be on the road for much of April and May, with trips to schools in Auckland;  a brief vacation during term break to Australia (Sydney and Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef); Energise Conference in Queenstown, then my South Island Adventure.

After exploring the museum, and doing some work in the cafe, I headed back to the hostel, then grabbed dinner at a lovely Mexican restaurant – where I had my first truly authentic Mexican food since I have been in NZ – Fajitas for the win!

Tomorrow I have school visits and a board meeting, which I am quite excited about attending, before I head back to Wellington and the North Island on Thursday. Nelson has been good to me!

Old Ships, Old Buses and Old Churches

Today was my final day in Picton, and my bus was scheduled to leave at around 1:30, so I had plenty of time before I needed to be at the bus stop – and Picton is tiny, so it made sense just to leave my bag at the hostel and grab it before the bus instead of schlepping it around town with me and wherever my adventure today might lead me. I checked out, checked in my bag and set off. Sadly, the bakery is not open on Sundays, so I headed to the waterfront to a little café for breakfast and coffee. After I was finished I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do. Picton is small, and I had pretty much toured the town – I didn’t want to go for another hike and get all sweaty before boarding a bus (common courtesy, my friends), and the other wildlife tours and such would not allow me the time  to make it back for my bus.

I turned to Google to decide which museum, or other event on the waterfront had the most appeal, and the universal verdict was the Edwin Fox Maritime Museum. I walked across the harbor park and started my journey back in time with this ship, the 9th oldest surviving ship in the world, and the oldest surviving merchant ship in the world. It was also the last surviving convict ship that transported the convicts to Australia – The Edwin Fox was a renaissance ship – serving many roles in its majestic and historical lifetime.

The Edwin Fox was built in Calcutta India in 1853, and was beached in Picton in 1897. The museum takes you through the process of the ship’s amazing construction out of Teak, the voyages and changes to the ship, and the abandonment and subsequent damage to the ship after being left on the shores of Picton. The historical society eventually purchased the ship hull from The New Zealand Refrigerating Company LTD for the whopping price of 1 Schilling, and began to work of relocated, refloating and eventually dry docking this piece of maritime history.

You start your journey by going through the museum and watching movie about the history of the boat – I could have gotten lost for hours here, looking at the pieces recovered from the hull, the construction specifics and the stories shared.

Once you step outside you start to see the ship, and get a feel for the scale and size of her, as she is still a bit shielded from view by the covering over the dry dock bay.

There are lots of “bits and bobs” (anchors, and other remnants) splayed across the yard.

At the anchor you get your first view of the ship, as well as the pumping system that keeps the ship dry docked in it’s new home.

As you enter the ship area you have two choices, board the ship, or go underneath it into the ship bay. I decided to start by checking out the outside of the ship – the layers of wood under the deteriorating copper was something like an artwork, showing the effects of time, salt, wind and water on the majestic hull of this ship.

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Once I had walked around underneath and around the hull, I went back up to the ships entrance, and got to explore the inside of this ship.

The ship had 2 decks, the hold and the top deck. The top deck had been arranged to show you what the ship would have been like for its various uses, and what living on the ship would be like. The thing that stuck with me was the steerage class bunks – that were tiny as is, but were where an entire family – most often a Man, Woman and 4 children or so lived. Talk about cramped and gross conditions – it was very easy to see how disease could spread. There were also models of the convict areas as well.

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You also get to venture down into the hold, and this was where you could see much of the hidden damage that occurred due to the ship being left on the shore, and even more insight into the layered construction of these ships.

I had a lovely time exploring the ship and museum, and finished before my alarm, so that was good. I wandered back to the hostel to repack my bag for the bus journey, and then wandered to the bus stop. While there, I went to take a picture of Mini-fig Merry with the luggage, and was reminded of another picture I took with the same set up, in Amsterdam at the train station as I got ready to board my overnight train to Switzerland in 2015 on my grand European adventure. This got me to thinking about the places this luggage has traveled, and I did some quick math, and discovered that this luggage has traveled almost 40,000 miles, and will definitely cross that threshold this trip!

The bus arrived right on schedule, sadly, it was not the lovely Intercity bus with wifi, but a sub bus, so a bit old and less comfy, but workable for the short trip to Nelson.

The trip was uneventful – and the scenery driving through New Zealand was stunning, as usual.

I arrived in Nelson, walked a few blocks and checked into my hostel. Once I was situated, I decided to go out and explore Nelson, on a very sleepy Sunday when most everything was closed. In my wanderings I discovered it was Nelson Beer Week, so I took note of a few events, then wandered around the city, ending up at the Christ Church Cathedral – and attending their Sunday Night worship service before heading back to the hostel and an early bed time before my fun school visits this week.