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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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!